Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bike Snob

Bike Snob Review

There is no perfect bicycle book, although Eben Weiss comes as close as anyone has in recent years. As has already been pointed out by others here, the `Bicycle Snob' book is a conveniently portable condensation of material, observations, et al, from his bicycling blog, with sharp corners rounded off and language neatly smoothed out to fit uncontested on any pedalist's book shelf.

What Weiss has done here is produce a book that, while very amusing, articulately arch and volubly informative, would be best regarded as a beginner's 'Audubon Field Guide to Urban Two-Wheelers', for he would seem to have prepared a (near) perfect introduction to bicycling for those who are not quite fully fledged members of the sub-species he describes so cleverly (blame this on his editor or publisher, perhaps.

Clearly, Weiss found himself faced with the challenge of mixing lots of disparate author objectives into the writing bowl in order to reach the widest possible audience. It appears a compromise of sorts was reached with his editor/publisher in that the book definitely has a strong element of `Bicycling for Dummies' in it. Including basic bicycle maintenance advice (and a condensed `how-to' guide) is great for absolutely hopeless or totally unknowledgeable would-be cyclists (and for providing encouragement to and moral support for those who have always eyed cyclists and their steeds rather warily), but it wasn't quite the sort of uniformly high-level Oscar Wilde type rumination on cycling that I was expecting from someone who is used to being a bit, shall we say, unconstrainedly candid?

Much of what I found in this book version of Weiss' take on the two-wheeled universe was quite fulfilling, since I find that although I tend to wear wool sox with my Keen sandals, I mostly fit the same `Retro-grouch meets the Lone Wolf, versus the Curmudgeon' pattern that he styles himself after. I suspect that age has much to do with this, since it is a known human awareness dynamic that age & experience tend to catalyse a strong sense of cynicistic crankiness in individuals who have been observing the foibles of humanity for more than half a century. Weiss proves himself a sharp and astute observer of his fellow cyclists, certainly, and although I'd personally add a category or two more to his `various subsets of cyclists', they are for the most part quite accurate to a most entertaining degree.

I am reminded of a few encounters of my own with some of these types of cyclist he describes, one of the most memorable being the ultra-roadie I met one afternoon after returning home (on my bicycle) from work. This chap (a supremely fit 30s-something) was dressed from head to toe in brightly colored roadie Lycra and had shaven his arms, legs, head (and probably anything else he could take a razor to) in the approved manner of a `serious' road racer. His bike was at least a ten thousand dollar machine, based on what I could discern from checking it quickly over, and he had experienced a flat just a short way from my home on a major urban artery. He didn't appear to have an adequate pump with him, although he did have a spare tube.

Passing by him on my old 1971 Peugeot PX-10 commute bike, I felt an immediate pang of comraderly sympathy for his plight, vividly recalling numerous similar circumstances I had had in the past, stranded out in the middle of nowhere on a hot day and eyeing my small Crank Brothers pump with some perplexity. Therefore, upon reaching home I grabbed my heavy-duty floor model bike pump from the garage and cycled the short distance back to him, offering to let him use it to speed up the job (and lessen the work).

Before I really knew what was happening, he commanded me to take the pump and blow up his tire while he critically supervised the whole process with a stern gaze. Taken aback by this unexpected brazenness, but also admittedly highly bemused by his moxie/mojo titre, I dutifully pumped his tire up for him. No sooner was it full and the Presta fitting disconnected than he got back on the bicycle and pumped off, putting on a blazing display of accelerating biceps and quads that rapidly disappeared in the distant heat-haze. Standing there with the pump in my hand and receiving not so much as a nod of thanks from this supremely self-assured fellow, I marveled open-mouthed at the arrogantly assumptive nature of self-important people like this. To me, that was the supreme `archetypal roadie experience' and it's probably why I will never be one myself (yuk). So much for the `brother cyclist' empathy urge!

At any rate, Weiss has delightfully nailed the main groups of cycle subsets to the cross of his overall witty riposte and also managed to cover a few other areas of concern I share. One of these is his critical analysis (doubtless toned down considerably in the book) of cycling sub-cultures (especially the `style cyclist'). In his macroanalysis of cycling style, Weiss makes very relevant reference to basic principles of human sociology and in this context, while he places himself squarely in a deserved niche as a skillful and astute raconteur, he is still able to inform and educate the reflectively challenged. Weiss references the same patterns involved in any cyclist's attempt to stand out from the crowd on two wheels that are found in Chapter One of the human mating manual (e.g. the most brightly feathered, most verbally conspicuous male gets the fecund female). After all, for most ordinary people life is all about setting one's self apart from and above the herd, isn't it? The methods used by urban cycle stylists to do that with a bicycle are most fascinating and worthy of a whole field study guide in and of themselves.

