I brake for nobody

February 27, 2014 § 33 Comments

I got an email today from a very pissed off bicycle rider. He said that the main reason motorists hate cyclists is “usually that cyclists don’t obey the rules of the road. And that is absolutely right.”

Then he added that he “for sure doesn’t stop at all stop signs, and doesn’t even pause at some, like remote t-intersections, where there is no one I can impede. But I at least pause at almost all of them, and stop at any with cross traffic, and always yield the right of way unless waved through. But I constantly see guys just blow thru stop signs as if they don’t even exist [Ed. note: As if what doesn’t exist? The stop signs? The guys?] A couple coming down the hill crossed onto my road in front of traffic, which was going uphill so I didn’t have to brake but noticeably slowed; they just blew through. I yelled at them  ‘You are giving cyclists a bad name!’ I heard a ‘Huh?’ in response.”

The angry cyclist continued: “Climbing up to a 3-way, stop, where I might have wanted to roll without stopping, since I was climbing, some guy with a huge smile on his face, comes sailing by, ‘Hey look at me, I’m having a great day!” and just blew through the stop. Had I tried to roll through the stop sign as I wanted, I would have been t-boned. I yelled at him too. I’ll soon be known as the grump of Whapdale Heights.”

He concluded with this: “Sometimes cyclists scare me more than cars. I talked to another cyclist who does stop at stop signs, and who said he’d almost been rear-ended by other bikes when he stopped. I know you’ve blogged about this before, but maybe again? Or another angle? Or you don’t think it’s an issue?”

Don’t think WHAT’S an issue?

I didn’t know how to respond other than to say that it’s not my job to explain the behavior of cyclists any more than it’s my job to explain the behavior of motorists, or astronauts, or chimpanzees. I also noted that from a safety standpoint, five bicycle riders had been killed by cars in SoCal in the last five days, and the number of motorists killed by cyclists since the beginning of time is, like, zero.

So, as Noel would say, “There’s that.”

Still, Grumpypants has a point, and I think the point is this: He’s comfortable running stop signs, rolling stop signs, and ignoring the law when he deems it safe and convenient for him, but he damn sure doesn’t think it’s a good idea for you. His premise also speaks for itself: Cagers hate cyclists because they break the law, and that’s as it should be.

He made no mention as to whether it’s okay for cyclists to hate all cagers for the few drivers who also break the law, or whether death and dismemberment are fair punishments for cycling traffic infractions. There was likewise no word on where he stands vis-a-vis the rash of hit and runs in LA (we’re number one!), and on criminal penalties for killing cyclists, and on other minor issues such as the right of cyclists to operate in the lane pursuant to law without having to suffer police persecution and/or death.

My guess is that Mr. Grumpypants didn’t think of these things, or worse, he thought they were of much less importance than his own “close” calls with happy, smiling cyclists who weren’t following the letter of the law.

But now that you mention it …

I suppose I’m also one of those happy, grinning idiots at whom he shakes his fist when I go ripping through a stop sign before he can beat me to it. I am probably one of the people who angry, latte-chugging PV housewives curse in their cages as I happily pedal to work. I’m certainly one of those smilers who controls the lane while livid cagers, delayed for three or even five seconds, spit bile and venom only to whizz around me and beat me to the stone-red light.

Who hates whom?

The nub of the problem, of course, is the assumption that cagers hate cyclists. They don’t, and how could they, when most cyclists are also motorists? Who in the hell are “they?”

For every nutjub who screams and froths and flips me off, fifty others sigh in envy as I pedal along. They know that as between us, the one who’s pedaling to work is the happier one.

In addition to the cagers who are cyclists, and the cagers who wish they were cyclists, there are the great unwashed millions who don’t care one way or another. They see me in the lane, or they see me *pause* through the stop sign, and they could care less. “Bikes aren’t cars,” they think, if they think at all. “It’s a heck of a lot harder to get a bike going from a full stop than it is to mash on an accelerator.”

