For years I’ve had it in my head that cagers in LA hate bicyclists. That drivers are the enemy. That as far as they’re concerned, the only good cyclist is one driving a car.
Yesterday, though, it struck me that I have been terribly wrong.
It’s true that there is a disturbing number of cagers who, when they see bicycle underwear, racy bikes, helmets, and Terminator glasses, go apeshit. I certainly haven’t imagined the decades of honks, middle fingers, punishment passes, offensive shouts, and physical altercations that have happened while being a #leakyprostate #mastersfake #profamateur cyclist.
I left the South Bay at 11:30, rode through downtown, had a meeting in the Fig/Cypress area, rode through densest LA crosstown traffic, crossed Hollywood to Beverly Hills to Santa Monica, had another meeting, then pedaled through insane 6:00 PM Santa Monica traffic, all the way down Arizona to Ocean, along the entire length of Main Street which was jammed bumper-to-bumper all the way into Marina del Rey and the marina bike path. I got home at 8:20.
It was the most extended traffic jam I’ve ever seen, literally stretching in a giant loop around the bulk of the LA metro area. But get this: I got honked at once.
And get this: I’m not even sure the dude was honking at me.
And get-get this: I had innumerable vehicles nudge their stopped cars to the left to make space for me to get up the gutter or to split the lane, and the couple of times I had gnarly, high speed, no-room-to-maneuver left turns with no space to change lanes (think hanging a left onto Argyle off Franklin, with 8 billion cars queued to get onto the 101), I made the move by simply putting out my hand in a “halt” sign and watching as traffic patiently let me cross two lanes of traffic and slot into the left-hand turn lane.
Equally telling, in the long stretch along Fountain Ave., which has BMUFL markings, my 16-17 mph speed and liberal interpretation of the numerous stop signs angered no one, engendered no punishment passes, no middle finger salutes, zero ugly honks.
What does it all mean? Here’s what it means:
- When you are riding with seven super bright rear lights, people see you from a long way off even when they are texting. And a big chunk of motorist rage is their shock and surprise at having you “come out of nowhere,” i.e. having to navigate your presence when they weren’t paying attention in the first place. This displaced anger is a large part of cager rage–they’re the ones at fault for not seeing you, and they blame you for it. Put on the massive rear lights and voila, the rage disappears.
- The brilliant, 1200-lumen headlights also explain why cars make space when you’re up against the curb, passing a hundred stopped cars as you skip to the front of the line. Your headlights blast their side and rearview mirrors, a/k/a THEY FUGGIN’ SEE YOU. And a lot of cagers are either cyclists or at least sympathetic to them or, perhaps, appreciative that one bike means one less car.
- Hair (or bald head). When you ditch the helmet you look like a person. When you wear the helmet you look like a Star Wars storm trooper. Remember them? They were the true villains of the whole movie. But underneath those helmets that fell off after Luke killed them with his blaster, they were actual people. It’s just that when you saw the mask you hated them because mask = enemy.
- Backpack. Storm trooper cyclists deserving of death look inhuman. Person on a bicycle lugging a backpack looks like a barista late for work, and a late barista means you may not get your coffee! It’s hard to feel superior to a storm trooper all sleek and shaved and getting fit while you’re gaining weight sucking down a mocha frap in a 3-hour traffic jam. But it’s impossible not to feel superior to someone who not only is too poor to own a car but who also has to carry a backpack en route to a minimum wage job. And when you feel superior, you often feel just a little bit nicer. At least you don’t feel consumed with rage.
- Jeans and t-shirt and sneakers. This completes the human outfit. #winning
There may be other factors involved. I’m sure they are. But yesterday wasn’t an anomaly. I’ve now crisscrossed some of the nastiest gridlock in LA, Orange, and San Diego counties, and my experience isn’t that motorists hate me, it’s that they see me. And once seen, for the most part I’m safely and patiently steered around.
Light yourself up. Take the lane. You will be surprised.
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