Scene & Heard

Paperback Rider

Where: North Portland bike lanes Who: Evan Schneider, a local writer who puts a personal spin on cycling.

By Zach Dundas August 23, 2012

Image: Mei Ratz

ON A RECENT summer evening, Evan Schneider—novelist, editor, cyclist—steered his bike northbound across the Broadway Bridge. Scores of riders streamed along with him. The whole pack passed a temporary handmade homage to the iconic Union Station sign, urging Portlanders to “GO BY BIKE.” If every day was this nice, no doubt more people would.

Schneider cruised on his black Linus commuter. The 33-year-old, who works for the bookish nonprofit Literary Arts, has carved out his own niche in the local writing scene by chronicling modest but gilded two-wheeled experiences like this one. 

Since 2006, Schneider has edited Boneshaker, a little magazine of contemplative cycle-oriented prose and poetry. The twice-yearly prints 3,000 copies of each issue and always sells out. With its courtly tone and old-time feel—copies look like vintage repair manuals—the magazine echoes a current retro trend in boutique print. (Every author gets a “Mr.” or “Ms.”) This was not particularly calculated. “I wanted to write a cycling book, but couldn’t figure it out,” Schneider said as he turned north up the popular N Williams Avenue bike lane. “My publisher and I spent a whole day drinking in a mud hut he built in Colorado before we realized we were actually thinking about a magazine.”

The resulting periodical is likewise free-form. A recent issue contains a simple memoir about a ride through California redwoods; thoughts on a 19th-century cycling pioneer who vanished without a trace; and an essay on biking’s role in the ’80s movie E.T. Mostly absent: politics, at least the angsty bluster that often surrounds biking in Portland. For instance, the headache-inducing debate over this section of N Williams—Should the bike lane be wider? Will it spur gentrification?—just isn’t Schneider’s deal, at least not for public consumption. 

“Do I have opinions about how streets should be?” Schneider said as he zipped onto Shaver, with a Mississippi Avenue beer garden in his sights. “Yes. But so does everyone. With Boneshaker, I want to run stories about the art of riding. We’ve found the magazine prompts people to write about whatever is beautiful about where they live, or horrible, or whatever, without beating the drum too much.”

Schneider applied that same approach to his own first novel, A Simple Machine, Like the Lever. Published last year by Portland’s Propeller Books, the story tracks a narrator named Nick, who rides as part of a self-punishing effort to pay off his debts. (He also makes his own deodorant and Dumpster dives for salt.) Nick is a fundamentally likable character who confuses personal neurosis with virtue—which is to say, he would seem familiar to many Portlanders, Schneider included.

“I wanted to write about a guy with some of my own characteristics, pushed to an unmanageable extreme,” Schneider said over a pint of Trumer Pils. “That freed me from having to preach about the bike as the solution to the world’s problems.”

Not that Schneider doesn’t love that simple machine. “We just rode across a major American city in, like, 15 minutes,” he noted. “That’s pretty amazing.”

A party for Boneshaker’s new issue will be held at Reading Frenzy, Sept 13 at 7 p.m. Schneider will also appear at October’s Wordstock festival.

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