Book Review: Nobody Rides for Free-John Francis Hughes

I’ve never read on the road by Jack Kerouac, but I’ve often wondered about this pioneer of the beat generation and his care-free meandering through a wide open America. Of course the setting of this book was back in the 50’s when it seemed as if one could just pinch a tent anywhere and easily thumb a ride…and a cup of coffee cost a nickle right? The idea of hitch hiking seems so dated, obscure and down right dangerous today, but I was recently given a novel, written by former Vancouver bike courier John Francis Hughes who did exactly that. The setting is in the 90’s and Hughes finds himself stuck in Florida, with less than $100 bucks, dazed and looking to get back to Canada after a drunken, bike trek through South America.

This is Hughes first book, published by Canada’s Book Thug. The story jumps back and forth from Hughes adventures in Central and South America to his attempts to get back home from a Miami airport.
It all starts when Hughes decided to leave his courier days and travel to Latin America, intrigued by it’s peoples deep rooted political struggles and hell bent on adventure, destined to avoid a mundane existence and a checkered alcoholic father’s upbringing. He takes his bike with him and travels though various countries having misadventures with bandits, drunken gringos and coke feinding Europeans. It’s an honest tale of travel, meeting local cultures, observing various nationalities and being free to roam in post revolution societies.

The US is no picnic either. Trying to decompress from a wild journey he has trouble getting around. He abandoned his bike before arriving in the states (his first mistake) and is forced to hitch rides on rapidly expiring funds. From desperate characters dressed in drag looking to score to silent potential serial killers…Hughes brings clear meaning to the title: Nobody Rides for Free.
I really enjoyed this book and its well written honesty. It’s not trying to hard to make deep sense of the world, rather the audience is along for the ride of a young persons need for escape. Its a nice contrast of the light and dark sides of the open road in both North and South America.

Here is more about the book from Book Thug’s website:

Nobody Rides For Free: A Drifter in the Americas chronicles former bike courier John Hughes’ rambles through Latin America on a bicycle. In this gripping mosaic-travellogue, readers are introduced to banditos, artists, grifters, would-be wives, dope fiends and attacking monkeys: a cast of characters who conspire to reduce him to alcoholic destitution. His last remaining $400 is spent sailing the Amazon, flying to Miami, and then hitchhiking across some of the most frightening highways in the United States with the goal of making it safely home to Vancouver. Throughout his adventures we learn about con-artistry, fear, and kindness set against the imposing backdrop of everything we think we know about the Americas. Nobody Rides For Free sheds light on obscure 1990s road culture while gearing itself to the needs of anyone with a desire to run from their demons on the open road.

Read a sample here.

About the author:

John Hughes was born June 22, 1970. He is a long-time bike courier, reporter, adventurer, and now first time author. Reporting gigs at CBC and at Co-op Radio in Vancouver sharpened his pencil to a fine enough point that writing Nobody Rides for Free became inevitable. Travelling across India, riding boxcars across the United States and working alongside the strangest people in the world have primed the powder-keg for another swath of unusual chapters.

ISBN 9781927040041

I want to thank Book Thug and the author for the free copy. I’ll be giving a free copy away through twitter at the end of the week so stay tuned.

Couple of videos from the Rockaways and more Relief rides.

Here is another great video from Casey Neistat who took his camera to the Rockaways

And here is another from someone who hadn’t heard from their friend in three days after the storm and were left a stunning voice message:

Rockaway Needs Us from everyone and company on Vimeo.

There is a party tonight at King Kog bike shop (453 Graham Ave.-Williamsburg, BK) 7:00-9:00pm

They will be collecting donations and driving them out to Staten Island tomorrow.

And Time’s Up is leading rides all weekend:
Saturday and Sunday, November 10th and 11th.
9am Meetups.
Saturday at 99 South 6th St. Williamsburg and Sunday at ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington St.-Manhattan.
Ride to the neighborhoods worst hit by Sandy and provide relief-not just from the cold and hunger but from fossil fuels! We will pickup blankets and food from Occupy Sandy and take them to the Rockaways and Staten Island, along with an energy bike and mobile bike repair unit to provide sustainable power and transportation.

Another victim of Sandy, Staten Island CX

It looks like the annual Staten Island Cyclocross race (NYC’s only one of it’s kind) is canceled due to damage from the Hurricane. Organizers have turned it into a volunteer day for relief efforts.

Here is more from their facebook page:

Sadly, Staten CX is not happening this year. Our beloved Wolfe’s pond park had a front row seat for hurricane sandy and suffered extensive damage. The parks department did a valiant job trying to clean up the park in time for the race, but it is still closed to the public and also being used as a staging area for recovery efforts.

