Pedaling Revolution: A Review

Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists are Changing American Cities,” written by Jeff Mapes, has been read and reviewed for well over a year, but it is still worth a read and a mention more than eighteen months after its publication. This book is wonkiness at its finest. Mapes, whose professional credentials are primarily in political reporting, covers a wide range of bicycle and transportation-related topics, combining his journalism expertise and his personal commuting experience to construct an insightful and very readable account of the role of bicycles in society today.

There is something for every type of bicycle advocate in Mapes’ book. The topics are predictable: lessons from Amsterdam, the development of bike culture, barriers to entry, Portland (the platinum-status Bicycle Friendly City in which Mapes resides), and health and safety issues, to name a few. Fortunately, Mapes traveled extensively, researched thoroughly, and interviewed many knowledgeable people in order to provide a fresh and judicious analysis of these areas of bicycle advocacy. In each chapter, he effectively mixes data with his personal experiences in each situation. Although it is clear that he has opinions and preferences on given issues, he offers a balanced and informative description of each topic that he covers.

Here is an excerpt:

My own perspective shifted as I became comfortable maneuvering next to cars and trucks and my physical fitness began to improve. I joked about wearing a sign stating, “Ask me how I lost weight while commuting to work.” The political reporter in me I’ve been one for three decades began to wonder, what spurred the city to make these improvements? is the same thing happening in other cities? Can Americans really be seduced out of their cars in large numbers, at least for short trips?

My search for answers led me across the country, as well as to the Netherlands, the Mecca of American bike advocates. As I discuss in later chapters, there is no American Amsterdam … yet. But I did find that cyclists have become part of a much larger movement to reduce the dominant role of automobiles in American cities. imagine fewer parking lots and more public plazas. Think of urban neighborhoods that have the walkable ambience of an old European city, not wide streets and strip malls. Or maybe just the kind of street that is safe enough for kids to once again play in.

Every section focuses on one particular objective, and each chapter could be read independently of the rest and still be relevant and understandable. However, “Pedaling Revolution” as a whole provides an excellent depiction of how all of these issues work concurrently. In reality, every advocate or advocacy group gravitates towards one or two major issues, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Whether your cause is fighting for increased funding to support bicycle infrastructure or securing more dollars for Safe Routes to School programs, a focused effort is generally more effective than dabbling in a little bit of everything. But, all of these issues are inextricably linked. Creating a culture and a community that supports alternative methods of transportation necessitates an understanding of infrastructure, education (for adults and children), health and politics. Mapes provides an absorbing account of all of these facets at work from the saddle of a truly engaged bicycle advocate. “Pedaling Revolution” is an important read for anyone who is interested in any single area of advocacy as well as for anyone who is involved in community development, transportation initiatives or simply loves to ride a bike.

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9 thoughts on “Pedaling Revolution: A Review”

  1. Ghost Rider says:

    It IS a good book — not too inaccesible for the layperson, but meaty enough for the wonkiest among us.

    Thanks for the link love!

  2. Ted Johnson says:

    The link love is well deserved.

    I confess I haven’t read it yet. I have Bike Snob on my stack, but I’m feeling snark-OD’d and wonk-deprived. Maybe I should move “Pedaling Revolution” up in the stack.

  3. Ghost Rider says:

    You’re too kind!

    I’ve got a stack of stuff on my reading pile…including a couple very dry treatises on the development of the U.S. cycling “culture”, Bike Snob’s book and a bunch of others — not counting all the pleasure reading I bring home from work (I’m a public librarian by day). I’m working on reviews of all of the bike stuff as time allows.

  4. Stacey Moses says:

    Mia Birk’s “Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet” is next on my list of wonky books. She played a big role in transforming Portland and I’m interested in reading her insider’s perspective of shaping one of the US’s most bicycle-friendly cities.

    Any other must-reads for advocacy nerds?

  5. Ghost Rider says:

    I’m currently slogging through Zach Furness’s One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility. It’s dense and dry, but Man oh MAN is the notes/bibliography worth the price of admission!

  6. Leo Horishny says:

    Feel free to redirect me on the website, but I’d appreciate having a reading list, with or without reviews, of cycle related books.

    Personally, I enjoyed reading the recent book about Major Taylor by Todd Balf, ‘Major, a black athlete a white era and the fight to be the world’s fastest athlete’ I thought the story would make an excellent movie.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      @Leo: The only other book review that I know of on CBB is this one:

      If Stacey’s appetite for writing book reviews continues, we may consider creating a tag for “book reviews” so they don’t get lost among product reviews.

  7. Stacey Moses says:

    Hi Leo,

    I just reviewed the League of American Bicyclists’ new book, “Smart Cycling.”

    I’d love to keep reviewing books (and I’m open to suggestions) and a list of cycling-related books is a great idea. Thanks for reading!


    1. Ted Johnson says:

      @Stacey Thanks. That’s the review to which I meant to direct Leo.

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