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Urban Cycling: a List of Books to Get You Started

It only takes a weekend trip to Amsterdam, where cyclists rule and 87% of trips under four kilometers are made on bicycles, to be convinced that two-wheelers are the way to go in a city. Babies, children, friends, cats, dogs, and furniture are all transported on sturdy Dutch bikes, with bouquets, lampshades or an ornamental copper bowl balancing on the handlebars. Barring crazy metropolises like Jakarta, Mexico City, or Cairo, in cities where people more or less follow the rules and traffic is still manageable; it should be possible to implement this urban transportation strategy. The Dutch, first through activism, which, over time, led to a national strategy, today have a sustainable, cost-efficient form of transportation. Many cities in Europe and North America have installed bike-sharing systems and have improved bike lanes as city dwellers become aware of the benefits, whether it’s for health reasons, escaping the crush of public transportation, avoiding traffic jams and thus getting to appointments on time, or simply feeling the wind in their hair when cycling over a bridge and that inexorable sensation of freedom…Following is a list of books for wannabe or confirmed urban cyclists. And if you're really worried about your attire, this article or this site might be useful too. 

top photo Marc van Woudenberg 

The Urban Cycling Survival Guide

Founder of Cycle Toronto, Yvonne Bambrick grew up on a bicycle there, moved to Australia where the weather was more clement, and returned to Toronto, all the while cycling throughout the seasons. Her useful book is for would-be riders, and for those already in the saddle, with two key sections, one about the rules of the road in “Navigating the Streetscape,” and the other about what to do if your bike is stolen or if you have an accident, in “Common Cyclist Setbacks”. For those living in cities where temperatures go below zero, Bambrick’s recommendations for keeping warm during the winter are a must. 

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The Bohemian Guide to Urban Cycling

Sean Benesh, an urban planner who is interested in the changing dynamics of cities and the impact what he calls of active transportation—walking and biking, is the author of several books, among which, The Bohemian Guide to Urban Cycling. Even if you are in a city that is less bike-friendly than Portland, which serves as the base for the book, there are still important issues brought up in this guide that you may not have thought about before, such as mobility, equity, race, and justice. Benesh wants readers to understand why we ride—or don’t—within our urban context. He also advises what to ride, how to ride, and what to wear: basically be normal and ride anything that rolls. 

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City Cycling

Rather than a guidebook, City Cycling looks at ways that cycling can become feasible in cities by examining cycling conditions in small cities (including Davis, California, and Delft, the Netherlands), large cities (including Sydney, Chicago, Toronto and Berlin), and “megacities” (London, New York, Paris, and Tokyo). Successful city cycling, as Amsterdam has demonstrated, depends on government policies for infrastructure and programs. Bicycling should be possible for all urban dwellers, the book argues.

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Bicycle Diaries

Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has been riding a bike since the 1980s as his primary means of transportation. When he discovered folding bikes, he began taking them with him when he traveled. Bicycle Diaries is a delightful travelogue in which David Byrne recounts his observations and insights while cycling through the major cities of the world, including London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Manila, Sydney, Baltimore, Detroit and New York, all the while noticing how some cities have become more bike-friendly over the past 30 years. 

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Urban Cycling

Urban cycler and advocate Madi Carlson gives guidance to cyclists wanting to join the growing community, from choosing a bicycle, to commuting with children. Her subtitle, How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living is examined in useful, sensible chapters that explain how urban bicycling can be accessible to all kinds of people including families, with a chapter devoted to riding with children from birth through adulthood. 

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City Cycling Europe

Thames & Hudson joined forces with the cycling brand, Rapha Racing, to produce a series of city-cycling guides geared to seeing Europe on two wheels. Each of the eight compact volumes in the boxed set features cycle-friendly neighborhoods in London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Antwerp/Ghent, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona and Milan, complete with itineraries, cycle maps, and cyclist-friendly places to visit. The guides are aimed at people interested in casual exploration, but there is also information for hardcore racing enthusiasts. 

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The bicycle has been my means of transportation since 1999.  I've commuted to work in both Paris and London, brought my children to school and back, my cat to a specialist vet across the city, and have transported furniture, books, and kilos and kilos of groceries on my bicycle. My first acquisition was a forest green, second hand Dutch model. If you’ve never ridden one, at first it’s quite an adjustment. You feel very tall and regal and slightly ridiculous. Then you become addicted to the comfort of sitting up so straight, with this sturdy, decidedly un-racing-like contraption under you. It’s the perfect city bike. But others may prefer options that are more sleek. In the end, to each his own, but what is universal is that nothing beats the feeling of glee when you sail past angry people stuck in their cars, all the while taking in the countless and fascinating details of your city. 

Olivia is a journalist and editor and manages the editorial content for Bookwitty in English. She is based in Paris.