Repent thee cyclists!

Once again cyclist prove they’re the most dangerous people in the state. Queensland Police have been reporting on radio and in the newspaper that we’ve been handed over 6,000 fines this year…just for helmets alone.

I can’t imagine the untold deaths they’ve prevented by fining people riding leisurely along the bike path without a helmet.

A full 89 people were fined for ignoring stop signs and traffic lights. That’s 89 crazy cyclists slipped through a stop sign into that little bit of gutter made available to  us by those saintly car drivers. The possibilities for injuries and fatalities were enormous. Imagine, if just one of those 89 cyclist was riding a massively wide tricycle or cargo bike and was actually wide enough for anyone to give a rats’ about whether it actually slipped through a stop sign or red light or not…well it could possible very nearly and hypothetically have been disastrous.

From The Courier Mail:

Triathlete Jimmy Seear, who cycles about 500km a week, said a small few were ruining the reputation of cyclists who did the right thing on the state’s roads.

“I ride with a group who obey the road rules but we get abused by cars basically just because we are cyclists, not because we’ve done anything wrong,” he said.

I’m definitely one of those few and I feel so chagrined now this law abiding triathlete (do they still wear those silly little half t-shirts?) has marked me off. I’ve always found it hard to take seriously the opinions of anyone wearing lycra but he looks so earnest in the photo that I’m now looking at my previous behaviours in a new light.

Jimmy Seear as appears in The Courier Mail, who is under the impression it’s just a few bad cyclists giving us all a bad name.

At first I found the idea of Jimmy pulling to a dead stop at a stop sign laughable, especially on a left turn. Can you imagine him unclipping himself and putting that foot down with the bike clip underneath it, maybe even signalling left or right. He looks left and right as his cycling buddies ride off down the road without him… But then I referred back to his reflective gaze in the photo above and I felt the depth of his righteousness. Suddenly I knew with absolute certainty that his was the only tri-bike with a dingy-lingy bell on it. Jimmy, I’m sure, never goes anywhere without a bell. (Bell or no lights, fined 140.)

I’ve always thought the problem with some road laws is they’re designed for cars and were enforced selectively by police because they often have all this spare time when all the cars and stuff are driving like complete saints. I wondered, why force cyclists into stupid and dangerous situations just because it’s law? For instance, I have a roundabout near me that I’m not keen on tackling most days of the week. It’s kind of a throughabout and cars fly through there in excess of the 60km/hr. What I do is ride right across the road, onto the footpath, around the corner and back onto the road. Now I’m breaking about three laws and I’m sure as hell not endangering anybody and I’m sure as hell not endangering my own precious life. I’ve been 30 years an urban cyclist with not a single run in with another vehicle (unless you count the many times they’ve thrown things at me or deliberately run me off the road in the name of fun). But I as wrong! I was spoiling it for the majority of stop sign stopping, bell wearing cyclists. And now I apologize. I’m prepared to die for your right to be considered the goody fucking two-shoes of the road and from now on I’ll plunge headlong into that mad roundabout and to hell to the consequences. It’s a quixotic mission but I have the fervor of the newly converted and nothing but the front bumper-bar of a 4WD can stop me.

Jimmy never takes his helmet off. That’s his trick. Sometimes, in the past, I’ve been tempted to slip down the shops without a helmet. (Repent thee sinner!) The journey from my back gate to the shops doesn’t actually have any roads  but I’m now fully appraised of the dangers of doodling along at 20km/hr on a bicycle on a perfectly formed bike lane with no other traffic. Imagine if a car had taken a wrong turn at the intersection, smashed through the barriers and driven down the bike lane…and there I was caught in his headlights with no helmet on! The carnage. I now sleep with my helmet on, like my friend Jimmy. I’m going to get myself one of those sweet heart-rate monitor watches too.

God loves a  good cyclist.

I have my new faith to sustain me but I have to confess my heart is a little torn. It’s Jimmy who raises it, “…we get abused by cars basically just because we are cyclists, not because we’ve done anything wrong.” I’m probably the only person in Australia with a bell on his fixie. I ride the bike paths of the Broadwater and I dingle-ling that thing as polite warning to pedestrians (often to no effect) and I get roundly abused for it. At other times I pull up politely behind them and say, “Excuse me,” in my best imitation of a well-healed private schoolboy. And I get roundly abused. At other times I slip by silently and I get roundly abused. I tell you, it seriously challenges my faith to be so often patronized and abused in so many contradictory ways. I need some guidance from my bicycle God because as far as I can tell there’s nothing I can do to satisfy these people.

