(This was originally published in the long and cold off-season of 2014)
If you intend to spend part of your winter with your feet up and a book in your face, here is a selection of motorcycle racing books you might want to consider owning. The hyperlinks lead to Amazon, but you can also find the books on various other sites and even in bookstores.
John Surtees: My Incredible Life On Two And Four Wheels
John Surtees is way, way, before my time. He retired from racing nearly before I was born, but his legacy as the only man to have won the 500cc Grand Prix (MotoGP) title and the F1 car world championship ever in history means he remains relevant even today. Maybe more relevant than ever.
He’s written at least two previous autobiographies, but this one, published by the same people who now do Julian’s MotoGP Season Review, is basically a large photo book with in-depth captions written by Surtees. It’s fantastic. The photo reproductions–most of them in black and white–are beautiful.
I was relieved to see that Surtees’ career in bike racing filled nearly half of the book, because my initial fear when seeing the tome was that bikes would be framed as just a series of steps that led him to “real” racing, in F1 and other forms of racing door-slammers. Instead, Surtees gives his life in motorcycle racing full due, and I found the photos and text fascinating. Surtees raced GP when the Norton Manx and those incredible old dustbin-fairing bikes, which looked like two-wheeled jets, filled the grid. When there were no rain tires or even straw bales in places. His memories are pure treasure.
Valentino Rossi writes the forward for this Surtees book. Although his short introductory text reads like it was “phoned in”, just that it exists is important enough. You see, Valentino doesn’t really give away his old helmets and he doesn’t really write forwards to books. But he grew up as an F1 junkie so Rossi certainly knows the impact and accomplishment of Mr. John Surtees.
For me, this book had ‘I didn’t know that’ moments every few pages. I was glad to add it to my bookshelf.
Official MotoGP Season Review 2014
Like most fans, we can’t get enough of Julian Ryder via his Ryder Notes column here on the ‘planet. Julian’s vast experience, sage thoughts and training as an actual journalist make his columns and annual season review a “must read” for MotoGP fans.
Ryder’s official ’14 MotoGP Season Review is packed full–seriously–of depth, observations and facts. The book covers MotoGP from all angles, from the human to the political to the technical.
With a new publishing company on board for 2014 we wondered if Ryder’s paper-published observations might be tempered slightly. No fear–his most recent effort is actually more amazing than what we’ve seen from this book previously. As we’ve said before, Ryder’s season review is better than any YouTube video, more in-depth than any weak tweet and offers more solid info than any purported MotoGP iPad app.
Pushing the Limits
Casey Stoner’s Pushing the Limits
When I finally obtained a copy of Casey Stoner’s book, (which wasn’t distributed in the US), I looked at the dust jacket and my brain recoiled a little. “Pushing the Limits” is one of those action verb titles not unlike Ben Spies’ “Taking It To The Next Level”, both of them fine examples of sports cliches and therefore devoid of originality and substance.
Weak title or not, Stoner’s book is probably the best rider biography published since What If I Had Never Tried It: Valentino Rossi The Autobiography.
Stoner’s biography–written by/with his friend Matt Roberts–is, as you’d expect from Stoner, prickly, thorough and ultimately a great read as a result of his honesty and perspective. The book takes Stoner from his threadbare youth in Australia to the season he decided to retire from MotoGP, as a two-time world champion.
Engrossed, I read Stoner’s book in one day when I finally obtained it. I have re-read it several times since then. And … I still can’t decide if by reading Stoner’s book my admiration for him has grown or if I just feel very sorry for him. It’s certainly enlightening to hear him suss out the seasons and situations, but this book isn’t a celebration of the racing life, at all. Initially there was a happy, skinny little backwoods kid in Australia … who was made very unhappy and seemingly bitter by a life in racing.
There are plenty of powerful scenes that come from Stoner’s book. Just a few of the more memorable ones include:
… Stoner describing his father, banned from the paddock in Australia, working on his son’s bike by putting his arms through a wire fence that formed the perimeter of the paddock.
… A probably malnourished Stoner standing outside a friend’s house in England seemingly hoping to be invited in for breakfast.
… Stoner recounting the WTF email he received from Ducati’s Claudio Domenicali when Stoner became too ill to race.
Obviously, it goes without saying that it seems more than slightly bizarre to read an autobiography by a guy who maintained for most of his career that he just wanted to be left alone. In “Pushing the Limits”, however, he manages to break through his isolation in brutally honest fashion, unlike most writers of MotoGP biographies.
He didn’t have to write this book, but I am glad that he did.
Troy Bayliss: A Faster Way
I club raced and was deep into the club scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. My dad wasn’t a world champion and in fact no one in my family had owned a motorcycle, much less raced one, so when we rolled the bikes onto the three rail-trailer and headed off to the track we really had no idea what we were doing or how to go about roadracing.
I (barely) lived to tell the tale.
At that time, an instruction manual on racing, from an unimpeachable source, would have been almost priceless.
After a bunch of crashes and broken bones it finally dawned on me that I enjoyed working on racing motorcycles or writing about them much more than I did racing them. I was occasionally fast enough to win a few novice club races, but after breaking my hand, and my wrist, and lightly fracturing my leg I decided to stop racing.
While several of the guys I raced against later returned to the track and raced at the club level again, or now race vintage bikes, I’ve never been remotely tempted to find my leathers and give it a go.
Until I read Troy Bayliss’ new book, Troy Bayliss: A Faster Way
For whatever reason, Bayliss’ book spoke to me in ways that no other racing/riding instruction book ever has, and I’ve read plenty of them. Bayliss explains racing as he knows it in a very concise yet analytical way that the soft matter inside my skull responds to easily, unlike the explanations by my friend, Keith Code, for example. Code’s books, schools and videos on racing are hugely successful. He counts former world champions as riders he has helped to go faster on the racetrack, but sadly, Code’s Jedi power cannot penetrate my dulled-by-way-of-too-much-coffee brain. Once after a race crash, with my broken wrist propped up on window of a van, I read both of Keith’s books all the way to the CCS races at Florida. Arriving in Daytona, I was, if anything, more confused than when I started out. My brain just doesn’t respond to Code’s cerebral methodology, beneficial though it is for many.
Conversely, when Bayliss’ book arrived at the Soup office, I pulled it out of the box and read a chapter or two. Bayliss’ philosophy and his way of instruction–roughly summed up as ‘If it does this, then try this’ really made the technique of riding a racing motorcycle fast much less of a mystery, at least for a hopeless case like me. I liked the way that Bayliss explained body position, throttle control and general chassis set up.
After reading a few chapters of Troy’s book, still standing above the shipping box it came in, I did something I had not done in years. I wondered where my old leathers were, or how many cows were going to have to die in order for me to get a new pair.