New Book from Cycling Guru

Posted by chdot on July 25, 2007

The world changed in 1972. Richard Ballantine’s first bike book was published. To call a book “Richard’s Bicycle Book“, might seem like the ultimate act of a supreme egotist. However Richard is far from that. The title is simply a simple descriptive truth.

Cycling wasn’t particularly popular then. It was possible to cycle around Edinburgh on a January day and be surprised to see another cyclist. Cycling was, more or less, what (a few) people did if they couldn’t afford a car – or liked road racing. R’sBB wasn’t really for either group. It was more for people who cycled by positive choice and even more (though perhaps neither he nor they knew it) for people who would become the ‘new cyclists’.

It was really a manual for how and why people should cycle – for their own health and economic well-being and also as a sane transport ‘solution’ to urban problems. BUT it didn’t preach, it wasn’t ecologically earnest. It was written with experienced knowledge, unique insights and understated humour. It pretty much pioneered the idea, to a wide audience, that cyclists had a right to be on the road, but sometimes needed to assert that – positively rather than aggressively.

In the past thirty five years there have been updates and variations, including the Piccolo Bicycle Book (aimed at children) and Richard’s Ultimate Bicycle Book (aimed at the coffee table). Now there is a new variant. City Cycling is as simply honest as the first book’s title. The city is undoubtedly London (it’s Richard’s adopted home), but most of the truths in the book are universal.

If you’ve read any of his previous books about cycling you’ll know (roughly) what to expect – eclectic, far from eccentric, though, as ever, he is interested in interesting bicycles. The longstanding friendship with designer/engineer Mike Burrows is mentioned and illustrated with his evolutionary bikes. The book makes good use of good photos.

City Cycling is a ‘good read’ though not really a book for one session. There is enough bike fixing advice (even for the bike owning technophobe) to be worth the £9.99 cover price. There’s also lots of seriously good advice for city cycling – suitable for the nervous novice and accomplished urban mover. Entertaining, informing, inspiring. Due in book shops on the first of August.

One Response to “New Book from Cycling Guru”

  1. Glen said

    Not very useful, and with some scary advice thrown in..

    I can’t believe anyone knowledgeable about cycling would be particularly impressed with this book. To me, it’s mostly a rehash of the evergreen ‘The Bicycle Book’, with a focus on urban commuting around London – hardly ‘universal’ or relevant in its recommendations to the vastly different environment for bike commuting, especially as it’s being sold in the U.S. and Canada as well, where far different laws and traffic regulations, traffic environment, and road conditions are found.

    A beginner won’t know what to think of course, and a London cyclist just starting out might find the work somewhat useful – yet, a visit to any popular bike forum site from the web will prove far more productive in terms of useful and up-to-date advice when it comes to bicycle commuting.

    The bike repair/maintenance chapter in City Cycling is a JOKE. The hoary old practice of including a short chapter on bike repair in a bicycle book may have had some utility back in 1978, when bikes were mostly roadsters or 10-speeds, but not in 2008, when even thick volumes on beginner-level bike repair must now be limited to certain types of bicycles because of the vast differences in cycle design and componentry. And you must have noted how often Mr. Ballantine ends his repair/maintenance advice with a comment along the lines of “find a bike shop and pay them to do the work”. Do even beginners really need ‘advice’ such as that?

    Moreover, some of his advice, like recommending adjustable bike stems for hard everyday use in urban traffic, strikes me as extremely dangerous. As anyone who’s examined these knows, they use only bolt friction against serrations stamped on the bolt seat to hold their position. Should one slip, you’ll be in deep trouble when the stem suddenly flattens to a ‘zero rise’!! Ballantine really slipped on that one.

    I still like his ‘Bicycle Book’, but I think Mr. Ballantine’s best years are behind him. Certainly the prior quality of his work isn’t evident in ‘City Cycling.’

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