Editor: (This may be better submitted as a column or opinion-piece).
IDIOTS ON BICYCLES
My first bike was a Firestone, a present for my eighth birthday. It had fat tires, two cross bars, generous handlebars, a broad seat with springs, coaster brakes, a one-speed transmission, and a basket in front. I loved it and rode it everywhere, to school, in the countryside, through woods and streams. One day I rode home with my girlfriend on the crossbar, and her schoolbooks and a new puppy in the basket. I mean, it was built for that! I was able to climb some pretty steep hills too, but I did envy those with a gear shift. These days I ride a bike with a seven-speed planetary hub. It’s total simplicity: there’s just one little lever you work with your thumb. The derailleur—a French invention—is clunky and never works right. Who the hell needs eighteen speeds anyway? It’s typical French overcompensation.
Bicycling can be great. You get fresh air, exercise, and quiet—if you ride in the country. Until recently, the Chinese all rode bicycles, and they rode bikes with high handlebars so they could sit up and see where they’re going. When I was a kid, no one in my little town had ever seen a racing bike, but one day my buddy and I saw one parked by the drugstore. We stared at it in horror. The thing had a knife-edge seat, skinny tires, a bunch of sprockets, a maze of cables, and—worst of all—totally weird little handlebars that curved down instead of up. How the heck are you going to see where you’re going when your butt is higher than your head? We agreed the thing was a monstrosity, shook our heads, and pedaled away on our comfort machines.
That was my first negative experience of a bicycle. Of course, a racing bike does have its proper place. If you’re going to race in the Tour de France, you should ride a Tour de France racing bike. The rest of you bicyclists should wise up and ride something sensible. Also, there are hazards to avoid, and to assist you in identifying them, I’ve compiled a little list of problematical bicyclists:
The Downhill Deathwisher. I was driving down Mt. Tamalpais, in Marin County, not long ago. Suddenly, in my rearview mirror, I saw a lanky guy on a racing bike gaining on me. He was obviously in a hurry to get down the mountain, because his legs were pumping furiously. Maybe he had to go to the bathroom. I heard him shouting and saw him waving his hand. “Move it, or pull over!” I did not speed up and there was no place to pull over. If I had a blowout or hit some gravel I could go plunging over the side. The next thing I knew, he was alongside me, grim-faced and angry, mouthing obscenities. Then he vanished around a curve. Good riddance! Incidentally, I’ve read medical accounts about those hard, skinny, seats. Men get prostate problems from them. They have difficulty maintaining an erection, and they dribble when they urinate. Perhaps there is some justice in the world!
The Car Door Impacter. I just love to read stories about bicyclists in heavy city traffic who get miffed when someone opens a car door and they smash into it. They are so furious! What did they expect? Drivers have more important things on their minds than bikers. They’ve just found a parking spot and are late for an appointment. When they checked the rearview mirror, no cars were coming. Bicyclists are essentially invisible to motorists. The intelligent biker (if there is such a thing) will assume that the driver of a parked car will swing his door open just as the biker starts to pass, and be guided accordingly.
The Backroads Defiant Pedaler. This daredevil lives even more dangerously than the Car Door Impacter. Any number can ride at once, but too many spoil the fun. Best is two or three bikers, with at least two of them riding abreast, on a road that is scarcely wide enough for one car. The most fun is when you’re being passed by a car and another car comes in the opposite direction. The driver must then hit the brakes or the gas in a panic. It is up to the biker to remain cool and aloof, taking no interest in the driver’s dilemma.
This is a true story about two people who weren’t daredevils, but met their maker anyway. A middle-aged couple, longtime bicyclists, were tooling along the right side of the road, following all the rules. They were going single file, wearing colorful clothing, in full daylight. They weren’t weaving back and forth. If they had been, it might have been better for them, since it could have attracted attention.
They probably heard the approaching car, but assumed it would go around them. Unfortunately, the car was driven by a lone young woman who was searching for a cassette tape on the seat next to her. With her eyes off the road for two or three seconds, the car drifted to the right. It was not a pretty sight. The young woman was unharmed, at least physically.
The Dark Trickster. While driving at night, you’ve probably run across an invisible creature who believes he is protected from harm by a magical shield. If you’d like to be a Dark Trickster, it’s a no-brainer. Just wear all black clothes and remove the lights and reflectors from your bicycle. Some bikes are made this way, curiously.
Now that a motorist can’t see you, the fun begins. Try to judge his speed carefully so you can cut across in front of him when he’s almost on you. (Warning: you lose your Dark Trickster rating if you get hit.) With any luck, the motorist will lose control and smash into a tree.
A word of caution: watch out for the vicious driver playing his own favorite game, called “Hit and Run”. He is looking for you.
In conclusion, just remember that bicycling is perfectly safe, because you can always count on a driver to avoid hitting you—unless he’s in a hurry, distracted, drunk, high, blind, or talking on his cell phone.