Confession #1: Not all of these books are about the type of two-wheeled bicycles that one pedals with their feet. Some of these books are about the motorized kind of bike, because I happen to ride those, too. And one very special book is a fake-out entirely – its title is Bicycles, but it’s really a collection of love poems.
Confession #2: I have not read all of the books on this list, but I do have a personal connection to all of them. I’ve either read and loved them, or they’ve been recommended to me and for one reason or another; one came out just this month and I haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet. Also no, these are not the only books about bicycles I’ve read or that are on my list, so I still stand behind them as my top 10 picks.
This list is in honor of a personal commitment I’ve made to health, exercise, and JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). I am biking 100 miles in one day in Death Valley, CA this October to raise money for JDRF, a cause close to my heart. My partner is a Type 1 diabetic, and we will be riding together to support finding a cure. If you are so inclined, read more about what we’re doing and donate on my fundraising page here. Now back to the books!
Have you read any of these? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Bicycles: Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni
Nikki Giovanni is one of my favorite contemporary poets. I first read this book of poetry when I didn’t have a romantic love in my life, and yet it still matched the feelings I wanted to have about that romantic love. Her poem “If only” remains a favorite:
if i had never been in your arms
never danced that dance
never inhaled your slightly sweaty odor
maybe i could sleep at night
if i had never held your hand
never been so close
to the most kissable lips in the universe
never wanted ever so much
to rest my tongue in your dimple
maybe i could sleep at night
if i wasn’t so curious
about whether or not you snore
and when you sleep do you cuddle your pillow
what you say when you wake up
and if i tickle you
will you heartedly laugh
if this enchantment
if this question i ache to ask could be answered
if only i could stop dreaming of you
maybe i could sleep at night.
In case you’re wondering why this book was named this, an inscription inside the book reads: “Bicycles: because love requires trust and balance.”
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery by Alan Bradley
This book is another bit of a fake-out, I’m afraid. It’s actually the start of a mystery series. I love mysteries, and this series is about an 11-year-old girl (though she does celebrate a birthday or two during the series) who uses science to solve murders in an English country village in the 1950s. She has a trusty stead, Gladys, of the two-wheeled, pedaled variety, which helps carry her to and from her investigations.
The Culinary Cyclist: A Cookbook and Companion for the Good Life by Anna Brones, illustrated by Johanna Kindvall
This is a book I’m going to treat myself to one of these days soon, and yes, it’s the first book on the list to actually be related to biking. I’m one of those people who tends to read cookbooks like some people read novels, and with this one billed as a “lovingly illustrated…guide to hedonistic two-wheeled living,” what’s not to love? It also happens to star gluten-free and vegetarian recipes, as well, so win-win for my household (we try to cut back on the gluten and eat more of the veggies).
Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling by BikeSnobNYC, Eben Weiss, and illustrated by Christopher Koelle
There are actually two books in this series, Bike Snob and Bike Snob Abroad, but I haven’t had a chance to pick up the second one yet. I really enjoyed the first (read it with a sense of humor or grain of salt, people), to the point where I considered getting some of the tire treads and different cassettes drawn by Christopher Koelle in the book tattooed on my upper right thigh. I haven’t done it yet, but there’s still time. After this century ride, I just might!
The Velocipede Races by Emily June Street
Now we come to the books I haven’t read on the list (all except the last one, I did read that, so skip ahead if you’d like). This is historical fiction meets science fiction meets steampunk with a feminist bent. HOW HAVE I NOT READ THIS ALREADY?
Here’s the publisher description:
Emmeline Escot knows that she was born to ride in Seren’s cutthroat velocipede races. The only problem: She’s female in a world where women lead tightly laced lives. Emmeline watches her twin brother gain success as a professional racing jockey while her own life grows increasingly narrow. Ever more stifled by rules, corsets, and her upcoming marriage of convenience to a brusque stranger, Emmy rebels–with stunning consequences. Can her dream to race survive scandal, scrutiny, and heartbreak?
I’ve paged through this one, but I haven’t read it thoroughly. It’s actually a young adult title, in the interest of full disclosure, and it looks like a lot of fun! Lots of photographs, advertisements, and other pieces of ephemera about how the bicycle changed women’s lives for the better, allowing them more freedom outside of the home. Plus, it’s a National Geographic title, so what’s not to love?!
This is the book that’s just come out, published January 10, 2018. Isn’t it a great cover? I would be interested in it for that reason alone, but check out the publisher’s description:
Not content with tackling the Italian Alps or the route of the Tour de France, Tim Moore sets out to scale a new peak of rash over-ambition: 6,000 mile route of the old Iron Curtain on a tiny-wheeled, two-geared East German shopping bike.
