It’s Time

I’m sure all of you are aware of the significance of May 18, 2010.  It was the day I wrote my first blog article.  I had enjoyed a kayaking blog written by my friend, Joel, and decided to give it a shot.  The rest, as they say, is history.  It’s been a hoot.  Truly, it was far more impactful on me personally than I ever imagined when I started writing.

But I do believe that after 425 posts and four years it’s time to move on to other things.

Way back on that very first day, Joel made a prescient comment on my About page, saying, “I’ve found that the trick to these is keeping them up.”  Truer words were never written.  I am in awe of bloggers who come up with something of interest every single day for years on end.  For those who don’t do this blogging thing, it ain’t easy to be creative that regularly for that long.  I’ve never even made the attempt.  Still, for me, I find it increasingly difficult to maintain a two post/week pace.

I’ve simply run out things to say.

Along the way, I tried to share with you my reentry into the world of cycling.  I’ve approached the subject from just about every angle I could think of.  Well, at least all the angles that interested me.  I’ve shared my trials and tribulations, adventures, silly happenings, profound (or slightly profound or not profound at all) observations, and even a few posts about other people or issues that I was not directly involved in.  It was a way for me to capture my adventures and share what few things I learned with those who could be bothered to read it.  I’ve talked about every historical marker, every battlefield, every organized ride, and almost every crazed car driver I’ve come across.  Increasingly, the topics seem to be getting repetitive and finding an original angle more challenging.  This was becoming more like work, and the job of blogging in this space doesn’t pay very well.

I would like to share with you one last thing – the biggest surprise (and joy) to me was the relationship I built with so many of you through the comments section and your own blogs.  By sharing your knowledge and wisdom with me, you opened up worlds I was only slightly aware of and helped me solve problems I had no answer for.  Your experience and example made my advancement in the hobby much faster and far more enjoyable.  I owe you all a tremendous debt and although I haven’t met most of you, I consider you to be my friends.  You have given me far more than I have provided you and I thank you for that.

So I think this will be a nice place to wrap things up.  Four years is a pretty good run.  I’ll still be around – I haven’t died or anything – and I’ll still show up on your blogs uninvited and make comments which may or may not be related to what you actually wrote about.  I’ll still keep my Facebook Page up and running.  That will give me a creative outlet that requires far less work while still keeping in touch with many of you.

And most importantly, I’ll still be on my bike.  That is, after all, the reason why I started this blog in the first place.

Allez and Bonne Route,

Steve

 

 

 

 

Wandering Around Brentsville

brentsville wander

We’ve had a colder and snowier winter than most, but for the past several weeks there has been a small bit of solace: the nicest weather of the week has occurred on the weekend.  Such was the case on Saturday when the temperature reached 70 degrees in the late afternoon.  The skies were cloudy and the wind was brisk but I wasn’t about to complain.

I had no particular place to go, so I wandered on the country roads between Brentsville and Nokesville looking for something interesting.  It didn’t take me long to find it.  I bet this won’t stay on the market for long.  The possibilities for its use are endless!

IMG_1259

The roads around this part of the county are straight, flat, and car-free.  Below is a picture of Crockett Road, but it could just as easily be Hooe Road, Valley View Drive, Flory Road, or several others in the area.

IMG_1260

Here is a shot of a humble homestead, no doubt occupied by a laborer or tradesman working paycheck to paycheck.  It’s typical of the construction that has occurred here in the last 15 years.

IMG_1261

On Parkgate Drive, there was plenty of activity on the farms.  And by activity I mean animals laying about enjoying the warm weather.  Here is a typical scene.

IMG_1267

It was very nice and worry-free riding.  I saw several other cyclists about and even happened upon two very serious cyclists as I turned back onto Crockett Road.  It was one of those awkward moments where they were clearly stronger riders who were just spinning their wheels and I showed up at precisely the wrong time, only fifty feet behind them and closing.  I didn’t want to overtake them as this would be viewed as a challenge and I didn’t want to sit on their wheel as this would be viewed as being rude.  I could see them downshift and begin to pick up their pace.  Meanwhile, I found a reason to stop and take a picture, thus defusing the entire situation.

