Book Report | Skills, Drills and Bellyaches

By Jen See

All your friends are talking about it. They go on and on about the mud and the barricades and the beer. Mostly, the beer. You’ve begun to think that cyclocross sounds pretty cool, but you are also forced to admit that you don’t have the first clue how to go about it. What if you do it wrong? You are pretty good at beer, but the rest of it sounds like a total mystery.

Bill Schieken and Dan Tille are here to help with their new book, Skills, Drills and Bellyaches. Together they’ve put together a thorough primer about how to do cyclocross, and they make it sound really, really fun. The book has tips. And pictures.

“Cross is for all comers. It’s the people’s sport,” said Schieken, who runs the In The Cross Hairs website ( “If you’ve never raced a bike before or you spend 30 hours a week training, chances are your level of enjoyment will be the same after you finish a cross race.”

The project was Schieken’s brainchild. He wanted to put together a book that combined how-to instructions with good photography. “I’m about as qualified as the next guy or girl obsessed with cross!” he said. “I work in publishing and do quite a lot of writing, so I figured I’d be okay with the words part.”

He is, in fact, okay with the words part, and the book’s tips and explanations are clear and easy to read. The style is friendly and helpful without being overbearing. Schieken invites you to learn more without making you feel stupid for what you don’t know. He sounds like a guy you’d like to join for a ride.

To add to his own knowledge of the sport, Schieken also drew on the expertise of two other cross experts for Skills, Drills and Bellyaches. Long-time coach and ‘cross racer Dan Tille joins Schieken as co-author. Rapha-Focus pro Jeremy Powers meanwhile provides JPow Tips throughout the book and demonstrates skills such as cornering and shouldering in the book’s many photos. All three have worked together at cyclocross camps and obviously race regularly.

Whether you are new to cross or have raced several seasons, the books’ drills should make you a better racer. There are tips for just about everything you can imagine. How do you shoulder your bike? What’s the best line through a corner? What should you bring to a race? If you’ve got questions, Schieken and his crew have answers for you.

There’s a full chapter devoted to race-day advice. First-time riders will especially benefit from the commonsense tips here. The authors take you step by step, including even the most mundane details. Find the start. Write down the race schedule. Know your start time. It all sounds obvious, but in the rush of race day, it’s easy to forget even the simple things. If you race bikes of any sort, sit yourself down, read this chapter. And then, put an extra copy in your race bag.

Skills, Drills, and Bellyaches also includes some scrumptious photos. The sequence shots of Powers demonstrating skills such as dismounts and remounts are especially well done. They offer an up-close look at where bike and rider should be, things that can seem hard to imagine if you’re new to the sport. If you’ve ever wondered if you were doing it right, you’ll know immediately by looking at these photos.

There are also some race action shots that if you have a pulse, should get you off the couch and out on your bike. There are sandpits and snow fields. In one shot, Marianne Vos runs a seemingly endless staircase. These are the things that cyclocross people love best. These things are also why all your friends keep trying to convince you to join them.

“The sense of community in U.S. cyclocross is amazing,” said Schieken. “Every week is a block party. Also, beer.”

So, to recapitulate the reasons why cyclocross is awesome: There’s beer. You get to race your bike. You get to play in the mud. Or the snow. Or the sand. You’ll see friends who love the same things you do.

And, thanks to Schieken and Tille, you won’t look like a total dork doing it. Or at least, you’ll look like less of a dork, which is all most of us can really hope for. What more reason do you need?

To grab yourself a copy of Skill, Drills and Bellyaches, head to Price is $21.99. Shouldering your bike successfully over the barricades? Priceless.

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