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

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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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Ultimate Bicycle Owner's Manual: The Universal Guide to Bikes, Riding, and Everything for Beginner and Seasoned Cyclists (Book Review)

The Ultimate Bicycle Owner's Manual: The Universal Guide to Bikes, Riding, and Everything for Beginner and Seasoned CyclistsThe Ultimate Bicycle Owner's Manual: The Universal Guide to Bikes, Riding, and Everything for Beginner and Seasoned Cyclists by Eben Weiss

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Some years ago I did occasional thumbnail book reviews for "Library Journal" - they had to be 150 words or less yet somehow explain the author's credentials, who the audience for the book was, what its purpose was and whether it was achieved, and finally a kind of thumbs up/thumbs down for other librarians ("suitable for large public library collections that insist on having very book about cycling for God knows what reason" - except that would take up too much of the allotted 150 words).

I have read Mr. Snob's previous three books. I used to read his blog, but at some point I felt it was repeating itself. And his books sort of seemed headed in that same direction, of making slightly reworded versions of the same jokes/anecdotes over and over.

I was surprised that he decided to right a how-to-own-a-bike book and acquired a reading copy from the local public library.

The decisions that authors and/or publishers make about titles tell you a bit about their hopes for book sales. In this case, what are we supposed to get out of The Ultimate Bicycle Owner's Manual: The Universal Guide to Bikes, Riding, and Everything for Beginner and Seasoned Cyclists? Well, that this is the bestest book ever for solving any information need we could have related to cycling - that this book is suitable for purchase by everyone and everyone (and also public libraries, don't forget them).

I would contrast this with the chosen-at-random off a library shelf Everyday Bicycling: Ride a Bike for Transportation (Whatever Your Lifestyle) by Elly Blue. Mr. Snob's book attempts to provide everything for everyone in 240 pages while Ms. Blue takes about half as many pages to cover a subject I would guesstimate to be about one-tenth as extensive as Mr. Snob's.

Not only that, Ms. Blue has both foreward and an introduction in which she talks a bit about herself and what she is trying to do with this book, what she hopes you get out it. Mr Snob by contrast jumps right in with chapter one, "obtaining a bike" - you were apparently given as much information about who this book is for in the title.

I didn't find this book particularly illuminating as a "seasoned cyclist" myself (by which I guess I mostly mean old) and was a little sad (or something) when it became clear that Mr. Snob wasn't able to work much humor into this (although not much surprised). It is somewhat difficult hard to put myself in the place of a beginning cyclist, but I don't think they would find this particularly helpful either, since it is highly abbreviated in its coverage of most of the many topics it hurries through.

I was surprised, my public library system purchased three copies of his earlier books but they seem to have decided that one copy of this one is sufficient. Perhaps the selection people at Arlington Public Library somehow figured out the unlikeliness of successful one-size-fits-all book on all aspects of cycling for all types of cyclists in 240 pages.




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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution (Book Review)

Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban RevolutionStreetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I didn't read this from cover to cover but paged through it and read some of the sections more focused on cycling. I can't imagine as a bike commuter I need or want to own such a book, but to get it from the library and read up a little, sure. It is readable enough. If you ignore the occasional attempt at making it all more dramatic than it probably was.

I have several quibbles with the title. I don't think this is a handbook, for one, and even if it is a handbook, it isn't for an urban revolution but for incremental urban change. It's just that the way things work around here, it seems like a revolution. To me.

Anyway, as to whether it is a handbook or not - according to wikipedia, "Handbooks may deal with any topic, and are generally compendiums of information in a particular field or about a particular technique. They are designed to be easily consulted and provide quick answers in a certain area. For example, the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is a reference for how to cite works in MLA style, among other things." If the topic here is urban traffic design, then this is more a collection of case studies than a reference book. Handbooks, as reference works, are something you look up an answer in, not something to be read in large chunks. This is more the later.

The chapter on the NYC implementation of a bikeshare program is sort of amusing since here in the DC area there was much less drama but it seems to have worked out just fine.



