May 21, 2009

Your rant of the Spring

I gotta tell ya, a conversation with a fellow "dude" at work today confirms what I was suspecting:  Seems like every year, as the weather warms, I begin to get less respect from motorists on the road.  How can this be?  I can't begin to tell you how many of these types of rants that I've started writing, and then delete.  I just don't know how this kind of post helps -- I'm trying to glorify cycling, invite people to it, garner relationships and grow community among cyclists - and I don't think getting on here and complaining about "other" cyclists does any good.  I don't know if it makes any darn difference, so it ends up being nothing more than a "getting it off my chest" forum.  You're all gonna do what you're gonna do - and chances are, the offenders aren't even reading this blog.  I just wish the message was pervasive and resonant enough to wake up the ones that need to hear it, so I ask respectfully of my readers that if you see behaviors that need to change, say something.  You can tell friends anything, right?  If they take it the wrong way, well, perhaps the friendship was as genuine as their riding skills.  I have to take that risk, also.  

Year over year, there are blog posts, news article comments online - most recently about Bike to Work Week - and the majority of them are anti-cycling.  It's surprising to me that as a cyclist, seeing what I see out there on the streets, that I have a very hard time disagreeing with some of the posters.  Honestly, people are people:  they are writing what they are writing because of an experience they had.  Can you fault them for that?  The fact that it happened is the unfortunate part - because if we were all doing it correctly, those posts wouldn't be there.  If there aren't any cars around to see what you're doing, I don't care WHAT you do.  If there are cars ANY-where around you, though, behave!  If you're holding up traffic, running stop signs, blowing red lights, riding on the wrong side of the road, riding all the way up the right-hand side of a line of cars to get to the stop-sign (as if being on a bicycle grants you permission to jump to the front of the line), stopping in the middle of the road at an intersection to get something out of your seat-bag, riding 15-abreast on Lamar with a line of cars behind all of you because it's "the wacky Wednesday-night hot-dog ride", or you're out there otherwise being stupid, with witnesses in cars behind you that are going to bottle up that frustration and take it out on another cyclist down the road later on, then you're just plain doing it wrong.  I'm not sorry about it anymore - with regards to the rules of the road, there is "right" and there is "wrong".

The "wrong" behavior has a consequence - even if that consequence is not delivered to the offender.  At 35 MPH, a motorist is going to pass you and get away from you quite fast - and with each passing mile the event in question - however insignificant it may have seemed - will get replayed over and over in that driver's head, and they're going to talk, text, Twitter, Facebook, blog, whatever about it for days afterwards.  Other people get into cars after hearing this story - which may potentially be overblown - and they're going to come upon another cyclist.  A cyclist that is minding their own business, potentially doing everything RIGHT.  Without warning, people are gonna get hit, gonna get stuff thrown at them, gonna get yelled at, and are gonna get hurt and possibly killed.  There's no excuse for letting this happen.    

Where in the world did anyone get this "by devine right, I will take this entire lane, and ride any flippin' way I please" mentality come from?  When someone yells "car back", how come you don't move over to the right and single up?  WHY?  What's the reason?  I have never understood this, after 11 years back on the bike.  You're riding in traffic, on a bicycle, and you're essentially no more protected or respected than a possum or squirrel - totally venerable, utterly unprotected, and no-one cares about you.  I've heard stories of cars swerving to avoid a DOG, and hitting a cyclist as a result.  If that doesn't tell you the REAL pecking order, I don't know what does.  A thin layer of spandex is the only thing protecting you from serious hospital time.  Your helmet - well, assuming you wear one at all - is not going to keep you safe.  That thing underneath it is supposed to do that.  Common sense.  Self-preservation.  The only thing that is keeping you safe and alive, ride after ride, is the WAY YOU BEHAVE.

Racers.  Ah, racers.  Tell me;  what kind of performance-enhancing drugs does someone have to inject to get the nerve to do - and I'm not making this one up:  laps up and down Blackbob in Olathe, between 151st and 143rd, on a Cervelo, wearing a CSC jersey, NO helmet, taking the entire lane in the process - sometimes the inner-most lane, and causing people to have to brake wildly as they dart across lanes to circle around again from the median, without looking, without slowing, at 4:45 in the afternoon - practically rush-hour?  Thanks a WHOLE lot, man - I appreciate it.  Noting the bicycle type and jersey configuration, it's certainly the same notion that gives expensive luxury-car and SUV drivers the notion that the speed limits and turn-signal laws don't apply to them:  divinity by purchase price.  When did suddenly NOT wearing a helmet become vogue again?  I guess we need another pro-peloton rider to die to reinforce the notion that your skull isn't bullet-proof?  I suppose that's okay, actually - in keeping with the tone of this commentary, perhaps I don't want you wearing a helmet, after all.  Good luck to ya.  

Yesterday, I end up standing at an intersection, trying to convince on-coming traffic that it's REALLY their turn to go, because they're just sitting there waiting for me to run the stop sign.  That indicates to me that the common perception out there has shifted enough to have drivers expecting the wrong behavior.  So, by consequence the correct behavior becomes the exception.  A month ago, that wasn't happening.  Hand signals are being misconstrued as inappropriate hand gestures - because somebody on a group ride, somewhere, flipped off a guy in a car -- then, days later, that same driver gets behind me when I'm about to turn left - and my arm comes out.... what's he thinking?  What does he think I'M thinking?  What's he going to do?  Am I the last straw for him, even though I was only signaling a turn?  Thanks again, whoever you are, group rider.  I mean, at what point do we stop talking about this and just throw up our arms and start riding down the middle of I-435?  Just get it over with.  I want to die in traffic - that's how I want to go, by howdy.  Did your mommy not hug you enough when you were a kid?  Do you honestly just not know how to ride in traffic?  Did no-one teach you?  If you're having a problem with cars, did you ever wonder if it was you?

