Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bike-borne nuts

The otherwise estimable Paul Levy — he of Blue Ribbon commission and Running a Hospital blog fame — joins the bike-bashing bandwagon with a Universal Hub post describing his encounter with an aggressive biker:

But what is it about beautiful weather that seems to bring out the nuts? Two cases this morning:

(1) Driving in on Beacon Street down the long hill in front of BC, and I see in my rearview mirror an "adult" bicycle rider drafting off of my car -- roughly 6 inches from my rear bumper. I finally get him off my tail and suggest through my open window that he is crazy and that what he is doing is REALLY dangerous. (What if I have to stop suddenly, for example.) He says, "No, it's fun."

Granted, the second case is about a bus driver.

As a biker, I don't deny that there is the occasional moment of rude or intemperate biking, but it steams me to no end that there is a disproportionate focus on those occasional moments, when every day my bike rides are filled with example after example of potentially far more dangerous moments of driver rudeness, indifference, and stupidity.

I rack my (not as big as Paul Levy's) brain for some explanation for the anti-biker sentiment that makes people so sensitive to the slightest biker infraction. Then, on my commute home today, as I got honked at twice (I was in the right-most third of the lane where there was no bike lane or shoulder to ride in), crossed three major intersections where more than five cars blocked the box after the red, and one car cut across me (riding in the bike lane) to make a right-hand turn without bothering with the effort to engage the turn signal, it occurred to me: it's not so much about the sensitivity of the Paul Levys of the world — and he calls himself a biker! — to biker infractions, it's about the callouses we've built up to the never-ending, soul-grinding driver misbehavior that pollutes our roads.

Everyone has a bad-biker story like Paul Levy's. Even other bikers. For instance, every few months, I get some clown trying to do a paceline with me up Beacon Street near the Chestnut Hill reservoir. Dude, a paceline is a tricky thing for bikers who know each other doing a Saturday ride through Dover. Hopping on the wheel of a stranger in rush hour traffic is just stupid.

But, I could get five blog posts a day out of equivalent motorist behavior. Except that, 200-lbs. me (okay, closer to 220 these days) on a 25-lbs. bike poses a lot more risk to Paul and those like him in their at-least-a-ton-and-probably-closer-to-or-more-than-two automobiles than they to me. Whoops, got it backwards.

So, I've decided to stop trying to defend or explain bicyclists. Paul, the community of bicyclists is probably no better or worse than the community of automobile drivers. As the novelty of bikers sharing the road wears off, I expect that you'll get used to the bike community's fair share of nutters.

Actually, I think that more bikers will actually reduce the ratio of nutters. Those bold enough to drive a few inches off your back bumper are probably already biking. They'll be joined by the more cautious and considerate who are discovering the manifold joys of self-propulsion.

So, Paul, ease off the bikers and just be glad it wasn't another car. Though, somewhere along your ride, there probably was one. You just don't notice any more.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. The anti-bicyclist comments on UH and elsewhere, not to mention the shouted insults on the road, drive me nuts!!!

Anonymous said...

The automobile turns regular, nice, normal people into sociopaths.

Sociopaths, by definition, are deeply narcisstic, totally lacking empathy for other people and completely unaware of their own bad behavior.

Just look at people's faces when they are driving. Look at the glazed over and angry expressions on their faces. They are sociopaths. They have no idea. They hate cyclists because we're the only ones who notice any of this.

Greg said...

This article would have been much better if you gave a bunch of positive examples of things that you've seen people do while cycling. Instead, it feels like it adds to the pissing match.

Sean Roche said...


I'm not exactly sure what you're suggesting.

On one level, cycling itself (except when the biker cheeses off a motorist) is the best positive example of something people do while cycling. It is virtue unto itself.

Other than that, I'm not sure what would be an example of something positive done while cycling. Just about every cyclist I see abides the rules, is courteous to pedestrians, motorists, and fellow bikers. But, where's the story?

queensboy said...

Good point! I've been biking around my neighborhood in astoria, queens and have been beeped at twice just today. I think it was because i wasn't far enough to the right of the car because i was avoiding potholes, poor repavements by Con Edison, or a door that was about to open.

Anonymous said...

I just wish that cyclists would abide by the traffic lights. As a pedestrian, I assume that a walk signal means I can walk. I just hate it when a cyclist blows the red and runs me down because he doesn't want to stop.

Anonymous said...

Relax, please. I am not anti-biker. It's silly of you to suggest that based on my story on UHub, not to mention given how many miles a week I ride on my bike and how much I have encouraged it among others and in the region. This guy was endangering himself, and what really got me was his reaction -- "It's fun" -- when I pointed that out.

susannah said...

Sean is right--bad driver behavior is so common as to be unremarkable (my 3 -mile trek into Newton South today marred by at LEAST 3 SUV/pickups blowing through a 3-way stop because I'm not a vehicle).

But I also drive a little nutty as a biker, just to stay clear of the side mirrors! (sidewalks are your friend on chestnut street, for instance--only safe way to go south of Woodward)

Affordable Auto Insurance Quotes said...

On behalf of bicyclists everywhere, I salute you!