It has been a while since I posted about some of the cycling related books I’ve been reading. I had gotten out of that habit and had been reading some biographies this winter. Recently, after seeing The Art of Cycling listed on the Suitcase of Courage blog, I ordered it and read it over my vacation last week.
I have to say, I found the book interesting. During winter months, I generally like to read books that make me long for the open road. I want to recall vivid images of burning leg muscles, lungs gasping, sweat dripping, and daredevil descents. This book by author Robert Hurst has none of that. If you are looking for that type of cycling book, I strongly recommend you read Dave Shields‘ books.
The Art of Cycling is different. Mr. Hurst attempts to first outline the world where we live and ride. Quite specifically the roads of the United States. He outlines the parallel evolution of the automobile and bicycle on those same roads. Then he points out when the paths ceased to be parallel and headed, both literally and figuratively, on a collision course. Think of this first part as the biography of the car, bike, and road.
For me, here is where the passive intake of information ended. For the remainder of the book, Mr. Hurst tries to breakdown and quantify the nuances of how we survive and even thrive together on increasingly crowded roads. What engaged my mind was the author’s explanation of how I do thinks that are now part of my subconscious. While I am not a bike messenger in New York City, I do ride the roads of the most densely populated (1000 people/sq. mile) state in the country. I avoid potholes, grates, road kill, and of course side-view mirrors.
I do these things without thinking. I make decisions on full stops, rolling stops, lane changing without a lot of forethought or active internal debate. It was interesting to hear Mr. Hurst outline the process we follow as second nature.
I’ll call this book “Interesting.” I would also say enjoyable but in a much different way than the word generally connotes.
I would like to have heard more on the art of suburban riding. A lot of the book draws off of examples of city riding. This is understandable since the degree of difficulty of city terrain is quite high.
The roads I need the highest level of focus and awareness on my rides are roads I call “tweeners.” The roads between the highway and neighborhood. These are generally high speed (40 – 50mph), well paved, and absent of significant non-auto activity. While riding, I notice drivers relax a bit too much in this area. Drivers exit the Interstate which demands all their focus and before they enter their development where focus is again required to avoid dog walking and children playing, they zone out. I can’t tell you how many times I have been invisible. I lock eyes but am unseen. I then see the vacant look turn to panic when drivers realize they almost had a new hood ornament on their SUV.
While Mr. Hurst does devote space in his book to this scenario, I longed for more.