Bicycle, Helen Pidd (2010)

A newbies’ guide to life on two wheels that is as fun as it is informative

Penguin 9781905490530 Quarto 256pp £14.99

Such has been the increase in cycling in recent years – particularly in London – that the market for pedal-pushing primers must surely be huge? This contribution from Guardian journalist Pidd is squarely aimed at those who are new to the bike, and are curious its surrounding sub-culture. And, although not overtly aimed at women, it was clearly written with the expectation that a substantial portion of its audience would be female.

It is lavishly, and attractively illustrated by Oliver Kugler, and there is much use of clever page designs. Some appear as information graphics, others as captioned diagrams. There are question and answer segments, assessments of equipment choice issues by way of pros and cons, lots of lists and a fair number of photographs. It is a magazine-like effect, overall.

For the most part the advice that Pidd dispenses is sound and anticipates most of the questions that a neophyte urban commuter might ask – buying and accessorising your bike, what to wear, simple maintenance, road safety and leisure cycling. Unusually for such a book of advice, Pidd often writes in the first person, giving examples of her own touring holidays, or difficult first experiences with clipless pedals. She is also the subject of a great many of the photographs.

Her tone is an appealing one – casual and chatty. She is clearly an enthusiast, but avoids geekishness and is happy to dismiss technical complications as something best dealt with by a grease monkey. “There is no shame in not really understanding how your bike works, nor in wheeling it to the nearest bike shop as soon as something goes wrong”, she says by way of introduction to the section on maintenance. It is a perfect tone to reassure a beginner.

Just occasionally her advice seems odd. She dismisses out of hand, for example, mending punctures while keeping the wheels on the bike, although on some bikes, particularly those with hub gears, this is dramatically easier option. And her main explanation of clipless pedals fails to explain the critical difference between ‘road’ and ‘mountain’ variants – an omission so glaring that it should be addressed in future print runs.

It is a welcome addition to canon of advice available to cycling beginners, nevertheless and should significantly add to the cycling enjoyment of many of its readers.

TD June 2010

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