Friday Group Ride #270

Friday Group Ride #270

We are bad people. Listen. The town I live in hosts a long section of a very popular bike path. Even those who eschew the path, ride the main thoroughfare as a means of getting to the green and capacious Western suburbs. If you sit at the main intersection from 6am to 10pm on a summer day, my guess is that you would see something like 2,000 cyclists.

You would see recreaters, hybrid-riding, quasi-kitted, fun-timers. They fill the sidewalks, thinking them safer and more appropriate than the narrow bike lanes. They cross against the light, playing Frogger with the six-lanes of traffic or salmoning among the pedestrians in the cross-walks. They know not what they do.

You would see roadies, dressed to the nines in matching black, carbon fiber glinting in the high sun, more technology in their sunglasses than in the Nissan Juke idling at the light next to them. They meet no one’s eye, express nothing, stone-faced and serious. They spare no wave, even for the others of their cult.

You would see commuters, blowing off the lights as mere color-coded suggestions. They ride all manner of junk, dry chains chirping like a hundred horny crickets. The cable their bikes by the fence at the coffee shop, jutting into the walkways, oblivious.

We are, none of us, doing it right. Even our professionals have a long history of narcissistic cognitive dissonance and moral depravity.

I believe, deeply and wholly, that the bicycle is man’s greatest invention (this rhetorically true, if not literally), and yet all it seems to do is amplify our humanity, which is to say our bumbling, self-centeredness coupled with a highly amusing lack of self-awareness.

I don’t really think we’re bad people. I don’t. But I do look around me (and even at myself) and wonder how cycling got to be the way it is. We are not singular, and nor are the drivers and pedestrians we have to live with, but it can be easy, inside this cycling bubble, to gloss over our evident flaws in comparison.

This week’s Group Ride asks, how can we be better? Set aside your grievances with the 1% of drivers who give you a hard time, and tell me how we can ride better, look better, act better on the bike. This isn’t self-loathing. It’s a thoughtful and thorough inventory of our behavior, seeking to address our faults and shortcomings. What are they? And how can we fix them?

Photo: The Cambridgeport Cycle Club, Mass Ave. Cambridge, circa 1888

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  1. Peter Leach

    To my mind, the thing that we can always do better is: “Share the road”.
    Of course, it’s easier if other road users – motorists, motor cyclists and pedestrians – reciprocate, but (and I’m not usually biblical) if we “do unto others” then they are much more likely to “do unto us”.
    And we can’t just display a sharing attitude once or twice, we should do it all of the time. A smile and a wave when we share the road with another cyclist – whether they respond or not. A smile and a wave when a motorist shares the road with us. A smile and a wave when we share the road with a pedestrian. A smile and a wave to the staff as we rack our bikes at the coffee shop.
    Share the road – whether it’s a ‘road’, a bike path, a footpath, a stretch of single tack, a fire trail or a rail trail.
    Share the road – consistently, confidently, courteously and co-operatively.
    Share the road – and ride forever.

  2. Jay

    I ride bike paths; I ride roads. I make a habit of waving or saying “Hi” to people I pass (along with an “On your left.” I wave at drivers who yield to me. When I’m driving, I wave to cyclists I’m approaching and give them wide berth when I pass them. On my old car, I had a “Share the Road” bumper sticker (not ready to deface my new car). Most cyclists holler a courtesy warning when passing me, but not all. Most give a nod or flick of the hand when approaching, but not all. I remember reading a column in VeloNews by Maynard Hershon describing how he’d chase down riders who ignored those seemingly simple on-road courtesies. I’m too old.

  3. Bryan Lewis

    Well, I might be the only cyclist in the world that thinks cyclists should be licensed. Not because I think it would be a significant revenue stream, and not because I think it would be easy to enforce, but because it would require cyclists to read a list of rules at least once. You shouldn’t blow through stop signs and red lights. You shouldn’t pass a line of cars stopped at a light on the right. You shouldn’t ride against traffic. You shouldn’t press the Walk-light button and then pedal through the crosswalk while all the cars wait. You’re a vehicle, damn it. And yes, I know that the traffic laws aren’t perfectly designed for you. (I’m in favor of the “Idaho stop” law.) But all those displays of the-laws-don’t-apply-to-me arrogance are really off-pissing to drivers, who are still the vast majority.