IMG_1272

On my way back through Brentsville, I noticed that the general store was up for sale, as was the old house that is next to it.  It looks like the proprietor is ready to move on to other pursuits.

IMG_1273

Heading home on Brentsville Road, I took this picture of Broad Run, which regular viewers will recognize.  I am particularly proud of this picture as I took it while riding at normal cruising spread with (of course) a car passing me at the precise moment I wanted to take the shot.  All things considered, it turned out well, I think.

IMG_1274

My final item of interest is the Woodbine Family Worship Center, which has a unique warning for people who wish to park on their premises for other than religious purposes.

IMG_1275

I reached home in fine form and when I compared notes from previous rides, I realized I had just tied my longest ride of the year to date.  Had I known that earlier, I would have done a few donuts or cruised up a few side streets to set a new mark.  I guess I will have to take comfort in the fact that warmer weather will mean this mark will soon fall.

The Curious Case Of The Malfunctioning Garmin

davis ford

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “Yo, Steve, I’ve been carefully studying the above ride map and what’s up with you starting your ride at a different spot than where you ended it?  That has to be about a mile away.  You never do stuff like that, bro.”

Of course, you are right, although I’m not sure why you’re thinking in hip-hop slang.  That’s weird.

I like the positive thinking, but I'd prefer something more accurate.

I like the positive thinking, but I’d prefer something more accurate.

I didn’t actually start my ride a mile away; that’s just the spot where I got my Garmin GPS to start working.  Until that point, it was stubbornly refusing to cooperate.  After turning it on, it simply gave me the encouraging status of “working” and then spun its wheels.  After several minutes of patiently waiting, I tried to turn it off, only to be greeted with a long beep that continued until I pressed the power button again.  Then it finally shut off.  I was optimistic when I hit the power button again, but the thing simply gave me the same “working,” message (which was increasingly looking like Exhibit A in a false advertisement lawsuit I was contemplating).  I wasn’t going to sit around all day, so I started my ride and hoped the Garmin would come to its senses.

I’ve used my Garmin 494 times since I got it in 2011.  It’s simply the most reliable piece of gear I own.  I’ve dropped it, been hit by a car with it, been rained on, baked, froze, and just about every other thing that you might expect to happen to a GPS while riding or running. When something works 494 times, you kinda expect it to work on the 495th time.  When it doesn’t work, you’re somewhat at a loss for what to do next.

Convinced that the thing wasn’t going to fix itself, I decided to start fiddling.  To be honest, I probably should have moved to this stage much sooner in the process, but fiddling doesn’t come naturally for me.  I like to have a rational purpose for doing something and pressing buttons for no good reason doesn’t seem very logical to me.  Except that it was logical.  After pressing the button that causes the Garmin’s stop watch to start/stop, the device snapped out of its coma and immediately began giving me the display full of data that I’m used to seeing.  Why this solved the problem I have no idea.

With the case solved, I headed toward Davis Ford.  This is a picturesque area that is always nice to visit.  You can even take some pictures if the traffic is light or you don’t mind cars flying past you at 60mph with only a couple of feet of shoulder to separate you from them.

This is the bridge with the Occoquan River to the right.  You can see there is still quite a bit of grit on the shoulder from the winter snow plowing.

Davis Ford

Davis Ford is named after a family which owned a lot of land on both sides of the river back in the late 1700s.  Beyond that, I can’t find much else about them.  The exact crossing seems to have changed over the years.  Washington and Rochambeau moved part of their armies along this road as they traveled from NY City to Yorktown.  In the Civil War, Confederate troops from Georgia bivouacked along the river on the lookout for a Federal incursion southward.

Towards the other end of the bridge, there is a view of some sand bars that would be interesting to explore when it is less muddy and I have a boat instead of a bike.

IMG_1256

I then climbed up some hills on Davis Ford Road and eventually made my way home.  I stopped at the less historic Lake Terrapin (created a few years ago by a home developer) for another picture.

IMG_1258

I’m pleased my Garmin is fixed but less than excited about the snow that is currently falling outside my window.  With the official start of Spring only days away, Winter doesn’t seem ready to release its grip just yet.

The Best Day Of The Year…

 

IMG_1248

Is the first workday after Daylight Savings Time kicks in.

