Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Copenhagenize: The Definitive Guide to Global Bicycle Urbanism (Book Review)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mikael Colville-Andersen has a strong set of views about urban cycling - I'm not sure I agree with all of them but it seems good to have a person able to voice a positive approach for urban cycling infrastructure and changes in attitudes so clearly.

http://www.copenhagenize.com/ the web site for Colville-Andersen's cycling infrastructure consulting company (in English) gives some flavor for what the book is like. Colville-Andersen is Danish but grew up in Canada, so he writes in English (as well as Danish . . .).

Copenhagen Capital Region Bicycle Superhighway Network
Photo of Copenhagen bicycle "superhighways" - CC license by Colville-Andersen from his Flickr account https://www.flickr.com/photos/16nine

Here is the table of contents - the book is in three sections.

Introduction
1. The Life-Sized City
2. Bicycle Urbanism by Design
3. The Bicycle's Role in Urban Life
4. The Redemocratization of Cycling
5. Taming the Bull in Society's China Shop

The Learning Curve
6. Copenhagen's Journey
7. Climaphobia and Vacuum-Packed Cities
8. Arrogance of Space
9. Mythbusting
10. Architecture
11. Desire Lines & Understanding Behavior
12. A Secret Cycling Language
13. A2Bism
14. The Art of Gathering Data

The Toolbox
15. Best-Practice Design & Infrastructure
16. Prioritizing Cycling
17. Design & Innovation
18. Cargo Bike Logistics
19. Curating Transferable Ideas
20. Communication & Advocacy

Conclusion

Mikael Colville-Andersen
Colville-Andersen speaking at a TEDX conference, from Flickr user TEDx Zurich

Most of the positive examples are taken from Europe, with some mention of Japan. From north America, Montreal and Washington DC are mentioned the most - I don't think either Seattle or Portland OR are mentioned. (The book does not have an index.)

As an American who favors development of better infrastructure for cycling along the lines of what is described here, the distance we have to go to get there is distressing. Also, according to Colville-Andersen, as a bicycle nut I am not the ideal advocate - that advocacy for cycling does better when it comes from "regular" people. Hmm.

Much of the current DC area bike cycling measures do not meet Colville-Andersen's approval - in fact, the center-0f-the-road bidirectional cycle track on Pennsylvania Avenue is specifically taken as an example of what not to do - of what is done by people who think they know what to do but who have really really bad ideas. DC provides several other such examples, alas - I agree with his analysis completely.

It was fairly late in the book, but there is some discussion of "vehicular bicycling" which was a theory from the 1960s onward that advocated strongly for cyclists to use the same infrastructure as motorists - which he dismisses easily enough. He also has a brief discussion of e-bikes - he is generally not thrilled with their typical use at relatively high speeds, creating a new hazard for other cyclists and even more so for themselves.

There is a brief discussion of bikeshare as a good "last mile" measure but dockless bikeshare is so new (outside of China) that it isn't mentioned - suggesting to me at least that even though bicycles have been around for more than a hundred years, we are having a period of change or evolution. Interesting.

The books is readable. The author as noted has strong views, but doesn't (in my view) hit the reader too hard over the head with them.

An odd complaint - the typeface used in the text for the book has very fine lines and I discovered my lighting setup for reading in bed wasn't enough to let me read this book comfortably, which was a surprise. I felt it was a kind of ironic statement that a book that advocates simple intuitive designs in one area (urban cycling infrastructure design) failed the test of simple access this way, making the book more difficult to read because of some font-fashion decision. (I read a lot - this is an unusual problem for me to have.)

There is a lot here to try to get one's head around - I should likely read this again in a few months.

Svajerløb Cargo Bike Race - Barcelona 2017
Photo of cargo bikes racing - CC license by Colville-Andersen from his Flickr account https://www.flickr.com/photos/16nine

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Hardmen: Legends and Lessons from the Cycling Gods (Book Review)

The Hardmen: Legends and Lessons from the Cycling GodsThe Hardmen: Legends and Lessons from the Cycling Gods by The Velominati

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Apparently the idea is to celebrate tough guy cycling, mostly road racing figures, mostly (but not entirely) men. The point of view, according to the dust jack, is one of "(ir)reverance." Well, perhaps.

Each of the 38 chapters focuses on a particular cyclist. The chapters are not long enough to say that much. The tone is . . . well, it might be fine for a blog, but it seems a little much for a book.

I suppose as much as anything I was annoyed when the chapter about Rebecca Twigg said she attended Washington University in Seattle. Of for God's sake, it is the University of Washington. Washington University is not in Washington state. Geez.

There is a snarky attitude towards dopers such as Tyler Hamilton or Mr. Armstrong, but the casual thumbs-up, thumbs-down approach of the collective authors disregards the historical complexities of this topic. To take just one example, the same Rebecca Twigg won a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics in part because of admitted blood doping, which at the time was merely discouraged and not forbidden - the chapter doesn't mention this.

