As a driver passed a bicycle commuter a passenger shouted out the car’s window, “Get a car, sonny!” That’s not something you’re likely to hear in Portland nowadays, but this was Detroit, the year was 1964, and the cyclist was 48-year-old Eugene Sloane on his daily 12-mile ride from the suburbs to his job as editor of the publication Air Engineering in downtown Detroit.
A few years later Sloane became a best-selling author with The Complete Book of Bicycling a book published at the beginning of the 1970s 10-speed bike boom that drove the movement to even greater heights. It has now been 50 years since the publication of Sloane’s book, and for a year back in 1970 it was the only new bike book on the market.
“In 1964 few people even knew what a 10-speed was, and Sloane’s 24-mile commute was outrageous enough for the Detroit Free Press to publish an article about it.”
In 1964 few people even knew what a 10-speed was, and Sloane’s 24-mile commute was outrageous enough for the Detroit Free Press to publish an article about it, including two black-and-white photographs. In one picture Sloane is seen departing his home on a snowy winter morning wearing ordinary office clothing under a jacket. He’s also wearing “skinny pants” over forty years before they became a cyclist fashion trend. This was to avoid chainring snag on his 19-pound Frejus 10-speed imported from Italy. What’s more remarkable about the photo is that Sloane is wearing a helmet (see photo below), in this case one of the light-duty motorcycle helmets then available. It wasn’t until 11 years later that the Bell Biker was introduced, the first hard-shell helmet specifically designed for bicycling. In the warm months Sloane switched to a hockey helmet for increased ventilation. The other photo shows Sloane working on the Frejus in his basement workshop. It was here that he developed the step-by-step bike repair and maintenance procedures that are the hallmark of his books.
A book titled The Complete Book of Bicycling might sound pretentious until you look at the table of contents, which covers many topics including health benefits, safety, selection, fitting, gearing, touring, camping, racing, history, accessories, maintenance and repair.
The dust jacket for the book elicited minor consternation among 10-speed purists in 1970, as it shows a 3-speed bike on the cover merging into a 10-speed racer with Campagnolo components on the back. The 3-speed even has a small dog in the front basket to emphasize its urban use. In retrospect this cover was a wise marketing choice, as it gave the book a broader appeal.
With minor title changes, this book had a 25-years history, being revised in 1974, 1980, 1988, and 1995. The 1980 edition titled The All New Complete Book of Bicycling is the most comprehensive at 736 pages. The subsequent edition is shorter by 200 pages, with a lot of “obsolete” information like 3-speed and coaster brake maintenance being pulled by the publisher. The 1980 edition also introduced a new dust jacket with a 15-speed steel-framed bike sporting nicely chromed Nervex lugs on the head tube. In this case the same bike, which was Gene’s personal Schwinn Paramount, spanned both the front and back covers.
At the time of the first publication of The Complete Book of Bicycling Sloane had moved to the Chicago suburbs where he still had a long daily commute. But with the publication of the 1974 edition, he returned on a bike tour to Detroit for a 10-year follow-up story with the Detroit Free Press. He continued to show bike fashion sense, wearing pinstripe touring overalls in a photo accompanying the article. Always one to embrace the latest technology, Sloane was then riding a Teledyne Titan, an early titanium-frame bike. He was also a fan of the Exxon Graftek graphite-bonded frame (an early carbon frame with stainless steel lugs). Although both these frames eventually became known for structural failure under heavy use, those problems were not known at the time, and Sloane acknowledged these issues in later editions of his book.
Sloane also wrote a column for Popular Mechanics called “The Bicycle Shop” that ran every month from March 1972 through December 1976 and occasionally thereafter. In addition to the column he authored well-received bike buyer’s guides in the June 1973 and June 1974 issues, with the top-of-the-line Schwinn Paramount featured on the cover of the June 1973 magazine.
Sloane’s last six books were published in Portland
Sloane authored several other books about bicycles, including dedicated maintenance manuals and pocket repair guides. But perhaps the most notable is Eugene A. Sloane’s Complete Book of All-Terrain Bicycles published as the mountain bike movement was exploding in 1985. During this time Sloane had moved to Vancouver, Washington and he worked with members of PUMP (Portland United Mountain Pedalers) on the revised edition of the book published in 1991. PUMP continues to the present day, under the name Northwest Trail Alliance since 2009.
Eugene Sloane wrote his last book in 1995, and it was also the final edition of the series started in 1970, this time titled Sloane’s Complete Book of Bicycling – 25th Anniversary Edition. He was still living in Vancouver, later moving back to the Chicago area, where well into his 80s he continued biking on one of his favorite routes, the Green Bay Trail. He passed away on March 29, 2008 at the age of 91.
In addition to his books on bicycling, Sloane also authored The Complete Book of Locks, Keys, Burglar & Smoke Alarms and Other Security Devices. If Gene Sloane were around today, he’d certainly have some sage advice on how to secure your bike against theft.
Do you have any memories of Eugene Sloane from the decade he lived in the Portland region? If so, please post in the comments. His last six bike books were published while living here, and he consulted with a number of local experts on their content. And check out my Eugene Sloane site, it has several high-resolution newspaper photos, as well as the covers of all his books.
— Tom Howe