Monday, April 28, 2008

Talking mostly to myself

Maybe my grim view of Megalopolitan cycling was colored by my low energy at the time. I had a cold and have less than 200 miles on the road so far this season.

Every year I lose a little more of the combative mentality so helpful when cycling in traffic. Bear in mind that you don't want to feel idiotically aggressive. You just want to adopt the belief that "it's a good day to die." The way we have developed our transportation system, you need that mentality when you go out in a motor vehicle as well. It just seems more obvious when you venture forth protected only by clothing, agility and your attitude rather than metal and airbags.

On the one ride I took down there, on the last day of the trip, drivers were eerily cooperative. My host had told me they would be, but the experience was unnerving. If drivers were that way everywhere I could really get used to it. Knowing they are not, I hate to let myself get spoiled or teased by a short exposure to it.

Check this out: we signaled to move left AND DRIVERS LET US DO IT. We waited at stop lights AND DRIVERS LEFT US ROOM. We occupied part of a lane AND DRIVERS GAVE US THAT SPACE.

It just felt so wrong. Where was the neglect, the contempt, the hostility?

I knew it would be different just a few miles away. On the way to dinner one evening, someone I know, who knows me, with me in the back seat, started to pull a left turn in front of an oncoming cyclist who had the right of way. The driver stopped when someone pointed out the cyclist, but said, "He needs to learn who always loses these arguments." In other words, might makes right, and the big, hard automobile naturally holds power over the squishy, breakable cyclist.

Was the comment meant to instruct me in some way? Because I would have come into that intersection taking my right of way as surely as that cyclist did. Any traveler exposed on two wheels, whether powered by muscle or engine, would be equally vulnerable to an arrogant or unobservant driver. I guess we should all be in armored vehicles so we can carom off each other with relative impunity.

Back in my own neighborhood, I resumed the commute in familiar surroundings. Drivers had been benign for the first few outings. Then I had my first yellers, their Dopplered commentary undecipherable as they sped past. Was it praise or insult? I also had a supportive honk from someone who beeped lightly, just enough beside me to avoid tripping my hostility, and then made eye contact and gave thumbs up while passing at a gentle speed. Obviously this person does not realize that the horn sets cyclists on edge, but the other elements of the encounter neutralized the horn's brazen assault.

The weather is as the weather is: we had summer temperatures for a few days, before they settled back to the mediocre chill for which spring is known here. It's too cold for shorts, but varies too much through a range of chill for any outfit to feel just right for long. I commute in morning and evening, when temperatures are changing with the sun's rise and set. But this is northern New England, famous for "wait a minute" weather anyway.

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