Monday, January 26, 2009

My Philosophy on Commuting
or How to Ride Amongst Steel Cattle (if you have a pair)

We're not afraid to ride
We're not afraid to die
So come on, wheels, take me home today
Come on, wheels, take this boy away

- Gram Parsons

Albert Raine brought up some valid concerns about my commuting style after my post a few days back.

Let me try to explain (or create a trainwreck trying).

First off, here's my record:
Years commuting/Riding in the city: 15 (2 as a Messenger in Boston)
Number of times I have made bodily contact with a car: 3
Resulting serious injuries: 0
Number of times my knee has inadvertently taken off a rearview mirror: 2

First and only real rule,
As Arnold Darkshner of The Green Team says:

Arnold Darkshner - Green Team

Thou shalt Not Kill. I just made that up, sounds pretty good doesn't it? My prime directive is really "Don't endanger others". This means not jumping up on pedestrian strewn sidewalks, blindly blowing through walk lights or red lights before assessing the situation and making damn sure you are not going to mow someone down. That's about it for that one, the only people truly vulnerable to an attack by bikers are pedestrians. Any other boneheaded thing you might do is only going to damage property or get you killed or catastrophically injured.

Maybe even stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk once in a while if you're feeling nutty.

If you think it's awesome to buzz through walk lights or crosswalks, weaving between people, and ride down one way streets the wrong way, think about it for half a second. If you hit someone, if you injure someone, if you KILL someone, it is 100% your fault. Legally that sucks, what sucks more is the fact that you will have to live with what you've done. Unless you are a true sociopath that may be difficult.

I wish someone would give drivers the same advice. Pick up a desk stapler and wield it at someone, it's assault with a deadly weapon. Swerve at a cyclist with a two ton car, you won't even get charged with a crime.

The Man. Cyclists are an oppressed minority group living in a world designed and created by The Man, the car driving, coffee in one hand, cell phone in the other hand MAN. The way I choose to deal with this is, admittedly more Weather Underground than Ghandi. Yes, I blow up empty cars. No, that's made up. I do assert myself, hold my ground on the road, and take very little to no crap from car drivers. I'm a skinny little man with a big fat mouth.

Trust No One. Do not trust directional signals on cars, do not trust other cyclists, do not trust drivers waving you on. Trust that people will do the dumbest thing possible at the worst possible time. That is the only law they follow. Getting into a car turns Albert Einstein into George W. Bush. This is your war, cars are your enemy.

Learn to ride your bike before you ride in traffic. This is a wide open subject but if you can't control your bike you should be on a bike path causing non-serious injury to children, dogs, and rollerbladers. If I see you at a busy intersection with your left foot in the downward position as you kick along with your right foot to get going I will ride by you and grumble inaudibly to myself which will be emotionally devastating for you.

Do it right. With your right foot clipped in grab your front brake and just your front brake (that's the left one) lean forward causing the rear wheel to lift of the ground, pedal to a position where you can get a good, powerful pedal stroke in as you start up.

This one act causes me more consternation than a cyclist riding the wrong way at me on the road. At least that guy has a reason to be doing what he's doing...he has to find the crack pipe he dropped.

Same Road Different Rules. Is it legal for me to ride through a red light if there isn't a car in sight and no one (especially the law) is watching? Technically - no. Is it dangerous? Absolutely not. You know how I know that there isn't a car coming (and the law isn't watching)? Because on a bike I have 360° unobstructed visibility and superior hearing to those enclosed in metal boxes. I'm like a super-being compared to them. I refuse not to take advantage of my super powers. You hear that The Man? I do what is safe and reasonable not necessarily that which is 100% legal. Membership has its privileges...with great risk comes great reward...America runs on Dunkin' Donuts.

Lights. Have a rear blinky so that folks overtaking you will only kill you intentionally. Only like 5% of US citizens intentionally kill people on a daily basis. The odds are in your favor. Front lighting is much more important. This "prevents" oncoming drivers from cutting you off and lets pedestrians see you coming. Having enough light to see if there's a big honkin' pot hole in your path isn't a bad thing either.

