Today’s ride, on which I vow to patent my cloak of invisibility

I’m not exactly a small man.

I stand six-foot-even, sans shoes, with a weight that clocks in on the plus side of 180, give or take. And today I was wearing a bright yellow jersey that just screams for attention. Which is kind of the point.

So it would seem the only reason someone wouldn’t see me is if they just didn’t want to. Yet somehow, three different drivers managed to miss me today.

And just barely, at that.

The first case was a classic right hook, as a driver passed on my left, then immediately cut back in front of me to make a right turn. Fortunately, I’ve learned to anticipate that possibility when a car passes me near a corner, so I was prepared for it.

A quick squeeze on my brakes to drop behind her, followed by a fast spin, and I found myself right next to her open window before she could even finish her turn. The only response I got was a startled look when I sarcastically yelled “Thanks for cutting me off!” before leaving her behind.

A few hours later, just a few miles from home, a driver passed me with less than a foot to spare after I’d taken the lane on a short downhill — nearly forcing me into the back of a parked car. I caught up to her at the base of the hill when she slowed for traffic, and said “You totally cut me off back there!” with all the equanimity I could muster under the circumstances.

Which admittedly wasn’t much.

And why I would revert to Valley-speak when ticked off is like, totally beyond me.

The speed and anger behind her response — “What’s your problem, a**hole!” — suggested she was probably mad before I ever said a word. Though whether at me or someone else, I have no idea.

So we traded insults until she turned off a few blocks later, mine in regard to her driving skills, or the lack thereof, and hers of a far more personal nature.

The last one came directly in front of my building, as I stopped at the stop sign and signaled for a right turn. But just as I started to go, a woman in a minivan pulled up on my left, rolling through the stop and angling right across my path.

Another right hook.

So I yelled until I finally got her attention, and she stopped directly in front of me. I asked — okay, yelled — “What am I, invisible?”, before making my turn and pulling up to my home, as she stared back at me with the sort of uncomprehending gaze I usually see only on sheep.

Not that we have a lot of those in L.A., but still.

Yet I can almost guarantee you that all three went home and complained about what jerks those cyclists are — especially Lance Armstrong wannabee Lycra louts like me.

And I can also pretty much guarantee that not one of them stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, they’d actually done something wrong. Because most people just aren’t wired that way. Cyclists included.

It’s human nature to blame the other person. And yelling certainly doesn’t help matters any, although it’s hard to respond any other way when someone has just threatened your safety, intentionally or not.

So how do we communicate more effectively with drivers, to let them know that they need to drive more carefully around us — let alone how they can accomplish that?

Yelling doesn’t work. Gestures don’t work — at least not the ones we usually employ when threatened with motorized mayhem. A calm conversation can sometimes do the job, but that requires catching the driver long enough to talk.

And remaining that calm is a lot easier said than done.

And it’s not like most drivers read the sort of blogs where we discuss things like this. Although there was one notable exception — someone who seemed like a typical motorhead jerk at first, but turned out to be one of the classiest guys I’ve never met.

It’s also not like all drivers are that bad.

I couldn’t begin to tell you how many passed me safely or courteously waved me through an intersection today. It was a hell of a lot more than three, though.

But then, it only takes one bad driver to ruin your day.

Or your life.

………

We’re down to two candidates to replace Wendy Greuel following yesterday’s election in CD2. The Crenshaw Crush ride rolls this weekend through one of L.A.’s most fascinating and historic neighborhoods. Will Campbell counts bikes; I wonder if he counted himself while he was at it. How to dress for fall cycling — or winter riding here in semi-balmy SoCal — along with five essential tips for fall riding.  A fellow bike blogger compares biking accidents in Boulder, CO and Louisville, KY, and finds Louisville lacking. A writer in Charleston says the rules apply to cyclists, too, while an Aussie writer says we need to know the rules of the road. The Michigan Dept. of Transportation offers training in road design for bicycling; maybe we could send someone next time. Finally, Damien Newton, while waiting (patiently?) for the next Newton, reports that the LAPD is training campus police that riding in a crosswalk is illegal in L.A. Even though it isn’t.

9 comments

  1. Enci says:

    This past week has been a nightmare to ride for me. Lots of close calls, lots of drivers squeezing, revving their engines to speed to the red light, etc.

    I’m just trying to keep cool because I’m too hot to waste my energy on them. But I sometimes don’t know if it’s healthy to keep cool because that adrenaline that goes through my body every time I see my life flash in front of my eyes, or every time my hair stands up on the back of my neck out of fear, needs to go somewhere. And that adrenaline, if stuck inside ones body would cause maybe more harm in the long run then yelling at someone.

    Oftentimes it’s the woman drivers who are the most careless, the most unattentive, and it angers me maybe because I’m a woman.

    Anyhow, I like your writeup and I’m sorry you had to deal with so many jerks. And as you say, there are far more good drivers, but it takes only one to ruin your life.

  2. the only answer is physically separated bike paths as per amsterdam, copenhagen, etc, everything else won’t work

    every day we bicycle and share a road with a car or a motorcycle is a day we could get hit

    …roland “i bicycle 10km a day on thankfully 60% physically separated bicycle paths and i know my 40% sharing with drivers is risky” tanglao from vancouver

  3. Here’s hoping your next ride is idiot-free. And wonder if I counted myself in yesterday’s tally no more my friend, I most certainly did.

    Hell, I even counted racked bikes I saw on buses passing through the intersection.

  4. James says:

    I’ve bike commuted off and on for years and I have found a whistle, the kind you buy in a sporting goods shop. Is really effective, loud, not a noise they are used to hearing and unlike yelling does not provoke insults.

  5. ubrayj02 says:

    I bicycle to work, to play, to everything nearly every single day of my life now. The only repsonse to what happened to you is to (if you’re lucky enough to catch up to the motorist) tell the offending driver “Hi!”, smile and wave.

    That is the only thing that reliably calms people down. Sometimes doing a fake “Vroom vroom!” with your hand on the handlebars will get them to laugh to.

    Take the anger and hold onto it, then pour it into productive work. Point it at the right targets and watch how the next time someone almost kills you triggers a twitchy instinct to write a letter to the mayor, or come up with a funny and creative way of embarrassing or lobbying a public official.

  6. Carl says:

    The best advice that was given to me about dealing with driver who drive aggressively or unsafe was to talk to them, but with a calm voice. Almost the stereotypical “stoner” voice. It’s really hard to do when you’re fired up, but every time I’ve tried it so far, it’s worked. Something like “hey man… that was a really close pass back there…” seems to work pretty well. I’ve gotten sincere apologies from drivers before.

  7. TheTricksterNZ says:

    Just read that article on the Courier Mail site in Aussie.

    1. The Courier is one of Rupert Murdoch’s papers which always tend to bring out the ferals.

    2. Queenslanders aren’t known for being particularly smart.

  8. Omri says:

    Trickster is understating things. To understand how far gone Queensland is, I’ll point out that it’s the one Australian state where there is a per-liter fuel SUBSIDY.

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