Asking for trouble and getting it, Moore sets off from the northernmost Norwegian-Russian border at the Arctic winter’s brutal height, bullying his plucky MIFA 900 through the endless sub-zero desolation of snowbound Finland. Sleeping in bank vaults, imperial palaces and unreconstructed Soviet youth hostels, battling vodka-breathed Russian hostility, Romanian landslides and a diet of dumplings, Moore and his ‘so-small bicycle’ are sustained by the kindness of reindeer farmers and Serbian rock gods, plus a shameful addiction to Magic Man energy drink.
Haunted throughout by the border detritus of watchtowers and rusted razor wire, Moore reflects on the curdling of the Communist dream, and the memories of a Cold War generation reared on the fear of apocalypse–at a time of renewed East-West tension. After three months, twenty countries and a fifty-eight degree jaunt up the thermostat, man and bike finally wobble up to a Black Sea beach in Bulgaria, older and wiser, but mainly older.
I can’t say I’d want to do that ride myself, but doesn’t it sound like a grand adventure?
Jumping on the theme of people exploring the world on two wheels, this book just came out in 2017, and features a female journalist, her motorcycle, and a 3,000 mile journey across Iran. I get goosebumps just thinking about it; I want go! Here’s the full description:
In 2011, at the height of tension between the British and Iranian governments, travel writer Lois Pryce found a note left on her motorcycle outside the Iranian Embassy in London:
… I wish that you will visit Iran so you will see for yourself about my country. WE ARE NOT TERRORISTS Please come to my city, Shiraz. It is very famous as the friendliest city in Iran, it is the city of poetry and gardens and wine
Your Persian friend,
Intrigued, Lois decides to ignore the official warnings against travel (and the warnings of her friends and family) and sets off alone on a 3,000 mile ride from Tabriz to Shiraz, to try to uncover the heart of this most complex and incongruous country. Along the way, she meets carpet sellers and drug addicts, war veterans and housewives, doctors and teachers – people living ordinary lives under the rule of an extraordinarily strict Islamic government.
Revolutionary Ride is the story of a people and a country. Religious and hedonistic, practical and poetic, modern and rooted in tradition – and with a wild sense of humour and appreciation of beauty despite the comparative lack of freedom – this is real contemporary Iran.
Let’s be honest, I probably would have purchased that for the cover alone, too.
Ubuntu: One Woman’s Motorcycle Odyssey Across Africa by Heather Ellis
In case you haven’t caught on yet, I love traveling, and I love reading books about traveling (and my other hobbies, like cooking – hence the cookbook). This book also follows a woman on a motorcycle, this time exploring Africa. It was published in 2016, so not that long ago, and stars an Australian woman, and I do love my Oceania friends. I really need to make this read a priority soon. Here’s the description:
As you travel Africa, you will find the way of ubuntu – the universal bond that connects all of humanity as one.
At the age of twenty-eight, while sitting in a friend’s backyard in the remote mining township of Jabiru, Heather Ellis has a light-bulb moment: she is going to ride a motorcycle across Africa. The idea just feels right – no matter that she’s never done any long-distance motorcycle travelling before, and has never even set foot on the African continent. Twelve months later, Heather unloads her Yamaha TT600 at the docks in Durban, South Africa, and her adventure begins.
Her travels take her to the dizzying heights of Mt Kilimanjaro and the Rwenzori Mountains, to the deserts of northern Kenya where she is befriended by armed bandits and rescued by Turkana fishermen, to a stand-off with four Ugandan men intent on harm, and to a voyage on a ‘floating village’ on the mighty Zaire River. Everywhere she goes Heather is aided by locals and travellers alike, who take her into their homes and hearts, helping her to truly understand the spirit of ubuntu – a Bantu word meaning ‘I am because you are’.
Ubuntu is the extraordinary story of a young woman who, alone and against all odds, rode a motorcycle to some of the world’s most remote, beautiful and dangerous places.
Motorcycle Man (Dream Man #4) by Kristen Ashley
So, when I first started riding motorcycles a few years ago, I went looking for motorcycle-based literature, partly as a way of doing research and partly because I’m a book nerd, and what I found was almost universally awful. There are very few fiction titles that feature women on motorcycles where the women are the main characters, not basically a hot piece of ass for the “real” badass men bikers. I read lots of questionable paperbacks that was pretty much erotica with a small MC (motorcycle club) subplot thrown in, and though I learned a lot about something, I certainly wasn’t learning about bikes. Motorcycle Man is hands down the best of that ilk, though I’m not sure what type of endorsement that is, really. If generally well-written smut with some sort of plot featuring strong, nearly silent male characters who legit talk by grunting and sexy, curvy, outspoken women who simultaneously save themselves but also rely way too much on these men, all while fighting a lot and having a lot of hot hetero sex is your thing, then definitely pick up this series (though I’d recommend starting with #1, Mystery Man). If not, pick up any of the others on this list. Enjoy!