Bicycle season is upon us, so be careful. Not so long ago I was an avid cycler, having worked my way up from a clunky and poor-fitting bike to a silky and lightweight one, skinny tires and drop bars, shoes not made for walking. I did a few multi-day, multi-hundred mile rides, wasn’t totally embarrassed (as I’d be now) to be seen in spandex.
My favorite local ride was out Snohomish River Road, through old town Snohomish, along the valley to Monroe, then to Duvall; from there, across the river to High Bridge Road, and back toward Snohomish. Beautiful views, a few decent hills, an exhilarating and long downhill, then home to Everett on Lowell-Larimer Road. Time well spent.
If you’ve been annoyed by a cyclist, it wasn’t me: I never whizzed through stop signs or lights, always hugged the side of the road, and, when with others, formed a single line as cars approached. Knowing how much some drivers hate to see bicycles on the road, it always upset me to see riders not follow those common sense and respectful rules. And, as a sentient human being, it’s never stopped amazing me to see people riding without a helmet.
I’ll be the eleventh to admit that bikers bear some blame for the monumental mad that motivates many motorists. But it doesn’t change what Isaac Newton taught us: compared to bikes, cars are lethal weapons. Whatever the sins of cyclists, there’s no excuse for the things I’ve experienced while riding. For the fun of it, far as I can tell, or carrying a previous grudge, people have tried to kill me.
Sometimes, riding where there’s no shoulder, with no traffic coming back at us for as far as one could see, cars heading my direction refused to cross that yellow line to give me a little room. Hugging the road’s edge like it was a rail, I’d nearly be blown over, or almost hit by a rearview mirror, as the person macho-motored by, presumably ticked off at some previous biker who’d refused to yield. But rude as that cyclist might have been, he’d had little ability to bring death to the driver. Those passer-aggressives, on the other hand, nearly did so to me.
Riding on Dungeness Spit one sunny day, a car full of laughing (and probably intoxicated) kids sped by. Someone flung the passenger door open as they passed, narrowly missing me. Then one of them tossed a beer can my way. Another day, zooming down the Oregon Coast highway, maybe 40 miles an hour, downhill, I was shot by a paintball fired from a motor home heading in the opposite direction. It nearly knocked me off my bike, and left an ugly wound that took weeks to heal.
This one still chills me: as I rode peaceably down Glenwood Avenue right here in Everett, an 18-wheeler deliberately veered toward me, forcing me into the curb and off my bike. In his rear-view mirror, I could see the driver laughing. Back on my bike, I tried to catch up to him, hoping to get his license, so I could file charges of attempted murder. Which it was. Once, on Casino Road, where there’s a decent bike lane, a pickup pulled past, had to have seen me, but turned right in front of me into the Fred Meyer lot. Squeezing my brakes hard, I slid partway under his truck, which, fortunately, he’d stopped by then. Death on my mind (mine, mostly) I pounded on his hood, saying, “Hey, you just tried to kill me!!” (My disquisition may have included a characterization of the man based upon a supposition of certain intrafamilial relationships.) “Gimme a break,” he said, looking wounded. Gimme a break? Me? On a bike. You? In your trucking truck? You, who figured those three seconds you’d have lost had you slowed down and let me pass before you turned were worth more than the rest of my life?
Nowadays, I ride mostly indoors on a trainer, in front of a TV. It’s crushingly boring, and is nowhere near as rewarding as being outside; but, given my general devolution, it conforms better to highway beautification rules.
I totally agree it’s up to bikers to follow the laws and ride respectfully. But it’s up to drivers to return the favor, and to remember that when push comes to shinola it’s an unfair fight: the laws on their side are the ones of physics.
Sid Schwab lives in Everett. Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org