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Monday, May 30, 2016

The Mechanical Horse: How the Bicycle Reshaped American Life (Book Review)

The Mechanical Horse: How the Bicycle Reshaped American LifeThe Mechanical Horse: How the Bicycle Reshaped American Life by Margaret Guroff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Several times recently I have written Goodreads reviews for books and commented that I was not part of the target audience for the book. When I got this from the public library, I thought to myself, "aha - here is a book where I certainly am part of the target audience!" After all, I read books about cycling history whenever I find them and I even have a bicycle history oriented blog (although I have not published so much in recent times). Once I had read partway through this, I decided I apparently was not really the target audience for this book, either, which I will explain below.

First, I should note that I was a little confused by the title, subtitle, and dust cover illustration of this book. I added up "mechanical horse" and "how the bicycle reshaped American life" (in the past, mind you) with the drawing of a couple in the 1890s riding their then-new safety bicycles and took this to be a book about the early days of cycling. It turns out it covers the entire span of bicycle history, from the earliest days up through now, all in only about 165 pages of text. (Extensive notes and an in-depth bibliography add another 120 pages, which is unusual. Oddly Goodreads says the book is 216 pages, but the copy I have has 287 including the index.)

165 pages isn't much to cover the entire history of cycling in America, certainly not in any kind of depth. That's why this wasn't, I think, a book for an enthusiast like me - there just isn't much depth to what is here. Which is too bad, because in looking through the above-mentioned extensive bibliography and notes, I was able to appreciate how much research went into this book - a lot! I sensed that the author chose not to share much of what she learned with her readers in this book, for whatever reason.

I thought the author made several surprising detours in her discussion of how bicycles reshaped American life. One of the eleven chapters talks about the connection between the development of flight, most notably the Wright brothers, and cycling in general. And another (The Cycles of War) talks about use of bicycles by different armies, with what for this book is a long digression into a discussion of the use of bicycles in the Vietnam War (by the North Vietnamese). I thought the direct connection between these topics and "reshaping American life" was pretty thin.

The book has a few illustrations, but some concepts that would have been helpful to who with illustrations or photographs are not included - for example, the simple difference between a so-called "ordinary" bicycle and a "safety" bicycle.

Although the book has (as noted) page after page of notes on what is in the text, these are not referenced in the text itself. If you wonder what the source was for something, you look to the back of the book and maybe there is relevant note and maybe not. I guess having endnote numbers in the text would be a distraction? Or not appropriate for this popular treatment?

The final chapter tries to briefly summarize the many different cycling tendencies out there now and to argue that the influence of cycling is likely to grow. Sure, maybe. But there isn't much that is persuasive provided here.

If one is interested in the topic and not too familiar with it, this is a reasonably short and certainly quite readable way to learn about some of the ways American society has been influenced by cycling. I was disappointed because for all the effort that seems to have gone into it, it could have been better.



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Monday, December 28, 2015

Legends of the Tour (Book Review)

Legends of the TourLegends of the Tour by Jan Cleijne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I don't read many graphic novels - this is in fact a graphic work of non-fiction, documenting some highlights of the Tour de France's history.

Graphic novels can vary widely in amount of text included, and this is at the (very) low end. That was fine for me since I have read at least a dozen different books about the Tour, but I'm not sure that this would be so good for someone who isn't already familiar with the Tour.

The author's style is mostly dark and for the most part he focuses a lot of attention on the dark aspects of the Tour's history (dark in the sense of forbidding and/or foreboding) but the Tour takes place in July, in France, and much of it doesn't have the look and feel of most of this book. That says more about the author than about the subject, I suppose.

The low-text graphic novel approach results in some simplification of what you might read elsewhere - the competition with Hinault and Greg Lemond ends with the two of them riding hand-in-hand, celebrating their sort-of-joint-victory - hmmm. Published in June of 2014, he deals with the problem of doping and Mr. Armstrong's interview with Oprah at the end while expressing hope for redemption for the Tour's future - that the challenges will come from road and the race and not the challenges of doping without discovery, I suppose. Well maybe it will work out that way.