The intent of the book seems good, and the person chosen seem interesting enough, but the execution could have been better.

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

The First Tour de France (Book Review)

The First Tour de France: Sixty Cyclists and Nineteen Days of Daring on the Road to ParisThe First Tour de France: Sixty Cyclists and Nineteen Days of Daring on the Road to Paris by Peter Cossins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I found this on the new book shelf at the public library. To me, the dust cover design didn't much suggest a newly published book - and I have read enough books with a Tour de France theme that I took this home thinking I would give it 25 pages with the expectation that it wouldn't engage my attention.

But it did - this focused look at the first instance of the Tour de France and how it came to happen drew me in.

A good book about professional bicycle racing successfully combines description of the context of the race, enough (but not too much) about the significant riders, and a narrative description of the race itself - and that's what is I found here.

From reading this (and having read other books about the Tour), I came away with a better understanding of just how much the structure and rules of the Tour de France have changed over the years since the first iteration in 1903.

Two aspects of the 1903 Tour de France surprised me. One was that the new rule (at the time) for the race that forbid what was called "pacing" - that is, riders that were only part of the race to lead a designated team leader who would draft behind them. Of course riders did draft behind one another, but usually taking turns to help each other and not in support of one person. The "no pacing" rule was in fact more about leveling the field between teams with more money to have more riders and other smaller efforts.

Another was the structure of the race overall, which was quite different than recent years - although it ran over 19 days as a multi-stage race, there were only six stages with longer periods for rest between stages that were on average far longer than what is done today. Some amazingly given the lack of lighting on the route or available to cyclists in the form of headlights, the stages would usually start in the middle of the night and run through the day with some riders continuing on into the next night. Given the road conditions and the length of the stages, the physical demands of simply completing a stage must have been incredible.

An enjoyable and entertaining read.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Invisible Mile by David Conventry (Book Review)

The Invisible Mile: A NovelThe Invisible Mile: A Novel by David Coventry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I am something of a cycling enthusiast, although my interest in modern professional road racing has mostly collapsed, I guess from fatigue with doping scandals.

There are some topics that are, let's say, overworked. For U.S. history, topics such as the Civil War, for example, or something about Abraham Lincoln. For books about cycling, the Tour de France has somewhat the same place - it feels like every third or fourth book involves the Tour somehow. This is a work of fiction drawing on actual events at a particular Tour, the 1928 version. At that Tour there was a mostly Australian team; the main character of the book is a fictional participant from New Zealand. The rest of his team are historical figures from that race, as well as other named riders and a few race officials and others.

The structure of the Tour de France has evolved (and perhaps also devolved) over the years - I should have read the Wikpedia entry on the Tour de France for this period before reading the book for some basic context.

The book has several plot lines - one is certainly the main character's participation in the race, and much about the race itself with particular focus on its many grueling aspects. There is at least one other plot line, although perhaps it's more like several others, and I somehow never engaged will with any of that.

I didn't read the book properly, I guess. Oh well. I enjoyed the cycling parts.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Descent: My Epic Fall from Cycling Superstardom to Doping Dead End (Book Review)

Thomas Dekker
From Flickr, user Vanil-Noir

Apparently there is a sub-category now of cycling literature, the "I was a great bicycle racer, but then somehow I became a doper and it all went to hell" tell-all, as-told-to-someone-who-can-write memoir. We have Tyler Hamilton's "The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs" (2012) and then there is David Millar's "Racing Through the Dark" (2011). Mr. Dekker is a little late to this activity, since all three are reporting on much the same period of doping, but Dekker attempted to continue his career later than the other two so only got around to publishing this late in 2016 (in Dutch; the English version was published in the US about a year later).

As a highly successful Dutch bike racer in a land of cyclists, Dekker was presumably as much of a name there as Lance Armstrong had become here. In Dutch, the title of his book was "mijn gevecht" which apparently translates to "My Fight" (or maybe "My Struggle"?). With himself, I guess.

I thought that to be clever they used "descent" as the title in the English version since cyclists who win typically have to be good at descending mountains as well as racing up them, to give the title kind of a double meaning, but in reading it I eventually decided that was just coincidence. The cover of the Dutch version has Dekker in 3/4 profile, looking as come-hither as a sanctioned cyclist-doper can for his Dutch admirers. It's a little . . . odd.

I gave this two stars because . . . well, I didn't really like this book. It was pretty depressing, in fact. The main plus is that it is just over 200 pages with fairly large print - it is a fast read.

