“I Like Alf: 14 Lessons from the Life of Alf Engers”

On Wednesday evening I held the launch for my new book at Look Mum No Hands! which is a super venue with very friendly people. It was also central and accessible for a big part of the likely audience, and for Alf and Judith to get to. It was an amazing evening and very busy. At one point the queues for a signed book were heading out the door. Everyone wanted to speak to Alf, to hear something, or to tell him something about an experience they had or try to share the impact he had on their lives. It was an emotional few hours.

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Alf discussing his career; Aende just visible to the left. Pic Dean Addison.

I did a brief introduction, speaking about how and why the book came about. I then did a Q+A of sorts, showing key photos from the book (and some that didn’t make it in) and asking Alf questions about each one. He answered fully with lots of detail, humour and an admirable insouciance.

The book looks great. It’s what I’d call a ‘little book’, coming in at about 150 pages or so. I’ve covered the full range of Alf’s lived experience over the past 78 years, and intertwined it with social history and cultural change. Like ACE, my previous book, I include myself in the process and the narrative, recounting details of the meetings and using it as a narrative mechanism to keep things moving, add levity and also get to the key details and describe the process. I think it works, but to be honest, it’s just how I write. I try and avoid it crossing over into narcissism.

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78 years young; the King. Pic: Dean Annison.

Dean Annison was there, a big fan of Alf’s. He bought along an Aende from the mid 1970s, drilled to within an inch of its life. It was a spectacular sight. He took lots of fantastic photos, many of which are in this post. Barry Chick was there and it was a privelege to meet the chap who built the record machine – this forms the climax of the narrative. Michael Broadwith and Helen Simpson there, along with Raph Dadswell, another member of the illustrious End to End club. Mick Ballard popped in, and there were a whole host of other cycling legends who kept their heads down.

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The amazing Judith, incredible Alf, and the author.

There have been some very early notices regarding the book which indicate that it will be received positively. It’s the most nerve-wracking bit. i think I’ve been suffering from ‘second album syndrome‘. I can’t even look at the book. I think, or at least did think, it’s terrible. Too short, not lyrical enough, not got enough eye-opening similes, somehow not good enough in many different ways. I’m not sure this is true but I think it’s inevitable when you’ve been working on something for so long. It’s also much harder to write a book about one person, there is a far narrower sense of scope and the degree of responsibility is clearer. I had a debt to Alf to tell his story, and whilst I might have views about things, this is his book, about him, telling his story. He gave generously of his time and he thought I was the right person to tell it. To all extents and purposes, even though it’s not marketed (as if it’s actually marketed at all) as an authorised biography, that’s what it is. Alf gave it his blessing. His voice, literally and figuratively, was in my ear throughout the process, along with that of the other people who contributed or are somehow invested in the narrative. There are things I left out which will never see the light of day, for obvious reasons, or for complex reasons, but ultimately because they don’t fit in with the tone of the book, or the purpose of the book. There are also some minor details which maybe I would have put in, but the editorial process being what it is (and essential) I was convinced to leave them out.

Obligatory “I wrote this” selfie

We’ ve done a print run of 1000 copies in the first edition. I have a set of postcards and stickers which I’ve included in the early ones that I’ve sent out. As an author, I often recommend people buy the book from me wherever possible. It means paying full price, avoiding the loss-leading or free postage of Amazon, for example. The reason I do this is because of the way my two and half years work on this is rewarded. The standard royalty rate on book sales is 10%. For every book sold I get £1.39p. This means that the publisher gets a fee – which is only right – for covering the cost of the printing, the editorial service (an ongoing and epic process) and the other typical costs; proofing, layout and so on. Distributors get a cut. Book sellers take half the RRP. Their cut is much bigger than anyone elses. My royalty rate is protected, even if everything else is discounted – the race to the bottom from Amazon hits the publisher hardest. Ergo – support your local author and publisher, keep it independent, reward creativity. By buying direct the publisher and the author come out of it a lot better.