In 1883, Canadian and American railroads imposed their will on a continent by implementing standard time (you can never be too careful when “Big Railroad” is concerned).  Before then, time was a very local matter and the “official time” was usually kept by a good clock, often the one on the church steeple in the center of town.  You can see how the Brits took this concept to a whole other level with Big Ben.  Officially declaring standard time wasn’t accomplished in U.S. law until 1918 and with it came the concept of Daylight Saving Time.

Not everyone liked the idea.  It was repealed the next year, leaving it to the locals to decide what they wanted.  It was reinstituted nationally during WWII.  As recently as 1966, lawmakers were still horsing around with the concept when they wrote The Uniform Time Act, which permitted states to determine if they would use the concept, but mandated the date on which it would occur.  In 2007, Congress moved the implementation date for DST four or five weeks earlier in the year.

All of this was an attempt to save electricity (which is why the two world wars are not a coincidence in this story).  To cyclists who have day jobs, it’s all about the weeknight ride.  I happen to be one of those cyclists, so I very happily hopped on my bike Monday night and went for a spin.  The above picture was taken at 6:00 PM, and as you can see there was still plenty of sun to light my way.  A good time was had by all.

Sadly, today was an absolutely exquisite day, the best of the year by far.  I say that this is a sad thing because I found myself in the basement of the Pentagon for the entire day and forced to endure a two-hour commute home (metro-auto combo).  By the time I arrived, BOB (Bright Orange Ball, as we used to call the sun in my Army days) was setting on the horizon.

But still, I have Monday’s ride and many more sunny weeknight rides to look forward to.

Weekend Mosy

I’ve been getting lucky with the weather these days with the weekend weather being the best of the week.  Last weekend was good enough to get in a ride before another snowstorm which shut the city down on Monday.  Things slowly melted during the week until the best weather arrived on Saturday.  So I set off to check on some places I haven’t visited in a few months, just to make sure everything was as it should be.

At the Aden Country Store, I made a rare (for me) right turn onto Fleetwood Drive.  This lonely outpost of civilization has saved me more than once with a cool beverage and some shade.  It’s hard to believe its only five miles from suburbia.

IMG_1233

Fleetwood is a nice country road, full of farms and fancy estate “McMansions.”  Here’s a barn that caught my eye.

IMG_1234

While on Fleetwood, I took a moment to capture a picture of a white tree, standing out from its neighbors.

IMG_1235

Moving on, I noticed preparations continue apace for the new Brentsville K-8 school which is, confusingly, located near Nokesville.

IMG_1238

I wandered down Marsteller Drive to check on the old Iron Bridge east of town.  Last May I wrote about the history of this bridge and a project that was underway to move it so a larger, safer bridge could replace it.  I was interested to see if work had begun.  The answer – no.

IMG_1241

Onward I went toward the Manassas Airport.  I traveled along Broad Run (why the creeks are called “runs” around here, I do not know) and spotted a photo opportunity that won’t be available to me in a few months.  At this time of year, the brush along the creek banks hasn’t grown, so I was able to manage a short, muddy, walk in cycling shoes to take a picture.  I noted with approval the water is less muddy than a few weeks ago.  You can see we still have a bit of snow to take care of before Spring can officially begin.

IMG_1243

And that was that.  I finished off a pleasant 38-mile ride and am now looking forward to increasingly warmer weather and longer days.  Daylight Savings Time started on Sunday so I will hopefully be getting my mileage up to respectable levels.  On my Facebook page, I regale readers with a short bit of history for the year that corresponds to my mileage to date.  Sadly, we are still mired in the 3rd Century.  I hope to get to the Dark Ages very soon!

Lucasville Road

lucasville road

The Winter That Would Not End was preparing to strike another blow Sunday night, but I was able to get in a quick 27-miler under darkening skies.  The temperature on my Garmin said it was 62 degrees.  The low on Monday is supposed to be near zero.  I guess March has decided to come “in like a Lion.”  Lets hope lamblike tendencies are around the corner.

I chose a road I visit only occasionally, Lucasville Road.  This is the stretch of the route that takes me between the words “Prince” and “William” on the above map.  It’s a nondescript road, just like all the other country lanes in the area.  This one has a few too many rollers for my liking – especially when I’m tired – but today I was fresh and the rollers were of no bother.  Despite its “averageness” (if that’s a word), Lucasville Road harkens to another time in the county’s history and touches on a subject that one rarely learns about in detail, namely, after the Civil War, where did all the slaves go?

