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I grew up in Berkeley, CA, where riding a bike meant you loved Critical Mass and describing your moral superiority to people who drove cars, often while in the backseat of my Camry as I drove you home from a show in the city. Since at that time I was already vegan and didnt watch TV, I worried about turning into a caricature of myself, and I always steered clear of the bicycle thing.Later on I lived in Portland, OR, where riding a bike meant you loved racing drunkenly down hills in the pouring rain, and that you either worked as a bike messenger, looked like a bike messenger, or had inebriated sexual encounters with a bike messenger or someone who looked like one. There were a number of sartorial, philosophical, and lifestyle demands associated with all of this, and as I was already drinking my weight in Pabst Blue Ribbon and covering my skin with idiotic tattoos Id regret for the rest of my life, I didnt want to become a caricature of myself and steered clear of the bike thing.By the time I moved to New York, Id reached that age at which one no longer cares much about becoming a walking (or riding) cliche, which is about the same time in life that mortality becomes real. At this point I steered clear of the whole bike thing mainly because I didnt want to die. The thought of riding a bike here, with the way people drive, filled me with terror.What prompted me then, after seven years in this city, to buy my friends rusty road bike and start riding to work? I wish I could say it was this book, because that would make a much better review, but really it was that my morning commute was making me want to kill myself. Id arrive at work exhausted and enraged, having been anally violated on the seven train by obese sociopaths doused in cologne and screeching into their cellphones. When I got to the office Id have already spent forty minutes crushed up against the hideous and appallingly inconsiderate face of humanity, and Id be so brutalized by the experience that Id want to go back home and cry at the start of my workday.Another thing I think helped was the fixed-gear bicycle craze. Now, as of this writing Ive never ridden one, and I have zero insight into their appeal (from where I sit the fixie seems like the botox of bicycles, in that sure one looks young/stylish but one cannot enjoy the most important function of ones face/bike, i.e., expressing emotion/effortlessly coasting down hills, the difference being that I can still make facial expressions if some smooth-browed person is in front of me on the bridge. But I digress. Im sure theyre really awesome or EVERYONE wouldnt be riding them.). However, everyone else riding them has been great for me, since being the only cyclist on the Williamsburg Bridge who has actual brakes and a helmet makes me feel my odds in the Bicycle Lottery of Death have gone down to nil. Obviously a certain number of cyclists are going to die in New York every five minutes, and Im so much more secure knowing that everyone but mes asking for it.The other great thing about fixies is that as the only person under thirty-five in this town with a derailleur, Im free from any fear of caricaturing myself, since Im obviously already a caricature of someone elses nerdy dad. The burden of cool always made riding a bike seem so fraught, and now I can swerve around all that and just enjoy the ride, while shaking my fist at fixie-riders and shouting, You damn hipster kids keep off the lawn!And this is essentially the Bike Snobs message: that you shouldnt let everyone else and their scenester knowledge, tastes, or frippery get between you and the awesomeness of the bike. Instead, you should mock everyone who cares about things that dont personally interest you, then race around town with the wind in your hair.If taking the packed rush-hour train to work was usually the worst part of my day, riding a bike is now often the best. I knew that riding a bike through insane Manhattan traffic would be scary, but what I didnt know is that it would also feel the way Id always vainly hoped that dangerous drugs would. When I get to work now, Im in a great mood! It takes about the same amount of time to get there, but the experience is almost opposite. Of course, the self-absorbed idiot sociopaths on cellphones who once crowded me on the subway are now armed with two-ton deadly weapons and doing shit like turning left on red (FYI youre not even allowed to turn right on red here! Definitely not left!). But snarling Move your fat pokey ass at an SUV is a lot less antisocial than muttering it about a schlubby mother of six on the platform at Grand Central. Riding a bike allows me to harness the impatience, aggression, and competitiveness that always made my subway commute so hellish for me (and the poor slow bastards around me). Its sort of like how Mike Tysons boyhood trainer helped him channel his violent impulses into a prosocial sport. And look how well that turned out, right? A winning strategy!So yeah (mom), its true that Im more likely to get killed riding my bike than to get blown up by terrorists on the train, but both things could happen, and the first ones vastly preferable. In terms of safety, at this point I think Id rather die on my feet (or my seat) than live on my knees (clutching a germy pole, underground). The Snob nails the real allure of the cycling commute when he describes the maddening impotence of being on a stopped train. Riding public transit puts you at the mercy of some very cruel gods, and for a person with control issues, a bikes the only escape. I can ride as fast as I want, I dont get stopped long in traffic or unnecessarily at lights the way I would in a car, and parkings usually pretty