There’s a great literary tradition for radical thinking in American literature, both from the right and the left. Mass media mavericks such as Michael Moore are not new: they draw on hundreds of years of anti-authority print rants.
Two new books – Pedaling Revolution and The Cyclist’s Manifesto – should be seen as part of that polemical tradition.
Both are well-written, both make an awful lot of sense, both put the case for bikes passionately and with intelligence. But their authors couldn’t be more different, and the fact they agree – and the fact they’ve both been published at the same time – is noteworthy.
The Cyclist’s Manifesto is written by a one-time messenger, a born radical. But the former is written by the veteran political reporter for American paper, The Oregonian.
Jeff Mapes is a relatively new bike commuter. When he started riding his bike to the newspaper he noticed how quick it was and how much weight he lost. He also realised there was a revolution afoot: he wasn’t the only one noticing how bikes civilised cities. He started reporting on the issue, and has now produced a densely-written, yet entertaining, book on how bikes are – slowly – changing the face of American cities.
This book is the bike version of Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic, a New York Timesbest-seller.
Mapes reveals that drivers triple their risk of heart attack by sitting in traffic jams. He says: "Houses sell for less if they’re on arterials, but they hold their value on bike boulevards."
He revels in the fact that, “Bicycling, once largely seen as a simple pleasure from childhood, has become a political act.”
Mapes reviews the pro-bike culture in his hometown of Portland, Oregon; and travels to New, York, Seattle, Los Angeles, London and the Netherlands.
He discusses movements such as Critical Mass to the Naked Bike Ride. And he highlights the role of schools and education in fuelling the bicycling revolution.
The book is an important one, written by a political journalist, not a bicycle campaigner. There’s plenty in it for UK bike shops to chew on and it could be a pump primer of how to ensure your city puts people before cars.
Ditto for the Hurst book. Hurst is the author of the 2006 classic The Art of Cycling, a paen to pedalling of all stripes. This time he focusses on urban riding and cogently puts the case that cycling for transportation is not wacko.
He stresses that America and urban lookalikes such as the UK, cannot continue to ignore bikes.
"In most people’s visions of the future, technology comes to the rescue of the American way of life, and the thought of having to drive less is exiled to the back alleys of the mind. The simplest solutions – those that don’t involve carrying a few tons of metal and plastic around everywhere we go – are banished from the discussion. It’s a colossal and perhaps fatal failure of imagination."
Hurst’s book will fire you up to get bikes to be taken seriously in your town or city, but it’s also a wonderful wake-up call for us to work together, to cease the infighting.
Hurst is also harsh on the industry: “It has pushed the sporting side of cycling to the detriment of everyday cycling.
"Since the beginning, bicycling has been associated with weird outfits. The mistaken assumption that such a costume is necessary equipment has been one of the most persistent obstacles to wider adoption of the bicycle for everyday transportation purposes."
To many in the bike trade, this is more radical than anything else Hurst – or Mapes – could bring to the table. That bikes are for everybody is something IBDs in the Netherlands take for granted. In the US, and the UK, it challenges some basic assumptions about what puts money in our pockets.
Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities
Oregon State University
The Cyclist’s Manifesto: The Case For Riding On Two Wheels Instead Of Four
Globe Pequot Press,