Which leads me to other more sinister thoughts. In a way, being a cyclist is like being a black man in a white society. In the logic of Jane Elliott that black man can’t be a racist because he’s the downtrodden minority. We’re so vulnerable and so vastly outnumbered and the road laws are so patently arranged to suit the cars…well…I wonder if perhaps we have any business following those laws at all. So often those laws are just pushing us into situations where rumbling ten tonne trucks are running up our arse, or where bored thugs can take advantage of the relative bulk of their cars to ruin our day. And even if we did follow those road laws to the absolute letter we’d still have people leaning on their horns and leaning out their windows shouting abuse at us. And we’d still be vulnerable, a mere 85kg compared next to a 2,600kg Prado.

The Bike Snob makes a good case for not flouting laws stupidly. His scenario is something along the lines of this: you’re running a red light riding down the wrong side of the road and all’s fine until you run into some other moron doing the same or similar with the same frame of mind (being: I’m the only one doing this so it’s all cool). The accident ensues. That’s some pretty neat logic but perhaps we should temper that with the notion that you shouldn’t also follow laws that endanger you, just for the sake of being a righteous cyclist. (Oh how I have fallen so quickly.)

To wit, I think we should break all laws. (Stick with me here because my logic is going to get a bit rocky.) The authorities of London had a ten year period to observe Australian helmet laws and the effects on our public health. In their eyes helmet laws discouraged too many cyclists and therefore had a detrimental effect on public health that was not compensated for by the reduction in head injuries. And here you see the one single fact that is too often ignored in conversations about cyclist and cycling: cycling is good for you. (Good for the environment too. No doubt there are exercise skeptics out there, just as there are climate change skeptics. Exercise skeptics will never be a majority, being a naturally diminishing population. Climate change skeptics might be a naturally diminishing population one day too, but sadly the rest of humanity will die with them.)

Back to my logic. Young people do not in any way like conservative, safe, orderly and respectful behaviour. All this “setting a good example” type cycling crap has been warning them off in droves. Now at last we have the fixie fad and we’re getting cyclist through that difficult late teens period where once they abandoned their bikes never to take them up again. (Well, not until they were fat and forty and they got one of those awful things with springs in the seats, which they carefully loaded onto the back of the Prado to take down to the local bike track.) And for all my new-found religion I wonder if perhaps we’re not endangering this great movement by making cyclist just way to fucking boring. And in effect we’re setting ourselves up for another generation of arm-chair heart-attack victims because apparently it’s safer to stay indoors with a beer and the television than it is to go for a ride.

It’s possible that the only way to set a good example is to set a bad example. If you’re beyond 20 and you’re not getting out there with some attitude and breaking the requisite amount of laws and making cycling look in all ways bad-arse and cool then you’re really not doing your bike any justice. Now get some cards in your spoke, get the brakes off your bike, and get out there and run a red light.

Oops, devil took over. What I meant was repent thee sinner. Obey.

Obey.

Obey the laws. They’ll keep you safe. Have faith.

Car drivers are all saints and you’ll be safe so long as you obey, have a bell and wear your helmet.

Again from The Courier Mail:

Princess Alexandra Hospital director of surgery Daryl Wall said on average at least one cyclist a day was admitted to the emergency department with serious injuries. He said older cyclists and elite athletes were the most common.

My cynical post-conversion self is saying to me there’s a reason why elite and older cyclist are so vulnerable. The elite group are vulnerable because they’re on the road. They’re out knocking out long Ks on rides that don’t involve bike paths, sneaky back lanes, or sly law-breakings (such as my throughabout method). The older group are vulnerable because they took twenty years off the bike and now they’re slow, slow witted and have in no ways the survival skills necessary for tackling traffic. If  any cyclist goes out into traffic and doesn’t have the mentality that they’re the fox in the fox hunt then they’re apt for a trip in the back of an ambulance. Being preternaturally alert is a survival instinct. Breaking laws as necessary is survival behaviour. Cycling in an urban environment should not be for the faint hearted, the dull and lifeless, the dimwitted, the weak, or those without sufficient backbone and insight to decide the difference between what is good for them and what is law. (Or so I thought. I must cast these wicked thoughts aside.)

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