Elly Blue’s Everyday Bicycling

The following book review was provided via email by Colleen Barclay.

Everyday Bicycling: How to Ride a Bike for Transportation (Whatever Your Lifestyle)

Ellie Blue; Cantankerous Titles, 2012.

Available from the publisher here.

The steady inflation of fuel prices and the threat of climate change have no doubt contributed to growing interest in bicycles as transportation. Compared to ten years ago, there are more bikes locked outside of restaurants and businesses (although still not enough racks); more diversity in age, appearance and socioeconomic status among cyclists in street clothes; and a wider range of bicycles in use, beyond the road/mountain bike binary. Still, for many it’s a leap from the occasional Sunday ride along the American Tobacco Trail in springtime weather, to the idea of relying on a bicycle to get to work, carry groceries, or drop the kids at school. The author of Everyday Cycling got back on a bike in early adulthood after a long hiatus, and her evolution, over the past 15 years, from sidewalk-cruising, purse-strap-in-spokes novice to seasoned urban rider inspired her to write this compact manual. Hoping to spare others her own mistakes, she demystifies cycling as a transportation option and provides practical guidance.

Disclaimer: the author, Ellie Blue, lives in Portland, Oregon. Residents of less bike-friendly cities may face challenges other than those she addresses. Still, this is no manifesto for the Portland militant of stereotype, leaving Doppler-effect epithets in his/her wake as s/he maneuvers through traffic. Blue emphasizes the joy, freedom, and pleasure of cycling, and proceeds on the premise that any cycling is better than no cycling. She makes few assumptions about her readers’ expertise or lack of it, and includes a level of detail useful to the inexperienced; she asserts that much of the challenge is mental, with habits and assumptions presenting the biggest obstacles.

The opening chapter, “How to Ride a Bike,” provides tips and resources for adults learners, whether riding for the first time or building confidence and security in traffic. Safety, courtesy and lawfulness are the foundation here, along with pointers on how to “be the traffic.” Topics include choosing a route, taking the lane, the art of yielding, dealing with road rage (yours and theirs), and arguments for and against the rolling stop. “Your Life, by Bike” details the ways in which a bike-centric life changes how you organize your time, deal with weather, make wardrobe choices – for most bike commutes ‘technical’ clothing is not required – and even decide where to live (if one of your bikes is a 1969 Raleigh 3-speed with big rear baskets, you need ground-floor storage options).

“Bicycle, Adoption, Care and Feeding” covers questions to ask yourself and the bike shop in order to get a bike that meets your needs, with discussion of new vs. used and an extensive overview of general types of bikes. Reassuring us that “you don’t need to marry your bike,” Blue advocates guilt-free moving-on when a bike doesn’t satisfy, and suggests that bicycle monogamy is not realistic for most riders. “Carrying Things by Bike,” surveys the possibilities of racks, baskets, panniers, trailers, cargo bikes, even the ubiquitous milk crate; I admit that the author lost me at “moving by bicycle,” which she describes as “a barn raising, a house warming party, and a parade all wrapped into one.” Even though I prefer small living spaces, I do have furniture. Cargo bikes and trailers also play a large role in “Family Cycling;” the author is not among those navigating the high-stakes world of child-schlepping by bike, and relies here on advice from other hearty souls.

Significant structural changes are needed to make getting around by bike safe and appealing to large numbers of people in most American cities. The chapter on advocacy and organizing to foster bike-friendly communities is level-headed, non-confrontational and full of details about starting a group, approaching City Hall, building relationships, getting employers on board, and encouraging bike-positive media coverage. The author’s concluding vision is the integration of bicycling into “normal” life to such a degree that nobody even bothers to identify themselves as a cyclist; she also reminds us, “When you switch from driving or transit to bicycling, it’s like you suddenly have a whole different map of your community.” These transformed maps, created by every ride to work, the library, or the football game, can then help transform communities.

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