Guest post: Stephen, a ninja scofflaw (not scofflaw ninja)

Even though I couldn't blog today, I'm able to supply some fresh content, though it comes fairly late in the day. But there's no set schedule- this is a blog not some kind of 19th century factory with shifts and a steam whistle and a cavalcade of workers with lunch pails. At least not yet. Anyway, enjoy.

Greetings to the Sharrows readers. I will endeavor to be as entertaining as Brian, but will likely fail. I can live with that.

To say a little about myself (but probably more than you need to know), I am the zebra-helmeted cyclist that Brian lightly critiqued in December (http://talesfromthesharrows.blogspot.com/2011/12/ride-home-125.html) but I'm cool with that. I've been riding in DC most days since 1989 (except for when I skated) with a two-year hiatus around the birth of my two kids, which ended with the magical appearance of CaBi. That wonderful red bike allowed to ride to work after dropping off the wee ones at day care.

During my hiatus (2008-2010), cycling exploded in DC! It used to be me, lots of couriers, and the occasional other commuter. Now we're a wonderful swarm, lines of bikes taking advantage of new bikes lanes and CaBi. Yeah for bikers!

And we're controversial, with a goodly number of complaints about SCOFFLAW CYCLISTS. As I'm one, I thought I'd take the opportunity to explain my thinking and behavior.

Bottom-line: yes, I run red lights, bike on sidewalks, go the wrong way down one-way streets. In the eyes of some, I am basically Satan on wheels. But - and this may be a but only to me - I make sure that, to the best of my ability, I do not impact anyone else in any way when I do so. When I am breaking the law, no driver should have to step on the brakes, no pedestrian should have to step aside, no other biker should feel the breeze of my draft as I flash by. In a term Brian used that I quite like, I am a ninja cyclist - if you are not looking right at me you don't even know I am there.

In fact, also like a ninja, I try to make it so that, even if a driver TRIED to hurt me, they couldn't. When pondering running a red light in front of an approaching car, I don't do it if, by flooring it, the driver could hit me. It's both "good manners" and sane practice.

Now, even under this rule, there are some gray areas. Even when applying the "can't hurt me if they tried" rule, some drivers will slow down if they see a bike in front of them, so I have violated my rule: I affected someone else in my scofflawing. To date, I am living with this transgression, but pondering further alterations to my rules of the road.

So, why I am a scofflaw? A bunch of reasons. It's usually faster. It's also more challenging and more exercise; keeps the brain and muscles going more to try to push the limits (while staying within my rules). Also more fun - I like the figuring out of the timings and calculating the angles.

And, finally, but perhaps most troubling, I do feel morally superior. There, I wrote it. Cars are basically evil. Inefficient, polluting machines of death. They have some benefits but the costs are unbeliable. Those of us on two-wheeled, human powered vehicles are just better. So, I feel justified in taking advantage of that by being a scofflaw. In an balanced judgement, it probably reduces my level of superioty, because despite my rules of the road I do impose on others even though I'm trying not to (see above), but I can live with that as well. At least, so far.

And I think that will be enough pissing people off for the day (assuming Brian actually agrees to post this)!

Happy trails!


  1. Wow... I'm pissed at you. Good job! (I'd take that as a good post...) I tweet about you people, riding without helmets, no lights at night, and "salmon biking" down any wrong-way street... Your insistence that the "Idaho Stop" is the only true way to cycle in an urban setting is disturbing, dangerous, and I believe puts other cyclists in greater risk. (perhaps less, but that's better debated over beer, whiskey, etc...)

  2. I will have to admit I do the same. Basically my rule on a bike is I shouldn't make things worse for the giant pieces of metal careening around the road that could squash me at any moment. The trick is, as you point out, to do so in a way that basically follows along the lines of don't be an ass.

    However, the one thing I avoid is riding on the street against the flow of traffic. Sidewalks are different, as it is allowed in most of DC. I also always wear a helmet, have lights on my bike/backpack and never listen to headphones/make calls while riding.

  3. When I bike, when I walk, when I drive, I'm mostly law-abiding, but let's be frank. Most of us "skirt" the law on occasion, whatever transportation mode we're using. Never turned right on red or made a u-turn when no one was near, even if a sign prohibited it? Never exceeded the speed limit in your car? Never crossed the street against the light or jaywalked? Please post a reply if you can claim that.

    I have very little patience for annoyed drivers. Were I in a car, you'd be stuck behind me, just as inconvenienced, with little chance to pass me (in the city). Instead, after your 5 seconds of pausing in your right turn so as not to run me over, you're on your way.

  4. @Anonymous 9:09 PM: I too hate bikers w/o lights, helmets. I'm hard to miss these days, on the CaBi w/ glowing yellow vest and the aforementioned zebra-covered helmet. Thanks for all the supportive comments! Stephen

  5. YES!! Stephen you've articulated my reasons too. I'd add a couple things.
    1) As a ninja, always respect the ped. That means slowing through a crosswalk when going cross-traffic and exaggerating the distance necessary to get around pedestrians. Show respect and you'll earn it.
    2) A primary reason for (safely and very very carefully) running red lights to me is safety: it puts me ahead of cars enough to where I'm more clearly visible.
    Ride on my fellow Ninja. Always safely and always respectfully.

  6. Preach it! I'm one of those cyclists who does things like wait behind cars when I know the light is about to turn...but I'm also a gigundous klutz who has gotten hit/doored 3 times in the last 3 years, and have thus learned that I am not cut out for feats of derring-do. Kudos to you and your ability to do stuff like that and simultaneously respect pedestrians!

    (Also, @Petrus, great point on #2...)

  7. My favorite "ninja scofflaw's" are those that get in front of me at every single red light by jumping through it, only to be caught by me, apparently a super ninja by comparison, as I abide by the law and pass them while riding my super ninja mobile (aka just a normal bicycle).

  8. @Anonymous03:32PM Wait, are you me?