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Bike Smart; Not “Cool”

June 14, 2012

On the World Natalie Mueller Comments Off on Bike Smart; Not “Cool”

Halfway through the official Bike to Work Week and I can’t wait for it to be over. Don’t get me wrong; I love seeing Chicagoans take the streets with their bikes. I participated in Bike the Drive and seeing that many cyclists, on Lake Shore Drive no less, was amazing.

However, I bike to work almost every day, not just for one week a year. I’m sure a few participants are converted to regular bike commuters each year, but the fact remains that those who aren’t, those who participate passively or out of whimsy, they put all of us in danger.

Bike to Work Week is a fantastic statement by the cycling community. It makes cyclists that much more prevalent to drivers and reinforces how important it is for cars to share the road. I mean, how can you ignore 10+ city cyclists waiting in front of your car at a light during rush hour?

Answer: easily, all of your attention was just swept up by the 1-3 bikes that just flew through the red light, almost got hit and then cursed at the car that is following traffic signals.

Fair weather cyclists, or cyclists that ride that one week a year where bike promoters are giving away free smoothies on their commute route, are not part of the social contract regular cyclists have made with the cars on the road. I haven’t had to deal with too many fellow cyclists this week, but the ones I have had the pleasure of sharing the bike lane with have more than justified the spike in nervous or agitated driving I’ve noticed this week.

Regular city cyclists pull these stunts all of the time, and I hate it then too, but multiply how many cyclists are on the street and naturally the incidents multiply as well.

What’s more, these once-a-year cyclists practice the habits they’ve observed the other 51 weeks of the year. They think it’s alright to roll through reds and blow stop signs. From what they’ve seen, that is simply part of city cycling. They don’t want to stand out as “amateur” commuter cyclists in a crowd of cycling enthusiasts. They want to fit in.

Why are we all taking riding risks, performing impressive track stands and trying to prove that we’re cool to each other? It isn’t cool. Just like that guy revving his engine at a red isn’t cool. What is cool is that we are allowed to do this, that we are choosing and supporting cleaner, healthier transportation, that Chicago has noticed us and is trying to make it safer for us to continue riding.

We should be proving that we deserve the road, we deserve the protection of cycling laws, we deserve the advancements Active Trans and other organizations are pushing the city for.

I stop at red lights. I treat a crowded stop sign the same as I would in a car. If I have to go the wrong way down a one way street (which, lets face it, in Chicago is difficult to avoid) I ride cautiously and with the awareness that I am not following the law.

Every time you blow a red on your bike you are making every other cyclist look bad, including those who you tore past as they stopped at the line.

In this city, it is often easy to stand out as a cyclist. The helmet dangling from my Chrome bag, my rolled up pant leg, the grease mark on the back of my calf; all of this brands me. Threadless™ has a line of bike themed shirts. One even says “DON’T DOOR ME” in mirrored text to playfully address this unfortunate bike-accident epidemic. Do I need a shirt that says “I’m not an a**hole on a bike”?
But do I need to make a sign for my back that says, “I stop at red lights”? How do I market myself as a safe, responsible cyclist?

Answer: I shouldn’t have to. Being a responsible member of traffic shouldn’t be a point of difference.

Bikes don’t have brake lights; we just have the trust that everyone on the road is looking out for each other.

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