And We Wonder Why We Are Misunderstood…

Background Reading


GoPro Hero 3 Face

GoPro Hero 3 Face

I was searching for some video done on a GoPro Hero 3 video camera. These are tiny cameras that when mounted on your helmet give you a very interesting “first person” view of what the cyclist is doing. At any rate I found instead a video made by a Chicago bicycle commuter who was using a Hero 2 model (older).

Because the rider was from Chicago I expected (and did) to see streets and situations with which I am familiar. And because the model of camera being used is one version older I also expected to get a decent idea of how any videos I made with a Hero 3 might turn out.

The author of the video is named Raf Winterpacht. He writes:

Uploaded on Nov 3, 2011

Some interesting twists and turns with this compilation of cycling through the streets of Chicago. Recorded with the new GoPro HERO2 camera mounted on the handlebars.

So this video is a representative example of a number of cycling experiences Raf has had over a period of time. As with any cyclist you show your work for two reason:

  1. You want to share what you have done and garner some positive feedback.
  2. You do some filtering of your work before displaying it because you want to keep from upsetting the sensitivities of your viewers.

Another way of putting this is that these are the kinds of images the videographer feels comfortable in showing people whom he hopes will find them as interesting as he does.

Here is the video:

What Was Your Reaction To The Video?

People will view this video with mixed reactions depending on their notions of what is permissible for cyclists to do and what is not. If you fall into the category of those who found the risk-taking in this video appalling you are also likely to understand some of the disappointment many of us feel with the current Cycling Movement.

Having ridden the streets of Chicago by choice over the past three years I have come to witness this style of riding on virtually every occasion imaginable. It is the outgrowth of the thinking that is espoused by Randy Cohen. What used to be considered the “norm” (i.e. following the Rules of the Road) is now considered passé. And it is not just people under 30-years of age who think this way. It includes board members of Active Transportation Alliance as well as current and past board members of the Elmhurst Bicycle Club.

People now go out of their way to explain to you why they feel justified in “breaking the law” while riding on a bicycle. Of course the problem is that this behavior runs counter to the stated purpose of installing Protected Bike Lanes (PBLs) which is namely to secure safer streets for all three classes of roadway users (i.e. motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians) simultaneously. In fact when trying to justify the expense of these lanes at a time when money is tight it is the “safety angle” that people like Ron Burke put forward to assuage the fears of the general public.

But what happens when drivers and pedestrians alike can watch cyclists perform the kinds of maneuvers shown in this video? In my own case it simultaneously elicits disgust and terror. Terror because I fear for the safety of not only the cyclist who is riding in this fashion but disgust because I know that it is this kind of riding style which could be at the root of the “Door Zone” collisions that have been known to kill cyclists.

If a cyclist is riding close enough on a fairly regular basis to contact the driver’s side view mirror then he is clearly occupying the “Door Zone“. Doing this simply invites injury should a passenger be debarking from a vehicle. And frankly the speed at which he is moving and the angles of approach make it nearly impossible for the driver to glimpse his presence before the contact occurs.

Outrage is the Proper Response

We are sending mixed messages when we do not respond in a negative way to this sort of riding style. It is riding of this type that resulted in the death of a San Franciscan this past year while crossing in the pedestrian walkway at the bottom of a hill where a cyclist using the same sorts of maneuvers on a brakeless fixed gear bike lost control of the situation and slammed into a senior citizen who succumbed to his injuries.

We argue in favor of bike lanes to bring safety to our streets. And then we encourage “Door Zone” collisions by using reckless cycling techniques. We further heighten the sense that we are hypocrites by forging alliances to encourage laws against motorists who open their doors on the traffic side with looking but are not willing to own up to the fact that we are largely the cause of their inability to safely exit. It is the responsibility of the municipality to ensure that the bike lanes are properly and safely designed. But placing the average bike lane up against car doors is to invite mayhem.

We argue that we want cars to pass us with at least 3-feet and have succeeded in enacting laws to that effect. And yet we note that this rider like countless others is unwilling to maintain that distance himself when passing autos and does so while passing between rows of autos out of which a pedestrian could step at any time.

We cannot claim that drivers who ply their vehicles on our streets while intoxicated should be forbidden henceforth to drive should they kill a cyclist, when we ourselves are unwilling to refrain from doing the same on our bikes. We routinely gather at drinking holes and enjoy one another’s company and then ride home under the weather still attempting to perform the maneuvers you see in this video in a compromised state.

And our Cycling Advocates groups are more than willing to step in and help deflect criticism of this type of behavior. And to what end? The general public is not stupid. If we cannot show that indeed bicycle infrastructure helps us modify our behavior towards a safer more sane style they will want to know why they are being asked to continue to fund changes that are expensive and evidently are not having the desired effects.