Road rules

Pub date June 8, 2010

CULTURE Dear cars: I’m only doing my part to keep the air clean, and I promise you, I’m trying to stay in my lane when I have one. I’m looking as cute as I can astraddle my fly new ride, puffing up hills for health. Alas, your intermittent, unwarranted honk is a sorry companion to my bike high. “Get a car!” is a bummer too. Bicyclists sure enough have to put up with some shit.

Which is why we’re glad to have Eben Weiss, New York City’s outspoken Bike Snob. He’s won raves among the two-wheeled for his blog (, which pointedly voices the frustrations of the biking masses. Sure, Weiss is opinionated — don’t get him started on brakeless bikes for civilian use — but in our recent phone interview, he articulated his ideas about transportation with an aplomb and wit I seldom hear elsewhere.

And by gosh, it’s only right he follow grand blogging tradition and put out a book. My chat with Weiss coincided with the start of his tour to promote Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling — he hits San Francisco Thursday, June 17 — a project that compelled him to shed the cloak of anonymity under which he had blogged for years. (Turns out he’s a looker.)

Right off the bat he told me, “There’s no such thing as ‘bike culture.'” Them’s fightin’ words in SF, which reveres the idea of a biking class that generates its own social mores, political convictions, and tasty microbrews. “As far as I’m concerned, I like to ride. So my ‘common cause’ is just to be happy. You have a lot of different kinds of cyclists. They do it for fitness, they’re into the environment … It’s like anything else: a lot of people doing a lot of things for a lot of reasons.”

Weiss is of the opinion that terms like “bike culture” have been used by the cycling industry to sell us things, a ploy that leads to the type of fashion victimology so snarkily snapped and captioned on his blog. “A decent bike and a good lock,” Weiss says. “And that’s really all you need. I think part of the reason the cycling media can drive you a little bit crazy is that there’s such an emphasis on equipment. You can spend hundreds or thousands on cycling-specific sneakers, on a bike that looks a certain way. I recommend that you get a bike, any bike. Spend as little money as possible — just you and the bike, that’s it.”

It’s refreshing advice, the kind you don’t usually hear from people who have been city-biking as long as Weiss has. I also asked him about traffic laws — he’s questioned their relevance to biking in the past. Do we obey the stop signs, Bike Snob?

“I think it’s important to remember that breaking a rule because it really doesn’t apply to you is different than breaking a rule because it’s exciting,” he tells me. “Anything that involves stopping is good. People who ride bikes think putting your foot down is an admission of defeat. I think they need to get over that. You have to be nice to pedestrians. You have to treat others with the same respect you want motorists to treat you with. Not riding on sidewalks is a good rule.”

Indeed. He’s also got words for nonbikers that they would do well to heed. Avoid referring to your cyclists friends as “Lance Armstrong,” groping on their top tubes without permission, and asking them whether they’re impotent.

And for God’s sake, quit asking if bike accident victims were wearing a helmet. Weiss, in the traffic safety chapter of his book entitled “Why is Everyone Trying to Kill Me?” has gone on record about his neutrality regarding society’s “all helmet, all the time” insistence, calling it something of a misguided fixation. This is not the politically correct line to walk for a bike activist. He’s caught flack for being seen at road races lacking the proper headgear.

But unlike other prominent figures in the bike world who rally fellow cyclists under one flag or another, Weiss doesn’t consider himself an activist so much as a curmudgeon. (Albeit a curmudgeon with a hot blog, a new book, and a heady slew of good ideas.) His popularity may be a result of his non-hectoring, yet still bitingly impish, attitude — an attitude that, whether he likes it or not, jibes well with the current bike culture. Ride on, Bike Snob, we’ll be reading.


Thurs/17 6:30–8 p.m., free

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(415) 575-3000