Over the Thanksgiving break I read the book A Dog in a Hat: An American Bike Racer's Story of Mud, Drugs, Blood, Betrayal, and Beauty in Belgium by Joe Parkin. If you’re not familiar with Joe Parkin he also has a very entertaining blog where he answers questions that he receives from people on a whole host of subjects related to cycling.
Anyway, back to the book. When Joe was 18 he was living in California and doing a lot of amateur racing when he met up with Bob Roll. Bob in his wisdom convinced Joe that if he really wanted to go where there was some serious bike racing that he should move to Belgium and learn the ropes. With that Joe got multiple jobs and saved up $3000 for his grand adventure. Joe also wrote a letter to Albert Claeys who had taken in some racers in the past and asked for some assistance. He never heard back from Albert but with $3000 in to his name he headed off for Belgium with a goal to make in onto a pro team and support himself.
When Joe arrives he ends up hooking up with Albert who gives him a place to stay and starts entering races. After racing a season as an amateur he lands a contract with a team at which time his eyes are opened to a whole new world of the pro ranks.
I’ve read books before of pro bike racing but never from the perspective of what it’s like to be a pro at the bottom of the ranks. Joe describes season after season of bike crashes, contract negotiations, dealing with the language barrier, training, drug use, and throwing races in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Years ago Charles Barkley published an autobiography in which he ended up refuting some of the things that were said in “his” book. I wasn’t surprised when this happened because most autobiographies are written by a ghost writer after a series of interviews between the subject and writer.
What I really liked about this book is that is was actually written by Joe himself. This book is all Joe which means it’s a little rough in sections but you know it’s in Joe’s words and what he wanted to say.
For me there are two kinds of books. The ones that I breathe a sign of relief because I finally finished them and the ones that I’m really sad when they are over.
This book fit into the last category for me. It was a really interesting look at the inner workings of European bike racing.
This book gets a thumbs up from Mike J.