Category: Book Reviews

Earlier this summer (yes, it is still summer here in Florida no matter what the calendar says), the good folks at Viking sent me a review copy of David Byrne’s eagerly-awaited Bicycle Diaries (New York: Penguin Group, 2009).


David Byrne first began riding a bicycle for transportation in the early 1980s. Toward the latter part of that decade, he starting bringing a bicycle with him on tour and keeping a travel and tour diary. Bicycle Diaries is an interesting look back at some of his adventures…part travelogue, part social/political commentary and part observations of what is right (and wrong) with the world around us.

In this book, the bicycle is used as a vehicle (pun intended) to introduce Byrne, and by extension, the reader, to some of the cities he traveled to during his tours. Once that introduction is made, the bike is not an important part of the narrative. Byrne discovered early on that the bicycle let him…

…[feel] more connected to the life on the streets than I would have inside a car or in some form of public transport: I could stop whenever I wanted to; it was often (very often) faster than a car or taxi for getting from point A to point B; and I didn’t have to follow any set route. The same exhilaration, as the air and street life whizzed by, happened again in each town. It was, for me, addictive.

The book is loosely arranged by country…a few stops in U.S. cities, some in Europe, the Middle East and South America. Byrne writes a rambling narrative…his mind is all over the map, both geographically and intellectually. His commentaries throughout touch on art and artists, music, urban and transportation planning, city history and many other subjects. Although it tends to ramble, the book flows nicely from city to city, from country to country, and from idea to idea. There is a lot to absorb here and a lot of references to other works that will make the curious want to read up on some of the subjects Byrne talks about.

Toward the end of the book, Byrne describes the state of cycling affairs in his hometown of New York City. He describes the events in which he transformed into somewhat of a surprise cycling advocate, talks about some of New York’s infrastructure plans for the future, and illustrates
his role in the bike rack contest held there last year.

Finally, he includes a couple pages of brief cycling tips and drawings of some of the bike rack designs he submitted.

I enjoyed this book immensely — while I don’t agree with all of Byrne’s advocacy stances, the book was a fascinating journey into his travels, his thoughts and his beliefs about societies throughout the world. Add it to your booklist!

In a recent review by David Byrnes of Jeff Mapes’ new book “Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Citiesâ€? in the NY Times, I found this comment of particular interest:

As Mapes points out, when more women begin riding, that will signal a big change in attitude, which will prompt further changes in the direction of safety and elegance. I can ride till my legs are sore and it won’t make riding any cooler, but when attractive women are seen sitting upright going about their city business on bikes day and night, the crowds will surely follow. A recent article in a British newspaper showed the pop singer Duffy on a pink bike. The model Agyness Deyn claims never to be without hers, and Courteney Cox reportedly presented Jennifer Aniston with a Chanel bike last year. Tabloid fodder does not a revolution make, but it’s a start.

His comment already has me anxious to get my hands on a copy of this book and read it for myself.

In the meantime, I had the pleasure of joining our friends Dottie and Trisha of Let’s Go Ride a Bike on the inaugural Summer Babes and Elegant Bachelors Ride. We had a wonderful night on the town in Chicago, proving that bikes can be both an attractive and feasible mode of transportation even on a rainy Chicago summer evening in cocktail attire.

Orli Cotel, publicist for The Sierra Club, graciously sent us a copy of the newly revised 2nd edition of the classic Bike Touring: The Sierra Club Guide to Travel on Two Wheels by Raymond Bridge (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2009) for review.

sierra club cover

Planning on doing any bike touring? Not sure where to begin with preparation, gear selection and route planning? Look no further…this book is a complete guide to all aspects of bicycle touring. The author concentrates an incredible amount of information into this pocket-sized guide. Bridge spends a lot of time discussing gear (both the bicycle itself and its cargo-hauling apparatus), giving even the newest “greenhorn” a comprehensive view of the things to look for when selecting a rig for touring. But that’s not all; there are also extensive tips on route planning, packing checklists for different types of tours and other logistical considerations. Finally, the author includes a lot of resources (both print and Web-based) at the end of the guide.

The author presents all of his information in a matter-of-fact, clear manner. He doesn’t try to “dumb things down” for the amateur, yet he never gets bogged down in overly complex descriptions either. The book reads well and is easy to follow.

