Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cycling community

Last weekend we went on a surprise camping trip to Vermont. I had planned a long ride for Saturday. We were right off the main highway, so I could have taken that out and back, but the cars go rather fast, and there's not that much shoulder. I used my phone to map out a route, and create a cue sheet of smaller country roads. With phone in pocket, off, I went.

About 2 miles into the ride, I see another cyclist pull out ahead of me. I catch up to him and ask him what road we're on (Vermonters aren't all that keen on street signs), turns out I missed my turn, but I explain, I was just out to do a 25 or so mile ride, and he invited me to tag along with him. I love that. Show up in a random place, meet up with a like-minded (and like-speed) cyclist and hang out for a few hours. What a great community of riders. Of course the flip side to this, is that I just enthusiastically followed a complete stranger into the back country of Vermont, but let's keep thinking positive.

I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about the animosity between motorists and cyclists (and pedestrians too, but that's a different matter). I've read a couple of different articles on it. Blaming the cars for putting cyclists in danger, blaming the cyclists for not following the rules, blaming the rules for being unrealistic, blaming roads in Boston for being designed by cows, not for cars or bikes. I've been trying to figure out where I come out with all these.

Here's what I think. I hate riding on the bike path. It sounds silly, right? It's the bike path, isn't that the best place to ride? No, it's not. The bike path is not just for bikes. It's for pedestrians, strollers, kids on trikes, dogs, skateboarders, and the most odious of non-cyclist roller bladers. I hate riding on the bike path because there are no rules. Yes, generally we keep to the right, but the whole thing is only a few 2.5 yards wide, things are bound to get messy. Particularly on sunny weekends. I hate riding on it, because I can't anticipate what all these people will do. Will they stop, move to the left, listen for me coming up behind them? All in all, constantly being on defense just makes for a stressful (and slower) ride.

What I like about the road, is that I know what to expect. Sure, a car could not see me, or could run a light, or make a turn without signaling, but generally, they are well-behaved and orderly. I still have to ride defensively, but I can be reasonably sure that I can anticipate what they'll do.

If I'm gonna take advantage of the orderliness that comes with riding on the road, I have to uphold it myself. That means following the same rules as the cars.* But in exchange, as drivers, we've gotta accept that bikes are gonna be on the road and that that's the best place for them. Give bikes room when we pass, use our blinkers and just follow the rules (that's right, stopping in the middle of a roundabout to let a biker on, is actually not helpful, now you're doing something unexpected and that causes accidents). At the end of the day, I'm both a driver and a cyclist, I try to show respect for both groups.

* Within reason. This means when rolling (yes, rolling, not throttling) toward a stop sign, if there's no one approaching, then roll through it (note: cars do this too). This means it's ok to ride two abreast when you're not in traffic, but you MUST go single file as soon as a car approaches (cars, a nice little toot on the horn [not laying on it] is appropriate if a bike doesn't go single right away). This does not excuse track stands at lights, weaving between cars or going the wrong way on a one way street. And don't get me started on helmets.


Jon August 18, 2010 at 3:14 PM  

What about cyclists who ride with their goddamn headphones in? That's worse than the helmetless people, I think.

Actually, now that I think about it, my personal hierarchy of bike sins is:

- No lights
- Headphones
- Fixie with no brake
- No helmet

Laura August 19, 2010 at 3:04 PM  

Completely agree with the headphones.

I didn't comment on the lights because the lights are part of just following the law here in Mass. Headphones and helmets (for people over 16) are not legislated.

I believe that a fixie with no brakes would not be roadworthy here, but it's not like any of these things are actually enforced. Mass law changed in 2008 to encourage enforcement, but thus far, I haven't seen any changes.

Jon August 20, 2010 at 12:47 PM  

Lights are supposed to be required by law here too, but tell that to the dude I almost ran over coming out of a damn OfficeMax garage!

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