Thursday, March 31, 2011

Week 12: Bikes and Riders, by James Wagenvoord

This book is the first non-fiction selection of my yearlong challenge. It was a nice change of pace from reading only fiction for the last eleven weeks.  Jamie gave me this book as a gift, considering that we both love all things bike-related. This book was published in 1972, and features what I consider to be an awesome cover. The fun visuals persist throughout the book, as it is filled with great vintage photos of old bikes and hip young people from the seventies riding them. By looking at these photographs, I have surmised that riding bikes used to be way less serious back then. For example, no one wore a helmet. As a helmet proponent, seeing pictures of people on bikes with bare heads makes me cringe, but hey, it was the seventies! (What's funny is that I learned that in lieu of helmets, some bike racers wore these weird leather headstrap things that kind of look like helmets...but I have no idea how they were supposed to protect your head. But I digress.) At any rate, Wagenvoord chronicles the history of the bicycle in American culture, starting off with a description of a cyclists' rights rally in which riders publicly champion the environmental and health benefits of cycling. This segues nicely into Wagenvoord's explanation of early bikes at the end of the nineteenth century. He describes penny farthings, those bikes with the giant wheel in front, and all of the injuries and chaos that they initially spawned. We read about the gradual transition to "boneshakers" (iron bikes that rattled over cobblestones), to bicycles with actual tires, to what we consider to be modern bikes with brakes and derailleurs and so forth. It's fun to read about the evolution of this beloved vehicle! I learned a lot about the history of the bike, and it made me more thankful for my three bikes and how much I take for granted about their functionality. The book definitely has an urban slant, since most of the story focuses on riders in the city, whether it be riding alongside horses back in the day, or riding through traffic in Manhattan. I enjoyed this, because I feel that riding should be accessible to all, and not just an activity reserved for spandex-wearing suburbanites. Overall, a great, upbeat read, with wonderful photos that will make you smile. 

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