Need holiday gift ideas for a cyclist? Maybe you’re so busy cycling you missed these recent biking books. Don’t let these pass you by.
You’ll be disappointed if you expect an ordinary history in Jody Rosen’s “Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle” (2022). You’ll also be immensely delighted.
A passionate two-wheeled enthusiast, Rosen initially routes us past standard mile markers: 19th century velocipedes, boneshakers and safety bicycles; 100,000 League of American Wheelmen members; the turn-of-the-century Good Roads Movement to macadamize roads. Seems ordinary enough.
But hang on to your handlebars as you draft this author’s Klondike biking through Alaska’s gold rush, mountain biking (what else?) in Bhutan’s Himalayan kingdom, and furiously pedaling at 17,150 mph on the International Space Station’s Cycle Ergometer.
Steeped in cycling’s history and literature, Rosen dropped me far behind with unfamiliar yet intriguing topics.
Published in 2017, Peter and Tracy Flucke’s “Coast to Coast on a Tandem” recounts their two-wheeled trek from the Pacific to the Atlantic. – Courtesy of Peter Flucke Topic whiplash
Fellow book reviewer Peter Flucke, co-author with wife Tracy of “Coast to Coast on a Tandem,” was similarly impressed with this book’s breadth, listing stunt riding, “bicycle erotica, exercise machines and cross-country cycling (my particular passion).”
“While I was in awe of Rosen’s depth of understanding and appreciation for all things bicycle, it was simply too much for me. The book gave me whiplash. There’s enough in here for five really good books,” Flucke said, “all of which I hope Rosen writes.”
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That feeling is mutual. Rosen can plunge deeply into niches, including extraneous details. Sometimes, he’s justifying astute insights into biking Zen. Other times he just seems long-winded. How germane are the names of the Bengali rickshaw driver’s daughters?
Biking is clearly embedded in Rosen’s DNA. He expresses its nirvana, its ability “to ungum the synapses, lift dust off the cerebral lobes.” Priceless are his elusive insight gems, crystallized, no doubt, while riding his bike.
Unlike other “journey” books, “The Road to San Donato” (2019) is a personal pilgrimage, not just a fascinating, two-wheeled adventure. Author Robert Cocuzzo cycles in search of paternal history, discovering his grandfather’s roots in “Papa’s” Italian country village.
Cocuzzo invites his 64-year-old father along, a dedicated but reckless, accident-prone rider, crazily insistent on pedaling fixed gear bikes. While generally fit, neither is prepared for 450 miles of grueling mountain climbs from Florence to San Donato, a centuries-old village concealed in the Apennines south of Rome.
Fellow book reviewer Pete Schmelzer, Arlington Heights Bicycle Club president, said, “Seasoned cyclists will relate to the mechanical mishaps, navigation blunders, marginal food/lodging, physical exhaustion and emotional exhilaration” of multiday trips.
Knee pain and a snapped cable add to their challenges. Just as arduous, however, is the pair’s psycho-emotional labor, peeling back layers of their father-son relationship, and uncovering effects of family history. Candidly exposing personal pain, he reveals bouts of depression to his father.
“When Cocuzzo begins connecting generational dots to understand his own mental health issues, awkward family relationships, and conflicting religious beliefs, cycling becomes secondary,” Schmelzer said.
Whether recounting his biking or his personal journey, Cocuzzo’s engaging writing is packed with energy, creative phrasing and disarming characterizations.
Added bonus was Cocuzzo’s tip referencing the 2012 book “Road to Valor” (also worth reading). It tells Italian cycling legend Gino Bartali’s story, leveraging his championship fame to assist Italy’s World War II underground resistance. Bartali bravely sheltered Italian Jews and smuggled counterfeit papers past fascist checkpoints by scrolling them in his seat post.
Dutch cyclists in Delft, The Netherlands, enjoy a street with little motorized traffic. – Courtesy of Melissa and Chris Bruntlett Biking’s social value
From a sociocultural viewpoint, urban mobility advocates Melissa and Chris Bruntlett chronicle chapter after chapter of refreshing research-based perspectives on biking’s broader social value and positive effect on communal cohesion in “Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives” (2021).
Writing from Delft, The Netherlands, population 100,000, where 50% of all trips are by bike, another 30% on foot or public transport, they persuasively argue that individual and community vitality increase — physical fitness, social trust and sense of connectedness — as automobile reliance decreases. Transportation design is key.
They suggest that auto-centric societies limit social trust, as solitude behind the wheel can breed selfishness, distrust and aggression, road rage being one extreme. In contrast, they marvel at 21,000 cyclists daily traversing a Delft bridge, “a carefully choreographed street ballet” — hand signals, nuanced gestures, bike bells — allowing a flowing stream of bikes, pedestrians and motorists.
“Curbing Traffic” authors Melissa and Chris Bruntlett enjoy wheeling through the traffic-calmed streets in Delft, The Netherlands. – Courtesy of Melissa and Chris Bruntlett
Retired Palatine Library Adult Programming Coordinator Gayle Weyland appreciates the co-authors’ detailing of how biking can promote healthier lifestyles for both adults and youth.
“I loved living vicariously through the Bruntlett family’s new lifestyle in The Netherlands, with its emphasis on foot power for personal transportation.”
Having traveled overseas, Weyland envies pedestrianized zones with traffic-free streets, characterized by “commerce, community and connections,” per the Bruntletts, plus “calmness,” per Weyland.
“The authors opened my eyes to our emotional health with the constant noise of vehicle traffic. As an avid walker and casual bicyclist, I purposely search for routes away from busy streets,” Weyland said.
The Bruntletts challenged my own traffic assumptions. Street capacity is due to intersection design, not its width. Too many speeding motorists signifies poor roadway design. Roundabouts, allowing calm, continuous flow of all traffic, prove to be nearly three times safer than signalized crossings, per the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research.
Their practical insights, based on numerous studies in multiple countries, plus their own family’s experience, leaves me hopeful that “fietsgeluk,” bicycle happiness in Dutch, is attainable beyond Delft, wherever thoughtful urban street design prevails.
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