Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In Search of Bicycling Bliss

Bicycling Bliss is unlike any other single bicycling book. You might find one of the subjects of Bliss covered in some other book or a different subject in still another book, but you won't find all that this author's jammed in anywhere else in one place, and there is plenty here you just won't find anywhere at all.

I met the author, Portia H. Masterson, at the annual Cascade Bicycle Club Seattle International Bicycle Festival a couple years back. You know how you discover something by yourself without having been referred, and it feels more like your own? Silly, I know, but sometimes that's how it feels. Well, that's how it is for me with Portia and her book.

I stepped up to her booth and I discovered she had owned a bicycle shop in Golden, Colorado just after I left Golden. So, I connected with her on her Golden history, and bought her book. It is self-published and costs a whopping $29.95, but it is a goodie. I hadn't seen it anywhere else so I grabbed it. Since then, I've seen other good reviews including in Momentum, and it is now stocked in bookstores in which I hadn't seen it before.

Now understand that Portia is not a randonneur to my knowledge; the term is not in her index. However, just look at the photo below. Clearly she understands a thing or two about long distance cycling and certainly about not being self-conscious. Here's a cooling technique I think some randonneurs believe they've invented. Personally, I would have taken off my helmet, but maybe she's wary of falling rocks or...pirhana?

Here's how I describe Portia's writing: sensible, no-nonsense, caring, gentle, and determined. On the last point, she comes across as one of those folks who just knows that while some of her ideas are not mainstreamed yet--acupressure, meditation, journaling, breathing (I guess breathing is mainstreamed, we all seem to do it, so I'll say conscious breathing)--she's clear and unabashed from personal experience about what she knows. She isn't prone to the latest this or that, so her ideas are grounded in observation, logic, and years of listening to customers.

She also knows a fair amount about body mechanics and body geometry. There are pictures of muscles and anatomy as well as a pithy cartoon here and there as below.

She goes on to say that many cyclists pedal with their saddles too low, essentially doing to our knees what the knee-bending backpacker does.

Portia's also intrepid. When she opened her bicycle shop she didn't know how to wrench at all! Just learned it as she went. That takes some confidence.

But mostly, Bliss is thorough and it's a good book to come back to as you'll continue to draw out nuances. For randonneurs, she's all about comfort on the bicycle and long-term solutions. It's a randonneur's approach for sure.

So if Western medicine has let you down or you want to see how some of the less obvious strategies for wellness pay off if you commit, or even if you don't mind getting distracted by something you come across but weren't looking for, then Bicycling Bliss ought to interest you.

While the text is pretty dry, some of the graphics lighten it up. If the print is too fine in the drawing above it says:

"The unfortunate Timothy McTight is a high-mileage cyclist who has not committed himself to a daily stretching practice or to developing good riding form. Imbalanced and tight muscles limit his health and riding performance."

If you like a cycling book that focuses on the body, then Bliss is a comprehensive and I'd say unique find.

If you also like a book that throws in a two-page chart that outlines all the considerations for different bicycle clothing fibers:
  • cotton
  • wool
  • nylon
  • acrylic
  • polyester
  • polypropylene

according to:

  • benefits
  • drawbacks
  • durability
  • care
  • best use
  • avoid use
  • common use,

then Bliss is for you.

If you like a book that respects its readers throughout all 473 pages, and that I guarantee you cannot devour in even several sittings, then what are you reading this for? Go get Blissed!

For more about blissful cycling from Portia herself, go to her Bicycling Bliss website.

Keep it Blissful (of course)


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