In other words, I reject the premise that “motorists,” whoever they are, “hate” me. And the ones who do could care less whether I blow a stop, roll through one, pause significantly, or put both feet down and do a little bow. They have deep-seated psychological problems, vote Republican, and are likeliest to shriek “Guns don’t kill people!” after every mass shooting.

Even more to the point, and perhaps this is where Mr. Grumpypants and I really diverge, I get on my bike and am willing to die for it, or at least be horrifically maimed and spend the rest of my life an even bigger vegetable than I already am. It comes with the territory, unfortunately, because when car meets bike, bike loses. Doesn’t make it right, but that’s the way it is in the big city.

So I make it a point not to smash into the cagers and to have them not run into me, and I remind myself every few seconds or so that there are no guarantees, that my fellow cyclists are not the enemy, and that since tomorrow may be my Unlucky Day, I’d better pedal hard and flog a few baby seals while I can.

After more than thirty years in the saddle and a regular output of 8,000 – 15,000 miles a year, if I do eventually get clocked by some cager who “hates” me, it’s still been worth it. I had more fun at age 50 on last week’s Donut Ride than the average cager has in a lifetime of commutes. But if they’re gonna take me out, they better take extra special aim, because chances are slim that I’ll be waiting, cow-like, for them to mow me down at a stop sign as I shake my fist at a fellow biker.


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§ 33 Responses to I brake for nobody

  • Tom Paterson says:

    Many drivers are surprised when I stop for stop signs (or do a very controlled “rolling stop”, as many MV operators do). Many wave their hands to get me to pass through (as the scofflaws so often do, without invitation), but then the drivers waiting for that driver get PO’d at me. I try to insist on obeying the spirit of the law, “yielding the ROW”. But sometimes I just go, because it’s quicker and thus there is less frustration and anger. Maybe. Some drivers (obviously) don’t like seeing me get waved through even when it saves them time.

    Pedestrians and other cyclists are frequently surprised when I call out “Passing on your left, please” (sometimes using the “polite ring” setting on my little handlebar bell). I’m surprised when I hear “On your left”, too; it’s a rare occurrence.

    I’ve had lots and lots of “racers” (“training” on a neighborhood bike lane, what a joke) give no warning and slice me closer than even the able competitors in my desultory track-riding career cared to do. “Punishment for going slow in the bike lane”? For “being in their way”, trying to chase me off the bike lane?

    I’ve had cyclists (and not just fixie “hipsters”) go to lengths to mock and make fun of me when I stop at stop signs. I’ve had a few cyclists blast through a 4-way with the obvious intent to mow me down if I insist on my lawful ROW after I stop or come very close to it, as if I am some kind of contemptible turncoat/coward/whatever, or perhaps in some kind of misguided “act of revenge” apparently because, again, I obey at least the spirit of the law.

    When thinking about MV-bicycle accidents (especially hit-and-runs), and especially in relation to “motorist hatred of cyclists”, it might be good to remember that many pedestrians and motorcyclists are also victims– IOW, lighten up on the Lone Ranger syndrome. Drivers run into each other, too, for some great proportion of the what, 40,000 traffic deaths per year in the USA?

    Grist for the mill. Thank you, Mr. Seth.

    • fsethd says:

      Yep. I never intentionally endanger or frighten or hassle anyone, bicycle or motorist. But on the other hand, my number one concern is my own survival, even if that means angering people who, from time to time, think I should be riding differently.

      My basic test is this: Every second on the bike can I answer the question, “Why am I doing this?” and have the answer be sensible and reasonably safe.

      What’s strange to me is bicycle riders who think that other bicycle riders are the “enemy.” There is no “enemy” in generalized terms, although there are specific people who will hurt you or buzz you if they can. Problem is, it’s almost impossible to know who they are until it’s too late.

