As everyone knows, talking, dreaming and reading about cycling is the next best thing to actually riding! So, with many of us currently having to spend more time alone, we thought we’d create this list of the best cycling books to inspire your reading list.
All of the books on cycling you’ll find here are ones we’ve read and loved. We’ve also included some of our favourite cycling coffee table books, the ones that we turn to for inspiration for our cycling trips.
We hope that from the comfort of your armchair, these road cycling books will help you find inspiration, freedom and happiness to keep your cycling passion alive in the difficult weeks to come.
What do you think of the list? Have you got ideas for books we should read and add to complete our list of the best cycling books ever? Please leave your comment in the comments section at the end of the article (here)!
Note: this page contains affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Our disclosure policy has more info. Rest assured, all the books in this guide are only here because we own them ourselves and would recommend them to a friend.
Best cycling autobiographies/ biographies
These books delve into the characters behind cycling. Our selection reflects our love for cycling’s history and heritage. We've read many of the biographies/autobiographies from recent times, but for us they just don't seem to compare. What do you think? If you’ve got some suggestions for us for the best cycling biographies/autobiographies for cyclists from the modern era, please share them in the comments below!
1. Magic Spanner - Carlton Kirby
Carlton Kirby spent 25 years commentating on some of the biggest cycle races in the world for television. As you can imagine, he has a few tales to tell! The recollection of stories from different races across Europe and the people he meets are delivered in his usual humorous and witty style, making this book a really light-hearted and fun read.
Amidst the amusing anecdotes on tour you do witness the serious side of Kirby who is outspoken on rider safety issues, team strategies and misbehaving fans. This is a book about cycling that can be enjoyed by cyclists and non-cyclists alike; it will make you laugh and is a perfect easy read.
The book has been shortlisted for the Telegraph Sports Book Awards 2020 - Cycling Book of the Year.
2. Tomorrow, we ride - Jean Bobet
Jean Bobet's book is part biography of his famous brother Louison Bobet and part his own autobiography. Louison Bobet is one of the legendary names in cycling history, being a triple Tour de France winner and World Champion. Jean Bobet rode in his brother’s service, a super rouleur who gave up an academic career to help his brother to glory.
Bobet’s memoir is a beautifully written account of their two lives. It gives you a real sense of what cycling in the 1950s, in post Second World War Europe, was all about. You feel the romance of the grand tours and get a sense of how the big-name riders of the day that the Bobet brothers rode with (Coppi, Bartali, Anquetil and co) were famous personalities in their own right, whose achievements were part of the popular psyche.
The original book was written in French, but this is a great translation and an excellent read for anyone interested in the history of cycling and the legends of cycling’s aristocracy.
3. Merckx, Half Man, Half Bike – William Fotheringham
Eddie Merckx is arguably the greatest cyclist the world has ever seen and this cycling biography is the engaging account of Belgium’s cycling legend.
Between 1961 and 1978, Eddy "the Cannibal" Merckx won five Tours de France, four Giros d'Italia and three world championships. This book looks at the how and why of what made Eddy Merckx the incredible cyclist he was, including interviews with those who were there at the time and knew him well.
There’s a lot of detail on the classic races, though oddly little in the way of direct interviews with Merckx himself. That said, it’s a great choice for anyone wanting to know more about Merckx, the cycling icon.
4. In search of Robert Millar – Richard Moore
This biography delves into the maverick Robert Millar, the eccentric Glaswegian who (until the current modern era of cyclists) was the UK’s most successful Tour de France cyclist, coming fourth in the 1984 Tour de France and winning the King of the Mountains jersey that year.
The book follows the career of Millar, from his tough start in life in Glasgow in the 1960s to his move to France pioneering British continental cycling, his abandonment of his wife and son in France and the mystery of his disappearance. It provides a detailed commentary on Millar's dedication, talent and unorthodox character.
The book also offers fascinating insights into other characters of the 80s and 90s UK cycling scene, including Sean Kelly, Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman. While we now know the reason behind Millar’s disappearance was a sex change which he went public with in 2017, this book remains a great read and perfect for the cycling aficionado – someone interested in the characters that make up the UK’s cycling heritage.
Best books about cycling and doping
In some ways, this is a sub-set of the biographies/autobiographies section above - but we felt they warranted their own section because over the years, we've read quite a few excellent and fascinating books on this subject! So, if you’ve ever been interested in the dark side of cycling, and what turns talented young riders into drug-taking dopers, these are some good cycling books for you.