In furtherance of this association, Weiss seizes upon the `fixie' phenomenon and makes rather incisive statements about the foolish affectation `fixie cyclists' have for that particular fad's code of conduct and sense of style (and make no mistake, folks, the fixie thing IS all about perceived style and élan). Safety is an entirely separate matter (by fixie reckoning) and has never had anything to with style and élan in the fixie world. Of course no matter how super-cool a hipster thinks he is, there's nothing very wise at all about riding around in a highly congested urban environment without accessory brakes on one's bike, unless one is simply subconsciously compelled to end up as an organ donor.

Although there are a few inconsistencies in this book, such as his `narchy admonishment (in `Rules vs. Fashion') that despite there being NO absolute rules one must heed, there ARE certain things one ought to observe (like align one's tube stem with the tire data), Weiss never loses sight of the fact that style...all an affectation that one either accepts or rejects to suit the whim and I find myself in agreement with him most of the time. I do maintain some disagreement with him in the matter of wearing a helmet, however, since my background in medicine has given me insights into the need to protect one's noggin against massive head trauma that he clearly does not have, and whether one rides against the proper directional flow in bicycle lanes or not, having a skid-lid wrapped around one's brain is still a very, very good idea.

As I said, in writing a book suitable for everyone, Weiss has apparently had to mollify his publishers who are clearly concerned about not unnecessarily alienating certain types of would-be cyclist reader/buyers. You therefore can't expect him to turn the full `retro-grouch' heat up on many of his more entrenched opinions and I respect that. One thing that he makes clear is the fact that to a great extent, bicycling IS all about the bike in a certain larger sense (sorry, Lance!), although the most important thing is still to simply get on a bike and ride it...any bike, anywhere, any time. The riding's the thing, not the affected style adopted. The highly affected (or is it `afflicted'?) humming beans among us shouldn't be allowed to have it any other way!

This is a great book for someone who is interested in learning a bit about the bicycle culture before plunging into it for the first time. It's also a great book for the Compleat Bicycle Fanatic who must have a copy of every bicycling book ever written on his reference shelf. It's additionally a worthy read for anyone interested in the sociological affectations (or mating rituals) of the human race and for those who haven't been previously amused and entertained by the somewhat more acerbic commentary found in Bike Snob's blog. Overall, it is a very entertaining read in many places throughout its pages.

One final aspect of this book stands out in my mind. Weiss is clearly a product of the New York City mindset, a nuance that is reflected in both his references and context. It probably fits the NYC scene perfectly, where `style cycling' has reached a new high water mark. For a bit more casual west coasties like myself, it loses a bit of its ionic charge in the venue relocation. Still, it is a worthy read and most enjoyable as a complete piece.

It makes me wish I have more faithfully been following his pithier blog observations in their archetypal, buck-nekked fleshly identity. I've no doubt it would probably be delightful to share some Leninaid (SIC) with Weiss and trade bicycle stories with him, based on what I have read in 'The Bike Snob (book)'. My only remaining question: When's the movie going to be released?

Bike Snob Overview

Cycling is explodingGÇöin a good way. Urbanites everywhere, from ironic hipsters to earth-conscious commuters, are taking to the bike like aquatic mammals to water. BikeSnobNYCGÇöcycling's most prolific, well-known, hilarious, and anonymous bloggerGÇöbrings a fresh and humorous perspective to the most important vehicle to hit personal transportation since the horse. Bike Snob treats readers to a laugh-out-loud rant and rave about the world of bikes and their riders, and offers a unique look at the ins and outs of cycling, from its history and hallmarks to its wide range of bizarre practitioners. Throughout, the author lampoons the missteps, pretensions, and absurdities of bike culture while maintaining a contagious enthusiasm for cycling itself. Bike Snob is an essential volume for anyone who knows, is, or wants to become a cyclist.

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*** Product Information and Prices Stored: Oct 03, 2010 19:30:04

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