Shock Tactics, Robin and Chris Lawrie (2000)

A fun, early reading, cartoon-style series of childrens’ books featuring a gang of young mountain bikers – aimed at those of eight and above

Evans Brothers Ltd 0 237 52108 3 paperback £4.99

It is surprising that there is not more children’s fiction based on cycling. Perhaps there is lots of it that I have missed, but the bicycle is such a universal provider of independence and adventure that its place in stories for young people should surely be more prominent? The sailing boats of Arthur Ransome’s magical creations, after all, have only ever been available to the lucky few. To this day, bicycles remain a special Christmas present in even the poorest neighbourhoods.

Robin and Chris Lawrie’s Chain Gang series feature a gang led by ‘Slam’ Duncan and his mountain-biking mates. They are a modern bunch – ethnically mixed and there’s a girl in the gang. In Shock Tactics, a rival gang try to steal the bike race by flashing lights in competitors’ faces – but our heroes hit back, and of course win the day, with some computer wizardry of their own.

Their scrapes and adventures were sufficient to persuade the ten-year-old on whom I tried them out. He went on to read three of the series on the trot. And the plots are sufficiently close to plausible for their consumption to be followed by a request to ‘help build a mountain bike track like the one in the books’.

The format is of an illustrated narrative, although they are laid out to look more like comic books, and some of the dialogue is in speech bubbles. The cover, above, gives a pretty good idea of the illustration inside. Each tale was digested in under ten minutes – so don’t imagine that these are the antidote to long-journey boredom.

Perhaps in an age when all too many Christmas bicycles languish in garages, they might be a useful stimulant. They are several laps short of being cycling’s Swallows and Amazons, however.

PS Sep 09

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