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.