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