City cycling for the “modern gal”


For over a decade, Katie Dailey has bicycled around London, “one of the most congested and overpopulated cities in the world.” Despite countless hours dealing with the hazards of cycling in an urban area, she still doesn’t know “why anyone uses any other mode of transport to get anywhere.”

What surprises her is that in rush hour when she looks around she’s “almost always the only girl.” On weekends, “there are plenty of ladies riding around,” but “hardly any on the busy roads when there’s traffic about.”

Heels on Wheels is a breezy little book addressed to “the modern gal who would like to get back in the saddle after a short (or very long) hiatus.” It is guaranteed, the publisher’s blurb declares, “to make you fall in love with cycling all over again.”

The six chapter headings indicate the range of topics that Daily cycles through: Getting Started, How To Incorporate Cycling Into Your Lifestyle, Cycling Safely, Parking (Or How To Ensure Your Bike Isn’t Stolen), ‘Just One last Question…’, and Bike Maintenance.

More important than the range of issues is the way that Dailey treats the subjects:

  • She writes in a trimmed down, casual, almost flippant style, with much of her phrasing drawn from what I presume is the slang style of the modern English gal. She is determined to avoid sounding like someone who represents the bicycling culture.
  • She deals with basic issues such as choosing a bike that is suitable for women who want to ride comfortably, safely, and efficiently while traveling around doing ordinary things like going to work and shopping.
  • Dailey explains some aspects about cycling that might be hard to understand, such as why “big, squashy seats aren’t necessarily more comfortable – the saddle that has given me the least grief in a decade of city cycling is shaped like a stork’s beak and is as hard as nails.”
  • She cuts through some of the issues that arise by flat out stating her opinion as being right, thereby dismissing other ideas on the subject. Dailey is not the only writer on cycling subjects who adopts this same strategy (most of them men). Strongly opinionated myself, I agree with some of the assertions by all of these writers and disagree with others. My disagreements with Dailey may be caused, in part, because I’m a traditional American guy who rides hard rather than a modern English gal, who rides around town all of the time.

Dailey’s chapter on riding safely states a point of view that is clear, firm, and right for all cyclists who are old enough to cycle on city streets and other public roads. “The key way to be safe on the road as a cyclist is to be as visible and assertive as you can possibly be.

“Recent studies have suggested women are more likely to get hit on the roads because we cycle prudently and unassertively – tucking ourselves into the pavement where we can’t be seen and hanging back at traffic lights.”

She counsels her readers: “Position yourself at the front of the traffic at lights and never, EVER pavement hug when it comes to a turn as you simply won’t be seen by big vehicles turning left [which American readers should translate as “right”].

As the above quotation and note illustrate, the chapter on cycling safely, which I find to be forthright and correct in its major content, is written for English readers who drive on the left side of the streets. Dailey explains that the book “is written from a leftie point of view, i.e. right hand drivers on the left-hand side of the road. Simply reverse the instructions if you drive on the right.”

If publishers want American gals to make full use of the book, they should publish an edition that does the reversing so that the readers don’t have to. An American edition would benefit from translation of some of the slang into language more likely to be understood and appreciated by modern gals whose English is common, everyday American.

Because Dailey writes for women, she discusses several topics that do not pertain to men—cycling when pregnant and cycling in skirts and high heels, for example.

Even so the book has much to offer to the modern guy who has been thinking that he ought to get back to biking. The book reads quickly, and guys as well as gals will be helped as they try to choose a “trusty steed, stay safe on the road, fix a puncture and select the best lock” for their bicycles.”

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