The past 4 months I’ve been listening to an endless loop of Tom Petty songs in attempt to move past his accidental overdose and focus on the music that I’ve always found meaning in.
And I can only laugh at myself that I, a Petty obsessed New Jersey cyclist, can find meaning from a song that is undeniably about Southern pride. But as I weave in and out of traffic, around the cars parked in the bike lanes, I replay this same lyric in my head:
With one foot in the grave and one foot on the pedal
I was born a rebel.
As a cyclist every time that I clip into my pedals I realize that I’m flirting with disaster. I’m attaching myself to a 16 lb piece of aluminum while wearing a foam hat and riding on the same roads as a 4,069 lb Ford F-150. Hopefully I’m cruising at 20+ mph alongside cars that are actually following the 40-50 mph speed limit. And if I’m even more lucky, every driver I encounter is paying attention, cyclist friendly, hasn’t spilled coffee or received a text and doesn’t want to change the radio station.
That’s a lot of ifs.
We’ve all read about and heard stories of deadly cycling crashes and there are very few rides I’m on where I don’t have the following thought:
I could die doing this
No, I’m not being dramatic here. Ask any cyclist if they know of someone who has died or is paralyzed from a bike crash and you’ll immediately get an answer. We’re a small community linked together by Strava and are always just a few degrees of separation away from a fallen comrade.
And we all damn well know it could have been us.
Roads Are For Cars!
Some roads, like the NJ turnpike, are illegal to bike on and thank God for that. Driving on that deathtrap is a nightmare and I couldn’t imagine what would happen to my poor Cannondale if I attempted to ride on it. I’d be dead before the first Roy Rogers.
But those two-lane country roads over the rolling hills and past the horse farms? You know, the ones with the 45 mph speed and not a lot of traffic? Yea, that’s where we come out to play!
And how dare we ride on these roads! Can’t we see that drivers should be allowed to blindly disobey the speed limit and barrel down these roads at 70 mph? That’s what country roads are for, driving your unnecessarily-too-powerful BMW hella fast. Get your lycra covered butt off my road!
You see, we are rebels. We are a rebel alliance of neon jersey wearing, pedal pushing, cappuccino sipping endorphin junkies engaged in a lopsided battle against the Galactic empire of entitled drivers. And until we find our Luke Skywalker we’ve got almost no chance of winning.
Share The Road
Not every driver is part of the Empire but it’s pretty much impossible to distinguish friend from foe.
Plenty of Some drivers understand the need to obey the speed limit, share the road and safely pass us and we are very thankful for both of you.
However, even the friendly drivers sometimes aren’t paying full attention. Maybe they don’t see us, are momentarily distracted or are playing with their phones. Hell, even I have had a “Whoa, didn’t see ya there” moment here and there. Whatever the reason is, a cyclist’s life could be forever altered with the single swipe of a side mirror.
But let’s not kid ourselves as not every cyclist is innocent either. A lot of us are also entitled jerks that are fighting a**holeness with a**holeness. Riders that blow through red lights, cut people off and never indicate their turns are only increasing this tension and we can’t possibly with if there’s dissension among the ranks.
We need to remember that even though cycling takes a lot more effort than driving it does not give us full ownership of the road. Because nobody gives a crap about that. Just as we don’t give a crap about you being late to soccer practice.
We’re both guilty.
Education Is Not The Only Answer
Ever since there have been cars there have been rules and every time you have rules you have rule breakers. Take, for instance, the speed limit.
By law, the speed limit is the maximum allowable speed that a car is allowed to be traveling on a road. However, even though it’s incredibly obvious what the word “limit” means, it’s often interpreted to be “the minimum speed at which one should be driving.” And despite those pesky cops that hand out tickets and revoke licenses these rules are ignored by just about everyone. Rules, schmules.
And anyone that thinks we just need to inform drivers about driving safety need to look no further than all the public awareness for drunk driving. For years we’ve educated people of the dangers of impaired driving yet innocent people are routinely killed by drunk drivers. How can this be? Should we just educate harder?
Here’s the sad truth – some people just don’t care and no amount of education will change that.
The Middle Finger Is Also Not The Answer
Our poor, sorry alliance has almost no chance when faced off against the Empire and all we can do is swerve, scream and give the good ole New Jersey salute to the jerk who ran us off the road.
