Friday Group Ride #276

Friday Group Ride #276

I think it’s a common mistake of perception to assume the changes going on in your head are actually changes happening in the world. Here’s an example. I don’t perceive a running conflict between cyclists and drivers in Boston. To me it seems we’ve come a long way in our efforts to coexist, but much of the evidence points in the opposite direction. The Boston Globe ran a front-page story this week about cyclists dying on the streets of the city, with a map to various incidents, almost all of which included trucks turning right across the cyclist’s lane. My friends who ride the major thoroughfares complain a lot about drivers and their habits.

Things are still tense. Riding in the city is still dangerous.

My sense of calm is born from my own changed habits. I don’t ride the main routes anymore, almost ever. Without blaming the cyclists who have been killed doing nothing more than trying to get home or to work, as I look at the map in the paper, I can’t help but think, ‘But why were you there, at that intersection, at rush hour?’

Most of my riding buddies are on the road less than they used to be. It’s as if the background stress of dealing with car traffic finally broke through and overshadowed the fun of piling up the miles. They’re either doing less distance at odd hours or, in some cases, just riding trail bikes instead. It is, maybe, an unintentional retreat for a group who I might otherwise describe as tough, independent and fearless, as if we have collectively accepted that what should be safe isn’t, and that the risks implicit aren’t worth the stresses they engender.

In my mind, this is where we all are. We’ve been at this a while. We know better. Except we don’t. If the tide has shifted, there is still an undercurrent of constant conflict, of recklessness and danger, of self-righteousness on both sides. I find I don’t have the stomach for any of it. I no more want to talk about the need for more bike lanes than I do the rule-breaking habits of bicycle commuters. I just want to ride my bike, to leave and be left alone. That’s probably selfish, and I’m probably ok with that.

This week’s Group Ride asks, where are you in this? Do you feel the stress and conflict? Or, have you changed the way you ride? Are you riding your road bike less? Are you taking different routes? Or are you fighting the (good) fight?

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  1. Joshua Hoover

    Do you feel the stress and conflict?
    Absolutely. I live in Las Vegas. I was hit about 18 months ago by a driver (with an SUV) who ran a stop. I’m back out there riding again after suffering a number of painful injuries. Traffic in Vegas is “unique” in a variety of ways. We have little sense of real community as a whole – very transient – and as a result, people’s driving tends to reflect that lack of community. Roads are often very wide and speed limits are often rather high, with most drivers going 10+mph over those posted limits. The 24 hour party vibe means an increase in reckless driving.

    Or, have you changed the way you ride?
    I haven’t changed the way I ride. I was cautious before and remain cautious now.

    Are you riding your road bike less?
    Pretty much the same amount. I’ve found that going at “odd hours” translates in riskier travel around Vegas due to the 24 hour lifestyle here. People tend to be even more careless/reckless driving in non-rush hours, like early morning.

    Are you taking different routes? Or are you fighting the (good) fight?
    Fighting the good fight, I suppose. I don’t see it as much of a fight as I do about riding as safe as I can and enjoying being out on the bike. I also thinks it’s important that cyclists are out there riding responsibly with traffic. We all need to see that roads are for people, not vehicles. People use roads in lots of different ways.

  2. Pat O'Brien

    We have our changed our routes to avoid high traffic. We ride neighborhood streets to a trailhead then ride trails during weekday mornings, and do our longer road rides on the weekends.
    We do fought the good fight, at least in my mind, by obeying traffic laws and slowing down and being courteous on multi-use paths.

  3. Jay

    I still ride almost exclusively on the road. Fortunately I live in an area that is mostly rural with a lot of lightly trafficked roads. I seldom encounter cars, heck, on one of my favorite sections of road I see less than a car per month on average. That said, lack of automobile traffic does not mean no problems with motorists. I have been berated by some of the local yahoos and have have things thrown at me, such as half-full liter jugs of Gatorade. I am relatively certain that I was riding within the law and attempting to allow those folks to pass as best I could when the incidents occurred. Even with little or no traffic you have to watch your back, regardless. I will continue to ride the road until it proves to be too dangerous to do so any longer. I will just be more wary until that comes to pass.

  4. MattC

    I’ve almost totally stopped road riding on ‘public’ roads here after almost killed 3 times in the last few months of 2014. One of the girls in our club is a quadriplegic for just over 2 years now after being run OVER by a man making a left-turn in his pickup and ‘not seeing her’ as he ran over her. She’s mid 30’s w/ 2 small boys and a husband, and didn’t do anything wrong but her life (and that of her family) will never be the same. Ask HER If it was worth it. We lost a lot of our members after that, but I held out for another year before my near-death cluster of experiences.

