Thanks to a big push from sister bike org Santa Monica Spoke, that city’s Michigan Avenue Neighborhood Greenway (aka MANGo) passed City Council unanimously last week. This neighborhood was long-ago bisected by the 10 Freeway, and by way of too-little, too-late amends, the city’s now calming traffic and improving connectivity though to the Civic Center & beach. Good for residents, great for riders. Congrats Spoke!
Chris Sidwells delivers on his promise in the Complete Bike Book: almost nothing escapes this professional rider’s purview. From the most fundamental questions (“Why cycle?”) to the literal nuts and bolts of bike maintenance, this all-around guide has it covered. In an era when the printed book seems antiquated, or in search of ever-more specialized niches, Complete Bike reminds us of the value that well-illustrated handbooks still can offer!
The Complete Bike Book should find place on any beginning cyclist’s shelf. Yes, in the Internet era it is a throwback to the all-in-one handbooks of yesteryear (like Eugene Sloan’s Complete Book of Bicycle Maintenance), but there is no substitute for plentiful pictures and diagrams that handbook demystify the ins and outs of cycling. And it’s not only for the beginner; the experienced cyclist will find it a refresher course – particularly in the maintenance arena.
But the value here is for the newbie. Back in my day, bikes came in two general flavors: ‘road’ bikes and street bikes. The road bike came in many flavors but were mostly variations on the triangular, butted-tube steel frame which varied in spec between racing and touring configurations. The mass-market street bike (the kind in any garage) found an enormous market, peaking in the 1970s, and ever since on the decline in the face of a fragmented market of specialty biked.
Sidwells offers an overview of bike types that will be very helpful to the new purchaser bewildered by the avalanche of new bike types (to say nothing of brands and accessories). Familiar with the Audax or the Randonneur? Know the difference between a BMX and a trials bike? If not, then Sidwells has a book for you!
Bicycling’s Complete Book of Road Cycling delivers what it promises: a broad overview of issues related to road cycling from health & safety to road handling to racing and endurance tips. As an edited volume of short chapters, it’s shorthand in style. So rather than a collection of ideas organized as a narrative, the reader will instead find bullet lists and quick takes – which sacrifices a bit of depth to breadth but it makes for a good introduction to the many facets of cycling nevertheless.
The about-town riders will probably skip the sections like Riding Stronger and Longer and Fueling Your Engine and instead turn to The Basics and Safety in Traffic. The former section addresses positioning and bike maintenance, which are important in avoiding injury. And injury-free cycling is key to enjoyment. There, basic recommendations about bike fit and handlebar grip are worth a skim too since most of us learned the basics when we were six or seven years old.
Maintenance, however, is more important than you would think: many cycling collisions are solo spills. Maybe we’ve failed to check our brakes or quick-release skewers, say, and we can’t control the bike (or a wheel falls off). From time to time we do have to pay attention, if only because we’re sharing the road with motorists – not riding a country lane – and we need to be in control at all times.
For example, I enjoy pumping uphill on San Vicente toward Brentwood. It is great for getting up my heart rate up. But when a misadjusted pedal unexpectedly releases the shoe cleat, it brings the fun to an end. It can even send an unwary rider down (that’s speaking from experience!) because a leg akimbo at speed can be quite destabilizing.
Now, Bicycling’s Complete Book of Road Cycling book is not a bible by any means. But the best bicycling guide is the one that you’ve read, and this guide succinctly covers the nuts-and-bolts, including rules of the road, bike handling, and a prudent approach to road riding. Available for about $10 from Amazon, you can’t find cheaper advice on keeping safe in the saddle along with all of the other tips on offer. It’s a worthy gift for a new rider or the rider returning to the road after a hiatus.
For a bible I recommend the out-of-print Eugene Sloan’s Complete Book of Cycling (1988), a wonderfully-written book I fondly remember picking up in New York back when I was riding a cast-iron Atala around the Central Park circuit. The page edges are smudged with Phil Woods grease even today. It’s carried me though basic fixes to my current ride, a 1988 Scapin.
Currently in print is Sloan’s Sloane’s true-to-the-title Complete Book of Bicycling: The Cyclist’s Bible (25th Anniversary Edition) which covers much of the same ground in a newer package. Highly recommended. Every cyclists should have it.
