Bicycle by Helen Pidd

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 103.

Books on bikes tend to fall into one of two camps. They’re either very geeky and technical (and potentially off-putting for the novice) or they’re travelogues. Few just give everyday advice.

Image as described adjacent

What Helen Pidd (a Guardian journalist) sets out to do is provide a guide through the journey which starts with buying a bike. There are five questions to ask about what you want your new bike for before you get to your bike shop (and she’s clear that you need to go to an establishment that deals only in bikes rather than one that has a side line in, let’s say, car parts) then a guide through the most common type of bikes, with good line drawings to illustrate them, giving their pros and cons.

She has some tough words about the attitudes you may come across in these shops (and some of the nonsense staff have to face occasionally too, to be fair) but provides the reader with enough confidence not to feel intimidated if they do face difficult sales staff. Following on from that, a quick guide to bits you might want to buy as well and whether this type of brake is better than that one. She doesn’t assume knowledge here, but explains it clearly and with humour.

Next up is the thorny question of what to wear. Now there will be those who feel strongly that this equals hi-viz but Helen doesn’t follow that route and it’s refreshing to read common sense advice and suggests what to avoid. (Short skirts and low-rise trousers are highlighted. Better to be aware of what you might be showing the world than not.) There are two pages of places to get kitted up if you want something other than just ‘ordinary clothes’ to bike in, that reassure the reader that you aren’t doomed to life in lycra or hi-viz. It’s all about choice.

Basic bike maintenance is tackled, though here I felt there was an assumption that you’d have derailleur gears in the section on mending punctures. This type is easier to deal with, it must be said but it might have been useful to widen it out by mentioning single speed bikes too, especially since they are becoming popular. Later she goes on to cycle parking and what to do if your work place doesn’t have any, accidents and insurance, how to lock your bike up (advice I would like to stick to insecurely parked bikes across Cambridge!), some legal stuff, and tackles excuses for not cycling.

Essentially, she covers just about everything the novice cyclist needs to know (and mentions CycleStreets, so earning extra cred points) and does so in a readable, humourous and helpful way.

Bev Nicolson

Bicycle, Love Your Bike: The Complete Guide To Everyday Cycling is published by Penguin at £14.99 ISBN 978 1 905 49053 0