If you read newspaper articles by people who actually get paid to produce copy, you may have noticed a spate of recent reports that involve bicycles.
We had the mini-scandal involving the private bathroom of Richie Daley’s budget director – presumably he needed one to shower up after biking to work. Now he may be the first member of a Daley administration ever to worry about stinking up City Hall, but that’s another issue.
Then there’s Richie himself, pushing for harsher penalties for those at fault in car –bicycle accidents. And in case you missed the moral here, the mayor strongly suggested that cyclists deserve the presumption of innocence in these cases (for you motorists, guess where the presumption of guilt is left).
Finally, there was the tragic story of the cyclist killed in a traffic accident, presumably while participating in an unofficial race through city streets (as opposed to the semi-official rallies that appear to occur monthly).
We’re all aware of many of the common dividing lines in modern culture: red state/blue state; beer and brats/wine and cheese; Sox/Cubs – maybe there’s another as important: those who peddle bicycles for transportation, and those who ride bikes to make a statement.
Now the latter may protest that they’re just trying to save the planet, or conserve gas, or live a healthy lifestyle – but with some exceptions, they’re just Prius-owners with better judgment.
Distinguishing between the two clans is usually pretty easy – you just have to look at what they’re wearing. People who ride bikes to get from point A to point B will commonly be wearing some generic clodhoppers, a ratty old shirt, and non-descript sweat pants or jeans. They’ll look pretty much like the kind of people you’d expect to have lost their license for DUI – which very often they are.
The statements-on-wheels, though, will have on those tight shorts (to wick away the sweat – yeah, of course), some goofy pointy helmet, and sunglass-goggles so trendy you can’t even afford the price tag.
Now when Daley started harping on car-bike traffic incidents, he made one good observation – he implicated attitude problems. And in the two groups of cyclists, you’ll typically find opposing attitudes. The utilitarian riders will assume the streets belong to four-wheeled vehicles, and that their bikes are guests. And the style-riders will act as if the streets belong to cyclists, and cars are worse than guests: they’re interlopers – unwelcome intruders.
For many of these characters, rules of the road are for chumps in cars – for these cyclists, stop signs are optional, traffic lights are suggestions (the fatality mentioned above involved a cyclist running a red light), and common courtesy is an unknown concept.
As an example, until the weather and construction intervened, if you traveled Sheridan Road through Winnetka in the wee hours of the morning, you would come across great packs of bicyclists – often 10 to 20 in number – clogging the thoroughfare in complete indifference to faster moving cars. Granted, they’d be out there at 5:30 in the morning, but that’s little comfort if you’re in a car following these clowns.
Now I’m not insensitive to cycling: about 15 years back, I spent a summer in suburban St. Louis logging more that a thousand miles as a commuter on a Schwinn. My motivation? Fundamental cheapness.
Then as now I had little patience for bike riders who went out-of-their-way to be nuisances, and I promised myself I wouldn’t be one. Where it was legal and safe, I rode on sidewalks, and I took side-streets whenever they could get me around main thoroughfares. When I was forced onto major roadways or actual highways, I tried my best not to be a traffic hazard.
And I never had any problems with cars or trucks. Not that my summer was accident- free, however.
One morning while cutting through an L-shaped parking lot, as I came to the corner I suddenly saw a guy on a motorcycle coming at me (a car I would’ve spotted a lot sooner). He steered a bit to his left, just as I faded the same way; as he corrected back, so did I. We’d braked almost to a stop when we collided, but we did collide – and we both went down.
I scraped up my shin, he scraped up his gas tank and exhaust pipe (to this day, I’m sure he can’t believe he messed up his Harley because of some bozo on a bicycle).
We mumbled our mutual apologies, not exactly cordially, but not with any hostility either, and went on our separate ways: two guys on two wheels just trying to get to work.
Now I know there are plenty of motorists who despise cyclists, and some who will even deliberately try to mess with them – and they ought to be busted if they do. Drivers should respect the bicyclists with whom they share the streets.
But by the same token, lots of those cyclists need to realize that respect’s a two-way street – we’d all be better off if they did.
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