Bridge’s first edition was a wild success and was a must-read for the new (or seasoned) bicycle tourer. With this 2nd edition, there is even more to share — the addition of Web resources is a great thing. And, this 2nd edition is FRESHLY updated…there are mentions of guides and gear that have only been around for a few months.

If you’re interested in bike touring…from quick overnighters to lengthy cross-country excursions, this book is worth a look. Perhaps my only gripe with the book is that the author fails to include our own Russ Roca in his discussion of valuable bike-touring Web resources. Russ’s “Epicurean Cyclist” deserves a mention in this guide!

Last week, I had the pleasure of receiving an autographed (being a minor Internet celebrity has its perks!) review copy of The Practical Cyclist: Bicycling for Real People (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2009) from local cycling hero Chip Haynes.


First off, here’s what this book is NOT: a comprehensive guide to training, repair, nutrition, racing strategy or any of that other in-depth stuff. What this book IS is a very simple, very practical and extremely humorous guide to bicycling for everyday purposes.

Chip’s a funny guy and an excellent writer. In this book, he gets to demonstrate both skills as he distills a lifetime of bicycling into 160-odd pages. The Practical Cyclist contains perhaps the most compact — yet thorough — history of the bicycle that I’ve ever read…seven pages that covers over a century of cycling innovation. Wow! And that’s not all — the book is filled with gems…basic repair, practical considerations of clothing, gear, route planning and pretty much every other aspect a new cyclist needs to think about when setting off.

Throughout, Chip has an uncanny ability to cut through all the complexity and b.s. that tend to plague the world of cycling. He presents his thoughts in a coherent and complete manner while eliminating the mysteries. Distilled to its base, bicycling really is quite simple, and Chip relays this “insider secret” with aplomb. Folks discovering (or rediscovering) the bicycle should take a good look at this book.

At the end of the book, Chip presents a little “How do you know if you’re a practical cyclist?” quiz that will ring bells of familiarity to many of us, and ends with some sage words of wisdom:

Ride your bicycle because it’s fun. Yes, it makes sense both financially and environmentally, but ride your bike because it’s more fun than driving. That, to me, is the best reason of all. If it’s not fun, why bother?

Truer words were never spoken…

Seasoned cyclists and hardcore commuters probably won’t get much out of The Practical Cyclist other than a lot of laughs…frankly, it’s just not written for the accomplished cyclers among us. But, for someone just entering the wonderful world of bicycles, this book is a must read. Let’s hope this book sells a billion copies!!!

me and chip
(Me, Chip and the lovely JoAnn at the 2008 Bicycle Bash by the Bay)

And, if you’re in the Tampa Bay area, come on out to Chainwheel Drive in Clearwater this coming Saturday to meet Chip and to get your very own autographed copy of The Practical Cyclist. Details can be found by clicking here.

Author, bicycle collector and all-around funny guy Chip Haynes wanted to let everyone know that he’s having a book signing for his new The Practical Cyclist: Bicycling For Real People (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2009). Here’s Chip to tell you a bit more:

The big unveiling and first book signing for The Practical Cyclist will be at the Chainwheel Drive bike shop, 1770 Drew Street in Clearwater (NW corner of Drew and Keene) on Saturday, April 18th from noon to 3 p.m. Needless to say, I am READY! They’ve got the books in stock already, now just hand me a pen and stand back!


The book is getting a great response. Mother Earth News endorsed it as a “Recommended Book for Wiser Living�, Foreword magazine gave it a very nice review, is promoting it and both Martha Stewart Living Radio and Body + Soul magazine (also a Martha Stewart thing) are all over it. The New Colonist interviewed me awhile back for their web site, Body + Soul is scheduled to interview me next Monday night, and we got to hang out with Jeff Klinkenberg from the St. Pete Times last Friday. What a blast! (His story may be in the Times as early as this coming Sunday.) Almost forgot: Reader’s Digest has already requested, and received, a short article by me on bicycle commuting. Whew.

I hope to see everyone at Chainwheel Drive on Saturday the 18th, and even if you already have the book, come on out anyway and roll in the madness!

As Chip mentioned, he was interviewed by the St. Petersburg Times recently, and his article ran over the weekend. Check it out by following this link.

I just received my review copy of The Practical Cyclist in the mail today, and I’ll be bringing you a review of it in the coming days. In the meantime, if you’re in the area and you want to rub shoulders with a local literary GIANT, come on out to Chainwheel Drive in Clearwater to meet Chip. He’s a really charismatic fellow!