Scoop Review of Books

Bikes Are Beautiful

Easy Rider—A Kiwi’s Guide to Cycling, by Jon Bridges (Penguin, $40)
Reviewed by Jim Robinson

When he’s not working in television, radio, or comedy, Jon Bridges is apparently well recognised as ‘the guy who’s always riding a bike’.

He’s been turning the pedals since the 1970s (when he had the cool factor of ape-hanger bars and a banana seat). With about a zillion kilometres in his legs, he understands firsthand the ‘smugness’ of zipping past a queued line of traffic on the way to work; the ‘joy of self-sufficiency’ in bike touring; the ‘passport to being out amongst nature’ in mountain biking; the buzz of conquering a cycling challenge, and yeah, the ‘luxury of spending time for just you on the bike’.

Bridges also has the eye to recognise that ‘bikes are so beautiful’. He confesses, ‘I’m a major bike perv’.

In Easy Rider, that massive experience and simple bike love shows out in spades. It’s a comprehensive introduction to all things cycling: how to choose the right bike, how to set it up, how to fix a flat tyre, how to maintain the bike in top condition. How to plan a bike tour, stay safe in traffic, set goals, train for peak fitness—and much, much more.

In truth, books like this have been done before, many times. I’ve been a bike nut myself pretty much as long as Bridges, and my bookshelf of bike books includes three titles in a similar vein. There are many others out there in the world of biking—and there are literally dozens of training-, racing-, and touring-specific guides.

But, so far as I know, Bridges is first to set off with a New Zealand-specific overview book. The Kennett brothers—Paul, Simon, Jonathan—have produced wonderful guidebooks for mountain bike, off-road and road riding, but they haven’t done a how-to-get-started big picture overview like Easy Rider.

Bridges does his job bloody well, with topics arranged clearly and succinctly (typically with a witty aside) under sections and sub-heads. It actually sits very comfortably with the Kennetts’ books, sharing a very New Zealand, friendly and subtly funny, tone of voice. It’s all nicely laid out, with fun illustrations and thick paper that’s tough enough to withstand a greasy fingerprint.

Easy Rider is very much for the here and now. Bridges gives price guidelines, and he mentions handy web sites. That kind of stuff will date some content, as will changes in bike technology, though there’s always going to be long term reference in a good book: a 10 speed and a 27 speed are both ultimately still bikes.

Just like the Kennett brothers’ work, what really shines through is Bridges’ direct experience. I don’t know the guy (other than from his television and writing work) but he very clearly knows cycling like the back of his hand, and he’s passionate about it. As a result you get tips and cautions from the real world. There were many times I read something and thought: ‘Yeah, you’re on the money there’.

So for anyone embarking into the bike game, I’d suggest there’s very good reference here. Follow the tips and you’ll save a few headaches, and hopefully have a lot of fun. It’s too late for Christmas, but what a great gift.

From the perspective of an experienced rider, I really like the fact that while Bridges might be a bike perv, he’s definitely not pretentious, or self-righteous. He urges you, as a rider, to be respectful of other road users, for example suggesting friendly feedback to acknowledge responsible driving. He tells you not to discard wrappers from gels and muesli bars. He enthuses that taking a punctured inner tube back home to fix is a good idea, because it’s easy, virtually free, and a good simple environmental action.

I’m with him all the way. In fact, I’d urge anyone who’s written one of those biker-hate letters to the Editor in the Herald to read the book too: you’ll see that actually, us cyclists do deserve to be on the road.