Weekender Ride

Book Review: Our Bodies, Our Bikes

Posted by on November 3rd, 2015 at 9:15 am

The cover art is a nod to The Sprockettes,
a mini-bike dance team based in Portland.

[Publisher’s note: Please welcome our new writer Jessie Kwak. She’ll be writing a range of stories, including a monthly product review. – Jonathan]

As a woman who’s been riding her bike for years, I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with my gender-specific cycling needs – mostly through awkwardly-broached conversations with other women who bike. There are a lot of questions that no one wants to ask. “Are you supposed to wear underwear under those padded bike shorts?” “Is it weird that I’m constantly starving since I started bike commuting?” And the biggie: “How do you make it stop hurting you-know-where?”

Reading Our Bodies, Our Bikes, a new book edited by Elly Blue and April Streeter (and funded via a Kickstarter campaign), is a lot like having those weird conversations. Just in loud, joyful voices using poetic turns of phrase.

The book is full of essays by women willing to delve into the most intimate parts of their lives as openly as if they were knocking back a few beers with their girlfriends.

The book is full of essays by women willing to delve into the most intimate parts of their lives as openly as if they were knocking back a few beers with their girlfriends.

The essays span the stages of all lives, putting special emphasis on the experiences unique to women (like pregnancy and menopause). Knowing that, it may be easy to call it a women’s book – but there’s good stuff in here for people of all ages and genders. As Elly Blue and April Streeter write in the introduction: “Who is this book for? Everyone. Most books about bicycling happen to be written by, for, and about men, even if that isn’t explicitly spelled out in the marketing materials, but that does not stop many women from reading them, and we aim to be no less inclusive.”

It’s a beautifully-designed book, with a format that’s easy to dip in and out of. It merges practical tips with personal essays, and manages to have something for everyone from newcomers to old hands. It’s fantastic combination of diverse perspectives. For example, the chapter titled “Clothes” matches practical advice from Constance Winters and Janet LaFleur on looking professional while commuting by bike with the advice from Elly Blue to “stay a step ahead of [the winter wind], adding layers until you look like a multi-colored traveling circus.”

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There are practical tips, such as the essay, “Everything You Want To Know About Biking Safely” by Alex Baca and Bec Rindler, which is a gold mine of practical tips to help new cyclists get over their nervousness of cycling. “How To Be Fast” by Lindsay Kandra offers training tips to help all cyclists get up to speed.

“I give in to my passion for riding over any preconceived expectation of how a bike—or a body—should perform.”
— Parisa Emam in “Wheeling”

While Our Bodies, Our Bikes does have tips for all genders, it’s also incredibly practical in helping demystify those “unmentionable” topics specific to women. You’ll find essays on how to deal with cycling and menopause, the best menstrual products to keep you riding during that time of the month, why your saddle is a pain in the vulva (and what to do about it), and how cycling has helped women make painful, personal decisions about their reproductive health.

April Streeter’s “How To Make Your Butt Happy On And Off The Bike” is a fantastic resource for anyone who’s ever dealt with saddle soreness, regardless of gender. “Your Vulva,” by Elly Blue and Caroline Paquette is obviously a bit more specific to lady bits, and is a truly enlightening read.

And then there are the personal stories. Celebrations of strength, like the essay “Sex Goddess On Two Wheels” by Jaymi Tharp, who proclaims “the sheer power of my bike riding body and my proud, steady attitude make me the sexiest thing on the road.” I found the chapter titled “Sickness and Health” to be one of the most powerful, filled with stories of finding purpose and haleness on a bicycle, despite the physical limitations of illness and disability. As Parisa Emam writes in her essay, “Wheeling”: “I give in to my passion for riding over any preconceived expectation of how a bike—or a body—should perform.”

This is a book for all bicyclists and the bike-curious, regardless of how they identify. As for me, I’ll be stocking up on copies to use as gifts for all my girlfriends’ birthdays, bachelorette parties, and baby showers.

Our Bodies, Our Bikes is available for $14.95 at MicrocosmPublishing.com.

— Jessie Kwak – jessiekwak@gmail.com

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

46 Comments
  • Ted Timmons (Contributor) November 3, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Hooray for Jessie! Hooray for Ellie!

    That is all.