    I work on an Air Force Base with something like 102,000 acres of land (and OODLES of paved roads) with 42 miles of Pacific Ocean coast-line….so what road riding I do now is almost exclusively on base where it’s safe and sane. But most of the time I’m a Mt biker again…back to my roots. If I crash on the trail it’s either A: Something broke, or B: I did something wrong (ie: stupid)…and if it’s A, then it likely relates back to B. I can live with those odds. I love riding and like to think I ‘ll be old and gray and still shredding…not sure that is possible if I keep riding out on public roads…just don’t like my odds.

    1. John Kopp

      That AF base is a great place to ride. Plenty of hills, too. And they are concerned about safety, I presume that they still require halmets and high vis clothing. Maybe I should ride down there to get my miles in!

      In my youth, in Minneapolis, I commuted to work most days, and road with a group on the weekends. The weekend rides were on rural roads surrounding the metro area, and had very few incidents with cars. But that was thirty years ago. Moved to CA, and no more commuting to work. A few years ago got hit by a hit and run driver in a pickup making a left turn in front of me on the bike path. ER visit and a couple months recovery from a back injury, so don’t ride much any more. I say it’s because I have other priorities, but in the back of my mind is the fact that there have been several deaths in cycling accidents around here the last couple of years. One was hit by a drunk driver on a road I ride often. I still hope to start riding again and do some century rides around here.

  5. winky

    I’m firmly committed to riding on the roads. I’m just not going to let the bastards win. Worth it? I don’t know yet.

    1. Don Jagoe

      With you. Working on the Board of my local bike advocacy group and riding on the road 4-5 times per week. Trying to set a good example, but also to “own” the road when it is appropriate. We live on an island, so perhaps it is somewhat safer…but I admit that while I hate to see summer wind down, it also means most of the tourist drivers will go home. Pretty much a fair trade.

  6. Michael

    That is a tough question to contemplate. I am not sure whether I believe in a cause-and-effect relation between how I ride and how I am treated. I was riding on the right-hand edge of the road in the middle of nowhere out in California with a couple of friends, probably ten or fifteen minutes since the last car passed us, and a black BMW buzzed us a foot away. No cause for that – just a bastard. Then, when I HAVE made mistakes, I have had pickup truck drivers wave me along and show kindness. So I guess I just trust that the odds are better for living longer if I am active than if I am not. I ride a lot of dirt and a fair amount of road, and of course commute on my bike 4-5 miles a day. For some reason, I think I have a better chance at the slower speeds of traffic in town. Maybe I am nuts, but I think drivers are more bike-aware than they used to be and, at least in town, they respond well when I am clearly following the rules. Out on the rural roads, it seems more of a lottery.

  7. Hoshie99

    Collective timing = spot on. Just this last few weeks, I have been sticking to trails with my cross bike or riding cycling paths (a fate I viewed as for tourists or soccer moms) and mostly avoiding the roads.

    Recently, a co-worker just had life changing injuries during his Thursday night worlds ride.

    I am rapidly retreating to find the path less traveled….

    Some of it could be age; as a younger man I thought nothing of bombing through the streets SF to work in the financial district and even had my own bike spot in the executive garage as a junior employee since riding to work 20 years ago was largely a practice of bike couriers and DUI convicted.


  8. Stephen Barner

    I really like the slogan “Any bike, any road, any time.” I drive only when there’s a good reason not to ride, and nothing is within walking distance, except a trailhead. I cut my riding teeth commuting across a city twice a day back in the ’70s, when, in spite of the bike boom, you were a weirdo if you rode a bike once your were old enough to drive. Now that I live in northern Vermont, I find that there are many fewer haters out there. They haven’t gone away, but I don’t let them get me angry anymore, either. The jerk that buzzes me doesn’t want to hit me, he wants to scare me, and after 47 years of road riding, it takes a more than that to do so. A driver talking on a cell phone, or one who swings into the other lane 50′ before a blind curve are the ones who really make me nervous.

    So, the answer is, no, I don’t ride any less. I’ll take a less-trafficked road if it’s convenient, but I won’t go very far out of my way to do so. I ride a lot, often over 10k a year, and I just don’t have that many close calls. It’s not because I always follow the rules–I’ll run any stop sign, if there are no cars at the intersection. I think it’s because I stay out of trouble. I recognize risky situations and try to stay out of them. I think I’m pretty good at anticipating driver behavior, and I expect the worse.