The nice thing about a book like this is it is possible to read through the whole thing in several sittings. It is also interesting to go back and page around and look at it later.



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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lanterne Rouge: the Last Man in the Tour de France (Book Review)

Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de FranceLanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France by Max Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I recommended this to a colleague who I know occasionally reads books about professional cycling, who surprised I had read it given that I had announced I had not watched any of the current Tour de France or read much about it.

Oh well. Some things don't necessarily make sense.

I have read at least a dozen different books on the TdF, some that are like this that coverage the entire history of the event and others that focus on a particular race or individual or team. Thanks I guess to doping and the present evolution of the bicycles themselves in directions that seem less and less like a bicycle I might ever have anything to do with my interest in the TdF races of the 21st century seem to have disappeared, but I can still enjoy reading about races of the 20th century.

The trick is to find a book that has some new or interesting angle, and with its focus on the "lanterne rouge," that is, the official last-place finisher of each of the Tour races. This theme makes it possible for the author to recount different anecdotes than those that have often appeared in more than one previous book.

I also came away feeling I had learned a few things about the TdF - for example, that the race at times officially recognized the last place finisher in some way but generally has preferred not to, and in some cases changed the official rules to discourage riders from attempting to place last. (At certain points the "lanterne rouge" rider would be invited to criterium races after the TdF that were much more lucrative than anything that might be offered to riders who places say next to last.) And I gained some additional understanding why some riders finish towards the end, such as sprinters and domestiques.

It was a good and easy read. If some of the material about the early (or late) races is not so interesting, the generally chronological organization makes it easy to skip over such things.

This is a small thing, but I am puzzled by the lack of any effort to edit books like this published by English authors for the U.S. market other than having a computer go through and replace "colour" with "color" and the like. Oh well.





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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Gironimo! Book Review

Gironimo! Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of ItalyGironimo! Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy by Tim Moore

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I got half way through this and put it down and didn't pick it up again. That was enough.

This is a sort of travel/cycling/cycling history book. The author, who has written a book of this sort before, was inspired by the terrible-horrible-very bad Giro of 1914 to attempt to recreate that race today with his own individual grand tour attempt. The somewhat unusual touch was to do this using a period-correct (mostly) bicycle that he purchased and rebuilt for this purpose.

Much of the first third of the book focuses on acquisition of the right (which turns out to be wrong) bicycle for the trip and getting it into condition to be ridden. This part was amusing even if a little silly sometimes and I enjoyed it. The author does have this shtick of putting himself down that gets a little tiring.

Once the book transitioned to the actual trip, I gradually became less and less interested. For this genre an author will move back and forth from describing his present travels to some historical anecdotes that somehow relate. The way that this was executed in this book didn't hold my interest.







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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Bike Mechanic: Tales from the Road and the Workshop (Book Review)

Bike Mechanic: Tales from the Road and the Workshop (Rouleur)Bike Mechanic: Tales from the Road and the Workshop by Rohan Dubash

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I saw a one-sentence description of this somewhere and thought it was a bike mechanic memoir, to complement the many "my days as a road cyclist" books available. "Bike Mechanic takes a look inside the daily life of the unsung heroes of the peloton, the bike techs who keep the stars riding." But in the book itself, one reads, "this book is a collection of stories with some tips and hits that we thought would be useful to amateur mechanics and road cycling enthusiasts alike. It certainly isn't comprehensive; there just wasn't space."

The book table of contents is as follows:

ON THE ROAD
The Daily Grind
Bike Washing
Team Car
The Truck
Team Garage

HARDWARE
Tools
Workshop

THE BIKE
Frame and Forks
Bottom Bracket
Wheels
Tires
Brakes
Drivetrain
Contact Points
Cleaning and Lubrication

The "On the Road" section is the closest to describing what being a professional road race bike mechanic is like, but this is only about a quarter of the 272 pages; the remainder are a somewhat whimsically selected look at the tools, workshop, and use of these tools for caring for high end road bikes.

Although a paperback, this is a nicely produced book with good paper and well reproduced photographs.

The two authors convey stories or instructions on how to carry out a mechanical procedure with equal skill. They know their subject and their writing is interesting to read as well.