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    • longgone November 6, 2015 at 12:37 am

      Ted.. The Ford van that harrassed you on Willamette, is parked regularly a mere block from the St John’s police precinct office. A stones throw from the post office. Peace

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  • Granpa November 3, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    It looks like we have found a topic where opinionated experts are not crawling out of the woodwork to pontificate about their knowledge. (and I got nothing)

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  • rachel b November 3, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    I hate to say that the cover would dissuade me from picking it up. 🙁 It is very…pink. I’m also not jazzed about “Sex Goddess on Two Wheels” because frankly, I’d rather be just another human sharing the road when I’m on my bike. I’m on it to get around, to get from point A to point B; it’s my transportation, that’s all. Sorry to be such a wet blanket (and welcome, Jessie!). I’d be curious to hear from other women their reactions. I applaud the idea of a bike book that addresses some issues unique to female riders. I just wish it were less…pink.

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    • gutterbunnybikes November 3, 2015 at 7:44 pm

      What is wrong with pink? It’s just red with a little bit of white tossed in.

      Thinking this might be a good gift for my daughter, it would be a great compliment to the adult bike she needs since she just recently outgrew her tween bike and obviously would help some her out with some matters I have absolutely no experience in.

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    • April November 3, 2015 at 8:17 pm

      As the review points out, there is a really wide range of essays in the book. If you’re local or a friend has it, I say page through it before deciding.

      I adore this book, personally. Not all the essays are relevant to me but all of them are interesting and well-written.

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    • BIKELEPTIC November 4, 2015 at 12:37 pm

      Though not the publisher or editor, I am one of the contributors of this volume and have written for a couple others of Ms Blue’s zines/books and wanted to calm some of your fears.

      First, I am under the impression that most if not all of the contributors choose their own titles for their essays; not the publisher or editors. (In previous works, I’ve even seen “Untitled” as titles, so there’s that.) So if you don’t feel like a “Sex Goddess on Two Wheels” – that’s awesome and totally alright! That’s not your story. That’s someone else’s.

      Also; I’ve tried to take photos of the cover of this book several times and I don’t know if it’s flash or what; but it’s not as pink as it looks online. (Though it is pink) The color play, I imagine is a play on the namesake of the book, “Our Bodies Ourselves” which is pink, white and red.

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      • rachel b November 4, 2015 at 1:56 pm

        Hi Bikeleptic. I’m not sure if you’re responding to me, but let you allay your fears! I’m not fearful,or a hater of the color pink! 🙂 I don’t know how you could possibly presume how I feel when I’m riding my bike, but TELLING all and sundry how sexy I feel doing/wearing/seeing/being/smelling/collating various things is not my bag and is (I feel) tedious, hackneyed and counterproductive in getting men to further understand women as fellow human beings. In cycling. And otherwise, too. It has its place–don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think it’s here, now.

        Poor color pink. It’s not the color pink in and of itself but what the color pink has come to represent as regards women and products for women that prompted my sour reference to pink. Pink is fab! Did you read that I have a pink guitar? With sparkles? What I neglected to mention is that I have TWO pink guitars! And a purple one, too. I hope that this well and truly reassures everyone that I’ve got nothing against pink, and that no one needs to reassure me about pink. Or purple.

        Will again quote what I say below:

        “And it disappoints me that an attempt to reach out to women on BikePortland involves a pink book with Sprokettes girls on the cover being whimsical and chapters like “Your Vulva.” Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me as much if it had followed on the heels of several more neutral “women are just folks too” articles.”

        That’s really where my antipathy (not fear) resides.

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        • rachel b November 4, 2015 at 1:57 pm

          Oops–I meant to say “Let me allay your fears!” Not “let you allay your fears.”

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  • John Lascurettes November 3, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Since the cover art is a nice nod to The Sprokettes‘s energy and look, I think the pink and black cover is perfectly apropos.

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    • rachel b November 3, 2015 at 4:40 pm

      Yeah. I’m not really into the illustration (or the Sprokettes) either. Sorry.

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  • Mixtieme November 3, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Wet blanket you are @rachel b

    I’ve read this book, it’s great. Never let a cover choose the books you read or fox news and marketing group will keep you in thier fists.

    Fwiw I just learned that male coworker, new to cycling, had no idea that a potential comfortable ride meant tucking up.

