In Defense of Cyclists
High Fives all around!! (This guy rocks!)
Imagine all the people, living life in peace...
About ten years ago, I sold my car. A 1983 Porche 944. She was dubbed Heidi by her previous owner, I kept the name and treated her like a spoiled girlfriend. She was sleek, peppy, and nice to look at. She was also expensive and high maintenance. Her parking cost me $150 a month, and she was a glutton for fuel.
I have always considered myself an enviromentalist as far back as I can remember. (I read a comic book about pollution when I was in the sixth grade and it really stuck with me.) I have always believed the science about global warming, and made every effort to recycle and save power, but although I talked the talk, I wasn't walking the walk. At the time, I drove 2 miles to work and back sometimes circling the block for twenty minutes or so looking for parking. I soon realized that I was being hypocritical.
I live in San Francisco. The city is only seven miles across. There is public transportation to all points within and without. Yet there is still traffic gridlock every evening starting at 4pm and can go on until 8 or 9pm.
The day I said goodbye and sold Heidi, I made the resolution to bike everywhere. Since I am a fitness instructor and teach indoor cycling classes, it didn't seem like it would prove to be much of a challenge. Was I ever wrong.
I discovered that to ride in a city takes lightning quick reflexes, a quick eye, powerful legs, uncanny balance, and a significant amount of attitude. My first SF bicycle was a hybrid mountain bike I bought with proceeds from a movie I had worked on ages ago. I had my dad ship it to me in pieces from San Diego and I put it back together in my studio apartment amidst several muttered obscenities and some injury to my fingers from the sharp sprockets.
She was a great bike to learn city riding on, not too fast, sturdy, and wide tires that wouldn't catch on the muni train rails. I rode her for years until the day I locked her up on Market St. in front of the gym where I work. I came out from work to find her gone. Apparently there is a bike theft ring in SF that operates with impunity. (More on that in another article) I've since graduated to a mountain bike with rock shocks. I tried a Lemond racing bike but the high speed and lack of braking control proved way too dangerous to me.
I soon gained a newfound respect for the crazy bicycle couriers that fly through the city ingoring most traffic laws, risking mortal injury, and generally pissing people off. When I drove Heidi, I was like most people... sorely tempted at times to make one of them into a hood ornament.
But now after having commuted the city on bicycle for over a decade now and encountered their dangerous and nerve wracking point of view, I sympathize if not agree with their aggressiveness.
When I ride my bike through the city, I am spared gridlock, I dont have to look for parking and and I use my own bodies' power to get around which keeps me in shape and saves me bundle on gas.
The trade off is that I am subjected to people who double park in the marked bike lane, have doors thrown open violently in front of me, and had near misses and even laid down the bike to avoid pedestrians who jaywalk right in your path like you don't even exist. I have been run up onto a curb by an SUV, had a cellphone-chatting yuppie clip my back tire at about thirty miles an hour causing me to bounce into a nearby parked car, and been smacked in the face by a lit cigarette thrown from a window.
For all the rudeness you've experienced from bicycle riders, I can give you an example of behavior I've received from drivers that would make Mahatma Ghandi seethe with anger.
You would think, that drivers would be grateful to cyclists. We don't use gas so all that unused gas should help keep your gas prices down...(no?, well it was worth a shot.) We don't take up parking spaces, if you live in a city like mine, you know that is HUGE! We don't pollute so we're not adding to global warming.
And really how much space on the road does a car need? Bikes are 1/10 the size of a car, is it really that hard to go around us and share the road nicely?
I had a beautiful dream that all internal combustion engines, suddenly stopped working. People were forced to pedal themselves under their own steam. People lost weight and everybody was more attractive and fit. The streets were quiet, the air was clean, global warming reversed itself, and the without the big demand for oil, the middle east just became a peaceful desert and nobody really wanted anything from there. (except to see the pyramids)
I know, I know, the American love affair with the automobile will never allow it. But hey, if all you drivers would try riding maybe it will get some more cars off the road, and my dream will come true just a bit. And a little is better than nothing.
So drivers, please, use your mirrors when opening your doors. Keep your cigarettes to yourself. And remember, a quick eye and defensive riding can only get a cyclist so far, we cannot read minds. When a car collides with a bike, the winner will always be the one surrounded by metal, so have a little sympathy and open your eyes wait to answer your mobile phone until you've arrived at your destination.
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