The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance

This is a completely unexpected story of the early days of cycling — and the dwindling days of worldwide adventure.  The heady days of Stanley and Livingstone, Darwin and the Beagle, and the Royal Geographic Society were past, but an entire generation still itched for a chance to make their mark and see foreign lands.  In the late 1890s, cycling became the rage among the youth of America.  Popular among casual and hardcore athletes alike, it made distances shorter, healthful living easier and invoked a sense of danger.  Adventurers saw an opportunity — see the world over the handlebars of a cycle.

This book is divided into two sections.  The first focuses on the era, the sport of cycling and the heroes of the new fad sweeping the nation.  It’s a well-researched snapshot of the times — the battle between “ordinary” and “safety” cycles, cycling clubs, competitive magazines and advertisers, and adventurous spirits.

The second section traces the ill-fated Frank Lenz in his attempt to circle the globe on a safety bicycle (excepting the oceans and other impassable sections, of course).  His determination captured the affections of the general public and he became a household name.  When the story became about Lenz’s disappearance, it seemed everyone had an opinion.

William Sachtleben and Thomas Allen

At times, the first half seems to move slowly.  The groundwork laid in the initial pages does become important to the second half, but it’s hard to know that.  It would have helped to drop a hint of the second half at the outset so the reader is looking for the two tales to merge.

The book compiles dozens of telegrams, letters, memos, transcripts and articles and pieces together the story of Lenz, and his would-be rescuer Sachtleben.  The research is extremely impressive, particularly due to the number of sources, many of them foreign governments that no longer exist.  
The Lost Cyclist is a great read for anyone who has wanderlust, with a touch of Orientalism.  It truly finds a story worth telling from a time gone by.  You may even find yourself feeling nostalgic for time you never lived in.
Many thanks to the folks at HMH Books for the review copy.

ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547521985 ; $14.95
ISBN-10: 0547521987
Trade Paperback ; 368 pages
Publication Date: 05/04/2011
Trim Size: 5.31 x 8.00