Book Review – Wheeler by Sara Butler Zalesky

“First you shave your legs, and now you’re reading romantic fiction? What has happened to you?” My fiancée politely asks. “It’s about cycling really, the romance bit is just… erm a bit of it” I protest. I’m reading Wheeler, a fictitious tale about an elite female cyclist’s racing season. Or more accurately it’s about her life on and off the bike throughout the season.

Whilst I’m not your typical reader of the romantic side of the novel, I am a fan of the cycling bit. If I’m honest I was a bit unsure if I’d enjoy it enough to finish reading it, but finish it I did. It took me a while to warm up to the book, as it does start out by setting out a new relationship between main characters, with plenty of detail on the whole romance bit. As the book develops though I was actually drawn in, and by the end it was a bit of a page turner as things unfolded. The book is fiction, about an American cyclist living  in England and cycling for an English team at the top level of women’s road cycling. The racing action actually follows the 2015 Women’s World Championship calendar, taking in the Aviva Women’s Tour, Giro Rosa and many more (I won’t spoil it). From romantic beginnings, through a racing season and onto some difficulties and facing up to a troubled past. It’s fair to say that things get a little “gritty” later on.

It’s fiction so in my eyes that makes it purely for entertainment, so no educational or high brow cycling history lessons are contained within the text. It’s all very accessible to all, with many cycling details being explained for the avid romantic fiction reader. A bit of sex, a pinch of violence, a few crashes, a sprinkling of Jens Voigt references and some Shakespeare quotations. Whilst the character of an English actor spouting Shakespearean quotes might sound a bit cliché, it’s actually not that bad; Shakespeare is still relevant today because he was actually quite good.

The cycling races were mainly covered using the TV commentator’s narrative, which gave a nice touch. This is the bit we are used to seeing, the public side of the racer’s lives. Presenting the racing this way gives a familiar format for us; leaving the off camera, real life ups and downs and private lives feeling separate to the race environment. There is also an inner monologue running throughout for most characters, which often adds more about fears and doubts (in both cycling and private life) than any dialogue could.

If romantic cycling fiction sounds like everything you’ve been looking for then here it is, you’ll love it! I found it interesting from a cycle racing perspective, and a women’s cycling perspective.

If you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of cycling history facts, have a tattoo of Eddy Merckx, or a collection of Belgian cobbles on your mantle piece; then perhaps this might be a bit too light hearted entertainment for you. It is fiction after all.

Other books in the series:

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