Systematically And Mercilessly Realigning The World Of Cycling, Bike Snob NYC (2010)
The blogging sensation takes to paper with a heady shot of caustic comedy and common sense
Chronicle Books 9780811869980 Octo 224pp $16.95
Since he started blogging in 2007, Bike Snob NYC has established himself as one of the funniest writers ever to have opined on two-wheeled affairs. In his numerous, lengthy, weekly posts he picks at cycling in all its many forms, lampooning anything that is faddish, fake or flakey. His favourite targets are those who concern themselves more with cycles than cycling – and in particular the ‘hipster’ subculture that revolves around the fixed wheel.
His style draws on an absurdist melange of pop cultural and bicycle-specific references that he utilises with surgical precision to puncture pretensions.
So, here he is earlier this week, having happened upon a bicycle to which a ridiculous construction of handlebar extensions had been attached.
“Bar ends are the bicycle equivalent of duct tape in that they can be used to facilitate all types of kludges, workarounds, and jury-riggings. Why spend time and resources changing bars and stems, replacing cables, or unfurling and re-wrapping bar tape when with judicious application of bar ends your hands can find purchase wherever they may land? I expect that by the time I am finished my bicycle cockpit will look like a geodesic dome, and it will evoke the infinitely replicating and expanding patterns depicted by fractals. Best of all, my thousands of bar ends will also serve as sort of a roll cage in the event of a collision or fall.”
A regular cast of charecters – including Vito the helper monkey, the Lobster God, Lone Woolf and Nonplussed Journalist – are interspersed with pictures sent in by readers and usually shakey snaps taken on BSNYC’s daily commute. They build into a cumulative commentry on the experience of being an urban cyclist.
On the strength of his posts alone, BSNYC has become an internet sensation. His posts regularly attract hundreds of comments within hours of being published, he was given a column in Bicycling magazine, and when his real identity was revealed earlier this year, it attracted lengthy profiles in such august titles as the New York Times.
Perhaps inevitably, BSNYC (or Eben Weiss as we now know him to be) has written a book.
It shares with the blog his hyper-critical style, and much of the manner of delivery. It is, however, a significantly more personal and autobiographical treatise than his fans have come to expect. He catalogues his childhood introduction to BMX racing, his enduring love for cyclo-cross, his time as a messenger and the roller coaster of emotions that he has felt about his own bicycles.
There are some tried-and-tested formats – a taxonomy of cycling tribes, for example – which is a staple for newspaper ‘summer cycling specials’ – although BSNYC delivers a funnier and more revealing categorisation than any that I have previously read. And he takes a ride from Manhattan to the New York City borders in an unsuccessful search for remaining fragments from cycling’s nineteenth century boom.
Amid the japery there is some fantastic writing. Here he is, aged 12, in a BMX race – his first taste of competitive cycling.
“My nervousness mounted until the gate dropped. Then, something amazing happened. The nervousness disappeared leaving only total clarity. The entire race lasted maybe thirty seconds, but in that time nothing existed except that track and me….My bike just went where I wanted it to go, and I was aware of my competitors without actually worrying about them. It was as close to being a perfect moment as anything I’d experienced. I was hooked.”
It was an experience he has found was replicated nearly every time that he has raced.
The appeal of BSNYC rests on the laugh-out-loud quality of his writing, and the bedrock of good sense upon which his acerbic commentary is constructed. In his blog he fashions skyscrapers of comic criticism so high that that the foundations are easily forgotten. The book remains far closer to the ground.
A must-read as it is, regular fans may be disappointed that the paper variant does not deliver a 60,000 word stand-up routine. It does, however, allow the book to serve as a useful primer in cycle maintenance and mores for those unacquainted with the category-A fix that BSNYC delivers online.
TD June 10