Literary Criticism and Significance
David V. Herlihy’s Bicycle: The History was enthusiastically received as a history of an everyday invention that opened people’s eyes to the intricate history of a device they tend to take for granted. However, his follow-up work, The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance, has been met with mixed reviews. It has been generally recommended to curious cyclists but is considered unlikely to please a wider audience.
All critics agree that Herlihy has done a fine job researching the case of Frank Lenz’s disappearance. Largely forgotten by the time his mother passed away, Lenz provides an interesting case study of the world before globalization, the information age, and global transportation. Herlihy’s research relies extensively on primary sources including journals, interviews, and articles from the 1890s. Herlihy has explained that he came upon the idea to write The Lost Cyclist when he discovered Lenz’s story while doing research for his previous book, Bicycle: The History.
Many critics have also found it interesting to contrast the attitudes toward foreign cultures that were predominant at the end of the nineteenth century with contemporary attitudes. More than one critic takes points out that Herlihy’s adventurers carry revolvers during their travels. Writing for The New York Times, Robert Sullivan criticizes Herlihy because he is
mostly along for the ride, hesitating to weigh in on the Americans’ racist jerkiness, at home and abroad.
Indeed, Herlihy provides very little historical context to explain the background of Turkish unrest, the massacre of the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, or why the Chinese were often hostile to Lenz.
Proponents of The Lost Cyclist tend to praise the book for its discussion of the early bicycle. They point out the influence of early designs. Writing for Bicycle Fixation, Richard Risemberg notes that
technical changes brought about improvements that make current day advances seem piddling by comparison: nothing has yet superseded the diamond frame, the chain drive, the pneumatic tire.
It is here that Herlihy appears to be in his element, given his background writing about the bicycle.
Detractors criticize the final third of The Lost Cyclist, which chronicles Sachtleben’s return to Turkey. More than one person has criticized this part of the book as frustrating and slow reading. Casey McCormick suggests that it fails to deliver on the “epic tale” it promises, concluding that readers will “ultimately find themselves wishing for a better set of wheels.”