Book Review: Potholes and Pavements

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Some years ago I met Laura Laker and she seemed to me to be an essentially nice and positive person. One of those people it would be hard to be miserable around, possibly because she’d have whisked you off on a bike ride in search of baked goods before you could grumble about anything. Perhaps it is this positivity that has allowed her to produce a book about the National Cycle Network that remains essentially upbeat in the face of what I would find so frustrating as to be reduced to hair tearing and gnashing of teeth.

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The NCN is a wonder, for the glimpses of what could be if we had more of it and more of it done properly. It’s also a wonder that it exists at all, and this book, Potholes and Pavements, celebrates those that, like Laura, possess enough of a sunny outlook to remain undaunted and undefeated in the face of… well, pretty much everything.

It is easy to find fault in the NCN, with its little stretches of painted non-infrastructure, blue signs seemingly designed to lead you in the most circuitous possible route to your destination, and inaccessible obstacles of such varying design that you might think mech hanger standards are quite standardised. This book goes some way to illustrate why these inadequacies exist – and may just about be sprinkled with enough wonder and joy to make you feel than something is better than nothing.

Indeed, the NCN does have brilliant stretches of traffic free infrastructure with nice views and well made paths that link places up with logic and efficiency. There are also scenic routes that are so jaw droppingly gorgeous that you may forgive the additional miles or unpredictable surfaces. Here we have glimpses of what could be, if only not-cars were given priority when it comes to funding, government policy, access rights and so on.

Potholes and Pavements combines the failings with the delights in such a way as to leave you hopeful that, maybe, things will get better. Rather than a polemic about what we’ve failed to do, it’s a celebration of what has been achieved. I started out reading this with a sense of exasperation that yet again here was a clearly written and well researched book spelling out how bikes can solve so many of our problems (see also Peter Walker’s ‘Bike Nation’) but what has actually changed at a policy level? SFA? But, as I read on, the continuous drip drip of happy tales of bike rides and indefatigable activists got under my skin. Things might not have changed as much as I (or any sane person freed from the clutches of the motor industry’s influence machine?) might want them to, but they have shifted since the inception of the NCN. As a ‘network’ it remains as much a hope as a reality, but the evidence is increasingly there. Build it (right) and they will come. Build it and the world will be a better place. Build it and we can all benefit.

All we need now is leadership that will heed that evidence – rather than the those that shout the loudest, or influence the hardest. It’s an election year – maybe something will change? I think I might need an upliftingly positive ride with Laura Laker to keep hoping it might.

Overall

An informative read that manages to stay on the optimistic side of activism. Read it and get motivated (and only a little bit angry).

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Review Info

Brand: Laura Laker
Product: Potholes and Pavements
From: Bloomsbury
Price: £16.99
Tested: by Hannah for
Author Profile Picture
Hannah Dobson

Managing Editor

I came to Singletrack having decided there must be more to life than meetings. I like all bikes, but especially unusual ones. More than bikes, I like what bikes do. I think that they link people and places; that cycling creates a connection between us and our environment; bikes create communities; deliver freedom; bring joy; and improve fitness. They're environmentally friendly and create friendly environments. I try to write about all these things in the hope that others might discover the joy of bikes too.

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Viewing 5 posts - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)
  • Book Review: Potholes and Pavements
  • lorax
    Full Member

    Excellent review, many thanks!

    slowol
    Full Member

    Thanks for the review. Is there any chance of Singletrack stocking this, amongst the other cycling books you stock?

    Gives those of us without a local bookshop a better place to buy from than American tax avoidance vehicles. Thanks 👍

    oldfart
    Full Member

    @stwhannah

    I’m a volunteer ranger for Sustrans and van telling you unfortunately our government has withdrawn funding so it’s down to us now 🙄Shortsighted cutbacks won’t help in the long run .😔

    jeffl
    Full Member

    Interesting review. I cycled Coast to Coast about 10 years ago with some work colleagues. Was a fairly chilled afair but the only GPS we had was a basic Garmin with breadcrumbs, before having to break out the phones.

    We all became absolute ninjas at spotting tiny blue NCN signs burried in the undergrowth. For about 6 months afterwards I kept noticing them everywhere.

    May have to grab a copy when I see it at the local book shop.

    rhinofive
    Full Member

    does it mention the bit of NCN included in a CX World Cup course?

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