by Kelly Nelson
These books represent the yin and yang of bicycle guides.
Bicycle! is dense and technical. Heels on Wheels is charming and breezy.
Bicycle! has 19 chapters with headings like Drivetrains, Control Cables and Hubs.
Heels on Wheels has 6 chapters with titles such as “How to Incorporate Cycling into Your Lifestyle” and “Parking (Or, How to Ensure Your Bike Isn’t Stolen”).
Bicycle! features black and white photos including close ups of sidepull brakes, a tapered spindle crank extractor and bicicles on the bottom bracket shell of a bike in Minnesota winter.
Heels on Wheels is packed with pastel-colored illustrations of women on bikes, dogs in bike baskets, bells, lights and cable locks. By now you’ve likely sorted out which guide would appeal to you more.
Sam Tracy, a bike mechanic and former bike messenger, also wrote Roadside Bicycle Repair: A Pocket Manifesto and How to Rock and Roll: A City Rider’s Repair Manual. This third book in Tracy’s bike-care trilogy has been updated to include low-cost and no-cost solutions he learned during his Peace Corps stint in Mauritania. It’s geared toward people who are seriously into their bikes. Owning it is like having a bike mechanic to chat with while you undertake repairs yourself. You get tons of technical advice such as “loosen the rear derailleur cable before adjusting the H screw” and “we like the straddle hanger’s intersection to end up sitting just above the fender hole.” You also get opinion (“The cheap cranks won’t let you do this, because they suck”), tips of the trade (“The ubiquitous Parmesan cheese container can come in handy for storing road kits”) and a few stories (“I’ll never forget the reaction I got from a couple punk rockers up by the local art school…”).
Is this what it takes to get men out of their cars—making a mechanically-simple alternative so technical that it requires 256 pages to explain how to keep it running right?
Heels on Wheels is aimed at women who don’t yet own bikes or are just getting started riding around town. Katie Dailey is a journalist and copywriter who establishes her street cred in her bio by saying she has ridden a bike to London Fashion Week several times. More impressively, as we learn in the intro, she’s been a bike commuter on the hectic streets of London for ten years. Her experience shows in the small details peppered throughout the book: “sticky lip-glosses should be avoided”; “a traditional plastic mac, that you’d wear to a festival, is not suitable for cycling as it acts like a sweat-box”; “If you’re wearing a winter coat, take out the belt as it’s likely to get caught in your spokes”; “ballet pumps are easy to ride in at first, but aren’t tough enough for long trips.”
Is this what it takes to get women out of their cars—reassurance that they can still look good while riding a bike?
If so, should carfree and car-lite campaigns make radically different appeals to men and women?
In the end, these books have the same goal: to get more people riding bikes. In their own distinctive ways they are doing the good work of encouraging people to drive less.