Tyler Hamilton's book was not so heavily focused on doping, he talked a lot about racing. The discussion of doping was mostly amusing since it became clear that he ran into problems largely because the team he was on after being with Lance Armstrong didn't spend the kind of resources organizing doping and that Hamilton realized eventually that poorly organized doping is not a good idea once he accidentally ends up with someone else's blood transfused into his system instead of his own. Oops! David Millar's book is hideous because it talks way too much about David Millar - but even he has more blow-by-blow description of races he was in than this book. "My epic fall from cycling superstardom to doping dead end" means you read far more about doping as well as drugging and drinking and sleeping with hundreds (his word) of women than about any races he was in. One wonders why VeloPress thought it was publishing a book about cycling. There are endless examples of how he wasted money, giving Euro values in most cases - 25,000 Euro for this evening, etc. Ugh. Simply ugh. (The apparent need to list his Euro salaries for all the different years he worked is just plain weird. I half expected him to say how much he got for writing this book.) And there is certainly far more detail about the mechanics of doping as he practiced it, and a fair amount of description of how members, managers, and others of his now defunct Rabobank cycling team supported his and others' doping.

I read to the end - now not sure why. Does he make some statement or apology at the end that redeems himself at the end? Spoiler alert that probably isn't a surprise - no, he doesn't.

I might have felt better about investing the time to read this if I had come away with some understanding (or feeling of understanding) of why someone would do this, why he did this. This is almost entirely missing, other than that it was the culture of the team and (in effect) "everyone did it" (although he does mention at least one other rider who didn't, but who only had moderate results). He describes the trip down but makes no attempt to explain what we might be able to learn from this from his perspective.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hollywood Rides a Bike: Cycling with the Stars (Book Review)

Hollywood Rides a Bike: Cycling with the StarsHollywood Rides a Bike: Cycling with the Stars by Steven Rea

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is about 150 pages of photographs of movie stars riding bicycles, or simply posed with them. There is a short introduction. Most of the photos are older - only a handful after 1970 or so. Some are off movie stars on bikes in scenes in movies but more are of movie stars on bikes riding around the studio or in some publicity photo that happens to include a bike. The author has often been able to deduce what the bicycle is and provides that information, which is amusing and pleasing if one is interested in that sort of thing. One of the studios apparently liked "Rollfast" cruiser bikes that appear more than others.

As it happens, the author also has a blog that provides the same sort of photographs - http://ridesabike.com/. It says, "Rides a Bike was launched on Thanksgiving Day, 2010 — a photo blog designed to showcase and celebrate two big passions of mine: cycling and cinema." It appears a new photo is still added about once a week. There is a pull-down list of all the movie stars who appear in a photo (or in some cases, more than one).

I got this from the library, paged through it a bit, and was amused. For that, the book is better than the web site I think - but maybe not. Browsing quickly still seems something a paper book can do than a blog-format web site.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream (Book Review)

Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream (Once in a While)Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream by Phil Gaimon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I have read Gaimon's two previous books and liked them reasonably well, so when I saw that he had another book coming out I was eager to read it. It focuses on his most successful year as a WorldTour rider with Garmin-Sharp in 2014, then his "remedial" year as a Continental level rider with Optum, followed by a less successful year with Cannondale (which was a successor WorldTour team to Garmin-Sharp).

The books successfully combines an interesting narrative presentation of what it is like to be on a WorldTour team with contemplation of several "what is the point of this?" type questions or considerations. At least for me, neither of these threads got in the way of the other.

Gaimon has a brisk style that I find easy and pleasant to read - I got through this in only a few days, which for me these days is highly unusual. (That alone is why it must be a five star read.) Gaimon's humor can veer into the juvenile, but my impression is that there is less of that in this book than the previous two books. One senses it was part of his identity as a professional bicycle racer, so it belongs.

One aspect of modern bicycle road racing is that we are in the post-Lance Armstong era - doping reached something like a pinnacle of technical success, then came crashing down. Gaimon, who has a tattoo that reads "clean" on his arm, was a professional road racer who established his career just when many sponsors were withdrawing support in reaction to the doping scandals. Most of the best known riders for some time however were all former dopers and one of the questions this book raises (but does not answer) is what the appropriate position is for a clean rider towards these former dopers. He does, however, describe many interactions between the two kinds of riders.

Gaimon occasionally makes comments about individuals that are not, let's say, particularly positive. That is, some of these people are almost certainly unhappy with him. The range of these comments varies considerably in tone and approach. For example, it becomes clear he has no use for the Schleck brothers, who are both (apparently) assumed to have enjoyed success largely through doping, mostly be descriptions of exchanges with them where other riders told them in one or another way to get lost. He is far more direct in his criticism of his former tour director, Jonathan Vaughters, and a few others.

One subject that surprised me in its absence is that while Gaimon had the difficulties of the contraction of support for professional cycling to contend with in the post-doping era, he says nothing about being an American professional bicycle racer in Europe as such. By the time he arrives to WorldTour cycling that mostly plays out in Europe that previously would have been mostly European riders, the challenge of success presented simply be being an American has been overcome, it seems.