5. Racing Through the Dark – David Millar
A well written and very frank account of how one of the most promising cyclists of his generation succumbed to the lure of performance enhancing drugs. Following his arrest, he had the strength of character to transform himself from doper to anti-drugs campaigner, author and media pundit.
We liked the genuine honesty consistently portrayed throughout the book. You get the impression that the book was part of the redemption process as Millar came to terms with the mistakes he had made and the people he had let down. Racing Through the Dark is a good read that paints a realistic picture of life in the peloton at that time. Perfect for cyclists and non-cyclists alike.
6. Seven Deadly Sins – David Walsh
A product of 12 years of dogged investigative journalism by David Walsh, who was declared as persona non grata by Lance Armstrong during the 1990s and vilified by many in cycling circles. The book highlights the tenacity of the writer who was never deterred in his pursuit of exposing one of the biggest sporting frauds of our generation.
It’s an informative read and was published shortly after Armstrong was stripped of his titles. It gravitates between an autobiography of Walsh and a biography of Armstrong and as such it’s sometimes a little hard to follow. Nevertheless, it chronicles the systemic drug abuse that was prevalent in the professional peloton and reveals the lengths that Armstrong went to in order to maintain the deceit.
7. Breaking the Chain – Willy Voet
This is the book that first turned cycling upside down in the late eighties and exposed the sport as a drug fuelled battle on two wheels. Willy Voet was a masseur for the Festina professional cycling team and part of his job was to store and then administer performance enhancing drugs to the riders. Unfortunately for Voet he was arrested on his way to a race with a car full of illegal substances.
You feel for Voet as he sits in a prison cell whilst the riders disown him and deny that the drugs were destined for their use. With his life in ruins, he makes no apologies for writing the book to make some money and tell the truth about the people who he feels let him down. Translated from his native French into English by William Fotheringham, one is left to wonder whether there should have been a more rigorous investigation into the entire team.
8. One-Way Ticket – Jonathan Vaughters
An extremely talented junior rider who was recruited at an early age to race professionally in France, Jonathan Vaughters soon realised why the European peloton was so much better than him. The answer was the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs. Fighting the temptation for a while he eventually succumbed and lived to regret his decision. Refreshingly however, learning from his mistakes, he has become a leading anti-drugs campaigner within the sport.
Despite the doper to anti-drugs campaigner theme, the book also shows Vaughters in his present role as professional team owner and having to be commercially savvy to keep his team afloat in a very challenging cycling economy.
Best Tour de France books (and other famous races)
If you’re missing the Classics and worried about whether the Grand Tours will happen this year, these books about the Tour de France and other big-name races should be the perfect antidote!
9. Alpe d’Huez: the story of Pro Cycling’s Greatest Climb – Peter Cossins
If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the mythical Alpe d’Huez, this is the book for you! It contains 304 pages of detail on this 13.8 kilometre climb and its very famous 21 hairpins. The book goes into the history of the mountain in the Tour de France and the events that have unfurled on its slopes. It includes well-documented information, as well as the untold details
Given the level of detail the book goes into, it may be a bit much for those just getting into cycling. But a must-read for those serious about their Tour de France history.
10. Etape – Richard Moore
This is a great read whether you’re just getting into cycling’s grand tours or whether you’ve been a fan for many years. It’s the story of the Tour de France told through stages from the last sixty years. It tells some of the most iconic stories of the Tour de France involving some of cycling’s biggest names, from Armstrong’s drug-fuelled victory at Luz Ardiden to Merckx’s 1971 Tour.
The book provides really interesting insights into the stories behind the Tour and is written in a way that makes it difficult to put down. We’d definitely recommend it for anyone wanting to know more about the Tour, but also cycling history in general.
11. Tour Climbs: the complete guide to every mountain stage on the Tour de France – Chris Sidwells
It might have been published in 2013, but this book is a treasure trove of useful information and covers every climb used on the Tour de France until that date.
It’s in a coffee table format, with lots of photos interspersed amongst informative text that covers the racing history, information on what to expect if you’re riding the climb, the profile of the climb, an illustrative map and some directions as to how to find it.
It might be a few years out of date, but it’s still a great resource for those wanting to ride the climbs they’ve seen on TV.
12. The Ronde – Edward Pickering
The Ronde, as the Belgians call it, is the Tour of Flanders – probably the toughest one-day cycle race in the world. In cycling, and in particular in Belgium, the race is the equivalent of the Cup Final and Grand National rolled into one. Tens of thousands of spectators watch the cyclists battle against each other on fabled cobbled climbs, as the race loops around the Flanders region for around 250 kilometres.
