Cycling enthusiasts glued to coverage of the Tour may want to pick up Mike Magnuson’s latest book to read during commercial breaks. In “Bike Tribes,” Magnuson attempts to classify those who navigate on two wheels, skewering stereotypes in easily digestible and highly entertaining vignettes.
Magnuson’s previous books include “Heft on Wheels,” in which he chronicled his experience of getting in racing shape, dropping the spare tire around his middle and his pack-a-day habit. Today, he’s a creative writing professor at a low-residency program in the Pacific Northwest and a writer for Bicycling magazine. In his spare time, he bikes around Appleton, presumably studying his fellow cyclists in order to understand all the various subcultures of which he writes.
Q: When did you first realize there were so many tribes you could write a book?
A: It’s something that everyone who rides bikes seriously knows. It’s not a groundbreaking observation that there are different groups of cyclists, and within each category there are certain behavior types that are similar. Somewhere in there I thought I’d try to write about it in the simplest possible way based on an English professor’s style of sociological research.
Q: How would you describe your research?
A: I sent out surveys to about 300 people. Everyone who responded wrote out their thoughts in narrative. I took all of those stories and read through them and came up with a general set of classifications and behavior traits, and turned them into composite characters.
Q: Where do you see most Madison cyclists fitting in?
A: I know Madison’s one of the greatest commuter cities in the whole world. People ride bikes to get from place to place — in the book I classify them as either Commuters or the Overwhelming Majority. Most of those people don’t want to become a bike racer or get super fit or lose weight, they just ride bikes because it’s a sustainable way to get around.
Madison also has a tremendous race scene. Some of the best racers in the state are based there. It’s an awesome city, when I win the lottery I’m moving there.
Q: What tribe do you belong to?
A: I’m getting to be a Century Rider (bikers who ride 100 miles in one day), and I still race cyclocross. I’m not as good as I used to be, and I’m not as interested, honestly, in throwing away my life to ride bikes 25 or 30 hours a week anymore. I’m almost 50 and I’ve done the racing thing and I don’t want to do it anymore.
Q: But you were one of the Shrinking People (bikers who ride to lose weight) at one point, correct?
A: I was, I definitely shrunk. I’ve stayed moderately shrunken because I ride bikes.
Q: Is there a tribe that is the most reviled?
A: I keep getting in trouble for this, because I just speak my mind. People already hate me, so what’s the difference? Triathlon people are generally the most reviled of the bunch. I’m not sure reviled is the right word, but people generally look askance at triathletes. It could be for the way they ride their bikes, but it could just be the outfits. It could be as stupid and pathetic as that. No one likes what they’re wearing.
Deep down I respect that they do Ironman and I wish I was a tough enough person to pull that off, so probably that’s just jealousy. And I also don’t look very good in a jog bra, so there’s that.