  • People should know that we just dont run a light, we look, we scan, we feel,every little bit of our surrounding. While it may look like we don’t know what we are doing, trust me we know, we become the road and the road becomes us. As cyclist we are always in tune to the road and all that is going on.
    We can’t predict when someone or something is going to hit us, but we are in control of what we want to do. I practice aversion tactics so if I see an idiot doing something crazy and stupid, I become like water, fluid, relaxed and I go with that motion following the direction without being killed or hit.
    In group rides I stop with the group do as they do, alone I take a lot more risks but in a controlled manner, safety first.
    The other day I was riding my fixie and I stopped at a four way stop light and the light was red for all directions. I waited and waited and waited and waited and after what seemed like an hour, I looked right, looked left, looked left looked left looked right and left again. So I stood up and took off. After about five seconds a guy in a big grey truck pulled right next to me on the bike lane and yelled, red light idiot!!!!! I just about lost
    Control and ate shit, but I gained control and saw him switch lanes to turn left. I gathered myself and flipped him off and yelled some colorful metaphors.
    I had been riding for three hours and I was raging with anger and all I wanted was a 7-11 Big Gulp. Well I made it to my local 7-11 and all was ok again.
    Cyclist don’t kill, idiot drivers kill, remember that.
    Gracias Seth, love your stuff.

    • fsethd says:

      Thanks; I agree. I make an effort to comply with traffic laws when it makes sense to do so, but a bicycle going from a full stop with one foot on the ground is a completely different proposition from a stopped car, which can go from 0 to 60 somewhat quicker than I can and with rather less effort.

      I pay attention to what’s going on at all times, but not all cyclists do. Lots of friends look at real estate as we pass, or check out the make/model of cool cars (“Look at that Ferrari!”) or glue their eyes to their cyclocomputers.

      Even so, I miscalculate and make mistakes, just like cagers do. Sometimes the “right” move turns out to be a big mess, and the only thing that gets me out of a jam is dumb luck. What’s strange to me is the fixation on “bad cyclists” by other cyclists.

      Bicycle riders making mistakes, or exercising poor judgment is not the problem. The problem is that bicycle riders are not considered part of traffic, and that bicycle riders are vulnerable, a condition made worse when they ride invisibly in the gutter.

      It would be great if everyone everywhere all the time obeyed all the laws, but that’s not the reality of the road environment. You have to consider first and foremost what’s going to keep you alive, and generally that’s maintaining momentum and speed. Not always …

  • renagade69 says:

    Agreed…But, just because we Pedal, doe’s not breaking the law justified.

    • fsethd says:

      Agreed. But as long as the game is so heavily weighted against bicycle riders, I think the priority is survival. There’s no roadmap for getting home alive; different people do it differently and an unlucky few don’t.

  • Arkansas Traveler says:

    Our Response That We Explain Bad Behavior On Our City Streets:

    • fsethd says:

      Ha, ha! That letter has way too multi-syllabics and references to actual laws for the average cager to get beyond the greeting.

      I would have said it more like this: “The day I apologize for every asshole Biker Joe will be the day that you apologize for every asshole Cager Suzey. Until then, STFU.” [This is an acronym for Sorry to ‘Ffend You.]

  • Winemaker says:

    Its just that some critical mass has been reached – where enough drivers are getting annoyed by cyclists…not all, not even some, just enough.

    Anyway, I spent two hours this morning shoveling horse manure blended with sawdust on every vine in the vineyard…I am sore and tired and there is nothing like this kind of manual labor to bring real exhaustion, so the upcoming bike ride, in the rain, 50 degrees American, and with those latte slurpin’, cell phone talkin’, back seat kid distracted moms….will seem like a joy. I may even stop at a light or two..

    Keep the rubber side up.

    • fsethd says:

      You, too!

      And you’re right about critical mass. Hopefully it will reach the point where full stops always make sense for everybody, cagers and bikers alike.

  • Brian in VA says:

    I ride as if I expect to get a ticket for violating the law. That means, if a cop sees me blow a stop sign, I expect to get a ticket for it. If I get caught speeding on my bike (the odds are nearly infinitesimal) I expect to get a ticket. It’s the law.

    I also expect drivers to receive the same, and expect the same for me when I’m driving. It’s the law.

    I don’t believe drivers are trying to kill me. I believe that driving has become such a commonplace thing that all drivers think they’re above average (or excellent) and practice unconscious competence; they drive through pure repetition rather than actually focusing on it as they should. (Ever get home and realize you weren’t paying attention?) This sets cyclists up as possible victims because instead of a bent fender, we’re going to be killed.

