What a great book! At time of its release in 1995, "Bike Cult" was the first attempt at an encyclopaedia of cycling. This fat book (570 rather dense pages) covers the history of the bicycle its high-performance engine (that is, the human body), the bicycle as transportation and, lastly, the culture of the bicycle and the effect it has had on the human spirit.
There have been some changes in bicycle technology since 1995, and of course the tables of race winners is out of date, but "Bike Cult" remains a fascinating look into the origins and use of "the perfect machine." I enjoyed the lovingly described history, which not only went over the bicycle as a whole but devotes sections to individual parts of the bike, such as handlebars and seats, and the whole question of how a bicycle is steered. It is a mad compendium of information: there is a list of international names for bicycles and related items on page 99, and we learn that the Hawaiian word for bicycle is ka'a paikikala, while in Uruguay it is known as a chiba.
The benefits of cycling are described in detail but there is no attempt to shield us from descriptions of bicycle ailments discovered in the heyday of cycling in the 1890s. However, in these times of great concern about the rise of obesity in America and Europe it is clear that the bicycle offers a solution, particularly when we read that Tour de France riders burn 6,000-9,000 calories per day!
But where are we to ride, given the modern, car-centric world we live in? The section of the book entitled "Bikeable Planet" is beguiling. For a brief and glorious moment, bicycles were actually seen as the best transportation alternative for the West and in some countries they still are. Too often derided as a child's toy and treated by motorists as a menace, the bicycle can, with proper planning, be integrated into an urban transportation network. Low-cost in terms of acquisition, space requirements and maintenance, the bicycle in operation does not pollute, create noise or horrific traffic congestion. In the United States alone each year more than 40,000 people are killed in traffic accidents. Nonetheless, those who would propose bicycle-inclusive transportation systems are often derided as dreamers or utopian socialists or worse. This section of "Bike Cult" is provocative but perhaps only because our society has gone in an illogical direction.
Author David Perry, who operates a bicycle shop in New York City, then takes us on a tour of cycling as a sport, including not only the expected pro racing/Tour de France information, but also strange sports such as Indoor Cycling and Bicycle Polo. Then our long journey takes us into art and bicycles and fashion and bicycles and even sex and bicycles.
"Whoever invented the bicycle deserves the thanks of humanity," said Lord Charles Beresford. And we should thank David Perry for this enchanting and entertaining look at the bicycle in all its forms and seasons. This is the kind of book that gives pleasure every time one opens it, reading at random. Addictive!