When I first started riding a bike in London, I knew next to nothing about cycling or bikes.
I thought hugging the kerb would make me safer, and if I had to turn right I would get off and walk my bike rather than risk venturing further out into the traffic.
I couldn’t name most bits on my bike, let alone know what to do if anything wasn’t working. I couldn’t fix a puncture, replace a brake pad or even put my chain back on if it came off.
I thought wearing hi-viz and a helmet was compulsory; the idea that it was possible to look good while cycling never crossed my mind.
Now – after more than ten years of cycling in London – I know better. But, while experience is a great teacher, I could’ve got to where I am now much quicker and with a lot less trauma – not to mention dodgy hi-viz jackets – had a book like Caz Nicklin’s The Girls’ Bicycle Handbook existed back when I first got on my bike.
Billed as ‘Everything you need to know about life on two wheels’, The Girls’ Bicycle Handbook aims to be a female-friendly introduction to the world of cycling. Starting with the basics – the different types of bikes and how to choose the right one for you – it goes on to cover the key things a girl will need to know if she’s going to start cycling regularly.
There’s a chapter on maintaining your bike, which gives a brief overview of what’s what on a bike, how to check if everything is working OK and what to do if it’s not. Another chapter looks at cycling safely, including essential skills to practise before you even get anywhere near a road – such as how to signal while looking behind you – as well as guidance on how to ride safely in traffic. There’s even a chapter on how to cycle with little ones, and how to choose the right child seat.
As you might expect from a book by the founder of the Cycle Chic shop, cycle style gets a lot of attention. There’s a whole chapter devoted to how to look good while cycling, including suggestions of different outfits that work well on the bike, and tips on combating helmet hair. As someone who’s recently started experimenting with wearing my everyday clothes for cycling in, this was probably the chapter I found most useful. I particularly liked the cubicle test – designed to check if an outfit will work on the bike – and will be trying it out the next time I go shopping.
While some might quibble with this focus on appearance, I think it’s one of the strengths of The Girls’ Bicycle Handbook. There plenty of other books out there that will teach you about bike maintenance or cycle safety, but – to my knowledge – this is the first one that will also tell you how to cycle in style, too. It’s clearly aimed at encouraging young, style-conscious women – women who might be put off from cycling by its association with blokes in Lycra – to get on their bikes.
Reading it, these women might feel – as I did – that it’s written for them. It’s full of pictures of women I can identify with them, wearing the kind of clothes I usually wear, and doing the kind of things I might do. As well as this, Caz writes in a way that shows she understands the concerns many women have when they’re cycling, and has been there herself. In addition to her words, there are also stories of other women who cycle – from the early pioneers to women cyclists around the world today.
The effect of this, I think, is to create a sense of a community of women cyclists, which is both encouraging and empowering to women who might be thinking about taking up cycling. I know it would have helped me when I first started cycling.
That said, The Girls’ Bicycle Handbook isn’t perfect. As it covers such a wide range of topics, the information is not particularly in-depth – you won’t know how to fix everything on your bike just through reading this, nor will you learn how to become the next Victoria Pendleton. It’s also very much aimed at younger women – hence the name. There are, I’m sure, many older women who might well benefit from a book like this, so I would’ve liked to have seen more of them featured in the book.
Bu these are just minor points. Overall, I think this is a great little book that should – I hope – lead to more women discovering the pleasure of life on two wheels.