I was in my favorite book store in Texas the other night. It’s one of the biggest remaining in America. On that particular night I was looking at the bicycling section. Austin is one of the biggest bicycling cities in America. Bikes are probably my biggest passion outside of reading and writing, and yet not a single one of those books appealed to me. I fanned through the pages of several, from the one my friend who works there said is the most popular bike book to the one that had the most appealing cover. Every one of them seemed to be missing something, or had something that it shouldn’t have.
It seems largely true to me that people who act on their passions are subpar at art. Art depends on a certain torture that acting typically eliminates. Perhaps it’s that books about things are too often really about them, which breaks an unwritten rule of good writing. If all you’re going to tell me is that Campagnolo’s 1980’s-era bar-end shifters are superior to any other gear shifting mechanism, ever, I fear I have precious little to learn from your book. Except for an unearned opinion to espouse to others who will then counter me with an opinion they read in your competitor’s book who swears by Shimano.
The overwhelming thing about browsing a well-stocked book shelf on your favorite subject and finding nothing of interest is that it feels like the collective niche is rudely pointing a finger at you. The dearth of great bike books feels implicating, and I feel underqualified. But these are the types of realizations that lead to greatness, or ill-advised debt assumption and artistic ruination. On the one hand, you are rescuing your fellow junkies and enablers from the writings of wholly satisfied people; on the other, perhaps you are finally justifying your crippling addiction to yourself. A noble cause. That seems to lack a certain prompt or narrative arc.
The funny thing about hobby writing and sports writing and special interest writing is that audiences have certain expectations. Not just for an entertaining story or whatever vague promise the stamp “New York Times Best Seller” carries, but for a reaffirmation. If you do not confirm their long-held opinions, you are a shit writer. If you do not hand them some authoritative esoteric knowledge, you might as well give up. And so, when you want to really write about something, the best place to start is by not writing about it at all.
It’s hard to pinpoint what it is bikes mean to me, especially when I look at other people and see them loving them harder, better, in different ways. Maybe I’m just an underqualified middling hobbyist who has found my calling doing something that requires only patience and deep pockets to succeed at. I have one of the two. Casually alluding to hundred mile rides impresses in the same way that toned calves and soft stomachs disappoint. Nota bene: there are much easier and faster ways to get ripped than by riding your bike for dozens of hours per month.
Then again, there are few things that grown men can do that return them to that childlike state of joy, of sprinting at random and chasing each other up and down hills, of looking at trails and saying “I can probably ride that,” of finding out whether they actually can or not. And in a world that takes everything too seriously except for the important things, these are all welcome respites. I’m reminded of a proverb I used to subscribe to that still holds true:
A bad day fishing beats a good day at work.
Well, a bad day on the bike beats a good day fishing.
Two wheels are the trump card, a formidable suited ace. I’ll resist the urge to use all my best analogies here, since apparently the world needs a better bike book. I wouldn’t want to spare everyone the trouble of finding a way to illegally download that book for free once it comes out by writing it out here. If bikes make me too happy to be a great writer, at least the realities of the publishing industry make me just sad enough to keep trying.