Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hey, You! On the Bike!

Okay, maybe I've been spoiled.

Any way you try to pedal it, Montreal is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, from its extensive network of cycling paths (both recreational and practical) to its Bixi bike rental program (the first in North America), its annual Tour de l'isle and all the rest. One of the reasons I never got my driver's license until I moved to California was simply that I loved bicycling so much.

Especially in Montreal The parks, the trees, the little cafes and stores. The hushed, tree-lined avenues of NDG or St. Lambert. The paths through Old Montreal and its cobblestoned streets, along the St. Lawrence, over the seaway, along the Lachine Canal. I just loved it.

But now that I live in the High Desert of California's Antelope Valley? Meh. Not so much.

Like everyone else in this sun-bleached browned out, suburban strip mall of a town, I drive a car. Oh, I still ride a bike, although the fierce winds and relentless heat have made me a big fan of early morning jaunts, before the daily commute starts, when the sun is just breaking over the horizon and the bully boy winds haven't quite woken up, when it's mostly just me, some skittish rabbits and an occasional coyote, and the whispering of the automatic sprinklers as they announce the start of another day.

Of course, bike-friendly or not, no city is immune from asshole motorists. Or asshole cyclists. And the Antelope Valley seems particularly vulnerable to both infestations. Possibly why one friend refers to it as the "A Valley."

The gripes against bike-hating and bike-ignorant motorists are many, and well documented. But cyclists seem to forget that they, too, have responsibilities.

This was all brought home to me yet again this morning. The Girl Detective was in urgent need of champagne, cream cheese and bungie cords (don't ask) and so I hopped into the car for a quick trip to the local supermarket. Yeah, I could have taken a bike, but balancing 20 pounds of ice and a bottle of bubbly seemed like just too much work, Besides, she wanted a bag of ice, not a bag of slush -- we're in the desert, remember.

So, there I am, got the goodies in the trunk, got the windows rolled down to enjoy the breeze, got something good pumping on the radio. It's a beautiful morning in Southern California, bright and clear and not a rattlesnake or a brushfire in sight, and I'm heading back home. I pull out of the parking lot, stop at the stop sign. 

Look left, look right, look left again, pull out a little more just to make sure. I'm a careful driver.

And then some twinkie with the Cyclon shades and lime green spandex and the obligatory blonde hair waving in the wind comes whizzing along the sidewalk at 15 or 20 mph -- a pretty good clip, anyway, zips around in front of me and back onto the sidewalk, warning me to "Watch it, motherfucka!" or something equally charming and then, just before she slips out of sight, flips me the bird.

Just in case, you know, I didn't get the message.

I can only hope she soon meets up with a member of one of the other prevalent groups of assholes on the road -- drivers using cellphones. With any luck, my little twinkie will run a stop sign at some intersection the same time some iPhone iDiot does.

But, as I said, it brought it all home.

So, you there on the bike. There's a reason so many motorists hate you, Missy. And those of us who love to ride our bikes aren't so crazy about you either.

Sure, some drivers are meatheads. But that doesn't mean you have to be one too.

Sorry, Mr. Motorist, but you DON'T own the road. Because, unless specifically marked, cyclists DO have the right to be on the road.

We even have the right to be in the left hand lane if we're making a left hand turn at an intersection. According to California Vehicle Code 21200: 

"Every person riding a bicycle upon a street or highway has all the rights and is subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application."

So don't honk when you're right on our ass -- we probably heard you coming from a mile away. Oh, and when you see us waving our hands up and down? Chill -- they're hand signals, not some sort of obscene gestures. Learn what they mean.

And bicyclists? You DON'T own the roads either. Or the sidewalks. Yeah, I'm taking to you, Toots.

Unfortunately, much of the  hostility displayed towards bikers is our own damned fault. Any of you who think the rules don't apply to you should check out 21200 again. Or whatever rules and regulations apply wherever you live. 

But no matter what you may think, or where you live, or what your negligent parents may have taught you, we're NOT supposed to ride on the sidewalk or against traffic. We DO have to signal for lane changes and turns, we DO have to obey all stop signs and traffic lights.

Because, let's face it, any disagreement between you and a car is bound to end poorly for you (despite the apparent beliefs of some cyclists, possibly garnered from reading too many Marvel comics, wearing Spandex does not make you invincible.

Here's a good rule of thumb: If your bike doesn't have training wheels, get off the damn sidewalk. Before some ticked off pedestrian jams a stick in your spokes or someone pulls out of their driveway to see how well your helmet protects you from a lateral collision.

I don't care what you thought the rules were. The truth is, many of the bad cycling (and motoring) habits I've mentioned have been passed down from generation to generation, a conspiracy of sloth and stupidity and self-serving ignorance. It's shocking to discover how many otherwise intelligent-seeming parents  mistakenly believe that somehow, the rules of the road only apply to other people, and certainly not them -- or their precious offspring.

What you're actually doing is instilling bad habits into your children that could kill them. I've actually seen well-meaning parents instructing their children to ride against traffic (!) or, more frightening, telling them that they don't have to stop at intersections because -- get this! -- bicyclists always have the right of way! If you love your children and you're not sure of the rules of the road, please, for goodness sakes, go to Bike Link's California Bicycle Laws & Safety.

But by far the scariest thing is the kids who don't even know how to ride. It's sad to see some landlocked tubby, overweight kid (a glandular condition, my ass) who's been denied one of the true joys of childhood because his parents think it's "too dangerous." Sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Chunky Concerned Parents, but that Nacho/Mountain Dew/Video Game diet you've put Melvin Junior on is more likely to eventually kill him than a little physical exercise.

It may be too late for you, but maybe your kids still have a chance. Fuck the Lance Armstrong video game. Give Melvin a bike and kick him out of the living room.

But teach him the rules of the road first. And if you don't know 'em, maybe it's time you did.



Blogger Guillaume said...

I actually never rode a bike in Montreal, and I lived on the Plateau. Shame on me. Relationship between bikers (I mean cyclists), drivers and walkers is a complex and conflictual one.

Anecdote: I know of a bike thief there. I always wanted to write a story about the character.

2:58 PM, September 23, 2012  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

It's the outlaw couriers of the 80s and 90s that got me. Utterly fearless kamikaze types, bearded, pierced and tattooed freelance Vikings and pirates in spandex with legs of steel from pumping up and down those hills. Hanging out at PVM food court, chain smoking and passing around cans of beer in paper bags.

Knew a couple of them. An old schoolmate and a giant gay Zulu (he claimed). Wonder what happened to them. Both would be in their fifties now...

3:18 PM, September 23, 2012  
Blogger Guillaume said...

Did he claim to be gay, or to be a Zulu?;-) I think you have more material than me for a great novel right there. Have you seen the movie "22 Secondes"?

Last time I rode a bike was in Italy.

11:40 AM, September 24, 2012  

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