    We can’t legalize “paying attention while driving” because it’s unenforceable. We can only hope that all will pay attention and all will be well. And, when riding, I’m constantly watching out for those who may not be watching out.

  • Kalos Sthenos says:

    Your blog constantly reminds me how dangerous it is to bike and, thus, reminds me to BE CAREFUL. I ride like a maniac and need these reminders. THANK YOU.

    • fsethd says:

      We’re all maniacs. You have to be, in order to get on your bike and “share the road” with drivers.

      Coming home yesterday on Hawthorne Blvd. I stopped at the light at PCH. The light turned green, I went through the intersection and was in the middle of the very, very narrow right-hand lane.

      A d-bag in his brand new rent-a-Porsche came over on me, barely missing me with his mirror. He laughed and we exchanged middle fingers. Still, I’d rather be intentionally buzzed by a cager who knows what he’s doing than by one who doesn’t ever see me.

      Crazy shit.

      And thanks for the kudos!

  • Al says:

    The only reason or rather, the only fear induced reason is because I don’t want to get hassled by the popo. I’ve had them on multiple occasions pull a bitch on Catalina to profile me as I track standed at stop signs and practically went into reverse. With which they eventually leave me alone to try to get some other unassuming person on a bike…….sigh.

  • darelldd says:

    Great piece, Seth. Something I think about regularly. Too many thoughts to list them all, so I’ll choose this:

    Safety vs. Law. Far too many road users think that they’re identical. Follow the law, and you’ll be safe. And clearly this isn’t true no matter how much we think it should be. In fact there are three different facets to consider when “sharing the road” with any other road users:

    Safety (mine and the riders around me while cycling)
    Convenience/courtesy (for EVERY road user)

    Sometimes they all come together in glorious harmony. But many times we have to (quickly!) choose one or two, and let the other(s) slide. EVERY situation is different – countless times per ride – no “one size fits all” here. There is no ride I’ve been on where obeying the law blindly has been the safest or most courteous action in every conflict situation. There are places in my “bicycle friendly” town where it is impossible to obey the law and get from A to B on a bike. The order of my list above is how I naturally prioritize these facets without thinking about it. Trying to follow the law sometimes makes me a less-safe road user, and it most certainly inconveniences me and other road users quite often. One of my favorite “inconvenience to everybody by obeying the law” situations is coming up to an empty intersection and facing a red light. I press the (pedestrian!) button (usually getting over to the curb and ahead of the limit line illegally because there is no other choice) and wait. Before I get my green, the other direction’s red light has stopped a few cars – inconveniencing the drivers, wasting energy, adding noise and air pollution, wear and tear. All could be avoided in two seconds if I safely rolled through the empty intersection against a red. But we can’t be trusted with determining what’s safe. We’re too used to being told exactly what to do and when to do it. And that’s where the law makes us less safe. When drivers (and peds and cyclists) see a green light, it is THEIR TURN TO GO. Doesn’t matter what might already be in the intersection. I’VE GOT GREEN. And since we’re completely out of practice to determine what’s safe, we do what we’re gold. It’s green, green means go, the law says it is my turn, I’m following the law so I’m safe! Yay me for being a law-abiding citizen.

    How do we reconcile unsafely crossing an intersection on green, with safely (and as a convenience to all users) crossing an intersection on red?

    Now ask me how many folks actually know and understand the laws that they pretend they want to hold cyclists too…. They sure do know that stop sign one, don’t they?

  • Peter Schindler says:

    And then there is the unavoidable accident. 1999, early morning ride, west on Olympic, Century City area. Going down a hill, no traffic other than a guy turning left from Olympic to Century Park West. His wheels are pointed straight ahead, the front end of his car dips which indicates he is braking. I enter the intersection, he turns left in front of me. I t-bone him, my back is broken, he says “I didn’t see you.” At least he stopped. Money wise, I broke even although I spent six months indoors recovering. That time will never be replaced.

