Thursday, September 23

Tactical Cycling for Conscientious Objectors

I hesitate to label the conflict between cyclists and motorists as a war. War denotes violence and I most definitely do not want to encourage or support violence. But there is a posturing if you will. Forces are aligned on both sides of the passenger side door.

Having said that, let me also point out that a conflict can be resolved without firing a shot. Sometimes a tactical display of force can quell all desire on the part of your enemy to engage in combat. While this goes beyond the ideal situation (no conflict in the first place) it is an acceptable substitute for opening fire through the car window.

The conflict arises because both sides are struggling to maintain control. The motorist wants to be in control of the vehicle. He wants to decide how fast, where and in what manner he drives his car. He is already limited by lines on the edge of the road, speed limit signs, traffic signals, heavy traffic and laws pertaining to his vehicle that mandate restraint in civilized society.

On top of everything else, there is a skinny punk in colorful clothes, his gluteus maximus flexing right there in the motorists face. He's taking up half the road and only going twenty miles an hour!

The absurdity of the situation is beyond reckoning and for the motorist...on his way home after a long day of arguing with people and fretting over how he can get a raise in this’s the final straw. His frustrations pour out of the open power window along with his conditioned air.

Once he sees that the cyclist has ear buds in and he realizes the obnoxious pedal pusher can't even hear the motorist's rant he decides he'll show him a display of force. He revs the motor of his burly SUV and cuts within millimeters of the cyclists front tire. And then the cyclist has the nerve to FLIP HIM OFF!

The cyclist is trying to maintain a different sort of control that is somewhat but not fully understood by the motorist. Cyclists want their personal space on the road. And the motivation for maintaining that personal space is noble self-preservation, a buffer of rolling real estate around the cyclist which poorly mimics the safety features of Two-Ton Tessie and her ceaselessly honking horn.

The cyclist does not rage at the motorist because the motorist inhibits his travel. The cyclist doesn't pump his fist at the car's rear-view mirror because he has been forced to slow down. No, the cyclist becomes enraged at the motorist when the motorist behaves recklessly, carelessly or aggressively. I'm not saying that some cyclists don't antagonize motorists. But honestly, believe what you will, but if every car that passed me gave me ample room on the road and refrained from honking and yelling at me (even in greeting) then I would have no reason to gesture obscenely or slip into the middle of the lane to protect myself.

I will be the first to admit that the road is a dangerous environment for cyclists. But it should not be a hostile environment. There are enough inherent dangers to putting yourself in the middle of hundreds of tons of fast moving steel and plastic while straddling a coat hanger on wheels without adding threats to life and limb by your friends and neighbors.

Riding in traffic has an element of danger that makes you painfully aware of your mortality. But if you want to make it to your destination on your bike you should most definitely not think about people talking on cell phones, texting, putting on makeup, drinking coffee or reading the newspaper while driving. All it takes is one split second of inattention for a car to clip a cyclist. If the motorist is distracted enough they may not even know they hit the cyclist. I'm sure the cyclist will not fail to recognize the transaction. Thinking about all that could go wrong while riding a bike on the road will make you want to throw the bike over the hill and into the ditch and strike out cross country on foot toward your destination.

Cyclists need to take and maintain control of the road around them. They need to command a presence without provoking their adversaries to violence. While I hesitate to call it a war, I will fully acknowledge that while cyclists and motorists share the road they are competing for the same resources (space) on the road. While the motor vehicles definitely command the playing field, cyclists are protected by laws much like the poison dart frog is protected by its chemistry. There is nothing that prohibits the large predator from devouring the frog in one gulp, though the consequences are undesirable.

The most basic tactic for controlling the road around you as a cyclist it to be visible. If they can't see you, even the most well behaved and careful motorist can't give you space. Don't ride far off on the shoulder unless you can travel in that space for a long, long distance without crossing other roads. If you have to cross side streets, driveways the like you should ride as far left in the lane as feasible to maintain visibility to both cars overtaking you and cars waiting to turn onto the road. It’s a tactic that is counter-intuitive if you are not a cyclist. But experienced cyclists will ride to be seen not to be separate.

Don't use this tactic to antagonize motorists. If you are plenty visible in the bike lane, then for Pete's sake don't ride in the middle of the main lane of travel. Give the motorists a break and let them pass.

Be a conscientious objector. Let people know how you feel, but don't get the war machine rolling with your behavior. And if it is already rolling over top of you, striking back will not de-escalate the clash.

Let it go!

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