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    • rachel b November 3, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      Hi Mixtieme. I think it’s not for me, and that’s based on the contents detailed in the article too. I’m pretty adventurous with books in general and get what you’re saying about the covers! Some of my favorite female authors from the distant past really got screwed by their editors with inappropriate and misleading illustrated “romance” covers. You’ll have to trust me that I actually do open the book and look inside. My house’s walls are lined with books, floor to ceiling. I love books! Esp. finding good ones, previously unknown to me, at the Goodwill. But, in this case, truthfully, once I opened the book and saw “Your Vulva” and “Sex Goddess on Two Wheels,” I’d be moving on. Sorry.

      I know I bring a bias into this. I get the “Bic for Girls!” reaction, regularly. I’m so weary of things being packaged “girly” for women when what I want–esp. in male-dominated arenas (like cycling, or music) is for people to be seen as people, to be treated like a human and not have “…for a girl!” appended. And no–that doesn’t mean I want the book to be packaged for men or that you can’t have fun and go all-out girly sometimes. I have a pink sparkly guitar, for example. 😉 But I think what women reading BikePortland (and everywhere) probably need more than anything is to be seen as something the same, more or less; not something “other.”

      I just can’t imagine a chapter in a book geared toward men in cycling called “Sex God on Two Wheels” and detailing how sexy biking makes him feel. Who cares?! Well, I might, actually. I would pick up and read that book, in complete disbelief, wonder and awe. 🙂 So much women do seems to wind up needing to be made “sexy” or some stereotypical idea of “feminine.” It may be a knee-jerk reaction at this point, but I find myself alienated and so turned off by that–even (especially) in the name of “claiming our power.” I have a different idea of where women’s power resides.

      And it disappoints me that an attempt to reach out to women on BikePortland involves a pink book with Sprokettes girls on the cover being whimsical and chapters like “Your Vulva.” Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me as much if it had followed on the heels of several more neutral “women are just folks too” articles.

      I’m sorry for the wet blanketness. Truly am.

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      • Dave November 4, 2015 at 9:08 am

        I’m a straight man fwiw, and completely agree with you. I too view gendered packaging of almost anything as condescension.

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    • BeavertonRider November 4, 2015 at 9:48 am

      Gotta make sure to get a Fox News blast in…lol

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  • Mao November 3, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    Tossing this out their for my fellow ladies and anyone else who happens to wear a short dress while biking.
    Safety. Shorts.
    I have stories of suddenly finding myself on an uphill slope with an eyefull of another’s underpants. It’s quite an awkward feeling.

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  • Liz November 4, 2015 at 12:10 am

    I am so happy to know this exists! The intersection of feminism/gender and biking is one of my favorite things to complain and wonder about. I am looking forward to plenty of validation and new information from these essays!

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  • BikeEverywhere November 4, 2015 at 9:48 am

    I’m a strong female cyclist who also happens to enjoy my femininity. My daily cycling uniform is most often a dress with cycling shorts or leggings underneath. Very happy that someone has chosen to write about the uniqueness of our cycling experience as women. We have many issues due to our anatomy that men simply don’t share. (My husband can’t fathom why I worry about running out of chamois creme for our long road rides.) Pink is just a fun color–please try to get over it.

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    • rachel b November 4, 2015 at 11:38 am

      Yup–that’s pretty much my cycling outfit, too, for what it’s worth. Also, I like pink. That wasn’t the point, in and of itself.

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  • Elly November 4, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Thanks for the review, Jessie and BikePortland!

    And thanks for the thoughtful comments… one of my goals when April and I made editorial choices for the book is that any single person reading it would find something to make them pump their fist and whoop with joy, and something else upsettingly uncomfortable. Over 50 contributors wrote and made art about a huge diversity of topics in a wide range of styles in this book. If anyone reads it and doesn’t find anything to love or hate, let me know…hopefully there will be future editions where we can add even more awesome/incendiary pieces.

    Rachel B, I’d especially love to hear what kind of book about the intersection of gender and cycling would inspire you the most. It sounds like this really struck a nerve with you and I imagine others will feel the same way. One book won’t ever please everyone, but hopefully something else on the big old shelf I’m working to build can.

