Need for the Bike


Need for the Bike
By Paul Fournel

Review from Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 3, No. 3 (Spring 2005):

In Need for the Bike, Fournel explores his life as a cyclist – as somebody who rides because they enjoy riding, not because they want to get in shape, earn a living, or seek adventure in far-away lands.

Fournel takes the reader along on his bike, starting with his childhood in post-war Saint-Etienne, then the epicenter of the French bicycle industry. He shares how this cyclist thinks and how he perceives the world.

On the bike, Fournel “lives” the terrain that other travelers only see as spectators. A mountain is not simply a mountain, but “first a grade to climb, a test, a doubt, sometimes anxiety. At the summit, it is conquest, lightness. I’ve taken it in, and it is in me.”

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Fournel expresses what I feel when riding my bike: Cyclists delight in small details, such as a small, shady brook, which “preserves, even on the hottest days, a breath of cool air.” Fournel passes the spot in a couple of seconds, but he can ride for two or three hours for the sole pleasure of rediscovering it.

Fournel observes the changes in bicycle technology. He has seen “steel replaced by aluminum, aluminum replaced by carbon fiber, carbon fiber by titanium and titanium by steel, and on it goes.” But he does not dwell on technical aspects. For him, the purpose of a beautiful, finely tuned custom bike is simple: “It makes you want to do more. Going out on an attractive bike is pleasure itself.”

At first sight, Fournel is a “cyclosportif,” who enjoys going fast on his racing bike. But we quickly learn that he is not inspired by competition, but by a love of riding. He makes fun of big gears: “Mind-boggling stories circulate everywhere, of gears as huge as plesiosaurs, Loch Ness monsters. In more than one guy’s imagination, to ‘get into the big ring’ is already to go fast.”

Fournel describes the sights, sounds and smells he encounters while riding, and the secrets of cycling: “To descend well, you’ve got to have an excellent knowledge of the road – a kind of complicity with the engineers who built it, an instinctive and rapid grasp of the terrain. Every road is a design, and every descent is a design within a design.”

Paul Fournel is a member of the OUvrage de LIttérature POtentielle (OULIPO, Workshop for Potential Literature). Need for the Bike displays a concise and clear prose full of subtle wit that is a joy to find in bicycle writings. The translation by Allan Stoekl, a professor of French language at Pennsylvania State University, beautifully captures this style. In close collaboration with the author, Stoekl crafted translations for French terms like the “Witch with the Green Teeth” (bonking), the “Man with the Hammer” (hitting the wall) and many others.

Need for the Bike is a delightful book, in fact, the most enjoyable book on cycling I have read. —JH

  • Publisher: Bison Books
  • Year: 2003, 1st Edition
  • Binding: Softcover
  • Pages: 150 pages
  • Dimensions: 7.2″ x 5.5”