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.
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.”