One interesting aspect is that Gaimon's success with social media and skills at public relations ended up being perhaps his strongest contribution to a WorldTour team - which he realized was not what really what he was in it for. Now, however, as a "retired" racer, social media is fine and he is all about public relations, mostly it would appear on behalf of himself. http://philthethrill.net/ is the starting point for current information about "PhilTheThrill."

What will he write about next??

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Urban Cycling (Book Review)

Urban CyclingUrban Cycling by Laurent Belando

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The sub-title is "From the BMX to the Fixie" - it is something of a historical review of what could be called hipster or urban cycling.

There is some text but it is mostly the photography that draws you in. I got a used copy (from Powells online) for nine dollars and for that this is fun to have to page through occasionally. This is from a British publisher with some U.S. distribution, but it isn't the sort of thing a public library will have and anyway, I like to have a certain number of books heavy on photographs around the house, that I own. The book was originally published in France (in French) by a different publisher in 2015; this version was published in 2016. Most of the book is organized into "bike types" and "bike disciplines" (activities) with some "how to" type information at the end. They could have left the "how to" stuff out, which is mostly too brief to be useful.

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Ask a Pro (Book Review)

Ask a Pro: Everything You Should Be Scared to Know about Pro CyclingAsk a Pro: Everything You Should Be Scared to Know about Pro Cycling by Phil Gaimon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Phil Gaimon is a retired pro road cyclist. In general I don't read about current pro road racing any more (for example, it has been years since I killed time looking at VeloNews online) but I read Gaimon's "Pro Cycling on $10 a Day" and liked that, so I thought I would give this a try.

This turns out to be a collection of Gaimon's Q&A columns published in VeloNews. This are arranged in the book over the years when he was riding and writing them, which means his experience and some of his views expressed evolved over time.

The sub-title is "Deep Thoughts and Unreliable Advice from America's Foremost Cycling Sage" - this gives you a sense of his occasionally ironic and mostly sarcastic and self-deprecating tone.

One doesn't really know the nature of the typical questions he received but many he chose to answer are from aspiring racers, which I suppose isn't that surprising, and occasionally the answers he gives might be useful to those folks. From a general reader's perspective the Q&A approach means the flow is mostly random in terms of topics covered, but the entertainment value makes up for that I guess.

Gaimon writes well in terms of producing something that is amusing and engaging and also (this I consider a good thing) a quick read. But if you aren't at least somewhat interested in modern bicycle road racing, there is no point in picking it up much less trying to read it.



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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike (Book Review)

Merckx: Half Man, Half BikeMerckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


During the height of Lance Armstrong's successful run of Tour de France victories, I began to watch a some professional bicycle racing on TV and the Internet. I even watched a criterium in Arlington where I live in person. But once the doping aspect became more obvious, I lost interest in current bicycle racing. I guess I couldn't tell you the name of three people who will be racing in the Tour de France this year, as one example of my lack of present interest.

I am still interested in cycling generally however, even if my main association is as a bicycle commuter 20 miles each workday. And I find that I still like reading about older bicycle racing if the book is well written - pretty much when Greg LeMond is done and Lance gets starts is when I lose interest.

William Fotheringham, a British author, has written a number of biographies of 20th century cycling figures, including Tom Simpson, Fausto Coppi, Luis Ocana, and others. I thought I would try this one about Merckx who is arguably the greatest all around road cyclist-racer of all time. I found it a very enjoyable read.

Merckx was nicknamed "The Cannibal" and was famous for his unrelenting approach to bicycle racing. Some of the time it would have seemed more sensible in terms of preserving himself long-term or short-term (or both) to have eased back in some situations, but he almost never employed any strategy other than to attack, to push for the lead, to strive to put himself out in front in order to win the sooner the better.

As a biography, the author works to associate some of Merckx's personal story and background with this unrelenting approach, but this isn't don't so heavily as to be annoying. Fotheringham has a good approach to relating accounts of the different road races described. As a sign of my interest, I read this from cover to cover without some long pause, distracted by some other book(s) in my "to read" pile.

I have read enough before about bicycle racing after WWII to the end of the 20th century that many of Merckx's competitors described in the book were familiar to me, but enough detail about them was supplied that it wasn't necessary in order to enjoy the book.

YouTube videos of documentaries referenced in the book:


Merckx is featured but did not win this race


A biographical documentary about Merckx covering the 1973 racing season

Merckx was the winner

These are all about 90-110 minutes in length.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Infographic Guide to Cycling (Book Review)

Infographic Guide to CyclingInfographic Guide to Cycling by Roadcycling Uk

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This was something I found at my local public library.

This is a publication of Roadcycling UK which tells you several things immediately - the focus is almost entirely on road cycling (and not any other kind of cycling) and it is written with UK cycling history featured heavily.