  • Rick says:

    Nice piece. But I would really like you to explain why chimpanzees do what they do.

  • M says:

    Respectfully, i have to disagree with one aspect here – there is zero justification to blow through a working red light. I see this happen way too often lately on my bike commute. It needless adds to the level of anger on the road.

    I’m not going to flip you off if I disagree with your driving or cycling skills, its immature. But let’s be honest, its a selfish move to run a working red light. You can’t on the one hand complain that you are justified in delaying someone for a few seconds as they go around you, which I agree with, but then turn around and say *you* can’t wait at a red light for a few seconds either.

    • fsethd says:

      I rarely run red lights … but early in the morning when there’s no one around … it’s been known to happen.

    • darelldd says:

      Up above there I gave a pretty good reason for doing just this, though I avoid using “blow through” – a term that is wildly defined as anything from a walking-speed roll to a force-10 JATO sprint – depending on what point is trying to be made. If I can roll through an empty intersection against a red light – without putting myself or others in harm, and without inconveniencing any other road user, everybody wins. The only reason to stop in these situations is to obey the law… inconveniencing everybody.

      Clearly you are talking about a specific situation where others ARE being inconvenienced. Not all red-light situations are like that.

      – Darell

  • Chuck says:

    I was with you right up until you made the stupid comment that asshole drivers “are Republican”. I’m a republican, more-on, and also an avid cyclist and frankly I find that many of the turds that speed past me or cut me off are in their Prius’ sporting an Obama sticker…so you might want to leave political stereotypes out of this and stick to the actual issues.

    • fsethd says:

      Sticking to actual issues all the time gets … boring.

      However, I have noticed that in really poor areas like South Central L.A., no one harasses me when I ride, but when I get into super-Republican P.V., people are extremely aggressive.

      Also, I can’t help but notice that much of the harassment I experience outside of P.V. comes in the form of “Republican looking” pickups and similar vehicles. Of course, it could be a Democrat with the USMC bumper sticker and the right to life slogans, and of course you can’t judge a person’s political affinity by her vehicle, and — the biggest of course — these are simply anecdotes, not statistics.

      It’s generally the case, you will admit, that pro-cycling, pro-lane sharing, pro-cyclist rights tend to be issues supported by liberal people rather than conservative ones. It’s not an all-or-nothing statement, but if you look at opposition to plans that seek to increase mode share and that oppose the expansion of cycling on public streets, much of that is Republican.

      Republican policies strongly support more freeways, less regulation, more use of fossil fuels, and fewer civil liability laws for people who harm others in injury cases, e.g. car v. bike. It’s not to say that all Republicans are assholes or bad people any more than it is to plant halos on Democrats, but the fact is that you will find more hostility to the objectives of bicycle riders among the Republican Party than the Democratic one.

      So you’re right, stereotypes are misleading, but identifiable political platforms and policies are not, so I apologize for tarring you with the Bad Republican brush, but I don’t retreat one whit from the implication that your party opposes the expansion, inclusiveness, and equality of bicycles on our roadways.

  • Horst says:

    Eureka! We have finally discovered the root cause to all of cycling’s ills and arrived at a solution to pedaling Utopia: Kill all of the Republican’s, gun-owners, pro-lifers, the USMC, residents of PV, and anyone whom uses fossil fuels. How brilliant! How unique and original!

    How intellectually dishonest and incredibly stupid!

    And, I can prove it.

    The article was really going along quite well, and just when it looked like it would actually be an informative, useful piece of prose, it literally blew itself to pieces with the same ignorant stereotyping the article set out to refute in the first place. By claiming to dismantle the “All drivers hate us” stereotype, the writer introduced a stereotype of their own, namely, anyone not of the author’s political persuasion is the enemy. And, not only that, but in the author’s opinion, these “People” are the TRUE root of cycling’s problems, too. Wow!

