Being human

We’ve all seen it a thousand times before.

The other day, I pulled up next to car at a red light, and when I looked over at the driver, his finger was unselfconsciously inserted deeply up his nose.

And oddly, it occurred to me for the first time that I’ve never seen a cyclist do that.

Not that we don’t have our own questionable habits. But not only have I never seen a cyclist pick his or her nose, I’ve never seen one floss, shave, put on makeup, change clothes or — yes, masturbate — or any of the countless other things I’ve seen people do behind the wheel that are usually best performed in far more private settings.

Wrapped in a two ton cocoon of steel and glass, drivers have an illusion of privacy. Even though they’re surrounded by windows on every side, they feel separate from the world around them, free to do things they would never do standing on the street corner just a few feet away.

At least, I hope they wouldn’t.

On the other hand, we cyclists are well aware of our exposure. In fact, we revel it, taking pleasure in our intimate experience of the unique sights, sounds and smells that envelope us as we ride, as if the world itself were wrapping its arms around us.

We never, ever feel that sense of privacy that so many drivers seem to take for granted. We understand that anything we do while we’re riding can, and probably will, be seen by someone else.

So why don’t drivers see us?

I don’t mean that in the standard careless driver, “I just didn’t see him” sense, that seems to offer a universal excuse for virtually any driver who runs a cyclist to the ground. Even though the law in every state requires that drivers be alert and aware of conditions and vehicles around them.

No, I mean why is it that so many drivers can look at a cyclist, and fail to see a fellow human being?

Take the Good Doctor, Christopher Thompson, who dedicated his career to saving lives, yet had no problem sending two people to the emergency room — insisting in a 911 call that they weren’t really hurt, despite nearly severing the nose of one rider and separating the shoulder of the other.

Or the drivers we discussed yesterday, who couldn’t have cared less about knocking one rider off his bike, or deliberately cutting another off in traffic.

Or countless other drivers, across the city and around the world, innumerable times each and every day. Somehow, they look at us, and don’t see a student on his way to class, or a worker struggling home after a long day. They don’t see a wife, a mother, a husband or a father, a son or a daughter. Someone riding for their health or their passion, for the good of the earth or the good of their community; someone who’d stop to help a stranger or an animal in need.

They don’t see a person who is loved. Or the empty bed or seat at the table, the gigantic hole that would be ripped through the world if just one person didn’t make it home from their ride.

They don’t see a fragile human being. They just see another cyclist.

And they feel justified in hating us.

Simply because we ride a bike.

And we’re in their way.


More on the bike plan:

Steven Box reports on The Department of DIY’s initial efforts to create our own, better, bike plan; Dr. Alex reports on neighborhood councils demanding an extension of the comment period, and Ubrayj responds to a student reporter, saying the best part of the city’s new bike plan is that it contains the words “bike,” “bicycle” and “bike lane.”

And Damien Newton offers a great update of the process up to this point, noting that BAC Chair Glenn Bailey has been promised that comments will be accepted until the final plan is released next year.


A visit to Linus Bikes on Abbot Kinney. Travelin’ Local reports on a website to report, track — and presumably, fix — roadway, bikeway and sidewalk problems. San Diego riders are encouraged to attend a meeting on new road standards this Friday. The latest bike friendly communities have been announced; you can download the full list here. A writer in New Hampshire says waiting 15 seconds to safely pass a cyclist is time well spent. Opus notes that he can’t test a new product that allows a rider to lock his helmet with his bike because he can’t find a place to lock his bike. TreeHugger looks at bike locks, including the new AXA Defender offered at Flying Pigeon. A rider notes that some drivers can’t see him, but evidently they can still hear him. A lawyer claims a champion Aussie rider who ran over his former riding partner doesn’t deserve jail because he didn’t actually flee the scene, but ran to get help; evidently, they don’t have cell phones Down Under.


  1. Trevor Hall says:

    If you want to try another fun social experiment, say “Hello” to a pedestrian as you’re waiting at a stoplight. I usually get a jump, startled look, and then a nervous “hello” in reply. They’re simply not used to having anything other than an idling steel cocoon in the traffic lanes. “Hey, fellow traveler here!”. Yes, you can commute and converse, if you’re not stuck in a box.

  2. Sam says:

    Trevor: I say hello and wave a lot to drivers and peds alike. And I am surprised at the startled expression to my greeting. Have we devolved so much that one can’t offer a pleasantry any more?

    The thing I find very surprising about all this hate thrown toward cyclists is the amount of hate seems a bit disproportionate (based on statistical analysis pulled out of my ass) to the numbers of riders on the road. I mean with all that venom being hurled our way, imagine if the number of cyclists was more than 50% of the population. That would be something to be in awe of…but this pathetic 0.5-3% of the population and all this hate.

    If I were a bit smarter I’d like to try to hook up with the ADA, MADD, and the like to get behind bicycling advocacy.

  3. Yes Sam we may be a small percentage but I think that is precisely why we get so much hate. Most people do not bike commute or even know an adult who rides a bike with regularity. The more people there are the more connected and second hand connected we become to others which builds understanding. If you look at some place like Portland, which is still well below 10%, it’s a world of difference in attitude.

  4. anon says:

    I’ve picked my nose on my bike before.

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