last month i told you a soft, shiny story about cycling. i touched on a bit of fear-conquering. riding is still incredibly new to me, and each week that passes means that the shiny luster becomes colored by reality more and more.
i wish i knew where to start with this. as happens to me with something that is both new and close to my heart, i want to say everything. for your sake, i'll aim to stay focused.
where i live right now, in south orange county, we know nothing about cycling or being bicycle-friendly. no, really. i understand that certain municipalities (*cough*irvine*cough*) are laying down better infrastructure to improve road conditions. i do not disregard their efforts. but how many tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands (i just checked: as of 2012, irvine boasted a population of over 229,000 individuals) of cars pass through that city every day? how many are residents versus commuters? how many of them ride bikes? how many of them understand what cyclists do to negotiate traffic on the streets?
last week i took a class in traffic safety for cyclists which was designed by the league of american bicyclists. i've had my driver license for about 22 years and before that workshop, i didn't know much of any of the laws that apply to cyclists who are riding on the streets. i didn't know the safety maneuvers, i didn't understand when we can (and should) "take the lane," and i certainly didn't appreciate what it meant to be on the road with such little protection between me and a speeding hunk of metal.
let me be clear: i've experienced my fair share of indignation at what other drivers do while i am driving my car, which i have taken as a personal afront. i know it is wrong to take offense to poor driving skills as 1) that other person is a stranger and 2) i am an equal offender, either by intent or accident. we all piss each other off now and again.
it is a wholly different experience to be an indignant cyclist: it is humbling. it is terrifying.
(if you're reading this, mom and dad, now would be a good time for you to wander over to youtube for some cat videos. i really think it's for your own good. i know you probably won't, human nature being what it is [curious], but don't say i didn't try to deter you.)
i've been riding since the middle of february, and i got my road bike in the middle of april. in that timeframe, there have already been three separate instances where i've felt threatened by a car's behavior. that's an incredibly brief span in the life of the average cyclist. two of those instances occurred this week. each time i want to yell at the driver, "hey! don't you see me? don't be such an asshole!"
one point i'm driving at is the general lack of courtesy we give each other on the road. not only in the car-to-rider relationship, but in the car-to-car relationship. we are, to broadly generalize, impatient, self-absorbed, and distracted. this modern age has flooded us with information and input from every direction that it's a wonder we can even remember how to talk to each other. hey, i've gotten a cell phone ticket...and i should have gotten much more: i was texting while driving back to work in a manual shift car and trying to eat a chipotle burrito while on my lunch break. it sounds funny only because no one got hurt. but really, it's terrifying and who i am today is embarrassed by me two years ago.
the thing is, on a bicycle, everything is amplified--it is wholly different from driving a car. i have never felt more vulnerable than when i am riding on the streets i have driven so many times. how can this change? it's not only educating riders on how to properly navigate the roads, but it means educating drivers on the fact that we are permitted to use the street too.
i'm just beginning to sort this all out, but i will say that i've stumbled into something which is so much bigger than i am and which i want to champion.