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Mapes rolls with success of ‘Pedaling Revolution’

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Mapes, seen here at the ’07
National Bike Summit, spent
four years working on the book.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Author and reporter Jeff Mapes is living the first-time authors’ dream. His book, Pedaling Revolution, is winning popular and critical acclaim, he has become a sought-after speaker, and it is selling at an unexpectedly brisk pace.

Last week, the book found its way into the prestigious Sunday Book Review of the New York Times where it was reviewed by none other than bike-lover and musician David Byrne (who’s coming out with his own bike book this fall). Byrne, not surprisingly, sang the book’s praises.

After just three months since it was released, the book’s publisher, Oregon State University Press, is already calling it “a smashing success.” OSU Press Associate Director Tom Booth told me yesterday that the book is their fastest-selling title ever.

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What we hoped might be a year’s supply lasted three weeks.”
— Tom Booth, Oregon State University Press

Given the down economy, Booth said they did a “conservative” first printing of 2,000 copies. Turns out, that wasn’t nearly enough.

“What we hoped might be a year’s supply lasted three weeks,” said Booth. So, in mid-April they took shipment of a 3,500 copy second printing. And just yesterday, they ordered 3,000 more.

With over three decades experience in journalism, there’s no doubt Mapes can write. And, as an everyday rider himself, his heart was invested in this project. But a key “x” factor in this book’s success would also have to be timing.

Riding as research.
Chatting with a Shimano marketing rep at the National Bike Summit.

“His timing was perfect,” Booth explained, “He took a topic — transportation bicycling — that was exploding on the streets and online and captured it for new audiences.”

Mapes isn’t used to the role of celebrity author, but he’s adapting to it well as he skips across the country speaking conference keynotes, book signings and media interviews. I chatted with him on the telephone yesterday.

I asked Mapes if he was surprised at the book’s success: “I had my fantasies,” he replied, “but it’s maybe fulfilled a few more them than I thought it would.”

Mapes is a humble man, and said all he has done is to “popularize what many people inside the movement have been talking about.” He went on: “I just put it all in one place. It reminded me of what you do with BikePortland.” (thanks Jeff)

Far from a dry, academic read, what Mapes’ does so well in the book is to weave the facts and figures into an approachable tone that moves at an easily readable pace. The result is a book that is not only useful for well-informed insiders and up-and-coming advocates, but one that breaks through to regular, everyday people with just a passing interest and/or curiousity in bikes.

Mapes told me a story of how someone in his yoga class read it and then passed it along to a friend. That person was then, “inspired by it…it just changed her life,” Mapes recalled.

From delivering a keynote to a conference for the Nevada Department of Transportation, to revving up advocates at a bike and pedestrian summit in Dayton, Ohio — Mapes’ documentation of a revolution has now put him at the cusp of it.

Is his book stoking the revolution? Or, is it just another piece of evidence that a revolution is underway? Probably a little of both.

Here’s Mapes’ take on that question:

“I wouldn’t be so presumptuous that the fact that my book is out there proves that there’s a revolution afoot — I’ve just been really struck by what’s happened in the last year-and-a-half or so. In the four years I worked on this book, I saw a real change about a year ago. You could feel this change, it was stunning.

When I started, you should have seen some of the blank looks I got when I mentioned my topic. But somewhere in the last year or so, I started to get a much different reaction.”

Now, the reaction he’s likely to start getting is, “Will you write another bike book?”. At least that’s what I asked him.

“I’ve got ideas [for another book] out there,” Mapes said, “but between my regular job and doing all this promotion, I don’t really have the time for it right now.”

— I reviewed Pedal Revolution back in March. You can learn more about this and many other great bike books, by browsing the BikePortland Bookstore (and remember, purchases made from links on that page help support this site).