    Hey, it’s your opinion, and you are certainly entitled to it, but you are not entitled to put forth your misinformed opinion as hardcore fact. We all have experiences with motorists which are pleasant, and many, not so pleasant. The same is also true of the cross-section of cyclists. In my experience, and years of riding, a whole lot of cyclists are close-minded Leftists, borderline Anarchists. Knowing this, I still do my best to arrive at solutions to the issues cyclist’s face WITH their help. And, why not, we are all cyclists, right? I do not set out to insult them, thus driving a larger chasm within the ranks and making it more difficult to promote all of us working together.

    The author could be doing the same, and may even be effective at it, if they were not so myopically intolerant.

    But wait, there’s more. In a glorious act of stunning hypocrisy, the author paints themselves as a lifetime expert on dealing with deadly, dangerous motorists, all using their “Cages” as a lethal weapon. Yet, the author makes their feelings known on the evils of guns and their owners. One has to wonder if the author has had a lifetime of being threatened by guns. My guess is a big, giant NO!

    By the numbers, more people are killed in vehicle accidents than by guns. So, should we call for a ban on “Assault- Vehicles?” Nice try, Mr. Author.

    The problems facing cyclists runs a bit deeper than the authors immature feelings. However, I am not going to spell them out here, as I will not help the author with any new material. They can conjure up their own material, and maybe, just maybe, actually learn something about the diverse demographics of cyclists in the process.

    If the point of the article was to commit literary suicide, thus killing its own message, exposing the writer’s hateful, inflexible bias, plus putting off any perspective allies, well, then the author certainly succeeded. The story reeked of ignoble rhetoric and blind, biased bigotry of people with differing philosophies.

    May I suggest the author go to work for the Democratic National Committee, or any of the myriad of Leftist organizations, as the task of informing, unifying, and actual problem solving for cycling in general is really not their forte.

    • fsethd says:

      Whoa, Nellie!

      Better take another slug of Ol’ Buzzard Puke (aged three weeks) and calm y’self down.

      And while yer at it, run the ol’ grammarcheckspellcheck thingymabob, too.

      PS: Shoot me a list o’ them thar leftist organizations when y’get a sec. I been lookin’ to join up with a couple more.

    • zenpunk32 says:

      You could stand to dial back the indignance a couple of notches yourself. Your characterization of Seth’s comments are wildly clear of the mark, sharpshooter. Particularly the part where you impute that he believes “anyone not of the author’s political persuasion is the enemy. And, not only that, but in the author’s opinion, these “People” are the TRUE root of cycling’s problems.”

      If you are set on not driving a chasm between yourself and fellow cyclists regardless of our political persuasions, why are you so eager to turn a single flippant comment into another tedious gun debate?


  • P K says:

    Thanks for the article you rock!!! Proof is in the pudding, I prefer the Ghetto to the McMansion rides, Repub wifes with lattes are entitled, dangerous, distracted, douches, no doubt!!!

    Some drivers are seriously angry when they have to move their foot (brakes), or arm (steer) that same apathy carries over to their brains! I want to survive, every ride, so F#ck the laws, I’m more than happy to explain this to any cop. They actually listen too, not if they’re in those revenue generating ticket traps, but when they’re allowed to think for themselves (Ghetto patrol) they listen.

    It’s a battlefield sometimes, I’ll ride anywhere, do whatever I need to do to stay safe (and have fun), and run every stop, red light possible!!!! So glad I grew up on a BMX bike, and I have ditched a cop (twice) countless angry motorists, been in 3 roadside fights, been run-over (broken leg) If you think the law will protect you, I got a bridge you need to buy.

    I glady explain to drivers (while riding) how vulnerable we are, how easy it is for them to use an arm (steer) or foot (brakes/gas) to avoid us, and how much effort we put out (compared to driving) Some people actually understand, rarely though will that Audi, Porsche douche even roll down their window when I finally catch up, usually they’re texting or just generally hating.

    Lately I’ve been going by all the houses that have dogs out, getting chased for a sec reminds I’m still alive!!! Gonna make a map for a dog ride soon!

    If you’re a person who can’t undrstand this mentality then go ahead and be a victim if thats who you are but don’t hate when the survivors (refer to my fav show the walking dead) blow past you.

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