Reviews > Published on January 9th, 2017

Bookshots: 'The Coyote’s Bicycle: The Untold Story of Seven Thousand Bicycles and the Rise of a Borderland Empire' by Kimball Taylor

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Coyote’s Bicycle: The Untold Story of Seven Thousand Bicycles and the Rise of a Borderland Empire

Who wrote it?

[Taylor] lovingly portrays everything from BMX to six-speed mountain bikes, with a vast sense of history and context for their sociopolitical implications.

Kimball Taylor, noted journalist and contributor to Surfer Magazine. His previous two books, Return by Water: Surf Stories and Adventures and Drive Fast and Take Chances, are also on surfing. This, of course, makes him writing on bicycles and the problem of illegal immigration a bit of a shift for him.

Plot in a Box:

A work of non-fiction, the author Taylor discovers forsaken piles of bikes that litter the Tijuana River Valley. This leads to a years-long private investigation that becomes an obsession as he explores how these thousands of bikes made it across the border between Mexico and the United States and the enigmatic figure behind it all.

Invent a new title for this book:

Zen and the Art of Bicycle Disposal

Read this if you like(d):

The Motorcycle Diaries, The Power of the Dog, The Devil’s Highway: A True Story

Meet the book’s lead(s):

Kimball Taylor – the author, his passion is surfing but the story of El Indio is what grabs him and doesn’t let go.

El Negro – a deportee whom Taylor finds working as a restroom attendant in Tijuana, who becomes a research assistant of sorts for Taylor. He turns out to be an amazing investigator that delves into the slums that are alien to Taylor.

El Indio – Real name Pablito and then Pablo, he leaves his village of Oaxaca in 2005 with the intention of meeting his family in San Diego, but ends up working for Roberto. Pablo’s job at first is as a sentry, monitoring the border and recruiting migrants. Eventually Pablo becomes El Indio, building a smuggling operation that over three years brings an estimated 7,000 people over the border at $4,500 per rider.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

Kimball Taylor - Matthew McConaughey, who can bring both a toughness and sense of existentialism to the role. This was evident in True Detective, in which he philosophizes about time and man’s plight, but he can also be easygoing and definitely looks like a California beach bum.

El Negro – Benecio del Toro makes for a good choice, and not just because he gets confused for Antonio Banderas in Heineken commercials. He brings a fierce intelligence and sense of world-weariness with his craggily, weather-beaten catcher’s mitt of a face.

El Indio – Diego Luna, hot off of Star Wars: Rogue One. He has an intensity to his eyes that says calculating and Machiavellian. He’s at the right age, too, that he could play convincingly young and naïve and transition into a more hardened version of the role. There’s also a mysteriousness and unknowability to his long hair and cool persona.

Setting: would you want to live there?

The Mexican-American Border and the Tijuana River Valley in San Diego, with the border to its south. As the book makes clear, this is a dangerous place with illegal immigrants flowing through and all sorts of shady activity going on. So because I do not want to get stabbed and am not a fan of scorching heat, no I would not want to live there.

What was your favorite sentence?

So I continue to believe that it came from the bicycle coyote’s lips, and I believe all of the other bits El Negro tells me, even about ghosts who sometimes sit down to drink with you and tell you what they’ve been up to en el otro lado.

The Verdict:

The author finds himself at an American horse ranch near the Tijuana border that contains endless multitudes of discarded bicycles. Any kind of bike that can be imagined is present, gathered from the surrounding borderlands, and the rancher tells Taylor he can buy any one of them for $20. This is the start of a backtracking that reveals a notorious Tijuana coyote named El Indio who has been using the bikes to smuggle immigrants across the border from Mexico into the United States.

This leads us on a merry chase that ranges from borders politics to Hollywood studios to the American military. And throughout all of this Taylor brings it back to the bikes. He lovingly portrays everything from BMX to six-speed mountain bikes, with a vast sense of history and context for their sociopolitical implications. Everything from feminism to war is picked through with a fine-toothed comb. 

This does lead to tangents that detract, however, from the main story, and it can be a bit distracting. The characters are colorful and the settings are diverse, but Taylor does fail to commit to any political statement. Perhaps this is for the best, especially considering the U.S.’s current state. What he does succeed at is bringing it home and making every reader feel affected by the plight of human trafficking.

About the author

A professor once told Bart Bishop that all literature is about "sex, death and religion," tainting his mind forever. A Master's in English later, he teaches college writing and tells his students the same thing, constantly, much to their chagrin. He’s also edited two published novels and loves overthinking movies, books, the theater and fiction in all forms at such varied spots as CHUD, Bleeding Cool, CityBeat and Cincinnati Magazine. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and daughter.

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