There are some infographics at the beginning about "bike tech" that are useful in the way I would think of being a "guide to cycling" but after that it is largely about different kinds of professional racing and the history of some of the most famous races, particularly (but not only) where there was exceptional performance of a British cyclist. If you aren't interested in professional racing there isn't much here of interest. At all.

I find it somewhat sad to see in print that with the disqualification of Armstrong, once again Greg LeMond is the only American to have won the Tour de France.

As a book for a public library in the US, I don't think this is a very good selection. Oh well.

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Monday, March 27, 2017

The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold (Book Review)

The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Riding the Iron CurtainThe Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Riding the Iron Curtain by Tim Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


https://youtu.be/A5YVpF6PPm8 - is a video on YouTube by the author to the Russian (formerly the Soviet) national anthem with different footage of his trip, mostly taken by himself with his phone (which is remarkable in itself).


Author's video in support of the book on YouTube

Early in 2015 (I think that's right; books like this are often a bit vague on when they took place) travel writer/adventure cyclist Tim Moore set of to trace the route of the (former) Iron Curtain, the defacto border between socialist Eastern Europe (the "Soviet bloc") and Western Europe, much of which can be followed by riding the EuroVelo route 13 (EV13).

The full route, from the north to south, is 10,000+ km (or 6,200+ miles, give or take) and takes him in to (and out of, and back in to) twenty countries.

For reasons never quite properly explained, the author chose to start his trip in Finland in March, more or less guaranteeing that the part of the book describing his travails in Finland is about surviving when cycling in what most people would consider winter, with temperatures down to 20 below (Celsius - oddly this book was not edited for the US market, so temperatures are in Celsius and distances in kilometers - oh well). And to make things more challenging, Moore didn't select any sort of normal touring bike but an East German "shopping bicycle" with 20 inch (that is, small, like a folding bicycle) wheels - a pretty crappy, poorly made, heavy one at that. (This follows on his previous cycling bike where he attempted to follow the route of the 1914 Giro race in Italy in 2012 riding a bicycle that dated to that period, including wooden wheels.) With only two gears! And a coaster brake! OK and a crummy front brake. Which sets the stage for is self-deprecating tales of travel.


The author follows a tried and true approach to such travel narratives, mixing description of his adventures (or here, more often, misadventures) with digression on relevant history.

Probably the strangest aspect of this book is that the part set in Finland is dis-proportionally long compared to the rest of the trip, but then perhaps it is because it really took that much longer so it is proportional in terms of days of travel. He also provides more digressions into Finnish history and society than he does as he gets further south. (I'm not so fond of the history so this was fine with me.)

It's a long trip (three months, thousands of miles or kilometers) and over 330 pages, its a long book. I got through it, I enjoyed reading it.

Some of Mr. Moore's description of different nationalities (Finns, Russians, on to Austrians and Bulgarians eventually) would no doubt offend many people of these nationalities. Russians in particular. Hmm.

After Austria, it was a little more difficult to keep track of things - the EV13 goes in and out of countries and so border crossings become the main feature, along with some hill climbing escapades (followed by hair-raising descents) that are somehow less thrilling to read about than the descriptions of near-death-from-freezing-experiences towards the beginning.

Somehow Moore managed to travel this distance, including the slow snowy/icy parts near the beginning, in only three months. Amazing. And then with his book to relay it to us in the British version of ah-shucks humorous misadventures, including insights into a third of the nationalities of the former Eastern Europe and some thoughts about cycling thrown in.




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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Epic Bike Rides of the World (Book Review)

Epic Bike Rides of the WorldEpic Bike Rides of the World by Lonely Planet

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Lonely Planet seems to have decided to publish more specialized guides - although this isn't a take-it-with-you sort of guide but more of a this-may-inspire-you introduction to possibilities for longer distant cycling (generally at some non-trivial expense, by the way).

The format is puzzling. It isn't a coffee table book, but is large-ish format. Physically it reminds me of a high school text book.

The book covers in some detail fifty different possible cycling routes (as they call them) in thirty different countries, organized by region (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Oceania). The number of routes per region varies widely, with all of two for Africa but nineteen for Europe and fourteen for the Americas. The rides are categorized "easy, harder, epic." For each route, there is a "tools" section that gives some information for someone who might actually be considering one of these rides, but since these are mostly not in one's neighborhood and would require considerable preparation, they are just a bare bones start at the research that would be required.

The photography is nice - again, with the idea to perhaps inspire you.

In a nod at how such information would be presented on a web side, each of the fifty routes ends with brief "more like this" section with another three routes covered in a paragraph. Some of these rides were more interesting to me than the ones covered in details - oh well.

The front cover has the blurb, "Explore the planet's most thrilling cycling routes" at the bottom of it. Perhaps I don't think of "thrilling" the right way. Clearly a few of them are in what I would consider attractive for a thrill seeker, but I would say a more accurate blurb would be "the planet's most satisfying cycling routes." But I guess inspiration needs to be for thrills, not satisfaction.



