There is likely to be a bit of salty language in this post. Consider this your official naughty language warning.
Have you noticed that assholes always seem to find each other? My series on Felons Behaving Badly should have pointed that out to you a long time ago. But it also works on among what you would call “normal” people as well. Case in point…
Read the whole thing. I’ll be here when you get back.
Back? OK. Let’s point out some things that should be obvious, but apparently aren’t discussed in polite newspapers. Bicyclists can be real assholes. As a guy who rides a bicycle, I don’t even except myself in this generalization. We can be real assholes sometimes. We don’t strictly follow all the rules of the road. We ignore stop signs and stop lights if we feel like we can do so. We take up space that we shouldn’t take up, and because any mistake will injure or kill us, we act like it’s always the asshole in the car that’s at fault.
Auto drivers can be real assholes too. They can pass too closely. Get impatient and pass when it’s not safe. Blow their horns for no earthly reason. All kinds of stupid crap that gets people hurt, killed, and frightened half to death.
Here’s the thing. When you get a critical mass (I’m not talking about Critical Mass, a group of assholes who probably should be sterilized with a chainsaw) of cyclists in one area, you start to see things that are completely outside the experience of auto drivers. Double Pacelines come to mind.
To cyclists, this is just basic sensible riding. It saves a lot of energy. To automobile drivers, it’s a bunch of assholes on bikes hogging the road. There’s nothing for this but to educate people on what’s going on. Oh, and to tell cyclists to stop running double pacelines on unsafe sections of road. That whole reciprocal responsibility is a bitch, isn’t it?
Another thing that cyclists could do that would make them at least emotionally more stable is to start taking count of the good things that happen while they are riding. I ride alone, so I don’t really have the issues associated with group riding. I occasionally get a guy being a jerk, but he’s so vastly outnumbered by the people being excessively cautious that it’s actually noteworthy that someone was a jerk. I’m out riding and I’ve got a crowd of people in cars being Southern polite and all of a sudden some idiot shows his ass. It’s jarring. But it’s jarring because it’s so far outside the norm that you wonder what planet he came from.
I ride in southern Wake County and northern Johnston County for the most part. Now unless the people in those areas are vastly different than the people in Orange County (Chapel Hill and the surrounding area for people not from around here) then the problem is one of what the riders are bringing to the experience along with some history of conflict. Here’s some things riders can do to make their world a better place.
- Don’t hog the road. Ride as far to the right as practical. Don’t ride in the dirt, or do something dangerous to yourself, but don’t wander about the lane either.
- Take ownership of the ground underneath you. Wishy washy people get run over, both metaphorically and literally. It’s yours, make people see that.
- Don’t blow stop signs or signals unless it’s completely safe to do so. You violate someone else’s right of way and YOU are the asshole. We all know that bicycles will not trip lights. Don’t be stupid about it.
- Use (polite!) hand signals to indicate to the cars what you expect them to do. I frequently signal cars that it’s OK to pass. I can see over hills before they can, and I have a better idea of how long it takes to pass than they do. I’ll hold them in place and then set them free when it’s safe.
- Wave. No, seriously, wave at people. A friendly wave to people who’ve met the minimum politeness requirements when dealing with you will bring many benefits later. It also makes you feel better. The automobile driver thinks, “Hey, I’m a good person for being polite. I’ll do that to the next rider too.”
- Take the lane if necessary. Sometimes it’s better to physically block a car with your bike than allow a situation to develop that will end up badly. Make sure to convey to the car your thanks for his cooperation after you’re done.
- Remember that cars mostly have no idea how to interact with you. They don’t know what you’re facing. They don’t know what you’re likely to do. They don’t know why they should have to put up with you. Convey your intent and then reward compliance.
Here’s what cars can do to make it easier on bicyclists.
- Stop blowing your horn at me. I know you’re there. I don’t need you to scare me with your horn right before you pass me. Please stop that.
- Pass with care. But get it done in a hurry. I don’t want you next to me any more than I want to delay your drive.
- Wave. Be friendly. A good attitude is contagious. Catch one and spread it around.
- Keep in mind that you might get a scratch on your paint. I might get dead. That doesn’t excuse me being an asshole, but slow your roll, Turbo. I’m doing my best to get out of your way.
- Come join us. It really is as much fun as it was when you were a kid.
I’ve had people scream at me. It’s bizarre. It’s like a completely different universe intruding on the one you normally live in. In my universe, people are really polite. They give me at least 4 feet of clearance while passing, many give me the whole lane. I have actually seen a VW New Beetle stare down an oncoming Dodge 2500 dually towing a trailer. The Beetle got all four wheels into oncoming traffic and accelerated at the Dodge. You could see that his attitude was “My lane now, Bitch! I’m passing a bicycle! Slow down or get rammed!” The Dodge, wisely in my opinion, slowed down to allow the pass. I waved my thanks at the Dodge. He waved back. Nice people here in North Carolina.
To a less spectacular extent, I see the same thing every time I go out on my bike. Friendly people everywhere, all doing their part to avoid running over the fat dude on the funny looking bike. I have to wonder, if your experience is different, what are you bringing to the encounter that changes things?
And yes, I carry a gun while I ride. It’ll come out if it’s necessary. But for the most part, I deploy waves and smiles more than the average Prom Queen and I’ve never even considered pulling the gun.