Wednesday, June 9, 2010

take care

i tried to put together a short talk on bicycle safety for saturday's Ride For Clive, but got all jumbled up in attempting to settle on a clear message. what can you tell a group of cyclists they don't already know? there are lots of ways to get injured on a bicycle and for each of those ways, there are a multitude of strategies to avoid (or at least reduce) the risk. any generality has various exceptions. obey all traffic laws...except when breaking one makes everyone safer.

say for example, you're at a traffic light and cars are backed up behind you. if you wait for the light to change, you need to clip into your pedals and get up to speed in the intersection while cars behind you are trying to pass you, or even worse, make a right turn into you. this is one situation where sneaking through the light a little early (provided there's no cross-traffic) actually makes it safer for cars to pass you. but, of course, this situation depends on many variables and specific conditions that would require a ridiculous flowchart to explain.

the best safety advice i've been able to figure out is just to take care. but beyond a generic platitude like "be careful" or "break a leg", i'm actually thinking something more specific when i say "take care".

take care of yourself. make sure your bike is in proper working order. pump up your tires. tuck away shoelaces and pant cuffs. get a helmet that was made this century and wear it properly. ride with confidence in your skill and your rights on the roadway, but humble in your physical limitations and the consequences of a mishap.

take care of those around you. ride predictably to avoid causing harm to other cyclists. don't make sudden changes in your trajectory or velocity. point out hazards. don't be afraid to give a fellow cyclist a friendly suggestion and don't be threatened if you receive one. wave to other cyclists as a sign of solidarity.

take care of your community. as a cyclist, you are an ambassador for all other cyclists, so like it or not, you gotta play nicely with drivers. drivers are also just people and typically share that aspect of human psychology that doesn't notice when things are going pretty well, but will fixate on things that make them upset. you can hear this in the rationale that anti-cyclist drivers will use to justify their actions: cyclists never obey the laws, they take up the whole road, they're rude and make obscene gestures, etc. these claims are ridiculous in the sense that, while they may be based on several observations of cyclists doing stupid shit, they aren't true of the majority of cyclists. but i think the important aspect of this sentiment is that this is what drivers perceive and it ultimately determines how they act. it's difficult to change people's perception, but i think the key to doing so starts with the individual. and just as there will always be idiot drivers out there who will pass a cyclist above the speed limit on a blind turn (i've been passed while driving a car at the speed limit in this manner by this type of person, too), there are a lot of otherwise sensible people who might be convinced to reconsider their actions. similarly, there are a lot of idiot cyclists out there who will do illegal, illogical, and borderline psychotic stuff. these people will always exist (and are possibly crazy-ass drivers as well), but the rest of us can help to differentiate ourselves from the idiots. we've all done some sketch stuff out there, a motorist has seen it, and cataloged that incident in their brain. if we're all careful to be a little less sketchy, drivers are less likely to have their worst thoughts about cyclists confirmed. also, just be nice to people. wave to people walking or dudes mowing their lawn or families sitting on their porch as a sign that despite our often outlandish appearance, we are normal people. we are friendly neighbors.

take care