The photography is by Taz Darling - some of her racing photography is available online. The book includes both action oriented photography and the kind of photography appropriate to a "how to" book; both types are executed well.

If there is a drawback, it is that there is so much in it and I still am not sure of the best way to attack a book like this. I read the first third or so in a conventional start to finish way, but eventually started jumping around.



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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pro Cycling on $10 a Day by Phil Gaimon (Book Review)

Road Rash and Ramen Noodles: True Tales of Pro Cycling on $10 Dollars a DayRoad Rash and Ramen Noodles: True Tales of Pro Cycling on $10 Dollars a Day by Phil Gaimon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The first odd thing about this is that the print edition I read had the title that the Kindle edition carries, Pro Cycling on $10 a Day: From Fat Kid to Euro Pro. Both editions are from Velo Press. This seems . . . odd.

Gaimon blogs for VeloPress, for example this blog post. Having read a few of these, I was hoping for an enjoyable reading experience and I was a little let down by what I found, thus three stars.

I am a long time bike commuter and I have the usual too-many-bikes and even blog about cycling history myself but I realize that my interest in professional bicycle racing these days is pretty low. I was more interested a few years ago, but unlike those who were turned off by doping, I am turned off by the adoption of new bicycle technology and parts that are clearly I will never adopt, I suppose largely because of the cost but also because the marginal gains are so small. And yet I still look at VeloNews many days of the week and read a few stories and vaguely follow some of the big stage races. So one question is why I even read a book like this - I guess because bicycle racers are the most noticed practitioners of cycling in our society and because I have read a number of such books and enjoyed some of them in the past.

Phil Gaimon is now a rider for Garmon-Sharp. The book (memoir?) in an autobiographical account of what it took to get to that point, including a longer-than-usual amount of time in what amounts to the minor leagues of cycling before arriving in the big leagues.

Right at the start, Gaimon announces he is clean and that in this his book is different than the Tyler Hamilton etc body of work that has been published by former dopers. OK fine; the attempt at humor he used to announce this at the start of the book alerted me to a problem I would have throughout, which is that Gaimon has one sense of humor and I have a different one and most of what is recounted as humorous didn't seem very funny to me. He also boasts that "these words are mine" (that no ghostwriter helped) which is fine, but one wonders about the editing - the writing could have been better.

Aside from not being written by a doper, a major plus this book has over recent cyclist memoirs by Tyler Hamilton types is that it skips details on his upbringing and proceeds quickly to what most readers are interested in. So that is a plus.

The book has a "confession," a preface, and introduction, then eight chapters and an epilogue. The chapters are entirely chronological. Fine - but (I guess) because he is someone who has published lots of blog-length writing, each chapter is subdivided with headings in bold, like "stop and smell the ham sandwich" or "speeding gets you there faster." Since the book flows chronologically in its telling, there is no particular reason for this approach except to simplify transitions, or so it seems to me. Perhaps this is more about how I read than a valid criticism, but I feel the book would be a more pleasing read without this choppy approach. (A Dog in Hat, also published by VeloPress, demonstrates this is possible - it is a much more flowing read.)

VeloPress is a niche publisher of cycling books, but I got mine from a public library. Presumably the audience is expected to be people who know a fair amount of bicycle racing, particularly in the United States, because there was little background information provided if the reader didn't already know these things. (There is a silly glossary at the book that in several pages tells you more about Gaimon's sense of humor than anything else.) What I'm getting at is that readers who don't know something about professional bicycle racing and races in the U.S. may lack the context to understand some of this.

I pay far more attention to my local professional baseball team than I do to professional cycling and I have the strong impression that the baseball players often have rather juvenile ways of acting out to amuse themselves and others. I think Gaimon went further than necessary to provide examples of such behavior among his fellow cyclists.

Gaimon criticizes a few people quite directly by name; since most of these names didn't mean much to me this provided mild entertainment but I assume some of these people are pretty annoyed. He has a particular problem with Francisco Mancebo, to the extent that he ends up something like the villain - he is still muttering about him in the last pages of the book.

