Not too long ago, I was in the parking lot of a shopping center. (I'm a freegan and was knee-deep in expired produce doing my marketing for the week.) Suddenly, I heard the scream of a redlining motor, followed by a tremendous boom. When I went over to investigate, it turned out that, in an attempt to leave a parking space, a driver had instead somehow managed to drive into the door of a department store.
I didn't stick around for the "sticky pedal" excuse that almost certainly followed, and amazingly nobody was crushed, but I did think about how that sort of thing just doesn't happen with bicycles. Anti-veloist forces love to portray cyclists as menacing scofflaws, but I've never seen someone manage to smash a plate glass window while removing his fixie from a bike rack. (Though I have seen it happen with a tall bike.) Nevertheless, as a culture we've become inured to the inevitable smashings and crushings that follow drivers everywhere, yet we're disproportionately outraged when a cyclist commits the slightest infraction. This was also nicely illustrated in a recent New York Times opinion piece:
In it, the guy who used to be "The Ethicist" explains why and how he doesn't stop at red lights while cycling:
I roll through a red light if and only if no pedestrian is in the crosswalk and no car is in the intersection — that is, if it will not endanger myself or anybody else. To put it another way, I treat red lights and stop signs as if they were yield signs. A fundamental concern of ethics is the effect of our actions on others. My actions harm no one. This moral reasoning may not sway the police officer writing me a ticket, but it would pass the test of Kant’s categorical imperative: I think all cyclists could — and should — ride like me.
I agree that this is ethical behavior--unlike using an expression someone else has coined and not crediting them for it:
I am not anarchic; I heed most traffic laws. I do not ride on the sidewalk (O.K., except for the final 25 feet between the curb cut and my front door, and then with caution). I do not salmon, i.e. ride against traffic. In fact, even my “rolling stops” are legal in some places.
Actually, I'm just pleased that "salmon" has officially entered the lexicon, and I plan to credit myself for it in my epitaph anyway--just above another equally important attribution:
I only hope when the New York Times reports on how I drowned in a bathtub full of Jell-O they point out that I was wearing a helment.
Anyway, the writer then goes on to look at why light-running is so annoying to everybody:
If my rule-breaking is ethical and safe (and Idaho-legal), why does it annoy anyone? Perhaps it is because we humans are not good at weighing the dangers we face. If we were, we’d realize that bicycles are a tiny threat; it is cars and trucks that menace us. In the last quarter of 2011, bicyclists in New York City killed no pedestrians and injured 26. During the same period, drivers killed 43 pedestrians and injured 3,607.
This is true. However, there is one thing he doesn't point out, which is that everybody thinks their rule-breaking is "ethical and safe." I agree it's ethically fine to roll through a red light at a quiet intersection, and I'm also willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he's smart enough to do so responsibly. Unfortunately though, the clueless Nü-Freds who ride heedlessly through crosswalks and leave hordes of disgruntled pedestrians in their wake also think they're doing so ethically and responsibly. I didn't study philosophy, so I really don't know anything about Kant's categorical imperative beyond Randy Cohen's brief explanation of it in the article. Therefore, I have no idea if it takes into account the fact that that many, many people are complete morons.
Still, despite the moron factor, I mostly agree with the article. I also agree that people's resentment of cyclists is irrational, as he points out:
But most of the resentment of rule-breaking riders like me, I suspect, derives from a false analogy: conceiving of bicycles as akin to cars. In this view, bikes must be regulated like cars, and vilified when riders flout those regulations, as if we were cunningly getting away with something. But bikes are not cars. Cars drive three or four times as fast and weigh 200 times as much. Drive dangerously, you’re apt to injure others; ride dangerously, I’m apt to injure myself. I have skin in the game. And blood. And bones.
I would argue that this impression stems from the mechanics of oppression in this country, which I like to think of as "oppressive equality." By refusing to recognize differences between groups then we don't have to address the unique needs of those groups. How many times have you been told as a cyclist that "You have all the rights and responsibilities as a driver of a car"? This is a polite way telling you to go fuck yourself. We don't have to make any changes to the infrastructure to accommodate your vehicle. Instead, it's your job to strap on some safety gear and pretend you're a car.
