Bike Books Worth Making the Trip

Inspired by the new Chris Cleave novel Gold, a list of bicycle-related books, from practical how-tos and touring guides, to literary fiction and first person memoirs.

British author Chris Cleave’s novel Little Bee was probably one of the most popular library books of 2009, besides being a bestseller and a huge hit with book clubs. The story in his new novel, Gold, centers around the turmoil bubbling between the lives of two rival Olympic cyclists. According to Publisher’s Weekly, Cleave “pulls out all the stops getting inside the hearts and minds of his engagingly complex characters.” If that weren’t enough adrenaline, PW goes on to note that “the race scenes have true visceral intensity, leaving the reader feeling as breathless as a cyclist.” Gold, likely to be another hit, provided the inspiration for this list of bike-themed books.

I am eager to read the new book by the Bay Area’s own Grant Petersen, owner of Rivendell Bicycle Works in Walnut Creek. Last month he published the opinionated myth-busting manifesto Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike. Petersen insists that above all, biking should be fun. His opinions and writing style are unconventional, forthright and humorous. This book has the potential to demystify bicycling for any would-be rider who has ever been turned off by pricey gear or spandex clad culture. Read a New York Times review of the book here.

Other great bike books from the last few years include iconic musician David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries, a chronicle of his experiences as a cyclist in New York City and around the world. To Byrne, the book is also an exploration of how cycling affords a liberating and unique way to view the urban environment.  In It’s All About the Bike, Robert Penn recounts his personal search for the perfect bike while tracing the history of cycling in a tale that will appeal to enthusiasts “as well as those with an interest in that curious point where technology and humanity come together” (Booklist). Todd Balf’s Major: A Black Athlete, a White Era, and the Fight to Be the World's Fastest Human Being is a biography of the African-American cycling legend Major Taylor and his inspirational life and career during the turn of the century. 

If this has you all geared up to ride, the library offers a number of guidebooks for biking around the Bay Area; you can find some here. However, if literary fiction is more your speed, I can suggest another current novel to turn you into an armchair cyclistA Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson. Two stories are intertwined here: In 1923, Eva and her sister have escaped a dreary life in England by means of a Silk Road missionary effort and a publishing contract to write a guide to bicycling in the Far East; their tale is paired with a modern day story in London. “Beautifully written in language too taut, piercing, and smartly observed to be called lyrical, this atmospheric first novel immediately engages… Highly recommended” (Library Journal).

Please mention your favorite bike-related books in the comments. I’d also love to hear your suggestions for other book lists you’d like to see. Happy reading!

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