Some folks would say that it is sacrilege to waste summer days spent reading, but quite honestly, they are wrong. There are plenty of perfect opportunities during the summer to mix the world of cycling and reading – at the end of a long day of riding relaxing sipping a beer, on a bike-camping tour after dinner has been enjoyed, in the middle of a utilitaire under a tree in a park, and even on those days when it is just too darn hot to ride.
Though I wouldn’t consider myself a big reader, I’ve been devouring bikey books this spring and summer. Most of them have been relatively short and quick reads that are by design or nature easy to pick up and put down frequently, which is an important quality for summer reads. I’ve fallen asleep on the couch too often reading these, but when woken, I can reread the last paragraph and I haven’t lost anything. Here are my suggestions – if you have others I would love to hear about them!
Ride – Short Fiction About Bicycles
I should put this disclaimer here first – I actually received this book from the editor for free as a “prize” for completing MGs Coffeeneur and Utilitaire challenges. Despite this generosity, I think I can be pretty unbiased in my recollection of the book, afterall, I am no critic or trained reviwer. Of the many submissions, editor Keith Snyder (himself a cyclist) selected ten short fictional stories each by a different author to compile into the Ride book. Each author has a decidedly different background when it comes to their cycling past and present – from a car-free bike mechanic (who you may have heard of before), to an artist who rarely rides, to those who mash the gears and dream of maillot jaune glory on the Champs Elysee. Likewise, each story is focuses on the bike in different ways – from the opportunistic cyclist who gets a little too deep into a web of lies in the movie ready plot of “I’m Bob Deerman”; to the hilarious mythological story of the “The History of the By-Cycle”; to the gruesome, part advocate, part ghost-like tale of “The Cyclist”. Ride is a fun diversion from the typical bike book topics of advocacy, racing, or superhuman feats – each story is colored by the bicycle, or its rider – but many would be equally enjoyable to a non-cyclist as a hardcore racer. I found myself flipping back and forth between stories, sometimes I would tell that one would simply not fit my mood at the time and flag it for later reading. Occasionally I would flip ahead to see how many pages were left in a story, and later find myself dreading the end – simply because the story was so engaging that I wanted more! I would highly recommend this as a contrast to some of the other books in my list – reading fiction when you are used to non-fiction (like me) is like riding a beach cruiser when you are used to a racing bike. At first you aren’t sure that you’ll like it, but it is hard to ignore the smile on your face afterwards.
Ride is available HERE. Keep your eyes peeled for Ride 2, which I believe is in the works.
Eat, Sleep, Ride – Paul Howard
The selling point for this book, which I just happened to see on a shelf, was an excerpt of a review from the Adventure Cycling Association that described this book using a comparison to Bill Bryson. Bryson seems to have a way with storytelling which allows him to ruminate on a theme, and pick out points of a life experience that can be woven together to bring that theme to life. Being a witty and humorous British sports writer, I figured that Howard would be able to do the same.
Eat, Sleep, Ride is a story of Howards endeavor to conquer the great American wilderness via the Tour Divide race – an annual 2,700 mile mountain bike race along the continental divide from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Even if you aren’t a mountain biker, the allure of this race concept is appealing – desolate wilderness, small town America, snow, mud, high desert, forest fires, grizzy bears – all while riding self supported for 100 or so miles per day. Howard, being British, brings a unique perspective on all of the quirky American towns he passes through, and the folks he meets along the way. Broken up into day-long chunks, it is also interesting too see the mental and physical states that Howard passes through. At times being alone in a vast stand of trees is invigorating, while only a few days later it is miserable. After a hot day a rain storm is heaven sent, but during a challenging descent at high altitude it could send you to the hospital. Along the journey Howard also travels with packs of other riders, which shines a light on their mental and physical states as well.
I was drawn into this book and devoured it state by state. By the end I wanted to call out of work and pack my bags for a month long adventure (and enjoy a few slices of pie at Pie Town). My only two criticisms of this book mirror those of the All Seasons Cyclist review – a) there were no photos; and b) Howard made himself out as a bumbling fool who couldn’t ride 20 miles in the first chapter, but with little training was able to ride fully loaded at 60-100 miles per day during the race. I would have liked to know his true level of fitness, or more about his training plan.
