The Trickster’s Two-Wheeler

The Coyote’s Bicycle: The Untold Story of Seven Thousand Bicycles and the Rise of a Borderland Empire by Kimball Taylor. 2016. Tin House Books. 9781941040201.

Kimball Taylor first came across masses of abandoned bicycles littering the Tijuana River Valley after a flood in 2008. Taylor’s pursuit of the story behind these bikes led to this sprawling, riveting non-fiction book.

Undocumented migrants were crossing the rugged border south of California’s Border Field State Park on bikes. Taylor ascribes these organized group rides to “El Indio,” a cautious yet ambitious young man running his own crew of people smugglers. Then the masses of abandoned bikes disappeared from the park! Taylor traced them to an unlikely recycler: a San Diego movie studio working for the Department of Defense.

Border Field State Park photo by Robert.

The biggest draw for me as a reader was the local color. Taylor captures the appearance (and smell) of the horse ranches that line the flat river valley, the steep hills and ravines to the south, and the noxious mire of Border Field State Park. He also describes ongoing, often heartbreaking efforts to restore native plants and forestall erosion in the area. I’ve ridden bikes in that area, and I was astounded both by Taylor’s accuracy and the details I hadn’t known about.

Many of the issues Taylor touches upon should be or are the subjects of full books, from border security and official corruption on both sides of the border to the joy of riding a bike. His focus on one smuggler’s network and methods allows him to write about larger issues with depth as well as feeling.

Thanks to Robert in San Diego for this guest book review!

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