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Tag Archive: books for bicyclists

Book Review: “Gold” by Chris Cleave

A few weeks before the kickoff to the 2012 London Olympics, I received an Olympic-themed novel in the mail: Gold: A Novel by Chris Cleave (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012). It is the story of Zoe Castle and Kate Argall, two track cyclists from Team GB who are friends off the track and fierce rivals on it.

gold

Character development is the make-or-break of any novel, and Chris Cleave delivers in Gold. He reveals each character slowly…Zoe’s eagerness to win at all costs and the demons in her past; Kate’s conflict between training for the Olympics and caring for her sick daughter Sophie. And conflict is the underlying theme here: Cleave captures the dynamic of two women who have a rich backstory together — they are each others’ arch rival, yet hold onto the most tenuous of close friendships. Their coach, Tom, is also conflicted — he wants both women to succeed as a redemption for his own failures as an athlete, yet he is forced to make choices between them. And then there’s Sophie…an unabashed Star Wars fan who wants nothing more to be healthy and to have her mother win in London.

Zoe, perhaps, is the most interesting character — she only knows how to win and is fairly helpless at anything else. The conflict and drama of her life off the track, her history, and her relationship with Kate, Kate’s husband Jack, and her coach is nothing short of epic. Will she find glory, or redemption, or a way to live with herself when all is said and done? The answer is right here in Gold.

Cleave also captures the essence of the athletes’ preparations without getting bogged down with technical details…most competitive cyclists will find parallels with their own routines (and laugh about some of them). Through the book, the author convincingly illustrates what it means to make sacrifices and to juggle family life, training, and caring for a very sick child.The book is fast-paced; one of those you just don’t want to put down.

Want to keep that Olympic spirit alive for a few more days? This book is a great way to do it…I thoroughly enjoyed it and am recommending it to all my fiction-reading friends.

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Book Review: “Pedaling Revolution” by Jeff Mapes

I recently had the pleasure of reading Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities by Jeff Mapes (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2009). Mr. Mapes is a political reporter for the Oregonian, and he put together a great overall look at American bicycle culture.

pedaling revolution

Mapes gives a pretty thorough overview of the major (and some minor, but influential) players in the U.S. bicycle advocacy movement and traces the history of our bicycle culture and advocacy progress from the early 1970s to the present. All the high points are covered: politicians such as Jim Oberstar (D-Minnesota), John Forester of the vehicular cycling movement, advocacy groups like the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (now called the Active Transportation Alliance) and Bike Portland, the Critical Mass movement, even Reverend Phil of Bike Porn Tour fame. This gives the reader a good picture of how modern bike culture developed.

As with many such books, a trip to Amsterdam, the fabled bicycle mecca, was included. Mapes is careful to point out that although bicycling is ingrained in Dutch society (as it is in Copenhagen, Denmark…the “other” mecca), many of the real developments didn’t happen until the the late 1960s for both areas. And, Mapes points out that both Amsterdam and Copenhagen are not without their car problems; despite barriers such as high sales and ownership taxes and the cost of fuel, car miles have increased.

Pedaling Revolution has chapters on safety issues, describing many U.S. cities as “in that awkward period where utilitarian cycling has become visible but still not mainstream”. Mapes touches on some of the vehicular cycling vs. dedicated bicycle infrastructure points in this chapter. There are also chapters on getting kids back on bikes and health considerations (the American decrease in physical activity and subsequent explosion in obesity and diabetes epidemics). The health chapter does not focus its sights squarely on the motor vehicle as villian, but Mapes is careful to list it as one of many contributing factors to the health crisis facing U.S. cities.

Overall, the book is a good read — complete, well-researched and sprinkled throughout with fascinating experiences and interactions between the author and people involved in bicycle culture at all levels. Add it to your booklist; it’s worth checking out.

Like this review? Check out our other book reviews by visiting our book review archive.

Book Review: Cycling’s Greatest Misadventures

Several months ago, the publishers of Cycling’s Greatest Misadventures sent us review copies of the book. This book, edited by Erich Schweikher and Paul Diamond (Solana Beach, CA: Casagrande Press, 2007), is a compilation of short stories by different authors, and within these stories are tales of woe that almost any cyclist can relate to.

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From tours gone horribly awry to mountain bike adventures that include getting terribly lost in a foreign country, this book is packed with one cycling bummer after another. Cycling’s Greatest Misadventures contains 27 true stories in all, and even has a photo gallery of gnarly crashes and other mishaps!

Several of the stories contained within this book seem embryonic…half-formed, rushed or a little bit lacking in terms of cohesiveness. Others could easily stand on their own and I found myself wishing that the author would continue with the story beyond the confines of the book. No matter what, though, there will be something for every manner of cyclist to relate to…a plague of flat tires, getting lost in the woods, suffering gastric distress (or worse) on a long tour.

Perhaps my favorite story is “Cycling in a New World” by Stan Green, Jr. Green tells the story of his ride through Hurricane Katrina-devastated New Orleans shortly after the storm, visiting old haunts and trying to salvage belongings (and memories) from his childhood home and those of his family members. As a former “occasional” resident of the city of New Orleans, I was familiar with many of the sights Green talked about as he surveyed the destruction and rebirth of the city by bicycle. It moved me when he wrote, “A bike ride through New Orleans can never be what it was before August 29, 2005. Something else lies ahead, something undetectable, something unknowable — a new normal.” My feeling is that statement is a testament to the New Orleans residents’ ability to pick themselves up and adapt to changes no matter what they may be, and the story is a touching look at what was, what is, and what may be for the people of NOLA.

Overall, the book is a fast-paced and enjoyable read — something for everyone. If you get a chance, take a look for yourselves.