15 June 2014

Book Review: Bike Snob Abroad by Eben Weiss (a.k.a. BikeSnobNYC)


It’s no secret that bike blogging is a self-referential, overlapping, slightly egotistical biosphere of its own, and for every blog worthy of any merit at all, there is another that predates it and probably inspired it in the first place. Literally hundreds of bike blogs make a run of three or four years, then quietly putter out and are abandoned on the side of the information autobahn known as the internet. Only a handful of bloggers ever really “make it”, and one of them is BikeSnobNYC, the New York-based, hyper-critical champion of bicycle riders everywhere. Although I’m not a flag-waving, card-carrying member of his fan base, I do enjoy in moderation his brand of humor and the personality he portrays on his blog (web etiquette dictates I link to it, although it’s probably not necessary). Moreover, I appreciate the dialed-back sincerity and possibly more true-to-form nature of his books, the last of which I just finished reading.

Bike Snob Abroad: Strange Customs, Incredible Fiets and the Quest for Cycling Paradise was on my radar for a while now, but impending travel overseas kept me putting it off until I actually got here to see for myself what the state of bicycling is in this magical place known as Europe. Now, having been on European soil for a couple weeks, I can safely say that bicycles here are all at once everywhere and unremarkable. Not in the sense that they aren’t the two-wheeled bringers of joy that they are elsewhere, its just that here, everyone knows that. Much like in Japan, lots of people ride recreationally, to commute to work, to the store, it’s just not that big a deal. In fact, I’m starting to think that “bike culture” in the U.S. could really just be the novelty of rediscovering alternate modes of transportation after being dominated by the automobile for many years. Once that new car smell is gone, what you have is what they’ve had here for a long time: a two-wheeled, human-powered vehicle. Convenient, faster than a horse, less expensive than a car.

This train of thought is touched upon in Bike Snob Abroad as Eben takes his family on a trip to the Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam, widely renowned as the bike capital of the world. His whole shtick (his words, I think)  as a bike-culture critic are rendered null in a country such as this where there’s no “Man” to stick it to in regards to cycling oppression. Bikes and cars co-exist without much fuss. Infrastructure is robust and abundant. I can kind of say the same for myself in regards to the superfluous nature of writing about bikes where they’re as common as toilets, with maybe the exception being I don’t really have a message, I’m just trying to chronicle the mildly interesting stuff I do on a bicycle. Regardless, this is only brought up once in the book, the rest of the time is just a good narration of what it’s like being an American wowed by another, arguably more sophisticated, culture.

So there you have it. Its not a very long book, but then again BikeSnob doesn’t have much to say outside of what I mentioned above, and simultaneous derision and admiration for New York City. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

-Bicyclist Abroad

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