By the way, not only do I not really know anything about Kant, but I also couldn't make sense of the accompanying illustration:
Meanwhile, here's Randy Cohen's deranged west coast bizarro-doppelgänger, as forwarded to me by a reader:
Basically, a cyclist who may or may not have been observing Kant's categorical imperative runs a stop sign, and the following exchange ensues:
The scrawny, pale, twenty-something with thinning curly dark hair – wearing only Bermuda shorts, a T-shirt and, of course, no helmet – flipped me off and shouted a string of expletives. I felt my Sicilian blood boiling as I kept pace with him. “Why is it you think you’re exempt from the law?” Suddenly and without warning, like the snake that he was, Curly whipped his head around and spit at me from the passenger side. I was in the process of rolling up the window, so his wad of spit didn’t hit me. Instead, it bubbled slowly down the window of my just-washed car.
I kept pace with Curly, rolling the window down part way again. “What you just did qualifies as battery in the state of California,” I yelled, “and you should be arrested for road rage.” Curly laughed and flipped me off with both hands as he steered the bike with his knees
At which point the driver attacks him with her car:
Curly sped up and so did I, pulling in front of his bike, and trapping him between my SUV and the car parked next to him. As he came to a screeching halt, I rolled the window down a couple of inches. What color he had in his pale face drained and suddenly the smug smile was gone. “Are you crazy?” he asked, his voice shaking. Any ability I had to be rational went out my spit-covered window. “If I was crazy I would crush you like a bug right now,” I screamed. “Fortunately for you, I’m not crazy – but the next person you spit at might be and they could run you over or pull out a gun and shoot you.”
No, actually you are completely and utterly crazy. He may have been a complete douchebag, but you're a potential murderer. Plus, you know nothing about they cycling lexicon:
But Curly hadn’t learned a thing. He pulled along my driver’s side and spit all over that window, then he spinelessly pedaled to the opposite side of the street and rode, illegally, against traffic.
That's called "salmoning," just ask Randy Cohen.
Anyway, after reading this I delved deeper into Susan Dyer Reynold's journalistic output, and it would appear that she's some kind of bike douche magnet:
Basically, the pattern in every case seems to be as follows:
1) A cyclist does something she doesn't like;
2) She yells at him;
3) The cyclist gives her the finger.
The very next day, I stepped into a crosswalk on Page Street and was nearly mowed down by a helmetless, headphone-wearing cyclist who ran a stop sign. I yelled at him about following the law and he flipped me off without even looking back as he blew through another stop sign.
By my count, she's been on the receiving end of "the bird" at least four times between these two articles alone. I don't deny that there are some extremely inconsiderate cyclists out there, but when you're getting flipped off on a daily basis odds are bikes aren't entirely to blame. Eventually, you have to come to terms with the fact that the real problem lies with you.
Speaking of problems and neuroses, I was reading Lennard Zinn's column on Velo-whatever because I find Fredly hand-wringing over equipment to be highly amusing, and as I read I was reminded of why I never want to have anything to do with crabon wheels:
The Reynolds engineering and design team simultaneously engineered the brake pads and brake track to be an integrated system, working together to effectively minimize heat buildup from pad-to-rim friction and provide the best possible performance. The Reynolds system is called CTg (Cryo-Glass Transition) and the chemistry of the Cryo-Blue brake pad is engineered as a complimentary component of the resin system in the carbon fiber laminate in the wheel’s brake track. In the case of a warranty claim, following the manufacturer’s instructions to a “T” is always in the customer’s best interest, and using anything other than a Cryo-Blue brake pad can void the warranty. Reynolds is not alone in recommending proprietary pads with our wheels, as Zipp, Easton and a few other well-known brands do the same.
Because of the nature of carbon fiber, it is critical that all cyclists follow their particular wheel brand’s recommendations to avoid problems that some of your readers have experienced.
In crabon, bicycle companies have found the world's most malleable material--not in terms of what shapes you can make out of it, but in terms of how it allows them to bend the Fredly mind to their will. By investing it with all sorts of mystical and paradoxical qualities--stiff yet compliant, strong yet brittle, bulletproof yet temperamental--they've finally managed to put Fred-dom completely in their thrall. Freds fear the crabon. They covet the crabon. They respect the crabon. They worship the crabon. They feed the crabon special brake pads, or else "because of the nature of carbon fiber," the crabon might explode.
Dispatches like the one above merely ratchet up the roadie neurosis so that they'll be primed for disc brakes--and then just when the roadies think they can brake safely someone will come out with crabon rotors and the cycle will continue.