John Forester and Kittie Knox fought for cyclists to have a place on the road

Kittie Knox, shown here in 1895, battled racist elements of the League of American Wheelmen.

It is only now that I learn of the passing of John Forester in April, an influential cyclist in the 1970-80s for his insistence that cyclists adhere to the same rules of the road as cars.

I met Forester when he lived in Palo Alto in the 1980s. I bought his nylon bike bag that mounted behind the saddle, using it on my trips through the Alps.

I knew Forester’s reputation and background when I met him, so I was not taken aback by his quirky personality and abrasive manner.

His strident views about cycling were both his strength and his downfall. He couldn’t compromise and in politics that’s a recipe for disaster.

Forester wrote and advocated the principles of Effective Cycling. I bought his self-published book mainly to show my support for cyclists’ rights to the road.

I agree with pretty much everything he advocated, but where we part ways is when it comes to bicycle facilities.

Forester disparaged bike lanes, bike paths, and other amenities for the bike.

Over the years I’ve gradually shifted my thinking from battling cars on equal footing to supporting a bike network separate from cars.

The deal is, we need both.

Bike advocate Ellen Fletcher, who served on the Palo Alto City Council when Forester was living in Palo Alto, didn’t always see eye to eye with the outspoken bike advocate. She was a politician who understood the importance of compromise.

Their political rivalry came to a head at an organization called the League of American Wheelmen. I won’t go into the details here because I was not privy to the situation. However, there is an outstanding article written by Joe Biel that delves into their differences that came to the forefront within this organization.

All of this is irrelevant today. The American Wheelmen was a seriously influential group in the 1880s, but not much more than a mouthpiece for disenfranchised cyclists in the 1980s.

The dark history of the League of American Wheelmen and its racist past is exposed by Biel in his story about a young black woman from Boston who could ride circles around most men — Kittie Knox.

Biel’s story is an eye-opener and one that everyone should read to understand that racial prejudice runs deep in this country.

Thanks to the Internet, I can share some excellent writing about cycling matters from the past. Still relevant today:

How Kittie Knox changed bicycling forever by Joe Biel

Bicycling magazine interview with John Forester by Peter Flax

One Response to “John Forester and Kittie Knox fought for cyclists to have a place on the road”

  1. NSD Says:

    This post reminded me of something. Forester’s words taught me something I’ve never seen expressed elsewhere: how to deal with cars passing you too closely on the road. He said “you’re too far to the right; move to the left a little bit”. (6″ or so is usually enough).

    It is easiest for the driver to pass you without moving into another lane. That requires nothing from the driver except to keep driving as they are. By being too far to the right you allow that to happen, and the car passes you too closely.

    Moving just slightly to the left puts you in the visual (though not literal) way, and the driver is prompted to perform a proper pass, moving over half a lane (and often slowing a little too).

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