Elly Blue and Portland’s bike book boom

Elly Blue, publisher.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

These are boom times in the bike book publishing world. From big coffee-table books detailing the beauty of bike design, to guidebooks on where and how to ride and everything in between — the cycling renaissance in North America is being mirrored by an equally robust uptick in the amount of new books that document it.

Major publishing houses have noticed and they’re certainly getting a piece of the action; but here in Portland, a growing number of authors are turning to small press and independent publishers.

And who’s at the forefront of this fledgling revolution? None other than activist, businesswoman, writer, journalist and southeast Portland resident Elly Blue. Under her Taking the Lane Media banner, Elly is publishing, consulting on, distributing, marketing, and even writing bike books at a breakneck pace. After cutting her teeth on writing and bike journalism here on BikePortland back in the day, Elly found big success as a columnist for Grist.org. Since that gig ended, Elly has spent the last two years learning everything she can about the publishing business (and she’s also become something of an expert on how to win a Kickstarter campaign).

bike books!

Just a sampling of local, small press bike books.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

At last count, Elly’s stable includes 15 titles. Her bestsellers are Our Bodies, Our Bikes, “An encyclopaedic assortment of writing about bodies and bikes, inspired by the classic women’s health book”; and Pedal, Stretch, Breathe, an illustrated guide to incorporating bicycling and yoga written by Kelli Refer.

Reflecting on current and upcoming projects, Elly says, “There’s so much to say about the emerging bicycle culture, and yet, there’s still so little being published about it. At least so far.”

Not only has Elly gathered an impressive shelf of titles in a relatively short time, through the strong network she has helped build at the Portland Society — a women’s business networking and support group she co-founded with author Ellee Thalheimer in 2010 — she encourages others to become writers and publishers themselves.

“People keep buying everything I carry and then ask for more like it, so I tell them to start writing,” Elly told me recently. “Several of my forthcoming books came out of conversations exactly like that.”

When she’s not mailing out orders or dreaming up new book ideas, Elly tours the country promoting her titles and finding new authors to bring into the fold. Ellly knows the niche she’s in (bike books written by women authors) is small; but she’s working to change that. “I want to find more colleagues!” she proclaimed when I met up with her a few weeks ago, “I want to start a revolution!”

From the looks of what’s on tap just this month, it looks like Elly is well on her way.


– Tonight (11/8), she’ll will join fellow author April Streeter for a reading at Powell’s Books on SE Hawthorne Blvd. Streeter wrote Women on Wheels, a book she self-published and has now contracted with Elly for distribution.

– On November 15th, a book Elly is acting as publicist for, Hop in the Saddle, a “guidebook to beer tasting by bicycle in Portland,” will be released with a party Velo Cult (1969 NE 42nd).

– And perhaps Elly’s biggest project to date is Everyday Bicycling: How to Ride a Bike for Transportation (Whatever your Lifestyle), a new book she wrote that she says will be a “game-changer.” In it, Elly writes about “all the basics, including street smarts, bike shopping, dressing professionally, carrying everything from groceries to children to furniture, and riding in all weather.” Clever Cycles will host the release party for Everyday Bicycling on November 29th (event details here).

Keep up with Elly (if you can) at TakingTheLane.com.

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Andrew K
Andrew K
10 years ago

Go Elly! I enjoy her writing style quite a bit.

Hart Noecker
10 years ago

Every time I lend out one of her zines I have to fight to get it back.

10 years ago

Elly is one who has helped make Portland, Portland. Big thanks to Elly for all of her hard work and leadership. I first met Elly when she brought the Towards Car Free Cities Conference to Portland several years ago. That conference had a lasting effect on me, on others, and on the city.

10 years ago

Congratulations, Elly!

10 years ago

Taking the Lane was hugely influential to me when I started commuting by bike a year ago, and I continue to value Elly’s blog and her comments on Twitter. Thanks, Elly!

10 years ago

I’m not sure who this Elly Blue person is, but I wish I had half the energy displayed in this article. Damn.

But seriously — there are a lot of people, Portlanders especially, it seems, working really, really hard to bring creative and useful books to the bike-hungry American people. Patriots, all of em!

(NB: All these books are 100% made in the USA — another advantage of print.)

Actually seriously — Last night’s event was entirely composed of good parts, but if I had to choose then the best part was getting to see a little snapshot of what’s possible when you get a bunch of dynamic and dedicated people together doing their best work all in their own way but leading in a clear, super posi direction.

The other cool thing is that there’s so much going on in the bike arts/writing/film world that this event could happen monthly and never repeat itself. Which isn’t a bad idea — anyone want to make it happen?

Thanks JM and everyone …

10 years ago