Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Need for the Bike: Don't Miss It

Biking smells good.

In the Haute-Loire, it smells of pine and moss, with touches of new-mown hay. Here and there, a spot of cow.

Sometimes in hamlets a cowshed makes its presence known. But also the smell of open windows: beef stew, wax, detergent, roast chicken. Thrown over a line, sheets and blankets emit a night odor, quickly lost in the blue of the sky.

The summer itself has a very strong smell. You pass through pockets of sweet-smelling heat, when the road cuts through a wheat or rye field, where you come out of a forest and enter a clearing. The heat activates the smell of the resins, and brings up out of the road the smell of tar, the profound background to all the summer scents.

~ Paul Fournel, Need for the Bike

Velophoriacs are used to reading quotes on this blog from this excellent little book. But I feel the need right now to sing its praises once more. If you love cycling partly for its sophisticated European roots, if you love the aesthetics and the rituals, and how they've descended from a long line of purists before us, if you love thoughtful, crafted prose that is also quite down-to-earth, I beseech you to get hold of this little tome. The small paperback edition is only $15 and 150 pages: Not a towering commitment, but it has paid me back dozens of times. Just the other night, weary and worn from the day to day, I pulled out Need for the Bike and read a few pieces before turning in. (There are no chapters, per se -- the book consists instead of a series of loosely grouped, short essays.) I'd read them before, some recently; no matter. They always refresh me like a ride through a shaded glade in summer heat.

If you like Belgium Knee Warmers because of the charming Euro perspective, you very much owe it to yourself to go to this even purer source. Fournel is part racer, part tourist, part poet... and all French. The best of what it means to be French: Thoughtful, articulate, funny, and, most of all, a gourmet, masterfully savoring the many nuances life dishes up (and by life, I mean cycling).

Oh -- and he has a killer French moustache.

Like the similarly brief Tao te Ching, this book has taught me how to enjoy and experience. Chapeau, Monsieur Fournel!


No One Line said...

I read this just last week! He's got a way with words, for sure. Like finding a good cadence in a gear you can plug away at for hours, Fournel's writing has a way of simplifying and focusing the experience of reading it.

Velosopher said...

NOL, doesn't surprise me that this was on your list, though I'm delighted you discovered it!

I think your description is -- as usual -- quite apt.

mellowvelo said...

Just bought it!

Velosopher said...

Congrats, MellowVelo, may it bring you as much pleasure as it has me!