    I try to wear bright jerseys, vests and jackets. I don’t use lights in the daytime, I don’t ride without them at night, and my commuting bikes also sport reflectors. I don’t use a mirror–never have. I typically wear a helmet, but there are times when I don’t. In today’s 50 miles of riding, about 10 of them were without a helmet, and the closest call occured on the half-mile of rec path I rode, when a squirrel ran across right in front of me. Luckily, I was taking it easy, gowing uphill. I thought I caught a glimpse of a number 3 on its side, and it looked like it was wearing a tiny NASCAR cap, but he was gone in an instant, so I could have been mistaken.

  9. Paul Tober

    Geezer here. I feel no more intimidated on the road than I ever have, which is to say, not much. When young I was far more confrontational: lot of yelling and occasional property damage – never any physical violence by me.

    Now I eschew all that as it is pointless or worse. I tend to mutter a few expletives and occasionally offer a friendly wave if I’ve been meditating. No middle fingers ever now.

    It’s a bummer that people are grievously injured or killed. That’s the largest risk of cycling. I accept that risk.

  10. Jason Lee

    Los Angeles is making large strides in creating bike lanes, with long range planning that includes less auto lanes and more “people” lanes.

    With that, I see plenty of motorists with homocidal indignance at anyone “in their way”. Bicyclists are not just an annoyance. Deep down, it’s a threat to their value system. When cyclists can “cheat” through traffic, it shows that people are not following the same rules and that angers them- just as motorcycles do.
    Filtering is legal in CA, yet many motorists don’t know this and try to block them.
    Same attitude goes for bicyclists.
    I only see this getting worse as motorists are forced to confront more and larger bike lanes and traffic patterns catered to everyone-not just motorists.
    Things will get better but the mutual hostility will only get worse, before it gets better.

    Having said that, I find that I bike more in my daily routine. I don’t get caught up in road rage, and find that courtesy and clear communication goes a long way. I don’t take close calls personally.

  11. Gus C

    Heya Robot,

    I am in agreement with you. Tho i no longer commute to work (work from home 3x a week and front the plant, 40kms from home, 2x a week), i have noticed that through the years it has been less of riders being more mindful and less of drivers being more corteous. Neither is true. Many drivers see as their right to own the road, and some riders insist on having zero consideration or riding etiquette. What I noticed is more riders = resigned drivers. Meaning, drivers don’t suddenly mind or like riders more. The drivers just tolerate us more, and you know what? i’ll take it. a modicum of good manners here, some tolerance there, all go a long way at creating peace and slightly, ever so slightly more safety for everyone involved. we’re quick to pass judgment on a driver who maims or (gasp) kills a rider. but the driver has to live with this burden forever. also: some of the deaths fall squarely onto the riders’ choice of timing, or poor choice of timing. I have witnessed a fresh death on Comm ave (right by landry’s) a couple of winters ago. The rider was to blame. a 18-wheeler ran the guy over, stopped to try to help but was too late. surely the driver was not to blame, but one death is a death too many; the driver will carry that responsibility forever, accidents notwithstanding. tolerance, good manners and a good “count to 5” goes a long way towards any semblance of harmony out there. be nice, folks.

  12. Resty Refuerzo

    I ride mainly for health and fitness. I have to go out early in the morning to get ahead of traffic and ride outside the city where it is safer because traffic is moderate to light. And only on weekends. Weekdays are spent running, stationary cycling and skipping rope.

  13. Peter

    Do you feel the stress and conflict?
    Somewhat. I live in the city of Chicago but do most of my riding out the suburbs. Unless I get up at the crack of dawn there is no chance I could get a worthwhile ride in unless I do the suburban commute. That said: I still get yelled at a lot by motorists for doing nothing other than riding on a road. A lot of seems like pent up anger and just wanting something to yell at more than anything. On the flip side, the community seems to have also added a lot of riders which has lead to a greater understanding.

    Or, have you changed the way you ride?
    Not really. It has, however, changed how I talk to other riders. I am a lot more proactive on fostering proper road behavior and communication. One example is when we are doing group rides on the 2 lane roads outside of town where it is a bit hilly, I encourage the riders with me to communicate with cars trying to pass us about when a safe time would be given the limited visibility. I figure if you can help others practice good habits as well, it should help everyone in the long run.

    Are you riding your road bike less?
    I might ride more if I actually lived in the burbs. But honestly, nothing is gonna change my ride time.

    Are you taking different routes?
    I have always sought out less populated routes anyways. I don’t like the hassle of traffic even when I am in my car. Plus there is a greatness to having the pure unadulterated solitude of taking in your surroundings.

    Or are you fighting the (good) fight?
    I think the less “us vs. them” that is fostered the better it will become. At some point both sides need to realize there is a coexistence. I think by trying to help in keeping up proper practices and communication it can do more good than other alternatives.

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