Thursday, November 15, 2012

Max Glaskin's "Cycling Science"

Max Glaskin is an award-winning science and technology journalist with a special interest in cycling. He has contributed to a vast range of publications, including New Scientist, Reader’s Digest, and the Times (London).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cycling Science: How Rider and Machine Work Together, and reported the following:
To be brutally frank about my own book, page 99 of Cycling Science fails the test. It simply doesn't work on its own. That doesn't mean the book is anything less than wonderful (I'm allowed to say that as a less than modest author, aren't I?).

It's just that Cycling Science works two pages at a time – which is called in the trade "a spread".

Put page 99 together with page 98 and you get a very good spread. It answers the curious scientist's question "How does a bike turn effort into speed?" and, at the same time, the curious cyclist's question, "Why do I need all those components?"

There are 350 words describing how the rider's pedalling is converted and transferred through each part of the machine. There's a graceful line drawing of a bicycle, highlighting the components crucial for making it move and there are two fine graphics whose caption explains how one innovation leads to another.

If we divide 99 by 3 and take a look at page 33, that, too, needs its left-hand partner to make a functioning spread. This one answers the questions, "How much power can a cyclist generate?" and "How many cyclists does it take to charge a lightbulb?"

The charts, graphics, formulae and tables on this spread, combined with the captions and text give the answers clearly and simply.

Pages 66 and 67 not only explain why riding a tricycle can be more difficult than a bicycle but also show how to overcome the challenge created by the third wheel. 172 and 173 show in startling clarity how the newsworthy issues of blood doping and boosting by professional cyclists are being thwarted.

Much of what I'm praising in my own book isn't by my own hand. The vast numbers of lively infographics have been perfected by a team of excellent artists.

They make each spread accessible. Reluctant as I am to admit it, a picture can be worth a thousand words, but only if it is well executed. I'm lucky in that the artists involved with Cycling Science are very skilled.

By all means look at page 99 on its own. But I guarantee you a richer experience if you take it a spread at a time.

Then follow the tweets @cyclingscience1 and the blog, where the stories continue.
Visit Max Glaskin's website, and follow Cycling Science on Facebook.

Writers Read: Max Glaskin.

--Marshal Zeringue