My interest in bicycling as an adult began in 1965 when I started a two-mile daily commute on a Sears three-speed bike. Five years later I discovered a new book: The Complete Book of Bicycling by Eugene A. Sloane (1916–2008). Soon thereafter an interview of him on national TV confirmed my determination to use his book as the guide to all aspects of cycling.
According to the Chicago Tribune’s obituary, Sloane was on a business trip in New York City when he heard that Simon and Schuster was looking for someone to write a book on cycling. “He promptly went to the publisher’s office and got himself hired” (April 1, 2008). His qualifications were persuasive: a life-long interest in things mechanical and his career as writer, editor, and public relations expert.
Furthermore, he had already become an aggressive cyclist, commuting to his work year-round, first in Detroit and later in Chicago (close to 25 miles each way). He had started cycling for health reasons after giving up smoking. While riding to work one morning on his three-speed bike, someone on a drop-handlebar, ten-speed bike had swept past him. Catching up with the faster rider at a traffic signal, Sloane met Detroit’s premier cyclist, Gene Portuesi, who introduced him to the deeper knowledge of serious, adult cycling.
For two or three years, Sloane’s was the only book on this subject. The copy my son Mike and I bought at Block’s department store in Glendale Shopping Center, Indianapolis, on Memorial Day Weekend 1971 was one of the 100,000 copies sold that first year.
Mike was turning 14 when we came across this book. Following Sloane’s advice, we bought entry level ten-speed bikes and learned how to ride them according to the disciplines and techniques that he laid out. We followed his lead in learning how to repair our own bikes and Gene Portuesi’s guidance for long-distance touring, including two tours of more than 1,000 miles in length across Indiana, Michigan, and Ontario. Although other books have been published on cycling and many changes in technology and riding disciplines have occurred during the forty-five years since his first book came out, I still think of Gene Sloane as my mentor.
Following Sloane’s death in 2008, an appreciative reference to the book appeared in Bicycle Quarterly. That same year I reread The Complete Book and wrote a thirteen-page essay, Bicycling by the Book describing its role in shaping my continuing passion as an adult cyclist, later publishing it on my blog.
Gene’s son, Nick Sloane, came across that blog and we exchanged several emails. Late in 2015, he sent me some of his father’s books: four editions of the Complete Book and Eugene A. Sloane’s Bicycle Maintenance Manual.
The first edition of The Complete Book of Bicycling was published in 1970 and was followed in 1974 by The New Complete Book of Bicycling. The book jacket says that Sloane “undertook to revise and update his classic—and ended up rewriting almost the entire book.” In 1980, he published The All New Complete Book of Bicycling. Sloane explains that there was “so much that is new in bicycling equipment, camping gear for cycling touring and camping, places to cycle and new government regulations affecting bicycle design that I had to take a completely new approach to writing this volume. In effect, this, then, is an entirely new book, with very little of the two previous volumes used in this new edition” (p. 7).
To me, the most interesting of the books Nick sent me is the “advance uncorrected reader’s proof from Fireside Books” of Sloane’s Complete Book of Bicycling: 25th Anniversary Edition that was published in 1995. Still in print, this 400-page book is a comprehensive guide to all things related to cycling. Although many details are now outdated, the over-all guidance for buying and riding bicycles is still useful.
When he published this edition, Gene Sloane was living in Vancouver, Washington, where my wife’s family has lived for many years and where we moved in 2003. Nick’s brother Pete lives here now and in early January 2016, the three of us enjoyed lunch together at a restaurant near my condo. They told me more about their dad’s long-time interest in cycling. He continued to ride until he was in his late 80s, and then had to give up cycling because macular degeneration and other challenges brought on by aging made cycling too dangerous.
As an octogenarian cyclist, I am increasingly aware of the effects of aging upon my cycling abilities and interests. Very little has been published on this subject, and I’m having to figure it out for myself. If only Gene Sloane, my long-time cycling mentor, had written one more book: Eugene Sloane’s Complete Book of Bicycling for People Growing Old!