Bike attorney Bob Mionske is out there working for the safety and protection of all cyclists. He’s the author of the book Bicycling and the Law [see our review] and a prolific poster over at his own site, covering all aspects of cycling safety and preparation. The site is a must-read for anybody taking to our mean streets on a human-powered contraption with one or more wheels.
One of the most valuable resources on his site is Bob’s 3-part ‘Road Rights: How to Handle Bike-Car Accidents.’ As any rider knows, dealing with an unfortunate road incident is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when.’ Dealing with the aftermath of a collision is key to recovering for your injuries. From ride preparation to post-collision strategy, he succinctly highlights the tactics that will help keep us safe, often pulling material from his book (which goes into considerable detail about the rules and responsibilities of road riding). The series, subtitled “I Was In A Collision—What Should I Do?,” tells you what to expect, and what you need to know.
A most important tip if you’re a motorist as well as a cyclist: fall back on your auto coverage for uninsured/underinsured motorists. It might save you in the event of a car-bike collision.
Mastering Cycling by John Howard is a useful overview of cycling that offers a user-friendly tour though all the key areas from bike fit to post-ride stretch. In between are helpful chapters on nutrition and workout variation so that we aging cyclists can keep up that bone density. ‘Aging cyclists’? Yep – this is one of the few cycling books to look at the sport and recreation from the ‘experienced’ rider’s perspective.Perhaps it should be titled ‘Masters’ Cycling.’ His is a no-nonsense guide who focuses on sharing the hard-won wisdom that helps him enjoy cycling for fun, fitness and health as we get older. And Howard himself knows of what he speaks: he’s not only a distinguished figure in the sport, including time served as athlete, coach, and two-wheeled speed-record holder; he’s a bit long in the tooth and grey too.
The virtue of Mastering Cycling is that Howard knows you don’t have time to waste on floral elaborations about the joys of cycling because. He knows that we know how great a pursuit it is. He knows we can’t share in a play-by-play recap of his great race, so instead he provides plenty of sidebar visits with everyday cyclists like you and me. He’s so conscious of time that he includes a chapter on making time to bike in middle-age and beyond.
Even experienced cyclists will learn something about how different foods affect our rides, say, or how we can change-up our cycling habits to build our bones. Who knew that road cycling is associated with less bone density than mountain biking or weight-bearing pursuits like running?
Readers interested in learning about how the sport that we love poses new challenges as we get older are well advised to pick up Mastering Cycling. It’s an informative, easy read just loaded with insight and understanding.
The Dutch and other Europeans may have no difficulty getting folks of all ages to bike. After all, street there are bike-friendly: segregated bike lanes, calmed traffic, dedicated signaling, and perhaps most important, a culture that gives cyclists parity with motorists. And often even more privileged accommodations on the public roads. We could do more, much more, so it’s good to see AARP on board with a recent mailer.Formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP is the big gorilla of mature-folks advocacy. They’re big players in insurance too, marketing United Healthcare Medicare-Plus plans under the AARP label. So it’s heartening to see them so prominently place a picture of a mature cyclist on their recent mailer with the tagline, ‘Add a healthy habit this month.’
Well, it’s never too late to straddle a bike. Older folks have a unique set of concerns, as cyclist-author John Howard highlights in his comprehensive general guide for the mature cyclist,’ Mastering Cycling.’ (Read our review.) But older bones need not dissuade the would-be cyclist from taking to the road.
Consider how much more safe urban communities would be if we moved elderly motorists onto three-wheeled trikes, say. Or merely succeeded in moving some of today’s auto traffic in a city like Los Angeles to bikes. That could open up new opportunities for a city like Beverly Hills, which is tailor-made for local bike trips but where even hearty high-schoolers complain that our roads are too choked with vehicles to feel good about riding.
AARP is the leading policy advocacy organization for the over-50 set, so its imprimatur is important if we are to rethink cycling for fitness (‘add a healthy habit’) and general transportation too.
Incidentally, AARP’s name change came about a few years ago because it was keen to expand its reach and increase its political clout. (Because only emergency personnel retire at 50, it was time to re-brand and lose the ‘retired’ appeal. In the States, anyway, retirement is a thing of the past, and the retired folks constituency will thin over time.) The re-christened AARP organization can be a major proponent of mature cycling, so it is heartening to see them on board with a pro-bike monthly mailer. Now to reach some of the non-White, non-affluent older folks….
