Book: The Lost Cyclist
Author: David Herlihy
Publisher: Mariner Books
Frank Lenz was a young man with a bright future. As one of the more famous bicyclists of his day, Lenz was ambitious and wanted the notoriety that some of the other more well-known cyclists were enjoying. His taste for adventure had him seeking out a sponsor to help him take a bicycling trip around the world. He found that sponsor in Outing magazine. In 1892, Lenz set out on his trip around the world. He left his Pittsburgh home and began his worldwide trip by crossing North America before boarding a ship for Japan. For two years, Lenz braved the dangers of bad weather, civil unrest, and illness. As he approached Europe, Lenz knew that the danger of passing through the Middle East would be one of the more harrowing parts of his trip. If he made it through the region, he would find Europe on the other side and be near home. Sadly, he never made it. Lenz disappeared in Eastern Turkey in 1894. The pleas of Lenz’s family and friends convinced Outing magazine to send a correspondent to search for Lenz and find out what happened to him.
I had heard of this book some time ago and thought it sounded interesting, but it wasn’t until a coworker recommended it for our Rogue Book Club book that I finally picked it up. I actually looked forward to reading this book because non-fiction is something that I should read more of and for some reason never get around to picking up. I was not disappointed. Herlihy wrote an terrifically interesting book that gives a little bit of history of the bicycle and the climate surrounding it’s development and also tells an amazing tale of several men that pushed the limits of the human experience.
This book was part travelogue and part mystery. I enjoyed reading about Lenz’s travels through North America, Japan, and China. It was interesting to see how people reacted to a man on a safety bicycle—most had never seen one and didn’t know quite what to think. I also found the cultural exchange interesting. In today’s society, it is so easy to expose yourself to other cultures just by clicking a button on your mouse or television. So much information is at our fingertips. This was not the case in the late 19th century. Lenz was a trailblazer in reaching out to the world to see what it had to offer. He was working fairly blind in some respects relying on information he read in newspapers and gaining information from people he talked to. I kept thinking how daunting it would be to embark on a trip such as this—travelling solo around the world on a bike!
The writing is newspaper reporting style. I saw a few reviews that said it was dry. I found it interesting and liked the directness of the writing style. There is a little bit of disconnect emotionally since it is written in a reporter style, but it also made the book a little more likable in my eyes because it wasn’t overwrought with emotion. The only part of the book that left me scratching my head was the epilogue. Herlihy seemed to be struggling with his own thoughts of the case and it appeared he was working through his own feelings about his research in this epilogue. It is interesting to see his point of view and how he felt about all involved in the search for Lenz. I just wish that he had put this in the rest of the book rather than save it for the end. He brought up some interesting points that made me reconsider some of what he had written earlier in the book. Even with this misgiving, I still enjoyed The Lost Cyclist quite a bit and would recommend it to anyone that enjoys travelogues and mysteries. The book provides both a mystery/true crime element with the excitement of worldwide travel.