So, doing a reading at Bookworks last night, when I spot the above book on the shelf. Not one to let a book about biking (that's pretty much staring at me from across the room) pass me by, I buy it and crack it open while I'm working on sleep.
Now, as any good biker knows there are lots of arguments on how to negotiate the roads when you are on a bike. In fact, there's a whole "school of thought" about it called, "Vehicular Cycling" versus Segregated Cycling (even some elements are labelled as Urban Cycling). The arguments go back and forth, talk about the efficacy of one over the other, the safety of one over the other, etc. but the bottom line is that neither argument really wins on the one issue that really matters: creating a society that is structured in such a way as to make cycling normal not the exception. That's what I want.
I'm tired of having to make the argument again and again that cycling is not dangerous. I'm tired of having to explain to people that getting around Albuquerque on bike doesn't make me some sports enthusisast, adrenaline junky. It doesn't. I get around Albuquerque on bike (mostly) because I find it a cost effective, environmentally friendly, safe, and fun way to get to where I want to go. For me, it's not about the ride...its about the destination and how I choose to get there.
Thus, Petersen's book, is a good fit. He even points it out with the very first sentence, "My main goal with this book is point out what I see as bike racing's bad influence on bicycles, equipment, and attitudes, and then undo it." Broken into 8 short sections: Riding, Suiting up, Safety, Health and Fitness, Accessories, Upkeep, Technicalities, and Velosophy, the book has short chapters that offer practical, non-nonsense solutions to many of the vexing questions people have about cycling if they are not a racer. Most of the points are no-brainers (No...the shirts, shorts, gloves, shoes aren't necessary), but I was also pleasantly surprised about how candid he was when he talked about wearing a helmet.
In almost every piece of literature that is widely distributed one of the first pieces of advice is "Always wear a helmet." Now I'm not opposed to helmets, but I do feel there is a false sense of security that comes with wearing a helmet. By it always being point number one (the one point that almost everybody reads) novice cyclists get the impression that that's all they have to do. It's not! As Petersen points out:
Helmets increase risk compensation. Any protective gear you wear or use--
a hazmat suit, a bulletproof vest, a parachute, snake-proof boots, or a bike helmet--
increases the likelihood of you taking a risk. That is the point: protection so
you can do the thing that would be dumb to do without it.
I almost jumped out of bed when I read that. Here is a book on cycling, and he isn't toeing the party line on helmets. By extension, he is also implying that when every bicyclist, organization, government entity aggressively advocates for helmets (a piece of safety equipment) they are also sending the message that cycling (any kind of cycling) is dangerous and requires wearing safety equipment. Thus, if the goal is to increase the number of cyclists, then stressing the dangers of cycling is working against that. For example, what if on your first day of teaching in a rough urban school they said, "Oh...it's really not that dangerous, but here's your bulletproof vest in case things get out of hand." I'd certainly want to teach there. So do our words match our actions?
For the record, I always wear my helmet when I mountain bike (because mountain biking is dangerous), but almost never wear my helmet when I ride around town (because bicycling around town is not dangerous), but I get lectures about it all the time.
What troubles me is best illustrated by the link to Adventure Cycling that has "Always Wear a Helmet" as item #1 and "Always Bike Carefully" as item #10. Really? The single most important point in bicycling safety is "Always Bike Carefully" and its the last item on the list?
Not wanting to stray too far off topic, I'd say that Petersen's book, thus far, lives up to its promise. So, if you know someone who is new to cycling, I'd recommend this book as a good way to get acquainted with bicycling, and as an adult who doesn't race its nice to know I'm not the only one.