Dear area car driver:

In the event that you, area car driver, happen to be dropping off a passenger, please execute the following maneuvers:

1: signal and get to the side of the road;

2: leave the turn signal on while you’re stopped.

As you can see, these are two steps.  Two very easy steps.  These two very easy steps are intended to replace the following alternative method of dropping off passengers:

–just letting out the passenger when already stopped at the light, without putting on a turn signal or moving out of the lane in any significant way, or checking the right side of the car first for passing bicyclists.

Why?

Here’s the thing, area car driver.  Your passenger has not been looking at the road.  He or she does not habitually look in the rear view mirror before opening his or her door, especially when getting out of the back seat.

Drivers such as yourself are well-trained in looking down the street for bikes, and those of us on bikes thank you for it.  You are also aware when there is a bike near your car, because you’re the driver and that’s your job.  But your clueless passenger is not aware and hasn’t had to be for the entire ride, and the curb is right there.  They are not thinking of the possibility that a bike is attempting to navigate the space between the car and the curb at the same moment in which they are opening the door.

Likewise, the biker is not aware someone is about to get out of the car because the biker does not know you have stopped to let someone out, because you have not stopped to let someone out.  You have stopped at the light.  There is no way to tell the difference between stopping for a light and stopping to drop someone off without using psychic powers.

Bicyclists do not have psychic powers.  In case you were not sure about that.

And finally

In the event you have neglected to pull over adequately or used a turn signal, and it is raining, and your passenger has opened the rear right door cutting off the cyclist that was at that very moment navigating that same space between the car and the curb, it would be in your best interest not to yell at the biker who had to use the side of your car to stop before he hit your car door.  Suggesting that the bike had plenty of time to stop just proves both of you knew the bike was there and decided to open the door anyway, which makes you look like massive assholes.

Addendum

When bike brakes get wet they don’t work as well.  Just like car brakes, actually.  If you, area car driver, ever find yourself saying, “the bike will have enough time to stop” you should re-evaluate your decision-making capabilities.

Especially when it’s raining.

You know you’ve been bicycling in the city for a while if…

…you know not to take a sharp turn across a manhole cover in the rain

…you can’t name most of the streets you travel on but you can describe the light cycle patterns of every intersection in great detail

…you’d consider a horror movie that began with the driver’s side door of a parked car flying open the absolute scariest way to start a movie

…you can name every part on your bike that has ever stopped working

…another bike passes you while you’re stopped for a pedestrian and you make it your life’s work to hunt down and pass that biker

…you’ve learned the hard way that the only way to cross embedded trolley tracks is at a ninety degree angle or not at all

…you’ve biked more than three miles while bleeding

…you know at least a quarter of the street lights in the city only turn green if a car is waiting for them

…you have ever ridden straight to the bike repair shop with something sharp in your tire, knowing it won’t go flat until you pull the sharp thing out

…you’re more concerned with the puddle in front of you than with the car on your left

…you’ve ever said, “yes I went over the handlebars but it was no big deal” and meant it

…a part of you really wants to see that guy on the bike going the wrong way without a helmet get hit by a car

…you stopped caring how you look in really tight clothing a very long time ago

…you don’t mind being passed by another bike as long as they look like they race professionally.  Otherwise, it’s on

…you know that the most important part of the weather report is the wind speed

…you know exactly what a chamois is

…there are very few things you find more satisfying than passing the car that gunned its engine to get by you a few blocks earlier

…you’re seriously considering breaking the rear window of the next Mini Cooper that tries to use your bike lane as a driving lane

And finally…

…you love listening to other people complain about how long they were stuck in traffic.

A full accounting

As many of you know, I’ve been biking a lot this summer.  Since my office moved in March and turned my daily bike commute from 8 miles into 35, I have logged over 3,000 miles.  At the beginning my breakfast was a piece of toast and coffee, my clothes were shorts and a shirt, and my shoes were regular running sneakers.  Now I’m wearing bib shorts, breathable underwear (!), sports glasses, and shoes that clip into my pedals.  In the heat of the summer I broke down and shaved my body hair in an effort to stay cool.  And my breakfast for most of the summer consisted of (in order):

  • one OxyElite Pro fat burner pill
  • one Allegra
  • whole grain toast and coffee
  • two multivitamins
  • one fish oil pill
  • one scoop of Accelerade in 12-14 ounces of water
  • (post ride) one and a half scoops of Amplified Wheybolic Extreme 60 in 12-14 ounces of water.

From the start of the riding to right now, I’ve lost 14 pounds and gained muscles in places I didn’t know existed outside of the G.I. Joe dolls I used to play with when I was five.  

So, having looked back at all of this and considered what I’d accomplished and what I still have left to do (I’m still unhappy with my stomach, thank you) it occurred to me that this might be a good time to quit smoking.