The New York Times last weekend published not one but two bike-related articles in the new Review section. Russell Shorto muses about the bike as a culture-transforming means of transportation in the Netherlands. From policies to everyday behaviors, he finds that accommodations came relatively swiftly and pervasively. For Angelenos, who seem to bear no resemblance at all to the Dutch, this could be an inaugural lesson in how to be European. A few pages later, Maile Meloy talks about the seminal role of her childhood bike in her development as a write. Is the Times softening up on bikes & infrastructure?
The ‘Subway to the Sea’ promises to bring a station right to the heart of Beverly Hills at Wilshire & Beverly. That would be the first time since our burgh has been served by rail since the early 1950s.
In fact, following the dismantling of the Pacific Electric light rail line that coursed through our city (stopping near the old post office) a succession of regional transit agencies (antecedents of Metro) have envisioned passenger travel both below and above Wilshire. In the case of helicopter-lifted buses, far above Wilshire!
Metro archive’s Primary Sources blog covers the metaphorical terrain in 50 Years of Rail Planning with very interesting backstory on the political and practical struggles to bring a grand rail plan back from the dead. One has to wonder whether rail will ever again come to Beverly Hills given the failure of so many grand plans….
Robert Penn’s purchase of the ultimate midlife-crisis toy, a custom bicycle built around a bespoke frame, is the premise for his joy-filled ‘It’s All About the Bike,’ a journey though the history, characters, and innovations that have produced what we know as the modern bicycle. This story is above all an expression of his own joy of cycling, one that will be shared by readers inclined toward two-wheel transportation.
Penn’s passion is well-captured in this early passage:
“I found a rhythm in the spinning pedals. Rhythm is happiness. A myriad of concerns – about the bike, about this book – dissipated completely. This is the beauty of cycling – the rhythm puts serious activity in the brain to sleep: it creates a void. Random thoughts enter that void – the chorus from a song, a verse of poetry, a detail on the countryside, a joke, the answer to something that vexed me long ago.”
The joy of cycling is front-and-center, his account is also about the evolution of the modern ‘safety bicycle,’ an ingenious device that has evolved over more than a century to become much more than utilitarian transportation. This a marvel of engineering is itself a tangible reflection of our personal relationship with our bodies and surrounding environs; for many people it’s why we all ride.
“I’ve been riding bicycles for thirty-six years,” Penn says. “Today, I ride to get to work, to keep fit, to breathe in air and sunshine, to go shopping, to escape when the world is breaking my balls, to savor the physical and emotional fellowship of riding with friends, to travel, to stay sane, to skip bath time my kids, for fun, for a moment of grace, occasionally to impress someone, to scare myself, and to hear my boy laugh. Sometimes I ride my bicycle just to ride my bicycle.”
He owes his passion to a “broad church of practical physical and emotional reasons” for cycling that revolve around one thing – the bicycle itself. Appropriately, Penn uses this single most efficient form of human transportation ever devised as a structuring metaphor for our journey with him.
With chapters on the frame, the bars, the drivetrain, the wheels and more, Penn takes readers on a leisurely amble though friends’ workshops on several continents (for no quality bicycle is sole-sourced in China!). He reveals the history (and drama) behind the components while enumerating the incremental design changes that evolved those innovations into the modern components we value today.
Penn uses his pursuit of the perfect machine to take the story back to the birth of the industrial revolution in England. Everyone remembers the big-wheeled bikes of the Victorian era. That model used a direct-drive system where pedals turned the front wheel. As the quest for greater speeds dictated an enlarged front wheel (so that every pedal turn traversed more terrain), the limitations soon became obvious: a larger wheel impeded steering while the length of the rider’s leg determined front-wheel radius, in effect capping the top speed of the bike.
Penn goes into some detail about innovations that made that possible:
- Roller chain & rear drive eliminated the need for a big front wheel and thus imparted a greater sense of balance to the device (as early as 1879!);
- Gearing via the essential derailleur more efficiently multiplied human power;
- Eighteenth-century carriage bearings were reworked by Birmingham toolmakers and by the 1870s wheels used lubricated bearings installed in races to reduce rolling resistance; and,
- Shock-absorbing wheels made possible by crossed spokes under tension; and of course,
- Increasingly lightweight frames of butted-steel tubing reduced the effort required to merely move the bike itself.
