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.