Because I’m crazy

Okay, here’s the thing.  I like smoking.  A lot of people do.  You might be one of them, but you’re probably not.  You’re probably one of those people who has never tried cigarettes for long enough to understand the appeal, and bravo for you.  But I will always enjoy smoking whether I continue to smoke or not.  And I do plan to stop.  Right now, actually.

I’ve been smoking for 25 years.  I never got up to more than 18 a day, and I’ve gotten down as low as two a day.  For this summer I averaged about six a day.  During the week I would have one shortly after getting to work, a second one about 90 minutes later, and one after lunch, and then a fourth after I’d biked home.  Those two cigarettes I had right after the bike rides were the best moments of my day.

I’m serious.

But then I’d end up having fifth and sometimes a sixth one later in the evening, and I’d wake up with ashtray aftertaste the next morning, and do the whole thing all over again.  And I’d keep doing it, partly because I really didn’t want to not do it, and partly because some little piece of me thinks I can do it all.  I can bike 175 miles a week while also going through two packs a week.  It can be done, and I’ll prove it.

So I proved it

I’m not even sure who I was proving it to.  But I did it.  However, it’s undeniably true that I have also reached the upper limit of what I can do while still smoking.  Certain hills on my route are as easy as they’re ever going to be, my speed is never going to improve beyond what it is, and– having taken up jogging on weekends– I’ll never run beyond a certain number of miles.

So now I’m quitting.  Not because I don’t want to smoke any more; that’s never going to go away.  I’m quitting because I have no idea how much faster I can bike or farther I can run, or better I can feel until I take that step.  In other words, I’m counting on my own vanity to keep me away from the smokes.

Step away, slowly

I’m writing this at the time I would be having my post-lunch cigarette.  And my last smoke was a couple of hours ago, so I’m not really in withdrawal yet.  In the event I happen to interact with you in the next couple of days and I act like Angelus, I apologize preemptively.

Counting red lights

If you ask a biker– any city biker– about bicycle safety and traffic laws, they will all start with the same line: “of course I stop for red lights, but…”  What will usually follow is a complaint about the many cyclists they’ve seen that were acting stupid, or reckless.  And if you ask me I’ll probably tell you the same thing.

But here’s the truth: We all run red lights.  All the time.  Just not all of them.

On my way home last night– a 17.5 mile trip that takes about 90 minutes– I counted the number of times I technically violated a traffic law by traveling past a red light or through a stop sign, and lost count after fifteen.

And I’m a safe biker.

One more time

Now, when you tell someone “Oh, I ran a red light” what the person you’re talking to is thinking of is probably a busy X intersection where running a light means careening through two-way traffic.  To bike through that kind of light one would have to force cars to stop for you, which is dangerous and stupid.  But those aren’t the kind of intersections I’m talking about when I say “I run red lights.”  These are:

  • a T junction, where I’m going straight across the top of the T
  • during a walk signal, when there are no pedestrians in the street
  • a delayed green, where the opposite side has a left turn signal but there are no cars there to turn left
  • a light that will not turn green unless something as heavy as a car rolls over a pad under the street
  • A stop sign leading to a one-way street with no cars or pedestrians on either street
  • a light where I’m turning right without crossing the path (or the potential path) of any cars

I slow down at each of these intersections, and stop if I need to in order to assess the traffic flow.  And then I go if the way is clear, whether the light is red or not.

And any biker that tells you they don’t do this is either lying to you or hasn’t been biking long enough to figure this out.

But there are laws!

I have heard much hue and modest amounts of cry lately over bikes in the city, with the most heinous being this Boston.com piece. (*See footnote)  One thing most everyone seems to agree on is bikers should be forced to follow traffic laws.

Well, this is a stupid point.  Here are plenty of reasons it’s stupid:

  1. A reckless biker can get himself killed, but a reckless car driver can get himself and a shitload of other people killed.  This is why police are always going to care more about cars breaking traffic laws than bikes.
  2. As we all learned from the end of E.T., even if a cop wanted to stop a bike, doing so while in a car is extremely difficult.
  3. The vast majority of the time, a biker violating the law is getting out of the way of your car.  Do you want me to stop and take up space in front of your fender while waiting for the light when I don’t have to? According to the state of Massachusetts, bikes have equal claim on the road– the entire road– if needed.  If you want me to act like a car, you’re going to have to live with the fact that I’m not getting out of your way and I’m not going to be going much faster than 25 MPH.
  4. Have you, as a pedestrian, ever walked across the street on a Don’t Walk signal?  Or stepped out where there was no crosswalk?  There are a lot more pedestrians than there are bikes; should we give all of them tickets too?
  5. For that matter, as a driver, did you ever take a right on red even when a sign told you not to?  Ever rolled past a stop line to see up the street?  Turned without signaling?  Gone through an intersection just as the light has gone from yellow to red?  Done a rolling stop at a stop sign?  Put down those stones.

