Book review: Ultra-Distance Cycling by Simon Jobson & Dominic Irvine

I was excited to read Ultra-Distance Cycling: An Expert Guide to Endurance Cycling (Amazon) because of the similarity of the title to the content of this Ride Far website. The book is well-written and has a lot of useful content, presented in a reasonably well-organized way.

Whereas this website concentrates on being successful in self-supported, ultra-distance bikepacking races, the authors of Ultra-Distance Cycling come from a background of supported ultra-distance races: Dominic Irvine is a record-breaking cyclist and Simon Jobson is his coach. This difference in background is reflected in a lot of the differences in the content.

The first chapter of Ultra-Distance Cycling, labeled Riding Technique, contains very similar information to that presented in the Rider Comfort section of this website. There is also a chapter on Equipment that covers similar topics to the Bike & Components section of this website, although with fewer specific recommendations, partly due to the slow nature of the book processing cycle not being able to keep up with short product cycles.

For me, the most interesting chapters of Ultra-Distance Cycling were those about nutrition and training. Experts in each of these fields have given excellent summaries of the scientific research into these topics and what it specifically means for people who want to ride extra-long distances. Almost all other publications on these topics are aimed at people who are preparing for events that take most people less than 6 hours, and so the advice is not always transferable to improving performance in multi-day, endurance cycling races.

I was pleased to see that one of the main recommendations in the chapter on Diet and Hydration is that ultra-distance cyclists should get most of their energy from normal food instead of relying on dedicated sports energy products. This is something that most experienced ultra-distance cyclists have discovered, but it takes many people who are transitioning from riding shorter distances a while to realize and appreciate this.

The book contains a lot of detailed nutritional advice, with specific recommendations as to which real foods contain the most appropriate mixtures of macro- and micro-nutrients to eat before, during, and after long-distance rides and shorter training sessions. I was pleased to again read that chocolate milk is an almost perfect post-ride recovery aid – it is certainly my favorite, see the Nutrition & Fueling Strategies section of this website.

The chapter on Training also contains a lot of useful advice and advocates mixing long training rides with short, intense rides. The authors also encourage people to do multiple extra-long training rides, not for the purpose of physical training, but with the primary goal being to build a wealth of experience of how to manage and take care of the mind and body during such efforts. This is entirely in agreement with the advice I give in the Physical Training section of this website. Unfortunately, although the authors give general training guidelines and a few training and test sessions are discussed, no specific training schedules are recommended, instead readers are encouraged to use a coach to create a customized training plan for them.

There are a couple of chapters on mental aspects, which I felt occasionally drifted off-topic but do contain some useful advice, including a good section on sleep deprivation. This website also contains a section on Mental Approach & Strategy.

Finally, Ultra-Distance Cycling contains some chapters which won’t concern self-supported cyclists as much, one on Sponsorship and PR (which is far more important when trying to offset the far higher costs of supported racing) and one on teamwork (doing supported races often means having two support cars and a large team of helpers). These chapters reinforced my preference for unsupported races, see the blog post I made earlier this year: Unsupported vs. supported ultra-distance bike races.

I would recommend buying Ultra-Distance Cycling: An Expert Guide to Endurance Cycling (Amazon) purely for the two chapters on nutrition and training, which actually make up almost one third of the content. My lack of scientific knowledge in these areas mean that I haven’t included much detailed information on this website about these topics. This book is not the perfect guide to these topics, but it is the best that I’ve seen for ultra-distance cyclists. The other chapters make interesting reading and it is good to see important topics addressed from a different perspective and in the end there is a lot of consistency between the advice given on Ride Far and what is in this book.

Many people have asked when I will write the Ride Far book, which is certainly something that I want to and plan to do. I had feared that I might have been scooped when I learnt about the Ultra-Distance Cycling book, but there is a LOT that I can add that this book either misses or doesn’t focus on because it is not specific to doing self-supported events. Turning the content of this website into a book will be a far bigger project than even I am imagining, but please stay tuned for further news: you can sign up to the newsletter or Like the Facebook page in the left-hand sidebar above.

2 thoughts on “Book review: Ultra-Distance Cycling by Simon Jobson & Dominic Irvine”

  1. Hi Chris. British Cycling members can get this book (and several other cycling titles, including The Long Distance Cyclists’ Handbook) for I think 45% off. I bought them and started reading this one on Sunday. I read 100 pages or so and then remembered you’d written a review of a book & came here to check. So far I also like the diet chapter (and am also a fan of chocolate milk – had one on Saturday near the end of a 150km ride). Overall though I find the book to be very general. That was one thing I found extremely useful about your site – that the information was detailed, including specific product recommendations. Of course these can (and do) go out of date, which is in part why having a web site is great, but I don’t think that should be a reason not to include them. Jobson & Irvine do mention Pàramo jackets, but that’s the only specific thing I remember (in terms of gear). I’ll finish the book, and am looking forward to the training chapter, but I think my “too general” criticism will stand. I found the short section on tandems interesting – a friend tried to convince me to do the TransAtlantic way on one, but I said no way!

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