Because I'm better than most (if not all) of you, my copy of the book came with a super-special Bike Snob patch kit. Because I'm lazier than most (if not all) if you, I took these pictures with my phone instead of a proper camera.
Writing a review of Bike Snob's newly released book may seem like a largely unnecessary affair. After all, I suspect most (if not all of you) are familiar with his work, and perhaps have already decided if you will be buying the book or not. Still, as the 49th most influential cycling blogger on the internet, I thought I would be neglecting my duties as a tastemaker if I didn't share my views regarding his book with you. Thus I am here to tell you that I have read the aforementioned tome, and am thus prepared to share my insights with you.
In order to prove both my importance and my humble nature to you, I will now tell you about the two copies of this book which I own. The first copy is one that I willingly bought due to the significant amount of free entertainment that Mr Bike Snob has given me. For this reason, I thought I should contribute to his sales figures. The fact that I bought a copy of the book should tell you how humble and great of a guy I am. The second copy of the book, and how I got it, will show you how important I am. Why? Because it's a review copy that I received from Chronicle Books, and it came with a super-exclusive patch kit. The publisher only sent these sweet, limited edition copies of the book to the top 49 most influential blogs...so I barely made the cut. I have to admit that having two copies of the same book made me feel rather decadent. It's for this reason that I opted to read both copies at once, alternating between pages as I went along. Fret not, however, as I plan on giving away one of the two copies. If you win, I'll even sign the book for you. I know I didn't write the book, and thus shouldn't ruin a copy by scribbling all over it...but I'm a trailblazer, and I seldom follow society's norms...like that stupid one about how you have to wear pants in public. Nonsense. I'm free...as free as that one girl from the Tom Petty Freefallin' video, who just goes back and forth on the skate ramp because she's so damn free. Remember her? That's exactly what I'm like in person, should you ever be lucky enough to meet me, except that instead of going back and forth aimlessly on a skate ramp (while wearing a bikini top and dayglow shorts to symbolize my freedom), I choose to traverse the city I live in sans-pantaloons, while randomly autographing books I have not written (mostly at book stores and public libraries).
But enough about bikini tops and my lack of pants. Let's talk about Bike Snob's opus. When I first set eyes on this book, I could see that it was of the printed variety, and that it featured both words and photographs as well as illustrations. While reviews by other amateur writers would simply stop there, mine does not. You see, I actually read the book, so let me tell you about it.
Last year, as the Tour de France was happening somewhere in Europe (France I believe), I had the opportunity to meet Bike Snob, who was then still living in hiding. On that fateful day, I felt much like Bob Woodward probably did as he met with Deep Throat for the first time in a dark parking garage in Washington DC. I don't say that because of the secrecy of the meeting, but because I was hungry...much like Bob Woodward probably was during those late-night meetings. As I understand it, Woodward's appetite is renowned, and is only matched by his similarity to TV pitchman Ron Popeil.
If you live outside the US, and/or you don't know how Bob Woodward or Ron Popeil are, don't worry, I'll tell you. Bob Woodward is a journalist with a thing for pornography, and Ron Popeil invented the idea of spraypainting your head.
Anyway, let's get back to the day when I met Bike Snob. On that sunny afternoon, he was kind enough to show me around New York, and even buy me a meal as we spent a full afternoon together (insert stock footage of us walking calmly down the beach as harp music plays). Our ride in Manhattan that day was thoroughly entertaining, as he gave me a tour of majestic sights I had never encountered in New York City before, like the Ritz, where the band D.R.I. recorded their amazing home video back in 1986. He was a great guide, and managed not to laugh once he saw my adult braces, which makes him a great human being in my eyes. If you care to read more about that day, you can read my full report here. As I've mentioned before, I don't really know too many people who ride bikes, so it was not until months later that I mentioned in passing to a friend that I had met Bike Snob while I was in New York. My friend's instant response was, "Did he make fun of your bike?" While it hadn't occurred to me that my bike deserved to be made fun of, it was suddenly clear that this person thought it was. I could also see that this is how most people imagined Bike Snob to be as a person. He's perhaps seen as a caustic character who would meet you, and proceed to mock you to your face about your belongings and choices in life. Clearly this was not the case, but conveying that idea to my friend was difficult. In his mind, I had been made to stand in a New York City sidewalk, while a grown man used a laser pointer to show my many faults for the comedic benefit of those who were walking by. Luckily for me, that's not what happened that day in the streets of New York. Luckily for all of us, that's not how Mr. Weiss comes across in his book either.
Bikes are simple
Bike Snob loves to ride, he loves bikes and clearly feels strongly about the benefits of cycling. When you think about it, this should come as no surprise to anyone who reads his blog, but I must admit that I was pleasantly taken aback by the positive and upbeat tone of the book. By comparison, his blog seems to be more of an insider's forum, one where he can more openly comment on cycling and its many mishaps to an audience that hopefully already understands the benefits and advantages of riding a bike. The book, on the other hand, is more welcoming and partially targeted to those who are new to the idea of riding a bike as an adult. This is not to say that the book reads like a Cycling For Dummies book, not at all, but it does successfully demystify cycling in a wonderfully creative way. In doing so, Bike Snob reminds us about the simplicity of the bike, which is perhaps one of the very characteristics that first attracted us to the idea of riding one. Additionally, he touches on basic repair tips and bike maintenance, but always in the spirit of reminding us that bikes are not objects to fear, but rather to enjoy. As such, even simple repairs are explained in a lighthearted way that will keep the experienced cyclist entertained, while showing the relative newcomer that bikes are user-friendly machines that everyone can (and should) use. This is surprisingly different from the tone of most publications about bikes, which only try to scare you into believing that your bike may catch on fire if you use the wrong lubricant for your chain. This may seem like a small feat, but Bike Snob should be applauded for finally breaking the omerta that exists within cyclists, the one that doesn't allow us to finally admit that most bikes are very simple, and that riding a bike is something everyone can do.
