Saturday, July 13, 2019

Motorists are like diarrhea

For a cyclist, motorists are like diarrhea: You can only hold them back for so long. You'd prefer not to have them at all. When you do have them, you'd like to get them out of your system as quickly as possible. You try to hurry to get to a more convenient place to eliminate them. Sometimes you don't make it.

The roads and streets are just a big, irritable bowel. We keep cramping each other's style.

Yesterday, I was a bit of a shit. I think in a past life I was a car-chasing dog. I'm addicted to drafting large vehicles. On the last couple of miles of my commute, I heard a tractor-trailer rig behind me on a narrow, bendy section. I stayed to the right to encourage him to go around, but he had no good opportunity, and was too conscientious to take a bad one. I dropped into a side street, hard right, left, onto a converging straightaway that rejoins the main road at a yield sign. That let the truck get by. It was a big heavy equipment flatbed, empty, doing about 30 mph. At a comfortable distance behind it was a string of passenger vehicles. I launched for that big gap, but I'm too tired and too old. I didn't get to top speed in top gear quickly enough to get into the pocket. The long, low, empty trailer didn't pull enough air to pick me up easily. I managed to get to about 27 mph when I maxed out. Horns broke out behind me.

On a normal day, I ride a line just outside the storm drains, at a speed comparable to what I was doing after the unsuccessful chase. Drunk with adrenaline and incipient tachycardia, I resented the horny driver behind me, and signaled my displeasure with a low, dismissive finger. This elicited a further burst of honking. I made a slightly more graphic gestured suggestion involving my buttocks. The honker passed, at a safe and legal distance, but the next vehicle administered a punishment pass. I shut the gate behind that one, holding back the rest of the motorists for a few more yards until I could dive onto the path.

Sometimes, when a motorist makes a big time about how I'm slowing them down and blows by me, I get to pull out onto Main Street in front of them, because their fellow motorists en masse have slowed them down much more. Not this time. I didn't care either way. I was just hammering to work, same as any morning. Only after I got to the shop and got my heart rate down did I reflect on my own contribution to the tension. I should have been the grownup, says the guy in short pants, riding a bike.

The descent into sin is often a simple thing, a single act that is the trapdoor. In this case, it was running the yield sign like a Boston driver when I didn't have the horsepower to pull it off. I plead the temporary insanity of my drafting addiction, aggravated by the persistent memory of when I could rely on my sprint. As recently as a couple of days earlier, I had managed to slingshot a box truck on the same stretch and tuck right in behind it for a sweet pull to my next exit. But that hadn't involved an intersection violation. To be fair to the honkers, I really had strained their congeniality and relied on their mercy.

The only way to get past a mistake is to take responsibility for it. Learn as much as you can. Look at all of its facets, even when they reflect you clownishly. The fact that it was an anonymous encounter with strangers means that I will never have a chance to acknowledge that they had a point. This makes it all the more important to ride in ways that don't take the low road. If I'd blasted out of that side street into the draft and been whisked away at an effortless 30-plus, they could all admire my shiny lycra ass, because I wouldn't be taking up any more room than they were already leaving behind that big rig. But because I blew the sprint I was now a double failure.

You have to take risks in life. But make sure they're worth it. Often, people interpret this to mean deadly consequences, but more often all manner of less dire consequences are at stake. In this case, it's a black mark on cyclists that one aging hammerhead failed to pull off his rude and dangerous maneuver in morning rush hour. I looked like a rude asshole and affirmed the image of rude assholes on bikes. I'll defend my territory vigorously out there. But now I've been reminded that the line is easy to cross in the intoxication of speed.


Coline said...

In my truck drafting days, now long gone, there was little chance of holding up traffic for long if at all. Sadly in the passing decades the roads have hardly changed except for road markings removing most of the passing opportunities and the increase in traffic being many times what it was. The average car now has the performance of a sports car from not long back but few drivers have any awareness of what they are sitting in, the potential catastrophe just one poor judgement away and little more training than when cars in cities were slower than us on bikes!

The worst change of course is that so few drivers have ever been cyclists so have not a clue how stupid they are!

cafiend said...

Point well taken about how fewer and fewer drivers have been cyclists. A bike used to be a kid's first vehicle of freedom and autonomy. Now they get ferried everywhere in the armored limo, or they don't go out at all. In an urban environment, walking and public transit can be way more efficient than a bike. Outside of congested cities, motocentric sprawl development makes trips inconveniently long and dangerous. A lot of the shrinkage of youth cycling is a result of habitat loss.

Idiot-proofing the cars just creates a race of super-idiots.