In my first installment of Bike Racing 101, I went over the bare-bones basics for those of you who wanna jump in right away. For those of you who like a more methodical approach to getting into racing, here are some books I think you'll find helpful. I read all three as a new racer and found them useful; but they definitely have different strengths.
The first and, in my view, the best overall book is (you might have guessed) "Bike Racing 101: Essentials for Cycling Competition." If you buy and read just one book as a beginning racer - this is the one to get. With with whole sections on "Getting Ready to Race," training, skills and strategy, "Bike Racing 101" covers the waterfront.
One of the first chapters you should read is Chapter 3 - "Am I Ready to Race?" Here you'll find a very methodical approach to analyzing your strengths and weaknesses as well as a VERY valuable checklist what will help you evaluate your bike, your fitness, and your skill level. Don't worry if you don't measure up too well at first - the rest of the book is all about getting you ready to race.
There are also seperate chapters on nutrition/hydration and rest/recovery - areas often overlooked by newbies, but critical to overall performance. The "Racing Skills" section includes chapters on group riding, sprinting, climbing and cornering/descending and, while essential, are most valuable when read in the context of lots of on-the-road practice.
One of the best features of this book, which distinguishes it from many others in this category, is the "back section" - there's a Glossary and Index as well as a comprehensive list of Resources you'll find helpful. Of course, the internet-based resources may get a bit out-of-date, but that doesn't diminish the over quality of the book itself.
If you're a bike racing newbie, get this book. You won't be disappointed.
Now, if you need something a little more specific in the training area, and/or need to "Get Up To Speed On Your Bike In 10 Weeks Or Less," this next book is for you. "Ride Fast" provides a nicely packaged training program within its 160 pages. The primary goal of this book is to get you to the point where you can do a 3 mile time-trial in about 8 minutes - that's riding your bike at an avg of 25 miles per hour. The idea is that if you can do that all by yourself, you can certainly keep up with a racing peloton.
The book is organized by weeks and tells you EXACTLY what you need to do each week. Critical to the success of this (or any) prepackaged program, is how well it can be individualized to your personal strengths and weaknesses. This is an area where this book shines. Based on your level of perceived exertion (RPE) or your heart rate (HR), each workout is set at a certain level. A heart rate monitor would provide a more objective indication of how hard you're working, but it's not critical. Unfortunately, this book doesn't give power equivalents, but if you have a power meter you're probably beyond this book already anyway.
Interestingly, while there is a section on calculating your training zones using a heart rate monitor, that isn't covered until p.74 - almost 1/2 way through the book(!) It'd be more useful if this discussion was closer to the beginning, where the workout levels are covered. So you may find it helpful early on to skip-ahead to this section.
Each chapter gives you the training plan for a two-week period, an overview of the workouts, plus usable tips and guidance in a number of sidebars. The Plan Overview at the beginning is especially valuable since it not only describes the different levels of exertion required, but covers essentials of nutrition as well as the different off-the-bike exercises you need to complete the program.
Since this is book is more focused on training, you'll need a little more in the way of equipment. In addition to an indoor trainer (so you can ride even at night or on bad-weather days), you'll need some dumbells and an exercise ball (to do the off-the-bike exercises). Hopefully you have these items already. Fortunately, if you don't, they're not too expensive. You'll certainly get your money's worth out of them!
Like the Bike Racing 101 book, "Ride Fast" includes some very useful information at the end. Particularly useful is Appendix B - The Glycemic Index of Foods. You'll see how important this is when reading the nutrition section earlier. Rounding out the book is a "Cycling Workouts" section, as well as some blank pages you can copy and use for to journal your training/successes.
As promised, if you follow this plan, you WILL get faster. Though I make no guarantees about the 25mph average, I know that following even a prepackaged plan is better than no plan at all. it's the next best thing to having a personal coach.
I found "Cycle Racing: How To Train, Race and Win" to be the most visually satisfying of the newbie racer books I read, but - based on my margin notes (there weren't any - and I marked up the other books a LOT) - it didn't cover any new territory. However, if you want a nice, general overview - along the lines of the Bike Racing 101 book, but with MUCH more in the way of pictures (ALL in color) - this book is for you.
To be fair, other than the photos - which are really great - one way "Cycle Racing" distinguishes itself is that it goes more into the specific types of racing than the other books do. There are whole seperate sections devoted to mountain bike racing, cyclo-cross and track racing in addition to road racing. And in the "Race Training" section, there are some interesting examples of "typical" training programs for cyclists at all levels. At about 1 page each, they're nowhere near the level of detail of the "Ride Fast" book, but they provide some guidance to how a training program might be set up.
There is also a whole chapter devoted to "Troubleshooting" which I just rediscovered for this review and I highly recommend. While the other books cover basic health-related issues, "Cycle Racing" sets-aside an entire section of the book to tell you how to deal not only with common problems (colds, hay fever, etc.), but also provides some good basic first aid info on how to treat road rash (which you'll find ESPECIALLY helpful as a new racer. Ask me how I know.). Rounding out the chapter is a discussion of backaches and knee problems - two areas of particular interest to cyclists at all levels - and women-specific health issues (an unfortunately uncommon feature).
What the book lacks in depth-of-detail in the other areas, it certainly makes up in superb layout. It's a pleasure to read and refer to, and is ideal if you want a quick overview. I for one am going to re-read the road rash section . . .
I hope you find these reviews useful as you're starting out - and if you do, leave a comment and let me know what you thought about these books - or if you have any others you'd recommend for the new racer.