Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Riding Etiquette:Safety Nazis and the Death of Civility

Shout, shout, let it all out.  These are the bikers I can do without.  Come on, I am faster than you, come on...

Move bitch.  Git out da way, git out da way

This posting was inspired by Jason Boten, friend, biker, father and bass player.  He has noted several times about the lack of friendliness on the trails.  recently, he remarked on Face Book, that "Good morning" has been replaced with "Morning" or "morn".

Whatever happened to hello?  Howdy?  Nice to see you?  Beautiful morning, don't you think?  With increasingly rare exception, it has been replaced with "ON YOUR LEFT!"

I really do not recall when it happened.  Possibly with the "Ride Right" campaign championed by Ragbrai.  The number of cyclists and the explosion of trails and trail users necessitated communication.  Collisions or near misses.  But good intentions pave the road to Hell.

It is very important to be aware of your surroundings while cycling or running.  It is very important to let those in your path become aware of your presence and intentions.  But do we need to be so damn rude?  Maybe they are not intending to be rude.  There are those bikers that wait a lifetime to yell "ON YOUR LEFT"!

Strip it down to its core, "ON YOUR LEFT" means "hey you, I am about to overtake you so please hold your line and let me through."  But sometimes I believe some people use those three words instead of saying what they really mean, "GET THE FUCK OUTTA MY WAY I AM ROLLING THROUGH FAST."

Maybe people do not even think about it.  They merely utter at assorted volumes the call because it has been pummelled into their brains by Safety Nazis.  A catch phrase for the Give Me Convenience or Give me Death culture.

I usually say "howdy" or "good morning" or, if feeling particularly articulate "guten morgan".  If they appear to be of South of the Border descent, "con permisso".  What an elegant and civilized phrase the latter is.  With your permission may I pass?

This really a simple act. All that needs to be done is a simple announcement of your presence.  Be friendly about it.

Just to illustrate this point I would like to make a short film where people in non-biking settings shout "ON YOUR LEFT" as a greeting.  Perhaps get people exiting a church and while shaking hands with the pastor exclaim 'ON YOUR LEFT"  Or a business setting.  Or a host/hostest sitting customers at a restaurants.

Ride Right and the Further Escalation of Safety Nazis.  I recall the scene of leaving Storm Lake during the 2010 edition of Ragbrai.  We happened to get on route at 730 am.  Way late or too early to avoid the ugliest form of 'Brai.  The Herd.

The route was 6 bikes wide and taking both lanes of the road.  My mind recalls that the majority of the riders wore blue shirts.  Within a few minutes chaos hit.  3 water bottles from 3 different bikes fell onto the ground about the same instant.  Some of the water hit me.

Don't get me wrong, I can tolerate sloppy bikemanship after years of pilgrimages to the Cumming Tap.  But at 740 am Ragbrai Day 2 (for them, Day 4or 5 for me), this was inexcusable and dangerous.

Then that foul noise hit hard.  Like a fart at the front of the unemployment line it wafted through the herd.  "CAR UP!"  The visually impaired and the easily distracted do need this warning.  In the age of smart phones and ADD people display a lack of concentration of the task at hand, namely, riding a bicycle without colliding with other bikes, objects, people and vehicles coming in from the opposite direction.

But the Safety Nazis failed to establish how often "CAR UP" needs to be called out.  How far should the intervals be when the "CAR UP" alarm is necessary.  As any study of large group dynamics will reveal, there are many in any group of random people that feel it is their God given or genetic coded duty to scream "CAR UP" at volume.  Some people think that despite the person two bicycle lengths in front of them sounding the alarm that IF they themselves fail for repeat the call the incoming vehicle will wipe out 30 bikes and smear blood for 2 miles down the road.

On this particular morning it was my sister.  Patty is an up and coming cyclist.  The biking bug is firmly planted.  But her insecurity in control and unfulfilled maternal instinct  can sometimes be quite annoying.

Understand that my family, Mary, Quin and Timmy have had 3 wonderful days on empty highways.  We were the only bikes.  It was glorious riding from Des Moines to Storm Lake.  But now we were adrift in a sea of road hogs and bottle droppers and the fear that someone would get hurt was becoming unbearable.  I really needed a Valium.  And at the very moment that my anxiety was peaking "CAR UP"  was shouted into my ear by my only sibling after hearing it from 30 people in front of me.

The solution came as quick as a slap in the face.  Get the fuck out now!  As my right hand pushed the shifter forward and my left hand moved the rear, I told Timmy, my stoker on our loaded touring tandem, "we are going to bust a move now!  I am moving this pig ALL THE WAY TO THE LEFT, plant the wheels 2 inches from the white line and we will pass everyone we see until this crowd is long behind us."  "OK Dad", he replied.  And so we did.  Mary and Quin managed to keep up with us.  the only people that passed us were pace lines.  We even received a few compliments on our speed.  People on stick bikes are always in awe when baggers smoke the route.  Most importantly, we were in a safer position on the route and I felt better.  I felt bad for dropping Patty but sometimes survival takes precedent over other issues.

Much later on the Great Western Trail I explained this to her in a simpler way.  Just another bar to bar run/bike ride.  We left the Safety Shack and there were incoming bikes.  "BIKES UP" she shouted, again in my ear.  I think I may have slammed on the brakes.  My retort was thus, "There will be thousands of bicycle on the trail today, many "UP".  We can see them, please refrain from calling them out."  Curt but to the point and totally necessary.  I think she got the message.

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