Book Review: CycleCraft, by John Franklin

Until recently, for folks out there who are interested in learning how to ride on the streets safely,  there were not many choices.

If you were lucky enough, you found a training class, or maybe you found a mentor who could show you how to ride.   Or, with the Internet you could surf to find fleeting glimpses of articles and thoughts of how to ride safely, now being accumulated in web sites like this one (yes a shameless self-promote).

Still there are many of us who enjoy a book where the author can take time to pull together all the different ideas of cycling safely and then present them to you in a well written and illustrated fashion.   This is exactly what John Franklin has done with CycleCraft.

Few instructional books on riding safely in traffic have been written.  The most notable is Effective Cycling by John Forester.   Effective Cycling was one, if not the first, and it introduced the term “vehicular cycling” to the cycling community.  Effective Cycling covers bicycling in very deep detail, and includes everything from bicycle history to bicycle construction and make-up, to road racing training and technique, to finally riding competently on the streets.  This makes for quite a lengthy book, and with so few illustrations many may find the concepts hard to visualize and the book, in general, tough to read.  I think this is one of the areas where CycleCraft does a better job of presenting materials to the reader.

CycleCraft is a smaller book (250 pages vs over 500) and it seems to me Franklin spends less time “spinning his wheels” so to speak. Unlike Effective Cycling, there was less emphasis on history, bike construction, racing and training technique, and more emphasis on teaching the reader how to ride safely.  CycleCraft also makes judicious use of illustrations, and highlights important points made in its chapters.  I found it easy to stop reading, look at diagrams to confirm my understanding of what was being said, and then return to reading again.

CycleCraft starts out explaining what is needed to get started with cycling, and continues with advice to parents, bicycle parts and how a bike works, and accessories needed to ride efficiently and safely (e.g clothing, lights, etc.).  Next up, cycling skills are covered, starting with the basics (e.g. starting, stopping, pedaling, avoiding obstacles, looking behind), and then progressing into how to ride on roads (e.g. sharing the roads, observation, positioning) and everyday maneuvers and typical traffic situations that will be encountered.  This is where I found effective use of diagrams picturing the scenarios and situations being explained in the book.


There are also chapters dealing with the issues of busier or faster roads, non-traffic hazards (e.g. bad surfaces, RR crossings, pedestrians, dogs), issues with urban cycling (e.g. choosing routes, filtering), cycling in the country, cycling at night and in bad weather, and bike paths and other facilities (more on this later).  The final chapters deal with special bicycle situations such as carrying children and baggage, riding tandems, tricycles and recumbents, and riding in groups.

A big difference between Effective Cycling and CycleCraft is the treatment of controversial subjects, like wearing helmets and use of bike lanes.  For example, regarding bike lanes and their use, Forester is quite dogmatic in his views on this subject. Franklin in CycleCraft takes a softer, more pragmatic approach.  I personally found this more refreshing.

CycleCraft was originally published in the UK, and only now has become available in a North American edition.  For anyone who is interested in having a book that covers all of the basics and then gets right into how to cycle safely and enjoyably, I highly recommend this book.  It delivers the information in a way that is concise, easy to read, easy to picture (with the help of the diagrams) and up-to-date.

7 replies
  1. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Too bad to read about the limited cycle instruction where you are. The City of Toronto runs an extensive set of CAN-BIKE courses, with specific ones tailored for such niches as women and adult learners.

    For details, see:

    Yes, that’s the same CAN-BIKE referenced on the cover of “Cyclecraft.” Perhaps something similar can be started by the City of Orlando.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Smart Cycling is the US equivalent of CAN BIKE. There are dozens of instructors here, but there is no organization to support the administration for ongoing classes.

      Basically the league certifies instructors and then sells them the (marginal) materials. The instructor is then responsible for marketing, managing sign-ups, collecting money, ordering booklets, making sure he has liability insurance, finding a classroom, finding a parking lot, planning a test route, teaching the class for 10 hours (which is a frightfully unbalanced 7 hours in the classroom and 3 on the bike), then testing the students, grading the tests, sending the certificates. One instructor can’t handle more than 5 or 6 students on the bikes. The course has been priced self-consciously low… with the belief that no one wants to take it. The fee barely covers the cost of the stuff you have to buy from LAB. So basically, the instructor ends up volunteering all that time to do the admin and teach. The enthusiasm for that nonsense drains pretty fast. And that’s why it’s so hard to find classes.

      Larger cities have bricks & mortar cycling organizations which provide the admin, so it’s easier to find ongoing courses.

