Suburban Assault

Book Report: Bike Tribes by Mike Magnuson

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Bike Tribes - Mike Magnuson

I finally got around to reading Bike Tribes, A Field Guide to North American Cyclists, by Mike Magnuson. As bike riders, we all know the general breakdown of the different types of cyclist on the roads and trails. Similar to how people are in life, cyclists are very different from each other. With the exception of our core love for the bicycle, we don’t always share the same perspective how we use it. In Bike Tribes, Mike Magnuson does a great job at cataloging each of those different categories of cyclists, and – in some cases – the different types of riders within each category.

In order to communicate a clear definition of the different groups, Magnuson structured the book around composite characters, meaning fictional people based on a number of real people interviewed. He uses anywhere from one to a few of these characters to articulate unique perspectives within each group – some more positive than others.

Magnuson also makes it more interesting by intermingling some of the different character’s stories. These small crossovers help create a nice flow throughout the book, making it hard to put down.

The book starts off by talking about different types of bike shops, bike shop employees and bike shop owners. It was clear that even though small shop owners and employees weren’t making a fortune, they seemed happier being part of and supporting the local bike community. This is yet, another good reason to support your local bike shops.

Then the book goes into a more specific break down of the different types of riders, including BMXers, Average Riders, Casual Mountain Bikers, Weight-Loss Cyclists, Triathletes, Century Riders, Charity Riders, Challenge Century Riders, Road Racers (Roadies), Mountain Bike Racers, Cyclecrossers, Randonneurs, Touring Cyclists, Commuters, Critical Mass Riders, Fixed Gear Cyclists, Vintage Bike Riders, and Beach Cruisers. The only big category he really didn’t touch was the Bicycle Chic Riders.

Magnuson also does a good job at being objective about each grouping, limiting any opinions to his summary at the end of each section. He let the stories, derived from his interviews, define each group – allowing readers to form their own opinions. My take, on all the different cyclists, was that many who ride for sport, miss out on the pure joy of cycling. This was a perspective that I already had, but was nice to see it contextualized in this book. Also, since I mostly ride for transportation, I really appreciate the positive stance he gave to commuters: “Next to the touring cyclist…the commuting cyclist is the person all cyclists most want to be.”

Bike Tribes is a great resource that successfully catalogs many of the different types of bicyclists. It’s helpful to those who don’t know anything about cyclists, as well as a great way for cyclists to learn and understand how other cyclists think.

Written by dickdavid

January 22, 2013 at 6:05 am

2 Responses

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  1. Why do other cyclists want to be commuters?

    Steve A

    January 23, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    • Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out. 😉 JK

      Actually, Magnuson states this in his summary about commuters. It reads as opinion, I suspect, based on a certain level of pride illustrated by some of his ‘composite characters’. A pride that some commuters, including myself, relate and aspire to.

      Out of context, this may not seem like much. But, in the scope of the other types of riders in the book, who mostly ride for sport or recreation, the transportation rider uses the bicycle for what it was truly designed for.

      Personally, when he writes “ALL” cyclists, I feel like this might be an over-estimation.

      He ends his summary with this: “It’s a nightmare all around…But this doesn’t deter the commuter, because the commuter operates on a commitment to human powered motion, which is good for the environment and the rider.”


      January 23, 2013 at 9:23 pm

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