Hard-core bicycling is a combination of muscle and mind, of disciplined technique and enduring attitude. While many books–including Mastering Cycling by John Howard–offer advice about the muscle-technique side of cycling, many of them tend to overlook the mind-attitude aspect. Howard, who is described as “legendary cyclist and coach,” is distinctive in that his book includes both kinds of material. The book is intended to instruct competitive cyclists as they move through middle age into their older years. It also intends to encourage them. Born in 1947, Howard was 62 when this book was published and therefore understood what it is like to be growing old.
More important is his evident love of bicycling, an activity that he started in childhood before he could have imagined entering into the race-oriented aspects of the sport. “Life in itself is a miracle,” Howard exclaims, “and I have found cycling to be a great way to enjoy the many miracles of living life on this planet. Ever since I first discovered cycling, I have loved feeling my heart pumping energy into my limbs and covering mile after mile by my own power. I began pedaling through the beautiful Ozark Mountains and rural countryside near Springfield, Missouri, and now I frequent the sunlit coastal beauty of southern California. I have had a lifelong love affair with the bicycle…Any bike will do. For me, it’s about feeling the joy of being alive and living life to the fullest.
Howard believes that a love for bicycles needs to be matched with demanding goals if cyclists are to reach and maintain their potential. Because he has been a competitive cyclist, with remarkable records in Ironman Triathlons, RAAM (Race Across America), and other extreme cycling events, Howard focuses upon ways that older cyclists can continue to enjoy competitive cycling. He devotes chapters to training on and off of the bike, indoors and out of doors. He discusses a performance diet, preparing to race, strategies for every event, and dealing with injuries. As proof that competition-focused cycling can serve older cyclists well, Howard includes brief descriptions of several cyclists in their seventies and eighties who have continued to race.
Although I have never been a competitive cyclist of the kind that Howard describes, I believe that challenging goals also provide an important dynamic factor for all of us whom Howard refers to as recreational cyclists. Because they are physically challenging, long tours require that cyclists prepare body and mind in anticipation of the events. Many of the same training patterns that Howard describes in full detail are as beneficial for bicycle touring as they are for racing. When we are on the road all day, day after day, we have to pay attention to what we eat and drink, and give serious attention to how we ride.
Whereas race-oriented cycling focuses attention upon the physicality of the sport, tour-oriented cycling focuses attention upon the thinking-feeling aspects of life. Whether or not we were competitive cyclists at some point in our cycling career, we can benefit from non-competitive but demanding touring. In that process this easily read book by John Howard will help us improve in the basic skills of two-wheeled travel.