Sunday, January 22, 2012

10 Excellent Books for Biking Enthusiasts

On a recent visit to WORD, a brightly colored book caught my eye: On Bicycles: 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life, edited by Amy Walker. I began to flip through it and ultimately bought it.

image source:

Containing essays from more than 30 contributors, On Bicycles covers a lot of ground: types of bikes, what to wear while biking, biking with kids, riding in the rain, and much more. It's a good introduction for those like myself who are interested in getting back on a bike. included On Bicycles on its list of "10 Bike Books We Want to Read Now." You can check out the list below. * January 9, 2012

10 Bike Books We Want to Read Now

photo credit: april streeter

By A.K. Streeter

It's never too late to start transportation cycling -- but if the depths of winter generate some legitimate excuses not to start or refine your cycling career right this minute, this is a great time to get inspired.

Here are some of the stellar bike books published in 2011 (and a few from 2010), in order to start out or build up your biking bookshelves.

Happy reading (and cycling).

1. Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History

Despite being a children's book, Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, A Sewing Needle, and A Bicycle Change History will give all cyclists a wonderful taste of cycling back during Biking 1.0.

Tillie Anderson, the book's heroine, was a real-life amazing athlete who broke numerous records and won scores of bicycle races during her short career in the mid to late 1890s.

Anderson was part of a group of women cyclists who flaunted Victorian social constraints and moral codes in order to race their bicycles.

Author Sue Stauffacher became entranced with Anderson's story back in 2005, and succeeds in telling a sweet tale of Tillie's rise to short-lived fame -- from Swedish immigrant seamstress to world-class athlete to contented housewife.

2. On Bicycles: 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life

The 50 individual essays in On Bicycles: 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life make sure to cover all aspects of Biking 2.0, including sex, safety, bike shops, and sharing the road.

Chapters from famous bicycling advocates such as Jeff Mapes, John Pucher, and Elly Blue help enliven this 'Whole Earth Catalog' of bicycle culture.

Edited by Amy Walker, co-founder of Momentum Magazine, On Bicycles definitely has something for everyone, and yields up its bounty without being overly preachy.

Especially welcome to the non-technical transportation cyclist are chapters such as "The Case for Internally Geared Bicycle Hubs" by Aaron Goss, and "Ergonomic Evolution: The Advantages of Riding Reclined" by Vincent Tourdonnet.

3. Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)

Sue Macy's book Wheels of Change: How Women rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) is supposed to be a young adult title, but readers of almost any age will find lots to love in this history of how women used the bicycle to gain new-found freedom.

Macy details the history of the cycling innovations that helped women throw off the cumbersome skirts of the Victorian era and get on two-wheeled "safety' cycles and out into the world.

She includes some of my favorite cycling heroines, from Tillie Anderson to Louise Armaindo, and she sprinkles historical narrative with features -- cycling slang, for instance, and the rich vein of cycling songs that came out at the height of the bicycle boom in the late 1890's.

Wheels of Change is fun, and the archival photos alone will keep you absorbed for hours.

4. The Lost Cyclist

David L. Herlihy is well-known as one of American cycling's historians. While researching his classic Bicycle: The History, Herlihy time and again came upon old clippings referring to Frank Lenz, a reporter and touring cyclist who disappeared in 1894 while attempting to bike around the world.

Intrigued, Herlihy further delved into Lenz's fascinating story, and eventually wrote a book specifically about his journey, disappearance, and fellow cyclist William Sachtleben's quest to find him, called The Lost Cyclist.

Rich in period detail, The Lost Cyclist is an enjoyable, if sometimes slightly plodding read. It is those few slow moments when the gallery of vintage photos of Lenz during various stages of his short and semi-famous life help tide the reader over.

Though Herlihy does a painstaking job of trying to clear up the mystery of Lenz's disappearance, readers might remain somewhat unsatisfied. There are plenty of clues as to who killed Lenz, but the exact reasons why are never completely established.

The Lost Cyclist is the perfect book for a long week of winter reading pleasure.

