(Updated) Cycling Is Not An ‘Excuse’ It Is A ‘Method of Transport’

Background Reading

Angry person. © istockphoto

Angry person.
© istockphoto

Cycling is first and foremost about enjoyment. But it has become a excuse both in the Urban Cycling Community and now the Suburban Roadie Community for donning the cloak of ‘victimhood‘. There are lots of ways to get from here to there than taking a bicycle. A good motor scooter or even a motorcycle would do. I have never owned a convertible car but a classic Mercedes 250 appeals.

But a bicycle is slower (at least when I am riding it) than any of these and requires a bit of sweating and such but at the end of the day I feel more refreshed and grateful for having been able to meet the challenge of riding a few miles in the great out-of-doors. But somehow we cyclists have managed to do the one thing you simply cannot do when trying to launch and sustain a Movement. We have managed to become the Tea Party on two wheels.

Listen to the tone of this letter:

Just a heads up, yesterday’s Tuesday night ride ended up with at least nine of us written up for either not stopping completely at a stop sign, or for six of us not riding single file. The kicker on the not single file citation, is some fat old hag was taking pictures of the group heading east on plum Tree, the policeman never saw us there, but pulled us over on Spring creek with the irate lady still snapping pictures of us.

So keep your pace-line clean at all times, it’s easy to get lazy at some point and talked to you fellow cyclist side by side and end up getting photographed and busted. The Vitriol was non stop by vehicles passing us (some pre-teen girls in the back seat of a SUV screamed single file you idiots).

The constant harassment of the cyclist riding in BH has been ratcheted up! The sad thing is I’m not sure how much better we could have rode last night, and it was not good enough.

One thing is for certain. If you get young kids angry enough at you that they in turn ridicule your comeuppanceyou have lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation‘.

Learning to shut your mouth and take your medicine becomes the only way to salvage the situation.

Summary

If you have ever been to Virginia you know that there is a very famous beach area where African-American college students flock each Spring Break. The partying down there ‘got out of hand‘. Eventually the cops starting ‘cracking down‘ and skulls got busted. But the greatest pain suffered was the loss of respect for the African-American Community by the locals. That is something that you can almost never get back. In a country like this one where ‘race‘ is a factor in just about every decision we make giving someone who is pre-disposed to hating you an actual justification for doing so is a deal-breaker. That is what happened. And now the Cycling Community is poised to repeat that mistake.

As one respondent to the letter above put it:

It’s about time how can we expect to deserve respect and safety from cars.  They only deserve the same respect and road riding safety from us.

I for one think she has a point. Every in DuPage County I have witnessed a weekly peloton fly by the breakfast place where we dine on the weekends. They do not stop or even slow down as they race through town. And there are stop signs at both ends of the short street where the cafe is situated. So stopping is mandatory.

But to ‘add insult to injury‘ they fly across the railroad tracks which divide the town without again ever bothering to stop. Gates down and the bells ringing it does not matter. What is worse is that on the block just north of the tracks is the other breakfast place in town where again anyone with children stepping out of cars or crossing the sidewalks has to dodge fast-moving bikes in a peloton.

We Need To Fire Our PR Manager

I cannot for the life of me understand that we do not understand the ‘damage to our brand‘ that is being inflicted on it. These are the very people who we want to help us secure the monies needed to build more infrastructure. So instead of having groups of riders passing out information about our various suburban bike clubs to invite them to join, we act as if our pathetic ‘Lance Wannabe Act‘ is being attacked out of meanness and spite. It is not.

If you simply stand in front of a breakfast place on any given weekend morning you will see that senior citizens and young children are in the mix of people entering and leaving these restaurants. Just imagine the ‘bad press‘ if someone gets hit and worse killed. And yet we continue to act in a reckless manner while trying to spin everything as ‘constant harassment‘ of us.

Another person replied to the original letter:

I think people who live there are just fed up  with many many bikers constantly biking thru their neighborhood.  Homes there are expensive and people live there for the quietest of the neighborhood, not wanting a multitude of bikers biking thru everyday, and I am sure the weekend is just horrid for these people.   And from what I did hear from other riders is that there are groups that ride that are spread out across the road, and it is hard for the neighborhood cars to get thru.  I have been in groups biking thru there and I would think it is no big deal, but when you have many many groups biking thru there,, it gets to be too much for these people.  If it’s become a problem for bikers to bike in Barrington Hills, then the bikers should avoid Barrington Hills, knowing that the neighborhood is not a welcome place for bikers.

Let me make one correction here. People are not unwelcoming to bikes and or bikers. What they are objecting to are the asinine antics that surround these pelotons.

Look at it this way. People who live in Wrigleyville do not hate the Cubs or Cub supporters. But what you do being to dislike is the fact that ‘drunk as skunk‘ fans leaving the or perhaps having stayed long after the game for a few brews along Addison are disappointed when someone vomits on their stoop steps or urinates on them. Its the Virginia scene all over again.

Cyclists Are Always Welcomed

We get lots of bicyclist at the restaurant for breakfast. I get dozens of questions about our odd-looking recumbents. None of these questions are remotely abusive, just curious. But I am acutely aware that where I park my bikes is as important as being polite. Locking them to the grating that surrounds the al fresco dining area is a non-starter. If you behave yourself then nothing is further from people’s minds than having you bike to breakfast.

I am guessing that with the warming weather others who dine with us are encouraged to bring their bikes. At any rate you see families (a mom, dad and several kids) showing up and stepping inside to eat. This is great. But eventually we will need more parking for bicycles. When someone forgets to keep the bikes far enough away from the main entrance and people suddenly have to fight to get around them, then our welcome will become strained.

