Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Misadventure? Yeah, I've done that

One of the drawbacks to spending so much time riding bikes—and blogging about riding bikes, not to mention having a job and family—is that I find myself wishing I had more time to read books. It used to be that I'd read a lot during winter, and then pretty much abandon all hope of completing anything longer than a magazine article during the summer. Then I got a Pugsley and even winter reading became a challenge.

Then there's the little issue of the fact that much of what I read is about bikes. I'm almost starting to feel guilty about my ever-narrowing focus.

I said almost.

Lately, in addition to the usual pile of bike rags and National Geographic magazines that are piled up beside my favorite chair, I've been reading Cycling's Greatest Misadventures, a collection of nonfiction essays edited by Erich Schweikher. Paul Diamond, the publisher at Casagrande Press sent me an advance copy a few weeks ago.

Although most of the stories in the book are written by authors I've never heard of—Schweikher selected the 27 stories out of submissions professional journalists, former pro racers and everyday schmoes like you and me—this is the kind of reading that fits easily with a busy ride schedule and/or a short attention span. That's the beauty of essay collections: you can read one or two at a sitting, then ignore the book for days or weeks before picking up where you left off.

There's good stuff in here, even though some it may leave mental images you could live without, such as former racer Austin King's tale of the Kleedkamer, or changing room, where European pros get naked and then hang ... er, stand around and chat while waiting to powder up and put on their racing kits.

King's story was amusing, but I was once a guest at a gym where all the old guys up in the executive locker room sat around naked on vinyl chairs while they read the Wall Street Journal, and I didn't need a reminder.

There's also a story on the Buffalo Soldier Bicycle Corps that should erase anyone's need to whine about hardships on their last multi-state tour. And if you ever entertained romantic notions about working as a guide on cross-continent bike tours, Heather Andersen's tale of difficult clients and dealing with fatal accidents on two back-to-back tours should make it a little easier to endure your day job.

The only thing weird about this book is the concept of compiling a collection of essays in which so many things go wrong. There's even a section of crash photos. Considering that the target audience is obviously cyclists, I guess they're appealing to our darker side. Sort of reminds me of those books about grizzly attacks. I guess those stories might be a real hoot if you live in Iowa. Living and riding in Alaska, I don't really need constant reminders of what very large bears might to do me.

Still, anyone who rides singletrack knows that mountain bikers tend to spend more time harassing our friends about their crashes than we do asking if they're OK, so maybe this is a brilliant marketing strategy.

Who knows? All I care about is having some good stuff to read ... if I ever turn off the laptop.