I mean, they had no money and very few skills beyond what they learned as slaves.  They had no transportation.  Where did they go?  What did they do?  I can imagine a plantation owner telling his former slaves, “Congratulations, you’re free.  Now get the hell out of here before I shoot you for trespassing.”  It’s an interesting (to me at least) problem that doesn’t get a lot of attention.

Except on places like Lucasville Road.  It turns out that Lucasville was one of those places where African Americans gathered after the war and formed a community.  There are no markers that discuss this and there is no such place as Lucasville today.  For the idle traveler, the only way this history is preserved is in a refurbished one room school house on nearby Godwin Drive.  The school was built in 1885 for this community and is available for tours by appointment.  Online, I can find no reference to the town of Lucasville except for those related to the school house, so I guess it’s a good thing it has been preserved.

Storm clouds gather over Route 234 and the Lucasville Road overpass.  The Appalachians are in the background.

Storm clouds gather over Route 234 and the Lucasville Road overpass. The Appalachians are in the background.

As for the ride, it was pleasant but I seemed to hit every red light I possibly could.  I was glad to be on my way home towards the end because I could feel the temperature beginning to drop.  I once again went with shorts, and half fingered gloves but I was glad for my vest and long-sleeved shirt.  One of these days it will be hot as blazes and I will need my insulated water bottle to help keep my water cool.  Those will be good days.

And here’s a shot of the mixed use path on Route 234, near the Meadows Farm Nursery.

IMG_1231

But of course what you are really wondering about is if I disassembled the BEARD.  The answer is yes.  On a relatively warm day, I didn’t miss it very much.  We’ll see what happens as the temperature drops about 30 degrees today!

IMG_1226

UCI World Championships

logo
Only 573 days until the UCI World Cycling Championships come to Richmond, Virginia!  It’s not too early to start getting excited so it was with great fanfare that the courses were announced earlier this week.

Mark Cavendish, acting like a big shot in his rainbow jersey

Mark Cavendish, acting like a big shot in his rainbow jersey

UCI stands for Union Cycliste Internationale, which is French for “Bureaucracy Which Runs Cycling” (or something like that).  Every year, they put on a world championship event, the winner of which gets to wear a rainbow jersey for the next year.  They’ve been running these championships every year since 1921 with a break for some sort of war that was occupying everybody’s attention from 1939 to 1945.  Along with the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, this race forms cycling’s Triple Crown.  Since France and Italy rarely move very far, this race is the one opportunity for fans who can’t get to France and/or Italy to see an important race.  The World Championships are rarely run outside of Europe.  The U.S. has hosted it only once before, in Colorado Springs in 1986.  It’s kind of a big deal, is what I’m saying, and its heading my way.

I’ve never been to a cycling race at any level, so I have been wondering about the course and how best to enjoy the show.  I was very interested in the routes were announced this week.  Basically, I’ve got three options:

1.  The Team Time Trial, Sunday September 20th.  This course is 21.9 miles long and is run on many of the same roads I was on during the 2011 Cap2Cap Century.  It’s one long loop, so I guess the idea is to pick one spot and watch each team zoom by with lightning speed, then wait patiently for the next one.  The other possibility is to fight everyone else at the Start/Finish Line at Rockett’s Landing.

2.  The Individual Time Trial, Wednesday September 23rd.  A Wednesday?  Ugh.  This will start about 20 miles north of Richmond and finish downtown 33 miles later.  Much like the Team Time Trial, a spectator needs to pick a spot and watch individual cyclists parade past them in intervals.  The start and finish occur in different locations, so there isn’t even that small opportunity to see a cyclist more than once.  And did I say this was on a weekday?  Moving on, then…

3.  The Road Race, Sunday September 27th.  This has great potential.  The course is a 10.3 mile loop through the center of Richmond.  For some reason, the final race distance hasn’t been posted, but presumably more than one lap will be run.  AND, the course runs along Monument Avenue where it doubles back on itself, meaning spectators at that location will see the peloton TWICE each lap.  Monument Avenue is one of the tourist attractions of Richmond.  For those that aren’t familiar with 19th Century American history, Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States of America.  Thus on Monument Avenue we find several impressive monuments to heroes of the Confederacy, including Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis.   It won’t be as spectacular as the Champs Elysee or the Olympic route going past Buckingham Palace, but its the best Richmond has to offer and it should be neat.

