Wednesday, September 22

Loneliness of the Long Distance Yeti

Yeti Come in Various Forms. This One Doesn't Look Like a Cyclaris Vehicularis
I’m not a vehicular cyclist. I’ve said it before on this blog, though perhaps never quite so bluntly. I've also talked about various aspects of vehicular cycling (VC). Other than occasional recreational forays, I ride to get places – mainly commuting. When I ride on roads, I operate under the rules of the road that apply to people operating on the road. I ride consistently, assertively, and in a way that makes it as easy as possible for my motorists to understand and know what and where I am going to go next. That gives them the information essential for them to be able to safely and efficiently go where THEY want to go next. I do not violate the principles taught in Bike League cycling classes, in Effective Cycling, or Franklin’s book (well, except those Limey types ride on the wrong side of the road). It’s not hard. It took me a day or so to implement the fundamentals, though I continue to learn useful bits, just as I do when I drive the Land Rover. I’m not a vehicular motorist, either. I just use a vehicular approach when I drive the Land Rover on or around a road.

I have been watching carefully during my commute to Alliance Airport for well over a year to see others riding this way. I’m sorry to say I have never seen a single one in thousands of miles of my commute. I’ve seen people riding on sidewalks and shooting across intersections. I’ve seen people riding the wrong way on busy roads. I’ve seen people riding in the dark without lights. I’ve seen people make left turns from the far right edge of the road without looking first. I’ve seen people hugging the fog line or curb in lanes too narrow to share with any four-wheeled motor vehicle; sometimes while riding very quickly. I’ve even seen them hug the curb on a busy road while riding with no hands on the handlebars. And that’s not even counting the signal/sign violations that motorists complain about in newspaper comments. The more I see, the more I marvel that few people on bikes suffer painful and bloody deaths. It seems we underestimate the competence of motorists, or overestimate how aggressive motorists are towards cyclists. Perhaps we do both.

Cyclaris Vehicularis. Not in a Texas Summer
In fairness, I HAVE seen people ride the same way as I do. I’ve seen safe riding in bike school. I’ve ridden WITH a few Yeti (cyclaris vehicularis), and once, on a weekend, I saw someone assertively operating by vehicular rules. My daughters have seen people riding this way on three other occasions when I was not present. Rantwick managed to make a somewhat ambivalent video he claimed was a Yeti. Still, even if we accept these sightings as factual, they are few and the scofflaws are many.

IMO, the scofflaw majority seems to be a major factor why many motorists are skittish around cyclists. Mostly, motorists see people on bikes doing clueless, unpredictable, and dangerous actions. If I never see any operating according to best practices – and I’ve been looking, why would a motorist expect different? If you have never seen a cyclist stop for a stop sign or control a lane, it can be momentarily confusing as to what to do when one DOES. I consider it fortunate that the motoring majority “get it” and instinctively understand the “behave as a vehicle and be treated as a vehicle” principle. They just never see it. If they DO see it, it occasionally scares them.

Bike Education has a very long and steep hill to climb. If I criticize the Bike League education program, it is not for the content of the education, or the enthusiasm and ability of its instructors, but rather its failure to solve the problem of how to reach the masses of cyclists who could be helped.


John Romeo Alpha said...

Excellent Steve. It's a Yeti sighting for me just to see a cyclist stop at a signal in a manner that is both legal and demonstrates predictable intent. I can't say "never" like you, but it's a very small minority of a very small minority. My post today is on a similar topic, it's almost like you read my mind. Or I yours. Or maybe you just sent clear signals that I picked up: you blog like you ride.


Khal said...

Not sure why you open with "I'm not a vehicular cyclist" unless its to distance yourself from all the sour politics going on regarding use of the VC term.

I like to say I'm a VC but not say why. Its because secretly, I'm thinking of those guys in BF Goodrich sandals pushing bikes loaded with hundreds of pounds of equipment and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Not too many remember that these days. Talk about showing that the bicycle is king....

Caitlin & Hugh said...

