Friday, April 16, 2010

Who makes cyclists look bad? Cyclists, that's who.

One week ago I was riding home from work, enjoying a beautiful day when I heard someone call out to me:

Hey, your lane position is terrible, especially at intersections. You're too far to the right.
I turned around and saw a fellow cyclist puffing his way up to the traffic signal I was stopped at. The light was about to change to green, and I wasn't in the mood, so I just said, "Thanks for the tip," and turned back to waiting for the light to change.
No, I'm a certified cycling safety instructor. This isn't just a tip. I know what I'm talking about.
As he said that, the light changed and we both rode off. He rode down the center of the lane of traffic while I ducked up onto the sidewalk. Yes, I really do ride on the sidewalk during certain portions of my commute, despite being an advocate of cyclists riding on roads.

See, at this particular intersection, there are several factors in play that make me consider riding in the lane of traffic unsafe:
  • On the far side of the intersection, the lane narrows for about the first block.
  • Just past the intersection, there are cars merging in from the right.
  • The intersection is at the top of a long steep hill and drivers coming across it can't see the traffic ahead of them until they've fully crested the hill.
  • The speed limit is 35 mph.
  • It's rush hour, and everyone's trying to get home as fast as possible.
  • The road is a major bus route, and the buses barely have enough room to stay in their lane in the first block.
In addition, I know that I've just slogged up a long hill and that I don't have the speed in my legs to accelerate as fast as the cars can. At the end of the first block, however, if there's a gap between cars that I can sync up with, I get back onto the street. By that time, traffic has generally backed up from the next signal and slowed down and I've gotten up to speed, so now I'm moving at least as fast as the cars are, making my presence safer for all.

Although I don't write about it as much, I do also drive a car, so I know how irritating traffic obstructions are. My favorite example is the protesters who closed off lanes of the Key Bridge during rush hour. Look, I don't give a crap what your cause is, don't F-up traffic in Georgetown any more than it already is, and definitely don't get between me and my baby when I'm on my way home.

They could have been supporting year-long sabbaticals on tropical islands for all fathers, and I still would have been enraged at them. "You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao," you know what I mean, brother?

So it was with some frustration that I watched this jackhole ride down the center of the lane at at top speed of about 10 mph while everyone behind him was trying to get through at 35 mph. I kept thinking, "Someone's going to get killed here, pal, and it's not me...and it's as likely to be the result of gunfire as it is to be the result of an accident."

Soon enough I was back on the road and overtook him, moved into the fast lane and made my left turn, as I do every day without incident.

As I rode off, I thought, "You may be a certified cycling safety instructor, but let me give you some advice: riding up and immediately criticizing a fellow cyclist without finding out who he is, what he's about and perhaps that he's been riding on roads safely for over 30 years isn't a good way to teach a lesson. And that's not just a tip--I'm a certified jackass. I know what I'm talking about."

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  1. When I used to bike to work I'd hate the guys that were all about bikers rights, and owning the road. I'm all for my rights as a cyclist commuting to work, but I also know how frustrating it is to be in a car and have some jackass cyclist driving in the middle of my lane during a particularly congested spot, further compounding the issue. You have to pick your battles, and on the road in rush hour is a good place to let things slide.

    Props on dealing with him so cordially. :)

  2. I like to ride in a way the preserves my life. Those cars are much bigger than I am, so I stay out of their way whenever possible, even though I know I have the right to hog the whole lane.

    I watch out for bikes when I am driving my car, because I want them to watch out for me when I am riding too.

  3. When I was cycling more I was a pretty militant cyclist. But I learned the hard way that you rarely win a battle with a car. These days I just try to stay alive!

  4. When teaching me to sail, Dad taught me the first (unofficial) rule of the sea: give way to superior tonnage.

    It's served me well ever since, on the sea and on land.

  5. Well, you're obviously an enlightened cyclist, which rocks, in my book!

  6. When you ride your bike you have something that most people (on bikes or otherwise) don't have....Common sense. It was something we were raised with.
    As my sister said, it is not about your rights, it is about your life. If you care enough about that, be courteous, be safe and USE your common sense.

  7. KMoo: Your mother once told me that whether or not I had the right of way didn't matter if I ended up in the hospital.