Thursday, March 08, 2007

Not an Instructional Video

A rider posted this video of his commuting ride, on YouTube and Ze Frank's ORG.

He seems like a good dude, but the video shows some of the kind of cyclist arrogance that makes motorists dislike us.

Maybe the wide angle lens makes him appear to be riding way too close to the parked cars. I'll grant that. But he splits lanes at speed between stopped cars, shoots really dicey gaps, also at speed, and runs several red lights. Then he rides against the legal direction of traffic flow on an empty street.

I will sometimes run red lights or stop signs when I see a clear passage, to get me away from the intersection so the wad of impatient motorists can do whatever they want when they get the green without using me as a pinball. The limited field of the video kept me from seeing what I would have wanted to see before heading across an intersection in violation of the law.

The thing is, if you get hit running a red light, no one owes you a thing. You were wrong. Traffic laws are not unjust tyranny. They're just a way to regulate the flow. If your violation of the law facilitates the flow by getting you out of there, good. But don't expect sympathy if you misjudge and get crushed. If you step outside the law, you are outside its protection as well as its restriction.

Riding against traffic just pisses me off. If a vehicle, even another cyclist, comes to an intersection on that one way street, you'll be popping up like a kamikaze plane coming out of the sun. It makes me want to reach for the 40 mm Bofors and blow your ass away. Sorry, but you're not helping anyone with self-centered, scofflaw antics.

When I was in college, most cars were forbidden to enter the university campus. Everyone biked like Beijing in the good old days. The cyclists who did not respect some sort of orderly flow in that Biketopia caused accidents. No one liked them. When I centerpunched one who yanked a hard left in front of me, I came out with a bent fork, a tacoed wheel and some scrapes. I don't know what he got. I stared at him with The Gaze of Death until he crawled out of my sight. Only later did I assess how my own carelessness contributed. Sorry Dude.

Over many years of traffic riding, I have learned how to press my advantage and how not to. Hopefully this young videographer will survive the learning curve he does not seem to realize he's on.


Yokota Fritz said...

Those intersections he rode across weren't all clear, either, from what I could tell. I see that stuff all the time.

cafiend said...

Woo Hoo! I still have readers!

I remember chastising a young rider in our MTB group who flashed through town traffic and then looked to me for admiration. He was a little put out when I told him it was immature and dangerous, but he's several years older now and appreciates the reality of it.

Nathan Smith said...

Hey cafiend, it's lne_n8.

I ran into this blog via Ze's forum a while back. Then I just caught it again. I was meaning to make a comment.

When I was involved in the biking community in Boston, this sort of thing came up all the time. I'll admit that when I first started bike commuting in the city, I was young and probably much too reckless. I definitely had some close calls that were a result of my speed and style (but the one time I was broadsided by--thank God--a Honda Civic which totalled my bike, it was entirely the driver's inattention that was at fault and he paid plenty for the bike).

As far as the posted commute is concerned. This guy is riding a fixed gear which behaves a little differently than other bicycles. One thing is that you have to maintain momentum because it is more difficult to stop and start. I would wager that this is the principle reason for running the red lights, etc. Also the maneuver of getting in the oncoming lane of traffic before making a left turn is a classic move that, in my opinion, is sometimes safer and always faster than using the left turn lane.

The thing is that there is a delicate balance, I think, between simply getting more bikers out on the street (which is the only way to make a real impact) and trying to teach those bikers to behave responsibly. What I mean is that sometimes even (friendly) chastising is a real downer to someone who's just enjoying the thrill of riding. In my own experience, there is a kind of tough-guy mindset that kept me riding through Boston winters. And I must say that part of it was the sheer aggression of fighting traffic.

While there are hundreds of little technical arguments one could get into about what riding is unsafe and what riding isn't, the main thing is to get more bikes on the streets and force drivers to recognize bicyclists as valid users of the road. The problem I see too often is that road construction and driver habits serve to marginalize the cyclist in addition to inclimate weather, potholes and all the other things you have to deal with on a typical ride. So the cyclist has to, in effect, fight back. I've banged on hundreds of car hoods and windows to alert rude and unaware drivers of the fact that their large metal machines were putting me in danger.

Again there is a delicate balance between aggravating drivers and educating them. The thing I don't want to do is discourage riders from bicycle commuting by imposing more rules and restrictions on their behavior. What may appear dangerous and unsafe to one person may feel perfectly within the bounds of control for another. And the appeal to traffic laws is pretty weak because there are in fact no traffic laws specifically tailored to bicycles. In general, the law says: stay in a bike lane when there is one, stay off interstate highways and in every other circumstance behave like a car. Keep in mind that this is someone's (presumably daily) commute. He probably knows these intersections like the back of his hand. I'll bet he knows where he can cut corners and where he has to stop and wait.