Bikes terrify people

Most of the time I am harassed when I’m riding, it’s while I have right of way and am not doing anything illegal whatsoever.  Last week I had a driver turning left in front of me lean on her horn and scream because I zoomed past her and she had to stop.  But I was going through a green light at the time, it’s just there were no cars going through it with me.

A few weeks before that I got stuck behind a car that was trying to get around a parked city bus.  The guy went extra-super-slow because he thought he was going to get clipped by the people speeding past him (in cars) on his left, so he took forever to get past the corner of the bus.  Once we both got past the bus the car behind us leaned on his horn and started pointing fingers at me.  Why?  I don’t know; he apparently didn’t like being behind me, even though it was the car in front of both of us that caused the slowdown.

And just last night, I “cut off” a car turning right.  Except I didn’t do anything of the sort.  He was going straight and decided to turn right without bothering to use his turn signal or checking his mirror to see if I was there.  I sped up to get past him before he completed the turn– my other option was to skid, which is what happens when you try to go from 20 MPH to 0 MPH immediately on a bike–forcing him to slam on his brakes and honk.  This was not my fault.

I have hit intersections just as lights turned green and gotten honked at by the cars at the head of the traffic who were startled when I went past them.  I have had people stop their cars dead when turning left after discovering I was on their right and turning left with them.  I have had cars wait until the traffic was clear on the other side of the street so they could give me a six foot berth before passing.

This is the real reason people consider bikes a menace: it’s not because all of the bikers in the city are reckless– although some certainly are– but because most of the drivers in the city aren’t expecting someone on a bike.  

I too drive

I am a driver too, and I grant that it’s startling to have a bike suddenly fly past the right (or left) side of the car when I didn’t know they were there.  But that isn’t the biker’s fault.  It’s mine, for not expecting them or looking for them.

Yes, I agree there are more bikes than there used to be, and I have lost chances to turn and missed green lights because they were in front of me.  But as a wise bumper sticker maker once wrote “Bikes aren’t causing traffic.  Bikes ARE traffic.”

*   *   *

*Footnote: it’s possible the writer of this piece was shooting for some sort of Swiftian satire, which would mean we don’t have to take anything he wrote seriously.  But to be Swiftian it would have had to have actually been in favor of bikes in the city, and it is clearly not.  Also, this writer isn’t nearly as talented .  He may not believe what he wrote, but he knew fully well it would resonate with some portion of The Common Man, because if history has taught us nothing else, it is that, by and large, The Common Man is a fucking idiot.

I’m already dressed for the Pride march

I have a mental list of things I will never wear when biking, but that list is getting smaller each week.  The problem is that on a long bike ride there are certain things one might not otherwise ever consider.  Like that loose shorts chafe after a while.  Or that crotch sweat is an active concern.  Or that the spot where the bike seat meets my ass can actually become painfully swollen after a couple of consecutive rides.

There is clothing that resolves many of these valid concerns, but that clothing is… well, it’s really, really gay.  I say that without meaning to disparage anybody; it’s just the best description I can think of.

How I got to this point

I was fine wearing shorts and some basic wicking workout shirts to and from work when the ride was shorter, but once it grew to the current 17.5 I realized I was going to have to do something about my butt.

Now, there is such a thing as padded shorts, clothing I once mockingly referred to as “poopy pants” because, well, that’s where the padding is.  Plus the shorts themselves are the tight ones you see bikers wearing and can’t unsee even if you really desperately want to.

It was clear almost immediately that I had to get a pair of these.

Bike shorts shopping

[Warning: this section will be using various euphemisms for "testicles".]

A couple of weekends ago we went to REI and I picked up a couple of pairs of off-brand padded bike shorts, which I did not try on.

It turns out it’s actually possible for bike shorts to be too large.  I didn’t learn this until putting on one of the pairs and biking to work and back, where I discovered that while they were tight enough around the thighs, my Bojangles were bouncing around just enough to be seriously uncomfortable.  The shorts also didn’t breathe.  And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like trying to pedal home with loose, sweaty Kiwis flopping around.

So I returned them the following weekend, meaning to trade the two for at least one pair of higher-quality shorts that were A: ventilated better, and B: fit.

I got something infinitely better and worse at the same time.

Bib shorts

Bib shorts are like regular bike shorts except they come with a sleeveless elastic top that leaves the chest area open.  They are impossibly comfortable, partly because the top half helps support the bottom half so the waist doesn’t need to be as tight.

The problem is, when I wear them– and I will not be providing a photo of me wearing them as long as I’m alive– I look like the gimp on summer vacation.  They are, yes, really, really gay.

Naturally, I am wearing a shirt over the top half, and I expect to always be wearing a shirt over the top half.