    As for the color pink, the book’s cover designer would like everyone to know that the cover is raspberry, not pink or bubblegum or salmon or any other such dread color. Frankly, it all looks the same to me. But here’s a thing I wrote about that part of the spectrum a few years ago: http://takingthelane.com/2011/06/14/why-this-blog-is-pink/

    Rock on,
    Elly

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    • Joe Biel November 4, 2015 at 10:04 am

      It’s great to see everyone’s early reactions to this book and just how gender provokes such knee-jerk reactions based on everyone’s individual experiences and interpreting how others process those experiences.

      However, as a book designer I find pink to be far too masculine of a color for a book like this, which is why it’s raspberry and lavender. It’s interesting to see how many people haven’t yet caught up with the 1890s.

      And honestly if you’ve got a body and a bike, there is something for you in this book. And if there’s not, wait for the its third incarnation and become a contributor.

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    • rachel b November 4, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Hi Elly– the strength of my reaction had more to do with the bigger picture, with this (as I said above) :

      “And it disappoints me that an attempt to reach out to women on BikePortland involves a pink book with Sprokettes girls on the cover being whimsical and chapters like “Your Vulva.” Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me as much if it had followed on the heels of several more neutral “women are just folks too” articles.”

      I recall a previous attempt to reach out to women riders here involved a female blogger/cyclist who took the “sexy” angle. To me, it read as pandering and tired, and I felt some of the same feeling when seeing this article pop up on BikePortland. Oh, we’re trying to reach the ladies again. Let’s make it sexy and pink. Fine, but I want a parallel article related to men riding bikes to feel sexy, and addressing their personal nethers issues. 😉

      Your book sounds like it’s exactly what you designed it to be, and I’m sure it’s bound to delight a lot of readers. I wish you all the best.

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  • BeavertonRider November 4, 2015 at 10:07 am

    “painful, personal decisions about their reproductive health”

    Such as? Im curious what kinds of decisions are involved here. Perhaps I’ll pick up the book to find out…

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    • pink$$ November 4, 2015 at 2:53 pm

      Two words: yeast infections.

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  • BeavertonRider November 4, 2015 at 10:15 am

    “Very happy that someone has chosen to write about the uniqueness of our cycling experience as women.”

    But women aren’t the other, right?

    This rhetorical question is not aimed at who I just quoted this from. But I reflect on this to acknowledge the fact that men and women are different and not interchangeable. Men are the other from women and vice-versa.

    I find it curious why some are complaining that writing about cycling is or has been by men about men. I don’t dispute that this is the case. I just don’t think it matters at all. That writing about cycling is generally by men and about men doesn’t, by itself, reveal that women are shut out of writing about cycling. More the case is, like female participation in stem studies and careers or careers in fire fighting, mining, or construction, more dependent on a woman’s choice.

    So props to the poster above for correctly recognizing that otherness of men and women. The review author does, too, by rightly acknowledging how the book seeks to demystify certains things.

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    • Joe Biel November 4, 2015 at 10:28 am

      Fear not manthropologist, we have a book for you TOO! http://microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/books/5309 (this one IS bubblegum pink. Because it’s for men!)

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      • BeavertonRider November 4, 2015 at 11:24 am

        I dont need no stinkin mansplaining, thank you very much!

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        • Joe BIel November 4, 2015 at 7:40 pm

          I’m pretty sure that you mean “man explaining.” Fortunately, we’ve got a manual.

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    • pink$$ November 4, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      Dependent upon a woman’s choice not to participate in overtly unwelcoming fields/industries/work environments. We’ve been over this and you’ve made it clear you don’t believe sexism poses a practical problem for women in their daily lives anymore. However, to chalk up the statistics merely to “choice” doesn’t account for the “why” in the choice or what role male domination plays in it. It is reductionist and you are just trolling now.

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    • longgone November 4, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Women have been cycling since its inception. I am also quite sure that many cycling women outside the U.S. would not give two shakes about this book.
      Im not down on it, I just find the conflict old and tired.

