The Ideal Cyclist (UPDATE)

The Ideal Cyclist always wears a helmet. He wears it when he's riding, when he's thinking about riding, and up to 10 minutes after he has finished riding. He wears a safety vest, safety goggles and cut things with safety scissors. She rarely cuts things, as it might prove unsafe.

The Ideal Cyclist follows all traffic laws. He even follows rules that are not traffic laws but should be. The Ideal Cyclist rides as far to the right as possible. Sometimes he even rides farther to the right than is even possible. He stretches the bounds of possibility when it comes to right riding. The Ideal Cyclist stops at all traffic lights and all stop signs. She stops at all lights period, red or otherwise. You can render the Ideal Cyclist immobile with a flashlight. An octagon of any sort is paralytic. The Ideal Cyclist drops one foot to the ground and maybe a second. The Ideal Cyclist considers hurling herself to the ground at each stop light to kiss the turf, like an arriving Pope. The Ideal Cyclist yields. He yields to cars and pedestrians and buses and trains and baby ducklings. He yields to yield signs.

The Ideal Cyclist only rides in bike lanes. On streets where there are no bike lanes, the ideal cyclist does not ride for fear of offending. He walks his bike along the sidewalk. If someone else is on the sidewalk, the Ideal Cyclist will lift his bicycle above his head and pretend to be an inoffensive street tree. She heeds all passers-by. The Ideal Cyclist will sometimes drive his bicycle to a street where there are bike lanes to begin his trip and ask a friend to pick him up where the lanes end. She shares the road by vacating it. When the Ideal Cyclist chances upon something or someone blocking the bike lane, the Ideal Cyclist will stop and wait for the object or person to clear. The Ideal Cyclist is patient. He has been known to upwards of days for the removal of a traffic cone.

When the Ideal Cyclist reaches a four-way stop near the same time as drivers, she stops, looks, waves the others through and hails a cab.

The Ideal Cyclist will nod patiently and agree with friends and acquaintances who tell stories about the horribleness of non-ideal cyclists. He accepts the sins of the bike world as his own. The Ideal Cyclist is the one with the bad name, to whom it was given by the actions of others. She has endless empathy for the scores of people "almost hit" and beseeches the forgiveness from those who were startled in their cars that time "that guy came out of nowhere." The Ideal Cyclist always comes out of somewhere. He gives ample warning. He uses a bell, but he does not ring it in a way that could be interpreted as scolding or even suggestive of imploring action. He rings gently and the ding is sonorous and soothing. When he calls out "on your left" he does it in the romance language of your choosing because the Ideal Cyclist appreciates your desire for mellifluousness. He then declines to pass because there isn't enough room. That could cause a gentle wisp of wind and it could muss one's hair or perhaps wrinkle a shirt or maybe just make one's skin feel the breeze and no one asked for that.

The Ideal Cyclist does not ask for more bike lanes. In fact, he wants fewer. He wants to only ride on trails- ideally, trails that go nowhere- because the Ideal Cyclist is a recreationalist. Though he rides for sport and pleasure, he does not ride in a group. Ever. He rides single-file, alone and hunches over his bike to form the smallest profile possible, like an animal hiding from a predator. If there are other users on the trail, the Ideal Cyclist goes home.

The Ideal Cyclist seeks penance in advance for the confusion he causes. Perhaps he volunteers his time to change the oil of poor drivers. He might pay other people's speeding tickets anonymously. The Ideal Cyclist knows that her appearance in the world is an unexpected shock. Seeing a cyclist on the road is a close encounter of the third kind. The Truth is Out There.

The Ideal Cyclist never asks for anything better. She opposes bike sharing. The Ideal Cyclist is an avid bicyclist who used to bike, but doesn't anymore. The Ideal Cyclist is too concerned about the safety of others to ever cycle near them. She cycles alone at home, preferably in the dark so the neighbors do not see her secret shame.

