Sunday, August 25, 2013

Riding a Bike = Deathwish

A couple years ago, I was speaking with a bartender and he told me a story of how he saw a cyclist run into the side of a car that had abruptly turned in front of him.  The guy was vaulted off of his bike and hit his head on the pavement on the other side of the car.  His momentum caused him to slide a little after impact and he basically rubbed his ear off on the street.  He wasn’t wearing a helmet.  This was a major contributor to my decision to start wearing a helmet while biking.

 $340 - slightly used

Helmets are a necessity not because of the possibility of hitting a pothole and falling off of your bike or clipping a curb with your tire and tipping over.  Helmets are a necessity because a portion of the car-driving public has little to no regard for the average cyclist.  This causes drivers to not afford a person on a bike the respect and safety they deserve and sometimes causes people to act in a way that is dangerous and downright malicious.  I have had many drivers cut unnecessarily close to me as they pass, revving the engine and sometimes even screaming at me.  One guy pulled in front of me and frantically waved his arms in the direction of the sidewalk.  I pulled up next to him at the next streetlight.

“What’s your problem?” I asked.

“Ride on the sidewalk, man!  It only takes one Mexican smoking a joint out here and you’re a road-pizza!” he responded.

Racist, but true.  It only takes one inattentive driver to knock your head off.  However, it’s illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk so you might just have to move over a little bit.

It’s conversations like this that I actually enjoy while riding a bike.  Being out in the open affords you the opportunity to really get in people’s faces, which is mainly impossible inside of a car.  I was once in the left turn lane waiting for traffic to clear so I could cross the street.  Somebody towards the back of the line cut into traffic and then tried to cross the other cars in the left turn lane, cutting people off so he could make the light.  He pulled up and next to me and I simply looked over at him through his open window.

“Really dude?  That’s your move?” I asked.

He responded with a dumbstruck look on his face before he turned off his left-turn blinker and continued going straight, abandoning his asshole quest.

These interactions are fairly frequent; probably because I seek them out.  a couple weeks ago a cab ran a stop sign and almost side-swiped me so I turned to him, spit on the hood of his car, told him to watch what he’s doing and then to “fuck off.”  It felt great.  He responded by spitting out of his window and trying to swear at me but I was already biking away and laughing. 

One day, I was riding home from work and I approached the highway overpass.  I rode along the left side of the right-turn lane while the lane to my left was a straight-only lane.  A truck pulled up next to me and started screaming out of his window.  He was mad that I was in the way.  I gave him the what-the-fuck hands and he slammed on his brakes, quickly turning to the right, cutting off traffic and heading down the onramp.  He looked back at me, so I flipped him off and started laughing (pretty hard) because it made him absolutely lose his mind.  But here’s the deal:  He was wrong about every single part of our interaction.  He was just trying to cut to the front of the line like a total dick head and I was obeying every traffic law.  That’s why watching him get so mad was hilarious; he’s and idiot.

I’m not afraid of any repercussions (I avoid voicing my opinion to anybody that looks as if they might have a gun) because they could never catch me.  If any of them tried to chase me, all I would have to do is stop my bike, turn the opposite direction, and continue along my way.  Assuming he’s not a stunt driver, it would take the other person a long time to turn around and come back after me.  Especially on a busy street in traffic.

Assholes aside, there are also just those careless drivers that are dangerous to everything on the road.  One big problem is people sitting in parked cars and apparently deciding to fling their doors open moments before a biker comes past.  I know people that have run into open doors like this and I have come close on many occasions.  I understand that people don’t really think about the possibility of this happening so they don’t check before opening their doors, but it’s extremely dangerous. 

Another thing people don’t think about is checking their right mirror, as well as their left, before pulling to the side of the road to turn or park.  Just a couple weeks ago, I slammed into the passenger-side front door of a van because the guy saw an angled parking spot on the side of the road and just fucking went for it.  No blinker, no hesitation.  All of a sudden there was a big ass van door directly in front of me.  Half a second later, I slammed into it and flew over my handlebars.  Luckily, I only had a few scrapes and didn’t hit my head.

“What the goddamn fuck is wrong with you?” I politely asked.

“I’m sorry.  I’m sorry,” repeated the middle-aged man that stepped from the driver’s seat.  “Are you okay?  Do you need to go to the hospital?”

I refused, said I was fine, and rethought my anger.  I knww it was a mistake.  No need to kick his nuts through his back.  I understand that the chances of this happening are pretty slim so he didn’t think of it beforehand.  Okay, fine.

“It’s okay.  I’m fine.  Just pay attention to what you are doing.  Okay?”

He nodded.

“Just—fucking—watch out next time.  Jesus Christ.”

I picked up my bike.  Both wheels still rotated without any extra wobbles.  The chain was off and the handlebars were bent, but those are both an easy fix.  His door had a nice, new dent and a yellow streak from my handlebar tape.  He had been punished enough.

And this is the kind of thing that can happen at any time.  Sometimes, apparently, people will do shit like this on purpose but it’s mostly people not paying attention.  The reason people do shit like this on purpose, however, is because some bike riders are assholes.  Taking up entire lanes during rush hour and not even trying to keep up with traffic.  Cutting between cars in an extremely dangerous manner.  Acting as if being on a bike means all traffic laws aren’t applicable.  And that’s wrong.  And stupid.  And gives everybody on a bike a bad rep thus bringing about repercussions across the board.  And that sucks.  Because even though I stick as far to the side of the road as I can while keeping from riding in the potholes (for some reason, the sides of the every road in Los Angeles are in terrible condition), yield to pedestrians and cars when appropriate, and don’t bike in an aggressive manner, I still get lumped in with pricks like this:

A month ago I saw a guy on a bike pull in front of a car that was leaving its parking space on the side of the road.  The biker intentionally went slow and continued cutting the car off whenever it would try to pass.  The biker apparently felt that the car had pulled out too close to him but it was totally clean.  The biker was just a bit too sensitive and acted like an asshole because of it.

But we’re not all assholes like this.  Which is why I wish drivers of cars would cut us some fucking slack.  Every person you see on a bike is helping keep cars off the road, avoiding damaging the already beat up streets, not contributing to the smog that we are all forced to huff every day, and not filling up cars with gas which helps keep the prices (albeit not much) a little lower.  And I wish bikers would get their heads out of their asses and realize that yes, we are entitled to the road just like cars but that doesn’t mean we get free reign over everything.  And that we’re not so righteous and venerable that people in cars should be licking our shoes and letting us do whatever we want.

Riding a bike around the city is great.  Way better than driving a car.  That is, of course, if you can ignore the constant danger you’re in.

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