Book Review: Cyclorama



Cyclorama is a visual feast. It includes hundreds of photos of bicycles and of people riding bicycles.  You’ll see men, women, boys, girls, people with dwarfism, amputees, toddlers, old folks, Tanzanians and Cubans all riding bicycles. You’ll see page after page of sparkling clean bicycles, not thin-wheeled racers but get-around-town bikes.

This book is akin to those glossy spreads the automobile industry has been churning out for decades. “Transit needs to beat the automobile at its own game,” Darrin Nordahl writes in his book “Making Transit Fun!”. “We need products and services that seduce consumers to our side.” This book is a seducer. It makes you feel jazzed about bicycles. It makes you want to buy one (or a second or a third one). It makes you feel deep-down good about being a bike rider. It makes bicycles look like status symbols.

The book was compiled by a writer/editor (Jim McGurn) and a bike technician (Mick Allan), who call bike riders “the most beautiful movers in the known universe.”

The book has 45 short sections but there’s no need to go though the book in order. It’s a book that invites flipping through, jumping around, stopping when something catches your eye.

Here’s what caught my eye: a mountain unicycle for trail riding; Baron von Drais’s 1814 “running machine” that had two wheels, a seat and something like handlebars but no pedals; and the Kasai Bicycle Park in Tokyo, a below-ground garage that can store more than 6,000 bikes.

I also enjoyed reading short dispatches on bicycling in Cuba and North Korea, seeing various examples of how to carry kids and cargo, and learning about Sue Darlow who photographed bicycling culture in England, India and Italy.
There is a short essay, titled “The New Rich,” about living carfree. It’s a decent depiction of life without a car, focusing on the money saved. People living without cars are described as “economic miracles” and “rich in terms of lifestyle.”
But you won’t like this book for the writing. The descriptions of the featured bike brands sound like they are pulled straight from the manufacturers’ websites: “X is a bicycle design studio that produces distinctive, superlative quality bicycles for individuals and business customers worldwide.” You’ll like this book for the many photos of gleaming bicycles and of people getting around on bicycles.

The last page requests that “when you have finished reading this book, please place it in the hands of someone who doesn’t ride a bike.” McGurn and Allan’s mission is to get more people cycling. This book and the website make a big contribution toward showing this car alternative as fun, hip and beautiful.

Jim McGurn and Mick Allan
Company of Cyclists Ltd., 2012, 162 pages

Book Review by Kelly Nelson

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