Unpublished review March 2008
Many years ago the original Richard's Bicycle Book was warmly recommended to me by a fellow-student who was (and still is) an unostentatious utility cyclist. So I bought a copy of the1977 edition and it's still on my shelves. Ballantine wrote wonderfully, almost spiritually, about the pleasures of urban cycling. He fired me up about the importance of cycling in a way that has never quite been extinguished even though circumstances meant that after a few years of traffic jamming in London I turned almost exclusively to walking.
Thirty years later, we have mountain bikes, recumbents, cycle lanes, any amount of sexy kit, and pro-cycling policy initiatives. We even have - though only in a few places, such as Bristol - an actual increase in people getting about by bike. More to the point we also have double the motor traffic and a disturbing increase in both antagonism and aggression. I'm using the bike again but I need a bit of firing up, so I bought City Cycling.
Ballantine still writes inspiringly, and the photos are great. It lives up to its title as a comprehensive handbook for urban biking with detailed advice on purchase, riding techniques, traffic strategy, and maintenance. There are even instructions on how to learn to ride (I learned when I was eighteen and these would have been useful) - but I'd hesitate to give this book to a complete cycle virgin. I'd worry that they would be overwhelmed and it might actually put them off. There's so much, it might seem too complicated, too geeky, too cultish, too evangelistic. And for a complete newbie there's stuff in here that's just plain scary - the forceful advice about dealing with muggers and homicidal motorists sits oddly with the propaganda of "it's easy and life-enhancing!". This is definitely a manual for someone who has already got the bug - you need to have experienced the pleasures to put the dangers into perspective.
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