December 26, 2012

The Lost Cyclist by David Herlihy

I enjoy books about travel, and was intrigued to find this book about a cyclist circling the world in the late eighteen hundreds.  It was rare enough to make that journey by other transportation at that time, so to do it by bicycle was impressive.  And since it's non-fiction, it's hard to believe that such feats where accomplished with the machines available at that time.

The Lost Cyclist tells three stories in a sense.  The first being that of Sachtleben and Allen, two men who traveled around the world east to west on their bikes (albeit using alternative transportation where needed).  The second story was that of Frank Lenz, a man who set out to do the same thing on his own, just in the opposite direction.  Sadly Lenz did not make it back and disappeared in the region of Turkey.  The third story would be that of Sachtleben who sets out to look for Lenz or his body and investigate what he believes to be murder.  Of course a little history on the bicycle is thrown in as well.

The story of Allen and Sachtleben was actually quite interesting and my favorite part of the book.  Which surprised me because really this book was about Lenz and his disappearance.  But we never really knew as much about him and his personality and life wasn't as described as the other two wheelmen's were.  So as much as I wondered what happened to him, it was in a detached sort of way.  There also wasn't that much about the locals they met while on their journeys.  Sure when Sachtleben was looking for Lenz's body it described some of the people he worked with, but more in line with the investigation instead of the person's life.

The whole premise of the book has an air of mystery and history to it.  I enjoyed reading about some of the races and clubs that bicyclists had at the turn of the century and never would have expected it to be so prevalent.  I also couldn't have imagined someone riding over such rough terrain on the bikes then as I can barely do it on a completely modern bike now.  They must have been in terrific shape.  Allen and Sachtleben's journey was well described and I must admit that I wish the entire book had been about it.  It wasn't that Lenz journey wasn't as daring, it was just that the way his was described was very dry and since he disappeared, it turned into a mystery where much sitting around was done and nothing happened for the last third of the book.  I admired Sachtleben's determination to find out what happened, but the author just wasn't able to pull off that part of the book well.  I felt that so much was lost in the detail about who was signing what documents and what the diplomats weren't doing, that it lost focus on the fact that a cyclist had been murdered and instead just drowned you in the paperwork that went along with it.  Which might explain some of the detachment I felt towards Lenz.

As an aside, this book did contain several journal entries, letters, and pictures that were collected by the travelers.  It was neat to see some of the places they traveled and even some of the earlier photos, which were very well done for having the cameras enduring such rough travel.  It just added to the authenticity and research for the book.  It's clear that the author did do his due diligence in that regard.

If you enjoy cycling, or travel, or just like a non-fiction book about disappearances, this would probably be a good book for you.  For me, it just wasn't engaging writing and it was hard for me to enjoy most of the book.

The Lost Cyclist
Copyright 2010
302 pages

No comments:

Post a Comment