Effective Cycling: The Cure for Un-riding!

By John Stesney

Are you one of those bicycle riders who feels uncomfortable in traffic?

On the road, do you find yourself constantly looking back, in fear of a Volvo roaring up from behind and affixing you to its grill with the rest of the cloisonne rally pins? Are you a rider who clings to the curb like a four-year-old to his mom in a shopping mall? Do you find relief only when safely ensconced in a bike lane, or better yet, on a bike path?

If the above describes you, you are not an effective cyclist. This is not a good thing, since it presages a future of shuddering fear and earth-shuddering impacts with the ground, roller-bladers, joggers, and, yes Virginia, motor vehicles. If you were an effective cyclist, you would be able to minimize all this pain and suffering.

The time-honored way to become an effective cyclist is to join your local bicycle club, find yourself a crusty old-timer, and do what he tells you. (The bulk of crusty old-timer bikies are of the male persuasion.) The problem is not everyone, especially non-effective cyclists, wants to hang out with bike clubs, and crusty old-timers are sometimes hard to find, since they’re off doing cycle tours of the Dolomites and such.

There is a functional equivalent: Effective Cycling. A veritable multimedia empire, Effective Cycling is a book, a video, and a hands-on course. Effective Cycling is the brainchild of John Forester, the crusty old-timer del tutti crusty old-timers. Effective Cycling will save your yellow hide. Even if you are a club cyclist, Effective Cycling may still save your hide.

So how come the whole world has not embraced these concepts, and made John Forester a better-selling author than Tom Clancy or Tim Allen? Well, let's say the Effective Cycling viewpoint is a tad confrontational, even controversial. The book version is pretty thick (about 600 pages, few of them pictures), so any summary will skip gobs of pertinent detail. Still, its contents can be split into three main sections: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Effective Cycling: The Good

At the core of Effective Cycling is some good news. You can reduce your risk of collision on a bike by a factor of four. How? Simple. When you're on a bike, act like a motorist. This does not mean fling trash on the roadside or discharge firearms at people who get in your way. It does mean:

The idea is that motorists are familiar with normal traffic patterns and tend to follow them. As a result, they generally avoid smacking into each other. If you play by the same rules, they will generally avoid smacking into you.

This approach works. Forester was born in 1929, and is still around. Club cyclists, who take this approach, have fewer accidents per mile than other groups surveyed, such as children and college students, who don't know any better.

Perhaps the best part is it's easy. You already learned the rules when you learned to drive. (At least, I hope so.) Normal, everyday people have been riding this way for years.

The Bad

As you have seen, or (eek!) have done, there are other ways people have learned to ride bicycles. Call it "un-riding." Un-riders ride on sidewalks, and get smacked. Un-riders initiate left turns from the far right ("safe") lane and get smacked. Un-riders pass in the right gutter in an intersection and get smacked by right-turning traffic. Un-riders walk their bikes through intersections, and don't get smacked, but are un-riders, literally. In short, un-riders play by a different set of rules, and pay the consequences.

Why would anyone act this way? Because that's what they were taught as children. As a kid, you learned how to ride your bike as a plaything, and the rules you learned were for kids. Kids are incompetent when it comes to traffic. Playing by the kiddie rules as an adult makes you incompetent.

It used to be that when you joined a bike club, you learned how to ride a bike like an adult should. Of course, when cycling hit the skids in this country mid-century, very few people joined a club, and very few re-wrote the kiddie rules in their head. Now cycling is popular again, and there are thousands of grown-up children un-riding around on bikes.

What's worse, the child-perspective on bicycle safety leads to policies and facilities that are downright dangerous to cyclists. Bike paths don't really go anywhere, are badly maintained, and attract joggers, dog-walkers, roller-bladers, and other pinheads who regularly slow you to a crawl and or help you crash. Bike "safety" advocates ban you from roads and compel you to ride on bike paths. Planners design on-street facilities like the one being constructed in my neighborhood. At the near and far side of each intersection you have a a semi-triangular island, which funnels cars to one lane on the left, and bicycles to a narrow (four-foot) lane on the right. There is no provision for left turns, and bicyclists travel straight into the path of right turning traffic. Each island offers a raised curb, and is inset with cobblestones (to cradle you should you hit said curb) and shrubs (to obstruct motorists' view of you).

There are un-riders in policy-making positions who would love to do the same thing in your neighborhood.

The Ugly

Forester, as mentioned earlier, is a crusty, opinionated old-timer. At times he comes off like those old guys who go to city council meetings and heap verbal abuse on whomever while you (and everybody else) fidget uncomfortably. If you are not with him and his scientific evidence, he thinks you are mentally ill, (Cyclist-inferiority phobia, he calls it). Most likely, you will fall into that category sometime during your reading of the book. If you are the un-rider Forester really wants to help, you will fall into this category a lot. Do what he tells you, even if you feel he's insulting you.

The Big Picture

If you don't practice effective cycling, you need this book/video/course to survive. If you already do effective cycling, as in have ridden with clubs for at least two years, you still need the book, since Forester also gives you tips on love. (e.g., Make sure your sweetie is a cyclist; noncyclists resent all that time you spend riding.) Forester is curmudgeonly and dismissive of those he disagrees with, but he's a good egg. And when you read about all the hideous policies this guy has fought against, you will sympathize with his dismissive opinions (of the government at least). Maybe you'll be even outraged enough to go to a few city transportation committee meetings and make your public servants fidget uncomfortably.

©1997 Cycle California!™ Magazine

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