Book Review: The Urban Cyclist’s Survival Guide

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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.


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About D2

I am a writer and a photographer. I never killed a man in Reno, but I once rode a bike through a casino in Vegas. Bikes are cool, huevos rancheros are for breakfast, whiskey is for dinner. Denver, Colorado, USA

19 Replies to “Book Review: The Urban Cyclist’s Survival Guide”

  1. Hi BGW,

    It’s so fucked up it’s almost Monty Pythonesque.

    “It’s a fair cop but infrastructure’s to blame”

    “Agreed, we’ll be charging him too”.

  2. As a veteran cyclist, a life long commuter, once upon a time messenger and life time shop employee/owner, it is my belief that this pretentious wannabe author/cycling conformist be seriously flogged! We real cyclist enjoy our freedom and respect that of others and would never wish ill of anyone riding two wheels!

  3. …i agree, saucyman…i think deetwo was beyond fair & accommodating in his assessment…

    …i doubt i would have had the stomach to continue reading if i encountered the kinda attitude that would wish physical harm on the health of other cyclists no matter whether i was paid or simply asked politely for my revue…

  4. I had a good convo with Dirty Biker today re this site’s ability stay its own course because it does not need industry money in order to operate. That is a great thing. The freedom of non-sponsorship, as such, allows for book reviews and all reviews to be honest and real. I’m pretty sure that’s hard to find across the bro-deal network. And fortunately, D2 is a gent, so he applies tact. I just look forward to when he starts reviewing some real’er shit. Like Joe Parkins’ stuff, or Zinn or, gasp, Lance Pharmstrongs ghost writer’s works.

  5. That’s a bit of a shitty judgement Hurben, but I do kind of agree that it is the problem of a poorly designed road, and that it’s a damn shame for all involved. If I had been that woman and not died, I would be a bit annnoyed at myself for not avoiding the car door/giving that car enough room and attention to avoid the accident (but it may have been entriely unavoidable for sure). Had I have been the driver, I’d have been devastated at a bit of inattention leading to such a tragedy. It happens to the best of us unfortunately.

    Today I was riding down a road and heard a big truck close behind me, so ducked in behind a parked car and watched it pass the car with less than a foot’s gap at full speed where I would have been riding had I not been so paranoid. I reckon bad road and dickhead driver in that case. Be careful out there, it’s a deathmaze not made with our survival in mind, and a lot of drivers don’t give a shit.

  6. “A lot of guys make mistakes, I guess. But every mistake we make, a whole stack of chips goes with it. When we make mistakes, some guy don’t walk away. Forevermore he don’t walk away.”

    Sgt. Striker, “Sands of Iwo Jima”

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  8. I break an everage of 8-10 traffic laws daily on my bike. The term that comes to mind is “Reasonable and prudent.” There should only be one rule- Dont’ be a jackass.

  9. The big question is, (and I think it’s already been answered), can these authors make me laugh? Can’t believe this became an actual book. It probably should have been a blog, but then it would have been completely beat down by bikesnobNYC who is at least funny when he’s telling you that you aren’t doing it right. Looking around elsewhere for reviews of this book reveals it’s a 1-star book by most user’s reviews.

  10. Hurban, did the road grab the driver’s hand and cause him to open the door into the cyclist’s path against his will? If not they how can they blame it on the road?

  11. @17

    The site of the accident had been drawn to the council’s attentsion as a potential hazard to cyclists a number of years ago by the local cycling rights group, (Cycle Action Auckland).

    Nothing was done until the accident, two weeks later the car parks were removed.

    I know the section of road well, it’s generally part of my training rides & Tamaki drive along the waterfront is the most popular cycling route in Auckland.

    It was rush hour & traffic was bad, according to the driver he looked twice & then slid out of his car, we only have his word for this as there were no witnesses to verify this & Jane bishop the cyclist is dead.

    I don’t believe that he should have gone to jail but I do believe that there should at least have been some consequences, (large fine, community service etc), because now a precident has been set & every arsehole who doors a cyclist is is going to use the same defence.

    This case has caused a lot of bad feeling in the cycling community in Auckland, I got very vocal on a local website & resigned my membership of CAA because I felt that they should not have endorsed the judges decision.

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