Your mouth. My mouth has helped keep me alive. Letting out a big "Yo!" or "HEY!" from thirty yards out as a door is beginning to open, a pedestrian is about to launch themselves off the sidewalk, or a car is edging out in front of you can save your ass. Silence = Getting Wrecked.

Look of Death. Stare a car which is about to do something sketchy down. I don't mean look sideways at it, turn your head and let them know your are watching. . It is much harder for them to make the decision to run you down and kill you that way. "Wow, that cyclist has a kitten...or one of The Real Housewives of Orange County...I feel my foot letting up on the gas pedal". Think "Death lasers out of your eyes" and mouth the words "I will ride over you". Unless they read lips they won't get it, but it's all about the attitude and the body language any way. Commit, own your actions, and don't hesitate or you will be lost.

Pointing. This is good, when entering an intersection, a car is approaching coming the other way, maybe they have their blinker on, maybe not, either way you know they are going to turn into you as you enter the middle of the intersection. Point at them, not like you point at a muffin at the bakery "Hmm, I'll take that one...what is that, Banana Nut?". No, do it like Champ Kind in the fight scene in Anchorman. "You! You're next." it says.

Pointing also works for rotaries and for giving free-from-interpretation hand signals. Forget what you read in your driver's manual, everyone driving their cars so haphazardly around you has. Point where you are going, left right, even straight, use your entire arm, with feeling.

Don't do this. I've heard that when when one is being charged by a Grizzly Bear they should blow up two large trash bags then wave them up and down to make themselves appear much larger then they are. I can't imagine this actually works, I can imagine that when the rangers find you they are totally psyched to have two large trash bags to scoop what's left of your mangled carcass into. I sometimes employ a practice similar to this which does work on cars. I take my hands off the bars and wave them up and down. It completely freaks them out.

Be alert. When performing any of the maneuvers described above be alert, be engaged, use your ears, use your eyes, be paranoid, never let your guard down. You should always be watching for any sign of life in parked cars. Tail lights, doors cracking open, heads in the driver seat, these are signs that your are about to eat a door.

Watch the traffic not the light.

At an intersection, especially with a four lane road, watch to make sure traffic has come to a complete stop. Every morning I see drivers blow solid red lights from ten car lengths out. This is not the time to stands up for your rights. Unless you feel like ghost riding your bike into the intersection as the light changes. Same goes for turning in front of traffic, if you haven't got a big enough gap DO NOT count on cars to slow down or stop for you. Hell, they probably aren't even looking at the road.

Speed is your friend, The closer you are to traffic speed the better off you are. You'll feel more comfortable riding just out of dooring range (the middle of the bike lane) without cars buzzing you at twice your speed. Believe it or not cars will respect your place (or just be too nervous to function) when you're going closer to their velocity.

Lane-Splitting. I'm still waiting to hear back from Bob Mionske on the legality of this one (seriously). I'm not talking about riding in-between two lanes of fast moving traffic. I'm talking about riding in-between two rows of stopped cars in grid-locked traffic or while approaching an intersection. I have witnessed several incidents where cyclists got whacked by cars discharging passengers on the curb side. I have never seen a cyclist whacked while lane-splitting.

Bob Mionske recently cited several incidents involving cyclists being killed by right-turning cars at intersections in his column "Legally Speaking" on Velonews. When you lane-split coming up to an intersection as you overtake the last car, you pull in front of it (the driver clearly sees you and becomes aware of your presence) situating yourself just ahead and to the right, not in it's blind spot where you could potentially die.

I joke, but I know someone who lost his wife this way. I never ride to the right of a turning car or truck. If you think lane-splitting is insane just stay behind the lead car at the intersection. Also if you can't fit through the space between a stopped car and the curb, please don't try to squeeze through (I have seen people do this, one foot kicking down the curb) if traffic starts up, you are screwed. Just wait behind the car, it won't kill you while the alternative might.

