I’m going to come right out and say it—there’s been a lot of arguing here lately. Messengers vs. non-messengers, roadies vs. commuters, and everybody vs. the so-called “hipsters.” Hey, I’m not going to get all self-righteous. I’m all in favor of passing judgement and name-calling. It’s fun! At the same time, though, as cyclists, it’s time we set all that aside for a moment and teamed up against something together. No, not triathletes. (Not today anyway.) Cars.
Look, I’ve got nothing against cars in general. We need them. Many of us own them. That’s not what this is about. This is about being cyclists first and foremost, and about being at the bottom of the vehicular pecking order when we’re out on our bikes. Regardless of whether you don’t own a car or you own three, when you’re riding you’re inevitably going to encounter coffee-slurping, text-message-spewing morons who think the fact that some bank gave them a lease on an Explorer makes them important enough to try to run you off the road.
I thought about this as I read a short piece in the “Talk of the Town” section of The New Yorker this morning about the Smart ForTwo. If you’re in Europe, you’re of course familiar with this car. But here in the US they’re only just appearing on our radar, and will be available for the first time in January 2008. Apparently the president of Smart USA recently visited Manhattan in a Smart car, and the piece offered up an irritatingly delightful sketch of how the locals were alternately charmed, perplexed, and nonplussed by its diminutive size and unusual appearance.
It is small. It is inexpensive. It gets excellent gas mileage. We’re supposed to admire it for these qualities. I don’t. As cyclists we’ve been bossed around by cars for too long. And like the Yorkshire terrier at the dog run who after constantly being terrorized by Rottweilers finally gets a chance to hump a Chihuahua, here at long last is a car we can intimidate and dominate. This car has a shorter wheelbase than a recumbent, the same passenger capacity as a tandem, and a curb weight lower than most people’s Rivendells.
When you’re the kid who gets picked on in school, what do you do when a new kid transfers in who’s nerdier than you? Do you become his friend and team up against your oppressors? No! You pretend to be his friend, and then when the cool kids are looking you push him into the girls’ bathroom.
So I say when these things hit the street we in turn hit them with everything we’ve got. You Euros might not understand this, but here in the US we’ve been “sharing” the road with vehicles that are, on average, larger than your homes. This is our chance to exact payback for years of oppression. And the great thing is that every segment of the cycling population can take part. Just imagine:
--Three or four bearded guys in “One Less Car” t-shirts with SPD sandals and panniers full of organic groceries stopping on their way home from the food co-op to tip one over;
--The Sunday morning group ride swarming around one and forcing the driver to take part in a mandatory motorpacing session;
--Locking your bike up to one when you run into the store. What are they gonna do about it? Or, better yet, just locking the car itself to a street sign;
--Using them for skitching. Messengers have long skitched off of trucks, but like pilot fish they did so surreptitiously and with no say as to the destination. With a Smart car, now’s your chance to be the shark. When your legs get tired, just grab onto the side mirror, rap on the glass, and say, “Dag Hammarskjold Plaza—and step on it!”;
--Some nutcase in a neon windbreaker on a recumbent overtaking one on a stretch of country road, taking quick stock of it in his helmet mirror, and running it into a ditch.
The possibilities are endless. So next time that Hummer driver ignores your right-of-way and almost flattens you at an intersection, take a deep breath and just let it go. Soon you’ll be able to grab a Smart car by the bumper and hold it there while you berate the driver.