Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On "On Bicycles"

I hope Amy Walker will not mind my saying so, but the book she recently edited, On Bicycles, 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can ChangeYour Life, may be the perfect bathroom reader for bicycle riders.  The book is made up of fifty short essays on various aspects of bicycles, bicycle advocacy and bicycle infrastructure.  Walker was one of the founders of Momentum, a magazine devoted to promoting practical bicycling.  In creating her book, she used the network of writers she developed during her time at Momentum to collect a diverse group of articles from different authors, all of whom are real-world bicycle enthusiasts.  The result is a book made up of quick, easy-to-digest articles that are perfect for those times when a reader has a few minutes to sit and relax.

A few of the essays were especially enjoyable:

-         “Because It’s Fun,” by Terry Lowe, is a wonderful descriptions of the reasons why riding a bicycle makes you feel like a kid again.  When bicycle riding is approached from the proper perspective, it gives the rider a thrilling sense of elation as the bicycle becomes an extension of the rider’s body.
-        “A Rough Guide to the City Bike,” by Wendell Challenger provides a simple, practical overview of the benefits of modern city bicycles, as well as a guide to setting them up to be safe, reliable and useful.
-        “E-bikes offer an Extra Push,” by Sarah Ripplinger, offers an introduction to electric bicycles without any of the snobbery that some cyclists show toward electric bicycles.
-        “A History of Bike Advocacy,” by Jeff Mapes, chronicles the tireless efforts of many people and organizations that have advocated for bicyclists’ rights over the years.
Amy Walker
There are many other great pieces in the book as well.  Different readers will be compelled by different articles, and the short essay format is great because it allows readers to skip the essays that do not interest them.  Also, when a reader reaches “bicycle advocacy overload,” he/she can ignore the book for weeks on end, until he/she is ready to absorb more bicycle information.

There were a few times when articles made statements that rubbed me the wrong way.  In her piece, “Women and the Benefit of Biking,” Elly Blue may be technically correct when she writes, “Even in households where both a male and a female partner work full-time, child care and unpaid labor like running errands, cooking and cleaning tend to fall to the woman.”  However, when such language is read by a father who has always been the primary caregiver to his children and has always made sure to be a full partner in the “unpaid labor” aspects of his relationships, he tends to feel alienated and unappreciated.

John Pucher’s article, “Cycling Rights-of-Way” is, generally speaking, informative and worth reading.  However, I must respectfully disagree with contention that separate bicycle paths are of primary importance for “safe and stress-free cycling.”  Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of bike paths and I usually use them when they are available.  However, multiple studies (e.g. Clarke & Tracy, 1995, p. 85; Williams & McLaughlin, 1992, p. 7) have concluded that cyclists on separated bicycle paths are more likely to be seriously injured than those riding in bicycle lanes painted onto roadways.  While inexperienced riders may feel safer on separated bicycle path, such feelings could be alleviated by educational campaigns demonstrating the safety benefits of integrated bicycle lanes.

Nitpicking aside, On Bicycles is a great book.  I would recommend it to anyone from a novice rider who just picked up an old Schwinn Varsity at a garage sale, to a seasoned bicycle advocate with decades of experience, and everyone in between.  If you are excited about using your bicycle for transportation, you will find many essays in On Bicycles that inspire you and increase your passion for bikes.