books, Gear, Reviews

Book review: Two Wheels North


Two Wheels North:  Bicycling the West Coast in 1909 by Eveln McDaniel Gibb tells the story of two boys, Vic McDaniel and Ray Francisco, that left their home in 1909 to ride their wheels north to Seattle for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.  It took them 54 days.  They kept in touch with their local paper, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat– who’s editor promised them $25 if they made it all the way to the fair.

On their best day they traveled 64 miles, over roads that could scarcely be called roads at all.  Many miles were traveled on foot, pushing their heavy steel bikes and packs up and occasionally down whatever surface lay ahead. The best roads were gravel that had been recently oiled.  Multiple times they had to stop and find a brazier as the welds failed on the bikes, sometimes while riding.

The coaster brake hubs that the bikes were equipped with, though the best at the time, still had to be rebuilt after big decents.  No Phil Wood grease available- they used Vaseline, the best thing going.  They learned little tricks like chopping down a tree when they reached the top of a grade and tying it to the rear of their bikes for the descent, saving the wear on their brake.

They camped outside, fished for their dinner, worked when they needed money, had run-ins with pick pockets and hustlers as well as meeting many kind people along the way.

The two boys, just out of highschool, arrived in Seattle- with many stories to tell and in time to gain their $25.

Two Wheels North contains pictures of the postcards that were sent to keep in touch with their family and the Press Democrat as well as photos of the boys.  A daunting task for anyone, the fact that these kids were just out of high school makes their trip even more intriguing.

A good story and a quick read- with a look back at what the West was, at the towns as they were just coming into their own- and the people that lived there.

People familiar with the West Coast may find this book more entertaining, but anyone with a love for cycling history will likely appreciate it.

I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.


  • Nova

    July 22, 2010

    ah, yes! such a good book. friend passed it on to me over the winter, and i devoured it. made me miss my longer biketouring escapades SO MUCH, and even inspired my friend to go on a longer trip of their own! only had one bike-camping venture this year. can’t wait to get back to the San Juans later this summer.

  • Sarah

    July 22, 2010

    Read this over the winter as well. Quick and interesting read!

  • Ian

    July 22, 2010

    I’m working in Santa Rosa all this month. I’ll have to check out this book and see if there are any old pictures of the town or places in Santa Rosa they mention.

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