Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Think I'll Go For a Ride

I heard a nice song on the radio (remember the radio?): "The Ride," by Luka Bloom, an Irish singer. "When the head spins and there is no joy, put me up in the saddle, I'm just a little boy." My son Cord gets the same exhilaration from biking, so I sent him the song. Most excellent, he said. Nice that someone tried to capture the feeling.

Cord lives in Philadelphia, right in the middle of the city. On long rides he breaks free, but he has to get in and out of town. He says it's a bit dodgy on city streets for a biker. It's not that anyone wants to hurt anyone, it's just close quarters with two-ton cars and even bigger trucks and busses. Not to mention the rail track slots that his front wheel slipped into one time. One moment he was gliding, the next he was sitting on the pavement, shaking his head, wondering what happened.

I love to ride too. If I don't get out enough--a few miles to a coffee shop, nothing too serious--I get a little wiggy. Like Cord, I took a tumble off my bike once and got a free ride to the emergency room. More drama than damage, but it makes you cautious.

So I was exercising that caution as I biked home the other day. A long stretch of the street had no bike lane and there were cars parked on both sides. It was comfortable to pass another bike going the other way, or even a small car. But with one coming at me and another coming from behind...gulp. I was glad when the road neared an elementary school and a wide bike lane began. I'd just gotten comfortable in my own safe zone when I had to go around a pickup truck parked in the bike lane. Most people are pretty good about not doing that, but there was a guy in the truck eating his lunch, and as I went by I said, mildly, I thought, "You're parked in a bike lane." I didn't get ten feet before he shouted back, "It's a truck lane too!"

Well, actually it's not. It's only three or four feet wide and it's clearly marked as a bike lane. It's not like he didn't know all this; he was parked right under a sign that said "no parking anytime." I went back and, pretty calmly when you consider that he looked like he was about to have a coronary, I asked him why he was so angry. "I hate bicyclists," he said. "Why?" I asked. "We don't pollute, we aren't noisy. We don't take up much room."

"Because you're all assholes," he said. 

My first experience with lifestyle profiling.

I said, "Look, you're huge (meaning his truck), and I'm little. I just want the buffer zone that a bike lane is meant to provide."

He was seriously red-faced by this time. He said he didn't like being talked down to. Then he repeated that bikers are all assholes, threw his boxed lunch on the seat beside him, and drove off swearing.

When I was a boy, just learning to drive in Tennessee, people used to talk about games involving driving close to groups they disliked--blacks, gays, Jews--and knocking them over by opening the car door as they passed. Bicyclists were sometimes on the list of candidates for roadside mayhem. Having just graduated from a bike, I didn't understand the enmity. I haven't thought about it in years, but apparently it's not just a Southern redneck thing of days gone by. Here was a guy in Palo Alto, not some KKK member, spouting vitriol that would have made those of the white robes and hoods proud.

This story doesn't have a moral. Well, perhaps it does, but I'm not courageous enough to speculate about what it is. Draw your own conclusions. And be careful who you assume doesn't want to hurt you.


  1. Wow. I feel like the star of a reality show.

    It’s unfortunate that some motorists think cyclists are “assholes.” Yes, cyclists do sometimes behave badly. But I think such behavior should elicit empathy more than anger. For one thing, it is vastly harder to ride a bike than drive a car because the roads are entirely designed for the safety and convenience of motorists (notwithstanding which motorists often behave awfully themselves). For another, the majority of cyclists on my local roads -- and the overwhelming majority of the bad ones -- fall into one or more of the following categories: very young, inexperienced as a cyclist, confused foreigner, and/or mentally ill. Why vilify folks under these circumstances?

    It’s also unfortunate that cyclists seem to trigger some primal dominance reflex that makes many motorists bully them as puny nuisances. By the way, I get this more from pickup truck drivers than anyone else.

    Riding my bike is one of the few times I am in a tiny minority that is forced to navigate a majority-dominated culture. It often seems unfair. I’ve learned, though, that there is no upside in confronting people, or even responding to their harassment. Been there, done that -- never ends well. The best form of bicycle advocacy is simply to assert your right to the road competently and courteously. Nine out of ten motorists will treat you respectfully then. Sadly, those odds still make for a handful of unpleasant interactions on many rides – typically passes that are scary close and/or fast (known as “punishment passes” when deliberate), or reckless refusals to yield the right-of-way to cyclists when the motorist is turning.

    -- Cord

  2. Wow!
    These are problems of a very high quality.