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The Organic Urban Cyclist

By Kelly McCord

In his book “The Art of Urban Cycling” Robert Hurst tells us there are three major schools of thought when riding in the city. First there’s the rider who thinks, “I am a vehicle and therefore shall act like one.” Usually you see these riders geared up in helmet, spandex and cycling shoes. They wait on every red light and hand signal even when there are no cars behind them. This person will never ride on the sidewalk even when the prospect seems more logical than riding in the street. This thought process is pretty old school, and most of these riders started commuting during the boom of the 80’s. Riding like a car does have its advantages. Cars in traffic have rules, and if everyone follows those rules, we will all get home safe. And if a driver sees a cyclist consistently acting like a car they can anticipate your movements. Seems like a great plan, one would think…

The next discipline is that of the stealth rider. They slip and dip sliding effortlessly through traffic. Cars don’t even notice them as they go between rows with grace and agility. Neither a car nor a bike, they’re on their own plane of existence. As you can imagine this type of rider has a lot of skill and years of experience riding in the city. Mostly you see messengers and people who just don’t give a damn ride in this manner. No helmet or brakes, maybe a headlight and a blinky affixed to their messenger bag. These riders are usually felled by the unexpected. Meeting their end when a driver doesn’t turn like their signal said they would. This type of rider usually avoids sidewalks, but more for the fact that it slows them down than any adherence city ordinance. This style of riding is risky and takes set of titanium ovaries to master. I’ve also seen a lot of drivers get angry when they see you pass them unexpectedly.

Finally we have the third type of rider—the organic urban cyclist. This style is a compromise between stealthy and vehicular cycling. As an organic cyclist, you ride in traffic and use pedestrian thoroughfares when its convenient. I’m not trying to be contradictory but know that jumping from sidewalk to traffic and back again will seriously get you hurt. We must always remain vigilant and think two steps ahead of cars and pedestrians. Remember drivers feel most at ease when they know what to expect. An organic urban cyclist will flow in traffic when its not too thick and ride the sidewalk when its clear of pedestrians. I opt for this style of riding and obviously it works for me.

Whichever type of rider you choose to be doesn’t matter, just ride.

Read The Art of Urban Cycling (second edition: The Art Cycling) by Robert Hurst

Illustration by Mike Pfaltzgraff -