Biking Through the ‘Hoods — Exploring Fifty American Cities by Bicycle

By Review by Lou Melini

Biking Through the ‘Hoods by Paul F. Pinsky, CityScape Press, Silver Spring MD. 20910, 2010

I requested and received this book after seeing an advertisement in the League of American Bicyclist’s American Cyclist magazine. The title intrigued me, though I can’t exactly say why. With that, I did not have any preconceived ideas about the book other than what I obtained from the title.

The first chapter discussed a bike tour through Philadelphia, up to Trenton and then returning via Camden. Having lived, worked, visited or attended school in all three of these locales, I was immediately interested in the book. Mr. Pinsky delved into the history, culture and politics of the cities he passed through along with a description of his ride. He purposely rode through some of the more destitute and impoverished sections of Philadelphia, a route not normally associated with “preferred bike route”. His route is one of the reasons why I no longer live in New Jersey. They are large urban bike-unfriendly areas that one tries to avoid (though Philadelphia has made great strides to become bike friendly in the past decade or two).

Some of the cities receive a long description of his bike ride; others receive a brief mention in this 249-page book. Overall the book is more of the same, 50 cities; 50 ride descriptions along with some background. Some of the background information I found interesting some not. Each reader of the book may find a few sections interesting as well. Salt Lake City made the list, in the chapter entitled North Pacific. It was a less than two-page, somewhat flattering description of his ride to the westside and up an eastside canyon.

It took me longer than expected to get through the book. Mr. Pinsky’s description of his ride through most of the cities sounded quite unappealing. The ride descriptions were mostly written like a diary. Sometimes it seemed that he inserted some random thoughts in the book. I didn’t have trouble putting the book down.

My biggest criticism of the book is the constant and overbearing insertion of the race or ethnicity of the people and neighborhoods he saw along the way. Predominately African-American (as well as Caribbean and Hispanic) neighborhoods were always described negatively. “Run-down, blighted, ghetto (or barrio), impoverished”, were just some of the descriptions used. Homes were “boarded-up, weed-infested, or run-down” and the streets were “dirty and littered, with unemployed loitering in doorways”. In Portland he stated “I figured that I was in the “ghetto” when I saw a rare break in the racial homogeneity-a neighborhood with mainly black people around.” In an African-American neighborhood in Buffalo a woman approached him. Rather than thinking she was schizophrenic, he stated; “in this neighborhood, and with her behavior, I figured she was a crack addict”.

The amount of pages devoted to race and ethnicity led me to believe that Mr. Pinsky is either (A). Portraying America for what it may be illustrating the continued economic disparities of the racial and ethnic groups; (B) Needed to prove by highlighting the “bad neighborhoods” where he rode to portray his ride in 50 cities as “an adventure” or (C) he chose to reinforce racial and ethnic stereotypes that portray minorities in a negative manner or as inferior in their personal lives. He does try to explain his negative views later in the book as part of a historically discriminatory legacy of our country. I am aware and sympathetic to the realities of how various groups were treated in this country over the course of history. However I found Mr. Pinsky’s near compulsive focus on race and ethnicity tiring.

It is difficult for me to give this book a “should buy” rating. If you have read my reviews over the past nine years, there are many other books more worthy of your money. Then again, we all have different interests and some may enjoy parts of the book as I did. I just didn’t enjoy it enough to rate it highly.

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