Let me tell you, just how mightily qualified I do be, to debunk the principle of vehicular cycling. I borrowed the doctrine’s Good Book, Effective Cycling, from my local library in 1993, back when I had recently traded my mountain bike with slick tires, for the secondhand road bike I was preparing to race. Forester’s book was there on the shelf. I didn’t own a car, or have money even for bus fares. Neither did I have the benefit of living in Northern Europe, where they build separate bike infrastructure. If I was to get anywhere, beyond walking distance, I would need to perfect what I read.
I found moving as a vehicle a high wire act, one that delighted kids in the rear seats of cars, and that actually worked, so long as you followed John Forester’s rules, asserted yourself, used all your power, signalled predictably, etc etc.. After nearly 20 years of “vehicular cycling” to work, on long training rides, in cities all over the world, and in all conditions, I could not think of anyone better qualified to write the next edition, than my own lucky self—lucky, because I’ve survived.
It is worth knowing how to ride a bike like a vehicle, just as it is worth taking a gun and a flack jacket into a war zone. And when you’re a skilled and experienced vehicular cyclist, it’s true, you can feel alive confronting dangers by the split second, the way professional soldiers say they feel alive during battle. I’ve made peak hour bike trips across Manhattan and Chicago—but still, Sydney’s the worst—chasing that rush, and convincing myself that it’s easy, when you know how, and are prepared to accept death. The day a pedestrian steps this way, just as a driver moves that way, and I am glancing at some 3rd or 4th hazard, my kids lose their dad.
Thanks to the bicycle, we humans can make kinetic energy out of our breakfast, more efficiently than any creature, either in the sky, on land, or in the water. What a travesty, that such an elegant mode goes on being planned for, as though it fares best as a peace time stand-in for soldiering.