Advanced technique:
If traffic is beginning to move or the light has just changed as you get to the head of the line approaching an intersection you ride between the cars until they are close to matching your speed, then kind of assimilate yourself back into traffic, getting behind the car in front of you and merging back to the side of the road.

If you're still reading this. Please realize that while writing this my tongue was both placed in and out of my cheek. Don't take anything I say entirely seriously but don't necessarily discount it wholesale either.

Don't kill people, ride within your comfort level, and always use your fuckin' brain.

Don't drive too close to me, I might just be strapped with explosives and bags full of nails and marbles.


Colin R said...

This is a very good post.

The bit about never trying to squeeze by on the right side of a stopped car, in case the light changes, is spot on. My closest brush with death came from doing that with an 18-wheeler.

Raineman said...

Al...BERT?! The truth is I fantasize about Being Lucas Brunelle, alleycatting NYC's metal and asphalt - so you're going to have to come up with more in the series of DANGER WRENCH to really get me genunely alarmed, ThomAS.
P.S. The follow the lead car around the corner is a key move. Next installment: Ride as Wide as a ...?

Anonymous said...

lol@ these code names they're confusing

lost car keys

Raineman said...

I've done the hood roll once, right over the hood of a cardriven by one of the signers of this:

Cosmo said...

Support it, though I generally aim to limit the delta between my velocity and the vehicles around me. I've hit more cars than have hit me in this city, generally because I brought too much speed into too small a space.

Also, the death stare is largely ineffective in tough neighborhoods. When I first came to Boston, I made it my goal way to bike around and get lost until I could figure out what was where.

Anywhere on the T, I can freeze traffic like no other. But Chelsea, Uphams Corner, and most of Blue Hill Ave were utterly immune to my powers—like Jabba stuffing a Jedi mind trick.

Big Bikes said...

Thank you sir Colin.

Al, I was actually going to point you toward Brunelle if you wanted to see some truly sketchy riding. Entertaining as all hell, but sketchy.

Lost car keys...I'm confused, time for word verification for comments?

The letting a car set the pick and block for you during a left turn through an intersection is a technique I forgot to talk about. It's a good survival technique, just wait 'til you see those wheels turning before you commit.

I'll be posting a less sketchy commuter vid later this week showcasing some of my points.

Cosmo, didn't touch on that either...yes, you want to be on your very best behavior in tougher neighborhoods. When I B-Line it down to Blue Hills from Somerville I don't play around with death stares. Actually you want to cool that stuff in rural areas, i.e.: places that are really good to hide a body.

Anonymous said...

The Weather Underground! What a fantastic reference. I was always partial to the SLA and Field Marshal Cinque--now those people knew how to come up with with some names.


VPD said...

"Trust no one." That pretty much sums it up. I belive in doing whatever I want on the road. Whatever gets me there and gets me there safe. I don't care who has to die, as long as it's not me. Fuck others. Fuck the law. Fuck safety. Every time I lose track of this vision it's me who get's hurt or fucked over. I've learned my lesson. Fuck activisim, fuck peace and love, fuck 'em all. They are all trying to kill me. They will kill me. One rule; My Rule!

Fxdwhl said...

good stuff. and a helmet mounted light has saved my ass many a time from cross traffic as the ol 'hot eyes' makes them pause for that crucial moment.

rural riding is different but some of the tactics work the same. biggest factor is their speed and ease of escape after they pull a bonehead move.

AC said...

I can't see your eyes in that picture so it's hard to for me to tell if you're a kitten or a robot that I can run over without feeling guilty. That's just me, though.

Aaron said...

Excellent post.

Along the same lines as the car-sets-pick-for-left-turn tactic: The only time I like to be riding very close to a car is when I'm going through an intersection at night, as I feel it prevents oncoming traffic from turning left in front of me (I've been in two Aaron-auto accidents in this manner over the years, so I do my best to avoid it).