Just Ride – Grant Petersen
A book subtitled “A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike” written by the heavily opinionated man behind Rivendell Bicycle Works – how could I pass that up! While Mr. Petersen is certainly not coy about sharing his opinions on topics such as helmets, lycra, frame materials and nutrition, I found that the book was not trying to squeeze all cyclists into a single “retro-grouch” mold. Instead the book is written around the concept of the “Unracer” – one who simply rides – maybe to the grocery store, for exercise, to see the countryside or any other reason. The point is that the bike serves a huge range of purposes, that there is no sense in having to conform to any single cyclist stereotype, and that there is no shame in not being a fully-kitted racer. The Unracer may decide to wear padded shorts on a 4 hour ride, or be helmetless and in a skirt for a trip to the store. The Unracer assesses their environment and fits their bike riding into daily life with minimal effort or hassle. The only edict passed down to the Unracer is that carbon fiber is not worth the price, hassle, and worry!
Using the book as his soapbox, Petersen declares that we should enjoy riding, that we should not be so concerned about emulating the latest pro peloton fads, that we should stop and smell the roses once in a while. In that sense, this is a radically different book than many (but not all) cycling books. You certainly enjoy the 8 parts and bite-sized 89 chapters, and if you are like me, you’ll finish with many dog eared pages to come back to at a later time. Just Ride is available from the Rivendell website HERE.
The Man Who Cycled the World – Mark Beaumont
From a month long tour on the Great Divide Route to a nearly 7 month journey around the world, the allure a book which captures the story of an epic adventure is hard to resist. The interesting part of this story however is that the 18,297 miles that Mark Beaumont rode through 20 countries was not simply an extended sightseeing tour – but an attempt at the Guinness World Record for fastest circumnavigation of the world by bicycle. In doing so, Beaumont also raised nearly $20,000 for a variety of charities, the reason which he embarked on the adventure in the first place. I won’t feel guilty for acknowledging that he in fact did smash the previous world record, ending in 194 days and 17 hours. This fact is alluded to on the back cover – and was recently bested by Mike Hall with an unfathomable time of 91 days 18 hours.
Starting and ending his story on in Paris, this book is a very simple day-in/day-out description of life on the road. Aches and pains, mileage goals and a limited description of the countryside dominate the narrative – which can at times both make the story a tough slog, and an enjoyable summer time “read in bits and pieces” book. Beaumont himself realizes this, and clearly states that his mission was to break the record, not to soak in the sights. When he does get around to elaborating more on the people and cultures that he passes through it becomes fascinating, his struggle to get through Pakistan safely, and the vast swings in cultures he experiences in India are especially interesting. As an American I was slightly disappointed that his ride through the States was not described in great detail, save for one interesting day and night in Louisiana that I’ll let you read for yourself.
If anyone does read this I would be interested to hear what you think of Mark Beaumont as a person – I have my opinions after this read, but am curious if others share my views about this endurance adventurer.
Honorable Mentions: “It’s All About the Bike” by Robert Penn, and “Bicycle Diaries” by David Byrne.
I wrote about Robert Penns around the world journey to build the perfect bike earlier this year, and you can read my thoughts here. It is an enjoyable concept to mull around in your head, especially in a post ride haze – what components and characteristics would your dream bike have? There are some great stories to tell in this book, and some interesting history lessons – but the short coming is that it is HIS dream bike… not yours. Maybe you don’t care about the latest Campagnolo gruppo. Maybe you are jealous. It is an interesting read nonetheless.
I read “Bicycle Diaries” while in a David Byrne haze after having seen him perform at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2009. The book is an interesting manifesto about the man (who lives car-free in NYC) and his observations from the saddle in many places around the world. A great storyteller, I felt transported to France, Istanbul, Buenos Aires and Manila and got a taste for the rich culture (both bike culture and general society). In the book Byrne certainly seems to advocate for the greater use of the bicycle as a means to better see and experience life as we pass through it and as it passes by us.