The Ideal Cyclist knows that she is a leech on society. She knows that she is using precious road space for her own selfish desires. She knows that she is getting away with not paying her fair share. The Ideal Cyclist registers his bike with the DMV. He encourages others to do the same. Even little kids.

The Ideal Cyclist recognizes that there's no such thing as false equivalency. Her rights and responsibilities are the same as everyone else's. Maybe even more same. The Ideal Cyclist doesn't even know what hypocrisy is. The Ideal Cyclist knows that cars are subjects and not objects. He never suspects criminality because accidents happen. They're unavoidable. It's not blaming the victim if it's a victim's fault and the victim should have known how dangerous it was before he did the thing that he did. After all, if the thing he did wasn't dangerous, how did he become the victim in the first place?

The Ideal Cyclist tries to blend in with normal society, but he cannot. The Ideal Cyclist sees things from others' perspectives, but never suggests that he has his own. The Ideal Cyclist does not wish to disturb the natural order of built things, nor does he question it. The Ideal Cyclist's priority if the priority of others. The Ideal Cyclist never mentions that other might enjoy cycling. She will not speak to cycling's potential appeal. She is no evangelist.

The Ideal Cyclist doesn't even ride a bike.

UPDATE: A modified (read: better) version of this piece has been posted on Greater Greater Washington, where it is capable of drawing the ire of a much larger audience.


On Flat Tires

They are, by definition, deflating. But what can flat tires teach us about bike commuting, urban living and our own selves?

[this sounds sort of like a subheading to an article in Bicycling, right?]

Nothing. They can't teach us anything about those things. Not every problem or scenario is existentially important. It's just air and some ripped rubber. Maybe some glass or a sharp rock. Really not a big deal. These things happen and it's good to know how to fix a flat tire and there are many bike shops that offer classes on how to do that. You should take one. Or you could ask a friend who knows how to fix flat tires to teach you. You could even google it, but I find that hands-on experience tends to be more instructive than online videos. Anyway, learn.

Here are some generic and obvious tips about encountering flat tires in the wild:

  • Sneak up them. Perhaps from behind a kind of blind or camouflage shade. Be very quiet as you approach the flat tire because you do not want to scare it off. It's more afraid of you than you are of it.
  • Once your corner the flat tire, be gentle. Flat tires are timid and delicate. A flat tire might emit a small hiss when it is first met, but soon it will relent. 
  • Remember: flat tires are instinctual. They might lash out when startled. You can try to tame a flat, but it might not take. Feed it some air, but be aware that its drinking from your pump does not mean it will no longer buck.
  • Use tools. They are humanity's advantage over nature. 
  • Seek a safe space to be alone with your flat tire. This morning, for example, I came about the flat tire near to a bike shop. There by, I corralled it and I was able to gain assistance when my stupid locking tire skewer stupidly wouldn't stupid unlock. [NOTE: remind me to remind myself to reconsider the whole locking tire skewer thing. Sure, I don't like my wheels to be stolen, but I also don't like to be unable to remove them either.] Anyway, if you can plan your bike commute that your chancing upon flat tires also allows you to chance upon local bike shops that have early opening hours, I highly recommend it. [I also had to buy a new tube because my stupid spare tube had a stupid gash in it. This was a proto-flat tire, which is even rarer in nature. But then again, I'm sort of an expert flat tire hunter, so it's unsurprising that I was "lucky" enough to see it. 
  • If you defeat the flat tire (which is an if), do not gloat. Do not make of the ripped tube a trophy on your wall nor stuff it and place it atop your mantle. Be respectful. While there are always more flat tires to be discovered (unlike Bitcoins!), you must remember that each one is unique and precious. Cherish your memories, but keep no souvenir. It is tacky. 
  • Move on. When it's all done, get back on the bike and move on. Do not tarry. 
  • Consider joining Better World Club. They even do Roadside Bike Assistance. Car stuff too, if you're into that. I don't know if they have pogo memberships as well. I mean, what would that even entail? Just some dude named Mack showing up with a new spring? And he'd all be like "yup, I see your problem. It's the spring." And you'd be all like "Yeah, I know." And then he'd swap out the spring and he'd be all "Hop along now" and you'd chuckle but you'd know full well that's what he says to every stranded pogoist but you'd still laugh anyway because Mack bailed you out and he seemed like a nice guy and then you'd wonder what kind of training and certifications you need to become a Pogo Roadside Assistance specialist in the first place. But like I said, I think it's just for cars and bikes now. 
So, yeah, flat tires. They happen. It's ok. 


