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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.

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A women’s “PEDALING REVOLUTION” and Summer Elegance

In a recent review by David Byrnes of Jeff Mapes’ new book “Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities? 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.