If I buy the books from the publisher I get a discount. This means I stand to make around £5 from each book by selling directly. Over the course of a print run this means I can get some degree of a return that convinces me that writing (admittedly niche) books can possibly, just possibly, be something more than a labour of love, and least can be justified on the fee for each book, if not the hourly rate (!). It also works out better for the publisher.

Aende/Pongo special – more void than substance
Sachs Huret Jubilee – weapon of choice
Tighten carefully

So: if you want a book, and a signed one at that with postcards and stickers, please contact me directly via this blog or other channels. If you leave a comment (any comment) i can see your email address.

I’m out of the initial stock so there are no more Alf signatures (and won’t be anymore unless we do another event together), but I get a re-up on stock on Tuesday when I will do another post run. I do have the set of launch postcards (4) and stickers to add in, until they’ve all gone.

And back to those initial notices:

This is from Keith Bingham. He’s arguably the most respected cycling journalist of the past 50 years. This is amongst the highest praise I’ve ever had. I hope he enjoys the rest of the book.

What can I say? This is incredible! I devoured the first chapter within minutes of taking the book out of the envelope. Great narrative and style. He’s captured the enigmatic Alf and the period in question like no other.

This is from Alf and Judith:

I just wanted to say very well done and congratulations for the book, it’s fabulous.

This is from Mick Bradshaw, a contemporary of Alf’s and lightning quick bike rider:

Absolute belter of a book, ain’t put it down since I got it yesterday.

I hope everyone else enjoys it. At the moment, pending it dribbling through to Amazon, you can buy it online from the distributor, Cordee. But obviously, you’ll be buying the deluxe edition from me instead.

Finally, the launch event was joyous. It was everything I value about cycling; community, generosity of spirit, shared experiences and the fellowship of the road. It is why I write about cycling. And now onto the next project(s), of which there are potentially three.

Angela Carter

There are a lot of duff quotes about bikes out there, some of which are endlessly recycled (no pun intended).

I came across this one whilst doing some stuff about Angela Carter. It’s my new favourite.

 “To ride a bicycle is in itself some protection against superstitious fears, since the bicycle is the product of pure reason applied to motion. Geometry at the service of man! Give me two spheres and a straight line and I will show you how far I can take them. Voltaire himself might have invented the bicycle, since it contributes so much to man’s welfare and nothing at all to his bane. Beneficial to the health, it emits no harmful fumes and permits only the most decorous speeds. How can a bicycle ever be an implement of harm?” 



Time Off the Bike

The talk went well – there were lots of people and I’m fairly sure that at least two of them weren’t either friends or family. It was a tough gig – the first bit of talking I’ve done about this book, and the book isn’t out yet. I was really grateful that people came along, listened, and then asked questions. Sometimes people ask questions and you know the answer. This is most gratifying because you feel like you actually are an expert.

Prior to my talk, Jack Thurston did some Lost Lanes stuff. It was full of super images and made me want to go and bivvy out on a micro-adventure somewhere on a hill in Somerset. The book – Lost Lanes West, but any of the three will do – is absolutely great.

And on to time-off – I went out riding in the rain the other day and came a cropper on West Harptree. It’s a stinky descent and the surface was really wet and greasy. My tyres were old and a bit slippery, which was fine in all the beautiful weather we’ve been having, but not when there is a thin film of moisture and diesel oil. The front wheel went out and I went down like a sack of potatoes. It was as hard as I’ve crashed for a very long time. I slid down the road on my side, taking the skin off my hip, elbow and knee. I did some damage to my shoulder – soft tissue damage and some very minor ligament thing that has initials but isn’t anywhere near as bad as some other chums have experienced lately. It seemed to twist something and it runs down my arm.

Since then, I have been mostly sticking to things – trousers and bed sheets – and posting up epic instagram pictures of my injuries, trying to make them look as bad as possible. I have received lots of sympathy, mostly along the lines of, “Why were you on Harptree in the wet?”, “Forgot how to descend have we?”, and some troubling comments about my chins due to the unflattering angle of one of the pics.

You live and learn. I have learnt that hydrocolloid dressings are really really good. Thank you James for the recommendation.

Thisi is my sling. This is my PED bag. It is where I keep my PEDs.
These are my elbow wounds. And these are my chins. I have many chins. 
This is my super sticky leg hole. 
This is Anthony pissing in the wind. 

