Monday, January 07, 2008

Watchdogging Blogging

There was a link to my last Thursday’s post about the Matthew Parris apology, on a cycling blog called Turnings.

It posted my piece with the following comment:

“Here’s the problem, none of these cyclists who are forever watchdogging all the comments of others (and granted beheading is a bit strong) ever wonder or decry the fact that cyclists the world over are perceived the same way. What can we, as a community, do about the issues the press and individuals raise? No small impact the clothing, packaging, manufacturing, etc have on the environment, or the lawlessness and discourtesy that are often foisted on an unsuspecting public that has no framework to understand our point of view, and worse, we do it with a righteous attitude rife with implication that we are saving the world! How about we work on *that* some more?”

The comment by Daniel Berlinger makes an excellent point. Yes actually, I do wonder and think about the subject often. It seems at times we are our own worst enemy.

Cyclists are arrogant is always the cry, Lycra Louts in some parts of the world. In defense of the cyclist a person could say, is it any wonder they are arrogant, anyone would be after being cursed at, honked at, had stuff thrown at them on a daily basis; cut off, knocked down and even seen their fellow cyclists killed.

But, as the comment above points out, the public has no framework to understand the cyclist’s point of view, and do most care about that viewpoint anyway?

The cyclist can argue that he has the right to ride on road, and he does by law. Does he have the “perceived right” by public opinion? Definitely not, the mindset of some is that cyclists don’t belong on the road, and just by being there appears arrogant. However, is acting in an arrogant manner, and giving people the finger the best way to change public opinion?

The lycra and the helmet has nothing to do with anything, it is the cyclist’s different color skin. It is what sets us apart and causes others to judge us by our appearance. And, like any minority group, the moment we put on that skin and get on a bike we are all judged by the worst standard of behavior of those within our group.

Just because a person in a car hurls abuse at a cyclist because he impedes his way, is it any different if the cyclist then does the same to the pedestrian who steps out in front of him? Does the shouting and abuse help, or make the situation any better? We are all just people trying to get to and from somewhere or other.

Does it help the cyclists cause when a car has to wait at a stop light and a cyclist rides straight through; what gives him the divine right to do that? It is just plain rude, a person wouldn't push in front of someone in line at a movie theatre. Where is the difference?

Change in attitude on both sides is needed; however, it will have to come from the cyclist first. Why? Because the cyclist has the most to gain and at the same time the most to loose. Everybody gains something, but most road users can’t see that yet.

More bikes, less congestion, for one. Safety, and less people killed on the roads will be another. It will cause everyone to slow the fuck down, and realize they will still get where they are going on time, without the carnage we have today.

I think the best way to bring change about, is not by any cyclists’ rights movement, but by individual riders, clubs and small groups of friends who ride together setting their own rules and codes of behavior.

When I’m out riding, I expect sloppy and poor driving from some people. I see it all the time when I drive my car, so it is not going to change just because I am on a bike. I stay alert; I ride defensively, and try not to let it spoil my ride.

When someone is waiting to turn or pull out from a side road, and they see me and are obviously waiting for me to pass, I give a thank you wave. Even though they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

I do this because it is no effort, it costs me nothing, but does a lot for the cycling cause. It lets them know that not everyone in lycra and a helmet is a jerk. A thank you wave will do more for the next cyclist they see on road. Giving someone the finger if they cut you off, will most likely make them deliberately cut off the next cyclist they see.

But this is just me; when some bike riders can’t acknowledge and return my wave as a fellow cyclist, I wonder if I am expecting too much of this same person to give a thank you wave to a motorist. However, think on this, if you can give the finger if someone wrongs you, it takes no more effort to recognize someone doing the right thing.

As for the save the world issue, that is a band wagon that many of us have jumped on. Let’s be honest with ourselves; if cars ran on pixie dust and had zero carbon emissions, we would still ride because it is what we do, we are cyclists. And the fact that millions of little polyesters died to make my jersey, is neither here nor there.

Any other watchdog bloggers out there care to expand on the subject and add their viewpoint.


Anonymous said...

the saving the world bit interests me Dave. i have this question for you or anybody else who might it possible to recycle the modern carbon frameset and parts like one can with steel or aluminium.something for green types to think about when making a bike purchase.c.j.g.of eroticalee

Anonymous said...

I agree that we as cyclists need to accept our responsibility to civilty. It is just made difficult when these pukes in the press are not taken to task for their irresponsible and dangerous remarks. It is, after all, highly unlikely that I will cause injury or death with my bike, even to pedestrians. I can ignore the sausage eating idiots who tell me to " get on the sidewalk " as I ride through Brooklyn, but these bottom feeding "journalists" who use incindiary language to cover lack of material or lack of talent really piss me off. I wish them the worst. I really do. Carbon fiber. What a joke.

Anonymous said...

Empathy for cyclists is a rare commodity. With two or more generations who didn't walk or ride a bike to school (whether driven in a car or bus), understanding and accepting STR is getting more difficult.

It would be great if the political system (media, public attitudes also) supported Complete Streets and STR. Until then, many cyclists must turn to Critical Mass for support and effectiveness.

There is a significant difference between an angry auto driver and an angry cyclist. One can kill with his "toy", the other can only pedal on.

One side is motorized with much horsepower at the political table, the other must give thanks for political crumbs.

mpetry912 said...

Dave you make some very good points. Always acknowledge a bit of courtesy from a motorist. Don't insist on the right of way. Do what you can to expeditiously clear the intersection, etc ect. There will always be jack a__es in cars, but these little things will help a lot to make the roads safer for cyclists.

