Books on Cycling - an overview

We're doing something slightly different for this week's roundup - instead of blogs, we'll be looking at books on cycling and urban transport in general, perhaps providing a little inspiration for some light(ish!) summer holiday reading.

Perhaps the 'biggest' book of this year so far has been Janette Sadik-Khan's Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution(link is external). Written by a former New York City transport commissioner, the book is chock-full of insights and revelations about ways to change streets and roads, as well as familiar stories of opposition. Happily Sadik-Khan's book sits alongside a series of similar books coming out of north America, including Samuel J Schwartz's Street Smarts(link is external) (another former New York City transport commissioner!), Happy City(link is external) by Charles Montgomery, the public transport-focused Straphanger(link is external), and The Walkable City by Jeff Speck(link is external).

For the statistically-minded, X and the City(link is external) takes a look at the mathematics of everyday transport and planning, while Rush Hour(link is external) is a study of the simple mechanics of how and why we travel to work the way we do. Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic(link is external) is a great examination of our attitudes and behaviour when we simply travel around, and how those attitudes can be shaped and changed by the environment.


There's a wealth of books on the story of how our roads and streets have been shaped in the motor vehicle age, including Peter Norton's Fighting Traffic(link is external) (how pedestrians were pushed out of city streets), On Roads by Joe Moran(link is external), which examines the origins of the British road system and our changing attitudes towards it, and of course Roads were not Built for Cars, by Carlton Reid(link is external).

Wheels within Wheels(link is external) examines how the road lobby managed to sway transport policy in Britain, and Car Scapes(link is external) is a fantastic (and very large) examination of the way the fabric of the country itself was fundamentally altered with the advent of mass motoring, while Autophobia(link is external) looks at how the United States fell in and out of love with the motor car. Car Wars by Chris Mosey(link is external) is a fascinating investigation into how road building came to be challenged in Britain, and Death on the Streets by Robert Davis(link is external) is a forensic examination of how 'road safety' and tackling actual danger are very different beasts.


Books on the joys of cycling are numerous - there's perhaps no better place to start than Pete Jordan's history of cycling in Amsterdam, In the City of Bikes(link is external). Jeff Mapes' Pedalling Revolution(link is external) looks at how cycling, and cyclists, are changing North American cities, while Bella Bathurst's The Bicycle Book(link is external) and Robert Penn's It's All About the Bike(link is external) are more philosophical meditations on the experience of cycling. The Dutch and their Bikes(link is external) is a weighty, coffee table tome full of great photographs and insights on the Dutch cycling experience.

As well as being a prolific blogger, Bike Snob has produced humorous and informative books on the cycling experience both in the United States(link is external), and around the world(link is external).  There are also plenty of books from cycling's history, providing a fascinating insight into how cycling was viewed in the past - these include The Modern Cyclist (1923)(link is external)Lady Cycling (1897)(link is external)Fancy Cycling (1901)(link is external) and The Winged Wheel(link is external), a history of the CTC, and cycling in Britain more generally.

What goes around by Emily Chappell(link is external) is the story of the ups and downs of being a cycle courier in London, and David Byrne's The Bicycle Diaries(link is external) is similarly a view from the saddle, but of a series of global cities. Frostbike(link is external) examines the problematic issue of cycling in winter - how bad it is, and what to do about it - and while warming up afterwards you might enjoy Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling(link is external)


Research on cycling and transport is of course available in book form, and often aimed at the layperson and campaigner, as well as the casual reader. An excellent example is Steve Melia's Urban Transport without the Hot Air(link is external), busting myths about transport and showing how easily we could do things in a much better way. You're spoilt for choice when it comes to collections of research on cycling too - City Cycling(link is external) (eds. Pucher and Buehler), Promoting Walking and Cycling(link is external) (Pooley et al.) and Cycling and Sustainability(link is external) (ed. John Parkin) are all worth delving into, as is Traffic Jam: Ten Years of Sustainable Transport in the UK(link is external), which examines the success and failures of the New Labour government on transport policy, and (from a similar period) Car Sick by Lynn Sloman(link is external)Cycling Cities: The European Experience(link is external) is newly-released, and newly updated, analysing the history of planning for the bicycle in Europe, with lessons for the future.


Everyone has heard of Jan Gehl, but have you read his books? Both Cities for People(link is external) and Life Between Buildings(link is external) are chock-full of insights and revelations about how to transform urban space to the human scale. Making People-Friendly Towns(link is external) (Tibbalds) looks at town planning at a holistic level, while Mental Speed Bumps(link is external) examines effective ways of calming traffic and reclaiming urban space.

The highly influential (in both good and bad ways) Traffic in Towns report(link is external) is well worth tracking down, and, as if to demonstrate that these aren't exactly new problems, there are plenty of books of a similar age that examine how and why we can improve our urban environments, including The Concise Townscape(link is external)Accommodating the Pedestrian(link is external)Towns against Traffic(link is external) and Taming Traffic(link is external), both by Stephen Plowden (grandfather of Transport for London's Ben Plowden), and A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings and Construction(link is external). Finally, there is, of course, the great Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities(link is external), perhaps the foundational text of campaigns against the dominance of motor traffic and grand-scale urban planning.


When it comes to designing for cycling, the gold standard is of course the Dutch CROW manual(link is external), which is unfortunately far from cheap! Happily UK design is starting to catch up, and there's plenty of good stuff in the free-to-download LCDS(link is external) and the Welsh Active Travel Design Guidance(link is external), as well as the campaigner-developed Making Space for Cycling(link is external).

The American NACTO (the National Association of City Transport Officials) have produced a Street Design Guide(link is external), and (delving back into history) there are excellent design tips in the Bicycle Planning Handbook(link is external) which dates from 1978. Cycle Space by Steven Fleming(link is external) is a take on architecture and planning, specifically through the prism of cycling, and Cycle Infrastructure(link is external) is a global roundup of best practice.

Graphic novels

Finally, cycling and transport issues have made it into illustration- and cartoon-form. There's a graphic novel on cycle couriers(link is external), as well as one on the way we tolerate death and danger on our streets(link is external), and Andy Singer's memorable cartoons are also available in book form(link is external).