My First-Ever Beer Review

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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…

Little Things

Hello there.  In case you’re worried about my two week absence, I’m still doing my thing – slowly taking over the cycling world one blog post at a time.  Of course if you’re a There And Back Again Premium Member, you’ve been following my exploits on Facebook and seeing exciting content that never makes it into this blog, like pictures of bikes under a tarp at Wal-Mart and an exciting feature where I equate my cycling mileage for the year to its corresponding year in history.

Premium Memberships are currently available at no additional charge to subscribers of our regular blog service.  In case you are not aware, you may subscribe to our regular blog service by hitting the “Follow” button on the right side of this page or by simply stopping by here from time to time.  To become a Premium Member, simply like this page on Facebook.

That’s right, this is a long-winded and circuitous attempt to increase the number of likes on my Facebook page!

The Salt Ride

As for cycling, the rides have been few as of late due to the very cold weather and snow we’ve been experiencing.  Sunday offered a great respite from the cold and I managed to get a fast 30 mile ride in on salt-covered roads.  And that would be the main story from this ride – salt.

Northern Virginia isn’t used to heavy snowfalls so when they come, the road crews go at their jobs with gusto.  Their only tool seems to be the application of stupendous amounts of salt to the roads.  So much salt is used that days after the roads are cleared, their residue is to be found everywhere, including cars which are now caked with it and the streets themselves which still have it on their surface.

I took a picture of the salt on the road with my iPhone.  When I got home I noticed my finger had covered up half the shot.  It doesn’t look like I’m ready to make the switch to iPhone photography on my rides.

Back to salt.  Salt on the roads takes two forms, the small hills that collect around intersections and the thin layer of dust that accumulates on road shoulders.  The hills can be easily avoided; the thin layer less so.  Basically, the layer of salt dust doesn’t present a problem other than turning your tires white, but it is important to know that you are not actually touching the road because of this layer.  At high speeds, this can be a very significant issue.  On Sunday, I definitely began noticing an odd sensation during a 30+ mph descent.  I got the sensation that the bike was floating, much like when NASCAR drivers report their car is “feeling loose.”

I didn’t care to extend the experiment further to see what would happen if I pressed things, so I dialed it back a bit on the downhills.  That’s too bad because I had a fast ride and would likely have logged one of my best times ever on this course.

Exciting Developments In The Neighborhood!

Last week I was excited to discover my humble neighborhood would once again host a sprint triathlon (of course, Premium Members already know this – hint!  hint!).  Before I got back into cycling, this annual event was a mild curiosity for me.  I would pass the athletes and grumble to myself (good naturedly, of course) that one lane was closed for this event, thus slightly inconveniencing me as I drove my car on my weekend errands.  When I got back into cycling in 2010, I eagerly looked forward to the next triathlon, only to discover that it was cancelled.  Apparently, too many of my neighbors had similar grumbly feelings and actually acted upon them, thus banning the event.  Well, somehow, someway, it’s back!

A two mile downhill pedal to the start line will be quite pleasant for me.  The triathlon is a sprint, meaning the distances are fairly short.  It’ll feature a half mile swim in Lake Montclair (where presumably the pontoon boats will be kept at bay by race officials), a 12.9 mile bike ride, then a 5k run.  Very doable and very fun on the last Sunday in June.

How To Be A Road Biker Video

Since I’ve done a terrible job with illustrations in this post, let me add a little color with this humorous video that is making rounds on the web.  It lists 27 steps to becoming a road biker.  I have successfully completed 19 of them.  I’ll let you guess which ones I need to finish.  Hint:  the bike pictured in Step 1 is the exact same model that I own (except for a different saddle and handlebar tape)!

Zipping Along

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Monday was a pleasant day with a high in the low 50s and a modest breeze.  It was also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and I took advantage of the time off to squeeze in a zippy 26-mile ride near Brentsville.

I say “zippy” because I resolved to go fast.  Well, “faster” is probably a better word.  My average pace always takes a dip during the winter months and things aren’t helped when I take significant breaks to take photos.

