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Potholes and Pavements, by Laura Laker - WillCycle
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Potholes and Pavements, by Laura Laker

I must confess a few things I thought before reading this book:
1) Laker is a journalist, and British journalism is probably at it’s lowest, and least trustworthy, ever. As a result, not knowing Laker’s work very well, I was seriously apprehensive.
2) I’ve written about Sustrans and the NCN before, so thought there wouldn’t be much to this book.

I’m happy to admit that I was wrong on both counts.

Honest

From the outset, and throughout the book, Laker comes across as honest, and with oodles of integrity. These days, those are exceptionally rare qualities in a journo.

This isn’t a history book, though through her talented writing style, Laker takes you on many journeys. Those journeys meander through the history of the National Cycle Network, but never in a way that’s absurd, superfluous, or boring. On the contrary, Laker manages to grab, and hold your engagement throughout.

Part biography, part travelogue

As you work your way through the book, you learn a lot about Laker’s life – her growing up (and dropping out of college) in Somerset, her dad passing away, and the close bond she has with her sister.

Bringing personal history into a book can get boring, but Laker manages to do so in a way that’s relevant, and without descending into the territory of “Some people say I’m egotistical, but that’s enough about them – let’s talk about me”.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say the biographical parts of this book are so relevant that they enhance the book.

If you’re looking for a detailed guide of any of the NCN routes Laker cycled, before writing this book, you’re in for a disappointment. It’s not a route guide, and if that’s what you’re after, have a look at my traffic-free route guides instead! After all, most of them are for NCN routes.

Instead, Laker manages to eloquently, and accurately, paint a warts-and-all picture of the National Cycle Network. In addition, Laker displays deep insight into cycling, including the harm caused by especially middle-aged men who ride in Lycra (MAMILs, of which I’m often one).

Unlike me though, Laker is diplomatic, and conveys the message without sounding critical. She correctly points out the reasons why more women don’t cycle (hint – men, it’s NOT just the lack of infrastructure, though obviously, that plays a very big part).

The most important book

Forget John Franklin’s vastly outdated book, Cyclecraft (on which Bikeability training is based, in case you didn’t know). Laker’s book, Potholes And Pavements: A Bumpy Ride On Britain’s National Cycle Network is, without any doubts, the most important cycling book in the UK.

I’m well aware of how big a claim that is, but I absolutely believe it’s true. This book should be essential reading for every cyclist in the UK, and especially essential reading for all road engineers, and all politicians. Laker put in an astonishing amount of research into the book, and she quotes facts and figures throughout, all of which are referenced in the back of the book.

My only criticism is Laker’s claim that nobody devised a way of plotting NCN routes on a map yet. That’s simply not true, as the Open Cycle Map (subset of the Open Street Map) shows all NCN routes quite clearly, and mapping services like RideWithGPS allow you to easily plot routes on NCN paths, when you switch to the Open Cycle Map. That’s a very small oversight in what is otherwise a simply superb book.

In fact, if you want to improve cycling in your local area, I’d suggest you start by buying a copy of this book for your local councillors!

I cannot stress too much how good and important a book this is. Read it. Then read it again. Then get everyone you know to also read it.

You can get a copy here, or from all good bookstores.

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