I just finished a book called “How Cycling Can Save the World” by Peter Walker. My friend Marv gave it to me a while back and it’s been dust collecting with all my other unread books. The title wasn’t very compelling, and I figured there wasn’t going to be anything in it I didn’t already know, and if I want to read preachy incoherent ramblings by a madman I can peruse my own blog posts.
Well, I take it all back. It is a fantastic read even though it pillories a guy I highly regard, John Forester. More about all that later, as the book can’t be done justice in a single post. Instead, I want to focus on Chapter 8, “Why Cyclists Are Hated.”
Why cyclists are hated
Walker goes into a lot of detail about the ways in which cyclists are abused, but he never really comes around to explaining why. The reason is simple. We have a superiority complex and it drives cagers crazy.
“That’s not true!” you holler. “I accept all modes of transportation! I even have a car! I’m not trying to save the world! I just want to make the Flog Ride on time!”
Unfortunately, every act of cycling is a massive middle finger to every cager you encounter, whether they like you, hate you, own a bike, ride a bike, or have never sat on a bike. The reason is simple: At the moment a bike and a car interact, the bicycle is obviously the superior mode of transportation, and no matter what anyone says, roads are all about transportation.
The cyclist you encounter is by definition superior to you in your car as a means of transport: She is healthier than you, spending less money than you, getting where she wants to go more efficiently than you, avoiding the hassles of parking, never in a traffic jam, and when she’s done she gets to have a donut.
You, on the other hand, are in a car. Sorry, in a cage. At that moment in time you are sedentary, sitting on your ever-widening ass. Your blood pressure is already elevated. You have a car payment, insurance, a mostly empty gas tank, and a postcard from Martin Chevrolet telling you it’s time to get screwed in the service department again.
You are in traffic, you have to find a parking space, then pay for it directly or indirectly, and ultimately, indignity of indignities, walk anywhere from a hundred yards to a quarter mile total distance to get to your destination. As a transportation proposition, you lose and you know it. You lose and the cyclist knows it. Ergo, smug.
Rubbing salt into the wound
These facts are outrageous to cagers, but it gets worse. When you are on a bike you can’t really see anything about the driver. But when you’re in a car you get to see the entirety of the cyclist. And you know what you see? If the person is wearing lycra, you see someone with body confidence, and you compare it to yourself.
If the person is wearing jeans and a t-shirt, you see someone casual and comfortable, stretching their limbs as you are crammed inside the cockpit of your badly fitting seat. Worse if you happen to be extremely tall, extremely short, or extremely overweight … you’re in a torture chamber.
Maybe you could live with all that if it weren’t for the fact that, despite the outliers, the average person on a bicycle looks so much better than the average person sitting in traffic. Their legs are toned. Their proportions are normal. They scream “NOT LIKE YOU” as you sag deeper into your driver’s seat.
Oh, and if you’re really unlucky, they’re using lane control and are actually in front of you.
Why this matters
Of course there are advantages to driving a car, for example, you live 50 miles from work, or you don’t like to get rained and snowed on, or you are allergic to sweat, or you carry massive boxes wherever you go, or you have a phobia of being outdoors. There may be other advantages I’ve overlooked. But at the moment you see any given person on a bicycle, they are, by definition, kicking your ass in the transportation battle, and the only defense you have is physical violence.
This of course is why noxious cagers troll up next to you and advise you that “The car always wins, pal.”
Of course if the question is, “Which weapon is more deadly?” then the car certainly wins. That’s why you don’t really have a rejoinder to it. But on the roadway, the competition is to get to your destination efficiently, not to kill people. In fact, killing people in your car is highly inefficient. You have to stop. Talk to the police. Explain how you didn’t see the biker who swerved in front of you while you were texting. Sometimes you even have to pay a modest traffic fine. So even when cagers are killing cyclists, they’re still inefficient losers at the transportation game.
The car always loses, at least when it’s sharing the road with a bike, and when we’re talking about transportation.
This matters because once you realize that cars and bikes are in competition, and cars are always the loser, it explains the rage of so many cagers, a rage they sometimes enact by doing the roadway equivalent of beating you up, i.e., running you over. But just because you’re dead or maimed doesn’t mean that their car is any more efficient. It just means they have to take it to the carwash to sponge off the gore, which, sadly, is yet another inefficiency.
This also explains why so many drivers are impervious to rational explanations about how you’re not really taking away their roadway, their parking, blah blah blah. It’s a lie and they know it. You are not only beating them at the transportation game, but every victory you notch encourages someone else to try it, and pretty soon the ants have carried away the elephant.
Can bikes and cars coexist?
In the long term, I don’t see how. It’s a zero sum game, because the more bike infrastructure that gets planted, the more people ride and the less they want to drive, and they therefore want to provide less space for cars. With the exception of Australia, a nation with an explicit anti-cycling agenda, every country that has become bicycle friendly has had to build more and more bike infrastructure and make cars less and less welcome.
It’s a small step from bike lanes to segregated bike lanes to shutting off the town center to cars.
It’s not because bikes are anti-car, it’s because cars are horribly inefficient and costly and filthy compared to bikes, and when bikes are given even the slightest opening, to say nothing of a level playing field, they completely destroy the car culture. The converse is true, too. It’s no coincidence that Japan and China’s full-gas commitment to cars has exterminated a formerly vibrant and all-encompassing culture of bike transportation.
So the next time someone accuses you of being snobby and superior, the fairest thing you could do is admit they’re right. And keep pedaling.
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