Wednesday, November 9

Bicycle Cycling: Why Forester is Wrong

I finished One Less Car by Zach Furness and have started reading The Art of Cycling by Robert Hurst, a Denverite. Both are library books. I will be buying both.

Hurst also wrote The Cyclist's Manifesto and I do enjoy his books. Hurst critiques the Vehicular Cycling movement and John Forester's philosophy about cycling in general. I tend to agree with Hurst in regards to Forester's take on cycling. When I first came across John Forester's website a few years ago I initially praised his ideas, but once I realized how militantly Foresterites denounced all other methods of cycling I lost all interest in learning more about vehicular cycling. I took Forester's Effective Cycling off of my Amazon wishlist.

Elly Blue posted a great piece on Grist recently entitled "True confessions of a bicycle scofflaw" in which she very well articulated my approach to cycling in traffic:

"Here is what intelligent yielding means: At any given intersection, regardless of signage, I slow down and look around. If there is someone waiting to cross the street on foot, or if another bicycle or a car has the right of way, I come to a complete stop with my foot on the ground. If none of these things is happening, I go on ahead."

My cycling motto is this: be visible, be vigilant, be consistent. Ms. Blue is describing vigilance. You can't blindly ignore traffic laws. You must maintain an attitude of vigilance and self-preservation. You must look over your shoulder before turning or moving laterally against the flow of traffic. You must keep your eyes ahead and your ears back. You must assume every car is idling and can start moving at any nanosecond.You must not blow through a stop sign if there are cars, bikes or pedestrians present.

Yes, I run stop signs. I do it every day. But I do not blast through busy intersections. I do not blast through any intersection being observed by motorists. If there's no traffic I let the laws of physics trump the laws of man. Why lose all of that tasty good momentum if you don't have to?

I used to say I bike just like I drive, but that's not true. While I will roll through a red light in a dead intersection both on my bike or in a car, I will not do the same if there is any traffic at an intersection. In some respects I drive a car like I ride a bike, but the wonderful beauty of the bike is that it can do so many things a car can't do. And that's exactly why I ride!

You can't pick a car up and set it over a curb, a fence, a gate. You can do that with a bike. You can't get away with driving your car off-road in the city. You can on a bike. You can ride on the sidewalk with a bike. You can bypass gridlock, accident scenes, bad surface conditions and all kinds of urban obstacles. That is exactly the reason the bike makes sense as the best form of personal transportation. You can take it on a bus or train. You can store it in your cubicle at work. You can ride right up to the front door of most buildings. You don't have to find a parking space.

There are so many good reasons to ride a bike for transportation, they far outweigh any negative factors. Yes, I've had three flat tires in a month's time. But I've saved so much hassle, time and money by riding my bike over driving a car that it's been worth it. I truly can't complain. I would much rather change a flat on a bike than on a car. And if I had invested in some Goo or Slime tubes I wouldn't have bemoaned any flats.

So I denounce John Forester's Vehicular Cycling philosophy. As Hurst says, most proponents only use vehicular cycling when its convenient. If there is a path that goes where they want to go they forgo the road.

Embrace the beautiful limitations of the bike. Embrace the true freedom of going upon two wheels. Don't rail against perceived shortcomings. No, bikes are not cars. And that's a good thing, a righteous thing, and a fundamentally important distinction. Cyclists shouldn't fight for the right to be seen exactly as cars. Then we throw away some of the freedoms that make cycling so beautiful in the first place.

Ride on!


  1. It is different. And when I would tell people I ride exactly like I drive I was trying to make the point that in instances when I'm a bad cyclist, I would probably be a bad motorist as well. Not that there is any justification in that logic, but just because someone is a bad cyclist doesn't mean all cyclists are scofflaws or whatever.

    So many people say: "Every cyclist I see runs red lights and stop signs!" and this scares me because I know they don't see every cyclist they encounter on the roads. They only see/remember the ones that are bombing through intersections.

  2. Thanks! It's hard to justify...bending...the rules, but in the whole scheme of things some things just don't make sense on two wheels.