Gears for Queers – A Book Review

Gears for Queers is a book about a long distance Bicycle Tour. Written by two, self-confessed, touring novices Abi and Lili. They set out to cycle from Amsterdam to Spain on second hand bikes loaded with camping gear and a ukulele.

“Keen to see some of Europe, queer couple Lilith and Abigail get on their old bikes and start pedalling. Along flat fens and up Swiss Alps, they will meet new friends and exorcise old demons as they push their bodies – and their relationship – to the limit.”

Gears for Queers

Abi & Lili document the highs & lows of cycle touring, navigating the world as a visible queer couple, coping with mental health issues and peer pressure from the ‘professional’ cycle tourists on instagram; along with being unfit, fat and vegan! 

If you are a seasoned cycle tourer you will completely relate to their story. The day to day logistics of finding food, water, shelter and the ‘what ifs’ that being out there forges. What if it all goes wrong/I get lost/ lose my bike/get hurt or murdered? If you are at all considering traveling or cycle touring this book is an inspiring and honest starting point of what to expect.

As their journey progresses, Abi & Lili brilliantly balance:

  1.  taking their place in the world as bona fide cyclists:

“I was realising that taking up space on the road was an important way of making myself safe. At some point I had absorbed the message that I was a less legitimate road user; I didn’t pay road tax like car owners. I was struck by a sense of indignation. I was tired of the ways capitalism conspired to make life harder for people living outside of the proscribed system. Cyclists, like me, weren’t willing or couldn’t afford to enter into the monetary obligation and environmental catastrophe of car travel. We still deserved space on the road.”

Gears for Queers

With:

  1.  the challenges of being visible when travelling:

“‘I’m thinking,’ I cocked my head towards the large photo of the Pope staring over at me, ‘that we’re just friends here.’ ‘Yeah, I agree,’ said Abi. ‘I don’t think it’s a big deal.’ ‘No, me neither. I think it’s probably obvious, but it’s not relevant and I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. Isabelle is making us feel so at home, why make a point of it?’ ‘Agreed. We are friends. We share a flat. Simple.’ I went through to wash my hands. I tucked my hair – scruffily grown out from a buzzcut – behind my ears and smoothed it with water. It was far from simple. Visibility is powerful. As someone with privilege many in my community do not have, I felt a keen sense of responsibility. I did not want to perpetuate the shame that it is so easy to internalise, I wanted to help hold the space open for others and I wanted to hold my partner’s hand in the street. Submerging my queerness was a reflex, I reflected. In the years I’d spent under mental health services I’d hidden it; I didn’t want this private part of me pathologised or problematised. I wasn’t prepared for my gender or sexuality to be examined under that lens. Even before then, I’d been so concerned with hiding any difference from my peers that I’d refused to look at it. It took years of feeling safe to allow me to be seen, and it didn’t take much to send my hands scrunched anxiously back into my pockets. Visibility was a choice that didn’t come easily to me. I wanted to hold Abi’s hand in the street, and being visibly queer felt like a price I paid for that. I wanted to stay at Isabelle’s house, and not being visibly queer felt like a price I paid for that. None of these internal and external discussions and calculations diminished how welcome I felt in that house, in part I suppose because it was no different than navigating every other house, every other space on the tour, in our relationship, in our lives, where Abi and I had stayed ‘friends’ until we read the signifiers that it was safe to be more. During this conversation I slipped on my long-sleeved layer. The house was warm, but I didn’t want them to see my self-harm scars which, thick and ranging from bright white to bright pink, criss-cross the length of both my arms. We could count ourselves lucky that we could choose to make these things, these parts of ourselves, invisible for a night.” 

Gears for Queers

It is more than just a travel book

When I was growing up, LGBTQ+ peers were thin on the ground. I was desperate to find, see and read people that were like me. As do we all. To not feel so alone. 

Media & Society sent a clear message that ‘Otherness’ was fair game for jokes, banter and violence. I was never ashamed of who I was but I was made to feel ashamed of how I thought I would make other people feel and frightened of being ridiculed – or worse.

I keenly remember the years where I felt invisible and unheard. With hindsight I am back there speaking up, fighting my corner, being visible and not being afraid of people’s reactions, afraid of being other, afraid of upsetting people, of challenging their normal. I am embarrassed that I allowed that fear to influence my life, the decisions I made, how I behaved and how I treated people. 

My nan used to tell me: “the best thing about getting older is you can say what you like”. She was right. As we grow older there is a lack of opposition from our elders, we become sage through our life experiences and with it – confident. It is a wonderful feeling. At 46 I am only just finding my voice but I know it could have been there earlier if books like this were available. 

I understand that without those experiences I would not be who I am now but it took time. I have learned to accept them and be grateful for them.I now know that people had neither the tools nor vocabulary to have open and honest discussions about any of it, so I kept quiet. It was self preservation, but it was wrong.

Just read the book!

I am delighted that there are people like Abi & Lili who are willing to be brave and vulnerable, to put their story out in the world. To give us the language we need to tell our stories. To encourage people onto their bikes and out of themselves.

This is a great book for ANYONE who is bicycle curious but more than that, it is a much needed narrative and perspective for people who are fearful of following their dreams because they don’t fit society’s norms. 

Books are gateways to conversations & discussion and it is heartwarming to think that by simply reading a book we could ease someone else’s journey.

Even if you don’t identify as LGBTQ+ I would urge you to read this book as a cyclist. It is after all, a great travel story; but it may also give you a reason to strike up or join in with that conversation with your mates.

Gears for Queers is a refreshing and relatable read. Abi and Lili use language that is necessary, clear, brave and honest when recounting their physical and emotional journey. I wish there had been more books and language like this when I was growing up. Books like this are how we get to the ‘new normal’. 

Thank you to Abi & Lili for writing it.

You can purchase your copy on AMAZON

Or purchase a signed copy direct from Abi & Lili HERE

If you would like to know more about the Authors Abi & Lili you can find the website HERE

Thank you for reading my book review.

Please let me know if you have read Gears for Queers and what you thought.

Ride safe & see you out there.

Sarah


Suggested Further Reading:

Jools Walker re-discovered cycling aged twenty-eight after a ten-year absence from the saddle. When she started blogging about her cycle adventures under the alias Lady Vélo, a whole world was opened up to her. But it’s hard to find space in an industry not traditionally open to women – especially women of colour.

Shortly after getting back on two wheels, Jools was diagnosed with depression and then, in her early thirties, hit by a mini-stroke. Yet, through all of these punctures, one constant remained: Jools’ love of cycling.

In Back in the Frame Jools talks to the other female trailblazers who are disrupting the cycling narrative as well as telling the story of how she overcame her health problems, learned how to cycle her own path and even found a love of Lycra shorts along the way.

At twenty-five, Emily Chappell took up cycle couriering while she searched for a ‘real job’. Eight years on, she is still riding. As she flies through the streets of London, dancing with the traffic, Chappell records the pains and pleasures of life on wheels: the dangerous missions; the moments of fear and freedom, and ultimately the simple joy of pedalling onward.

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