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    • are November 4, 2015 at 8:20 pm

      much of the “othering” you mention is a matter of cultural constructs. women cannot really be said to have exercised choice in matters they have been educated to believe are outside their scope. also continuing pervasive social pressure, same source.

      i know personally two women who trained to be firefighters and were hounded out of the field. this in my view is economic terrorism.

      men of course are also subject to these cultural narratives and pressures, but in large part they benefit from them, at least according to conventionally understood material, economic measures. probably not psychologically. the hounds who drove my friends out of firefighting could also be seen as victims, if you held the light just right.

      but the cisgendered heterosexual white male is permitted to be blind to these influences, whereas anyone outside that description is daily brought face to face with the realities.

      i have no idea whether any of the articles in this book touch any of these subjects, but transportational bicycling is itself sufficiently outside the mainstream culture that it should be easy to find intersections with gender identity concerns.

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      • longgone November 5, 2015 at 3:19 am

        Argh….. See what I mean. Just today I had to “mansplain” a Taliban stoning to my 11 year old child, yet you silly people in Portland are up in arms over gender equality in the first world. Get over yourselves. Shit, I couldn’t even get fair passage as bi with 9/10ths of you a mere 14 years ago.
        I’m out.

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        • pink$$ November 5, 2015 at 3:59 pm

          Well I won’t be missing your dismissive, condescending attitude. Bye bye.

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          • longgone November 5, 2015 at 11:02 pm

            Not meant to be condasending at all. Dismissive perhaps because at my near six full decades on this planet, one comes to realize that most people never rise above their selfish concerns. Just ride your bike. Make friends. Assume the best in others once in awhile. Even straight white guys.

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            • pink$$ November 6, 2015 at 11:23 am

              Sound advice from an old white guy, presumably middle class–applicable to exactly how many people in the world? It could be the reason YOU get to mansplain Taliban stoning to your child is because they live a relatively sheltered life compared to MANY in the US. Lots of people growing up in the US learn about genocide from the day they are born because it is culturally relevant to them. Communities have been persecuted that way here and are part of diaspora with genocide in their history. So yeah, I’m not here for your kumbaya skit.

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        • are November 5, 2015 at 4:01 pm

          i hope the “argh” was not directed at me. nesting should have made clear i was responding to BR, within the context of the present discussion, which for better or worse has been focused on the lived experience of working or middle class humans in north america.

          yes, no matter how difficult it might be to navigate the post-industrial, consumer capitalist, “first world” landscape if you are something “other” than a white male heterosexual, someone somewhere does have it worse. at least you apparently have internet access.

          did you also “mansplain” to your kid american warplanes bombing a doctors without borders hospital? but we are getting off topic.

          there is an underlying common thread, and that is being able to see a sentient being outside yourself as actually having an interior life.

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          • longgone November 5, 2015 at 10:53 pm

            Interior life was my point.

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  • Emily G November 4, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Backed this on kickstarter, and since it clued me into magic of tea tree salve to solve a persistent saddle sore issue, my copy has already paid for itself. I like the cover illustration a lot- to me, it represents women using the power of bikes to literally and figuratively lift each other up. It’s a great read and I’m looking forward to the next edition.

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  • Arem November 4, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Nose-less, split riding saddle with spaces for your sit-bones. Imported from Canada. http://www.spiderflex.com
    Had it for years, worth every penny and no more pains or pressure.
    You’re welcome.

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  • Two Nickels November 4, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    What can I do about the fact that many women I speak with refuse to ride outside of sunny summer afternoons because they can’t be bothered by minor inconveniences?

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    • pink$$ November 6, 2015 at 5:21 pm

      For the sake of parity, maybe exactly what I would say to some whiny men who don’t think women should publish a book about their experiences cycling.

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  • Katie Taylor November 4, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    I just wanted to second rachel b. This may be a great book, but I was also put off by the pink cover and the sprockettes-style illustration — and the way the descriptions I read make it sound a little like Oprah magazine for female cyclists. If this approach weren’t so pervasive when it comes to just about any issue pertaining to women, it wouldn’t have been so annoying.

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  • axoplasm November 5, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    If you’re put off by the marketing, I recall reading a book with a nonpink cover on similar themes (accessible transportation cycling) a few years back. I think it was called EVERYDAY BICYCLING.

    http://www.powells.com/book/everyday-bicycling-how-to-ride-a-bike-for-transportation-whatever-your-lifestyle-9781621067252/7-4

    Hey…whaddya know…

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    • Elly November 6, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      Axoplasm, I just wanna say thanks for linking to Powell’s for that one. Long live the indies!

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