5. A Simple Machine, Like the Lever

Evan P. Schneider's novel A Simple Machine, Like the Lever, is an ongoing stream-of-consciousness journal detailing the joys of cycling in a complex, sometimes heartbreaking world.

Schneider, through his alter ego Nick, manages to find some universal cycling truths -- not just the big ones, but the ongoing day-to-day ones.

Nick is trying to come of age in a very complicated society, and though his struggle is by no means unusual, the sweet observations of why we are cyclists keep you reading.

6. Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide

A new sub-genre of books has sprung up with tips and techniques for the urban cyclist, and this Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide by James Rubin and Scott Rowan covers many of the basics.

The approach is safety and survival oriented, and advocates defensive cycling. If you are a style-over-speed cyclist, you might grow alarmed at how many times "survival" pops up in this book, and at how the tone is one of competition, speed, and natural selection rather than cooperation and community.

Never mind, just take from this guide the tips that will help you, wherever you are in your cycling journey. For even more cycling urban cycling philosophy, follow up this book with The Art of Cycling by Robert Hurst.

7. Our Bodies, Our Bikes (and Other e-Zines)

Much of the interesting commentary on urban cycling is to be found not in so-called mainstream publishing but in the blogging world, so it's hardly surprising that some of the best recent titles on biking aren't mainstream books at all, but e-zines.

Our Bodies, Our Bikes is the latest in a series of 'zines by Grist blogger Elly Blue. Blue likes to write about bike policy, bike politics, and bike economics, and Our Bodies, Our Bikes mixes those together. Blue mostly plays editor on this compilation of essays, though she does a turn with Caroline Paquette on the essay "Your Vulva."

There's no bike porn in Our Bodies, however. Instead, there's a lot of practical advice mixed with a healthy dash of feminist encouragement. After all, men outnumber women in the bike lanes by at least 2 to 1.

Blue has a number of great e-zines, including a great long essay on bike economics -- all available at

Also check out both Boneshaker e-zines, the UK and the US versions.

8. It's All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels

Robert Penn's paean to bicycles, It's All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels, is another title looking for the essence of why humans love bikes.

Luckily, Penn's book is easy to read, and full of the quirky bike history that the cycle-obsessed just love to know. He's also bike obsessed, and dreams of a perfect bike, then describes it in full detail. It also includes some great background on the bike business and its development, plus lots of personal anecdotes.

Mostly, the book is good because Penn is a fluid, graceful writer. That's important as sometimes the going gets technical. The book will also teach you to know your bike intricately.

9. Bicycle - Love Your Bike: The Complete Guide to Everyday Cycling

Helen Pidd, a journalist for The Guardian, released Bicycle -- Love Your Bike: The Complete Guide to Everyday Cycling in 2010, and it really is a complete guide.

Packed with facts and written in a sassy, smart style, Bicycle is a great guide for both new and experienced urban cyclists.

Though the layout is cheerful and the illustrations of bike parts and procedures are welcome, the book does suffer from a bit of an overstuffed, overdesigned lack of readability -- the small orange san serif text on a black background can lead to a headache.

Still, Pidd does the bike world a great service in tackling many of the issues facing urban cyclists every day, as well as providing the type of basics every cyclist needs, at one point or another, to know. It deserves a solid space on the bike bookshelf.

10. Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling

If Bike Snob author Eban Weiss didn't invent snark, he certainly perfected it -- first in his BikeSnob NYC blog, and later in this best-selling book.

Weiss is super-snarky, dead-on observant, and sometimes very, very funny. He stereotypes the bike world to within an inch of its bike pedals, and it makes for an amusing and informative read.

However, he could use a few more women in his satirical take on bike culture.

Bike Snob is a great way for new cyclists to understand the politics of what goes on in the bike lane, and maybe, just maybe, have a little compassion for the different types of cyclists that pedal there. Maybe.

If you want more of the mercilessness, Weiss continues on with the BikeSnob NYC blog. Or, if your snark bones are tired, read David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries instead.

Photo Credit for Wheels of Change: National Geographic

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