Every year at Bike the Drive, Connie does an informal poll of the two-wheeled recumbents we spot. Today we counted 33 two-wheeled recumbents of which 9 were Easy Racers bikes of one sort or another. And that did not include our two Easy Racer’s Gold Rush Replicas (GRRs) with front fairings. And remember we did not count the trikes. Those numbered more than even the two wheelers and quite a few of those were being piloted by paraplegics who were quite fast. It is amazing to see a person on one of these bikes climbing up the overpasses as rapidly as the upright riders alongside them.
Emergency Vehicles and Accidents
We arrived to the ride start around 7:00 AM. We got underway and almost immediately began to see EMTs in trucks attending those who had been injured. For the less severely injured there were Ride Marshals who had stopped and were helping organize the crash scene to make certain that no gawkers created another accident on their own by standing in the roadway.
Now the real question that this sort of thing brings to mind is if automobiles are the real culprits in roadway mayhem how does one explain all these accidents and crashes (we saw at least two EMT Trucks and all totaled about 6 crashes). The entire myth of roadway safety revolves around the notion that cyclists are safer in fact and feel safer in their minds in the absence of automobiles. And yet here we were faced with crashes either between cyclists or in one case a young female roadie was attempting a U-Turn at the MSI turnaround point and lost her “footing” crashing up over the curb having to be helped to her feet by the fellow in front of her whose backside she had managed to collide with.
Lack of Road Etiquette
A couple of anecdotal scenes tell the whole story about cyclists. I was riding south to the MSI Campus for the first rest stop. About half way down a fellow who was in his mid-40s to early 50s and standing about 6.5 feet in height was changing lanes. He did not signal one whit and in fact it was as I was passing that I noticed he was moving into my lane. I asked politely that should he do that again, to please announce his intentions. He grudgingly assented but could easily have had my second crash in as many weeks were it not for a bit of fancy “footwork” on my part.
Another situation that really increased my awareness that automobiles are an aggravation on the roadways but that bikes themselves are the real culprits were the number of folks who (were obviously trying to avoid paying by hopping on the roadway from the Chicago Lakefront Trail) and being thoroughly unaware of how to merge with traffic.
One fellow (about 50 years of age) dressed in a yellow jacket with black accents decided to ride up behind me to ask me a question about the percentage of efficiency my front fairing gave. He did not introduce himself but instead stayed to my rear left and asked the question but did not attempt to let me know that I was the target of his query. It was only after he moved forward glared at me over his shoulder and shook his head in disgust that I realized what was going on.
Now I ask you the question why approach a person in that fashion when it is clear that the roadway is littered with riders who never signal that they are changing lanes or stopping or passing you on either the right or left or any other damn thing that a normal human being would think to do under the circumstance.
Frankly it was a clear day to witness just how thoughtless cyclists really are. And in fact I am amazed that when you mix automobiles into this equation and vastly reduce the number of stupid bike riders on the roadway (into the bargain) you do not have more bicycle-vs-vehicle injuries than we do. What I was witnessing today should have been taped so that anyone with half a brain might have watched the mayhem. I could have wished mightily for a squadron of drones capable of keeping a watchful eye on the knuckleheads below to document the silliness and the accidents for posterity.
I certainly hope that we learn to stop pointing the finger at motorists for our troubles when if they are removed entirely from the equation we have more than enough stupidity to make a perfectly fine day a wreck of an experience for several people.
Do The Math
I am going to guess that the average rider was probably humping along at less than 10 MPH. The fastest I clocked anyone doing was in the mid-20s. There are four entire lanes into which riders can spill and that leaves about 6 feet or more of space where you can bail to the right or left if you choose to. And yet cyclists were colliding with one another and the pavement.
One set of riders decided to make a quick stop. The first one simply came to a grinding halt in the middle lane of the roadway (never bothering to signal her or his intentions) and stepped off the back without looking behind at all. The second rider had the smarts to move to the right lane before stopping and dismounting. Dumb, dumb, dumb!
Judging from the outfits most of these misfit riders were dressed in these were not “newbies”. The fact of the matter is most riders simply have such an appalling lack of road etiquette that in a mix where only bikes are present they can still manage to smack into one another. Now ask yourself what happens when there are fewer bikes and lots more cars. An automobile has a split second to make a judgment about whether to slam on the brakes or whether to veer around a slow moving vehicle. Either way the bikes involved today would cause big pileups on the roadways if they were given the slightest chance.
We Need More Training Not More Infrastructure!
When you are the only type of vehicle on the roadway you negate the need for protected bike lanes and other stupid shit that people say they need. So if you still cannot avoid running up the ass of the fellow or gal next to you what is left to require to protect you from yourself? I say training.
I saw countless folks who neither signal their intentions nor were even able to ride one-handed long enough to try to signal. This is dreadful stuff. Active Transportation Alliance is wasting its political capital trying to build more protected bike lanes when clearly the lanes are not the weak link in this chain. It is the terrible lack of rider knowledge about how to function in the most simple environment of them all.
Before you start reflexively trying to explain away this mayhem by saying that it is the “newbies” who are causing all the crashes (which by the way would be wrong) the bicycle infrastructure is precisely for this kind of rider. Lord help us if their numbers grow rapidly before someone has a chance to shove a boot up their butts to get them into cycling shape.
And the supposedly veterans are equally in need of some sharp crackdowns by the police. The lack of crisp signaling and maneuvering was quite apparent and will not get better with more miles. Urban Riders are simply slobs when it comes to changing lanes and never seem willing to announce their presence. They pass without any utterances, no horns, no bells, just a swift and silent pass by.
No wonder these inconsiderates cause accidents along the Chicago Lakefront Trail following a Critical Mass Ride and never bother to go back and help the person whose crash they causes.
The Dutch Difference
What the Dutch get that we don’t is that training for being a cyclist has to start quite early and be taught in schools. I saw literally dozens of school age kids under the age of 12 years on the route today and virtually all of them were unable to wave to someone else. That signals to me that neither could they perform hand signals while riding.
And of course their parents are essentially clueless regarding signaling and announcing their intentions to pass. This is quite depressing considering all the blather that we Yanks produce regarding why we are behind the Dutch and the Danes in terms of travel by bicycle. It has far more to do with our individual understandings of road etiquette than just about anything else.
You either get it or you don’t. And when you do not “get it” chances are that you will crash and burn on an eight lane roadway like Lake Shore Drive with nary a car in sight. That my friends is simply pathetic. A couple of years ago I was at the finish line of this ride and watched in horror as a lady on a cruiser bike came riding down the hill from the overpass that leads to Navy Pier. She was yapping on her cell phone and like the kids I saw today (and their parents as well) she lost control of the handlebars of her bike because she does not know how to ride with one hand well enough to actually signal.
The phone and she clattered to the ground. And the first instinct she had was to reach for that damned phone. This is the kind of behavior we cyclists are aware of but unable to admit to ourselves is the cause of many of the problems we have in the presence of automobiles. It stinks and really, really needs to be addressed.
Telling cyclists that pretty green paint and PVC bollards alone on streets is going to keep them safe is a big fat lie!
Distance: 34.3 miles
Time: 3h 10m 21s