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The Art of (Urban) Cycling

Posted by @teeheehee on March 2nd, 2008

The Art of Cycling (A Guide to Bicycling in 21st-Century America) is a new title (and ever-so-slight revision) of The Art of Urban Cycling (Lessons from the Street), by Robert Hurst.

The Art of CyclingArt of Urban Cycling


I originally purchased and read Urban about a year ago as I started getting more involved and interested in bicycling and bike safety. Urban is no longer printed, but all of the content (with one or two more pages worth of revisited material) is available as The Art of Cycling, sans Urban in the title.

There is an awful lot in this book, and it’s all broken down rather neatly. You can get a lot of ideas about what is contained by scanning the extensive chapter list.

The Art of Cycling, 251 pages

  1. Frankenstein’s Monster
    • Continuum
    • Bicycles in the Age of Manure: Leonardo to Starley
    • The Bicycle Craze of the 1890s
    • Chumps of the Road
    • From Bicycles to Automobiles in Sixty Seconds
    • Speed and Greed
    • Barney Oldfield and the Arena of Death
    • A Dark Wave Cometh
    • Fake Gas Tanks
    • Transportation and the Shape of Cities
    • Automobile Suburbs
    • The Great Streetcar Massacre
    • Congestion
    • Enclosure
    • Rage
    • Cycling in the New American City
    • Invocation
  2. The City Surface
    • Pavement: Get Over It
    • Responsibility and Surface Hazards
    • The Great American Pothole
    • Cracks and Seams
    • Waves
    • Lane Markers
    • Wet Metal
    • Drainage
    • Railroad Tracks
    • Toppings
    • Plazas
    • Curbs
  3. In Traffic
    • Beyond Vehicular Cycling
    • Blame Versus Responsibility
    • Vigilance
    • Route Choice
    • Road Position and Location
    • The Invisible Cyclist
    • Space Versus Visibility
    • The Myth of Lane Ownership
    • Running Green Lights
    • Eye Contact, Stop Signs, and Fake Right Turns
    • The Gap Effect
    • Four-way Stops
    • Momentum
    • Notes on Traffic Lights
    • Waiting at Traffic Lights
    • Running Red Lights
    • Left Turns
    • Corner Cutters
    • Looking Back
    • Seeing without Looking
    • Instinct Unveiled
    • Turn Signals
    • Hand Signals
    • In Defense of Gutters
    • The Door Zone
    • Reading Parked Vehicles
    • Close Combat: Positioning in Heavy Traffic
    • Riding a Straight Line
    • Track Stands
    • Turning and Cornering
    • Panic Stops
    • Bicycle Lanes and Paths: Good or Evil?
    • On the Bike Path
    • Sidewalks and the Law
    • Riding in Suburbia
    • Riding at Night
    • Riding with Others
  4. Bicycle Accidents and Injuries
    • The Statistical Quagmire
    • The Stats at a Glance
    • Cycling Fatalities
    • The Paradox of Experience
    • The Accident Immune System
    • Road Rash
    • Collarbones
    • How to Fall
    • Facial Injuries
    • Head Injuries
    • Other Injuries
    • Disclaimer
    • The Helmet Controversy
    • What Are Helmets Built For?
    • Torsion Injuries
    • The Helmet Verdict
  5. Air Pollution and the Cyclist
    • A Historical Reality Check
    • The Good News about Air Pollution
    • What Am I Breathing and What Does It Do to Me?
    • Breathing Strategies for the Cyclist
    • Does Air Pollution Cancel the Health Benefit of Cycling?
  6. Punctures and Flat Tires
    • Flat Repair Equipment
    • Fixing Flats: A Primer
    • Broken Glass
    • Tire Wiping
    • Glassphalt
    • Tribulus Terrestris
    • A Thorny Dilemma
    • Random Sharpies
    • Pinch Flats
    • Blowouts
  7. Equipment
    • The Cult of Equipment
    • Bike Choice
    • Track Bikes
    • Bike Fit
    • Tools
    • Clothing
    • Messenger Bags, Backpacks, and Panniers
    • Drivetrain Maintenance
  8. Epilogue: Of Bicycles and Cities

As you can see from the table of contents there is a diverse range of topics covered. History, road surface types and conditions, repairs and maintenance, health, statistics, even different philosophies of riding are given a fair shake, and if the author feels anything needs to be dismissed from the cyclist’s habits there is an adequate reason provided.

