Monday, March 21, 2011

Bike Snob review: He's not so snobby after all

Admittedly, I'm a late bloomer when it comes to Bike Snob.

The popular, NYC-centered cycling blogger remained off my radar until I came across a review of his book last year. The book, titled "Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling," came in response to his hugely successful blog that has been drawing readership in droves since 2007. Likewise, his book has also been a huge seller.

Unlike health & fitness-centered cycling blogs, the Bike Snob pokes and prods at the cultural aspects of cycling. He's critical of all types of bikes (matter of fact, I'm a little scared to think of what he'd say about my 2-wheeled transport, probably nothing good), rips on hipsters and basically holds nothing back when it comes to daily nuisances that annoy him. The result of which is a rant-filled blog that covers a rainbow of societal topics and makes more movie references than one would care to keep track of.

I don't know how it took me so long to discover this cycling-centric gem (I'm guessing it's because I live in Minnesota and because I do enough reading at work), but I've grown to enjoy the Bike Snob's blogosphere ramblings (check out his blog here). His cultural jabs can be rather biting, but for the most part, it's all good-natured ribbing.

However, a lot of his topics are difficult for me to relate to, as his blog is very urban-oriented and Mankato isn't exactly a sprawling metropolis. He can write about bike messengers all he wants, but I doubt I'm going to spot one cruising on Madison Avenue anytime soon.

By comparison, his book turned out to have a much more positive tone. Instead of poking fun at the foibles of others, he actually does a great deal of poking fun at himself, talking about his early cycling experiences with his BMX bike as a kid and his early career as a bike messenger.

His personal experiences help establish that, at the core of things, the Bike Snob is really a huge cycling enthusiast. He loves bikes and clearly feels strongly about them being one of the world's great inventions. As the Bike Snob puts it, a bike:

"can give you the feeling of freedom and speed you get from riding a motorcycle, the sense of well-being and peace you get from meditating, the health benefits you get from an afternoon in the gym, the sense of self-expression you get from learning to play guitar, and the feeling of victory you get from completing a marathon." (page 11)

In that regard, the book is considerably more accessible than the Snob's blog. Rather than worrying if his social commentary is going to hit close to home, you can sit back and enjoy the writing of a man who loves his bike.

For the novice cyclist, the book serves as an introductory guide for anybody looking to get into biking. There's a brief, wonderfully-lampooned history lesson on the bicycle, a section on the essential repairs all cyclist should be able to do themselves and a few safety tips everyone should adhere to (like looking around for stuff you don't want to run into).

That's not to say the book reads like a "Cycling for Dummies" guide. Instead, the Bike Snob's book seeks to take away some of the fear surrounding cycling by pointing out that bikes are user-friendly machines that everyone can use. You might use the wrong chain lube or fall off the bike a time or two (Lord knows I have), but those are learning experiences you can build off of.

For the experienced cyclist, the book is a reaffirmation of why we love cycling to begin with. It also serves as a wake-up call for people who take themselves too seriously on a bike.

Which brings me to the social commentary aspects of the book. Like his blog, the Bike Snob's book is full of em. However, he keeps his rants brief and the reading pace brisk. There's still a healthy dose of pop culture tidbits (he may have hit max capacity for "Forrest Gump" references and even referenced "Krippindorf's Tribe" at one point), but they never get convoluted to the point of bogging down the points he's trying to make.

Some of his points were pretty thought-provoking as well. I found myself spending the most time on his chapter breaking down all the different types of cyclists, mostly just because I wanted to see which category I fit into.

Like any other well-written, opinion-based work, I found myself disagreeing with the Snob from time to time. He claims cyclists never have the feeling of impotency a motorist has being stuck in traffic, whereas I can attest from my sunburn-filled trip to Blue Earth last summer that it's very possible to feel impotent on a bike. I also take exception with the Snob saying that there's no such thing as a "biking culture." If a cycling-centric event like RAGBRAI isn't a cultural experience, then I don't know what is.

But really, that's half the fun of reading his book if you're an avid cyclist: finding things to disagree on. The Bike Snob has built a name for himself in the blogosphere by expressing his opinion.

There's plenty of opinion in his book, but the joy in reading it doesn't come from his usual social commentary. It comes from his refreshingly-open profession about his love for cycling.

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