The fact of the matter is that as we sit outside and dine I would bet that a good 50 riders pass in both directions along the IPP just north of where we sit. It is a great site and I would simply hate it if someone enjoying the scenery by bike as they travel along the IPP were to become unwanted guests because a few people did not understand how to behave in someone else’s hometown.

The Automobile Itself Could Become Unwanted

In Virginia the problem got out of hand because kids arriving and parking all over town became a nuisance. When the locals cannot find a place to park and sit and enjoy a quiet dining experience the interlopers become unwelcomed. The cops in that area made it a point to let the Spring Breakers know that a chance to blow off a little steam and drink a few cold ones was not a license to copulate in each and every doorway. And what makes it worse is when the folks who are the ones being rude in someone else’s house suddenly decide that what they are experiencing is ‘continual harassment‘.

I remember an opinion piece in Adventure Cycling a few years ago when the Cookie Lady was still alive. She would actively welcome touring bicyclist to come and sit on her patio and feed them free cookies. But evidently the travelers became belligerent and often left garbage and discarded items on her lawn. They never bothered to clean up after themselves and eventually the writer of the opinion piece decided enough was enough.

We do not bicycle as an excuse to be jackasses. We do it because it is enjoyable. If you want to be a jackass try riding pelotons in small Texas or Georgia or especially Idaho towns where the Good Ole Boys have a penchant for 2nd Amendment Remedies for bad behavior. Then come talk to me about harassment.


TakeAways

It’s been suggested more than once that Action Cameras (e.g. GoPro) be used to prove that motorists are not keeping their proper distance. One letter writer responded as follows:

Mounting cameras has already been done in WI.  The cyclist had a camera on the back of his bike & front.  Video footage shows the car approaching & passing & at no time giving the cyclist 3′.  the footage was brought to the local police station & nothing was done.  the cyclist asked to speak w/ captain or sergeant or who ever was top dog & again the response was the same – the cars weren’t breaking any law.  the cyclist eventually went to a news station & it was aired & what happened – the police said they need to be educated about the laws.  Educated about the laws?!?!?!?!?  Police do not care if motorists are not following the 3′ law because they feel (& we all know a gun & a badge is always right) it’s a dumb law that serves no purpose.  I myself have personally met w/ the same lack luster of concern from police when witnesses confirmed dangerous driving that put me in danger.  Most police don’t care & feel the safety of cyclists in not part of their job.

Good luck on mounting cameras but my experience tells me that nothing will become of it.

This particular rant seems a bit silly given the context in which we Illinois Cyclists operate. We do not wish to be licensed or tested or otherwise identified as having the credentials to safely operate on the roadway. And yet we want the motorists out there to operate lawfully. If we continually refuse to come to the table no one is going to take us seriously. At present we seem to be operating in the manner of high school kids who want to all the privileges of adulthood but none of the responsibilities. That simply has to stop.

The only reason that cameras ever made it to the forefront of our thinking is because of the ridiculous ways in which we cyclists have managed to use them to amuse ourselves and record the frightening manner in which pedestrians and motorists alike have been assaulted on AlleyCat Rides.

We seem to be operating at a dysfunctional level. But again that cannot go on forever. Sooner or later we will either have to submit to licensing and all that it entails and then have the blessings of society on our presence or we will continue to operate in a semi-lawless fashion and suffer the consequences.

To a cop the pace line approach is indistinguishable from the Alley Cat Race. And as you may know and understand the use of action cameras is problematic because of their very wide angle of view. There is a great deal of distortion going on and that of course makes everything look closer than it really is.

A Schizophrenic Approach To Traffic Participation

Unlike the Europeans (especially the Dutch and Danes) most of our riding is relegated to on street stuff. So we have to either learn to deal with traffic or hold our collective breath until we get more separated bike lanes. Incidentally, DuPage County has some very nice separated bike lanes. I have posted a ride that a fellow club member led and I later rode on my own, here:

But we are at that nexus where the public hears from us that all we want are protected bike lanes. that further understand that there is a very real rift within the Cycling Community over the issue of Vehicular Cycling. Here is the problem in a nutshell. There are not enough places where you can ride a bike without much knowledge of handling skills like those taught in a Vehicular Cycling class. So you are left with lots of folks who are riding in a state of willful ignorance of laws and techniques that can keep them safe. These folks form the larger portion of the Urban Cycling Community.

Then there are the suburban Lance Wannabees who have decided that the streets are where they should hold their version of the Alley Cat Race. Never mind that the Tour de France is run on streets closed to traffic (essentially making the Tour a competition held on what are technically separated bike lanes). And once again Americans are hoisted on their own petards. They want in the worst way to function and behave like Europeans but do not have infrastructure for that. But even if it were available everywhere it would not be suitable for pace lines to be held on separated bike lanes. A dilemma.

What would be far better is for the clubs to come to some agreement with local governments to be allowed to have access to certain roads for a limited period of the day each week. They would have to pay some sort of fee to get this done but it could operate in a fashion not unlike a Criterium. This would allow this kind of riding (which is clearly best done without the restraints of traffic controls) to exist without friction. Of course that is going to be a hard pillow for cyclists to swallow since they think of the streets as their own purview to use as they wish. But that too is silly.

Out in California street racers (made famous by the Fast and Furious movies) have taken that same approach with very deadly results. Bicyclists have to learn from the mistakes of others.