Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bicycle Licensing: Maybe it's Not Such a Bad Idea

Bicycle licensing. In the past I have been adamantly against such a thing. Not having any legal structure or paperwork required for riding my bike is part of the freedom and autonomy I so dearly adore on a daily basis. However, having lived the last year in Seattle, a particularly large city, I witness numerous acts of stupidity and cluelessness on my daily commute. I see near misses, blatant law breaking and general disregard for others on the road. And guess what? It mostly involves cyclists.

I now see why angry motorists plague the comments section of online news outlets, spewing their one-sided views towards those who choose two wheels as their primary mode of transportation. It's because cyclists, for the most part, are clueless. There, I said it. Not the cyclists who have been doing this for a long time, or the ones who grew up riding and racing bikes, but the ones new to the sport, or "lifestyle" if you choose.

Running red lights, avoiding lights by "sneaking" through the crosswalks, weaving in and out of traffic, using the sidewalks, bike salmoning ... all of these things I see countless times throughout my work week. As a representative of a cycling publication, I follow the rules of the road, especially when there is vehicle traffic. I want motorists to give us the respect we deserve and are legally entitled to. So I get infuriated when I am sitting in traffic at a busy intersection, doing my part to follow those rules, when someone rides right past me and the cars that are waiting for the signal, gives a quick glance in both directions, and then proceeds to ride through the red light in front of everyone's eyes.

You know what you impatient and clueless cyclist? You are the reason why motorists have such a disdain for us. Not because they have to "share the road" with us, because you aren't sharing the road. You are cutting the coke with baking powder, so to speak, taking more than what you're entitled to. Yet you complain whenever you are cut off or when someone honks at you. Then you wonder why people are such "fucking dicks." It's because you are a dick. A selfish one at that.

I recently had a woman pass me as I was waiting my turn in a line of cars, on my bike. She went around all of us, in the oncoming lane and hooked a left without stopping. I shook my helmet-cladded head then yelled to her, "We have to follow the rules too you know!" No more than 2 minutes later I passed her on the bike path. As I overtook her she said, "You should mind your own business."


"You know what, it IS my business. You represent every cyclist on the road and when you do shit like that, it gives ALL of us a bad name," I rebutted.

Guess what. She didn't say another word. Because she knows I was right. It's not "you" breaking the rules, it's "us." All of us. We are seen as the same body. Motorists see cyclists as one group of people, not as individuals. To them, we are all decked out in tech yellow Performance gear and Nashbar uber-cheese spandex shorts, even though you and I may rarely dress that way. So get off your self-righteous hypocritical ass and start thinking about all of us. As cyclists we have enough to deal with without some asshole making people, namely motorists, look down on us.

Additionally, five cyclists have been hit by cars in the past week, one of them a hit and run, another was pulled into a person's vehicle by the driver and dragged a few blocks (true story, in Portland, near my old neighborhood). Maybe these cyclists were abiding by the rules, maybe not. Accidents can usually be avoided with a higher awareness of things happening around you, and taking a few precautions. And by following the rules.

Therefore, maybe licensing is a good thing. Sharing the roads means just that, not just sharing at your convenience, but by following the rules, especially when automobiles are present; rural country roads and trails are another topic altogether and require a different tactic. But we live in the city. A city with a lot of traffic. So maybe having to take a test to share the city's roads would open a few eyes and hopefully educate cyclists who are new to the game. It would probably save me from prematurely aging due to my desire to scream at you for making things harder for me. Does that sound selfish on my part? Maybe. But at the end of the day, I want get home alive.

Damn if I don't sound like an old man. Aging is a bitch.

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