“Pedaling Revolution”

I first met Joe outside a John Prine concert at Oaks Park.  I was standing in back next to my bike as he came over to talk bikes. The usual stuff, tires, seats, routes.  He told me he was a bike writer as well as a bike rider, and I soon came to realize I had read and admired many of his stories. I have met up with him many times since, and have a few of his books, as well as a signed copy of “Metal Cowboy”.  He is a writer with great sense of energy, humor and what it means to him to ride a bike. I am interested to hear his stories of their family bike ride across Canada. “Mud, Sweat and Gears: One Family’s Rowdy Adventure Across Canada on Seven Wheel”, that should be published this summer.
Today, he reviews another bicycling book.

Nonfiction review: “Pedaling Revolution”
Posted On OregonLive by Joe Kurmaskie, Special to The Oregonian March 13, 2009 13:46PM

Ten years ago, if an established reporter had devoted an entire book to the bicycle as political statement and tool for making cities more livable, publishers would have greeted it with folded arms and awkward silence.  What a difference an oil war, Wall Street excess, $4-a-gallon gas and a global recession make. But calling “Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities,” by Jeff Mapes, The Oregonian’s senior political reporter, a happy accident of timing shortchanges it.

To date, “Pedaling Revolution” is easily the best book-length examination of cycling culture and its connection to big-picture issues. It could do for bicycling what “Fast Food Nation” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” did to put food choices on people’s radar, and what “The Long Emergency” has done to educate people about peak oil.  n less-assured hands, “Pedaling Revolution” could have been a wreck, devolving into a passionate rant short on facts, or turned into a lifeless manual for wonks, devoid of personal stories that circle back to larger issues. Either would have lost Mapes’ intended audience: middle-class commuters living in an urban setting, unaware or misinformed about the nature and growing importance of this two-wheeled revolution.

Though Mapes lives, works and commutes by bicycle in America’s most cycling-friendly city, he doesn’t fall into the trap of making “Pedaling Revolution” all about Portland. While some sections feature local programs and innovations, alongside interviews with some of the city’s influential and colorful characters, Mapes also puts readers on the streets of San Francisco, sends them down Dutch cycletracks in Amsterdam, races into traffic and conflict around Manhattan, and pedals through Davis, Calif., a former cow town turned student-centered biketopia. It’s all in the service of showing how and why bicycles should be considered as a serious transportation option.

Mapes’ opening shot, which makes an impassioned and logical case for the bike, is followed by a brief, in places humorous, history of the bicycle. Readers learn how and why the bike has yo-yoed in popularity, its role in creating the roads that motor vehicles took over and expanded, and the opposing views of how much pavement or path the bicycle deserves today. The book tracks successful projects around the globe, perceptions and realities associated with bike safety, battles for the streets during the 2004 Republican National Convention, how the bike is winning over the health industry, and why getting kids back on bikes could be a game-changer.

Hardcore advocates will even learn a thing or two. Mapes points out, “If everyone cycled for an hour and reduced their driving by an equivalent distance, the U.S. would cut gas consumption by 38 percent.” The point being that greenhouse emissions would drop below the Kyoto Treaty protocol without doing anything else.  One of the strongest arguments Mapes offers for giving this revolution serious consideration is not environmental, moral, medical or even economical. Many of his interviewees find themselves riding for myriad reasons, but they keep doing it, or take it back up, for the joy of it. As one of Mapes’ fellow bike commuters tells skeptics, “It’s like being able to golf to work.”

Riding a bike feels enough like play that it gains its own recruits. That those same people have built their love into meaningful numbers on the streets, and into a political movement that’s transforming communities, that their simple lifestyle choices are one part of the solution to deep-rooted health, environmental and social challenges, is the anatomy of a lasting revolution.

Jeff Mapes, Oregon State University Press
$19.95 paperback, 288 pages

Video of a reading by Mapes: Here

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