The Road Race Route

The Road Race Route

So I’ve got 573 days to plan my attendance.  Anyone who has been to one of these things and has some advice, please comment below.  And anyone else who has a good idea, a passing thought, or a completely unrelated issue, chime in as well.  There’s plenty of room in the comments section!

A Preview Of Coming Attractions

handymart2Like a prospective home buyer measuring the windows for drapes, Spring made an early appearance this weekend, which made for two pleasant rides.  The winter weather has kept my miles to an embarrassingly low level.  How low you ask?  This weekend’s 57 miles of riding represents almost one third of my mileage for the year.

Not good.  Not good at all.

It was nice to get on the road in shorts and half-fingered gloves.  No leggings, booties, helmet covers, winter gloves, or jackets.  My only concession to the temperatures in the low 60s was a pair of arm warmers.  There was plenty of sand and pebbles on the side of the road, the refuse from the winter’s snow plowing efforts.  Multi-use paths were still a bit dicey in the shadier spots.  It’s a shame they don’t clear them of snow.  Actually, that’s a bit of an issue in DC, where many cycling commuters count on clear paths to get to work.  Down here in suburbia where almost nobody cycles to work, its less critical.

My route took me into Fauquier County.  Along the way, I crossed over Cedar Run and noticed it was quite swollen due to the recent snow melt.

IMG_1207

Things are very brown right now.  Even the water is brown.

At Mile 20, I was very happy to see the Handymart was once again back in business.  Last summer I discovered that it was out of business, which is a shame because it is at a very nice distance from home to serve as a resupply point (twenty miles, in case you didn’t catch that in the preceding sentence).  More than once, it has been an oasis to me as I struggled home with little water or food.  It’s good to know it is once again able to do so.

IMG_1208

On the way home, Sowego Road seemed pretty so I took a picture.  There was even some green in the trees!

IMG_1212

This house has been unchanged for the past several years.  It seems like a very nice farmhouse but it has never been occupied.  It’s sad to see it slowly fall into ruin.

IMG_1214

There was even some wildlife out, or to be more specific, domesticated farm animals.  There’s a pig in that crowd somewhere.  All of them were a bit camera-shy and were beating a hasty retreat when I stopped to take a pic.

IMG_1215

And just in case you didn’t believe me, here’s what the path looked like about two miles from home.  Walking through that snow caused it to impact inside my cleats, making it impossible to clip in again until I dug out the ice/snow with my fingers while muttering in a PG-13 manner to no one in particular.

IMG_1216

Last pic of the BEARD

Last pic of the BEARD

Sunday proved to be an even nicer day and I ventured out without even the protection of arm warmers.  Before you know it, I’ll need to put ice in my water bottles (the first time is always an important occasion in my cycling year). Unfortunately, this was only a visit from Spring.  Winter weather returns tomorrow and the long-range forecast is not encouraging.  All the same, I intend to disassemble my Biological Extreme-cold Affects Reduction Device (B.E.A.R.D.) at the end of the week.  Mother Nature is on her schedule and I am on mine.  It’s time for Spring.

My First-Ever Beer Review

IMG_1200

Since continued snow and ice make cycling difficult, I have decided to take this blog into uncharted waters with its first ever beer review.  While reading this review, please keep in mind that my knowledge of beer is even less than my knowledge of cycling.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Good.  Lets start then.

Yesterday, I was in the grocery store minding my own business (rarely do I mind other people’s business when I’m in the grocery store) and I came across a beer with a picture of a bicycle on the label.  Immediately sensing the topic of a blog post, I grabbed a six-pack and brought it home for some “scientific study.”

The first thing I did was some research and I am glad I did.  It turns out Fat Tire is the flagship beer of the New Belgium Brewing Company of Fort Collins, Colorado.  This company is the third largest microbrewery in America (and one of the oldest) and the seventh largest brewery of any type in the U.S.  The company was founded in 1991 after its soon-to-be-founder, Jeff Lebesch, completed a cycling trip through Belgium that focused on visits to its many breweries.  Fat Tire Ale is an homage to that trip and the beers of that region.