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Saturday, March 4, 2017

America's Bicycle Route (Book Review)

America's Bicycle RouteAmerica's Bicycle Route by Michael McCoy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The sub-title of this book is, "The Story of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail." This is a coffeetable format book published by the Adventure Cycling Association, which I learned from reading this book, came into being as the organization headquartered in Missoula, Montana, that led to the 1976 "Bikecentennial," an organized effort to celebrate the bicentennial with an established route and some support for participants to ride across the country - about 4,100 cyclists did so. Wikipedia has a good short entry about Bikecentennial.

The book mixes history of the Bikecentennial and descriptions and photographs of that event in 1976 with description of the TransAmerica Bike Trail that resulted with coverage from the 1970s through to today, as well as profiles of different riders. It's quite well done. Although it is the kind of thing you don't usually sit down and read cover to cover, I have ended up reading a lot of it. The photography is good with the authors having successfully dug up quite a few photos from the 1970s.

Oddly the Adventure Cycling Association doesn't do anything to make this book available to vendors that provide books to public libraries, so I don't think you will find this in any public library. In fact, it doesn't seem to be available from Amazon, even. To get a copy you have to go to the Adventure Cycling Association web site. (I sent the ACA people an email pointing out it would be a good idea to provide a book like this to vendors that sell to libraries - they could probably sell several more copies of the book and get the word out about their association too.)

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road (Book Review)

Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American RoadBike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road by James Longhurst

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book describes the evolution of cyclist use of roads in America, which got its start before the appearance of automobiles. If today there is some recognition of the need for "complete streets," then this is something we have arrived at after considerable evolution, with highs and lows along the way.

If someone is interested in the history of recreational (rather than racing) cycling in America, this book provides an interesting perspective. If you are a regular bicycle commuter as I am, reading this certainly explains the history of how we got to where we are with some, but not (in my view) enough support for cyclists.

The title overemphasizes conflict in this history, as the author admits - "Bike Battles" sounds more interesting than "Selected Cycling Policy Debates." After working his way from the 1800s through to today, the author's advice to cyclist-policy advocates is to take a moderate approach, recognizing that roads are a shared resource, to be used by motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians.

Some of the information and detail was new to me. I had not known much about the "sidepath" movement, which sought to create dedicated bike paths suitable for cycling at a time when roads used by horse-drawn vehicles were often not suitable for bicycling. This movement never got very far and had various misadventures with how it sought public funding. It somewhat presaged the conflicts closer to the present day between those who favor "vehicular cycling," that is, riding in the road as a vehicle with no special infrastructure for cyclists and those who favor such special infrastructure.

The book includes interesting photographs, many from the National Archives, that I had not seen before to make various points. There are also different instructional videos mentioned, many of which can be found on YouTube with a little searching.

While presented as an academic work, with footnotes and a bibliography, the approach is engaging and readable. I was able to find this at my local public library.


A Victory Bicycle during World War II
World War II "Victory" bicycle, discussed in the book - a photograph much like this one is include

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ultralight Bike Touring and Bikepacking (Book Review)

Ultralight Bike Touring and Bikepacking: The Ultimate Guide to Lightweight Cycling AdventuresUltralight Bike Touring and Bikepacking: The Ultimate Guide to Lightweight Cycling Adventures by Justin Lichter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was something I picked up at the public library. I suppose since this isn't the kind of guide you take with you, it is an OK book for a library to have, but I should probably buy myself a copy for reference if I am serious about some overnight rides of any sort. Not sure I am.

The concept here is that most bicycle touring is done in with a "heavy" approach, often with special racks for the front and back that have so-called pannier bags attached. The "ulralight" bikepacker instead uses a combination (usually) of handlebar bag, a slightly elongated bag that attaches behind the saddle, and a "frame bag" that fits into the triangle of space under the top bar - between the rider's legs, basically.

I am sympathetic to this approach mostly because of how my approach to commuting evolved - I used to have these ginormous pannier bags for a back rack on the bikes I used to commute. They were silly large, and from time to time I would more or less find enough crap to haul to/from work to fill them. A lot of weight, and eventually I began to feel they were ruining (or at least not helping) my enjoyment of my rides. I started using a messenger bag and found that if I forced myself to live within the smaller amount of space and made better decisions on what to take with me, it was enough.

This book is advocating much the same approach for longer bike trips of various kinds. The two co-authors (Justin Lichter and Justin Kline) have a light style and there is some amusing stuff about travels in Central Asia - well, amusing for me because I am somewhat interested in that region. Note all of their chapters are relevant for me - for example, "bikepacking for speed and endurance" - eh, not so much my interest.

Anyway, they mention somewhere that packing light and staying away from the heavy bags on the front and back on racks can mean better maneuverability, which seems attractive to me, but also that it can be a better approach for older riders. Amen!