Walk Smart. Walk S-Mart

Pedestrian and bicyclist safety is a laudable goal and I'm glad that the powers that be continue to invest time and resources in promoting these things, even if their educational campaigns rely on imagery that seems to reinforce the dangers of active transportation and sometimes present false equivalencies when no such equivalencies exist. It's easy and fun to quibble with these things, but I shouldn't and so I won't. At least not in this blog post. I'll allow that quibbling to be done by people smarter and sharper than I am and instead I'll just talk about "street smarts" and what those words evoke and how what those words evoke isn't the message "don't kill someone with your car." In fact, if you wanted the message to be "don't kill someone with your car," I would recommend going with "don't kill someone with your car" as your primary slogan But I'm not a Mad Men, so what do I know.

"Street smarts" are defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a certain kind of savvy. A recognition that the world around you is a tricky place where malcontents might bamboozle you and/or give you candy to lure you into their car to kidnap you. Having street smarts is to be shrewd. It's to avoid hazard. It's to suss out the true nature of things (things are bad) and to put yourself in a position where you aren't duped by them. Often times, he and she with street smarts steer clear (transparent cows?) of danger altogether. People with street smarts are clever. Street smarts aren't for the powerful. They're what allow the powerless to circumvent problems. People with street smarts don't get fooled again because they don't get fooled the first time. You can be street smart and you can be streetwise and you can be attuned and aware and you have your wits about you and you get that not everyone is looking out for your best interest because the world isn't like that. That's street smart.

But, what I ask, does any of this have to do with crossing the road?

You shouldn't have to be clever to cross the street. That's not a con or a dupe that you should be looking to avoid. In fact, you can't avoid it. Sometimes there's a street between where you are and where you need to be. Yes, the world is a tricky place, but why put the onus solely on those of us who walk or bike through it to deal with that? Navigating our city streets on foot or on a bike shouldn't be a test of wits against an unforgiving world. If there's a genuine safety problem, we should address the causes of the safety problem! And the causes of the pedestrian and cyclist safety problem in DC (and elsewhere probably) isn't a lack of cleverness by pedestrians and cyclists. It's that cars that are too big and being piloted too quickly and too recklessly in conditions that aren't meant to handle them by others in a society that has grown too callous to the fact that it's too acceptable to injure or kill its citizens by those means. That's the elephant in the room. But then again, if there's an actual elephant in the room, you should just be "room smart" about it and I'm sure no danger will come of it. 

But on the other hand, this biker once almost hit me when I was walking on the sidewalk, so...


White Stripes

"But these are shark infested waters!"
"I don't see why you're complaining. We've laid down a white stripe to indicate a swimming lane. You'll be perfectly safe."

"These seats seems awfully close to the NASCAR track."
"But these white lines means you're in a spectator safety lane. It'll be fine"

"Hey, is that a vial of flesh-eating bacteria?"
"Yeah, but it's on the other side of this white line. We're in the non-infectious lane. Why worry?"

"Our zoo has sure saved a lot of money by replacing the lion cages with some white paint and zoo visitor lanes"

"But Marcus, Vesuvius!-"
"Never you mind. We're in the safe-from-ash-and-magma lane. No worries."

"By covering Whitechapel with these carefully painted white lines, the Ripper will be rendered completely ineffectual!"

"DANGER: RADIOACTIVE. Unless, of course, you're on the other sign of that white stripe"

Bike lanes are just white stripes. Never forget.