Who Should Read It:
Every person interested in getting into bicycling
Why Should We Read It:
It is hilariously written.
What Will We Learn:
It’s just a bicycle.
"The book to read when buying a bike becomes harder than buying a washing machine!"
For the past few months, I have been researching bicycles to buy for fitness. Surprisingly, inputting "bicycle" into Google Search or YouTube yields a dizzying amount of technical information from thousands of self-proclaimed "experts" with slightly different viewpoints. Should it be a road bike, mountain bike, hybrid bike, gravel bike, or something else? A 1x12 or 3x7 drive chain? Disc or hydraulic brakes? Carbon, aluminum, or steel? I actually had an easier time researching and buying my washing machine! Where is the manual for the newbie who just wants a bike?? It took me a while, but I finally found it at my local library- Bike Snob: Systemically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling, by Eben Weiss (more commonly known by his online moniker, “BikeSnobNYC”).
"Just get on any bike, and start pedaling. That's it!"
Mr Weiss’s thesis statement is rather simple: just get any bike, and start pedaling. That’s it! If we are starting out, then we don’t need to know what the heck a down tube and a front derailleur is. Trying to figure that out before getting a bike will only serve to keep us away from the joys of self-propulsion that much longer. Yes, one day, we might begin to have opinions on clipless versus flat pedals; that sort of perspective develops naturally if our enthusiasm for the bicycle grows. The fatal mistake comes when we begin to believe our technical knowledge has given us access to some mystical “bike culture”. Please. Cultures are things we use to identify ourselves (American culture, Buddhist culture, etc). Bikes, on the other hand, are objects. Their value is defined by how we use them. In a “bike culture”, our value is defined by what bike we have (also, we are weird).
The Urban Cyclist, steward of the "bike culture"
Mr. Weiss spares no effort in making fun of the various caricatures and stereotypes in this “bike culture”, but he reserves his most biting comments for the “urban cyclist”, aka the hipster:
Urban Cyclists endlessly seek 'authenticity,' and are often fond of 'vintage' bicycle frames. While their track bikes do not necessarily need to be vintage, they will only ride non-fixed-gear bicycles that are vintage. They will also make fun of other riders on brand-new, off-the-rack track bikes. However, since most Urban Cyclists are roughly half the age of their vintage bikes, they're clearly not the original owners. So really, this means they're actually less authentic and more contrived than the riders of off-the-rack bikes.
Entertaining sarcasm like the above blurb is Bike Snob's defining quality. By methodically stripping away all of the excess fluff that surrounds the mystique of the 21st century bicycle, Mr. Weiss also consistently provides, perhaps unintentionally, clear-eyed social commentary on our mainstream consumer society:
You might…think you're pretty clever [when in a crowded and noisy bar], but who is going to know that if you're not wearing the right sneakers? After all, it can sometimes take a whole hour to get a sense of someone's personality by talking to them, while it only takes a fraction of a second to glance at someone's feet.
A Mountain Bike without a Mountain
Bike Snob is truly essential reading for the complete newbie (such as myself) who just wants to ride a bicycle. Don't worry about the bike connoisseur we will inevitably offend, because it'll be a ridiculous statement anyways ("Bro, wrapping your handlebars is totally a crime!"). Armed with that reassurance, I settled on a mountain bike and went to my local bicycle shop. The sales associate strongly recommended that I consider a hybrid bicycle instead (more useful for my use case, he said). By that time, I was tired and just wanted the research to end. I insisted on my choice, and the transaction was made. And as it turns out, it appears that I am the only one in my neighborhood sporting a pure mountain bike (my wheels are dramatically larger than my neighbors' hybrid and road bikes). But who cares! All of us are enjoying the breeze in our face, and that's all that matters.