      ALL of that is going to change in Orlando in this coming year. More on that, soon.

  2. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    Keri & I have been trying to figure out a replacement term for “vehicular cycling,” since it’s gathered so much negative baggage in recent years.

    Perhaps the solution is not to try to replace the word “vehicular,” but just drop it. Bicycles have always been vehicles, and people have always used them in a vehicular manner. Only in recent decades (say, the last half of the 20th century) have some been trying to shoehorn cycling into the pedestrian mode.

    If we should refer to any “type” of cycling, perhaps it should be “pedestrian cycling.”

  3. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Because I’m often attacked in comments posted to my YouTube videos, I defend myself using the expression “safe cycling practices” and it’s been working well enough. It doesn’t stop the lack of understanding of the attacking posting parties, but it fits well in the subject.

    Unskilled motorists and unskilled people on bikes are the primary attackers in the comments, and I’d expect that resolving that lack of education is the root.

  4. danc
    danc says:

    OK, lets get back to the book review. I agree totally with Andrew, wonderful book. The full title is “Cyclecraft: The Complete Guide to safe and enjoyable cycling for adults and children” and from the inside cover: First North American Edition 2009, ISBN 9870117064768.

    I point this out because I read the UK 2007, TSO 2nd edition last fall and earlier editions of this book where published by Unwin Paperbacks in 1988.

    I have one minor quibble not with the book but the review, comparing Effective Cycling to Cyclecraft. Effective Cycling is an “opus” beyond basic cycling skills, i.e. Cycling in Society, Federal Safety Standards for Bicycles, Bikeway Controversy, etc …. Until recently it was primary text for LAB program to teach or certify cycling instructors which offer Smart Cycling, see Keri above. Effective Cycling was not ideal as general text but was the best for North American cyclists had until John S. Allen “Bicycling Street Smarts: Riding Confidently, Legally and Safely” came out in 1988. Allen’s Street Smarts is compact booklet which distills Forester principle point of Effective Cycling: “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”

    Cyclecraft, North America (NA) is an excellent guide for which fills the gap between Effective Cycling and Bicycling Street Smarts. On the author’s acknowledgments page (iv) he cited the help of LAB Smart Cycling, CCA CAN-BIKE active instructors to adapt Cyclecraft to reflect local [North America] conditions and paid especial thanks to John S. Allen and Allan Dunlop, “who took much trouble to comment in detail on the draft manuscript.”

    Cyclecraft NA buy it for the long winter night reads.

  5. danc
    danc says:

    Two more items:

    1) Amazon link to Cyclecraft North American (NA). Only one comment addresses the NA version (below), the rest are about the current and earlier UK versions.

    2) “New North American Edition is outstanding” by Serge Issakov (La Jolla, CA United States)

    Everyone who rides a bike on North American roads needs to read this book.

    The whole book is excellent, but the best part is about road positioning, which Franklin calls “probably the most important [of all cycling skills]” (p. 92). Here are some key citations.

    “…positioning is one of the most important traffic skills for a cyclist to acquire, yet is precisely here that most cyclists perform badly. Many cyclists fail to position themselves properly because of their fear of traffic, yet ironically, it is this very fear that probably puts them most at risk.” (p. 91)

    “An important rule of road sharing is that no one should unnecessarily impede the passage of anyone else. However, you are quite justified in restricting the movements of other vehicles where this is important for your own safety, and you should not hesitate to do so when necessary.”

    Franklin has developed the concept of the “primary riding position” which is “in the center of the rightmost line of traffic for the direction in which you wish to travel.” Why is this the primary position? Because, “here you will be well within the zone of maximum surveillance of both following drivers and those who might cross your path, and you will have the best two-way visibility of side roads and other features along the road. The road surface will usually be flatter here …”. Earlier on the same page he explains the basis: “Motorists primarily give attention to that part of the highway where is risk to themselves: they are not nearly so good at noticing anything outside their path. This zone of maximum surveillance is often very narrow, especially at higher speeds – it does not extend to much … For you to be safest as a cyclist, you must normally ride within this zone of maximum surveillance, not outside it.” (p 93).

    Franklin also introduces the “secondary riding position” which is “about 3 feet to the right of the line of traffic”, but recommends using it only when riding there could help others, “so long as your own safety is not thereby impaired.” (p. 94). The reason this book is so important to read is because it explains so well why the secondary riding position compromises safety much more, and much more often, than most bicyclists seem to realize.

    Reading this book, and applying what you learn to your own riding, can probably even make a very experienced bicyclist much safer.

Comments are closed.