Book Review: Bike Cult by
David Perry has accomplished something special with his new book, Bike Cult. He has created a portrait of the world of bicycling that is both comprehensive and intimate, whimsical yet farseeing. Bike Cult will fascinate everyone who identifies with bicycles and bicycling. With underlying theme of the universality of the bike, Bike Cult could even hook a mainstream audience.
This tour de force emerges from a dynamic and widely admired member of the New York cycling scene. David grew up in bike-friendly Palo Alto, raced bikes as a youth in the 1970, and after moving here in 1979, spent many years as Editor of City Cyclist. A dozen years in the making, Bike Cult, published by NYC-based Four Walls Eight Windows, is David's first solo book.
And what a book! Anything and everything having to do with bikes and cycling is here, in four logically conceived sections: the bike as machine ("Human-Powered Vehicles"), the rider ("Human Power"), cycling ("Bikeable Planet"), and bikes as objects of fascination ("Bike Culture"). At 570 pages, Bike Cult is a big, fun read. An oversized format allows for a rich assortment of graphics, and roughcast paper stock keeps Bike Cult approachable and affordable. Bike Cult gives a fresh and literate treatment to familiar topics like the cycling craze of the late 1800's, the development of bicycle componentry, cycling's health benefits (and common ailments), cycling's part in world transport and commerce, and contemporary bike advocacy. It covers especially well the rich variety of competitive and recreational cycling, from childhood exploration to professional road-racing.
But what really stand out are Bike Cult's tours off the beaten track. Alongside venerated figures like racer-inventor-manufacturer Tullio Campagnolo, we learn of unheralded personalities like Freddie Hoffman, who logs 950 miles a week from his home in New Jersey and is nearing his one millionth mile - on a 50-pound Schwinn. A brief account of the class struggle in 1885 England between sedate but road-hogging tricyclists and athletic high-wheelers calls to mind today's turf battles between cyclists and in-line skaters. The chapter on cycle sports, the book's longest, offers 17 gripping pages on the Tour de France, plus descriptions of high-stakes Japanese keirin track racing, land speed records, bygone 6-day bicycle races, and the present-day Race Across America (RAAM).
Bike Cult is encyclopedic, yet transcends the category of reference works. It's an immersion in bikes and biking, served up with affection and optimism. Read it and you will follow in the slipstream of Orville Wright and Henry Ford, Arthur Conan Doyle and Marcel Duchamp, LSD creator Albert Hoffman and the young FDR-cyclists all. Bike Cult connects to everyone-the billions of us-who rides on self-propelled wheels.