Friday, March 16, 2012

Alpha Thunder Puppy Update: "Why I Hate Cyclists"

First of all, for those who do not know, the Alpha Thunder Puppy is my mother. She gave herself that name last year when we were racing together in Bermuda. She actually called herself the Alpha Bitch Thunder Puppy, but I really don't think it's wise to refer to one's mother as the B word, regardless of her alpha status. I was dubbed Beta, by the way.

Anyway, Alpha called me a few days ago saying that she had an update for my blog. She wanted me to tell everyone why she hates cyclists. Of course I instantly knew something great was going to come from this phone conversation, so I asked her to please elaborate. I was not disappointed with her story.

The fact that she seemed to think that my blog would change cyclists everywhere, however, is a bit of a gap in her logic. But I will let that pass for now.

My mother works on the planning commission of her township (in addition to being a veterinarian and a writer...oh the very large family shoes I have to fill...). As an official on this commission, she has on occasion had to deal with dust ups between local cycling groups and drivers. These meetings can get rather lively, it seems, with drivers cursing the pelotons, which cost them valuable time, and cyclists cursing the drivers' lack of manners and loud car horns. You can imagine how it goes down. But on this day my mother had specific, personal experience she would like me to share, in hopes that something can be learned and peace can be achieved. Or something like that.

It was one of the first truly beautiful days in March, and on her drive that day Alpha Momma encountered three cyclists on the relatively quiet roads in her neck of PA. The first was a gentleman who had decided that an intersection was a really great place to wolf down his mid-ride Powerbar. He had apparently stopped right in the turning radius of cars attempting to use the intersection for its intended purpose (read: turning, not stopping) and was happily chomping away, ignoring his impending doom.

After successfully navigating around this very stupid man, my mother headed up a hill and met his girlfriend. She had attempted to climb this hill, and had failed. As a result, she was stopped on the road, standing over her bike, and waiving my mother by her. Unfortunately, Alpha Momma could not see over the top of this hill, and therefore did not know whether or not drivers were coming down towards her. So, she was reluctant to drive around the exhausted woman. The woman must have been rather frustrated, because she continued to wave my mother on, giving her dirty, "What is your problem?", looks.

This situation amuses me, and here is why: I can imagine exactly what happened here. Of course I might not be right, but this is my lovely version of what went down with this couple:

They're out on their ride together. The dude thinks he is hot shit (as evidenced by his believing that the roads belong to him and therefore he can choose to dine at whatever inconvenient spot he wishes). The girlfriend probably is tired of his "hot shit" attitude. Dude stops to eat his feast and says to Girlfriend "You go get a head start on that hill, hunny, that way I don't drop you." Girlfriend thinks "Oh yeah, hot shot? I'm gonna kill that hill and drop YOU!" And then she is on the hill going "Shit, this thing is no joke." And then she's halfway up the hill thinking "Damn it, I can't finish this friggin hill, and there is a car behind me, and I can't believe I'm going to have to deal with Dude's attitude over this...Go around me stupid car! Leave me to wallow in my embarrassment and humiliation alone! Go, for the love of Pete!"

Meanwhile Alpha Momma is saying "For God's sake woman, get your butt off the road! I sympathize with you, I wouldn't make it up this hill either. But if I was stupid enough to try, I would at least be smart enough to step my bike off the road when I failed!"

Although I feel Girlfriend's pain, I have to side with Alpha Momma on this one. Get off the road. Oh, and tell your numbskull boyfriend to take his snack break on a real shoulder and not in the turning radius of an intersection. Or better yet, if he's such hot shit, why isn't he doing like the rest of us and eating something that takes one or no hands? Gu? Chews at an red light? Calories in his drink?

OK SO, Dude and Girlfriend need to pull over to a real shoulder. They need to put aside their pride and be smart so that they stay safe and drivers stay sane. Lesson #1 learned.

My mothers' day of cyclist encounters was not over, however. She happened upon cyclist number three later in her journey. According to Alpha Momma, she was being very respectful of him. She was behind him, not rushing him, plenty of space, etc...