Even though I wasn't equally interested in all parts of this book, it's only about 150 pages so I just read it from start to finish. A nice read.



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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Bicycle: The Definitive Visual History (Book Review)

Bicycle: The Definitive Visual HistoryBicycle: The Definitive Visual History by DK Publishing

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a coffee table book with very nice photographs of bicycles, from the 1800s to today, presented in the usual "floating against a white background" approach used in Dorling-Kindersley way.

This is DK.com's information about the book that includes some images of the pages. It says, "To tell the complete story of cycling, Bicycle profiles famous cyclists, manufacturers, and brands, and includes detailed images, maps, and histories of key races and competitions - from the first recorded race in 1868 to the Cyclo-cross World Championships to the Tour de France, triathlons, Olympic racing, and more."

My local public library purchases books like this and I like to check them out and page through them, enjoying the photographs and reading the captions. Sometimes I even buy a few (very few) of these often not inexpensive books. Still, the pleasure generally is in the photography - and this book has a lot of good photographs of books. But to suggest this tells "the complete story of cycling" even at some summary level is silly - it doesn't.

Here is just one simple example - a significant (enough) recent development that now seems to be dying out was the messenger cyclist-fixed gear trend. After all, there were several different movies celebrating bicycle messengers over almost twenty years, from Kevin Bacon's "Quicksilver" to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "Premium Rush." For the world of bicycling, it was interesting to see how the "classic" messenger bicycle evolved, at first a fixed gear created from a castoff 1970s road bike that might or might not have brakes since the easiest way to stop was to cease pedaling - and which was great for messengers because it was easily maintained, cheap, and at the same time unattractive to theft. Then others, mostly young, began converting bikes to "fixies" but with hubs that would freewheel since riding a true fixed gear bike is uhm kind of annoying, followed by fixed gear bikes (that weren't actually fixed) being sold by various companies new, primarily to so-called "hipsters." (When I checked with Google on the continued connection between fixies and hipsters, I learned that, "Hipster’s and fixies go together like Donald Trump and being completely out of sync with the reality of everyday life." Yeah.)

Now it isn't like fixies are a big part of cycling history, but given some of the more obscure stuff the book does include, largely because people like photographs in coffee table books of obscure visually interesting stuff, then it seems hard to agree this book is anything like "complete." Rather, it is "selective."

OK, here's another example - bike share is a not a type of bike, but bike share bikes are a type that would seem necessary to cover in the "complete story of cycling." Not mentioned.

As someone who is somewhat interested in older Japanese bikes (Nishiki, Bridgestone, Univega, others) that had some popularity in the US before the Yen made them too expensive, I eventually noticed the strong Eurocentric and even UK-centric coverage. Cannondale has a fair number of examples included, followed by Specialized and Trek, but that's pretty much it for today's US companies.

There are some aspects that are to me really quite strange. Bikes are captioned with information about the origin (country), the frame material (ie, steel), gears (number of), and the size of the wheels in inches. The country of origin is the country of corporate ownership, not of the manufacture of the frame, which is how most people think about it. Or companies - Cannondale bikes that are "made in the USA" are bikes with American assembled frames, but many of the components come from Asia - the overall dollar value of the inputs to create a Cannondale in some cases might be less than 50 percent US. But for an example of a "hybrid" they have a Mongoose identified as "origin=US" which may be true as far as who owns Mongoose, but the bike was assembled from Asian components in Taiwan (or maybe China) but anyway, not in the US. And the way they measure wheels is odd, too - all the road bikes are described with 28 inch wheels, whether they are older ones with what are usually called 27 inch wheels or more modern road bike wheels that are a somewhat larger size that are usually said to be 700 mm wheels.

There are pages that point out the importance of the Pigeon bicycle for China. Another inset notes that bicycles are important in the developing world with a photo of some poor fellow riding his cargo laden bike in Kabul. Otherwise this is about bikes in the developed world, mostly Europe and somewhat the US. Which doesn't exactly correspond either to where the bicycles are made nowadays or where most of the bikes in the world are. But OK.



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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bicycles in War (Book Review)

Bicycles in WarBicycles in War by Martin Caidin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The record doesn't give credit to a co-author, Jay Barbree, who seems to have written books mostly about space exploration, including at least one other book written with Martin Caidin.

My father and his older brother both served in the U.S. Army during WWII and both were interested in aviation - they owned a plane together for a while. Growing up I didn't use the public library very much (it wasn't particularly close by) and read a lot of my father's books about WWII that included four or five books written by Martin Caidin about different U.S. fighters and bombers and their use during the War. I certainly remember them as engaging my attention - I'm pretty sure I read several of them more than once.

I got this out of the library where I work. It is probably not readily available these days.