A book for the cycling aficionado, Edward Pickering’s work is an in-depth account of the history of this world-famous race using the 2011 edition to seemingly describe every cobbled road and berg in the race as the battle to win unfolds on a Sunday afternoon in April.
13. Where There’s a Will - Emily Chappell
This book is a bit different to the rest on our list, because it’s about a very different kind of race: the Transcontinental, which Emily Chappell won in 2016.
Emily writes with an elegant, flowing style and provides a very personal and poignant portrayal of what it takes to compete in ultra-endurance races, the highs, the lows and the toll on body and mind. She also talks of the tragic loss of her great friend and ultra-endurance cyclist Mike Hall.
A bit like the books that are written about climbing Mount Everest, we were left with the feeling that we’d never want to do it ourselves, but we felt gripped by the story and in awe of those who did!
Check out our recent Q&A with Emily, here.
Best cycling coffee table book
We love to flick through these cycling coffee table books, admiring the fantastic photography and enjoying the excellent writing. We hope they help inspire you too!
14. Mountain High – Daniel Friebe
This glossy coffee table book contains Daniel Friebe’s selection of 50 of Europe’s most legendary climbs (he's also written Mountain Higher which contains another 50).
The book includes beautiful photography of the mountains (albeit without cyclists in shot) with really punchy, fascinating write-ups on each climb, that give you a general sense of the scenery and what to expect from the climb but, more interestingly as far as we were concerned, a real feel for the history and cycling folklore surrounding it.
This is a great buy for both armchair cyclists and those that want to go out and ride the climbs themselves. While it’s a superb source for inspiration, if you’re looking for a book to help with trip planning this might not be the one for you, as the relevant climbs are dotted all over Europe.
You can read our more detailed review of Mountain High, here.
15. Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs – Michael Blann
This is a very stylish coffee table book, containing 173 full page photos/double page spreads, interspersed with personal accounts of riding and racing in the mountains, written by famous cyclists.
Michael Blann is a former pro cyclist and is a very well-known photographer. The photos in this book are out of this world, conveying the grandeur, mystery and allure of the mountains from a cyclist’s perspective.
The book is dominated by photos, and while the dense text in a relatively small font isn’t that instantly appealing to read, the names that have written it draw you in. The accounts are all quite personal and well-written, for example Lizzie Deignan’s experiences training on the climbs of the Cote d’Azur and Andy Hampsten’s iconic Gavia Pass ride.
It’s also worth mentioning that the quality of the front cover and paper feels beautifully weighty.
You can read our interview with Michael Blann here.
16. Lonely Planet’s Epic Bike Rides of the World
Lonely Planet’s book of best bike rides focuses on fifty rides from around the world (with short paragraphs on a further 150 rides). They’re divided by continent, with most of the rides in Europe and the Americas, but also a selection from Asia, Oceania and two from Africa. Each ride has two double-page spreads, which includes one full page photo, a map and a short toolkit section with practical information such as the start/finish, how to get there, where to stay and more. After each ride there’s then a page of “more like this” with a paragraph on three other similar rides.
The rides are not exclusively road rides – there’s everything from urban sightseeing rides to multi-day family rides to month-long trips in the wilds. There’s also a good selection of rides for road cyclists, for example a four-day tour of Corsica, the UK’s Sea to Sea ride (part of our top Challenge Rides too!) and riding Northern Morocco’s Riff Mountains.
We love the fantastic Lonely Planet photography (though it’s a bit light on featuring cyclists!) and the fact this book is very much about the whole world. There’s not much practical detail, but that’s not really the point. This is a cycling travel book designed to inspire your adventure not plan your journey.
17. Great Cycling climbs, The French Alps – Graeme Fife
This book is much lighter on photography and heavier on text than our other choices. Published in 2019, it merges the most important bits of the Rapha published Great Cycling Climbs of the Northern Alps and Great Cycling Climbs of the Southern Alps content. The print quality of this book is great, and each page has a minimalistic, stylish layout.
It covers 81 different Alpine climbs in detail. That’s under half of what the two Rapha books covered – but it’s still many more climbs in each area than most people will have heard of, let alone have time to ride! The climbs are divided up into six areas with about 10-15 climbs per area. There are a few odd omissions from the coverage, including Mont Ventoux and Col de l’Iseran, but luckily we cover those - here and here!
The book includes basic details on things like length of the climb, gradient and elevation gain, but there are no profile charts and the maps are very simplistic. We enjoyed the history (both traditional and cycling) that is included and the flowing, descriptive style of the writing.
Are these the best books about cycling?!
What do you think are the best bike books out there?
Have we missed any great cycling books?!
We’d love to know! Please comment below.