Friday, April 6, 2012

Posters are in, Grant P's visit, and an opinion piece for the benefit of non-cyclists

Adam Turman dropped off the GORGEOUS 2012 "Spring Ride" posters this week. You can order them here or just stop in and get one. The graphic in the catalog listing isn't 100% accurate in regard to colors, and I think in real life it's more awesome than it is on my computer screen.

As I mentioned before, Grant Petersen of Bridgestone and Rivendell fame, will be visiting us to sign covers of his new book on the evening of Thursday, May 31. You can buy the book from us very soon for $13.95. Back to the May 31 book-signing event: I have plans to turn this into a semi-major party. Not a fall-down drunk kind of thing, but more of a Summer cook-out with the best quality meat on the grill, craft beer, and bike-riding, and maybe even some music. We've got our best people assigned to these tasks. It should be an amazingly fun time. Not many specifics to divulge yet, but put it on your calendar.

Finally, some opinion:
A few weeks ago, I was coming up to a stop sign in a quiet residential neighborhood near the shop. This is the kind of situation where stopping would usually be a pointless exercise in following rules, because I can plainly see if cross-traffic is coming, and it usually isn't. So I treat it like a yield, slow down and prepare to stop, proceeding with full power when I can see that stopping is not necessary. Cyclists often get excoriated in public opinion for bending such rules, but in truth drivers usually treat these intersections as yields, too, and nobody complains about it. Just so we're clear, nobody should complain about it! (For years, until recently, residential South Minneapolis had hundreds of intersections with no stop signs at all!) Cyclists are a visible minority, and we get singled-out. Anyway, on this particular day, an elderly lady and her little dog were waiting to cross in front of me. They had the right-of-way, and I had a stop sign, so out of legality and courtesy and common sense, I stopped at the stop sign and waited. The old lady waved me through once I'd already stopped, but I pointed out that she had the right-of-way. At that point, she started scolding me, saying something about how "bikers don't usually stop for stop signs." When I said that, in this case, I, a "biker", did, in fact, stop, all while trying to be polite and pleasant with her, she kept nagging me about it. I was the one following the rules, and she was resentful about it! I thanked her for her opinion, and continued on to the shop.

Throughout the day, I continued to reflect on the incident. Clearly, she was a batty old lady, but she expressed a sentiment that I think is nearly universal among non-cyclists: "bikers" are a cohesive group that makes up and agrees upon its own rules, often just to tick off the respectable people of the world who drive cars (or walk dogs). But what she didn't know is that, in fact, the opposite is true. Cyclists come more or less equally from all income quartiles. Homeless guys and convicted drunk drivers and doctors and business people and kids and hippies and Ron Paul and Lebron James all ride bikes. Some are wonderful people, some are jerks, and some are misunderstood, like everybody else. Some ride bikes for exercise, some for a political reason, some to save money, some because they geek out over equipment, some for family recreation, some to be fashionable, some to train for a "tri", and some for several or all of the above reasons. Often a "biker" from one category resents "bikers" from the other categories. We don't usually know each other, or even agree with each other on most issues.

There's a common misconception, even among some people who ride bikes, that rolling through controlled intersections is a simple matter of physics and maximizing efficiency. That's only partly true. For me, if I'm waiting at a light, and can safely get a head-start on the cars waiting behind me, I'll do it. It puts distance between me and them, which is safe for me, and convenient for them. For this reason, I'll often filter through the gaps between stopped cars rather than wait dutifully in line to become the peanut butter in a Ford sandwich when some texting driver behind me "doesn't see me" and rams me into the car in front. It pisses people off that cyclists can and do bend these rules, but I feel that it's a matter of safety for cyclists to take advantage of our slim profile and maneuverability.

Behaviors like I just described are often cited as a reason why drivers HATE cyclists. It's beyond a common annoyance. It's white-hot hatred (not everybody, but many). Of course, drivers often bend the traffic laws, and nobody cares, or even notices. But when a cyclist does it, outraged drivers write letters to the editor. I think there's more to it than simple frustration with scofflaw behavior. There's a strong feeling that cyclists are getting away with something. We're getting exercise and, as a consequence, may be thinner and fitter and happier than drivers. We're enjoying ourselves, usually, more than a driver who's stuck in traffic. We're not prisoners of OPEC and Barack Obama and Dick Cheney and environmentalists who conspire to make us pay $4/gallon for gas. We bend traffic rules with impunity. We don't have a car/insurance/license payment (often not true, because many cyclists own cars). And, there's the oft-shouted notion that cyclists get to use the road without paying taxes, either because we're not paying the gas tax (which is a fraction of the tax revenue that might go into road construction) or because we're all homeless vagrants who fly below the radar of the tax-collector. I think that sense that cyclists are getting away with something explains the hatred and resentment better than anything. Of course, cyclists who are caught up in notions that cycling is better (which it is) for personal health, society's traffic and crowding problems, and environmental reasons, can seem smug, even if they're not overtly so, to drivers who may feel some internal guilt for not being "green" or socially responsible enough. On the other side, cyclists are in a world that strongly favors cars, both because cars are dangerous to cyclists and because street design often doesn't account for the presence of cyclists, AND because some drivers threaten or otherwise lecture cyclists. Mix the 'getting something for nothing' with the perceived smugness and the feeling of being threatened, and conditions are ripe for deep resentment on both sides.

It's best to remember that drivers and cyclists are all people who tend to share the usual people-issues, and sometimes drivers are cyclists and sometimes cyclists are drivers. I almost hate to use the words "cyclist" and driver" because they categorize and dehumanize, which is necessary to fuel major us vs them resentment. Everybody makes mistakes, and we're all learning, and the world isn't perfect yet. There are nice people and jerks and responsible drivers/riders and morons and hoodlums out there in the mix. There are more cyclists every year, but cars aren't going away anytime soon. Can't we all just get along?


Champs said...

A stopped car is just a slower moving vehicle. If it is safe to pass, I do so.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jim! That opinion made my week!
xoxo, gene o

Shaun said...

Haven't read the blog in awhile. Another great take! I've attempted to make some of the points you've made in the opinion part of this post on several occasions. Including that the "smugness" of cyclists is purely a perceived thing. How can you tell if someone is smug in a rolling encounter that lasts a few seconds?