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Pop Up Shop: Urban Cycling Guide

We’re so excited to once again feature women-owned and/or run businesses and entrepreneurs at our National Forum on Women & Bicycling pop-up shop. This year, Yvonne Bambrick will be selling her new book, The Urban Cycling Survival Guide, which was released on March 1! We caught up with Bambrick to discuss her own urban cycling story, her unique take on bicycling, and her thoughts on closing the gender gap in bicycling. If you haven’t registered for the Forum yet, click here and join us in Washington, D.C., next week! 

What’s your urban cycling story — how and why did you pick up bicycling as an adult?

I started on two-wheels in the late 70’s as a baby on the back of my Dad’s road bike, I had a tricycle for a little while, then my own two-wheeler at 10. I rode through the ravine park system that connected to our family’s condo, and then took to the streets at 16 for 17km (9.5 miles) rides to high school and back, and 20 km (12 miles) to my summer job teaching sailing at 17. I ended up driving much more throughout my four years of university in Montreal – hard to be a concert caterer and ski instructor without a car – and then sold my car to help pay for further study in Sydney, Australia. That’s where I started cycling everywhere year-round thanks to the great weather. When I moved back to Toronto, Canada, in 2003 I just couldn’t give up the convenience of riding year-round, despite the harsh winters, so I figured out how to adapt. I’ve never considered buying another car, and am grateful to have built my life in such a way that I shouldn’t ever have to.

What was your motivation to write a book? There are an increasing number of books out there about cycling — what did YOU want to add to the discussion?

Writing a book was never on my to do list but it occurred to me one afternoon in September 2012 and I decided to go for it. I was very fortunate to work in cycling advocacy as the founding Executive Director for my city’s first city-wide bicycle advocacy organization and have been pretty steeped in all things urban cycling for years. Friends and colleagues regularly approach me as their go-to person for bike-related questions – the rules, where to get things, what to do in certain traffic situations… so I figured getting it all into one handy book would be of benefit to many more people. I’d also noted the gap in bike education as a significant issue amongst many in the surge of adults getting back on their bikes for commuting and transportation purposes. Although most had acquired their driver’s license (a trend that is shifting amongst young urbanites), they’d been given no specific information about how to be part of traffic on a bicycle. It occurred to me that rather than talk about the gap in bike education I could probably DO something about it by putting all the most relevant stuff down on paper.

I’m not sure I wanted to add anything in particular to the discussion, but rather that I wanted to share my knowledge and perspective as someone who has worked to champion the rights and responsibilities of city cyclists, and to do it on my frequency in the balanced, pragmatic, accessible voice of a seasoned instructor. Though, perhaps by writing a section about bicycling as we age, explaining various ways to bring a dog along for the ride, and including several pages specific to drivers about how to interact with cyclists on the road, I’ve added something new. This book is also very specifically about riding in an urban setting and provides excellent information about how to navigate many scenarios that would uniquely impact someone on a bike – it distills the rules of the road as they apply to riders, but does not overwhelm the reader, or get too tedious. I’ve been told by readers that its not only a great way to learn about how to get around a city by bike, but that it also provides insight into the ‘cyclist species’ for curious non-cyclists.

My main goal was to build confidence through knowledge for the many ‘interested but concerned’ people who’d like to give cycling for transportation a try. Turns out I’ve also written something that can serve as a refresher for those who’ve been at it for a while – after all, you don’t know what you don’t know.

You note that a lot of folks start riding with only partial knowledge of safe urban cycling skills — what are some of the things you emphasize in the book that new riders often overlook?

Going left around a right-turning car, not approaching lights like a car by racing to them and slamming on the brakes, good bike locking technique, the importance of seat height and fit, the types of bicycles best suited to different types of riding, how crucial it is to stay out of the blindspots of trucks and buses, how to communicate and ride predictably… It’s all pretty important stuff really – someone who hasn’t ridden much since high school or childhood might remember how to physically balance and pedal a bike, but the rest of the knowledge about the rules of the road, how to anticipate what’s coming up in the roadway, navigating predictable hazards, how to deal with getting a ticket, or into a collision, the various ways to carry your stuff like groceries or your laptop… – you can learn it over time, and often the hard way, or you can pick up my book and get a head start.

I love that you have a whole section on Cycling for All Ages — how important is it to be highlighting the viability of biking for families and people with different abilities?

Thanks, I really wanted to emphasize that bikes aren’t just for fit 20-30-somethings. Families and bicycles go together like toast and jam, and active seniors are healthier happier more self-sufficient people. Bike designs have come a long way, and now that we have access to so many more styles of bicycles – from cargo bikes for carrying the kids and groceries, and adult tricycles that help provide stability and independence, to electric assist pedelecs and bikes that can be custom built for various abilities – bicycling has become more accessible than ever.  

Since you’re part of the Women Bike Pop-up Shop, do you think being a female advocate and rider brought any distinct perspective to this book? What’s your take on how we can start to close the gender gap in bicycling in North America?

My writing style is very straight-forward, practical and accessible – a woman’s voice can sometimes be more approachable for other women, and in my case I think I’ve written in a way that invites men along as well. My own experiences are sprinkled throughout and I’ve also included the voices of many contributors – there’s a slight narrative quality that I hope people will find engaging.

As for closing the gender gap, I imagine it will take a number of things. While quality bike infrastructure goes a long way to reducing risk and making women and men feel safer on their bikes, it is not enough. Providing education from a young age, so adding bicycle skills training to grade school physical education curriculum, is one significant long-term way to increase ridership overall. Women helping other women one on one – friends, colleagues, relatives – to truly understand how practical, cost-effective, efficient, and easy riding can be for individuals and families, is another great way to get women cycling. Safe routes to schools, reduced speed limits, adequate and secure bike parking, shower and change facilities at the workplace, bike shop staff that know how to engage female customers… all of these will help. However, beyond these tangible issues of service, and the urban built form, we’ve got way more work ahead to bust down the gendered stereotypes and broad societal expectations that still serve as barriers to entry for countless women. I’m really hoping my book will help give more women the confidence to see for themselves what so many have already discovered. 

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