“The Best of Bicycling!” may still be

The Best of Bicycling!
edited by Harley M. Leete
Pocket Book edition, March 1972, 465 pgs., $1.95

In the second decade of the 21st century, bicycling news, history, techniques, equipment and personalities are just a click away. But in 1970, in the United States, people interested in cycling had only a few readily available sources of information.

One of them was Bicycling!, a magazine that continues today sans exclamation, even though more tightly focused on enthusiastic merchandising than ever.

I was a loyal subscriber for about a decade beginning in the mid 1970s.

In 1961, "Bicycling!" was born as "a tiny mimeographed bimonthly journal called 'American Cycling.'" In 1970, the magazine gathered the best of its stories in a book.

For me, every page had something worth reading and re-reading, from news of the first modern recumbents to ads for touring bicycles to pictures of people lining a mountain road in France as their favorite racer—their favorite sports hero, period—powered toward the summit.

Someone unfamiliar with both the magazine and the topic could easily have assumed that Bicycling! was a narrowly focused special-interest publication. But as one of the few cycling magazines serving the American market, Bicycling! in the ’70s had an undifferentiated readership, and to retain those readers, an equally broad editorial mission.

One measure of that editorial mission was the cover design, often featuring nothing more than the title and a pleasant cycling scene, far removed from today’s insistently self-centered stack-o-heads. Witness the cover of one recent issue: “NEW YEAR/NEW YOU,” “THE ULTIMATE 5-MINUTE WINTER WORKOUT,” “FIND MORE TIME TO RIDE,” and my favorite, “HAVE WAY MORE FUN.”

Why did the publisher drop the exclamation point again?

Articles from 30 years ago ranged from how to build the perfect half-step-plus-granny drivetrain to news of Paul MacCready’s attempts to win the Kremer prize for human-powered aircraft. In essence, Bicycling! was life distilled through a specific medium; it was National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, Travel + Leisure and Sports Illustrated strained through a tightly spoked bicycle wheel.

Just as important, Bicycling! connected its readers with the history of their chosen activity, an accomplishment made somewhat more permanent with the publication of The Best of Bicycling! in 1970.

Now out of print, but available to the diligent Internet searcher, The Best of Bicycling! introduces the casual reader to Velocio, “a man who might well be called the patron saint of cyclists” and Thomas Stevens, the first successful transcontinental rider. The book also points to the evidence that playwright George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, author of the book, The Wheels of Chance, were enthusiastic proponents of the wheel.

Of course parts of the book, especially the story “Bicycle Wife,” deserve to be lost to history except as a reminder that the United States has made progress in gender equality since 1970.

History, though, is only one aspect of the book. Readers are led on bicycle trips through Japan, France and Norway, educated about time trialing and “cyclo-crossing,” and told of Frenchman Jose Meiffret’s “date with death,” which ended, not with his death, but with the ownership in 1962 of a new speed record: 127.342 miles an hour, achieved by riding in the draft of a modified Mercedes near Freiburg, Germany.

All of these stories are available on the Internet of course. But there’s something about reading a torn and yellowing paperback that adds meaning to the words of a note Meiffret carried with him on his record ride.

“In case of fatal accident, I beg of the spectators not to feel sorry for me. I am a poor man, an orphan since the age of eleven, and I have suffered much. Death holds no terror for me. This record attempt is my way of expressing myself. If the doctors can do no more for me, please bury me by the side of the road where I have fallen.”

About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
This entry was posted in History, Read and roll and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to “The Best of Bicycling!” may still be

  1. srcycler says:

    Nice Book review. May check out the book.

  2. Pingback: To learn more, link beyond the bicycle | 16incheswestofpeoria

  3. Peter Hoffman says:

    The Best of Bicycling is misnamed. It is a collection of stories and articles from American Cycling magazine edited and published by Peter Hoffman prior to its sale to H. M. Leete and the subsequent name change to Bicycling. It was a sleazy act on the part of Leete and the book

    • I look at this in a slightly different way. For most readers, The Best of Bicycling!, even though out of print, may be their only contact with the writing of American Cycling. I, for one, would be interested in seeing more of that Bicycling predecessor.

      I don’t know anything about this particular sale. However, in legal transfers of ownership, the new owner usually gets to call the shots, and the old owner gets to count the money from the sale.

      As far as credit is concerned, in the acknowledgements to the 1972 Pocket Book edition, Leete praises “great roadman and leader in cycling realms, E. Peter Hoffman.” And in the introduction, Leete says Bicycling! began with American Cycling.

      To me, Leete seems simply to have republished the early work of a single publication that later changed its name. Given that he owned the content, it seems like he would be able to use it any way he saw fit, including marketing it under the magazine’s newest name.

      So what am I missing that rises to the level of sleaze?

  4. robert says:

    This is a great old book, giving the ‘feel’ of bicycling in the late 1960s. I just got another copy in the mail today (the 2 others being in storage in Georgia and Michigan, because i have to keep moving around trying to make a living as a scientist). A good alternative to the marketing-dictated drivel of any current magazine ‘articles’.

  5. Pingback: Survived the Cull: Eleven Bicycle Books | 16incheswestofpeoria

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