The BaldBiker’s Book Review: A Dog in a Hat

As the days grow shorter and the snowbanks begin to pile up, cyclists in my neck of the woods head indoors to wind trainers or spin class to keep the legs moving until the warmer weather returns.

Winter is also a great time to catch up on some reading and there have been some good cycling related books published and from time to time I’ll share my thoughts on them with you.

Belgium is renowned for being a cold, miserable, wet place where the bad roads can take their toll on your body and bike and the North Sea cross winds will split a peleton to shreds. Yet as cyclists many of us dream of the chance to ride in the land of the great ones. Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Boonen and Gilbert. All greats. All Belgians. All kick ass.

And Belgium is where the great races are too. If it takes a figure skater to win the Tour de France, it takes a hockey tough guy to win the Tour of Flanders or Het Volk. Racing in Belgium is for the hard men of the sport and the country shows respect for men who race over the cobbles. Especially the Flemmish.

Joe Parkin heard the call of the cobbles in the 1980s made his pilgrimage to the land of mussels and frites to make a name for himself as a pro cyclist. He tells his tale, warts and all in “A Dog in a Hat, an American Bike Racer’s Story of Mud, Drugs, Blood, Betrayal and Beauty in Belgium”.

As a 19 year old California racer, Parkin was having some good local success and at the urging of Bob Roll, rolled the dice and went to Belgium with next to no money in his pocket, ready to break into the pro ransk.

What follows is an eye opening account of how cruel pro cycling can be. Fixed races, sadistic Directeur Sportifs, the politics of the peleton and drugs. And oh, the drugs. This book is pre-Festina affair and the world of cycling was a different beast than it is today. Parkin walks us through local Kermis races where preparation could involve dipping into the “Belgian pot” for a little boost.

“In those days, if a rider planned on being “good” for the race, then exactly fifteen minutes before the start a syringe would come out. Some clear liquid would be sucked up into it from any number of different ampoules and injected, either subcutaneously or intravenously. If injected subcutaneously, the substance was usually a low grade amphetamine. Injecting it this way would create little time-release bumps under the skin that riders called “bolleketten” , which basically means “little rocket balls”.”

Parkin endures the Kermis scene with it’s fixed races and crazed Flemmish riders running on hot sauce and eventually lands a pro contract. What follows is an engaging look behind the scenes of pro cycling. Rivalries with team mates, double dealing team owners and the relentless suffering that comes along with the sport.

Yet for Parkin there seems to be some kind of romance in all of it. He seems to find some kind of beauty in all of it. Maybe that’s why in the end, it feels like a breakup when Parkin makes the decision to return to America. Belgium was his mistress and they just couldn’t work it out.

A Dog in a Hat is a great read for any cyclist and anybody interested in the history behind our sport. It’s a well told tale with a well known cast of characters like Plankaert, Hoste and de Wolf carried out over the pave of the Ardennes.

A Dog in a Hat is from Velopress who bring us a lot of great cycling books. The book has been out for a few years now but has a timeless quality to it. Joe Parkin also released “Come and Gone” which chronicles his time back in America extending his racing career on the continental circuit.

Until next time, ride to eat and eat to ride.

The bald biker.

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And you may ask yourself: “well, how did I get here?”.

Over the years I’ve provided content for other peoples’ blogs, maybe it’s time I get my own up and at ’em.

So what will people be reading here? Those who know me know my love of cycling in all of its’ forms. They know I also like to cook (and eat). Many of my acquaintances also know of my journey from traditional media to sales to sales in the social media space.

So that’s what we’ll do here. Cycling, food, social media. You know, that old chestnut.

Mostly however, cycling. That’s been something that consumed me since I was a 14 year old kid. My connection to what was pretty much an unheard of sport began when my mother was watching the 1976 Olympics from Montreal.  The team pursuit was happening in the once gorgeous Montreal Velodrome. “Hey, I bet that’s something you could do”.

Up to that point my sporting life was typical of a Canadian kid. This means lots of hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer. Unfortunately, being the smallest guy on the team I would never stand a chance of making it out of house league. Frustrated, I eventually walked away from organized sports. One thing I did do however was to ride my bike everywhere I could. I didn’t think of the health benefits of it, I just liked the freedom.

My mothers’ suggestion stuck with me but it wasn’t until I was 20 that I considered cycling beyond a way to get to the corner store. Cycling was beginning creep into the North American conscience. A kid from Reno, Nevada named Greg Lemond won the world championship road race and suddenly this sport with it’s odd traditions and stranger dress code might be something worth looking into.

Locally, a burgeoning cycling scene was taking hold with a well organized club and a racing scene was starting to emerge. My local ski/bike shop had a good selection and helpful staff, one of whom was a younger local racer who was quick to recommend a bike and some gear that may help me get started.

Twenty seven years later, that local racer remains one of my closest friends and we continue to ride the same roads we did as young bucks in our twenties. One of us rides them a bit slower however.

Over the past twenty seven years I’ve been a decent criterium racer, a road racer who did well until the road turned uphill, a mountain bike racer and a dad who is hoping to pass his passion along to three kids.

Today I ride mostly for fitness doing everything I can to stave off Father Time. But something happened a couple of years ago that re-ignited my passion for riding and for the people you meet while riding bicycles.

I got a Twitter account and started following pro-cyclists, bike companies, advocates and the like. Before you knew it I was having conversations with other cyclists the world over. Not just any cyclists, influential bicycle people. I was chatting with prominent bloggers, pros and even got a tweet from Gary Fisher. C’mon, the dude invented the mountain bike!

There’s something to this social media thing.

Now connected to a global community I can engage with those who share an appreciation for life on two wheels. I interview cyclists from all levels, blogs ask me to review products for them and finding inspiration for a ride can be just a tweet away.

For me, a blog is the next logical step in my social media experience. Without blogging I kind of felt some of the guilt I feel when I watch PBS pledge drives. I love the programming on PBS, just not enough to cough up a donation. Just as I really enjoy social media, just not enough to provide original and meaningful content.

So let’s change that. Let’s chat about bikes, food and this crazy thing we call social media.

Until next time. Ride to eat, eat to ride.

thebaldbiker

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