Sunday, 21 September 2008

City cycling and advocacy

I stayed overnight with my brother on Friday, and he had dug out his copy of "Richard's Cycling Book" for me to have a look at. The book was first published in 1972, and written by Richard Ballantine.

It is an easy read, and informative, but very much a book of its time, and entertaining partly for a slighlty old-fashioned style.

Today I found myself in a bookshop, and out of curiosity I bought a copy of Richard Ballantine's latest book, City Cycling.

I've only skimmed the book so far, but Mr Ballantine has clearly lost none of his enthusiasm over the last 35 years, while book production has advanced. It seems to me that he puts over some important principles in an entertaining way. However, I think he see his main audience as people who have not yet tried cycling, or at least not in the recent past. As a result he puts a lot of effort into advocating that readers take it up. The spirit is captured by the strapline: "Get fit / save time / save money / save the planet".

For this target audience he seems to cover most of the bases: how to buy a bike, security, handling skills, maintenance and repairs.

But personally I find it hard to engage with the advocacy running through City Cycling. The problem, I suspect, is that I no longer feel that I am part of the audience that he is mainly concerned with - simply because I have already taken up cycling. My priority is now to make sure that I stick at it, and keep putting in the effort.

I'm too old and decrepit to be pursuing a goal of outstanding athletic achievement, and unfortunately, faced with the choice of going for a ride, or not going, then none of these arguments that it will save time, save money and save the planet really cuts it as a good enough reason to get out of the armchair.

As my family knows well, the best way of persuading me to get the bike out of the shed and go for a ride is "you'll enjoy it"; or "it will make you feel better". When I really don't feel like going for a ride, I can still talk myself out of the chair to go in search of a bit of an adventure, to work off a bit of stress, to see if I can beat a previous performance, or just to keep my various graphs moving in the right direction.

It is for these reasons that cycling is gradually becoming part of my routine. At times like today, when I can't get out on the bike because of mechanical problems, I am finding that I miss it.

So if you are considering taking up cycling, particularly cycling in an urban context, then I suggest you take a look at Richard Ballantine's book. I hope you find that he provides useful advice, in an entertaining way. If, like me, you feel that you have progressed to the next stage, then tell me whether I am being unfair to wonder why so many advocate that we take up cycling in the first place; while fewer seem to realise that subsequently we still need to be encouraged to go for a ride?


Gregory Marler said...

Hopefully I'll manage to buy a bike (left my old one at home) this week so I can get into riding while at uni (started over the summer).

Would this book be good to get at the same time as my bike?
I was going to get Cycle Craft on my Christmas wish list. Perhaps the city cycling book could go with that, and I'll be in more of a city at home.

gom1 said...

I think a lot depends on where you are on the learning curve, what kind of riding you do, and what style you prefer. Although it is also intended for beginners, I find that I am learning more from Cyclecraft because it is more detailed (even too detailed in places). The other book I like is "The Bike Book" (Haynes) when I need to fix things.

disgruntled said...

It's quite hard to imagine what such a book (i.e. one for the newly converted, but wavering in their faith) might be like. I suppose, a book of really thoughtful essays about cycling, with some historical perspective, some technical bits, some meditations on the nature of cycling, some descriptions of great rides, would probably be the thing. (Or just going onto the internet and reading all the other cyclists' blogs, yours included.)

gom1 said...

"Wavering in the faith" doesn't quite capture it. It's more "has to overcome innate idleness". However, you make a good point. As far as books go, perhaps Matt Seaton gets nearest to what you describe. Magazines cover similar ground (in between the articles on equipment, that presumably interest advertisers as much as readers).