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Robert Hurst interview - Cyclelicious

Robert Hurst interview

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Thursday, December 01, 2005
By Yokota Fritz

I was riding through Denver running a light on Wynkoop when *blam* I run right into a messenger riding a nice Waterford 2200 road race bike. This messenger turns out to be Robert Hurst, author of The Art of Urban Cycling : Lessons from the Street and other books on cycling in Colorado. Since I already made him late for his delivery, I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask him a few questions about cycling, life, and his books.

I bought Art earlier this year and it's perhaps the best book on practical cycling that I've seen. Most of you already know how to ride safely, and Hurst covers that in his book at least as well as Forester and John Allen. He also argues convincingly for a more cooperative style of riding in the streets -- not necessarily cowering in fear off of the edge of the road, but also not militantly taking the lane just because you can.

Hurst is an engaging writer and this book is an easy read. The material is appropriate for the newbie street cyclist, but there's plenty of good stuff for the old grizzled veterans like me.

Don't let "Urban" in the title fool you. The principles in the book are good for any kind of town, city, or suburban riding.

Here's the interview.

I think the most fascinating part of _Art_ is the historical information. How did that come to be in your book?
I wanted to include a lot of history in the book, mainly because I have fun writing about it. While researching, it became apparent that the role of the bicycle and bicyclists in shaping American history was much more interesting than I had previously realized, and chapter one grew out of that discovery. The discovery was not original to me, certainly, but those who had written the best stuff about this connection previously were more concerned about other aspects of the story and do not seem to have been cyclists themselves, so perhaps they didn't bring as much energy to the subject as they could have.
Regarding Critical Mass and Vehicular Cyclists
The 'Critical Mass organizers' are a very small group, but a very visible one. The 'hard-core Vehicular Cyclists' are a very small group, but a very vocal one. In the middle you've got a whole lot of cyclists who ride every day and manage to get the job done. They are only as visible as singular cyclists can be--not visible enough--and they are virtually unheard. They have no ideological axe to grind, they are just getting down the road toward their destination. I proudly count myself among these middle folk. I guess my cycling friends and acquaintances are in that group as well, because none of them has thrown any sort of heat my direction based on my book's failure to stay in line with any extreme ideological positions. Extreme positions like that are untenable when you're actually out there riding your bike every day. With experience cyclists shed their extreme ideological positions faster than their extra pounds.

Stoicism in the face of constant mistakes is a product of experience; it comes from the knowledge that traffic is composed of mistakes as much as anything else. A cyclist who is consistently made angry by the mistakes of those around him is only betraying a lack of experience and a lack of understanding of the world in which he moves.

I believe the basic ideas in The Art of Urban Cycling are common ideas which spring from the collective experience of many veteran riders. Damn that sounds dopey, but it's true. I worked on the book for a few years and the whole time was quietly asking questions, checking what I felt to be true against the experience of people whose opinions I held in high regard. If one of my ideas had clashed with one of theirs, it wouldn't have made it into the book. Perhaps the book would not have been written at all. Since all of us old messengers and commuters seemed to be speaking the same weird language when we spoke about riding in traffic, I figured we must be on to something. Of course that could just mean that I've surrounded myself with like-thinking idiots, and we are all crazy as loons. Ah, Groupthink. Next we'll be launching the Bay of Pigs or invading Syria.
Robert on Critical Mass
I have never done a CM ride. Now, that doesn't mean I won't. I'm plain ambivalent about the whole thing. It doesn't seem like the greatest idea to me, but I don't think it's the end of the world either. The people I know who have participated in this event are literally some of the nicest people I have known in my life. I can pretty much vouch that they will not throw any molatov cocktails. I have watched these guys ride every day for years and their style in traffic can be described as VERY cooperative. Go figure. For their association with CM they have been punished way out of proportion to the crime--in one case, getting run over from behind by an angry motorist at a recent CM ride.

As a political statement or as advocacy, I have mixed feelings about CM. On the one hand, I'm all for thumbing my nose at car culture, just as an end in itself. On the other hand, I think even scofflaw bike messengers like myself are probably better ambassadors for cycling than CM. If you really want to make a positive change, and get more people out of cars and onto bikes, show them how easy and fun it is to ride a bicycle. Don't play up the conflict. Some people just feed on conflict. They need it, it is like heroin for them. Personally, I would like to hold a damn parade for the 90% of drivers who passed me with great consideration and care. Thank you drivers! For not running my ass over! You know.
How did you get into cycling as an adult?
I've been riding with something akin to gusto since I was about 12 years old. I remember riding some centuries when I was 13 and 14. Rode the mountain bike wave of the 80's and 90's, and trail riding is still my favorite. Would rather be trail riding.

A few years ago I wrote a trail guide for one of the best trail riding zones on the planet: Mountain Biking Colorado's San Juan Mountains: Durango and Telluride.

And of course I have been a bike messenger since early Clinton era. If you love the simple act of riding a bicycle around, swerving about, gliding down the street, become a bike messenger.

Last year I finished another book of recreational rides, Road Biking Colorado's Front Range. There are a lot of dirt road-involved loops in there, and a lot of MUPs too, so it's not your typical road bike guide.

Next summer I hope to do some sort of tour in Europe and climb some of the famous passes, maybe even see some of the Tour.

Thanks for the interview, Robert. Sorry about busting up your front wheel, and I hope that road rash heals up soon! A little spray paint and your Waterford will be good as new.

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If you have no capacity for objective thought your head fills up with the rants and rhetoric of fools. fools polarize an issue by making so much noise from their soapbox. The voice of reason and experience is a soft voice.
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