walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The Cyclist's Manifesto_, Robert Hurst (kindle)

Boy, when people say that political alignments in Colorado in general and Denver in particular are different from the rest of the country are not kidding.

Most of the indications are that Hurst is not a culture-war style conservative, but is a fiscal conservative, and a knee-jerk liberal basher on account of liberals being rich, ignorant elitists out of touch with reality (I'm not saying liberals are -- I'm saying there is evidence in the book to assert that Hurst thinks along these lines). Obviously, I'm going to find that annoying.

Hurst is part of a cohort that grew up pomo (postmodern), and his interpretation of a manifesto is well in line with that aesthetic: self-referential, ironic, darkly humorous primarily by telling you the truth straight in a way that forces the reader to perceive the world as the tilted funhouse that it truly is. I like that. In general, he is careful about what he says and how he says it (none of this more cars than Americans from him -- he gets it right: more privately owned vehicles than registered drivers), altho there are occasional errors, some of which he notes on his website (the comment about the Idaho law on the subject of cyclists, red lights and stop signs, for example), they are not particularly serious. He recognizes both that cycling has dangers, and correctly disentangles who is most at risk (a big minority of bike accidents involve drunken riding, presumably by adults who've already lost their driver's license to the same persistent substance abuse problem; another chunk involve children; most of the fatalities involve cars; most of the got-hurt-but-not-dead do not). I have a lot of respect for someone who can navigate that mess with such crisp precision.

In addition to using Frances' Willard's book about cycling to talk about women and bicycling in the early days, Hurst includes the use of bicycles in war under utility cycling (including how the British lost Singapore, which I'd never heard about) and devotes a chunk of the text to the racism of the League of American Wheelmen and cycling in general, via the story of Major Taylor. I'd _heard_ of Major Taylor and knew he was a racer, and hadn't pursued the tale otherwise; I feel bad about that now. I'm going to be referring to Jackie Robinson from now on as the Major Taylor of baseball. Only fair. It is, of course, always fun to get a giggle out of learning that a major temperance activist enjoyed her experience of ether in the wake of a bicycle accident.

Hurst sets himself apart from the Vehicular Cycling vs. Cyclepaths Everywhere fray, in favor of sharrows (big arrows in the middle of the lane with a bicycle icon, indicating that the lane must be shared with bicycles). *shrug* If he'd gone to the bother of including stories of bicycle boulevards in Portland OR and similar bike/ped/local resident only streets in Vancouver, BC and elsewhere, I might have taken it seriously (especially since traffic calming islands can help prevent the unfamiliar from inadvertently traveling on these roads unless they really are their destination). As it is, it feels like local prejudice: a useful thing, but not the Be All and End All.

Climate Change is never mentioned, altho Hurst goes on for a bit about Peak Oil, using _Twilight in the Desert_ as his main source.

And he gratuitously disses Portland, which I find way past lame, along with his dissing of European city bikes, and European cycling cities as being plodding and boring.

You can't blame Hurst for any of this, tho, really, since he presents himself as unstable, and able only to stay in the ballpark of sanity by lots of exercise (on a bicycle). I _do_ blame Hurst for this ridiculous piece of nonsense:

"In reality, only those of us who consume zero petroleum can preach to everybody else about the evils of oil."

What "reality" is this? Maybe if he'd used "should", or some descriptive modifiers ("reasonably", "ethically", "responsibly", "non-hypocritally", etc., all spring to mind), but even so.

Barring the occasional rhetorical flourish of this nature, however, this is an entertaining and engaging read, written by a bicycle messenger who can accurately repeat stuff he's learned which is saying a whole lot more than it might sound. Should you read it? If you were thinking about reading either of the other two bicycle books I've reviewed recently, but were feeling on the fence, I'd start with this one instead.

ETA: Want to sample the flavor? Try the author's blog. And look at what he named the research file.

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