A Punk, a Messiah and a Snob

If there is anything I love almost as much as cycling, it’s reading about cycling. Since I took up the sport I have tried to read everything I can get my hands on about it in order to soak up every bit of cycling juice out there. It is an unquenchable thirst. My son is like that too. When he is into something, he is really into it. Like Star Wars, for example. A few months ago when he was really into Star Wars he would sit at the dinner table dressed as Darth Vader, asking a barrage of questions like “do you know how old Harrison Ford was when he played Haan Solo?” or “Which battle scene in Return of the Jedi did you like the best?”. Except these weren’t necessarily questions, more a test of my Star Wars knowledge, which (he would remind me) was far overshadowed by his. Some might call this obsessive compulsion, but I just think it’s great for him to be so into something, even if it means he may never have a girlfriend.

So being summer, and being temporarily sidelined has allowed me some reading time. Here are some books of note, that I happen to feel inclined to pontificate about at the moment:

A Dog in a Hat is an autobiographical account of the European Kermis scene in the late 1980’s, written by American racer Joe Parkin. Kermis is Flemish for “carnival” and are fast, dangerous races popular in Belgium and France, where perhaps the over abundance of beer and wine makes people just a tad reckless. They are circuit races of 150 to 180km, done on a 10km loop, significant in that fact that it allows time for fans to order, receive and drink a beer between laps. The book offers a very interesting look inside the punk rock-esque lifestyle of hard living, constant injuries and drug use typical of that scene and that time. For the most part he hates his teammates, who he describes as a bunch of porn-watching, toe-picking imbeciles who refuse to use air conditioning even in the most oppressive heat. And yet he embraces the chaotic life of a Kermis racer and effectively becomes Belgian at some point. Like it’s topic, the book is raw and crude at times, sort of like seeing the distinctly unglamorous underbelly of professional modelling, puking divas and all.

Lance Armstrong is to many cyclists what Jesus is to religious zealots. Some think he is The Shit, the real deal. The rest think he is a big fake and that those who think he is The Shit are victims of the biggest dupe in history. As such, there has been much written about him, the most damning of which he wrote himself. In the dubiously titled It’s not About the Bike, he manages to paint himself as a spoiled and arrogant ass who had the misfortune of getting cancer, then is miraculously resurrected into a cycling deity. A far kinder and more honest story is told in Lance Armstrong’s War by Daniel Coyle who, in a addition to actually being able to write, manages to tell the truth (if not the whole truth) about life in the Kingdom of Lance. Canadian racer Dave Barry does an admirable job (for a bike racer) of describing his life as a Disciple in Inside the Postal Bus. But the book reads more like a diary you were expecting your parents to find, and merely skims the surface rather than offering any real revelations or insight. Next on my reading list is the newly released Tour de Lance, a nickname the famous race has carried for years now, much to the disdain of the French, who hate Lance’s ass almost as much as they hate George Bush Jr. and the English in general.

New York blogger Bike Snob NYC (not to be confused with Winnipeg’s Arrogant Cycling Sissy) recently came out of the anonymous closet and released his first book Bike Snob NYC – Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling. If the title is not self-evident, he disembowels all aspects of “cycling culture” but does so in such a way I laughed so hard my stitches almost popped (hence the disemboweling). Unlike his name suggests, he is himself an avid cyclist who loves the sport passionately and completely. What he hates is the pretense that causes some people to take it (and themselves) far too seriously, in the process not only sucking the life and fun out of cycling, but managing to make us all look bad in the process. This book is a joy to read and reminds us that despite all the seeming complexities of cycling, there is nothing more pure and delightful than the simple act of riding a bike.