Robert Hurst, an urban cyclist with over 150,000 miles and 15,000 hours of experience, has contributed to the literature of bicycling with his book The Art of Urban Cycling: Lessons from the Street. This book provides a history of 20th century transportation in the United States; a catalog of surfaces (pavement, potholes, railroad tracks, curbs, pavement deformations, and more) found in the urban environment; a comprehensive guide to riding in traffic; an overview of common injuries; some thoughts on air pollutions and finishes up with equipment descriptions including an entire chapter devoted to Punctures and Flat Tires.


The Art of Urban Cycling

First, my largest complaint about the book. Robert ensures the reader understands the inherent dangers of cycling. No where else have I read such a dispassionate series of descriptions and warnings about the potential of harm while riding. I fear that some readers may become overwhelmed by his descriptions and put the book down without finishing it. Such a reader will be doubly damned. They will have a heightened fear of riding. They will also not benefit from the nearly 100 pages of sound, concrete advice for how to mitigate the dangers and ride safely.

At its core the book is about safely riding in urban settings. The section In Traffic includes 36 chapters on facets of riding starting with Beyond Vehicular Cycling including sections on Vigilance, The Invisible Cyclist, Four Way Stops, Left Turns, Corner Cutters, Hand Signals, Riding a Straight Line and concluding with Riding with Others. Each chapter examines the subject and describes areas of cautions and safe approaches to the matter at hand. Taken together they form a comprehensive guide. The book’s section on flats and punctures is also comprehensive. The section on equipment largely dodges the issue of what, but does cover the most important elements with information on fit, clothing, tools and luggage. The end of the book includes an extensive bibliography directing the reader to further resources.

The advice and techniques Robert describes are sound and provide a solid foundation for riding. If you have not read this book buy it or check it out from the library. I followed up my library check out with a purchase so I may keep a copy in the house as a reference book.

Here are a few snips from the book to whet your appetite for it:

Blame Versus Responsibility

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 connotations. It implied dishonesty. Blame had roughly the same meaning as malign or libel. Somewhere …[blame] became quite respectable — not a proud or useful moment in human history. … The proliferation of blame is rather useless for urban cycling. Blame is what happens when it’s already too late. … Thinking in terms of blame while out on the road is a perfect example of self-fulfilling prophecy. Blame is dangerous.

the most effective way for a cyclist to stay out of trouble on city streets is to forget entirely about the possibility of blaming others and to take on full responsibility for his or her own safety. …

From now on — if some bastard breaks every law in the book and runs you over in the process, it will be your fault and nobody else’s. That is the meaning of true freedom. That is how we will keep such disasters from happening in the first place.

Route Choice

Know that your urban-cycling experience should not be marked by frequent conflict. Occasional conflict, sure. But the ride should actually be pleasant. No yelling. Not fist shaking. No screaming in terror. Every commute should be a bit of a vacation. If it’s not, perhaps a little creative route finding can solve the problem.

Running Green Lights Do not go gentle into that intersection, oh urban cyclist. Got a green light? So what. (Then check out his chapters on running red lights and stop signs.)

Positioning in Heavy Traffic

Cars and trucks are kind of like bulls at a rodeo. As long as we can avoid the business ends of the beasts we can contend with them quite easily. We can mess with them and use them as our toys. But if we get careless — horn up the yang.

The chapter Panic Stops is a gem that reviews the physics of bicycle braking and explains how a bicyclist with practice can achieve remarkable short stops and even turn during hard braking. Robert describes in great detail how to come to a hard, controlled stop in as little distance as possible. This lesson alone is worth the monetary cost of the book or the time spent reading it. The chapter concludes:

It is good to master all versions of the panic stop, but it is better to anticipate problems well ahead of time and to avoid situations where problems elude anticipation. Panic stops are a symptom of cyclists’ mistakes. Riders who have mastered the art of anticipation rarely have to flash their most serious stopping skills. The riders who know best how to execute panic stop are the riders who least often need to. Youth is wasted on the young, and experience is often wasted on the experienced.

If you ride, read this book. If you know a rider who has not read this book encourage them to do so.