Friday, January 20, 2012

Safety First! Or, Luck Be A Lady

There’s a woman I often see around my neighborhood at the beginning or end of my bike rides. Other than a few mind boggling nuances, she is just a normal cyclist out for a ride. She has nearly all the gear, good shoes, cycling clothing, the right bike, nearly everything one would need to be successful in this activity.


Ignoring her cadence, which turns at about 30-40 rpm, (uber slow) which in itself is not at all annoying, just a little odd, there are a few other aspects about her riding style that annoy the living hell out of me.

Let’s start with what she isn’t wearing. Aside from having all the right cycling gear, she lacks a helmet. I have NEVER seen her wear one, and I see her regularly, and have for several years. There’s no law saying you have to wear a helmet if you’re over 18, per California Vehicle Code Section 21212. But seriously, anyone who rides on the street, specifically on streets as busy as Santa Teresa Blvd, has got to be pretty dumb to not use one. OK, maybe ignorant, but still.

Match the non-use of a helmet with my next quip about her and, well, you’ll get the point. She rides slow. With that ultra-slow cadence, you’re not going to gain much speed. No problem with that, that’s not my quip. She rides at the far left hand side of the bike lane, which makes passing her extremely difficult and dangerous, since I have to enter a lane of traffic to get around her. But she just keeps chugging along, oblivious to anyone else who might be out there.

Now for the best part: Once I do get passed, if a light ahead of me changes and I have to stop, she rolls through the red light, passing me. Granted, I do see her look both ways, but she usually doesn’t even touch the brakes and rolls right on through. Now, one complaint I have is that now I have to try to get around her again, but my other complaint is much more important.

Riders that ride like this don’t just make it dangerous for themselves. They make it dangerous for ALL of us. I can’t count the number of times I have been yelled at, honked at, received amusing gestures, buzzed (passed by a car at a very high rate of speed inches from my left elbow), cut off at the last second on purpose, or even the few thrilling times when objects have been hurled at me from automobiles. For having done nothing but ride down the street.

What are motorists' biggest complaints about cyclists? A quick innerwebs search, mixed with over 20 years of cycling experience, tells me these include cyclists that run red lights and stop signs, and riders that ride in the lane, or two or more abreast, making passing difficult. When cyclists do this, it doesn’t just endanger themselves. It gives motorists that see them doing these things a “here we go again, yet another cyclist that’s too good for the rules of the road” attitude. They then think this same statement the next time they see a cyclist, whether or not that cyclist is actually guilty of that infraction.

Because of this, when I ride, many drivers see me as, “just another one of those asshole cyclists that run red lights and stop signs, and are always in my way.” I know they do, they let me know all the time, between arguments in person or online, or out on the road shouting at me out of their car windows. And guess what? It’s DIRECTLY the fault of the many riders out there that ignore these rules and regulations.

Now for the best part, Are you ready? I can’t tell her about what she is doing, or how it endangers me. Hell, I can’t even call out to pass her when she's hugging the left corner of the bike lane, blocking anyone else from passing safely. Why? Headphones. Ear buds. Ear plugs. In both ears. I call out anyway, but she doesn’t hear. I know she doesn’t because no matter how loud I call out, “ON YOUR LEFT!” she is still startled and surprised when I pass her. Sometimes to the point of nearly crashing. Here’s my viewpoint:

1. Ear phones/buds/plugs are illegal. In the state of California, as stated in Vehicle Code Section 21200, “A person riding a bicycle… has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division…” Going on, Vehicle Code Section 27400 states, “No person operating any vehicle, including a bicycle shall wear any headset covering, or any earplugs in, both ears.” Pretty plain and simple, yeah?

2. They are just plain unsafe. VERY unsafe. As a cyclist, our ears are our second lifeline, right behind our eyes. If we block that sense, we make our every day average bike ride infinitely more dangerous. We NEED to hear what we can’t see, be it a car coming up behind us or honking at us, another cyclist trying to pass or get our attention for something, or the sirens of emergency vehicles. It’s bad enough seeing the amount of folks on multi-purpose trails with plugs in both ears. But on a busy major road? Really?

Just take them out. Enjoy the outdoors, or ride inside.

I see this lady all the time. At least once a week, for several years. Always the same. Chugging along at a snails pace due to the ultra low cadence, no helmet, ear buds in both ears, running stop lights and stop signs. Granted, she’s not the only one. There are lots of cyclists out there that ignore the rules, making the lives of those of us that don’t that much harder, but she is the one I see most often. Completing the tri-fecta of douche-baggie cyclist stereotypes. And when I hear or read stories of the stereotypical cyclist scofflaw, I always think of her first.

I just wish motorists would think of her, and others like her, and not all cyclists. Because most of us out there try very hard to not have to tangle with multi-ton automobiles carrying angry, road-raged drivers. The vast majority of us really are safe riders.

Perception is a bitch.

Added: Expect another blog later on the importance of helmet laws, earphone laws, and other rules of the road followed by both cyclists and motorists.


Christine said...

I run into (pun intended) the same problem when I'm running. People paying no attention to those around them and when I try to say I'm passing, they don't hear me and are startled. Some people are so oblivious that I've been forced to run in the street to go around them. (I'm not talking about cyclists, though, I am referring to other pedestrians.)

I do run with both headphones in, but it's quiet enough that I can hear the flow of traffic and all the noises around me. I make sure of it.

I saw a cool product designed by a cyclist ...

Erik Dabel said...

I don't think it's quite as big a deal for runners. They aren't moving nearly as fast, they aren't on the back-country roads or on bike lanes on major roads or expressways, and if they are using the bike lane, or the general area a cyclist would be using, they are usually going the opposite direction, making a quick get-out-of-the-way easy and apparent.

It is sort of annoying on multi-use trails when they can't hear you come up.

That's a great product, I wish more people would be willing to use just one. Actually, I wish more people would just leave the technology at home, including music players, cell phones, all that stuff. Just enjoy the great outdoors! (I know, I know, wishful thinking...)