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Book Review: Andy Pruitt’s Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists

Despite the title, this is not a complete medical guide for cyclists. This is not a bad thing however; your average cyclist doesn’t need a complete medical guide, they need a guide written by someone who really knows their stuff and who can distill a huge amount of information down into the things that you need to know. Andy Pruitt has done that in this book.

It is short, it is concise, it is informative, it is well written and it is very readable. That last point is important; I have many books on my shelf that I have bought for “reference” and have never used. Since finding information online is often easier than finding it in a book, I may never use those books. Andy Pruitt’s book, however, I read from cover to cover and I will keep it on my shelf for easy, and probably frequent, reference. It’s really quite good.

Pruitt’s book starts with a topic that he should be particularly familiar with: bike fit. Having a bike that fits the rider well is the corner stone of good cycling health and Andy Pruitt developed the BG (Body Geometry) fit system used by Specialized for their bikes. Given that, I was surprised to find that his advice on bike fit didn’t just deal with one manufacturer’s system or even just his own personal philosophy on bike fitting. He covers all of the popular ideas that you may have encountered before and talks practically about what it all means. The book doesn’t go in depth into biomechanics or physics here and such discussion is not required for the regular cyclist. The chapters in this section focus on the contact points: the saddle, the handlebars, and the pedals. In other words, the things that will make the biggest impact on your cycling comfort, and the things that you can change on a bike yourself. Each chapter contains good solid advice and information to help you get your bike fitted to your body.

The second part of the book deals with cycling injuries, starting with the knees and covering back and neck, hands, arms, shoulders, crotch, skin, eyes and head. These chapters contain useful advice about things like icing knees and using anti-inflamatories, and each injury or condition is described using an easy to understand template. The thing that stood out the most in this section of the book was the illustrations of where problems occurred in the body. Rather than include anatomic drawings or use fancy overlays, Pruitt has included pictures of real people’s body parts with lines drawn on the actual person’s body. I know it seems daft to be writing about something like that, but I’ve always had problems relating pictures of what’s under my skin to what I can actually see. Having a line drawn down the side of a real knee shows me exactly where the ITB (Iliotibial band syndrome – wikipedia ) is in a ridiculously simple way. It’s almost as good as having someone actually point to it on your own body.

Speaking of ITBs, Pruitt’s approach to medical terminology is worth mentioning here. Throughout this book he uses the terms that normal cyclists would use for various muscles, tendons, injuries and conditions. He also includes the medical terminology but doesn’t use it unnecessarily. Likewise, he doesn’t go into depth about complex treatments where it isn’t necessary, he rather gives a brief discussion on how things are treated, what you should try first, and what to do if that doesn’t work. Any of the topics in this part of the book would make an excellent guide for a doctor to give to a patient they were treating with these injuries or conditions. It is enough information to bring the reader up to speed on a topic, but not so much that they are overwhelmed or need a medical degree to understand it. If you had an injury described in this book, a good read of the appropriate section before you went to the doctor or physio would give you the reference you need for an intelligent discussion.

While reading these pages be warned that you will be subject to some classic “dad” humour. In the section on cleats, Pruitt stresses the importance of well fitting footwear to avoid “the pain of de-feet” (bwaaah, ha, ha, ha) and he correctly diagnoses the cause of road rash as “you fell off” (ha, ha, HA!). It’s cute and there’s not too much of it, but it says to me that this guy has talked about these subjects so often and with enough authority that he doesn’t need to keep it serious. All of the technical terminology in the world can’t replace that.

The final section of the book covers, mainly, ideas around training, such as basic training methods, recovery, diet, supplements and aging. As with the other sections of this book, no topic is gone into in great depth, but a good broad coverage of the essential ideas is provided. The book finishes with a chapter on what is not known about cycling, as it relates to the topics in the book. This is interesting from a consumer point of view because many cycling fitness products make claims about these very things: our magic product will cure your back pain, our cleats will reduce fatigue and our handlebar position will make everyone go faster. Pruitt addresses these ideas in the same no nonsense way he addresses everything in this book.

Dr. Andy Pruitt is the director of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in Colarado, he has worked with some of the world’s best cyclists and he is a former world champion cyclist. Even if he didn’t have these multiple streams of authority behind him, I would still recommend this book to people. Any beginner or intermediate cyclist would do well to have this on their bookshelf. It’s a book that should be sold alongside spare tubes, bidons and gloves when a new rider buys a bike.

You can buy Andy Pruitt’s Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists from Woodslane books for $34.95. While you’re there, check out their selection of books that cover most areas of cycling as well as many other outdoor activities.

David Halfpenny
David Halfpenny
rides whenever and wherever he can; in good weather and bad, in sickness and in health...and mostly off the back of the peloton.
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