Sunday, December 27, 2009

Book Review: Off to the Races

I'm lucky enough to have good friends of the non-bikey persuasion who know me as a bike geek. One of those friends found a blast from my past at a garage sale in the form of the book Off to the Races (copyright 1968) written by Fred and Marjorie Phleger and illustrated by Leo Summers.

I owned a copy of this book way back in my tricycle days, long before I graduated to two-wheelers, and -- now that I see it again and the memories come rushing back -- I think it's probably my favorite kids' bike book, even outstripping the famed primate on wheels Curious George. It's the story of a boy who's told that he's "too young" to make the two-day bike trip with older brother Bob to a bike rally. Undeterred, our hero sneaks a peek at Bob's maps, sees his brother off, then sets off himself in a solo pursuit. Thus begins a trip that cyclists of all ages can relate to -- hills, fatigue, rain, mud, darkness, and even an encounter with a bear. At the risk of minor spoilage, our hero does finally reach the rally -- which includes, among many other events, a "wiggly board race." Let's see Lance Armstrong do that!

With simple full-page colored drawings and just a couple kid-friendly sentences per page, the Phlegers and Leo Summers still manage to convey an epic adventure on wheels. I remember worrying about that kid as he rode alone through the rainy night searching for Bob. I remember wondering if he would ever make it to that rally. Three decades later, I still worry and wonder, even though I know the ending by heart. Best of all, even though the bikes and outfits look dated (it's like Dick and Jane meet The Rivendell Reader) and I've never heard of a rally like the one described ("wiggly board race", remember?), the book rings true to me as a cyclist now that I've finally taken the training wheels off and set out on my own two-wheeled adventures.

All in all, it's a book that bikers of all ages can appreciate. If you can find a copy (it seems to be long out of print, unfortunately, although there are usually used copies on Amazon), I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I HAVE this book and love to share it with children of friends who visit. It has pride of place in my bicycle library next to "Curious George Rides a Bicycle" and "Ferdinand the Bull".