Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bicycle Book Gems

In my family, there is a running gag that if you want to try something new--and we love that--you'd better get a pile of books first. Especially my brother! And being older, he was my role model.

The singular anticipation that comes from a good introductory book is sublime. And the key ingredients are a little self-effacing humor and and a distinctive charm. In the 35 years since Anybody's Bike Book and Bike Tripping were published I haven't seen any to supplant them. (If you disagree, please post a comment with your recommendation!)

Anybody's Bike Book was the first of the two in 1971, and my smudged copy taught me how to repair bicycles and start repairs I had to have "fixed" by a real pro, though there weren't many around Pittsburgh then. But mostly what it did was demystify bicycles and nudge me into seeing bicycles as the revolutionary vehicles they are. Of course in 1971, Revolution was in the air and at 14 I was tuned in (too young to turn on or drop out) to everything that challenged the status quo. Though not quite the Steal This Book (by Abbie Hoffman and also published in 1971) of bicycling, the underlying theme was self-sufficiency--a requirement and trademark of randonneuring--and the notion that society was changing and we better help it along.

Rick Morrall was the illustrator, and juxtaposed with clear, exploded views of complex components, say a headset, he provided clever caricatures of all the funky bicyclists out in the world, and the goofy ways we have of getting into trouble. He doesn't compare to Daniel Rebour in terms of precision or fineness but his cleverness and wit satisfy. Bike Tripping (published in 1972) includes a special frame section written by Albert Eisentraut, but otherwise the text in both books is by Tom Cuthbertson.
Cuthbertson provides the charm:

You can do an amazing amount of your short-distance traveling on a bike, instead of in a smogmobile. If you live in a small town, or a suburb, or even in a quieter neighborhood of a big city, you can learn to take routes that mix good transportation and ecology vibes with enjoyment and escape from the humdrum. Do at least part of your daily commuting and/or shopping via bicycle, and it will break up the routine, like recess used to when you were a kid.

Truth be told, these two books formed deep impressions into my psyche. Bicyles became more than getaway machines, they became transformative machines. They were also my pals. Check out the big old grease stain!

Looking at the diagrams I came to understand that machines had logic to them, and were no more than a composite of separate pieces. Sounds obvious, but if you are intimidated by machines, it is a profound revelation.

But check this out. Who is the conspirator? Who is wrapped up in their own world? Who is at risk?

I loved these old charmers, and I refer to them still.

Bike Tripping even sent me on my first cyclotouring trip down the C&O Canal towpath at 16 years old for two weeks with a pal. We pedaled into a Washington, D.C. festooned with Soviet flags in honor of Premier Leonid Brezhev's visit. But that is another story!

How about you? Any cycling books that turned your crank? Don't be miserly now, SHARE!
Keep it curious and keep it tripping,


  1. Just this morning I said to Mum on the phone: "I have to get a book! -- books have always helped me when I'm entering a new stage -- and right now I need to find a book on aging and dealing with those painful (in more ways than one) losses without sinking into them..." and Mum said: "OMG -- did you read Steve's entry today?"

    Ha! well, I hadn't -- so this was a particular fun case of co-inky-dinky.

    I love this entry. I love your writing.

  2. Ha! Ditto on the book getting. My new obsession is eating Raw, which of course means that I went to the library (poor woman's bookstore) and checked out all the books on raw foods. I haven't yet blogged about it and I've gotten a little turned off by it recently (I somehow made us both sick...ick) but I want to make it work and I want to read more books about it!

    Sorry to say that no cycling books have yet turned my crank, but I do love to read maps of bike paths and occasionally even follow a path into the wilderness.

  3. How about Tales from the Bike Shop by Maynard Hershon. We've got one copy left.

  4. Steve,

    Thanks for linking to the Alaska Randonneurs. Check out the stack of books in the photo in this blog post I made last January. You're going to crack up at what you'll see!

    Yeah, those two books were formative for me; many a grease-stained, dog-eared page, as I wrenched on my green Schwinn Varsity.

  5. I love these two books; it's just amazing the things you'll find when you search around for a book title. Glad I stumbled upon your blog, sir.

  6. Glad you like the books...and the blog. Do check out some of the links to other blogs and websites. There are some fabulous ones.

    Happy curiosity to you!