I would like it noted that after my crash I rode the 13 miles home.


Alf: preview Saturday at 3pm, Bristol

I’m doing a talk all about the new Alf book. It’ll be at 3pm as part of the Pedal festival.

I’m going to talk about the strange process of writing a book about another person. I’ll also touch on some of the stuff I couldn’t include in the book for various reasons.

It’ll be about time, social change, bike racing, but mostly Alf Engers.

Free tickets here:


I Like Alf: 26 September

Fantastic news; we have a publication and launch date.

It’s been a bit of a journey, involving lots of interviews with Alf along with all the usual stuff that goes into writing a book.

On Wednesday 26 September there will be a launch party at Look Mum No Hands! in London. It’ll take the format of a loose question and answer with Alf Engers, a bit of a spiel from me and a chance to buy copies of the book and get them signed.

You can get free tickets for the launch here:


In the interim, there is the chance to meet Alf at the National “25” Championships in Liphook, on Sunday 5 August. Alf will be guest of honour and presenting the prizes. There will be a commemorative set of 4 postcards and some stickers available to buy on the day (at very low prices, simply to cover production costs), and the opportunity to get these signed, not only by Alf but also by Marcin, Dan Bigham and others. The race HQ is Bohunt School. You’ll also be able to pre-order the book and if lucky, pre-order one of the ultra-rare drillium editions. (note: the pages are not drilled, it comes in a beautiful, hand milled hardcase).


On Saturday 18 August at 3pm I’ll be giving a preview of the book, reading some sections and playing unreleased audio from interviews, along with unseen images. This is happening as part of the Bristol Ride Culture festival, organised by Forever Pedalling and in conjuntion with Spoke and Stringer. I’ll also have copies of the hill climb book and postcards/stickers for sale and will take pre-orders for the drillium (subject to availability) and standard editions.


Pavé, Dekenkolb, Jörg

Yesterday’s stage delivered everything that I’d hoped it would and more. It also gave the armchair expertmen plenty of hot air to emit in the mistaken belief that people were listening and cared about what they had to say (blah blah not fair blah GC blah) and have yet to fully understand the phrase “that’s bike racing”. They share pictures of Hoogerland juxtaposed with Neymar and yet moan ceaselessly when it actually happens in a real race.

At times it felt like a film, some fictional variant of what cycling should look like according to our endlessly mythical and epic dreams. I don’t think that’s because of Jorgen Leth, more because it had so many narrative arcs and twists that it functioned on a purely narrative level. If I was being a compete numbskull I’d probably try and map it onto Propp’s morphology and chart the transition from equilibrium to disequilibrium and back again.

It had tons of crashes. It was the crashiest race I’ve seen since every cat 4 race at Odd Down. There was something more baroque and awe inspiring though in the sight of adept bike-handlers being brought to heel by carefully placed cobbles. It made for incredible pictures. screenshot_20180715-212645


I’m certain someone somewhere on the internet is busy trying to articulate how the bottom one is a renaissance painting, either that angrily mouthing off about how it was an awful business, using a crude portmanteau swear word like “cockwomble” in the hope that they will go up a level on the tweets, rather than just spew out the same hackneyed, unoriginal content as everyone else. The other day someone tweeted something horrible at Jonathan Edwards consisting of another tedious swear word splice. You may not like his commentary, but is that really acceptable? It’s men, of course it’s men, dishing out this year 9 oppobrium, one step across from calling everything “gay” at the back of Mr Engers’ history class.

The ending of the race was as good as it gets. John Degenkolb’s chances have been written off since he suffered a brutal accident in 2016, wiped out by a car whilst training. The narrative represented a gleaming victory for hope and determination from one of the nicest chaps in the peloton. There are two clips doing the rounds. The first one shows the immediate aftermath, whilst riding back to the bus. He is congratulated in the warmest terms by Cavendish and then his dad. The second is his post race interview. I had a wobbly lower lip for both. I think it must be the high pollen count. I was cooking tea and cutting onions.

I think Degenkolb is my new favourite cyclist.




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