Instead, we will be spearheading a day of volunteering on November 10th in place of the race. We encourage you to join us in helping the residents of Staten Island and the Rockaw
ays- many of them lost almost everything and they are in need of manpower and donations in order to help everyone get back on their feet. It only makes sense that we do what we can to help the residents of our city in which we’ve enjoyed 4 years of awesome races (and many more to come)

Find out more here.

Sarah Goodyear report on #bikesandy Rockaway relief convoy

Here is a story by Sarah Goodyear for Atlantic Cities about her recent trip with a bike convoy of donations (from Bicycle Habitat) to the Rockaways.

The Power of Bicycles in Disaster Recovery


We rolled out from the Bicycle Habitat store on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn just after 10 in the morning on Tuesday, an admittedly ragtag assortment of about 40 people on bicycles loaded down with donations headed for Far Rockaway in Queens. We were pedaling panniers full of flashlights, backpacks jam-packed with diapers and wipes, and bike boxes stuffed with blankets and coats, all of them collected at the Brooklyn and Manhattan locations of the store over the previous week.

Read more: here.

#bikesandy reports from Core77 and Alex Goldmark

Here are a few reports of #bikesandy experiences.

First up Core77 talks about how handy the bike sharing program would have been, plus in depth reports on Casey Neistat’s amazing bike footage and the status of a couple of Red Hook bicycle businesses.
Hurricane Sandy vs NYC Cyclists

Posted by Ray
November 7th, 2012
20121108-161807.jpg(photo via: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

Hurricane Sandy was unimaginable in almost every way, beyond the scope of half a weekend’s worth of preparedness, and New York City is still dusting itself off from the storm even as another system dusts the city with a fresh coat of miserable weather. As the major media duly noted during the days following the storm, the hurricane made an emphatic case for alternative transportation, but I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the fact that New York City was supposed to get a shiny new fleet of public bikes by this past summer, only to see the scheduled launch pushed back to fall and now March 2013. An August press release cites technical issues as the culprit (Streetsblog posted additional clarification from Mayor Bloomberg):

Read more, here.

Next up, WNYC’s Alex Goldmark of reports on the rise of biking in NYC due to Hurricane Sandy.

(LISTEN) Sandy Caused a Mini Bike Boom in NYC

20121108-163929.jpgBicycle Habitat in SoHo did brisk business during the aftermath of Sandy, even without electricity. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

When Sandy’s storm surge flooded New York’s subway and split the city into its island parts, normal commutes were washed away. City-mandated restrictions prevented cars with fewer than three people from entering Manhattan to try to limit vehicle traffic. So New Yorkers took to new modes to get around. HopStop, the transit trip planning website, reported a 1,300 percent spike in searches for bus travel in NYC and an 800 percent jump in non-train searches compared to the previous week.

And then there were bikes.

On Thursday, the NYC DOT counted 30,000 cyclists riding across the East River bridges, more than double the normal 13,000. Though there’s no official count for within Manhattan while the power was still out downtown and subways were halted, this audio postcard of a ride around town shows how Sandy created a mini-bike boom — and a pop-up culture of cycling harmony.

Read more and find audio link: here.

Help Restore Red Hook, buy a jersey

Red Hook is a waterfront area in Brooklyn with a lot of character. It has a nautical themed pioneer flavor with a real sense of local, especially since there is limited public transportation. It is also the home of David August Trimble’s unique track bike race, Red Hook Crit.

This area was hit hard by hurricane Sandy and a few bike companies like Castelli Cycling and Gage & Desoto have gotten together for a cycling jersey fundraiser to help rebuild the area.

Here is the details from Gage & Desoto:

WHAT HAPPENED? Our neigborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn has been left flooded and in shambles following Hurricane Sandy. Countless homes, shops, artist studios, restaurants, bars, and workshops have been devastated. Despite this recent hardship, the heart of this vibrant community cannot be washed away. While our own storefront office flooded, the losses are minimal compared to the dire situation in the neighborhood.

WHAT’S NEXT? Castelli Cycling has generously stepped up to produce a pair of special benefit jerseys with us to help raise funds for Red Hook’s recovery. Designed by Jonah Birns, the jerseys will be pre-sold exclusively here on our site until December 1st. After production is complete, we will be shipping these in mid-January.



HOW YOU CAN HELP: All profits from these jerseys will be split between the Red Hook Initiative (RHI) and Restore Red Hook (RRH). The RHI–an established community center–is operating as the critical organizer of relief efforts. Since then, Restore Red Hook has also been set up to help the many devastated small businesses of Red Hook reopen their doors as soon as possible.

Available in race weight short sleeve (also in Women’s sizes) or thermal long sleeve (Men’s only) | Please select size and style before you check out | Sizing chart | Worldwide shipping

More details, here.

#bikesandy with Time’s Up 11/10 and 11/11/12

Time's Up! volunteers use bike trailers to haul food

Time’s Up is at it again, delivering food and badly needed supplies to Hurricane Sandy ravaged areas of NYC.