Unless it gets really hot.  And I lose another ten pounds.  Then we’ll see.

A new wheel

I rode to work yesterday on a new rear wheel.  The old wheel had a problem whereby the tire attached to the wheel kept exploding at inopportune moments, like when I needed it to not explode.  The first time this happened was because the wheel’s rim had worn out.  The second time was on the new rim, which wasn’t wide enough for the tire.

Anyway.  New wheel.  I got it last Friday and yesterday was my first commute on it.  I discovered almost immediately that while the wheel did not have any exploding tendencies, the brakes were squeaking loudly.

And I use the brakes a lot

The brakes are kind of important to me, especially when I’m descending the 1,000 foot hill on my route home.  So I called the bike shop and asked them about it.  They suggested I come in and have the brakes adjusted.

An unorthodox solution

Biking with noisy brakes is an irritating thing.  If I applied the brakes gently they didn’t squeak, so I tried to get away with that for a while, but the consequence is I ended up going a bit faster than I might have ordinarily been going with non-squeaky brakes.

I think this was the reason I ended up going over my handlebars, but the truth is I can’t recall exactly what I was doing or why when it happened.  What I do know– because I have bruises to remind me– is that I caught a car’s mirror with my left hand.

I was crossing the bridge leading to JFK Street in Harvard Square at the time, going through two lanes of traffic that were stopped for the light.  I was trying to get to the front of the line because in another ten seconds the walk signal was going to go, which would give me the chance to cut through a dangerous intersection and to a bike path off the left side of the corner.

Unfortunately, at the time my left hand caught the mirror it was holding onto the handlbars, so the front of the bike turned 90 degrees and over I went.

I’m fine

I’ve done this a few times, and it’s not so bad.  I rolled onto my right shoulder and ended up with a couple of scrapes and bruises.  My left middle finger might be sprained, but that’s the worst of it.

The bike had issues though.  I had to straighten one of the horns on the handlebars, and the front wheel came partly out and was stuck on the brake, so I had to lock it back into place.

And then I waited for the next walk signal and continued on my way to the bike shop.

But here’s the weird part: the brakes stopped squeaking.

Apparently, smashing your bike down on the street is the way to fix squeaky brakes.  I’m thinking this is not something that shows up in most repair manuals.

Committing to foolishness

In my continuing effort to see the weight reading on the scale descend consistently, I have committed to a fairly stupid commute by bicycle, a journey of 17.5 miles.  Each way.  Five days a week.

I have not yet done five days, but I have done four in a row, and am getting there.

A few observations:

World’s worst crossing guard

At an X intersection in Roslindale I saw a crossing guard help a fourth grade child across the street by the employing the following technique: standing on the sidewalk and shouting, “COME ON, HURRY UP!”  The target of this advice was at the opposite corner on the diagonal, meaning she would have had to cross– alone– through the only part of the intersection without a crosswalk.  And the light for the main street (Washington Street) had just turned green.

Leapfrog with city buses

Buses and bikes probably shouldn’t share a common street.  They basically travel the same average speed because while the bus can drive faster, it has to stop every two or three blocks.  This means I sometimes go three or four miles playing leapfrog, where I pass the bus at a stop, it passes me a block down the road giving me time to catch up and pass it again.

An unfortunate variable is the double bus.  Some maniac in the mass transit system got the genius idea to take the front off one bus and shove it into the back of another bus.  It’s impossible to tell if you’re being passed by one of these until the second half goes by you.  Since biking in the city is all about timing and anticipating the motion of the much larger vehicles around you, not knowing you’re dealing with a bus that looks like it came out of the movie Inception can be problematic.

Turkeys would make excellent crossing guards

At the same intersection in Dedham on two different mornings I saw traffic stopped by a wild turkey that stood in front of the lead car and stared at the grille for the entire light cycle before eventually wandering off to the side of the road.

Hell is other bikers

The Boston area is introducing a bike share program in the next year, and if you’re a driver in Boston and find this notion terrifying, well, it’s just as terrifying for those of us already on bikes.  Last week I saw a woman on a touring bike with one hand on the handlebars and the other holding the cell phone up to her ear as she had an animated conversation about something that was clearly more important than her impending demise, which nearly happened twice in four city blocks.

At one intersection I came to a stop at a red light, in the crosswalk.  (I was on the right side of a four lane road.  I stopped there so cars turning right could still do so behind me.)  She reached the intersection and stopped, reluctantly, a full bike length past me.  Oncoming traffic– a large bus– had to honk at her to get her to back the hell up so they could go.

Imagine this girl (who is probably dead now) multiplied by 1,000.  And imagine half of them doing the other deeply annoying thing I’ve seen from my fellow bikers: going along the wrong side of the road.

I’m so not looking forward to this.

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