A beer based on a cycling trip.  I was officially hooked.

Fat Tire sold extremely well, so well that its distinctive label (featuring what appears to be a vintage Schwinn Phantom, drawn by artist Anne Fitch) became more famous than company’s logo.  Other beers produced by the company did not sell as well due to a lack of brand recognition.  In 2006, New Belgium Brewing switched its logo to include the distinctive Phantom and things improved even more for the company.  Kim Jordan, the company president, partially credits the beer’s artwork for its success.  “Our beers were good, our labels were interesting to people, and we pretty quickly had a fairly robust following.”

The artwork certainly worked on me.  It’s really the only reason I bought the beer.

Having completed my research, I realized I had another problem – I had no idea how to review a beer.  So I went to this site and learned that Appearance, Smell, Taste, Mouthfeel, and Overall (ASTMO) are the common categories used in beer reviews.  So, without further ado, here’s my review:

APPEARANCE.  This was a 12oz beer poured into an Coors Beer glass I got in 1987 during a brewery tour (my first and only tour of a brewery).  You can see for yourself what the beer looks like.  It was  a clear dark copper color with a head that stayed for several minutes.

SMELL.  I would describe the smell as being like beer.  I guess I need to work on my skills in this area.  If pressed, I would add that it was a little “earthy.”

TASTE.  A pleasant surprise, as I don’t normally care for darker beers.  I don’t care for bitterness and this had a refreshing lack of that quality.  I would call it crisp with a nice taste that isn’t too strong.

MOUTHFEEL.  My mouth felt fine, thank you.  I guess what they’re getting after here are things like aftertaste, which there wasn’t much of – another plus.

OVERALL.  To my untrained palate, this is a perfect beer for everyday social occasions.  An hour or two on the back deck on a hot summer’s day would be a perfect setting for two or three of these beers.  The taste is quite nice and the back story on the beer makes for a fantastic conversation starter!

Book Review: The History of Cycling in Fifty Bikes

history-cycling-50-bikes-bookContinued cold has made for little cycling but more reading, so here’s a review of my latest cycling book, The History of Cycling in Fifty Bikes, by Tom Ambrose.  As with many of my book reviews, this will be somewhat tepid.

I’ve been asking myself why I’ve been so critical in my reviews.  Lots of people write very positive things about almost anything they come across.  Clearly, I am not like those people.  It would seem I have high standards for my literature.  Whether those are fair or not I shall leave to you, Dear Reader.

One of my favorite authors is Bill Bryson.  He started out in life as a travel author, but even in those days he had a unique ability to tell a story rather than simply catalogue his destinations.  While describing a place, he weaves its history and its idiosyncracies with its modern-day charms, finally adding large dollops of humor to create a very entertaining and informative read.  Bryson has since taken on other subjects, including how the American version of English developed and the not-so-modest “A Short History Of Nearly Everything.”  Even these seemingly dry topics he makes interesting through his story telling ability.   Because of Bryson, I now understand why Bostonians speak differently than Virginians and how scientists know what the Earth weighs without ever putting it on a scale.  On a very good day, I hope this blog approaches some of Bryson’s characteristics.

So when I crack a binder on a book giving the history of cycling in fifty bicycles, I am hoping against all hope I do not get fifty separate, unrelated stories, but rather one long story, full of oddities and interesting facts that I was previously unaware of.  I’d like a few large themes that connect the smaller stories in a way that helps explain how we ended up where we’re at.  While not required, humor would be a pleasant addition.

In short, I’m looking for Bryson.  That’s not what I found, so I should probably just leave it at that and talk about other aspects of the book.

The Quadricycle - imagine if this version won out!

The Quadricycle – imagine if this version won out!