Here is a press release of upcoming bike related actions this weekend.


WHAT: Time’s Up will lead Fossil Fuel Disaster Relief bike rides to deliver food, blankets, bike-powered charging stations, and mobile bike repair units to neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

WHEN: Saturday, November 10th and Sunday, November 11th, meeting at 9am

WHERE: Saturday, 99 S 6th St, Brooklyn, between Bedford and Berry
Sunday, 156 Rivington St, Manhattan, between Clinton and Suffolk

NEW YORK, NY (November 7, 2012) — On Saturday and Sunday, November 10th and 11th, Time’s Up will lead group bike rides to neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Sandy. They will use their fleet of bike-trailers and cargo-bikes to deliver food and blankets from Occupy Sandy and their own bicycle-powered phone-charging station and mobile bicycle repair units to hard to reach areas, where they will set-up distribution centers with free bike-powered charging stations and free bicycle repair – sustainable solutions to the devastation caused by climate changed from the burning of fossil fuels.

“The idea is to offer relief to people who are cold and hungry today and to address the root cause of this disaster at the same time so that fewer people will go through this in the future,” notes volunteer coordinator Keegan Stephan. “All this devastation is the direct result of burning fossil fuels. We should not ignore that while trying to help those who have been devastated. That is why Time’s Up is offering sustainable alternatives to energy-production and transportation as well as delivering food and blankets.”

Time’s Up volunteers have already been working with Occupy Sandy to transport food and blankets to Coney Island, Rockaway Beach, and Staten Island with their bike trailers and cargo bikes. Time’s Up deployed their bicycle-powered charging stations in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and East Village all three days that those neighborhoods were out of power, charging hundreds of cell phones per day.

The exact location of the distribution centers will be announced on their twitter feed Friday night @nyctimesup

Click here for photos of Time’s Up relief efforts.

Click for information on bicycle-powered charging stations.

Boardwalk Empire cast and crew get great present.

Film production traditionally gives their cast and crew a present at the end of a job, especially a long tv show. This is known in the film/TV world as a “wrap gift.” Look at what the crew of the latest season of Boardwalk Empire got.
Custom folding bikes by Dahon. All I ever get is a t-shirt.

#bikeSandy relief effort continues

20121106-131127.jpgBanner hung on Manhattan Bridge.

Brooklyn Machine Works has donated bike stands to Time’s Up to assist in their construction of pedal powered generators.
These were quintessential for charging cell phones in the East Village during the week of power outages caused by hurricane Sandy. They will soon have 10 of these human powered contraptions to be able to assist the hurricane relief effort in the Rockaways and Staten Island, still crippled without power. No gas lines necessary for these “energy bikes,” just the volunteers needed to pedal them.

There are other bike related relief efforts going on throughout the city. Here are a few:

Bicycle Habitat in Manhattan was open dispute power to help with the influx of bike commuters seeking an alternative to bus and gas lines.

Their Brooklyn location has accepted tons of donations and delivered them by bike to the hard hit Rockaways.


More about their efforts from Doug Gordon at

–Doug’s been leading bike trains (group rides) to work and assisting in supply deliveries to Red Hook.


–Last Sunday (11/4/12) Affinity Cycles lead an over 100 cyclist brigade out to the Rockaways and their heading out there again this weekend.

Here is a report back:


Thanks a million to those who donated to the Affinity Rockaway Relief effort, and to the 100+ who made the group ride out to the Rockaway Surf Club on beach 87th. When we arrived at the surf club I was overwhelmed by the devastation on Rockaway, but was also thrilled to see how a communal effort was able to quickly organize and begin immediate relief.

Read more here.

Sid’s Bike with two manhattan locations is having a donation drive as well.

We all suffer the effects of the storm. While many of us have recovered, many of us still have not. To provide help to those in need, Sid’s Bikes will be holding a food drive. Starting this week, we will be collecting non-perishable food at both of our store locations. Many of our own staff members live and commute in from Staten Island and various parts of Queens and Brooklyn. And just as bike commuters, we will be loading the food into empty bike boxes, and loading those boxes on a special big hauling bike…pictured below. Please do your small part by bringing in food donations to our 19th St location or our 34th St location during normal business hours. All donations will be delivered by this bike to local food banks and relief center drop off locations throughout the city.

#BikeSandy deliver supplies to Rockaway

If you have the day off for Election Day, or some time on your hands, why not join the Sandy Relief effort.


A group of cyclists are biking out to the Rockaways to deliver much needed supplies and volunteer with clean-up.

Meet at the Brooklyn Bicycle Habitat at 9:00am 476 5th Ave.-Brooklyn, 11215

If you need a little perspective on how devastated this region is, here is a video from Democracy Now.