A more complete Bike Snob
The end result of his positive tone throughout the book is that we get a fuller picture of Mr Weiss as a proponent of cycling, rather than simply as an observer or critic. The man is downright giddy about riding a bike, and aims to share that happiness with others. It's for this reason that the spirit of the book makes Bike Snob seem almost vulnerable, instead of making him out to be a critical figure who is beyond reproach. It's this aspect of the book that I found to be the most pleasant and successful. He's tremendously encouraging to those who are new to cycling, while at the same time being openly accusatory of those who ride a bike and take themselves far too seriously. When he takes this route, he does so in order to further demystify cycling in an attempt to get to the simple root of the activity: riding a bike. Approaching the book in this manner was a particularly smart choice on his part, since a 219 page diatribe about the stupidity of breakless fixed gear bikes may have been funny to some, but would have gotten old by the first chapter for most of us. So if you're looking for his usual take on the stupidity of some cyclists, it's in there too. Luckily, so are other subjects and points of view which round out the book nicely, giving it more depth that it would have had if it was merely a collection of posts from his blog.
Another aspect of the book that I found to be pleasantly charming are Bike Snob's stories about his own learning experiences relating to cycling. Throughout the book, he shares enough self-deprecating stories and details with us that we get a better picture of the man behind the blog. The short stories regarding his childhood are amusing, and reminded me (perhaps because of the shared Far Rockaway roots) with Woody Allen's movie Radio Days. Speaking of movies, the book features more references to movies than any other book every published in the history of humanity. Don't worry, these are not obscure references about Kenneth Anger or Jonas Mekas. Instead, there is a healthy dose of film mentions ranging from Police Academy to the greatest Jenna Elfman vehicle of all time, Krippendor'f Tribe. Through these and other artful references, Bike Snob reminds about a few simple facts that we often forget. Cycling is simple, it's fun, and we should be enjoying it. You could argue that these facts are commons sense, but if that's the case, why do so many people look so miserable when they ride their bikes? Could it be that some have invested moniteraly on their bike, rather than having investing emotionally on the activity of riding? As he puts it:
"If you invest yourself in an object, you will always lose that investment. Instead, invest your emotion and resources in riding and in enjoying those rides. Those feelings cannot be taken. They can't rust, they can't be stolen, and they're highly dent-resistant."
In closing, I give this book two thumbs up, or five stars or whatever the highest ranking is in the system that I will one day develop to rate things. The book is decidedly upbeat, well written and features free stickers. For that reason alone (the stickers), I officially crown this book as the "great American novel". At least until a new book with Fabio on the cover hits the shelves, especially if that book also comes with free stickers.
If any of you speak Spanish, I urge you to watch to the Colombian feeds of the Giro which are available on Steephill. You will not be let down. The commentators (including two-time Giro mountain classification winner Chepe Gonzalez) are absolutely insane, they say hilarious things, and they manage to keep things wildly entertaining, even when the stages are flat and otherwise slow. It's as though they get paid by the word, and often speak at a rate that would give Sean Kelly a headache. Oh, and if a Colombian rider is at the front, or in a breakaway... watch out, because the commentators are bound to go insane and have an aneurysm due to their excitement. Last Friday, as Cayetano Sarmiento joined a chase group, the reaction from the commentators was far more extreme than if it had been a decisive sprint to the finish. They were yelling, and going crazy. "Attention Colombia, attention all Colombian citizens! This is a news bulletin! Cayetano Sarmiento joins the chase group. Right now, he's riding for you Colombia! He's dancing the merecumbe, cumbia and mapale just for you! Watch him move, watch him dance!. He's flying our beautiful flag in Italy as he teaches the Europeans how to dance and how to ride. He does this for us. We must think about victory, and about the goal of having peace in our beautiful nation." When asking for a time gap, the primary commentator angrily says "Give me the gap between the leaders and the chase group with Cayetano, not to the peloton. Don't you dare give me the gap to the peloton. I don't care about the peloton, all I care about, and all our audience cares about is our beloved Colombian!" For better or worse, the commentators are also rather uncouth and make comments that would get Liggett fired in a second. For example, they often reference the fact that Katusha riders are probably drunk due to the Russian vodka that is in their bottles. They make up songs for different riders, and endlessly look for funny words that rhyme with certain last names, and then sing about them. I don't know about you, but when commentators start talking about dance lessons, drunkenness, a quest for peace in Colombia, and then start sending out news bulletins...I'm hooked. Speaking of the Giro, am I alone in my firm belief that Garzelli is having his soigneur pluck his eyebrows?
Pan American Track Championships
Did you know that some people actually ride track bikes in velodromes? If you live in a major metropolitan area, you may find this hard to believe, but it's true. Colombian riders won a total of 17 medals at the Pan American Track Championships, and none of them had spoke cards on their wheels. You can see the results here.
As I've mentioned before, my brother does a great cycling podcast. A few days ago, he called me and recorded the conversation for the podcast. During that conversation (which we had in English for the benefits of his listeners) we talked about the Giro and the Tour Of California. I did my best to try to seem knowledgeable about the subject of professional cycling, and tried to take the whole thing seriously. My credibility quickly crumbled, however, when I had trouble remembering if the Tour Of California is a one or two week race. Oops. There goes my career as a semi-serious sports commentator. You can check out my brother's podcast here. Also check out his sweet t-shirts here.