A word about timing is in order here.  I know many people turn off their ride computers when they take a break.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not how I roll.  Literally.  When I start my ride, the clock starts with it.  The clock doesn’t stop until I’m done, regardless of how many traffic lights, lunch breaks, or photo sessions may arise.  It may be weird, but at least its consistent.

So even though I know the cold will affect my speed and I know the frequent breaks will decrease it some more, I still don’t like that fact.  Every so often I decide to push things a bit and today was that day.  So there won’t be many pics here, but to be honest it’s not a terribly interesting route.

I did take a pic while crossing Cedar Run, near Brentsville.  In the water, you can make out the shadow of the photographer.

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About a mile later I came across Broad Run and took a similar pic.  I decided to play with the colors on this one to help bring out the greens and make it look less dreary.

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And since I was feeling artsy, I tried an unusual photo angle on the Broad Run bridge. I didn’t notice it at the time, but those three bags are Sunday editions of the Washington Post.  How they ended up together on this bridge is anyone’s guess.  The black tape is a similar mystery, though less unusual.

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The breeze I spoke of was at my back on the way home, which made for some quick times.  One of my Strava segments was at a pace of 20.8 mph!  I was then immediately deflated when I saw that was only good for 28th all time.  Still, anything over 20 mph for me means I’m either going very fast or hanging onto the bumper of a car.

Old Man Winter is scheduled to make a reappearance tomorrow, so it will probably be a few days before another ride is possible.  Until then, I’ll stare at my digitally altered picture of Broad Run and tell myself Spring is right around the corner.

Gloom Ride

Quantico CreekBack in college, this time of year was referred to as “Gloom Period.”  It got its name from the fact that things were pretty gloomy around the place.  There wasn’t much to look forward to and the weather didn’t cooperate to raise our spirits.  Christmas was over and the decorations had come down.  Summer (Spring, for that matter) seemed a long way off.  The sky was gray, the buildings were gray, and our uniforms were gray.

You might say it was gloomy.  We certainly did.

Anyway, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are all at various stages in our gloom period.  Here in Virginia, things are more brown than gray, but it’s still difficult to imagine warm days in the saddle.  Heck, we just got through dealing with something called a polar vortex.  So in honor of Gloom Period, pictures from Sunday’s ride are presented in black and white.

Longtime viewers will remember I pulled this stunt in 2012.  Sorry for being so repetitive.  At least I picked a different route.  I headed east to Quantico.

I had hoped to take some nice pics of the town’s marina, but it was locked behind two chain link fences.  I moved on to a small peninsula north of the marina and took in the view of the river.

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The base does a nice job of creating a park-like setting along the water’s edge.  There are many old trees which add some character to the benches and gazebos.  Here is one of them (a tree, that is, not a bench or gazebo).

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And here is a gazebo, with one of the base’s headquarters buildings in the background.

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I then zipped over to the boat launch, just a few hundred yards away.  I found a few more photo opportunities there, including a view of the power plant across Quantico Creek.  The next leg of my ride would take me to the plant.  The peninsula where the plant sits is called Possum Point.  In the Civil War, a Confederate battery was placed here that effectively stopped river traffic to Washington, DC.

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The railway bridge you see on the left is the main north-south line, connecting DC with Fredericksburg and points to the south.  Thousands of commuters use this every day.  Since bridges are an item of increasing interest, I took a second shot to better capture it.

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All this picture-taking took a lot of time and I finally decided that the bike ride would go better for me if I actually rode my bike.  I made my way off the base, rode northward through a few neighborhoods, and finally hopped onto Route 1, where I encountered The Jerk Of The Ride.

Most of my rides have at least one jerk in them.  They are either rude, ignorant, or a combination of the two.  Usually, they don’t warrant a comment, but this jerk did.  He was driving a fire truck.  I could hear him coming from behind as I pedaled northward (near the dot of the “i” in Dumfries on the map above).  His siren was blazing and he was honking his horn for good measure as he fought his way through moderately heavy traffic.  I wasn’t worried – I was on the shoulder.  It was a narrow shoulder, to be sure, but I was definitely out of the road and both lanes were open as the truck approached.

