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Cycle City | Alison Farrell

Updated: Jan 28, 2021


Alison Farrell's 2018 debut, Cycle City, is part Richard Scarry, part Marianne Dubuc with a sprinkling of local Portland whimsy that sets it apart. There are some nods to Jean de Brunhoff's Babar as well in the styling of the main character, Etta Elephant, and her family. Like Scarry's fantastical banana cars and anthropomorphic construction vehicles, Farrell too indulges in design, but goes farther down the bike lane.

Farrell lives in Portland and gives a vivid account of the biker lifestyle here. Being a part of that community as well, I recognize all of the little nuggets of authentic details Farrell has tucked in the pages. Best of all, she captures the magic of the night rides that are a common site in this city (and other kindred places), with costumes, music and lights strewn on altered bike frames.

She subtly exhibits the positive, non-competitive nature of a bike gang, which is creed whether it be a group of strangers or old friends riding together. These examples of pleasant interactions and mutual support are so wonderful to discover while your eyes meander around the scenes. The storyline follows the mayor, a charming and upbeat snail, who has volunteered to personally deliver the invitations to the parade when the planning committee, a group of party bike-pedaling pigs, becomes overwhelmed. This reminds me so much of Kyle Maclachlan's Mayor portrayal on Portlandia, which in turn is so accurate in depicting the accessible and jovial real mayors of Portland past.


This moment below is probably my favorite in the entire book, as it conjures up the sweet, satisfying wind-down after a long group ride. Where the reflection on an evening enjoyed with like-minded folk and the flood of endorphins blend together in a perfect soup to send you home to a happy, heavy sleep.


Here is Alison Farrell in her element sitting in her box bike (one of many in her collection):


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