Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Inflight Entertainment

Leaving for Austria again, I bought the new Bike Snob book to read on the plane in hopes of distracting myself from my terror of flying. I like the BikeSnobNYC blog, but what made me buy the book was Grant Petersen's review on Rivendell's website. I have to admit that I am a sucker for Grant Petersen's writing and find myself reading all sorts of things he wrote that I have no interest in, just for the narration. If he wrote a 2-page description of bathroom tiles, I'd probably read it. His enticing endorsement of the book put me over the edge.

And if this isn't proof of the existence of the Collective Unconscious, I don't know what is: No sooner did I stuff Bike Snob into my carry-on, then mention of me appeared on his blog. Scroll down to the bit about the Boston Globe story on sweat stains and fabrics with patterns. Right...

Bike Snob proved useful during my flight, as I was seated between two mothers with babies on their laps. The babies not only wailed for the duration of the flight, but now and again would reach out to pull my hair, poke my eye, or chew on my jacket. Noticing this, the mothers would smile at me generously - as if to say: "As a female of childbearing age, surely you must be delighted at the opportunity to interact with babies!" Trying not to start wailing myself, I took deep breaths and concentrated on Bike Snob.

If I had to use one word to describe the book it would be "heartwarming". It is gently humorous, and reading it feels like wrapping yourself in a warm and fuzzy sweater with cute little patterns of bicycles all over it. Though Bike Snob argues that there is no such thing as "bike culture," he contradicts himself by creating a sense of one - to the extent of even referring to cyclists as a distinct breed of people. He also contradicts himself by railing against the fetishisation of the cycling experience, only to go on and fetishise the heck out of it himself in later chapters. I am pretty certain that these contradictions are intentional, meant to illustrate his own hopeless love for bicycles and to demonstrate that he too is susceptible to the very things he mocks.

As for the contents, they are surprisingly straightforward. The chapters address such topics as bicycle history, bicycle ownership, bicycle maintenance, and road rules. There is also a part on "Velo-Taxonomy" where he categorises cyclists into various types and explains the differences in detail. According to his taxonomy, I would be a hybrid between the "Retrogrouch", the "Lone Wolf", and the "Beautiful Godzilla" (though the only thing in common I have with the latter is the type of bicycle I ride).

The Bike Snob book is generously illustrated, in a manner that evokes Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince. The design and layout make the pages almost seem edible. In a way, the presentation can be described as having a pre-packaged "cult status feel." Whether the book will actually attain cult status, only time will determine.

In other velo-news I can report from my travels, I saw these neat bicycles during my layover in Frankfurt Airport. These bikes have fenders, dynamo hub lighting, a the double-legged kickstand, a bell, a Basil front basket, a Pletscher rear rack, Schwalbe tires, and what appear to be license plates. From what I could tell, they are for the airport employees and not for flight passengers. Too bad, I would have liked to ride one around the airport!

21 comments:

  1. Tomato juice, or Bloody Mary? You should try next time to nudge a mini liquor bottle into one of the babies' hands. I think that will keep the moms at a distance. Or chill the babies out-- win-win!

    What's kind of freaking me out right now is that I had a dream a few weeks ago about being in a European airport where there were BLUE bicycles stationed all over the place for people to pick up and ride! Hmm, I will now try to dream about your return flight... I'll let you know if anything notable turns up.

    The book sounds great!

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  2. Tomato juice : )
    It helps with circulation during flight.

    Blue bicycle in the airport dream... spooky. It seems liek a movie should be made about it.

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  3. I saw the mention of you on his blog the other day ;) I couldn't help but giggle. Safe travels!

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  4. I was thinking this morning (before opening your blog) that my next blog post would be a photo of my bike book on the seat tray on my flight this afternoon, heh heh!

    I'm getting ready to read "Miles from Nowhere: A Round the World Bicycle Adventure"

    Unfortunately, I'm only going to Iowa and not Europe. Hope your trip is divine!

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  5. Referring to Grant Peterson's writings, I've read everything he's written in the Reader and every product description on the Rivendell site. He has such a folksy, common sense way of explaining the most complex ideas.

