BOOK IT! THE ART OF CYCLING:
THE ART OF CYCLING:
PHILOSOPHY, MEANING AND A LIFE ON TWO WHEELS
I’m a fan of most things with wheels, but bicycles hold a special place. I enjoy their intrinsic simplicity, and despite escalating price tags I like their accessibility; you can still buy a neat bike for a grand, and even the most exotic will top out on this side of $20K. In my office is an Italian track bike, in my garage is a friend’s Pinarello road bike – on permanent loan – finished in that company’s Spumoni colorway, and at my local bike shop sits the owner’s personal Pegoretti. With that as context, it’s little wonder I was sucked in by James Hibbard’s just-released book, THE ART OF CYCLING: PHILOSOPHY, MEANING AND A LIFE ON TWO WHEELS.
The book, available this spring, is centered around a ride taken by Mr. Hibbard and two friends down the coast of California. All three are former racers, and ‘former’ plays a central role in Hibbard’s contemplative prose as the cyclists make their way south. Having started his racing career in his mid-teens, Hibbard was quickly elevated as a member of the U.S. Cycling Team and, later, a UCI professional. That career, however, peaked before fame and fortune could follow. He subsequently dismounted the bike, sold his gear and walked – not rode – toward academia.
His academic path was philosophy, and while philosophy is planted in the subtitle a reader quickly realizes that this is essentially The Art of Philosophy, and cycling serves as a more mainstream – if bikes can be regarded as mainstream – hook. We read, of course, of rides and riders, but there’s far more here of Camus, Nietzsche or Sartre than Hamilton (Tyler), Hampsten (Andy) or Armstrong. And if – for me – there’s a disconnect, it’s my enjoyment of Hibbard’s personal narrative while wanting to distance myself from Camus or Nietzsche…and I can’t.
To his credit, the author and, by extension, the book make a credible effort at distilling the essence of training on a bike: You have the long periods of solitude, the oh-so-predictable periods of pain, and the lung-busting regimen that consumed Hibbard while at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. And while I shouldn’t have been surprised by Hibbard’s admission that as a teen the hardships of cycling “came to be the most pleasurable thing” he knew, it sets the author apart from the rest of us – especially those of us that ride – with a racer’s almost super-human capacities.
Ultimately, I don’t bring to the couch or chair the intellectual heft necessary to enjoy the deep dive into philosophy – either Hibbard’s or Nietzshe’s – that the author and his book take. Hibbard’s personal bio is compelling and his time spent racing absorbing, but taking all 320 of the book’s pages into my system is akin to riding a day’s big climb in a single gear.
If, however, you can be sucked into THE ART OF PHILOSOPHY this could be great weekend or airplane read. Published by Pegasus Books, it’s available at your local bookseller.