Cyclists have their savior in new book

Author has sympathy for the ‘most disliked’ commuters on road

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Chronicle Books

The Enlightened Cyclist aspires to be a kind of bible for bicycle commuters, who will read it, laugh, weep and identify with almost every detail.

It’s also the kind of book that drivers and pedestrians should read but probably won’t, either because they just don’t care and/or because they just outright hate cyclists. Author Eben Weiss understands this.

“It’s hard to be truly compassionate if you don’t know what it feels like to be disliked,” he writes. “Cyclists do not have this problem, because nobody likes us. Drivers think we’re smug dorks who slow them down, pedestrians think we’re deadly scofflaws, and neither of them has much trouble imagining a world without us.”

Weiss made a name for himself with his blog, “Bike Snob NYC,” which attracts a couple of hundred thousand page views each month and boasts some 30,000 followers on its RSS feed.

When Weiss began blogging in 2007, bicycling was exploding as an alternate means of transportation in New York and across the nation.

The convergence of better bike lanes with the growing fascination of hipsters for brakeless fixed-gear bikes – once exclusively the province of the velodrome – allowed Weiss to surf his way to success, snagging a column in Bicycling magazine as well as a couple of book deals.

In his first book, Bike Snob, Weiss simultaneously celebrated and skewered bike culture and its attendant absurdities. In The Enlightened Cyclist, he shifts his satirical gaze slightly to the joys and indignities of bicycle commuting.

He details all the ways this goes wrong, ribbing drivers, pedestrians and, yes, even cyclists for their contribution to the chaos that reigns on many city streets.

Automobiles kill many more people each year than bicycles, but people tend to take car accidents for granted – more of an obstacle on the way to work than a reason to display any real concern for the victims. Meanwhile, cyclists are held with only slightly less contempt than terrorists.

And while Weiss defends cyclists as the “Chosen Commuters,” he is quick to add, “that’s not because we’re better. Really, it’s mostly an accident, like getting called for jury duty.”

Recognizing the almost religious zeal many cyclists bring to their daily commute, Weiss has sprinkled the book with biblical references: Sections include “In the Beginning, There was Irritation ...” “Leviticus Now” and “Genesis.”

Weiss posits that Jesus would have been a cyclist had the technology been available at the time and that the apostle Paul might have been a proto-bike messenger – an occupation whose noble lineage he traces back to the Greeks’ messenger of the gods, Hermes.

He also tries to explain how bikes, cars and pedestrians might all get along better, placing the onus squarely on the biker.

“The challenge then is to be the best cyclists we can, to rise above the primal nature of commuting and conquer this Last Frontier of Hostility and Indifference,” he writes, before conceding that this is often easier said than done.

Nothing too different from the advice one finds in the actual Bible: Turn the other cheek.