Caidin's usual approach with his military aviation books was to describe the development of the aircraft and then to describe examples of its use in combat, focusing on particular pilots and units. Caidin and his co-author don't appear to have known that much about bicycles or otherwise think that the readers would be interested in the development of bicycles for use in war so that subject is not presented - the focus is on their use in several particular examples, including World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. He spends about 20 pages on the famous (in certain circles . . . ) 1,900 mile "march" of the 25th Infantry Corps (that was an all African American unit, except for the officers) in 1897 from Missoula, Montana to St. Louis, Missouri. The story of this unit is now covered quite well be various sources on the Internet, including this day-by-day account, the 25th Bicycle Corp, a page at the Fort Missoula Museum web site, and an hour long video, "The Bicycle Corps: America's Black Army On Wheels" (2000).



The Fort Missoula Museum site provides some of the technical information lacking in the book, for example:
Moss contacted the A. G. Spalding Company, who agreed to provide military bicycles co-designed by Moss at no cost. The Corps, consisting of eight black enlisted men, soon was riding in formation, drilling, scaling fences up to nine-feet high, fording streams, and pedaling 40 miles a day. Each bicycle carried a knapsack, blanket roll, and a shelter half strapped to the handlebar. A hard leather frame case fit into the diamond of each bicycle and a drinking cup was kept in a cloth sack under the seat. Each rider carried a rifle (first slung over the back, later strapped to the horizontal bar) and 50 rounds of ammunition.

The Spalding military bicycles were furnished with steel rims, tandem spokes, extra-heavy side-forks and crowns, gear cases, luggage carriers, frame cases, brakes, and Christy saddles. They were geared to 68 inches and weighed 32 pounds. The average weight of the bicycles, packed, was about 59 pounds.
For someone like me, with my interested heavily towards what the bicycles were like, this wasn't a particularly satisfying book. On the other hand, given that there isn't much published on this topic and was readily available (to me) it was a good enough read.

There are some b&w photographs included - nothing particular special alas, but then these are the days of the Internet and the book was published in 1974. I had seen many of those used before, but when the book was published, they were likely unusual to see.


Cycle orderlies under fire"Cycle orderlies under fire" - one of the photographs in the book, now widely published on the Internet (and even available for purchase from Getty Images, if you want to spend money)



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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sad Bike // Bicycles Locked to Poles (Book Review)

Untitled

This is a few blocks from Nationals Ball Park, a few days ago. Ugh! This is a strange bicycle to steal parts from since it was a very low priced Mongoose junk bicycle when new, and the parts were probably the least good aspect of it.

I am reminded of this book:


Bicycles Locked to PolesBicycles Locked to Poles by John Glassie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I got my copy Powells.com used for $5.95 (with a free shipping special - guess I'm cheap) and it was even signed by the photographer.

On some level, of course, it's a terribly sad little book of photographs, but most of the bikes are just crap (missing various parts) so it isn't quite so sad. Perhaps.

The locks on some of these NYC bikes liked to poles clearly weighed more than the bikes (when the bikes were whole). I almost never see monster locks like these around here.

The inside of the front and and back covers includes these matrix table things that explain what parts of the bike on each page are includes, so you can see for example that the bike on page 81 has the frame but the fork is gone, along with practically everything else except the cranks and pedals. Amusing.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Road I Ride by Juliana Buhring (Book Review)

This Road I Ride: Sometimes It Takes Losing Everything to Find YourselfThis Road I Ride: Sometimes It Takes Losing Everything to Find Yourself by Juliana Buhring

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A different edition of this book had the sub-title, "My incredible journey from novice to fastest woman to cycle the globe." The one I read has the sub-title "Sometimes it takes losing everything to find yourself." The two different sub-titles emphasize different aspects of the same book.

Books about around-the-world bicycle trips started to appear at the same time as bicycles; in the 1800s cyclists would publish their book about the travel adventure and give paid lectures - sometimes there were other ways they earned something from these trips. Most were men, but the first woman credited to traveling around the world by bicycle, Annie Londonderry, made her journey in 1895.

Today what constitutes "riding a bicycle around the world" is closely defined by the Guinness world records people - Ms. Buhring's ride was in compliance and she set a new women's world record. I have read a number of cycling travelogues (first person "adventure cycling" books) but as noted with the two sub-titles, that is one theme of this book and the other is about growing (or finding oneself) as a person, which (although this sounds odd) I am less interesting in reading about.

The adventure cycling part of the narrative is fine, but I was not terribly engaged - I made it to the end of the book, but could have just as easily turned it back in to the library without finishing. But that is probably more about me. I'm not sure that this isn't a limit to how many of these sorts of books one can read and enjoy.

At the end, the author explains that she has become a ultra-endurance cyclist, participating and doing well in a number of events. She rode in the 2016 summer Ride Across America (RAAM) but had to withdraw due to illness. She seems likely to compete in further cycling events but ones that carry a lower dollar investment overhead than RAAM.







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