Sunday, September 02, 2007

Mission Critical

It’s amusing to see my brother’s rant on bicycle-car etiquette. (Although I’ll call it a rant, let me point out that every word of it is true.)

I’m amused because I have been having more or less the same reactions lately to pedestrians when I’m out on my bike. Cars don’t have a monopoly on dumb. The only difference between his rants and mine is that the crowd I’m surfing uses different locomotion. The mentality is the same.

And bike riders don’t have the market cornered on smart, either. Talk to the woman cyclist who tried a left turn without looking behind her yesterday as I came up to pass . . . on the left. It’s not rocket science, any more than driving a car is: Whether you’re walking or driving or riding or blading or boarding, pay attention to what’s moving around you. Look before you leap.

But also let’s not forget the guy who’s hurling the insults. We all have our hissy-fit moments, but the mentality of a cyclist cut off in traffic or a driver cut off in traffic isn’t so different. When it’s a driver retaliating at highway speed, we call it road rage and a safety hazard. When the cyclist gets ticked off, the worst he’ll probably do is go run into a mailbox, so we don’t treat it so seriously.

It does add nuance to the term Critical Mass, though. When cyclists started riding around in packs to show that once you had a certain number, you could take over the road and go anywhere, the old term from the Atomic Age seemed about right. Who woulda thunk that when you get that many cyclists together at once, the other major trait they’d all share would be the chronic disease of the self-righteous: a zeal for criticizing everyone else, who’s obviously doing it wrong?

I had fun the other night, it being the last Friday of the month, sampling Long Beach’s own Critical Mass ride for the first time. I expected a bunch of militant riders whizzing around downtown, which I gather is typical in most cities that have such rides.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a cheerful, friendly group (a couple dozen at most), mostly on beach cruisers with fat tires, out for an evening ramble. I was the only one I saw with a helmet, and the only one with complicated bike shoes, and I had to keep slowing down because the bunch was taking it really easy. We did take up a traffic lane (which makes for safer riding), and as the evening light faded everyone else started turning on their headlamps. Extra credit was given for Pee-Wee Herman style chrome and decorations. In three hours of easy riding, we made not one, but two stops for a quick beer. All along the way, everyone who had a bell or a horn was tooting or ringing, which added to the cheerful effect.

Next time I’ll wear flip-flops, and I’ll bring my headlamp.

1 comment:

Papa Bradstein said...

Yeah, don't get me started on morons walking with iPods, at least, not until I'm out walking Barky, listening to my favorite podcasts, or trying to spin my thumb the right way to find the one I want, or--oops, who let the dog walk out into the middle of the street? Yeah, cyclists are morons too, and I commit some of the driving offenses that I listed too. More than anything, I think it's what you said--be aware. Look before you leap. And, please, let's not hate each other for trying to all go in the same direction at the same time. Chill out, people. That's obviously a skill that the bikers in LBC have figured out.