    Sorry… pet peeve of mine.

  4. Michael

    The wave and smile is the best way of sharing. Doesn’t one always smile when sharing? I put bells on all my bikes (we always had bells on our race bikes in the late 70s and 80s and used them to locate and signal to each other in races, so the habit is an old one) and ding them in a friendly way frequently. Sure takes off the mean-old-racer vibe, but I do get accused of appearing to be a Fred. I can handle that, if it brings a smile. I ding at cars in thank you too. The only ones I find it does not work for are pedestrians walking on a bike path. You can ding all day and they’ll never notice. Voice, in a nice tone, is the only alert that seems to work. I can’t tell you the number of times someone in a car has cut me some slack, so I try to do the same back.

    1. Pat O'Brien

      The bell is a magical tool. Along with a pleasant good morning, it can turn enemies into allies. Watch your speed on paths. Always thank, or acknowledge, a driver when they give you a break. Obey laws and act responsibly and predictably. When you can, stop and chat up people sharing the path with you and carry a dog treat or two to distract a chasing dog and reward a friendly one.

  5. Dennis Stuhaug

    Way back when your grandparents were little kids the Washington city of Tacoma established a $1 license fee for bicycles. That funded the first paved roads in the city, for recreation, for commuters, and a magnificent road that led to the grandeur of Mount Rainier. Of course, there were no cars then. But if a similar license was discussed today with specific targets (there are still photos around of the elevated bike tollway from Hollywood to Los Angeles) we might have a fair claim to road equality. Perhaps with a license revenue stream municipal police might even consider bike theft a crime

  6. mitlark

    Something I need to work on, is not reacting negatively when I feel a driver has acted in an aggressive manner towards me. I’ve come to the conclusion that negativity reinforces aggressiveness, i.e. car buzzes me, I flip them off, car buzzes next rider. Instead, I’m going to start taking plate numbers, and report them to the proper authorities, so that an impartial official can give them a friendly reminder of the protections that cyclists are afforded.

  7. Ransom

    There are a variety of things, and a recent conversation had me putting them mostly in two already-recognized buckets: Flouting the law and sometimes basic etiquette due to self-righteous smugness, and ignoring rules because the bike doesn’t feel as “official” as a car…

    The incident that recently drove home this attitude recently was when I was following a popular bike commuter route, and got caught at a just-changed red light in a right turn lane, and the cyclist behind me gave me grief for stopping! I’d recognize that it was the sort of spot I would’t call someone crazy to look-and-roll, but to admonish another cyclist for following the rules of the road struck me as beyond the pale.

    To bring it back to the question, we should do the same things everybody should do. Play nice, try to give benefit of the doubt where there is any (there isn’t always…), and ride sensibly, taking safety, efficiency, and etiquette into account.

  8. Aar

    “Treat others the way you want to be treated, yourself”

    I share that quote as a summary to all of the comments above. Above all, obey the law – thank you, Brian. Don’t worry be happy – a nod to Jay, Michael & Pat. Later Leach brought it together best with Share The Road.

    We all need to live the changes we want in this world

  9. Les.B.

    I do not let the minority of citizens who look upon cyclists negatively speak with so a loud a voice in my mind that they drown out the majority.

    We do not need to make ourselves better.

    For every “Shouldn’t-do” for cyclists there are and always be a minority that will flaunt the edicts. As in every aspect of life.

    As for running stop signs, etc: If the topic of discussion is “dissing cyclists”, then ok. If the topic instead is safety with respect to law obedience then it’s a waste of time talking cyclists when the much greater danger to life and limb is posed by the motor vehicles. When a cyclist blows a stop sign the greatest danger is to himself (not to mention that gliding through a stop at a reasonable speed is actually SAFER for a cyclist). When a motorist blows a stop he creates a deadly situation. But we’re gonna sit here and badrap the chap on the bike!

    Noted by Seth Davidson in his blog Cycling in the South Bay, very few cycling accidents occur by law transgressions.

    Just sayin’.

    1. Pat O'Brien

      Les, how is running a stop sign safer for cyclists? I tried to think of a reason but came up with nothing. But, how will the drivers who can see you react to your running the stop sign? I think treating stop signs as yield signs, as some states have put into law, is the best solution.

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