Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In the way

Often in civil service offices, next to school secretaries' desks, and places like that you'll see a mimeographed sign that says:  "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."  I'll admit it's a bit hard boiled, especially when "planning" on the petitioner's end includes 6 forms of ID, a notorized form and 6 months of receipts.  However it has a real corollary in bicycling, which is "Your desire to get to your destination (or the next red light) 30 seconds faster, does not constitute an obligation on my part to ride in a door zone or in such a way as to allow you to pass me closely at speed.

Through either nature or nurture, women are inclined to care what other people think and feel, especially about  them.  This makes them better at forming and preserving relationships, compromising and building teams, etc.  Holding your ground when someone is breathing down your neck- not so much.  I particularly stress myself out when I feel someone is waiting on me.  This is one reason that I'm glad that the Scientist and I don't carpool together much anymore.  I never seem to have trouble finding my keys when it's just me that's getting out the door :).

For me this is the "hard part" of vehicular cycling, such as I practice it.  It's tough to always feel like you're "in the way",  to be constantly self- justifying that this is the right thing, the safe thing, to do.  To remember to act like I'm leading the parade,  head high, back straight,  holding my line, smiling.   It's a mental struggle more than a physical one on many days.  Not really knowing what's happening with the car coming up behind you at speed,  not knowing if the guy gunning his engine is angry and frustrated, or just has an idle setting too low and is trying not to stall out.  Sometimes I feel a bit like a bobblehead doll,  swivelling my head back and forth to shoulder check on both sides.  (neck was really sore today from sleeping on it wrong, which made shoulder checks problematic).

The fact that I've been safely commuting for 3 years, with only one minor accident (I rode myself up into a right hook) makes it clear to me that bike commuting in the city is neither unsafe nor an extreme sport.  I derive so many benefits from it: the stress relief of daily exercise; the visceral sense of my surroundings and the climate; relative indifference to the size of my serving of tarte tatin, etc.   However, I still long for bicycle infrastructure that will allow me to get where I'm going without constantly feeling like I have to deliberately put myself "in the way" and hold that position despite what  faster steel clad traffic wants me to do.
 And that's the perspective of someone who's been regularly bike commuting since I was 16-  that would be over 20 years now!  I can only imagine how hard it must be for someone who is just starting up for the first time as an adult, with a full sense of the consequences and how frail our bodies are (a sense dulled by youth, adrenaline and perhaps testosterone).    I am hopeful though every time I see an adult on a bicycle, that more infrastructure is on the way,  and that we will see a virtuous cycle of more cyclists, more respect, more infrastructure, and more cyclists.


  1. I more or less feel that if a cyclist can distinctly hear the engine of the vehicle behind in traffic, it's probably too close. Knowing that tailgating happens all the time between cars doesn't help, either. When I was rear-ended in my car (twice) because the driver behind me wasn't following a safe distance, all I got was a smashed back end. Knowing that being rear-ended would be different (much worse, probably) on my bike causes me to agree with you about infrastructure being needed, based on knowing how widespread tailgating is. "Virtuous cycle", I like that a lot.

  2. a few quick thoughts--

    My last (significant) crash was due to a sore neck; I turned to check traffic and inadvertently pulled my handlebars... ran into a nasty granite curb.

    I miss my commute through Cambridge; Allston/Brighton via Comm Ave is not so fun.

    Testosterone not withstanding -- feelings of mortality grow heavier and heavier every time I have a "rough" commute.

    --thank you for this (and every) post, but more importantly; thank you for going to those many meetings and advocacy gatherings that always seem to happen on the nights I am in class :/

    (continue to) Ride safe!

  3. It's hard. One thing that makes me feel slightly less engaged in someone else's frustration is knowing that the person who is going to be all up on you and pissed off would likely be pissed off if she/he were sitting behind another *car* as well. It's not about you being on a bike. It's about you being in front of them. Aggressive, bad drivers are aggressive and bad no matter where they are, or who they're following.

    Granted, it's more dangerous for you to be in front of that person on a bike than in a car, but it doesn't make you more responsible for their attitude.

    Astroluc's use of the word mortality, sadly, had me nodding in agreement. :(

  4. Oi, yes, holding her ground, something this woman finds difficult.

    I think I've mentioned that I want to take Flamenco dancing lessons, just for the practice in taking my own space. It's a bit like your parade imagery.

  5. Neck is much better Astroluc, thanks- Advil and the Scientist's jujitsu made it all better.
    JAR, Unfortunately I'm almost ALWAYS in bumper to bumper city traffic, and have no choice but to hear the car 2' behind me. I've been thinking of calling Car Talk and telling them that instead of "strapping their brother to the hood" they should get mechanics on bikes, because there are lots of sounds that you can hear much better outside the car - bad wheel bearing, bad fan belt, etc.
    Today for example, I was being followed by a Wonderbread Delivery van, which sounded like he was gunning and fretting behind me. He was a bit close, but he backed off after I turned around and gave him the stinkeye. I really think that was just the noise his old diesel engine made going up a hill in low gear..

  6. I got a mirror and tell myself, "They would have no problem passing me on a bicycle." (which all bicyclists don't)

  7. This is a post I'll have to consider and ponder for a while. I do think that women respond better to Bike Ed and might benefit from seeing videos of how the traffic responds to the way they ride. Hmm...

  8. I find that having a mirror makes a huge difference for me in situations like that. I feel much more apprehensive when I can't see the vehicles behind me. When I can, it feels much easier to sit up straight and tall and calmly assert my lane position.

  9. thank you for going and speaking up--you are making biking better for so many others! greatly appreciated