Can I ask you a question?

When I am getting off my bike at a coffee shop or lounging around at a coffee shop or standing in line in a coffee shop no one ever asks me anything. My scruffy facial mold and salt-caked dark glasses seem stand-offish, if not downright contagious.

Derek the Destroyer, however, always gets chatted up. He is always clean and clean-shaven. His kit is never caked with salt. He looks like the upstanding member of society that he is, amiable, professional, approachable. In other words, he attracts the nutjobs like patriots to a bird-watching refuge.

Today we had put in some huge hours, about four, doing a total of thirty miles. This is harder than it looks and always involves coffee stops. As we entered our fourth hour we decided to do something I’ve never done in the middle of a bike ride, and neither has he. We swung by the Baskin-Robbins for a double-dip in a fat waffle cone.

As Derek was tying up his horse this lady came up. We were at the PV Mall, where none of the customers work, and most are only vaguely aware of the mechanism by which their bank accounts are regularly replenished.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Can I ask you a question?”

Now the only appropriate answer to such a question is “No.” Firmly. Then you spin on your heel (hard to do in cleats but still necessary) and clip-clop into the ice cream store.

But not Derek. “Sure,” he said.

“Now I don’t mean this to you personally,” she began, which is the passive-aggressive intro to saying something very personal, “but why is it that you cyclists all ride out in the middle of the street?”

I was halfway into the shop but turned around. This was going to be good. “That’s a good question,” Derek said in what appeared to be his opening gambit for a Nobel Peace Prize.

I, on the other hand, was more in search of a Sauron Medallion of War. “It’s a terrible question,” I interjected.

The lady looked at me, concerned that the moldy-faced salty one had chosen her over the peanut butter-chocolate double dip. “A better question would be, ‘Why don’t all you cyclists just go kill yourselves or go get cars because you’re slowing us down for our hot yoga and orgasm workouts.'”

“Don’t mind him,” said Derek, “he’s harmless. Mostly.”

“Or an even better question would be, ‘Why is it that all of you cagers are ignorant of the vehicle code sections that allow us to occupy the lane?'”

“Cyclists really get in the way,” she said plaintively, “and I’m a cyclist, too. I ride my Motobiccany, when I ride it, on the sidewalk or in the bike lane. Why can’t you?”

I thought about giving her an Academie Francaise award for her pronunciation of “Motobecane,” but didn’t think I could spit that far. “Well,” said the diplomat, “it’s often safer in the lane, which is perfectly legal, than on the edge, where cars try to squeeze by on the way to yoga and accidentally kill or maim you by mistake. Those ‘oops’ moments can be really inconvenient when you spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. And of course they scratch up the vehicle’s clearcoat.”

“Hey, can I ask you a question?” I said.

“Okay,” she said.

“This isn’t personally directed at you, but why is it that middle-aged women at the PV mall look like they’re … ”

Derek grabbed me by the elbow. “C’mon Wanky,” he said. “The ice cream is that way.” He turned to the lady, who was imagining the awful ending to my unfinished question. “Have a nice day, ma’am. And share the road.”



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41 thoughts on “Can I ask you a question?”

  1. Pen Center lovefest. Perhaps nearby Mayer’s bakery would have been the ticket instead. Still getting used to that newish Baskin-Robbins location. it’s just…wrong.

  2. We control the lane (not ride in the “middle of the street” or “middle of the road” because it encourages motorists to do the right thing–change lanes to pass when it’s safe to do so. Simple.

    1. How about even more simple? We don’t ride in the middle of the road or street or lane. We don’t control the lane. Here’s what we do: we use the lane.

      We use the lane the same way anybody else does who wishes to transport themselves along the road. :shrug:

      1. ‘Tis true. The Gary and Darell team of commenters were by far the borringest on here. And I apologize for the stick that *I* stuck in the mud.. Nothing I can do about Gary.

      2. “Use” is simple. But too simple. Cycling on the right edge of the lane inches from the curb is using the lane. Riding in the door zone of parked cars is using the lane. Controlling the lane describes how smart cyclists use the lane. And encouraging motorists to change lanes to pass when safe the main reason we do it (there are others). Simple, if boring.

      3. That is the best article on “driving the lane” I have ever read. I like very much that it refers to us, and encourages us to refer to ourselves as “drivers” of the lane. That puts us on the road as peers, and allows us to view ourselves as peers to the cagers. It definitely implies that as “drivers” of course we have every right to the lane.

      4. CyclingSavvy will soon have an online course that may well have a major impact on the attitudes of both cyclists and motorists to traffic cycling. Stay tuned.

  3. Haha! I could totally picture this whole interaction.

    You say that you are never accosted, but I recall very distinctly a discussion, as we were leaving a coffee shop, you had when a homeless man in Santa Monica said you were selfish for riding a bike because you would surely die and cause grief in the world. Our whole group quickly grabbed their bikes and raced away, as you escalated tension with the guy.

    I always have memorable moments when I ride with you. 🙂

  4. This morning, while making a left turn, I was rear-ended by a car whose driver was going straight in a dedicated left-turn lane. I am fine and the bike is almost fine. Yes, it can be dangerous out there and the danger is inept drivers. Totally harshed my mellow, man…

  5. Why didn’t you just tell her “Here’s my business card give it your husband. Have him call me when you get yourself killed on the sidewalk.” I’ll get the case settled quick so he can get married again before the unveiling.

  6. Hey, I got pulled over by a fat, cigar smoking deputy sheriff in Terlingua, Texas yesterday, for failing to ride as far right as possible. After threatening me with a $250 fine, I did not try to tell him about the actual law.

  7. Middle of Lane

    The aggressive response doesn’t help amyone–especiallly not the cyclist.

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