What to Do with a Bad Book?

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I am cleaning out the Bicycle Quarterly Press library. I am keeping all the great books or those that we may need for reference later. This even includes two editions of Eugene Sloane’s Complete Book of Bicycling, which I bought mostly because they had some grainy images of René Herse and Alex Singer bikes – the only information I could find in those pre-Internet days.

But there are a lot of books that simply aren’t good enough to keep.

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It’s amazing how much has being printed on bicycles in recent years that has not stood the test of time. Hastily produced efforts on “custom bicycles” with fuzzy photos pulled off the Internet. A history of Campagnolo that appears to have been written in two weeks by somebody only marginally familiar with the company.  I’ll give these books to a local charity. Despite their obvious flaws, somebody will enjoy them…

One book though, has me stumped. It’s a lavishly produced book on Cycling Science, coming from an academic source, the University of Chicago Press. The problem with it is simple: Much of it is wrong.

I know that the science of cycling can be contentious. There still are people who believe that higher pressures will make a tire roll faster. Others insist that stiffer frames perform better. These can be considered gray areas where the science is evolving. However, in this book, the errors are unequivocal.

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Take the illustration above, for example. It purports to show the influence of aerodynamics on the performance of a bike. It shows how fast Chris Boardman, who holds the absolute hour record on an upright bike, would have gone on various types of bicycles, with the same power output.

The chart is obviously wrong. Even I can go faster than 9.2 mph even when riding in an upright position. Do I really put out more power than Boardman during his hour record? Does this mean I just need a superbike, and I’ll break Boardman’s record?

Of course, the chart is wrong. Boardman himself rode a standard track bike to a record of 30.7 miles – way more than the 20.9 miles the book predicts for the “tucked down with hands on drops” position. This is just one of numerous errors…

When a book contains many glaring errors like this, I don’t even want to give it to charity. It seems wrong to spread information that is obviously incorrect, and to poison the minds of people who cannot afford to buy better books on the subject. Right now, the book is in the recycling pile. What would you do with it?

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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34 Responses to What to Do with a Bad Book?

  1. blueride2 says:

    Right in the trash!

  2. Gert says:

    The fun thing would be to use them for shot gun practice.
    I do not know whether You have paper recycling in Seattle, but that would probably be the political correct thing to do.

    Shot gun practice is more fun though

    Gert

  3. Paul says:

    Surely you have a table with one leg too short.

  4. Ron says:

    Donate to an engineering student who is struggling to identify a topic for their paper and suggest they write about the ‘validity of references for university papers’.

  5. Someone gave me a copy of *Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips: Low-Tech & No-Tech Ways to Find, Ride, & Keep a Bicycle* by Dave Glowacz.

    I think I burned it.

  6. Obviously, I haven’t seen or read the book. However, the numbers given are MILES, not MILES PER HOUR. That suggests that the book is saying that for a given power output, a rider in various positions will travel different distances. The distinctions among the positions may be wrong, but certainly that’s less obvious, and they’re not wrong in the way you describe.

  7. Hugh Flynn says:

    I too have a copy of this book, it was a gift from a family member who thought I’d like it. Had it been any good, I’m sure I would have. Given what it must have cost to produce, and given it’s university press credentials, I can only say this book counts as a true missed opportunity to do something interesting. My copy now serves the role of bed-side table coaster. I don’t mind getting coffee or water rings on it, and the finish on my bed-side table has been nicely preserved. I say it’s a win for everyone and the best possible use of this book that I could think of.

  8. David says:

    I would do one of two things, and neither results in the books physical distraction. First, you could keep it as a list of things to work on for upcoming issues of Bicycle Quarterly, providing an actual scientific response to some of the claims made. Second, I like Ron’s idea: donate it to a mechanical engineering student (or a kinesiology student), as a source of potential projects.

  9. Mike J says:

    Recycling bin so that it may become something useful.

  10. alliwant says:

    Toss it. Misinformation is worse than no information.

  11. TimJ says:

    I collect cycling books and would never throw one away no matter how bad. But the Campagnolo book is only outclassed in badness by a website Campy put out for their 80th anniversary. A complete nightmare! Check out the awfulness here: http://anniversary.campagnolo.com/en

    I’d love to someday offer my list of “best” cycling books, there are plenty out there. Some of them even have credits for Jan!

    • I collect cycling books and would never throw one away no matter how bad.

      As a publisher, I feel a responsibility to make sure that everything I publish meets rigorous standards. I feel a bit like a doctor who “must do no harm”. Publishing shoddily researched and factually incorrect books is worse than just wasting paper, it’s also polluting minds. (This is different from publishing controversial books with ideas that not everybody agrees on.)

  12. Jon Gehman says:

    I’d hollow it out and hide my headbadge collection in it. It would give the impression to anyone finding it in my studio that it was somehow valuable and not just the pile of aluminum and brass scraps it really is…

  13. Cut out the middle of the pages to create a secret hiding place for a spare Nivex Derailleur.

  14. pacific says:

    Nicely shredded, it could provide good material for a worm or compost bin.

  15. Stephen Green says:

    Get rid of it. I am surprised that Glaskin is still being published. Twenty years ago he showed an impressive capacity to misunderstand bicycles; he would seem to have learned very little since.

  16. The Potato Man says:

    Comment on and annotate all the mistakes and send it to the original author or institution.

    • I don’t see why I should fix the author and editor’s shoddy work, free of charge. I wouldn’t expect a car mechanic to fix a lemon free of charge, either.

      If the book was interesting otherwise, but contained a few excusable errors, I would work with the publisher to improve it. For example, I send numerous corrections to the author of the book on Daniel Rebour.

  17. Kurt Sperry says:

    Compared to the output of the University of Chicago Economics Department, that book is truth itself!

  18. Burn it.

    And I’m a person who thinks books are sacred. Sacred enough to fill with real knowledge.

  19. Emmanuel says:

    Use the pages as a quick protection against the wind, by shedding them inside your jersey. Just like the Tour de France guys once they get to the top of a mountain….

  20. Papa Rando says:

    Find a Brevet in Hawaii or some other place with an active volcano. Then at the top, or at a lava field, throw it in as a token to appease the cycling gods of Saddle Sore and Tailwinds.

  21. marmotte27 says:

    Do you sometimes give talks on bicycling science? The book might be useful on such occasions to brandish as a bad example (just like showing images of existing cycling infrastructure to demonstrate how not to do it in hearings with local authorities).

  22. Wolf says:

    Gather up your dryer lint and roll up a handful in a couple of pages. Twist and dip the ends in a bit of wax to seal, then store in a plastic bag. These make great firestarters.
    That’s about the only way that book would be actually worthwhile.

    Wolf.

  23. John Duval says:

    What bothered me was that it was apparently intentionally kept unburdened by any sort of useful or relavent information. It reads like a politically correct children’s textbook. We need not worry that someone might use it as a reference in later works. Recycle it and be done with it.

  24. Mark P says:

    Mark it up (with references when possible), put an F on it and send it back to the university. Double points for requesting a refund.

  25. GuitarSlinger says:

    Phew ! Thanks Jan ! You just saved me a fair chunk of change as I was just about to order that Campy book from someone ! Guess now I can consider spending that money on your most recent book . At least I know that’ll be worth the cost of entry .

    As to bad books ? Donating them to charity …. +1 . One mans poison being another’s hidden gem . Somebody will want them

  26. Eric Daume says:

    Roughly mark up the most glaring errors, and leave it at a used book store. Wouldn’t that be a fun find for someone in the future!

  27. I made the mistake of buying this book, fortunately second hand. I will say that nicely shredded it served well as cat litter.

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