I was hopeful he would turn off his siren or at least stop honking his horn.  Many emergency vehicles do this and it I greatly appreciate that since the sirens are incredibly loud.  I put my finger in my left ear to help in case he chose not to do so.  Not only did the driver not do this, but he laid on the horn as he passed me.  In addition, he stayed in the right lane rather than moving over to the left lane.  He was so far to the right that the edge of his vehicle was on the line.  He went by me at 40+ mph, siren blaring and horn honking.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say he intentionally swerved to the right to scare me.  He missed me by about two feet.  I get it that emergency vehicles have the right of way and all other vehicles are to pull to the side of the road.  I guess the truck driver took exception to the fact that I was merely in the shoulder and not stopped, so he decided to teach me a lesson.  Lovely.

The sound, shock at seeing such a large vehicle only inches from me, the rush of air that blew me sideways, and the fact I was riding with one hand on the bike and one in my ear, made for an exciting few seconds. I managed to stay upright as I reflexively moved to the right and into a nasty section of broken glass and potholes.  I hope that those firemen went on to save somebody’s life, because the driver nearly took mine.  Jerk.

Now, where was I?  Oh yes, heading toward the power plant on the north side of Quantico Creek.  Just a few hundred yards up Route 1, I got onto Possum Point Road.  The road has a nice rural feel to it and it is a shame that it isn’t longer and that you have to travel Route 1 to get to it.  Eventually, a system of pipes joins the road and runs parallel to it.  I’m not an expert on power plants, but my guess is they carry oil to power the plant.

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Quantico Creek is a protected wildlife area and there are signs that state bald eagles nest in these parts.  I think I saw an eagle soaring off in the distance, but it easily could have been a hawk or some other bird.  I’m pretty sure the birds in the below picture aren’t eagles.  It looks like I interrupted dinner.  A bird’s gotta eat, even during Gloom Period.

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I climbed the mile-long hill near the plant, then turned around and enjoyed a mile-long descent.  I managed to cross Route 1 without further incident and made my way home, where I stopped to take a pic of the I-95 bridge over Quantico Creek.  It’s not a very attractive place and I wouldn’t want to be here at night.  But it’s a bridge and therefore worthy of your consideration.

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And here’s a picture of Quantico Creek, which is considerably more narrow at this point than in previous pics.

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At this point, I was five miles from home.  I was pleased with my ascent of the large hill on Van Buren Road. This hill used to be a huge test for me.  I was pleased to see I handled it well despite the lack of miles over the winter.  I arrived back home in good shape, having logged  a little over 30 miles.  Apart from the thirty seconds with the fire truck, it was a good day on the bike.

Here’s hoping you are finding ways to enjoy Gloom Period as well.  I have it on good authority that the weather will warm up in the coming months.  In addition to riding, I’ve taken to working on the installation of my B.E.A.R.D.  Things seem to be moving nicely on that project.  To get us back to color photography, I provide the following update:

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Dirty South 100K Harrisburg 2014 Ride Flyer

Steve:

When Matt asks for a post to be reblogged, that’s all I need to hear!

Seriously, if you’re in the area you should strongly consider this ride. By all accounts it is very unique and you will be able to ride with Matt, who is extremely cool.

Originally posted on Barn Door Cycling:

If you like rides on gravel roads, rides in forests, rides with awesome people, rides with lots of hills, rides that offer zero support, and rides don’t cost a penny then you’ll love the Dirty South 100K.

