Saturday, August 27, 2011

Before the Storm

The shop is closed tomorrow. I thought the sign on the door should say, "If you're reading this you are an idiot. Go home!" The management opted for something else.

Yesterday was stunningly beautiful. The sun shone down from a cloudless sky. The air was warm but not hot. The Chamber of Commerce had decreed Sidewalk Sale Days, so we had a couple of pop-up tents over some racks of clothes and a couple of tables of sandals and other odds and ends to whet the appetite of a surprising crowd of shoppers for so late in August.

One of our tent minders passed a few boring hours by counting cars passing on Main Street. He came up with an average of more than 560 per hour for about seven hours. He did not figure out how many might have been the same car over again. In terms of traffic volume it doesn't matter whether there are 560 different cars in every hour. If you're out there with them you still have to negotiate with 560 of them.

During my short stint out there I watched cyclists doing what they thought was right. A posse of about ten teenage girls rode on the sidewalk up the opposite side of the street, against the flow of vehicle traffic but separated from it. They were all duly helmeted, on bike shop bikes. The way they rode the sidewalk showed that they were familiar with it and completely comfortable, utterly unencumbered by any doubt or guilt. They rode into crosswalks at intersections at the same slow but steady pace they exhibited on the sidewalk itself. They obviously felt they were where they belonged.

A short time later a man in his fifties or early sixties rode by on a Rolling Rock beer promotional cruiser bike. It was really cool, with a top-tube tank and full fenders, a real 1950s - early '60's retro ride. He rode down the sidewalk in front of the shop, apparently oblivious to the critical commentary several of us exchanged as we watched him ride by. He passed again on the sidewalk on the other side of the street in just a couple of minutes.

I could not imagine any of these riders holding their own in the actual traffic flow. They just didn't have the temperament to take a place in the lane. I could imagine them as drivers encountering vehicular cyclists, wondering why any rider would subject themselves to the abuse, and why any rider would victimize the motoring public by getting out there IN THE WAY.

I've been watching raw video for the bike piece I've been working on. Despite my hope that I could enlist some other riders to take part, so far all the riding footage is of me. I look very efficient. In fact, I look fast. This is funny, because I don't feel fast, but I guess I only know that because I've been around riders who really are fast, so I know the difference. I do know that my view of the road is shaped by decades of riding and a period of racer-like training. I did race for a time. After a few seasons I decided I could put that energy to better use as a transportation cyclist. Transportation cycling is safer than racing and makes better use of resources than a recreational quest for ephemeral glory. I basically just wanted to be able to snack freely as well as saving money and having a lighter environmental impact. But over the years I became an efficient partner with my machine in ways many less experienced cyclists might view as beyond them. Or maybe a lot of them just don't think it's worth it. Who am I to choose their values? All I can do is share what I have learned with anyone who wants to know it.

Learning can be an endless process if you keep yourself open to it. So I watch other riders wherever I see them. I think some of them really do belong on the sidewalk. They'll never be up to the rigors of vehicular cycling. Of course that does make them the terrorists of the sidewalk the way motor vehicles are the terrorists of the roadway. Perhaps most of them will not consciously ride in a malicious fashion, enjoying their dominion over mere pedestrians, but they still beg the indulgence of the walkers for whom the sidewalk is constructed. Why should the pedestrians have to accommodate them any more than cyclists should have to step aside every time someone wants to shove a motor vehicle past them?

The bike industry is happy to sell anyone a bike. You want to hang it on your car rack and let it bake in the sun? You want to ride on the sidewalk? You want to dedicate yourself fully to mountain biking and run roadies into the ditch with your SUV when you see them? No problem. At least you bought a bike. Business is business. Advocating too forcefully for "correct" cycling would probably reduce bike sales. You're telling me I can't ride on the sidewalk? Fine, I quit. I'll get a Segway or an electric scooter. You can't order me to get out there and block traffic like some selfish idiot.

Another rider, a man in his 30s, rode his hybrid in the lane with traffic until he came to the corner. He cut deep inside to turn left, yanking his bike quickly across in front of some oncoming traffic to cut into the cross street on the wrong side of the road. If a car had been coming up to the stop sign it would have peened him. But there was no car and he was not peened and so he will recall that the maneuver worked. He was not close enough to the oncoming drivers on Main Street to make them slow down, swerve or honk. But does he think about how he rides? Does he critique his tactics, acknowledge his luck? Or does he just run like a squirrel until his luck runs out?

Today the clouds built up steadily in advance of Hurricane Irene, or whatever will be left of it by the time it gets here. People still came to shop. Since most of them come from places the hurricane is supposed to hit harder than us, they might as well stay here.


limom said...

They hand out a bicycling law pamphlet with each bike purchase here.
I don't think anyone bothers to read it.
I hope you make it through Irene okay.
Stay safe.

Steve A said...

I try not to watch most of the people on bikes, remembering they are not teachable moments. As for storms, Hermine was very kind to DFW last September. Another this year would break our drought.

cafiend said...

Since we're well inland, the storm would have to be an epic monster to bring full hurricane force to us. Still could be pretty windy and wet. I hope if any trees fall, they don't hit anything important.

If I'd had time it might have been fun to go to the store and bring an armload of dental floss and ball point pens to the checkout line while stammering something about being prepared. I could avoid actually purchasing them by saying I left my wallet in the glove box of the brougham and scuttling out into the deepening dusk.

Steve A said...

I'm optimistic that cafiend's silence is due to an epic post in prep and not due to a flood weakened tree collapsing on him!

I also hope the epic post does not feature dental floss, though ball point pens might be cool in combo with Kryptonite locks.

cafiend said...

Oops. Yeah. The storm was actually pretty mild here. Got a few ideas percolating.

Hope the fires we heard about down your way haven't singed anything important.

I also hope I can recall a fraction of the smooth phrasing that runs through my head when I'm riding to and from work.