The highlight moments of the book are when he retells some of his race experiences in detail, when his unusual choice of words works in combination with his efforts to convey what is like for him in the moment. There are a lot of good moments like that in the book.

I hoped for more than I got, but it is good. You have to give Gaimon credit for trying.




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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Life is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America (Book Review)

Life is a Wheel: A Passage Across America by BicycleLife is a Wheel: A Passage Across America by Bicycle by Bruce Weber

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


A few years ago when I read the NYTimes more regularly, I saw an article by this fellow describing part of a bike trip he was making solo coast to coast across the US. I read it but for some reason I found it less than compelling and didn't bother to try to find other articles in the series.

More recently while trawling in an online catalog for new-ish books about cycling, I found a record for this book, which he created by reworking and expanding on the articles published in the Times. Somewhat oddly, the sub-title as reported in GoodReads isn't the same as what is on the book itself, which is "Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America" (and not "A Passage Across America by Bicycle").

Keeping in mind that the GoodReads "my rating" reflects _my_ impression of the book and is not a more general (or generic) assessment of the book as others might find it, I gave it one star because I simply lost interest (as in completely - I stopped reading it at page 83). People have been writing books describing their long distance trips by bike since bikes were first invented (a particular favorite of mine is "Around the United States by Bicycle" published in 1906 - the authors managed to ride at least a bit in each of the states in the continental U.S.) and there is a kind of continuum from "more about the _bike_ trip" to "more about the _author_."


Around the United States by Bicycle (1906) - route map

When on page 83 of the print edition he starts in on "background" about one of his past girlfriends (not his current girlfriend at the time of the trip), that was the end for me. I felt like this was too much memoir about this fellow who had drawn me in with a promise to describe a bike trip that only appeared in the narrative from time to time and was not sufficient to hold my interest.



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Monday, September 1, 2014

Etape: The Untold Stories of the Tour de France's Defining Stages (Book Review)

EtapeEtape by Richard Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I read Moore's "Slaying the Badger" about the competition between Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault (known as the Badger) - it was a compelling read about the Tour de France towards the end of the "pre-EPO" era.

Moore is a good writer, and this is a well thought out selection of stages. The use of EPO is not ignored but doesn't overwhelm the stories, either.

I didn't realize it before starting in, but the author did interviews with most of the key participants in the stages he described to prepare this book - this contributes considerably to the quality of the book.







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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bicycling Essential Road Bike Maintenance Handbook

Bicycling Essential Road Bike Maintenance HandbookBicycling Essential Road Bike Maintenance Handbook by Brian Fiske

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


So this is mostly a rant and not a review, I suppose - and not really justified (much) since I didn't waste my own money on buying it but looked over a copy from the public library (that however used my tax dollars to buy it . . . )

As noted in the Goodreads summary, this is an abbreviated version of a much longer reference book on road bike maintenance - this is supposed to be a version you can take with you.

Really?? (As they say ~) Is there someone who does that, carrying a how-to-repair-my-bike-book with them? I am doubtful. I think this is more an attempt to repurpose content already created for one container that Rodale sells into another one that costs little to create.

If you are going to spend money on a how-to-repair-a-bike book, you might as well get a good one - for me that would be the Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair. It provides enough detail to avoid getting into too much trouble and one might even get some useful things done correctly.

Perhaps part of the problem is that I take a bike with a title like this to include "the essentials" but it is somewhat amazing how much obscure stuff is in this tiny book. 15 pages (of 166) on Shimano Di2 and Campagnolo EPS V2! When your book includes this much information on these, your audience is clearly people who don't know when to stop spending money.

And there are just random oddities - the photographs and line drawings are downsized versions, but for a how-to book, they then lose their usefulness in many cases. Dang.

Perhaps the most useful part of the book are the "seven rules of bike repair" on a page at the beginning of the book. The first rule is, "think safety first" that includes the advice to wear rubber gloves (to protect against solvents, as far as safety is concerned) but in all the (little) photographs, the hands are bare. "Do as I say, not as I do." Fantastic.


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