And then the guy decided to blow through two stop signs.

In my experiences with drivers, and being one myself at times, a cyclist disobeying traffic signs and lights is a huge pet peeve. The driver thinks that if he or she is supposed to treat a cyclist with the same respect as he would another vehicle, that the cyclist should (and is legally obligated to, by the way) obey the same traffic rules.

Now, as a cyclist I also know what may have happened here. The guy may well have just been cocky and running signs and not thinking about it. At the same time, he may have actually thought he was doing the driver behind him a favor by not slowing him down. Coming to a complete stop at a sign and then restarting can take a bit longer for a cyclist than it does for a car, and I know many/most cyclists avoid stopping at a clear 4 way for instance, in order to avoid unclipping and starting from a stand still. When I approach an intersection, I am surveying oncoming and perpendicular traffic as I approach. If no one is close and I have a clear line of sight, I slow to as much of a stop as I can manage without unclipping, and then roll cautiously through. At a completely clear intersection, my feet do not leave my pedals, but I do stop for a brief moment. (The rules change for blind intersections. Always come to a complete stop and unclip because you never know).

Here is part of the problem: Cyclists already know that they are a burden to drivers. Drivers already know that cyclists break the rules. They expect this behavior from one another. Sometimes I arrive at a 4 way intersection and am the 2nd or 3rd person there. I stop, unclip, wait for the car to go, and they don't. They expected me to blow through it. Some are nice and flash their lights, or smart and realize they should go. Others honk at me, yell at me, or just sit there and wait till I go before they start to go too and then it's just friggin' awkward.

When I am following 100% of the rules, I still get yelled at. Literally, people open their windows and scream at me, honk their horns, tell me to get on the sidewalk, etc.

The solution in my mind is that EVERYONE follow and know the law. This means cyclists AND drivers. Cyclists should all know that they have to obey the same traffic signals as drivers. Cyclists should try when possible to make eye contact with drivers at intersections and should ALWAYS signal their intentions (hand signals people. USE THEM). Cyclists should ride with traffic, not against it. Etc.

Drivers should know the rules too, however. Do not yell at me to get on the sidewalk. In many places, it is ILLEGAL for me to ride on the sidewalk. I'm following the law. In addition, drivers are required by law down here (don't know about everywhere) to give a cyclist 3 feet of room from the cyclist's left elbow when passing. Buzzing me while honking is not only illegal, it will really slow you down when you clip me and have to deal with the legal ramifications of killing or maiming me. You're not saving time by being an asshole.

NOW I know in many instances I am preaching to the choir. Many cyclists follow the law. Many drivers are extremely courteous. Just remember, those of you who break the laws, however innocent your intentions, you are giving cyclists (or motorists) everywhere a bad name and are increasing the risk that someone gets seriously injured.

ON THAT NOTE: I saw my first bad crash yesterday. I would like to state that there was no driver error involved and that several drivers pulled over to help.

My shop's group ride was out and one of the riders in the peloton hit a hole hard and was then hit from behind by another cyclist. He went face-first into the pavement, smashing his eye and forehead into the ground and taking a sizable chunk out of his helmet. Besides being knocked out cold for a bit and then coming-to with memory loss, he had some bad road rash but it appeared to us nothing was broken. We had a first responder in the ride and the second car to the scene held an EMT. Other kind citizens stopped and directed traffic around the accident. Once the ambulance was on its way, the rest of the group ride had to go back to the shop before it got dark and I stayed with the first responder and the EMT until the ambulance arrived. The guy will be fine, although his bike is completely wrecked. They back-boarded him etc but didn't think he really had a spinal injury. He got lucky, all in all. Many thanks to the no-nonsense woman in full floral directing traffic, and Kyle the EMT who happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Anyway, please follow the rules everyone. We all want to get home safely and have a great time on our bikes. Love, Beta Bitch Thunder Puppy (And, by proxy, Alpha Momma)

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