It’s been quite a while since I have done a review on a bike book. A while ago, Michelle and I were walking around Third place Books in Lake Forest park. I picked it up to take a look and the subtitle grabbed me:
The Untold Story of Seven Thousand Bicycles and the Rise of a Borderline Empire. Reading this I realized this would be different from any other bike book I had read. This wasn’t someone traveling cross-country or around the world for fun. This was using bikes to smuggle people across the border from Mexico to the United States.
I have always said a bike can take you anywhere, but I never thought about this…
The entire story started by dealing with an environmental issue. When heavy rains hit the southern California – Mexico border near Tijuana, the rivers flood, washing detritus into the States. In the mud and crud that washes north is, every time, a giant pile of used tires.
These all have to be cleaned up and deposed by the state of California, and evidently it aint cheap. When a reporter went down to investigate, report, and determine the source of the car tires, he stumbled on an amazing sight. A local rancher had 100s of bicycles.
This rancher just north of the border, as well as others in the area, would almost daily stumble across abandoned bikes of all types and condition. Everything from barely working pieces of rusty metal to top of the line mountain and road bikes. They were all just lying around.
The reporter (who just happens to be the author of the book) was a man after my own heart. He loves bikes! Hands down, my favorite line from this book (Not that I can prove everything he says) is:
Requiring no electricity or chemical fuel, bicycles have lifted economics, facilitated industrial revolutions, and circumnavigated the globe. Their inventors and technicians gave us the motorcycle, the short skirt, the unchaperoned date, and an audacious faith in our own forward progress.
The tires were quickly forgotten and the bikes became the story. Where did they come from, who rode them, why were they used, he wanted to know it all. The who was quickly answered. The riders were people entering the country illegally.
But there was so much more to the story…
The term for someone in Mexico who smuggles people over the border is a coyote (hence the title of the book.) The person who came up with the idea of using bikes was known as El Indio.
Why did he use bikes? First a person on the bike is faster than anyone on foot. Then, even someone not in shape, can go farther on a bike than on foot. Roads are not always needed for a bike to travel. Finally, the seismic alarms that have been calibrated to pick up someone walking or running aren’t set off by a smooth rolling bike. Yep, bikes are the ultimate machine!
I will tell you, the book started out slow. I’ve been trying to read it since the fall. I liked it, and I learned a lot, but he seemed to be rambling all over the place….
But, in the second half it started to come together.
I won’t give away too much, but it turned out that there were multiple stories going on..
We learned more about El Indio than I ever expected. Where he came from, his family, his becoming a coyote. But, as the book progressed, he became a person, not just a smuggler. He had feelings, fell in love, had dreams. I had never once thought of a person who smuggled people over the border as a person. I actually found myself liking the guy and feeling sorry for him later.
The bikes for the most part were stolen from people in California and transported south over the border. As we know, I feel there is a special place in hell for bike thieves. This did not make me happy. However, once the bikes were recovered after the illegal crossing, I was very surprised with what happened to them. These stories would make its own book.
I am not sure what I was expecting with this book. But, in a very good way, I got something completely different. I learned history of the border, and the changes that have occurred as we try to enforce the immigration laws. This was written before the recent election and the whole discussion of a wall. There is a chapter that gave me even more reasons to think the wall will not work.
I do recommend this book to cyclist and non cyclists alike. With current events and rhetoric about immigration from the south, putting a human spin on the people we are talking about makes a difference.
I only gave it 3 stars as it took a while to get into. The second half, though, makes it worth it! If you read it, let me know what you think.