But what does that do, really?
As if the driver, frustrated by a cyclist that caused him to slow down for 1 second, will suddenly see this middle finger and think “You know what, I was wrong. It’s time for me to change my d-bag behavior forever.”
It’s hard not to flick off an a**hole but we must understand that doing so only increases our chances of something worse happening. And our dinky bike against even the wimpiest of cars will lose and simply make us just another tragic story for our friends to tell.
If you want to fight then report aggressive drivers to the Police and reach out to the local organizations that are working to promote bicycle safety. Help them design safe bike routes and voice your concerns and experiences. Sure, they face an uphill battle too but a lot of cities are working to embody a more cycling friendly culture. Join them and don’t try to solve this yourself.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense
Like the 2000, Trent Dilfer-led Baltimore Ravens, we must realize that a hapless offense has no chance of winning and instead rely on a stout defense. In our case we need to aim to ride safely and make it really hard to get our butts mowed over.
Below are some bicycle safety tips that can make life slightly safer:
- Ride with traffic, run against.
- Wear high visibility clothes that scream “Hey, cyclist here, don’t run me over.“
- Stop at all traffic lights/stop signs and signal your intentions to turn. Follow the rules of the road.
- Ride with groups and point out obstacles to those behind you.
- Flashing lights are great. Even in the day time.
- Screw the headphones, it just ain’t worth it.
- When available, utilize the bike lanes.
- Don’t ride like a jerk.
But Was He Wearing A Helmet?
Wearing a helmet is a massive debate in the cycling community and, honestly, I’m on both sides of it. On one hand it’s the only protection we have so why wouldn’t you wear one? It’s your head and could save your life.
On the other hand, if cycling conditions were safer the majority of road bike accidents wouldn’t occur.
But what’s the first thing someone asks when they hear of a bike crash?
Was he wearing a helmet?
As if the lack of helmet should absolve the driver of their blatant disregard of the law. Silly cyclist. What’s a driver to do, slow down? No way.
After the obligatory “is he ok?” the question we should be asking is:
How the eff did this car just run over a human being?
Here’s My Take On Helmets
I almost always wear a helmet when I ride a bike for realsies. The only time I don’t are slow jaunts around my town or my lackadaisical commute through a bunch of parking lots. But even then I know I’m taking a risk.
Well, for one, I realize that a helmet is my last line of defense when falling off my bike. No, it won’t protect my legs or arms but at least if I can somehow prevent my brains from spilling I may live to see another day.
But here’s the other thing. Say you take dude-bro who ran you over to court to sue him for damages. If you were not wearing a helmet, depending on where you live, there’s a chance his defense could use that against you as contributory negligence.
Which is some baloney because not wearing a helmet doesn’t cause cars to run you off the road.
But it surely doesn’t make you any safer by not wearing it.
Should We Create Mandatory Helmet Laws?
Helmets are just a low-hanging, band-aid “solution” to the unsafe cycling conditions all around us. But if we force cyclists to wear helmets we may decrease ridership and ultimately lead to more dangerous roads. We need to encourage those to ride and help create safer bike routes in our communities as opposed to forcing those to wear helmets on unsafe roads. Rather than helmet laws I’d prefer to see the Police actually enforce the already-there traffic laws and ticket those who park in our bike lanes.
So no, a foam hat will not lead to the end of the rebellion.
So, WTF CA?
There wasn’t a lot of athletic frugality in this one but I wanted to write something through the eyes of a cyclist and runner who is tired of being run off the road and honked at. An even though this post may be a bit negative it’s not a “screw it, the cars have won” post either.
Every time I take my dinky bike into the big city I’m encouraged by all of the bike lanes and the hundreds of people riding Citibikes on these paths. We still have a long way to go but I like the strides that cities are making. But we will never rid ourselves of this tension with drivers and we must always be on guard, especially in areas where cycling isn’t as common.
Hopefully aggressive drivers and entitled cyclists will read this and understand that neither of us has a complete claim to the roads. They were built for both of us to use and we need to learn to co-exist peacefully.
We’re both allowed on the road. Deal with it.
“Into the great wide open, under them skies of blue.
Out in the great wide open
A rebel without a clue.”