- Associated Press - Monday, May 2, 2011

“It’s All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels” (Bloomsbury USA), by Robert Penn: If you don’t know the difference between a frame and a fork, don’t bother picking up this book. But if you’ve ever felt the wind rolling over your back as you tuck into a downhill or cleaned a log with a bunny hop, give it a shot. It’s a quick read and even serious cyclists will learn something.

Author Robert Penn has seen and done it all on a bike. Name a country and chances are he’s pedaled through parts of it. In the late 1990s he logged more than 25,000 miles in the saddle, effectively biking around the world. But even all those saddle sores didn’t extinguish his passion for the two-wheeled lifestyle. The book is a documentation of his quest to build the perfect bike.

The journey takes him from Portland, Ore., for a Chris King headset to the Brooks factory in Smethwick, England, for the ultimate leather seat. Along the way, he dips deeply into bicycling arcana and introduces readers to fellow members of his tribe _ people whose lives revolve around bicycles.

Penn’s enthusiasm is contagious. The best bits of the book are jargon-free, like his description of watching a guy nicknamed Gravy build his wheels: “I hadn’t expected the wheel-building process to be an aural feast too. The metallic brush of the spokes being gathered in hand, the ting of a spoke as the elbow dropped into the flange. … Ping, ding, tinkle, chink, clink, jangle _ as Gravy worked in silence the room was humming with the century-old melody of a bicycle wheel being made.”

He manages to cram an awful lot of history into just over 200 pages in “It’s All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels.” Did you know the first patent for ball bearings was issued to a Welsh inventor in 1794? Or that the Tour de France was created by a newspaperman who needed an event he could write about to outsell his rival? How about these names for the machine that eventually became the bicycle _ pedestrian-accelerator, hobby horse, boneshaker and velocipede?

Penn’s pursuit ends with happiness, of course, as he knew it would. He now has a bike that cost him more than $5,500, but readers who go along for the ride will not be surprised when he concludes, “it’s not a lot of money for the loveliest thing I’ve ever owned.”

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