book coverI remember seeing the original version of this book several years ago. I flipped through it, The Art of Urban Cycling by Robert Hurst, but decided that since most of my riding was not in urban settings it wouldn’t be very useful to me.

Retitled “The Art of Cycling – A Guide to Bicycling in 21st-Century America”, the book again caught my eye and I decided to buy it. Glad I did, because it has already saved my bacon a few times already!

The book is a perfect supplement to John Forester’s now classic treatment of proper cycling technique, Effective Cycling. Released in 1975, Forester describes a method of cycling with traffic that has become known as vehicular cycling. He prescribes riding predictably, on the right-hand side of the road, learning how to approach and properly place your self at intersections. The cyclist is told to ride predictably so that the car driver can anticipate the cyclist’s moves. If we follow all the rules of the road, along with Forester’s other excellent suggestions, we should be able to share the road and have a safe ride.

These ideas are an excellent beginning to understanding how to handle riding in and with traffic. However, Hurst builds on this to give the reader an even better mindset for riding on the roadways.

If you were to take only one single idea away from this book it would be this: You need to assume as much responsibility for what happens to you on the road as you can possibly gather. Hoard this responsibility. Take as much responsibility away from others as you can. Keep it and guard it with your life, because your life may depend on it.

This is where Hurst and Forester differ. Forester would have you following all the rules of the road, and then you assume that drivers will do the same. “However, the vehicular-cycling principle has a big hole in it: The strict vehicular cyclist who has eliminated many of his or her own mistakes by riding lawfully will still remain quite vulnerable to the mistakes of others.” “Instead of attempting to dictate the flow of traffic, we will become the flow of traffic, and it will become us.”

Hurst continues, “Don’t trust your fate to the police, the planners, the pedestrians, or the paramedics. Don’t leave your fate to the stars, or to luck. Definitely don’t leave your fate to the drivers.”

He contends that the primary goal as a cyclist should be, above all, to avoid serious injury. Our other goals – fun, exercise – are dependent on the goal of safety.

Here is more practical advice from the book: “Right-of-way means nothing.” ”Just because a driver’s eyes are pointed directly at you does not mean the driver sees you.” “As long as the rider has awareness of a vehicle and accounts for all its potential movements, it doesn’t matter much if its driver sees the cyclist.”

Concerning road rash: “The time-release pain of road rash, a constant companion for a week or so after any decent tumble, serves to remind the victim of What Not to Do. Don’t fight it. Listen to what the road rash is telling you: “You’re not that great of a cyclist. Maybe you should try a Segway. You’re dangerous to yourself and others. You need practice …” Allow the humility of road rash to enter your consciousness, where it will display malignant pride and help keep you out of the ER through your cycling career.”

There is also an interesting section on bike helmets. Think your helmet will protect you in a crash? “The CPSC sticker means that the helmet is certified to protect your head in an 11-mph impact with a jagged surface like a rock or curb, or a 14-mph impact with a flat surface.” Why don’t they make helmets that protect you in a more realistic scenario. In fact, you can buy such a helmet today. “It’s called a motorcycle helmet.” Still, Hurst does recommend wearing a helmet at all times.

The book has seven major sections that cover the history of the bicycle, road surfaces, traffic scenarios, accidents and injuries, air issues, punctures and flats, and equipment. But the meat of the book is contained in the road surface and traffic scenario sections.

The book closes with this: “A successful, safe ride through American traffic is not an exercise in rule following, but a beautiful piece of interactive performance art. Ride with fear and joy.”

Velonews, Journal of Competitive Cycling, has called The Art of Cycling “A near masterpiece.” and it is had to argue with that assessment.