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  6. I bought the Bike Snob book last week. It's not as funny as his blog, though. I love Grant Peterson's writing as well, but sometimes when I'm reading his essays I remember that he has a background in marketing, and I wonder if its all a clever ploy to make me yearn for Rivendell products as much as I do.

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  7. I like the idea of Rivendell products (well, bikes, really) more now that we have a Sam here. Seeing how much Velouria enjoys hers makes me wonder if I am doing the right thing with my vintage road bike. I usually end up changing something about it and it feels better. My latest idea is that I need to grab a set of MKS Touring pedals. :)

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  8. MandG - See? Collective Unconscious! : )

    Anon - In a way I am sure it is, but I respect his business practices. Don't forget that the demand he is creating is not just for his product; it's for a specific *type* of product. In doing this, he is actually generating more business for custom frame makers, for component-makers such as Nitto, for Wald baskets, for canvas and tweed and wool manufacturers of all sorts, as well as for companies like Velo Orange. I can think of at least a dozen small businesses that would not exist right now if it weren't for Grant Petersen's writing.

    MDI - Yes, about time you get them pedals : )

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  9. To MamaVee: Sorry, I accidentally rejected your comment! Here is the link to the Globe article.

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  10. Thanks for the link to the Globe Article, I can never stay with the Bike Snob long enough to digest and then get to the gist of his humor. Blame it on my short attention span.

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  11. RidingPretty,

    It definitely takes a bit of time and effort to get into his writing!

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  12. I like the Bike Snob's blog, but I wasn't really wowed by the book, and I was surprised by Petersen's rave review. The Snob is best when he is riffing off headlines, and for me his humor for the most part did not translate to book form. It's kind of like Richard Pryor having to play Dr. Huxtable.

    As for Grant, his writing may make you want the stuff, of course. But I don't believe it to be separate from his personality in any real, calculated way. I think that sincerity comes through and is in good measure what people respond to. (Not that I would be in a position to actually know this, though I've spoken with him several times and exchanged correspondence.)

    I do believe, because of its nature, Lovely Bicycle will make a more appealing book! And judging from the photography, a coffee table variety.

    iron fish

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  13. Uh... I totally got something else instead of the MKS Touring pedals. :)

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  14. I am not going into any sort of detail about how I know this, but... You can make A HELL OF A LOT OF NOISE in an airport in the middle of the night by hitting the coasterbrake on a 26" Worksman Cycle utilitybike at 20 mph on the waxed tile floor. In 1980 you could get away with it if you were 15 years old, now I think the snipers would get you before you managed to come to a complete stop...

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  15. Not to gloss over your whole post, BUT, I took a picture of those very bicycles at the Frankfurt Airport 2 years ago on my way to Sweden! Great minds think alike...

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  16. Spindizzy - I am imagining snipers trying to get me as I perform daredevil cycling maneuvers through the airport... Surely there is a scene like this from an '80's movie?

    Sigrid - Interesting! I fly through Frankfurt once in a while, but didn't notice these before.

    I know that not everyone likes BSNYC's humour and that in addition some are saying the book is not as good as the blog. I think that the book is just different from the blog; it is not quite the same type of humour. Moreover, if you find some of the references on BSNYC over your head, the book is more accessible; and if you find BSNYC too mean and sarcastic, the book is much kinder (unless you are a tri-athlete). But I don't think this waters down or weakens it, just takes it in a different direction.

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  17. I flipped through and read a lot of the BSNYC book while visiting Trisha. A quick and easy read. I agree that it's different from the blog - more basic and good-natured, but still funny. The chapter about bike maintenance seemed like an odd addition, but I guess he felt that was necessary to round out the "guide" aspect of the book.

    Happy travels!

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  18. Wow, your review has convinced me that I need to check out a copy of the book. Thanks! S.

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  19. I loved the book!

    http://spaceridergal.blogspot.com/2010/06/meow-miau-senor-snob.html

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  20. Thanks Spacerider Gal, it didn't even occur to me to share the book with my cats!

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  21. In your absense, they've been reading the Bike Snob every day and are working on their own new blog: 4-pawed cycling.

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