Hey, if you live somewhere around here and want to be on the DS100K STREET TEAM then print this flyer out and post it at a bike shop, or fitness place or something.  Also feel free to reblog this, facebook, google, friendster, geocities, or post this on your favorite dial up BBS.  THANKS!

dirty south 100k harrisburg 2014

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Review: Bike Snob Abroad

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As one of my many lovely and highly appropriate Christmas presents, I received the latest book from Eben Weiss, aka Bike Snob NYC.  This is Bike Snob’s third book.  I thoroughly enjoyed his first book, Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling, which was an irreverent look at the various cycling cultures and attitudes in America, and I’m a big fan of his blog (which you can find on my blogroll), which takes an edgier tone on the same theme.  So I was excited to take advantage of the recent cold weather brought about by the polar vortex and see what he had to offer in this tome.

Like I said, I’m a really big fan of Bike Snob and find his philosophy on cycling to be very refreshing.  Basically, he argues to keep things simple and not get caught up in cycling’s customs and “rules.”  It’s just a bike, dammit.  Ride it and have fun.  If you want to fiddle with it, go ahead.  It’s not a rocket ship and it probably won’t break.  If you do break it, your local bike shop will probably be able to fix your mistake for a small fee.  Just go have fun.  That’s a great attitude to have, in my view, and I try to take that on board with my cycling as much as possible.  So I really wanted to like this book, is what I’m trying to say.

So this review is going to be a bit awkward.

Here’s what Bike Snob did.  He zipped over to Sweden for a day and a half and rode his bike.  He did the same thing in Italy.  He also took a family vacation in Amsterdam for several days and they all rode bikes.  While on his way to Amsterdam, his family stopped in London for a day or two.  He went back to London on business.  Then he wrote a book about it.

As I read this, I thought to myself, “Wait a minute!  You do the exact same thing.  You pop into places for a few days on business, may or may not ride a bicycle, look around and then proclaim yourself to be a cycling expert on that place.  But you don’t write a book and make lots of money; you just post this stuff to your blog and are happy when it gets 100 views.”

Clearly, I was missing out on a good thing.  I’ve been to London, Madrid, Canberra, Boston, Tampa, and Virginia Beach.  Each city got a few hundred words from me and a blog post or two.  I guess if I was smart, I would have bundled them into 191 pages, several of which are devoted to artwork or are simply left blank, and made a book out of it.  Then I would ride the gravy train to financial independence and super stardom.  Or something like that.

Then again, I’m glad I didn’t, because there really isn’t enough material there to write a book.  Not even when you’re a world-famous blogger who goes on trips to speak at cycling expositions or get interviewed by the BBC.  He has a nice thought – that it would be fantastic if everyone adopted the same cycling attitude as Amsterdam.  That’s hardly a novel thought, but reading Weiss’ descriptions of how cycling is woven into the fabric of life in Amsterdam helps make his point.  Contrasting this atmosphere with his native New York City and even America’s cycling utopia – Portland – also reinforces this idea.  But it’s not a very complicated idea and after a few dozen pages, I found myself wanting to move on to the next thing.

Sadly, that’s about it for this book.  There’s the story of his trip to Sweden, where the sun never sets in the summer and people of all sorts gather for a group ride.  There’s a story about a trip to Portland (and it should be pointed out that no matter how strange that city may be, it is not abroad) where people’s fanatical love of cycling actually is a bit too much for him to take.  He finds London to have the same energy as his native New York and rides his very first bikeshare cycle, and loves it despite the nonsensical bike lanes that seem to start and end without any sort of rationale.  And then there’s the story about his trip to Italy, where he understood almost nobody and cycling wasn’t nearly as integrated into the city despite clear evidence of that country’s love of bicycle racing.  Oh, and there are several stories about New York City (which is also not abroad) – how it has changed since his youth and how he has changed since becoming a father and learning to value what he considers to be the highest form of cycling – cycling as a family.

As an aside, I noted with interest that once again the southernmost city fared worst in this little survey of bicycle cultures.  The warmer towns just don’t seem to embrace cycling, for some odd reason.  There’s probably a sociology PhD dissertation there for whomever wants it.

So, if you’re looking for a more tepid version of Bike Snob’s prose which discusses family cycling from the prism of four European cities, this is your book.  Otherwise, I suspect you’ll be mildly disappointed, as I was.