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A Review of Ride Guide: Covered Bridges of Ohio, By Kurt Leib & Steve Butterman

Review by Jim Joyce

'Tis a gift to be simple. Covered bridges are simple, wonderful gifts, appreciated for their...simplicity. Bikexchange.com editor reviews guide to experiencing them first-hand from the saddle.

Authors Kurt Leib and Steve Butterman are "Bridgers," that is, "bridge-hunting fanatics." Taking it one step further, they could be termed, "Covered Bridgers." And how can one blame them? They live in a state where there are still 37 remaining covered bridges, structures of beauty and interest to even the most humbug of travelers. You match that presence with an already seasoned, cycling-friendly state known for its small towns with neat, tidy squares, and you have great fodder for a "ride guide." Leib and Butterman have done us a long due favor.

And they are well-groomed to pen this guide. Leib is a journalist and a frequent contributor to the regional cycling tabloid, Bike Midwest. Butterman is a historian. Both love cycling. And covered bridges.

The book's cover is a worthy piece of art on its own. Photos of a covered bridge, softly blend into scenes of Ohio's countryside, in different seasons and times of day. The pictures of three relaxed bikers are small, as the bridge and the countryside dominate. Ah, that collage is what I imagine such an Ohio covered-bridge ride to be.

The meat of the book is the very thorough description of 11 suggested tours that are charted within seven Ohio counties. The tours vary in length (24 miles is shortest, 60 miles is longest) and in degree of difficulty, so even a beginner teen or adult cyclist with a handful of 20-mile rides under the belt could find one to enjoy. On the flipside, there are some longer, more hilly, and downright tougher rides, many of which include gravel roads, a better fit for a mountain bike. Some include all paved roads but most have at least some stretches of dirt road, making a "hybrid," mountain bike, or road bike with wider tires the best fit.

At the beginning of each tour chapter, to the right of the book crease, the authors give a quick description of the terrain, road conditions, traffic level, and points of interest. Printed to the left of the crease is a simple map of the route, leaving out just enough details to keep the "lightweight" map readers from getting confused. This gives a quick synopsis of and look at the tour. What I thought was missing from this quick snapshot was a little, square map with a dot pinpointing the tour's location in the state. Instead, I had to flip back to the beginning of the book to find the one larger version of the Ohio map, which has the location of every tour in the book marked with numbered dots.

This missing, small map, however, was my only complaint. Following the one-sentence descriptions of terrain, traffic, etc., the authors provide an interesting, several-page read on each tour, covering the history of the area and of the specific covered bridges in the route. This was the most interesting part for this reviewer-History Channel fanatic. Immediately following this text in each chapter is the all important route cue sheet. The sheets are very thorough and include: point to next point mileage, cumulative mileage, street (and route) name and important landmarks.

Each route is well-covered and quite detailed, but where the book really delivers for the connoisseur is in the Glossary and the Preface. The glossary provides simple diagrams and definitions of at least a dozen types of bridge designs, so amatuer carpenters and would be engineers get a special treat. In the "Basic Data on Bridges" section of the glossary, the list includes each bridge in the book, its date of completion, its length and its "truss type" (explained earlier in the glossary). The preface gives the rationale for touring these bridges via bicycle and provides a short, interesting history of the emergence of the covered bridge, her rise to prominence, her gradual, nearly wholesale replacement by new structures, and her preservation and great admiration in recent decades.

The book is slim (107 pages), easy to pack, and specific information can be easily found within despite the absence of an index.

I have always lived within an hour of Ohio and I have been waiting for such a book for a long time. I must admit that the proverbial goosebumps arose when I was asked by Anacus Press to review it. I love the subject and I love riding in Ohio. I've already picked out my first personal tour--Ashtabula County, Eastern Leg--for Spring 2000. This small book will "loom large" on my shelf of regional touring guides.

The Book...
Ride Guide: Covered Bridges of Ohio, by Kurt Leib and Steve Butterman, published by Anacus Press, Liberty Corner, New Jersey. Anacus Press is known for its "Bed, Breakfast and Bike" books and its "Ride Guide" series.

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