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this. Too often the commentary on the "advocacy" page at BikeForums is about the multitudinous ways cyclists can get their revenge on "cagers" and "JAMs" who cause them problems in traffic. Occasionally someone will point out that the revenge (hitting/kicking cars is popular) just makes it more likely that the driver targeted will be more aggressive towards other cyclists in the future. Does that mean we should sit back and be abused, heck no. But there are better ways to achieve equality than by stooping down to get in the mud.

Anonymous said...

In a way it all makes me look forward to the day when our world's energy situation makes it too expensive to drive, and we are all on bikes.

Dublin Messengers said...

You're echoing my sentiments completely Dave. I work as a bike messenger in Dublin, have done for 12 years now, and in that time I've realised that blasting through intersections while giving the finger to motorists and screaming at pedestrians doesn't really make me earn any more money, get anywhere that much quicker, or make me feel good about myself.

Sure I break lights, but I do so in as courteous a manner as possible, always giving right of way to pedestrians. I aso agree with thanking courteous motorists, I do it all the time, because in 9 hours of riding in the city, it happens so little I really am thankful for it when it does.

One attitude I don't agree with from cyclists is that 'bikes can't kill'. This is ludicrous and the mentality of pedestrians who step out in front of you because you're 'just a bike'. I have been involved in and seen many serious accidents involving pedestrians and bicycles. I've been to hospital on a few occasions and sent people to hospital on others, I've broken peoples arms and cracked their skulls with my bike, so don't say that we aren't in posession of potentially lethal weapons, you're just trying to absolve yourself of responsibilty for your actions on the roads.

To the writer of the comment including critical mass: 'support' 'effectiveness'?!?! Are we talking about the same critical mass that rides in bus lanes and pisses off more motorists and commuters in one fell swoop than of horde of bike messengers? The same critical mass that gets hijacked by flag waving 'anarchists' on skateboards? Gimme a break.

And to the green thing, yeah, I agree, to paraphrase another blog post I read; if they suddenly discovered that bicycles were conrtibuting to the greenhouse effect I'd probably just put on some more suncream... priceless.

Strayhorn said...

I live in a rural area that lies between major metro areas: people often use the roads as (high-speed) connector routes. So it's not unusual for a nice ride to be interrupted by someone buzzing me, yelling, or other obnoxious behavior.

After long experience and thought, I've decided the best reaction is to just ignore them and continue with the ride. Anything else leads to bad karma, for lack of a better term.

That's the short-term solution. The long-term solution is, unfortunately, having to get politically active. Drivers need to learn that harassing or even hitting cyclists will have consequences. As it is now, hitting a cyclist and even killing one is generally a misdemeanor.

The best solution, politically, is to learn from the anti-drunk-driver campaign: we'll have to make sure cops conduct actual investigations into accidents instead of blowing it off. Make sure judges take these charges seriously. Try to get TV or newspapers to cover the trials. Unfortunately, make sure that people who hit cyclists go to jail.

gazer said...

I work on a college campus, so get to have interactions with pedestrians all of the time.

I've become particularly aggressive with acknowledging their right of way in crosswalks. There are quite a few mid-block crosswalks on campus, and if I see someone attempting to cross, I'll take the lane, and stop to let them go across (as is the law).

This usually has a few effects - it really freaks out the pedestrian, who has expected you to blow right in front of them, but a gentle "Please go ahead." settles the initial surprise.

It also can really annoy the drivers behind you. Too bad for them.

When it comes to dealing with drivers, I definitely agree that a thank-you wave goes a long way.

I'm still working on my responses to threatening (purposefully or not) drivers. Ideally, I'll shout an attention grabbing "Hey!" and leave the cursing and other insults at home. That's still a work in progress.

Unfortunately, the ultimate solution is more bicycles on the road, and more of those cyclists riding assertively and respectfully.

Anonymous said...

Carbon fibre recycling: definitely not possible at the moment, and something that would be quite hard to achieve - as far as i understand, it's effectively impossible to remove the resin from the fibers... but the embodied energy in manufacturing and maintaining a carbon bike is a fraction of a car; you just have to live with the fact that you have a fugly bike ;)

mark worden said...

Speaking of bikes being green:

I recently read that San Diego State University has not allowed bike riding on campus due to the student density on campus and presumed dangers to pedestrians on campus. That was a surprise to me! Bike riders have had to walk their bikes around the 350 acre campus if they ride to school. Students have recently opened up the subject with the University administation to study what can be done to provide bike trails and open up the campus to encourage biking as a solution to more cars and parking problems. The University now has about 35000 students and is expecting an increase of 10000 more in their next expansion phase. It will be interesting to see what they come up with during coming months. Obviously San Diego has great year round biking weather, and bikes are great student transportation.

Wouldn't it be great if the University comes up with a super-duper plan supporting bike transportation to and around campus, and coordinates it to insure adequate support from the San Diego Trolley and bus systems.

Yokota Fritz said...

I'm a generally lawful and courteous cyclist, but when was the last time motorists who are just part of traffic was labeled "arrogant"?

And just because other cyclists break the law and are hoodlums, why are you and I the ones who are somehow held accountable? We don't expect motorists to apologize for the idiots among their midsts. Sure, I advocate for education, but to somehow accept responsibility for the actions of others is a ridiculous notion, Dave.

Will said...

I keep hearing more and more about the tension and problems between cars and cyclists.

I may be living in a whole, but it seems like more an issue in the UK and North America.

The crazy French and Swiss drivers where I live seem endlessly courteous and respectful of cyclists.

Different history I guess

Gary Burkholder said...


"Change in attitude on both sides is needed; however, it will have to come from the cyclist first. Why? Because the cyclist has the most to gain and at the same time the most to loose. Everybody gains something, but most road users can’t see that yet."

Excellent post & philosopy; I couldn't agree more!