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Guest post: Author and cycling pioneer Eugene Sloane had ties to Portland area

Posted by on January 27th, 2020 at 12:11 pm

Eugene Sloane.
(Photo via Tom Howe)

[Tom Howe is a BikePortland supporter and local ride leader. He’s previously written about using BikePortland as a research tool, his solar eclipse ride, and Virginia’s Creeper Trail.]

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.

Sloane wore a hockey helmet for years before bike-specific helmets became available.

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

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9 Comments
  • Avatar
    Maria January 27, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    Wow, Tom, this is interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing.
    I especially enjoyed the part about the concern from 10 speed purists about a 3 speed bicycle. I know a 3 speed purist who’d be the reverse.
    Eugene looks kind of like you, are you related?
    Maria
    PS I’ve heard “get a car” heckles more than once from mad motorists!

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      El Presidente January 27, 2020 at 6:38 pm

      Maria
      I especially enjoyed the part about the concern from 10 speed purists about a 3 speed bicycle. I know a 3 speed purist who’d be the reverse.

      You rang? 😉

      I own a copy of that first edition somewhere (all I can currently find on-hand is the 1995 edition). So it’s been awhile since I read it, though I remember that Sloane’s assessment of three-speeds was not that high, being a common attitude amongst “serious bicycle enthusiasts” of the day. But I also found it ironic that he’d poo-poo something like the Raleigh Superbe three-speed bicycle while wonder why there weren’t any decent commuting bikes for adults. That Raleigh Superbe could be purchased with fenders, chainguard, rear rack, and lighting via Dynohub(!) But since it wasn’t “lightweight” and had only three gears it was no good in his opinion.

      I know that Sloane had to include info about three speeds and coaster brakes in the 1970 edition as did any other bike books of the time, as there weren’t that many 10 speeds in the US just yet. So I’m sure he didn’t mourn the dumping of that “obsolete” info from later editions. But I wonder how upset he was when he saw that first cover? (I know that authors often have little to no control over their book covers.)

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      Tom Howe January 27, 2020 at 8:58 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Maria! No, I’m not related to Gene Sloane, although if you’ve looked at those newspaper photos of him, you know where I got the idea of having that small rearview mirror hanging near my left eye.

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    Scott Wanhala January 27, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    That was neat read as I have rode those same roads in the Detroit region from living there in the past and now living in Portland! Thanks for sharing. Detroit proper has amazingly wide roads and areas off the beaten path for cycling even if the, “cycling infrastructure,” isn’t there as widely here in Portland.

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  • Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
    Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike) January 27, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    That is one stylish person on a bike! Thanks for sharing this history.

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    Jim Lee January 27, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    Got all 736 pages of the 1980 edition with the Paramount Tourer front and back.

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    9watts January 27, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    I loved Sloane’s book on Mountain biking when it came out. Inhaled every page. A few years ago I found a very strange bike trailer on Craigslist which a fellow in NW Portland was offering for sale. Come to find out he knew it to have been an experimental single wheel mostly plastic trailer that Eugene Sloane had either designed or owned during his stint in Vancouver. As a student of bike trailer history I of course had to buy it, even as it does not strike me as a winning design.

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    BrianC January 27, 2020 at 5:05 pm

    My wife and I lived in Vancouver, WA in the mid 80’s and did a lot of tandem touring. Somebody introduced us to Eugene and he came over to interview us about tandems for one of his books. He told us he always kept a pistol in his handlebar bag, which we thought was a bit paranoid. Our cycling pastime had certainly evolved. The article I read 5 minutes ago was about finding the right shoe for gravel riding. Sheesh.

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    Todd Boulanger January 27, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    Wracking my brain as to thinking if I met Mr. Sloane in Vancouver…

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