A new book spotlights the varied members of Tucson's cycling community

Even at my advanced age (and weight), there are still several things I would like to try for the first time in my life.

Despite an industrial-strength case of acrophobia and its trusty sidekick, vertigo, I would still like to try skydiving, although the physics involved in finding a parachute for me would be daunting. As a young kid, I always thought skiing looked fun, but you might be surprised to learn that, growing up where I did in Los Angeles, there weren't any youth ski clubs in the projects. I was a lifeguard for many years, but never got around to trying scuba-diving. Heck, I'd even be willing to attend a Republican convention, knowing full well that I would risk being severely pummeled about the head and neck by people's butlers and personal valets.

One thing I do not ever want to do is ride a bicycle on the streets of Tucson. I still have a lot of living to do. I'm crazy, but I'm not that crazy!

Harking back to the projects reference, I have never owned a bicycle. For a struggling family that often went long stretches without a car, a bike would have been a luxury item. I didn't learn how to ride a bike until late in my teens, and then only as a dare.

I wouldn't mind riding a bike if there were someplace safe to do it. I can just imagine, however, that a long-range front view of me on a bike would look like a potato balancing on a toothpick. I'd probably end up as the poster child for some fringe protest group calling for an end to metal and/or composite abuse.

All joking aside, I don't know how or why anybody rides a bike on the streets of Tucson. It's insane. The simple, ugly truth is that you could get dead in the blink of an eye, and it almost certainly wouldn't be your fault. That would suck for all eternity.

My son, who is young and athletic, loves to ride, but my wife and I insist that he only ride on the Rillito, and even then, we sweat his crossing River Road to get to the bike path. The reason is simple: Tucson has an unusually high concentration of jackass drivers—not just bad drivers, and not "distracted" drivers (a term I hate, because it appears to give the jackass driver an excuse for not giving one's full attention and effort to the deadly serious task which he/she is undertaking).

We've all heard the jackass driver recount some inane anecdote about the time he saw some cyclist run through a stop sign, which, apparently, in the jackass mind, means that none of the other cyclists deserve our respect or consideration.

Having said all that, I must acknowledge that there are a whole lot of people out there who do ride bikes on the streets and trails in and around Tucson, taking advantage of the year-round great weather to keep themselves fit, cutting down the number of automobiles on Tucson's streets, and giving the jackasses something to complain about (and occasionally aim at). Many of Tucson's hard-core cycling enthusiasts—let's call them psycho-ists—are now featured in a new book called Tucson Spokes: A Photo Collection of the Tucson Cycling Community.

A labor of love created by Tucson graphic-designer Stefan Walz and professional-photographer Chris Mooney, the book has some great shots of cyclists in various desert settings, along with profiles of cyclists who recount their favorite rides. Included in that bunch is Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, who likes the Rillito and Santa Cruz loops, but also likes riding through the university and downtown. Be warned: The shot of Huckleberry in compression shorts and a bike helmet is not for the squeamish. (On the other hand, car-dealer and former marathoner Jim Click looks quite spiffy in his regalia.) Also included are shots of Peter Wilke in front of bike-friendly Time Market, and the legendary Brian Keener Smith, who creates one-of-a-kind Keener Cycles, including his elevated four-seater shade bike, often seen at the Burning Man festival, and his 30-foot-long lounge bike.

There are also some grim shots of ghost bikes, the heartbreaking works of art left alongside Tucson's roads to mark the spots where cyclists and jackasses came together to end a life.

Walz says that he came up with the idea to help put names and faces to those who make up the vibrant and diverse Tucson cycling community. The book is available for purchase at www.tucsonspokes.com.

There's one thing I have to mention: In the book, there's a picture of a man named Leslie Prentiss, who's riding his bike along the McCain Loop (which is west of the Tucson Mountains, off Kinney Road). Everybody tells me that he's the nicest guy—Vietnam vet, works for Desert Survivors. Anyway, you know how when you play pickup basketball, teams will go shirts and skins? There's always this one guy who wants to go skins, and everybody else says, "Naw, dude, that's OK. You're a shirt."

You've got to see this picture of Prentiss. He looks like he co-starred alongside John Lithgow in Harry and the Hendersons. It's worth the price of the book alone.