David Herlihy | Book Cellar | Literary Events | Chicago Reader

David Herlihy Recommended Free Critics' Picks

When: Fri., July 16, 7 p.m. 2010

In 1894, while riding through eastern Turkey on the final leg of a round-the-world bike tour, a 27-year-old Pittsburgher named Frank Lenz disappeared. David Herlihy’s fascinating and thorough book, The Lost Cyclist (Houghton Mifflin), not only chronicles Lenz's journeys across the U.S., Japan, China, Burma, India, and Persia and the investigation into his fate but even touches on developments in bicycle design at the time. The high wheel had just been eclipsed in popularity by the safety bicycle—with two wheels of the same size—and so quickly were bikes evolving that the nickel-plated, 57-pound steed Lenz rode off on in May 1892 was obsolete by the time he arrived in Calcutta a year and half later. Roads, which evolved less quickly, were often so muddy that Lenz stuck to railroad tracks when possible, leading to some dangerous encounters. While he was crossing a trestle over a ravine in Wisconsin, a train caught him unaware and he allegedly ended up dangling from the bridge by one hand, holding his bike in the other. Lenz's failure to appear in Constantinople as planned prompted the editor of Outing, the magazine sponsoring the trip, to send another cyclist, William Sachtleben, in search of him. It’s a testament to Herlihy’s writing skill that the drawn-out bureaucratic process of getting permission to travel into the area where Lenz disappeared is nearly as compelling as Lenz's own story. —Julia Thiel

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