Bicycle Diaries: March 2013

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Outa' the Loop with Bikes and Books

I like to bike and I like to read … a lot on both counts. I really like to read about bikers who travel way beyond the city limits or who, more importantly, reach beyond their intellectual horizons. As long as it’s on a bike, I'm in. I'll read it; but there are seven books I can read over and over and over again. There’s Le Surmâle by Alfred Jerry, the French proto-Surrealist. Written in 1902 about a six-man bicycle racing a train, it hugs together his three obsessions: sex, alcohol, and cycling (Midnight Marauders anyone?) Like Jerry, Dervla Murphy carries a revolver while biking. Unlike our Parisian, she leaves her native land far behind in 1962. In Full Tilt: Ireland to India on a Bicycle, she describes the Balkans, the Middle East, and Central Asia during these regions’ worst winter in two decades (now that’s Bike Winter).

At least Dervla returned (four years later she wrote In Ethiopia with a Mule). Frank Lenz never did. The American accountant turned long-distance cyclist disappeared in eastern Turkey in 1894. David Herlinhy’s The Lost Cyclist reminds us how the now forgotten Lenz not only inspired later cyclists and motorcyclists to circumnavigate the globe. He was also an early champion of the safety bicycle. Perhaps it takes a woman or a good Jewish mother from Boston. One year later Annie Londonderry negotiates a lucrative contract to promote bottled water (!) and circles the globe (!!), as told by Peter Zheutlin in Around The World On Two Wheels (BTW, her revolver had pearl grips).

A bit more Downton Abbey is Three Men on a Bummel, the "Mother of All Tweed Rides". Jerome K. Jerome follows up his enormously successful Three Men in a Boat (… no shit) with this Grand Bicycle Tour through Germany’s Black Forest in 1900. Imagine Wooster & Jeeves meets Colonel Klink & Sergeant Schultz (again … no shit). A bit more Monty Python is Flann O'Brien’s The Third Policeman. Whether it's a ‘60s thriller or a tradition vs. modernity polemic this has got to be the only of literary work where the romantic lead is played by a “bicycle of unusual perfection”. Other bike books come and go for me but, like I said, these I can read again and again at home … or in bars. One place I’d like to do that one-day is in Portland, way beyond my suburban limits. And when I do, I can Hop in the Saddle with Lucy Burningham’s and Ellee Thalheimer’s guide to Portland's craft beer scene.

Flann O'Brien wrote People who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles … get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle. And so it's the same with bike books.  What are your favs? Why? Make this a robust resource with your comments below!