Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Making Nice

There has been a lot of talk this year on rides about the inhospitable nature of motorists lately. Aggressive passing, finger waving, dirty looks and verbal confrontation seem to be the norm if you listen to the chatter. But, riding along my mountain roads and those in Morgantown, I don't see it that way.

Cranking the four miles up Mud Pike, I will often see a driver giving a thumbs up from his little cubicle (when I have the strength to raise my head). One Sunday group ride I made it a point to look at all the motorist as they passed our little peleton, a tricky feat indeed. More often than you'd think, someone in the car was giving a friendly wave, especially if the group went single file or if someone in the group waved them through.

Don't get me wrong; I acknowledge that there are assholes out there, full of rage. In any population there are going to be fringe elements that fall outside the norm. On our four climb epic a few weeks ago, some wing nut in a Red Pickup laid on his horn as he passed us. This despite the fact that we and he were the only ones on the road. He had absolutely no impediments to passing. Slider called him out and he slammed on the brakes. Turned out it was some disgruntled old man. Slider just said, "be nice," and sent the gentleman on his way. Don't you think a person like that has other issues? That reminds me of a similar incident involving Slider. I was not there but I hear the confrontation ended with the road rager telling stories of a life gone bad and wanting to buy Slider a beer. They might have even hugged.

Now, you may want to generalize, as humans often do, that it's always the whoopees in pickups-they are the problem. Those types need some edjamacation and we are just the spandex army to give it to em'. Before you grab your front forks and torches, ask me who picked me up when I was thumb out and carrying my bike on my shoulder. It wasn't the numerous SUV's, family sedans and even Prius cars: they left me clomping along the roadside in silver clipless shoes. You guessed it. A red pickup with some poem about killin' deers with arrows emblazoned across its back window went 15 miles out of its way to take me to my front door.

So, here are some of my rules for living a happy life on roads filled with cars:

1. Remember, share the road goes both ways. I don't know about you, but when I am in a car, passing a bike is a slow and dicey prospect. We have to give motorists all the courtesy we would give a nervous rhino. This means moving to the far right 90% of the time and getting into a tight single file when a car is behind. When someone in the group yells, car back! What he means is, get over! It is just arrogance and inconsideration to continue doddling along in conversation with your buddy when you are called to share the road.

2. You can "take the lane" when it is unsafe for a car to pass but make sure they know what you are doing. Look back so they know you are aware of their presence. Give them a "wait" type hand signal and make an exaggerated effort to look ahead. Get around the blind curve, or whatever the obstacle, as soon as possible and wave the car through as soon as you can see it is safe (which will be before they can see it). This usually gives the driver the idea that you are looking out FOR THEM. When they see this effort on their part, they will almost invariably give you "the wave."

3. I like to ride toward the center of the lane in a low traffic situation so that when a car comes, I can tack to the side of the road. This lets drivers now I am aware of them. I think it makes them less nervous about my possibly darting over into their path when they pass. I also think it shows an effort to accommodate them.

4. When there are cars behind, always look like you are busting your ass. There is nothing motorists hate more than seeing some skinny fool noodling down the road when they are packin' plenty of horsepower with someplace to go. Stand on the pedals, suck in air like a vacuum, hang out your tongue, whatever it takes. I have never had a motorist impart any ill will when I have been giving max effort.

5. You may know all the laws regarding bikes and cars, but make sure you keep in mind the laws of physics. Prominent among these is: force= mass x acceleration. It means that, no matter what laws a man writes on a paper, if you go against a 1 ton automobile- you will lose. Ride accordingly.

6. As Slider would say, "Be nice." Cars are not the enemy. Have some empathy. Put yourself in the driver's place and take a moment to think how you would feel all cramped up in a metal box with a bunch of care free people bopping around in front of you on kids toys. Jealousy might just boil right out your ears if you are running on empty with 2 dollars in your pocket towards a dead end job and away from a nattering spouse. As a biker you could either be the only person to have shown that person any courtesy in weeks or you might be the last straw.

My little list is by no means comprehensive. It doesn't address advocacy issues, road improvements, driver education and all that other important stuff. What it does do is allow me to take as much control of the situation as I can while I am riding. Yeah, people in cars can be self important jerks but that is beside the point when you're out there on the road. The point is getting back alive and, hopefully, promoting a little good will along the way. That way the next guy on two wheels will have a better time of it when it comes to the metal monsters.


bluecolnago said...

good advice!

i'm definitely not your average "skinny" guy on a bike. i make a pretty big target!

be good!

E T Williams 2 said...

This post says it all! I agree 100%. For the most part we too (us bikers) are car drivers........think of the golden would you like to be treated in a similar situation!

Philmeaux said...

My biggest things that you kinda covered are... taking up your space out there.. and

Try to ALWAYS look back and at least pretend like you made eye contact; this will humanize you and make a driver less likely to put you in peril.

Keep it moving whenever possible; when you are stopped you have no way to move out of the way quickly and most important, you are far less likely to be even seen by a motorist. Never assume that you are visible.

**Nick added something great to the debate that I now use; instead of a middle finger a thumbs-down sign is much better. -Thanks Nick

I have found recently that if a driver is of the extra miserable type, your biggest happy smug smile and most vigorous friendly wave is always a nice way to spread cheer and it makes you feel real good too.