Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rough Ride - Paul Kimmage

What? Another damn book? What about riding?

Oh, be quiet.

Rough Ride - Behind the Wheel with a Pro Cyclist. By Paul Kimmage

This book was written in 1990 just a bit after Paul Kimmage's career as a professional cyclist ended and my edition included a 2007 update. I purchased it, by the way, at Powell's in Portland, which is an experience anyone who likes books should undertake, at somewhat coincidentally, while Rider One and I were perusing titles together before heading off to River City Bikes to look around. But I digress.

Paul Kimmage was a pro out of Ireland in the wake of, and riding at the time of, Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche. These two were superstars of their day and Sean Kelly is one of the hard men's hard men. All those jokes we tell now about Jens Voigt being tough could be substituted with Sean Kelly except that he was arguably a harder man (if you can believe it). Kimmage was inspired by these guys and rose up through the semi-professional and then professional ranks at a time when English speakers able to do so were few and far between. Kimmage was not a "great" cyclist, but certainly had the makings of a yeoman in the ranks including being a decent climber. Unfortunately, in addition to be able to climb mountains, he also carried a chip on his shoulder the size of one.

Kimmage came to recognize the signs of the rampant drug use in the peleton around him and struggled with the issues. He never strayed very far into the use of banned substances, but he certainly understood the issue. If he had been able to write with more empathy or understanding, which you would think would be possible considering his own struggles, this could have been a great cycling book. Instead, he comes off as a bit of a sanctimonious prick which appears to have been his character from his earliest writing. It does not appear to me that his negative experience with drug use caused the bitterness, but he was just bitter or suffering from a self-esteem issue from the start.

It's too bad, then, that this book is so strongly tainted with the pettiness or insecurity that Kimmage shows, because his message is valuable and correct, which is that the whole system encourages the use of drugs and there are players at literally every level that make the whole thing possible. Ultimately the strength of the message and, for me, the first hand look into the peleton, make the book a recommended read for anyone who follows pro cycling, but be warned; while you probably will agree with his points, you probably won't come away with any warm fuzzy feelings for the author himself. Unless, of course, you are a sanctimonious prick yourself. But I digress again.


  1. You put into words my feelings about this book that I've never been able to verbalize. A lot of the book seems in a whining tone, and blaming not using PED's the reason he never made it big.

    But, he's an excellent writer now, and the story is definitely worth telling.

  2. Nice post. That should have been a great book. No matter how hard I tried, I never could take a liking to the author.