A mentor and colleague of Mr. Diarist recently sent Mr. D home with a marvelous book neither of us had ever seen.  It’s Biciclette, by Richard Balantine and Richard Grant.

No wonder we hadn’t seen it; it’s in Italian. But one doesn’t have to read Italian to enjoy every page.  This fantastic volume has it all — and what you don’t get from the text won’t prevent you from a wealth of interest in the photos (“fotografie originali de Philip Gatward”).

Exploded views of bikes? Check!

Correct form?  Check! (“Il motore umano” in Italian, translating to “the human engine”.)

This excellent tome was published in 1992, so things may have changed a bit since.  Do road racers still wear the tiniest of briefs in Europe these days?  (Did they ever?)  Three miles into a ride while wearing a Speedo would kill me, but perhaps these Euro-types are made of heartier stuff.

Bicycles of the future?  Check!  Although the future is here, so one can look up the models now, in 2013, and see which survived.  (Not this one, it seems.)

In biciletta con la famiglia? Check! (This is probably my favorite two-page spread in a book full of wonderful ones.)  That’s a three-seat tricycle in the lead (labelled “Ken Rogers”), linked to two inline trailers.  Impressive, no?

City cycling, mountain bikes, touring, road racing, maintenance, frames, wheels, accessories . . . you name it, it’s covered here, all exquisitely illustrated.

Don’t be put off by the 1992 publication date; I’m not.  I love these treasures from earlier times — a book like this provides a wealth of information about the state of the art in its own era, and is a terrific reminder of how things have changed, and, yes, sometimes, how they have remained the same.  This is time travel at its finest!

Those very English-sounding author and photographer names? That’s because this lavish work was originally published by Dorling Kindersley, purveyor of beautifully illustrated, informative books.  You can buy it as Bicycle, new or used, in English, and I heartily recommend the purchase in whatever language you find it.


The Lost Cyclist

One of my favorite bicycling books ever is The Lost Cyclist, by David Herlihy.  Maybe it is my  favorite cycling book:  Seldom is so much adventure, suspense, history, and culture crammed into such an attractive package.

The “lost cyclist” of the title is young Frank Lenz, a speed mad high-wheeler racer and photography buff from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who sets off, in 1892, to tour the world by bicycle. He never returns, but that fact, and his trip itself, are only a small portion of this tale.

In and around Lenz’s adventures, Herlihy discusses the early history of bicycles, chronicles the racing culture that built up around the famous high-wheel “Ordinaries”, and describes other early long-distance tours done on the most primitive of early bicycles, under the most primitive of conditions.  The wonder isn’t that one cyclist failed; it’s that so many didn’t.

Lenz was inspired, in part, by William Sachtleben and Thomas Allen, fellow Americans whose 1890-1893 world tour on the new Safety bicycle made them famous in an era suddenly gone bicycle-mad.  Several years later, it was Sachtleben who, in 1895, set off to determine what had happened to Lenz; that tale, also recounted in The Lost Cyclist, is as harrowing and as exciting as anything else in the book.

The book’s photographs alone — many taken by Lenz himself — are fascinating, as are the glimpses into the cultures encountered by these intrepid cyclists, the politics of financing such trips, and the means and ways of gaining access to territories with little in the way of organized government. Herlihy is an intelligent and lively writer, and  every page of this terrific book is well worth savoring.



I’m spending a lot of hours with my leg propped up these days, which, thanks to the impossible profile, isn’t very conducive to much in the way of ordinary activities.

I am normally a voracious reader, but typically do my reading only just before sleeping, so it’s been a a bit of a shift to implement that activity in the middle of the day.  In lieu of cycling, I’ve been effecting that change with a batch of bicycle-related books.

Cyclepedia is the sole album among my current crop of cycling books, and the title is also the name of a current exhibit at The Portland Art Museum in what is arguably the cycling capital of North America: Portland, Oregon.  The exhibition showcases approximately 40 cycles collected by Austrian designer Michael Embacher; the book itself showcases just over 100.

And what a collection it is, ranging chronologically  from the French Vialle Velastic (1925) with its fantastic carriage leaf spring seat post to the German Hase Pino Tour upright/recumbent tandem (2010) with everything imaginable in-between.

