walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Pedal Power_, J. Harry Wray

Another non-kindle. The good news is, I'm reading in the tub more often again.

Subtitled: The Quiet Rise of the Bicycle in the American Public Life

The other book I just read was by a white male boomer who rediscovered cycling in a cycling friendly city (Portland) later in life and then used his job (journalism) to write about it. This book is by a white male boomer who didn't completely lose track of cycling, lives in a cycling friendly city (Chicago), and uses his job (teaching political science) to promote cycling and write a book about it. You might reasonable expect a certain amount of repetition from the subject matter. The nature of the authors definitely accentuates it.

I think Wray is probably using this book as a text in his class(es) now. It's certainly got that kind of tone and structure to it, right down to those irritating chapters that attempt to summarize a too-vast sweep of something-or-other so as to support some point the author is making in detail elsewhere. In this case, he's summarizing All of United States history to make a point about individualism and materialism. Let's just say I was a bit underwhelmed.

Wray firmly believes the car tends to destroy social life and a connection to the outdoors and the bicycle has the capacity to improve it. He also spends a fair amount of time on global warming. There is the inevitable trip to Amsterdam (and the ongoing inclination to ignore Vancouver, B.C.'s bicycle efforts, which I find just bizarre). Critial Mass and other confrontations between cyclists and others are covered, but without any explicit description of overt physical conflict. Mapes mentioned assaults resulting in serious damage; nothing particularly serious ever seems to happen to cyclists in Wray's book and I think that's intentional.

Wray's book also suffers from the "talking about" problem. He is explicitly talking about bicycles, politics and bicycle politics. Mapes was writing about people on bicycles and that included a ton of politics. I suppose if you did not have any kind of organizing framework for thinking about politics, Wray's book would be a way to get it. But if you're more interested in bicycle politics than an Intro to PoliSci, Wray's book includes a lot of extra words.

Wray's coverage of the Chicago bicycling scene is a lot better than Mapes, which you would expect of a Chicago author (Mapes coverage of Portland is far superior, ditto). Neither does any good with women or kids, beyond noting that it's a big problem that bicycle culture in the US is so male dominated, and that Safe Routes to School is a Grand Thing. Both books (like my husband) mischaracterize the kinds of bikes routinely seen in Amsterdam (IMO, obviously) and I think that might be because it is so hard to spot the modern 3 speed internal hub -- it's so skinny it looks like a one speed. R. is convinced that there really are a huge number of 1 speeds in A'dam. *shrug* I'd have to go back and start counting to answer that question, altho I suppose the Dutch might have some statistics. Industry stats over there are going to tell you the bikes they are selling have 3-7 speeds, but that doesn't answer the question of how many older bikes there are on the streets.

Should you read it? I'd go with Mapes, instead, honestly, even tho this book in some ways is more "positive", I think Mapes is a lot more compelling. It's nice that Wray covers Louisville, and a bummer that Wray is so heavy-handed about reiterating the left wing stereotypical cyclist. The combo at best cancels out. In much the same way the bike industry needed to be saved from itself by politicos like Oberstar, cyclists need to be saved from themselves by a Really Great Writer. Or even a so-so one who isn't so completely blinded by their white male boomer cohort membership.
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