Robert’s prose talks to the reader in a familiar, friendly manner. It is like chatting with someone over coffee and you have just asked them all sorts of questions about biking around. The right questions. The answers come in an articulate and pleasant manner and is mixed with all kinds of extra bits of knowledge (perfect for trivia) that make the entire read enjoyable and hard to put down.

The word “blame” came to the English language by way of the Latin word blasphemare, meaning “to blaspheme.” The Old English version of the verb “to blame” had a very negative connotation. It implied dishonesty. Blame had roughly the same meaning as “malign” or “libel.” Somewhere along the line, the definition of blame got all twisted up. Blame ceased to be a very bad thing and became quite respectable – not a proud or useful moment in human history.

The Art of Cycling, pg. 66

This is a book geared towards many varieties of cyclists, but is mostly based around urban cycling. A good deal of the book is devoted to the very important aspects of safety: handling yourself in traffic and knowing how to avoid or handle a bad situation.

In the Introduction Hurst lets the reader know that the content is not catering entirely to one particular type of cyclist, but picks useful things from different camps to come out with a style that is advanced and at the same time not hooked to bike-as-a-vehicle (vehicular) or the invisible bike styles. An “organic” style.

The vehicular style is just that: ride and pretend you are a car, do everything a car would do, and you should be safe. The invisible bike style is more ninja-like, you ride as if no one can see you so you try to find a space on the road where you will be safe regardless of your visibility. Hurst finds that there are benefits to both styles, but these benefits are found when applied at appropriate times and places. Knowing when to adopt certain aspects of any style comes mostly through experience and a rider’s personal skill level. If you can’t jump a curb then you should not find yourself too close to one all the time, you need to leave yourself a way out of any situation. Common sense plays a big part of the decision making.

Accounting for the perceptions and reactions of others is one of the cyclist’s primary tasks.

The Art of Cycling, pg. 154

Most of all I enjoyed reading this book because of the ideas it presented. The author considers some parts it covers to be adult themed because decisions of safety in traffic don’t come immediately to riders who haven’t matured in their understanding of the various dangers. Responsibility of the rider is key, and cannot be substituted for with laws. Being able to identify potential situations, being aware, and knowing one’s own riding abilities are core skills, but deciding how to handle a situation is more a matter of the responsibility of the rider.

Also, because of this book I am currently becoming familiar with Effective Cycling by John Forester, which is the epitome of vehicular style riding, and is referenced by Hurst. I feel there are some great values to vehicular riding, and even greater lessons to be learned about the mentality of refusing to put bicycling in an inferior position on the road. That said I would give more credence to the idea of an “organic” approach to cycling as safety does not stem purely from an idealistic point of view; practicality is a more sound approach in my opinion. One day I hope to leave behind the debates cyclists have with each other about whether or not having bike lanes or side paths are a good idea. Until then I’ll use whatever road devices are at my disposal to ensure my safe and enjoyable travel from A to B. And wish you all safe an happy travels as well.

I highly, highly recommend this book in either of its titled forms. I’ll be re-reading it again shortly, myself.

About the Author

Robert Hurst is a veteran bicycle messenger and all-around urban cyclist who has cycled more than 150,000 miles and 15,000 hours in heavy traffic. in this time, he has completed something like 80,000 deliveries. Robert is also the author of Mountain Biking Colorado’s San Juan Mountains: Durango and Telluride (FalconGuides) and Road Biking Colorado’s Front Range (FalconGuides).

2 Responses to “The Art of (Urban) Cycling”

  1. Shane Says:

    I am reading this book right now, it is pretty good. Great review!

  2. Right on, ride on » Blog Archive » Jury duty, and an accident Says:

    […] have it so that I now can pose with righteous balance for extended light cycle durations. I have read books on the matter of surviving the urban landscape while enjoying the cool liberty a bike brings, and I […]

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