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Book Review: FASTER: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists

faster by michael hutchinson

I always wanted two things during my racing career.

One, to get more cute girls cheering me on. And two, to go faster.

Generally speaking, I had to go faster in order to get more cheers, so I centered my lifestyle around making myself and my bicycle go faster.

Michael Hutchinson did the same thing, albeit with much greater success! And it’s all detailed in his book, FASTER: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists, which was just released yesterday.

This book takes you behind the scenes into not just Michael’s personal experience, but also the inner workings of the Great Britain Olympic Cycling Team and Team Sky. You may have heard of them.

You might not be at that level (we can all dream,) but this a very interesting premise. Michael is looking for what makes him fast, and what makes the faster guys faster. Anything from genetics and training to banned drugs and wind tunnel testing. And we can all take a few lessons from his work!

See, Michael Hutchinson is not only an elite cyclist, but also a great author. He talks the talk after walking the walk.

This guy gave up (and essentially ruined) his career in order to pursue pro cycling. He raced against the greats, had access to great training tools and great coaches, and he shares the story of it all, here.

The intro explains his cycling career, and the rest is what he has learned from personal experience, lab testing, expert interviews, etc. etc.. He’s clearly passionate on the topic and has the experience to put this all into perspective.

Here’s why I was positively thrilled with the book:

It’s very well-written and engaging.

I began reading it while waiting in line for an REI garage sale, and at just a few lines in, I knew it was awesome. I almost couldn’t put it down when it was time to go in and shop! (After the first page, you KNOW it’s going to be hilarious!)

It’s a completely different type of book from BIKE FIT, which I wrote about not long ago. That’s an insanely useful book, but it’s mostly a “how to” book. This is more like reading a story or novel, where you learn your lessons in story form. Every piece of advice comes in the form of a real-life story, often with some dry humor thrown in.

I laughed out loud.

Here’s one of my favorite lines from the book (in the “free speed” chapter,) which shows you the humor:

In 2010 I switched all my wheel bearings to ceramic versions, at a cost of about £800. You could hold a wheel and spin it, and it went round at what looked like the same speed for so long you gradually became convinced that it was actually speeding up. I used to amuse myself with them for hours at a time, which was just as well since I couldn’t afford any other entertainment by the time I’d paid for them.

I was cracking up! Also, as someone reluctant to upgrade to fancy overpriced bike parts, this makes me feel much better about the money I’ve saved!

If you’ve ever competed, you can relate.

Chapter 1 was a reminder of all the things I felt back when my life revolved around one goal: winning bike races.

I loved all the calculations Michael did in his head about what would help and what wouldn’t, and how lack of motivation (fatigue) can come from the monotony and solitude of training just like it can come from overtraining.

If you haven’t competed, it will help you see just how much hard work is required to be an athlete.

The lessons are versatile.

Most lessons could be applied to other endurance sports, so you don’t necessarily have to be a cyclist to learn something useful here.

It’s only part of the puzzle.

Michael admits that even the best advice in the book won’t be much help to the average club racer. This is for someone who has a great training program in place already, and has the physiological potential to be an elite athlete.

To really make it, you need all the pieces of the puzzle. Nevertheless, it’s a great way to open your mind get your brain thinking like an elite rider.

There’s so much more to discover.

The last chapter is about genetics, gene expression, and all that new-fangled stuff that’s being developed (and for all I know, could be replacing doping programs in the well-funded pro teams.)

It’s super interesting and philosophical even. Plus, it’s a good segue into what you might read about in a 2024 release, FASTER Part II.

Really though, there are mind blowing opportunities ahead of us in this arena!

I did have one complaint though.

The chapters are like 40 pages long! Sometimes I might only have 15-30 minutes to read, and I can’t get through a chapter! And I hate stopping in the middle of a chapter since the book is so enthralling! (It took me three days to get through chapter 2 and I hated that.)

I think the shortest chapter was about 22 pages long, with the rest being much longer.

Other than that, the book far exceeded my expectations!

I can’t see how anyone could not enjoy it!

Just remember that you’re probably not on the level of these racers.

So your priorities probably don’t line up the same way.

What’s sort of funny is that two main things Michael says are overrated, useless, and possibly do more harm than good, are two things that (in my opinion) are excellent for the normal athletes looking to improve:

  • Proper nutrition
  • Sports psychology

For the elite, they can race pretty darn well no matter their diet. As long as they don’t eat something that gives them food poisoning, pigging out on junk food doesn’t seem to do much harm. Whereas normal athletes, if you eat right, you feel better and have more energy, you can make the most of your physiology.

Top riders generally exhibit supreme mental toughness, too. A few days ago I mentioned Tyler Hamilton and his doping violation. But I should mention again, possibly the most widely-known story on Hamilton, of how he ground his teeth down so much due to gritting in pain from breaking his collar bone and continuing to race!

Then you have amateur athletes with little confidence, not a whole lot of mental toughness, and little experience on a big stage. That type of mindset is a common limiter to success. That’s where sports psychology can make an impact.

In either case, it’s about getting this stuff right so that it doesn’t diminish what you’re physically capable of.

But I digress. We’re supposed to be talking about this book, not my personal desire to have all athletes eating nutritiously!

[Note: This is not to be confused with the similarly-titled book, FASTER: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed, by Jim Gourley. Or the movie featuring Dwayne Johnson.]

My final verdict is…

If you’re not an elite level cyclist, the actual advice in this book probably won’t make you faster. It will, however, save you a lot of money when you find out what does not work. Either way, the book is enlightening and will have you looking at cycling in a whole new light. Plus, it’s hilarious!

Official website: www.Bloomsbury.com

Buy online: www.Amazon.com

Product Review Details
Company: Bloomsbury
Product: FASTER: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists
Reviewed by: Coach Levi
My Rating: 4.4 out of 5
Date last updated: 2014-10-01
Obtained Product: Free review copy from publisher.
CoachLevi.com Advertiser: No.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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