The book is not ordered chronologically, but eccentrically, which added enormously to my reading pleasure. Reading it is like strolling through a private collection, arranged to suit the collector, without any external restrictions imposed. The photos, by Bernhard Angerer,  are clear, stunning, and artful; and the text is just enough — neither wordy nor academic, but perfectly suited to a coffee table work whose primary joy lies in the graphic presentation.

I particularly appreciated the table supplied for each cycle, which allowed for quick and easy comparisons of weight, components, and so.  The volume has no traditional index; instead there is a mavelous visual index, with pages of photos of each cycle neatly laid out with page numbers noted.

There’s quite a lot here for any cycling enthusiast:  plenty of folders, early carbon models, some fascinating tandems, and a couple of exciting tricycles, too.  The majority of the collection seems to date from roughly 1965 forward, but there are three models from the 1920s, and  a number from the 40s and 50s, too.

The “Statistics” page offers a beautiful time-line, with weights (in kilos) and frame materials noted.

My only quibble?  Somehow everyone (beginning, presumably, with the author, and continuing on through the publisher) got Andrew Ritchie’s name wrong. It’s recorded as “Ritchley”, which is a pity, especially in such an otherwise well done work.

Books Gear Tips

Feed Zone Portables

While feeding our horde of special needs cats one evening — a laborious process — Mr. Diarist read about this book in one of the cycling magazines I’d left lying around.  The central conceit is that it’s easy to make, and consume, energy foods produced in your own kitchen, instead of the often artifically-enhanced stuff sold to athletes.

(As a side note, Feed Zone Portables is a beautifully produced book, with a lovely cloth-bound spine. It’s a pleasure to hold and read!)

We both occasionally partake of commercial bars when on the run, and I always have a couple in Basil’s saddle bag, but we like the idea of eating real food instead.  I got a hold of a copy of the book, and, one day when I was out running errands, Mr. Diarist whipped up three of Thomas’s and Lim’s recipes.

These are potato-leek fritattas, made with eggs, too.  The flavor is stupendous right from the oven; they are tasty, but not spectacular, when eaten cold.  At 40 kcal apiece, and with some structural integrity, they can be fairly easily scarfed all along a ride, providing a bit of protein and a few carbs along the way.

The chocolate-almond rice cakes have a delicious, unusual flavor, but, at least in this iteration, were a bit sticky to handle easily.  Coconut adds flavor and fiber, but sticks in my teeth, so this isn’t the best choice for me while far from dental floss.  Mr. Diarist thought he’d made them too moist with a bit too much honey; using less next time might make these small bars less gooey.

The almond-date rice cakes sounded dull to me, but I was wrong!  These are tasty and flavorful, and a bit less messy to handle than the chocolate treats above.  I found them quite filling, too.

The authors suggest wrapping the snacks in parchment-lined tin-foil, which makes for cute, festive, packets, but they are also quite bulky, and disinclined to stay closed without tape (which we didn’t have on hand immediately).  I’m not sure why the parchment lining is considered a good idea; I’d prefer simple, recyclable, aluminium foil.  I’m assuming that we’d never eat enough of these to be affected by the food coming in direct contact with the aluminium. (You can see, when reviewing the cover photo, that I don’t wrap nearly as neatly as the authors do.)

The snacks are meant to be stored in the fridge; we packed ours into an air-tight container first.  Next time, I’ll be wrapping these in waxed paper, and checking out how that works. I think it will be easier to manage, both in the wrapping and in the using. Ultimately, that’s probably kinder to the environment, too.

Nutrition data is included for all the recipes (a huge plus!).  Mr. Diarist wrote the names of these particular snacks, and their calorie counts, on the card slipped in front.  We’re both wary of falling into the “I exercised so much, now I can eat a whole pie” trap, so we keep at least a casual eye on how much we consume during, and post, exercise.

I take seriously the injunction to never try new fuel on a long ride, so, naturally, I sampled each of these nutrition-packed goodies at home first.  As promised (one author is a chef), they are quite tasty.  We’ll see how difficult it is to use them on actual rides; the gooey factor is one to consider, and also how well the nutrition stacks up to their commercial cousins.

