I purchased this on my Kindle and read it over the course of a few weeks, I didn’t burn through it like I do most cycling books I read. I knew a bit about Merckx going in. I knew he was the greatest racing cyclist ever, I knew he set an hour record, I knew he won both grand tours and one day classics, I knew he was from Belgium, I knew he won 5 Tours, I knew got punch in one of his later Tours and it began to end his career.
After reading this book, I know more about Merckx, but honestly not all that much more. The author treats Merckx with reverence and glosses over any flaws he may have had. One of his 3 doping violations is covered it such a one sided way it sounds like it was written by his girlfriend, and I don’t remember if the other 2 were even covered. Though doping inftactions carry much more weight in today’s era of cycling and therefore are harder to ignore, I don’t really think of Merckx as a doper, though I’m sure there has to be more to him then just winning bike races.
Half Man, Half Bike isn’t a bad book if you’re interested in Merckx, but it just feels a bit lacking. The author’s adoration of Merckx comes across but oddly the book doesn’t seem to capture the drama and emotion of racing. One reviewer on Amazon said,
“This is such a vivid book that whenever I read portions relating to a race….I could literally feel it in my legs!”
Maybe I missed those vivid descriptions, but I didn’t really come away from the book with that impression. It’s said good writers should show us, not tell us, and I felt like I was being told alot of things in this book. It could just be me, most reviewers on Amazon were very pleased with the book.
When I read cycling books I’m most interested in the inside story, things that happened in the Peloton that are supposed to stay in the Peloton. I don’t remember reading much of that, maybe I’m expecting shocking revelations that just aren’t there.
I actually came away not exactly liking Merckx that much. He came across as a racing Tyrant who beat all of his competitors into a pulp. If someone did pull something on him during a race, which wasn’t often, he would go out of his way to decimate them, even going to their local race to beat them in front of their hometown crowd. His ruthlessness and iron grip reminded me of Lance Armstrong who seemed to do his best to copy Merckx style of racing but only in the Tour, somehow Merckx could race like that all year long, and synthetic EPO hadn’t been invented yet.
The book is 320 pages long and according to my Kindle I was 73% done when I finished the last chapter, the remaining 27% of the book is a complete list of Merckx racing accomplishments and an index. I felt kind of let down by that, though I do have to admit that the index might be kind of useful. I just felt like it ended a little early. For example, after retiring Merckx starts his own bike brand and factory, the author says that he wasn’t a natural business man and nearly went bankrupt, thats it. That sounded really interesting to me, I think there could have been entire chapter about the bike factory.
Perhaps the biggest problem of writing a character study of Eddy Merckx is his character itself. He was obsessed with bicycle racing, he was obsessed with winning, he won obsessively, and really that’s about it.