The Bicycling Big Book of Cycling for Beginners: Winning Strategies, Inspiring Stories, and the Ultimate Training Tools - Tori Bortman

The Big Book of Cycling for Beginners

Tori Bortman


First of all, I think this book should be renamed "The Bicycling Big Book of Cycling for Beginners Who Want to Become Serious Road and Race Cyclists Despite The Fact They've Never Been On A Bike." Admittedly, this means that the full book lends itself to a rather small audience. If you're not planning to be a recreational road biker who puts in a century (100 mile ride) or two, most of this book will be completely irrelevant. However, if you're thinking of buying a road bike, this book is an absolute goldmine of useful information.

Since my background affects how I view the book, it's worth mentioning that while I am a biker, I am not the target audience. I enjoy biking, but I don't bike recreationally. As the book would classify me, I am a commuter biker: I don't own a car, and for the last five years or so, if I want to get somewhere, I bike there. I put in minimum 100mi/week, with ~40mi of that as a roundtrip road bike commute (to a shelter where I volunteer on weekends) and the rest on my beautiful, beat-up hybrid. So while several portions of this book were quite interesting, I'm definitely not the target audience.

My favourite part--and the one I consider the most invaluable--was the section on bike parts (more specifically, road bike parts). Speaking from experience, buying a road bike is utterly bewildering and somewhat horrifying. Prices for cheap, entry-level bikes tend to start at $1000. I was utterly out of my depth, and online searches only left me more confused. How could I spend thousands of dollars when I didn't even understand what I was buying? (In my case, as even the lowest range bikes felt phenomenally fast compared to my hybrid, I went with a clearance-priced entry-level Fuji Sportif for $500. I'm still quite happy with it.) I really wish I'd read this book before I went out shopping. Even though it probably wouldn't have changed my decision, at least I would have known that on earth I was being offered. Bortman discusses chainring variants, gruppos, and frame materials, and even provides a wonderful little chart that ranks, contrasts, and prices components from Sram, Shimano and Campagnolo. The target audience here is definitely someone willing to shell out thousands. Bortman ranked my poor little roadie's Sora as the lowest-level "poor" option and didn't even bother mentioning my hybrid's Shimano Acera. The chapter ends with a section on bike fitting. I had no idea that "professional bike fitters" even existed. While I can see the point if you're spending thousands, it's hard to imagine paying $200 for a professional bike fit in any other case.

While it's probably only useful for touring and racing cyclists, the section on high-tech bike clothing was interesting. (I wear basic gym or work clothes.) Now I know that the "weird butt pants" are actually called "chamois," and that serious bikers don't wear underwear. (Yeesh, is that really true?)

The rest of the book went a bit bipolar. Some of the sections assume that you've never been on a bike before and don't know how to balance, start, or stop, while others focus on the sort of nutrition issues only relevant to serious racing or touring cyclists. Honestly, I don't think either section are particularly useful; they involve general knowledge or commonsense, or they'd be more understandable from a youtube video. The biggest disappointment for me was the (depressingly short) section on bike maintenance. Bortman goes over a few sketchy basics for changing a punctured tube, but for all other forms of maintenance, she recommends taking the bike into the shop. I actually requested this book because I thought it would teach me basic maintenance such as how to balance my wheels, adjust my derailleur, clean out my drivetrain, etc. Instead, the book told me to take the bike to my local bike shop. Gee, thanks.

Overall, despite the title, this book is geared towards a very small target audience: new riders who are willing to shell out a serious amount of cash for a good roadbike and aren't sure where to start. For that audience, I think it would be a great read, and the section on components would be particularly invaluable. If you're just a run-of-the-mill biker, however, I'd suggest just passing this by.

~~I received a copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Rodale Books, in exchange for my honest review.~~