I do miss my perfect cycling food, though: Human kibble.  Clif’s Shot Roks were little, 30-calorie bites that didn’t melt, and could be popped into one’s gullet every five miles without stopping the bike.  They’re gone now, though, replaced by messy gel cubes, most of which also have caffeine added, rendering them useless for the likes of me.  Mr. Diarist and I will continue to explore Feed Zone Portables; human kibble is quite practical, but something similar made from actual food would be even better . . . we’ll see what develops.

Books Miscellaneous

Light and Angst

Underneath the George Washington Bridge on Manhattan’s West Side is a small red lighthouse, which I first wrote about in this post.

This is the sort of charming eccentricity that warms a traveler’s heart.  When I mentioned it to The Manhattanites,  with whom I stay when visiting, they pointed out that a children’s book had immortalized this adorable structure, and had probably been instrumental in saving it from extinction.

Naturally, I tracked down the book.

It’s the tale of the existential angst felt by an outmoded technology shoved aside by newer, shinier things.  As such, a tale for our times.

Inadvertently, though, the work also chronicles other by-gone technologies.

As with the best of books, this one transports the reader to a different world entirely.

There still are tug boats on the Hudson River, of course, but they aren’t exactly like this one.

Because the book was written in 1942, there’s a lot about character:  pride, gratitude, the shame of comeuppance and, eventually, validation.

In a blurb on the back, the New York Herald Tribune is quoted as describing the book’s message as “Each to his own place, little brother”.  Whew — what a message for the ages.

(Just for the record, I think they got it wrong.  I think the real message is closer to “sometimes you can keep old, enchanting, things and have new, shiny, ones, too”.  What kind of a message is “each to his own place” here in the good old USA, where everyone believes “place” is utterly mutable?)

The book’s value now lies in the images capture of a by-gone time, which are as charming as the little lighthouse itself.

The images are also anthropomorphized, but far more subtly than is common today; the illustrator cleverly morphs, ever-so-slightly, the actual features of each object he draws.

Working in just three colors (red, blue, black, against the neutral background), the illustrator does a beautiful job of evoking mood.  The author covers the little lighthouse’s inner turmoil, but also describes the building of the mighty bridge, and throws in a little gratuitous drama, just to keep the story moving, and to resolve the central question of the book:  Can one small lighthouse find meaning in a world in which it is overshadowed, quite literally, by that which is newer and “better”?

You’ll have to read the book to find out:  The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift and Lynd Ward,  ISBN 0-15-204573-2.  This version is a “restored edition”, replicating the original, with notes about author, illustrator, and an overview of the history of the little red lighthouse, whose checkered history involves more than one flirtation with obsolescence.




A Fine Read

You know, this anticipating business is taxing.  Mr. Diarist came home from the library the other day with this book, though, and I’ve spent several happy hours reading it, and, hence, somewhat distracted from my present, Brompton-less, state.

The McConnons’ Road to Valor. is essentially a biography of Italian bicycle racer Gino Bartali, but interwoven through his story are all sorts of corollary histories:  the development of the Tour de France; fascism, bicycles and propaganda in Italy and in Germany; the social history of much of Italy during Bartali’s early years, and more.

Though I have no interest at all in competitive sport, I was hooked from the very first pages, and especially taken with the acknowledgment of what bicycles meant, particularly to the young in villages like the one from which Bartali came.  Two wheels, in the early 20th century, meant unheard-of mobility, and the potential for equally improbable freedom.

[Gino] and [his brother] Giulio rode on their bikes all over the countryside near Florence, with a band of their classmates like a herd of Tuscan horses that galloped in the grasslands nearby.  “I felt like one of those foals,” Gino said, “the young horses who ran with their manes in the wind without the slightest restraint.”

Bartali was an internationally famous bicycle racer and a Tour de France record-holder, but who among us — among those of us who love cycles — doesn’t have, at times, moments as glorious as those Bartali describes? But you  needn’t be a cyclist, a history buff, or a sports fan to enjoy this utterly fascinating read — anyone with a lively and curious mind will find it entertaining, and a fine way to while away the hours you might otherwise spend yearning for some treasure of your own, which has yet to arrive, should you find yourself in that particular situation.