Wednesday, August 23, 2023



In this wonderfully quirky assemblage of 189 “cyclettes”--think cross between cycling and vignettes–designer and visual artist Tree Abraham offers little postcards, ranging in length from a paragraph or two to a couple of pages at most–loosely connected by her experience of, and thoughts about, cycling and cycles.

Much of it is personal: some memoir, some travelogue. But just as much is philosophical, intellectual–an inquiry into the bicycle as object and cycling as activity from a variety of aesthetic, metaphysical, psychological, geometrical, and spiritual angles.

And that’s just the text. The book is also extensively illustrated with black and white photographs, odd diagrams, cheeky charts, maps, lists, and original drawings. But these aren’t mere supplements to the text; the text-image balance is much more even, like an actual postcard. Reading this book is as much a visual experience as a textual one. 

Friday, June 9, 2023

The Man Who Loved Bicycles


This year, 2023, marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of an underappreciated gem in the canon of cycling literature: The Man Who Loved Bicycles: Memoirs of an Autophobe by American writer Daniel Behrman. This little-known book, published in 1973 by Harper’s Magazine Press, is an eccentric but compelling work of nonfiction–part scathing polemic, part cosmopolitan cycle-travelog, and part urban-transportation prophecy. Behrman writes extensively of his experiences with both automobiles and bicycles (though mostly the latter) mainly in New York City and Paris, though with some other stops along the way, driving home his simple argument: automobiles take away life and bicycles give it. 

The Man Who Loved Bicycles is both a devastating and irreverent takedown of car culture and what it’s done to human health and urban life and a wonderfully strange love letter to the joys of a particular kind of cycling. But perhaps what’s most striking about the book now, looking back through five decades, is how remarkably prescient Behrman was. While some parts of the book are very much of its time, his critical assessment of the car-centric city, his evocative accounts of the myriad pleasures of being a kind of cycling flaneur, and his vision of the future of urban transportation all feel like something that could have been written in 2023, rather than 1973. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Easter Eggs


Cycling in April in central Alberta is both glorious and depressing. We’re outside again–experiencing wind and sunshine, hearing birds, not staring at a screen. All this is a win.

But the sights? Well, that’s not exactly pretty.  As the annual mini ice age recedes, it leaves behind a glum palette of brown-yellow hues, with only the occasional skiff of dirty snow and trash for contrast. In the ditches and boulevards, It’s a compressed brown thatch of gravel, dirt, dead leaves, and garbage.

Nature’s only non-brown April colors come from green conifer needles and red veins of Dogwood stems.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Bicycling with Butterflies


Call it the butterfly-book effect. I recently re-read Barbara Kingsolver’s still-excellent 2012 novel Flight Behavior, which imagines the monarch migration gone amok due to climate change. (The book holds up remarkably well, and is rightly now considered a classic text of climate fiction.) So I think I had butterflies on the brain when I happened across Sara Dykman’s cycle-travel book Bicycling with Butterflies (2021) and decided to pick it up. The intersection of cycle-travel writing and environmentalism makes a certain sense: cycling and ecological or climate-change-related travel go well together. Perhaps this is part of a new trend; watch out for Riding with Rhinos and Pedalling with Pandas coming soon to a bookstore near you.

I’m only sort of joking. Activist-inspired travel writing, from Gaia Vince’s Adventures in the Anthropocene to Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction to Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine’s Last Chance to See are all part of new ways of thinking about the intersection of travel and environmentalism. But as I’m learning, getting the right balance between these two aspects can be tricky.  

Monday, February 27, 2023

Dusty 100--2023 Edition

Come out for a day of classic Alberta gravel riding that kicks off with a bugle blast, includes a short stretch on the challenging Iron Horse Trail and a longer one on the scenic, historic Victoria Trail, and sends someone home with a coveted Surprise Bag.

Oh, and dust. We all go home with dust.

No registration fee. All are welcome: gravel lovers, the gravel-curious, and anyone up for a dusty adventure.

Sunday, June 4 at Metis Crossing 

This year we have three route options:

The Classic Dusty (100 km)

The Octogenarian (our new 80-km route)

The Li'l Dusty (50 km)

Bugle call for all routes at 9 am.

The exact routes will be confirmed a week ahead of time, after the Dusty crew recons the situation on the local roads.

Park at the small lot beside the flag poles, one kilometre east of Metis Crossing campground. There's a rustic toilet there (the kind that will do the trick but isn't a place you'd want to linger). There's no water; bring yer own.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Wind at My Back

“Cycling is about mapping the small worlds that are always around us.”

This 2018 literary cycling memoir by British writer Paul Maunder, a self-described “failed bike racer and failed novelist” (though since the publication of this book he has published a novel, The Atomics) who is best known for his non-fiction writing in magazines like Rouleur and Peloton, is right up my alley. 

It’s a deeply literary reflection on the interplay between the two crucial strands of Maunder’s identity: cyclist and writer. He makes the intriguing claim that cycling has been essential to his understanding of place, landscape, and nature, as well as his development as a writer. This elegantly written book is richly descriptive, both of English landscapes and of literary ones that have influenced his perception–of himself and the larger world. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Cynthia Lodgepole

When the protagonist of Heidi Jacob’s lovely, very funny, and deeply literary debut novel Molly of the Mall (the perfect gift for that English major in your life) mentions adopting the pseudonym "Cynthia Lodgepole" for publishing her “gothic bodice-rippers,” it’s a wink and a nudge to anyone who’s ever noticed this road sign on the Yellowhead Highway between Edmonton and Jasper.

The names of these two little hamlets 23 km apart in Brazeau County near Drayton Valley, Alberta, do kind of go together, and I’m sure I’m not the only one–besides Heidi Jacobs–who thinks, every time I see the highway sign, of what a great pseudonym this would make. Kudos to Heidi’s Molly for pulling it off.

Yet despite all the times I’ve driven past the sign, I’d never visited either place. Until last Saturday, that is, when I rode my bicycle through both on the route of the DV100, an annual century-ride (pavement) event that I took part in for the first time. This event has been around for 10 years and has a solid reputation in cycling circles in these parts: it’s known for being well organized and scenic, and for putting up a surprising amount of prize money.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Manitoba Outdoor Adventure Guide

 “The possibilities of gravel road riding in Manitoba are limitless.”

This old book was my favorite find from our most recent annual summer trip to Manitoba. In a little museum in Carberry, near Brandon, I spied this anachronistic cover on a shelf of books for sale. The color scheme, fonts, and, most of all, the photograph–of two rigid-fork mountain bikes being ridden across what appears to be a sunny field by a good-looking man and woman (helmetless) wearing semi-cycling attire (check out the gloves!)--mark this volume as from the late 80s/early 90s. 

But what really caught my eye was the phrase in the bottom right corner: “Gravel, paved, & off road routes.” Gravel? Really? And not only is the word gravel included in this list, it’s the first item in the list. Turns out this Manitoba Outdoor Adventure Guide: Cycling was published in 1989 by Fifth House (Saskatoon) and written by a then 32-year old Ruth Marr, who’s listed on the back cover as “a Winnipeg writer and ecologist.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Battle River Badlands

I first heard about the Battle River Badlands via the Alberta Gravel Cycling Facebook group. Back in January, a Battle River-valley resident named Forrest Hagen posted a gravel route near the town of Donalda, south of Camrose. Then in April, Edmonton gravel gurus Greg and Aaron rode that very route and posted a glowing review of the area along with some impressive photos. I was intrigued. Why had I never heard of this area as a gravel-riding destination?