Honestly, it's the state of the nation.  It's the state of Johnson County cycling.  "Me, me, me."  It's MY road, it's MY workout, it's MY triathlon training, it's NOT my problem, I'M fast enough so I don't have to obey the rules and guidelines, and there's more than ten of us out here so the stop signs must just be a suggestion.  Wake-up:  The world is NOT a closed-course.  The freaking police aren't even on our side, guys - c'mon!  Leawood, Overland Park, Prairie Village, Olathe - You know WHY?  Because we're doing it wrong!  Why are they going to waste time protecting and serving cyclists if we're always the variable?  If cyclists were consistent and followed the rules, then maybe the authorities would get on our side and start punishing drivers for acting out.  No-one cares about us, guys - I'm serious.  I just want to make it home to my wife and kids safely after each ride.  I don't know what some of you are thinking or doing, but if you're getting hassled by drivers it's time to ask yourselves "what could I be doing differently?"  Oh, silly me... that takes a sense of humanity.  It's about "you", I forgot.  There are no consequences, there is no such thing as Karma, and drivers will forget about what you did as soon as they are a mile down the road.  "Oh, no - they had to wait ten extra seconds because they had to pass me" --- you know, I've heard that, and I've said that;  but, really, their perception is what's real to them at that moment.  Why make it harder than it needs to be?  Ride safe, ride smart - the rest takes care of itself, TRUST me.  You don't have to take every opportunity to remind motorists that you have a right to be on the road.  GET OVER.  Let them pass.  Don't run the stop sign.  OH, sorry -- you might have had to wait ten extra seconds.  Go ahead and run it.  Especially in a group - I mean, why think for yourself?  Everyone else is doing it, right?  

Arguably, you could say the entire purpose of this post is to shape up everyone else so that *I* have an easier time of things.  Sure, that's part of it - I'm a big boy, I can take it just fine.  I work in corporate America:  I know what it's like to take the brunt of someone else's screw-up - but I'm tired of doing it from the saddle, too.  Yeah, I've screwed up plenty - but I learn from it, change the behavior, and move on.  I'm actually trying to ride by the rules, to play it safe, and to not cause a fuss - I'm trying to do my part, and ride to the right, and make it safe for cars to pass me, just as they have a responsibility to pass me safely.  I get in line with the rest of traffic when approaching an intersection, and I've NEVER been yelled at or honked at for doing it.  Honestly, it doesn't happen to me that much - I had stuff thrown at me once in 2003, and I had someone get out of a car up the road to yell at me once in 2001.  That's it, in nearly 70,000 miles.  As a business analyst and statistics nut, that tells me a clear result:  I must be doing okay.  However, again, it seems to happen every Spring when it's finally warm enough to get those that don't do their part back out on the roads - it gets a little more tenuous for everyone.  So, no, it's not really about me:  it's the stories I hear from other cyclists that bother me - tales of bottles hurled along with obscenities... why is it happening to them?  There has to be something happening to warrant it, and it needs to change.  I'm fighting and yelling for ALL of our rights - and, more importantly, so are our advocates fighting for bike lanes and safe bridge crossings and Katy Trail connections.  Essentially what you have is someone standing up on the floor in Topeka or Jefferson City, on your behalf, telling someone with a coffer of tax money that "we've earned it" and "we'll make good on it", and then you ride the way you do?  Shameful.  Those that would do it "wrong": shape up, do your part, or hang up the bike - it's that simple.


James said...

All I can say is thank you. The reasons that motorists have problems with cyclists are many, but often we are providing the ammunition. As a full-time commuter, I try very much to always obey the rules of the road, especially when there are cars present. And you're right - people in cars look at me like I'm crazy if I stop at a stop sign and yield the right of way like I'm supposed to.

All of us, cars and cyclists, need to stop acting like we own the road and learn what it is to share. Thanks for being honest!

Mike HeyBales said...

Totally agree.
I will match the drivers at stop sign intersections though. Coming up on them, if everyone seems to just pause and go, I'll do likewise, confirming I've got eye contact with all. But if they all seem to completely stop, I will also.

The drivers' mentality of my vehicle, my time, my road, my speed limit, my choice to follow laws has definitely come to many of the riders. They look ahead as much as they do in their cars probably, react last second, and will have their way no matter what it means to others. No wonder on group rides almost everyone seems to take forever to get a foot clipped in - they hardly do it. And their ability to punch an acceleration is very lacking. That's a great part of the workout.

Something I've done at lighted intersections for years if I'm really the first in line, is get over and get the car on the sensor where I was, waving them up. When green and I pull out, I go slow across the intersection and can let about 3-4 cars go buy while I watch the ground for hazards. Then I enter what is usually the narrow road on the other side. And if there are remaining drivers, they saw what I did and I've gotten waves and smiles. Then I can punch it. Takes probably 10 seconds of my time to allow that. But I imagine it does a lot of good.

Mom Knight said...

Ok, I agree with your opinions and directions on cycling behaviours, but I have to confess I was laughing my *ss off reading this entire blog. I hope your corporate job involves some writing because you have a gift. I will never come to a "near stop" again, even if I fall over sideways because I can't unclip fast enough. I pretty much always follow the rules, mainly because I'm afraid of cars.