easy. Im still intimidated by bike shops and concerned that I dont know shit about how to fix it when things start to go wrong, but a bike -- even my crazy old-persons bike, with its archaic gears and brakes -- is pretty simple compared with a car, and its not subject to fare hikes like the one the MTA just did from $89 to an incredible $104 a month. With that increase, Im going to ride my bike to work (at least until winter: I cannot abide winter, and no bike adrenaline will change that) and ask them to pay for all the schlepping on the subway I have to do during the day. Or, Ill keep doing what Ive tried a few times: visiting my clients at home on my bike! Now that bike messengers are becoming obsolete, maybe social-workers-on-wheels can rush in to fill the void. I cant wait to see what kind of hardcore tattoos and fashion trends well dream up....Okay, you are saying (if youre still there, which would be pretty amazing): enough about YOU. What did YOU think of this book?Heres the deal: I have never been able to get into a blog. I used to believe this was due to the name blog, which is probably the least appealing word someone ever invented on purpose, but now I think it might be connected to my childhood lack of exposure to television shows. Something about the episodic format and the need for commitment....? I dont know, but Ive never been able to get into them, even my friends blogs that I in theory like. But my sister pointed me to http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/ a few weeks ago when I got into this whole bike thing, and now Im helplessly obsessed and addicted. I look at it every day in our morning staff meeting, and tune out all the depressing talk about whos in jail or the hospital while giggling to myself. I highly, highly recommend this guys blog to anyone who has even a casual relationship with bicycles, and all the more so to people whore really into them but somehow havent come across it yet. Hes a great writer and its appeal transcends bikiness: the Snobs one of those astute, blessed guides we need so desperately during these troubled times, while tiresome, self-congratulatory smugness threatens to overtake vast swaths of our country (or at least the few swaths Ive condescended to inhabit). I love this guys blog so much that I actually went into a bookstore and asked the clerk where I could find a book that was based on a blog. Yes, that happened. I did that. Its probably on YouTube. If I had a blog (and not just a book report website, which is sort of like a blog but with gears), Id be over there blogging about it right now.So no, short answer: the book is not nearly as great as the blog, which is no insult to the book since the blog is amazing. Im giving it an extra star since Im averaging in the blogs glory a bit, and also because I hope people buy the Bike Snobs book since he seems like a lovely guy and has a child to feed. Part of the reason the book isnt as good is that he tones down his edge too much and it gets a bit too nicey-nice. The joke with the Snob is that he isnt a snob, hes really quite sweet, but the book takes that way too far. On his blog hes really pissing on the dreams of earnest hipsters and self-satisfied tools, while here he mostly pokes gentle fun and focuses on encouraging fraidy cats like me to get over themselves and start riding bikes. He also is clearly straining to appeal to a broader audience beyond New York without sounding annoying, which is understandable but kind of slows things down and sacrifices a lot of the blogs appeal.This is basically a hand-holding book for new cyclists, which was perfect for me, and I totally recommend this for anyone whod like to ride a bike but feels apprehensive or intimidated. Its very handsome and nicely designed and illustrated and would make a thoughtful gift! Most of the chapters I enjoyed a lot, though the historical one with his effort to reenact an 1895 Queens bike ride for some reason fell flat for me and was so dull I had trouble getting through it. But a lot of his advice and insights are enormously helpful, and he does succeed in making bikes seem accessible and appealing. One thing this book couldve used was a first-aid section: when I royally ate shit the other day falling into a pothole, I was at a complete loss about what to do: Bactine? Bandages? Should I kiss it? How best to get Greenpoint Avenue out of my knee? I havent had scrapes like this since I was a child and someone else did this stuff for me, and Ive probably never had so many of them, on all sides of my body. Maybe I am just way too big of a moron to ride a bicycle. Its unsettling that I managed to fall into a hole in the street a few blocks from my house, especially since I was paying attention, or thought I was anyway. I am definitely not the salmoning, cellphone-checking Beautiful Godzilla, the only female of the illustrated bike cliches in this book. I am way too neurotic and type-A to do anything else while riding except try to go fast and avoid ways Ill die, though apparently I do not have a firm handle on either of these, as my humiliating unplanned dismount has made clear. But I will pedal (and when I choose, coast) on! Its pretty amazing how quickly riding a bike starts to feel natural, and even when it hurts you it still feels worthwhile. Id never ridden a road bike before and at first it was unnatural and torturous, but now I feel like one of those bike-people in The Third Policeman, a book I might idly say Im planning to revisit, except that there has been one very serious casualty of my new bike commute: I did almost all of my reading on the subway. So until Im defeated by the weather, dont bother watching this space.
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