Ambrose begins (logically enough) at the beginning of cycling.  After a short chapter where he discusses “proto-bicycles” – good ideas that never quite caught on due to a lack of materials or technology, he picks up the story where most authors do, with the Draisine (1817).  In addition to well-known bikes such as the Velocipede and the Boneshaker, and Penny-Farthing, Ambrose includes other lesser known bicycles such as the Macmillan Pedal Bike, The Facile, and the Salvo Quadricycle.  He points out that there were widely different views on what a human-powered machine should look like, including how many wheels, the manner of propulsion, and the steering mechanisms.  It made me begin to wonder what is the first bike that had all the attributes we have come to understand in a typical bicycle.  I began to look for the first bicycle with brakes, and gearing that we would recognize in today’s machines.  More on that search later.

La Francaise Diamant

La Francaise Diamant

As the story moves into the 20th Century, things become a little confusing.  The focus of each chapter becomes less about the bicycle being highlighted and more about a famous person associated with it.  The bike’s influence on history, it would seem, is significant only because of the man who rode it.  La Francaise Diament is a case in point.  In a single paragraph it is pointed out as being typical of the bikes used in the first Tour de France.  A nice picture of the bike is provided for reference.  The next five pages are devoted to that first race with nary a mention of the bicycle again.

Automoto advert - it suggests you won't notice the Pyrenees with this bike

Automoto advert – it suggests you won’t notice the Pyrenees with this bike

I could see bicycles maturing with each story – pneumatic tires are introduced and primitive gearing is employed.  I could sense that we were getting close to the bicycle I was searching for and I was intrigued with the possibilities of The Automoto, the bike ridden by Italian legend Ottavio Bottecchia.  Ambrose builds the case that the Automoto was the center of the French bicycle industry and would be the first choice for many Tour riders throughout the 1920s.  The text acconpanying a picture of the brake pads states distinctive design features were used throughout the Automoto and another picture includes the statement, “Automoto combined fine engineering with a particularly Italian attention to detail.”  Sadly, no further information is given on the bicyle.  The four pages in this chapter are given to the career of Bottecchia.

After interesting diversions onto unusual ideas like the Velocar (which eventually would lead to recumbents) The Hercules (designed specifically for women), the Bartelo (first sprint bike), Schulz’s Funiculo (first mountain bike), my interest in the “first modern bike” was piqued again with a chapter on derailleurs.  The conversation eventually moves to the Campagnolo Derailleur, introduced in the 1940s.  This appears to be the first modern derailleur.  Then again, maybe it was pointed out on the next page when “modern parallelogram movement replaced the sliding bushing.”  Not much is given as an explanation for this seemingly important change, nor is it made clear what bicycles actually used the technology.

Merckx and his Ugo de Rosa

Merckx and his Ugo de Rosa

The pattern of highlighting the careers of the legends through their bikes continues.  Fausto Coppi’s story is told by referencing his Bianchi.  Eddy Merckx’s career is reviewed under the chapter supposedly dedicated to his Ugo De Rosa, and Tommy Simpson is discussed in detail under the chapter dedicated to his Peugot PX-10.  Each of the cyclists are discussed in detail.  Their bikes less so.

A chapter is spent on mountain bikes, featuring the Breezer Series 1 (1977).  BMX racing is covered by The Haro (1982).  By the time the author gets around to the super aerodynamic Lotus 108 (1992 – Chapter 39), the chapters are beginning to blur together.  I was curious to see my humble Madone made the list as the subject of Chapter 42, along with its infamous rider, Lance Armstrong.  The book was published after the revelation of Armstrong’s misdeeds, but the author skirts the issue by stating, “his recent fall from grace is all the more spectacular given his many achievements…”  An interesting notion, that.

Ambrose wraps things up with a few chapters devoted to bike share programs, city bikes like The Gazelle (which was invented in 1940 yet makes its appearance near the end of the book).  The final chapter looks to the future by examining some experimental designs in use today, such as square-wheeled bikes, origami bikes, etc…

Fittingly, there is no conclusion or summary.  The reader reaches the last chapter on futuristic designs and…  you’re done!  This is a fitting way for a book like this to end.  It’s simply a compendium of bicycles, fifty of them to be precise.  On this simple level, the book works well, apart from some shoddy editing.  Sadly, the book could have been much more than fifty separate chapters.  It could have been a cohesive, informative, and entertaining review of cycling history, combining the key bits of technology and the people who invented them or rode them in a gripping story.

I wonder what Bill Bryson is writing about these days.  Perhaps he would appreciate a suggestion…