As a disclaimer, up front, I was given a copy of THE URBAN CYCLIST’S SURVIVAL GUIDE to review. I want to be honest with this review, because I think as a cyclist I have an obligation to ensure we as a cycling community are doing good for ourselves, not harm. I did not pay for it; I didn’t pick it off the shelf and decide it was worth a trip home with me. I am going to try to temper my review, because I don’t want it to sound like I’m trashing the book for the sake of trashing it.
That said, this book has a lot of useful information in it, but I am not going to endorse it as a solid purchase. There are several reasons for this, and I should tell you that it probably could find a comfortable home on the right type of cyclist’s bookshelf.
It won’t be staying on mine.
I’ve ended up on a lot of hoods in my day. Careless drivers have almost killed me on more than one occasion, but generally, I have avoided major spills. I try to observe the rules of the road, and it genuinely pisses me off when cyclists are ignorant of the rules and put themselves and others in danger. Now that I got that off my chest, let me say this clearly: I would never, ever, write a book that give the impression it’s okay to wish ill on those ignorant cyclists—nor would I, as a cyclist, wish to discourage those who are new to urban riding to treat other riders with anything less than respect. We’re all on bikes, after all.
In the preface, the author goes out of his way to tell his audience he wishes the cyclist who isn’t wearing a helmet would get hurt, just to prove how right the author is. He condescends to riders who ride in flip flops, or who otherwise don’t ride the way he does. Yes, I get pissed at ignorant cyclists, but I’d rather educate them than simply wish they end up on the hood of a car. I’ve ridden in flip flops. I’ve ridden without a helmet. I’ve run a stop sign or two in my day. Is the author inferring that I should get hit by a car and killed because I am just too stupid to live? Like I said: I generally observe the rules of the road and I try to be safe. I usually wear a helmet. But when he writes about this cyclist with no helmet and flip flops, he very well could have been talking about me. Why would I listen to a word he says after that?
That aside, the book is generally well written. I found many of the prose sections to be cloying and fairly unnecessary, however, and as a guide book, it’s not easy to navigate. In subsequent editions, it may be a good idea to consider improving the navigability of the guide so new riders can find information quickly—more like a reference tool than a manifesto, as it struck me.
I will give the authors this: they write in matter-of-fact tones that I think we cyclists bristle at. The authors quite obviously have no love for us rule breakers, and perhaps they shouldn’t. We could all stand a little bit of self-examination and think carefully about whether our actions help or hurt ourselves as well as the cycling community at large.
My advice, however, to the writers, would be to try using a bit of honey to attract flies instead of flinging vinegar indiscriminately. The very good information in the book gets lost underneath a healthy dose of condescension, which turned me off immediately. This book has the potential to be good, but I think it could use some serious editing for tact.
The chapter about the history of the bicycle was interesting. I enjoyed it. Worth the purchase of the book? No. But a new cyclist can still glean some valuable information from this imperfect book. I’m concerned that new cyclists who read this book might be swayed toward believing we’re all as cynical, condescending, and arrogant as the authors are. That would be a real tragedy. It’s too bad; the sections that are useful could really help out new cyclists. but I wouldn’t want to wade through the aggressive writing to get to the interspersed gems.