Egged on by the very competitive sport of professional cycling and supported by global demand for affordable transportation, inventors and producers continually refined the geometry of the frame and efficiency of the drive train and as a result, today we have a perfectly-tuned machine available at price points well below $1,000.
Today we may take for granted the key revolutions and incremental evolutions that provide the world with incredibly affordable wheels, but Penn gives us some background on the individual and corporate competition that’s kept bike-related innovation humming for more than a century (with no end in sight!). His sensitive ear for character and sharp eye for detail keeps the narrative rich, while his continent-hopping pursuit for the ideal bike keeps the story moving.
Penn’s up-close-and-personal story about what’s been variously called the pedestrian accelerator, dandy-horse, dandy-charger, hobby horse, boneshaker, velocipede, ordinary and high-wheeler is a paean to the passion and the hardware that transforms human effort into forward motion to gracefully. It’s a graceful romp through the history of bicycle innovation as he describes in detail how each component from tire to seat contributes uniquely to the comfort and character of the cycling experience.
Perhaps no passage as clearly sums up that experience as well as his closing hymn to the bike:
“If you’ve ever experienced a moment of awe or freedom on a bicycle; if you’ve ever taken flight from sadness to the rhythm of two spinning wheels, or felt the resurgence of hope pedaling to the top of a hill with the dew of effort on your forehead; if you’ve ever wondered, swooping bird-like down a long hill on a bicycle, if the world was standing still; if you have ever, just once, sat on a bicycle with a singing heart and felt like an ordinary human touching the gods, then we share something fundamental. We know it’s all about the bike.”
Readers barely familiar with the story of the bicycle will find this an entertaining read, while experienced cyclists will recognize his passion for the alchemy that turns a diamond-shaped frame of aluminum, carbon fiber, or steel into a rolling symphony of muted clicks and close tolerances. Dedicated cyclists of a certain age will resonate with his pursuit of the bespoke bike as a “classic mid-life crisis purchase.” [Illustrations from It's All About the Bike.]
For a little back-and-forth about bike planning with a BH policymaker, see the comments in ‘Shifting Gears to Make Beverly Hills More Bike Friendly‘ on our local Patch site. Article penned by our own member Ellen Lutwak!
In his cogent review of the legal history of cycling, Bicycling and the Law: Your Rights as a Cyclist, Bob Mionske reminds us cities have a long history as chaotic crucibles for competing vehicles and devices. But cyclists have been under-prepared to negotiate the scrum of walkers, horsemen, and horse carriages (on rail and otherwise) that competed for priority on the roads. Add electric railcars and motor carriages to the mix, and well you’ve got the potential for carnage! It was always so on American roads and it’s only marginally better today. Our roads are more orderly, our laws more refined, yet vehicles are larger and travel faster than ever. But we’re often unprepared for the situations and conditions we … Continue reading
Attorney Bob Mionske offers a broad but detailed overview of cyclists’ rights and responsibilities in Bicycling & The Law: Your Rights as a Cyclist (2007). This is an essential read for any road user interested in a legal perspective on our rights and responsibilities, but it is also the historical perspective – the evolution of the law – that might surprise some cyclists. We cyclists may take for granted our right to ride, but that right is expressed nowhere in our nation’s founding documents because Constitutional framers did not explicitly accord the right to free movement. “The cyclists of the late nineteenth century, though small in number, won the right to the road through their sheer determination. Over a century … Continue reading
Rick Risemberg from Bicycle Fixation passed on a like to a very informative bike rack installation guidelines [PDF] publication from the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP). The guidelines show why most ‘wheel bender’ type bike racks are so inadequate to the task – as if cyclists didn’t already know: they are flimsy, often insecure, and, well, they bend front wheels. More than an instruction sheet, these guidelines are food for thought for cycling advocates, planners, transportation engineers, and facilities planners, all of whom may play some role in providing that most basic of bicycle amenity: a hitching post for the ride. Any cyclist familiar with the crappy rack adjacent to the library in Beverly Hills knows how a … Continue reading