Good afternoon,

Hope this finds you well. We thought you might be interested in this feature from the latest issue of D Magazine, Dallas’ city magazine. Author Josh Hixson follows the public face of the counter-culture bicycle movement in Dallas. Yes, Dallas—the city where “bigger is better” and suburban sprawl thrives. A group of passionate activists is starting a counter-culture revolution here, yet the goal is simple: create a city that they would want to live in.

The movement is focused on building a culture around biking and promoting it as a healthier, more environmentally friendly way to get around the city. They’re pushing for political change and trying to chip away at this city’s car-centric culture. Hixson leaves the readers with a push toward a brighter, more bike friendly Dallas; one in which bike-lovers and alternative-transportation activists’ friends will someday stop leaving for San Francisco and Portland.

We think your readers, as well as, biking enthusiasts will enjoy this article. The issue is on newsstands now and the story is live online:

Thanks for taking a look. And cheers to a more bike-friendly Dallas.

Caitlin West
Brand and Communications Assistant
D Magazine Partners
750 North St. Paul Street, Ste 2100
Dallas, Texas, 75201

whareagle said...

Caitlin, I really wish you'd invest some time in reporting about the counter-counter culture that is trying to teach cyclists how to ride responsibly, without government intervention. Your push for community change is coming from an infrastructure point of view. Steve rides within the current structure, in a lawful, legal, and ultimately safer way. I'm sorry that you haven't seen fit to promote the cheaper, quicker, smarter, and safer alternative to "Bike Friendly" projects. They're a canard.

Ask the Bike Friendly groups why they are not or have not promoted their own bike ed or traffic skills programs. Ask them why they feel so concerned about the need for bike lanes, when riding in a safe and respectful manner is so easy, yet it is not practiced by them. Ask them if they really do use their bikes for most or all of their trips, and if so, do they follow the law? If not, ask why. I beg you to come out and ride with a lawful cyclist on a lone trip, to see what can be done without the need for expensive infrastructure. Interview other commuting and recreational cyclists who aren't embracing the 'bike friendly' demand for more lanes and segregated pathways. Investigate the true and honest costs of such investments vs. low-cost education and implementation programs.

Finally, try riding to work for more than a day or more than a week. Commit yourself to proper cycling to work on a 4-week basis. Once is an event, 5 times is an experience, 28 times is just another commute. That will cost you nothing but Powerbars.

OR, you can call me and I'll do all the work for you and take you around and show you what can be done already on our streets. You can email Steve for my direct information.

RANTWICK said...

Today's post on my site starts with a short Yeti sighting... but like you, it is a rare thing indeed. Still, I'm seeing more responsible cycling in London Ontario than ever.

You make excellent points. One can't really blame motorists for being a little twitchy around cyclists... so many do random, stupid things.

When I was little there was a kind of "bike ed" in elementary school. Not any more.

cycler said...

Nice post.
I DO think that in Cambridge, we do see a lot more bikers in general, and I am seeing an increasing minority that ride safely and consistently, but there's a long way to go. The BPD just did an "enforcement" action resulting in 75 light running tickets for bikes in a really dangerous gnarly intersection, and I will say that most of the local bike press has been supportive. Education by ticket is one way to go, but yes, it would be better if we had more bicycle training in schools- as part of Driver's Ed for example. Can't see that happening in an era of decreased funding though.

Khal said...

I don't know much about Dallas and never watched the show, but will add some general comments not specific to any locality.

Adding bicycling infrastructure without bicyclist training is a little like saying we can make driving "safer" by designing "better roads" but at the same time waiving the motor vehicle examination. Would anyone in their right mind say that motorists don't need training?

Given our low speeds and mass, cyclists don't endanger others on a scale compared to motorists (hence no licensing and insurance requirements for bicyclists). However, that doesn't mean that the untrained cyclist cannot routinely hurt him/herself. Three examples: preventable crashes, cyclist self-intimidation telegraphed to others, and looking foolish. The untrained or uncaring cyclist hurts us all. Steve and Whareagle are spot-on.

One needs all the E's to make a better cyclist and to build bicycling-friendly communities. Education is a critical one of those E's and is easily transportable, not just stuck in Portland, OR or some other officially recognized BFC.


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