Friday, July 19, 2013

Can Car Type Predict Anti-Bike Behavior?

I saw this article in Slate today:

The author proposes that BMW drivers are more likely to crowd cyclists on the road than drivers of other car types. Not scientific at all, but it reflects my own perception. But perhaps that is just my own bias, as BMW's stand out more than many other car makes.

I'll add that the amount of space a driver's car takes up correlates positively with the driver's intolerance for sharing road space. Drivers of pick-up trucks and SUVs are much more likely than drivers of sedans to try to squeeze past me when its not safe. Minivan drivers fit somewhere in the middle, unless the vehicle is full of kids, in which case behavior deteriorates. Sports car drivers, being inherently aggressive drivers, are also pretty bad offenders.

The worst are the small truck professional drivers. Box trucks and landscaping trucks with trailers are often the worst. I attribute this to personal driver skill and behavior and minimal training coupled with industrial size vehicles.

Surprisingly, the most courteous drivers that pass me are the 18 wheeler drivers. They almost universally pass only when safe and with more than adequate passing space. Maybe that's because they recognize my Surly brand bike as being of the "Long Haul Trucker" model and they recognize a kindred spirit. Maybe its because they, alone in the automobile world, accept that with great power comes great responsibility.

Though I've put in tens of thousands of miles in several states developing these perceptions, this is certainly not a scientific study. You have to pay me if you want statistically valid results.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Back in Raleigh

I'm just getting back into my routine after a week away in San Diego. I didn't get to ride my bike for a whole 7 days, but this was mitigated by the fact that I didn't have to drive a car at all either.

Getting to live without a car spoils me. We forget how much time our cars steal away from us. For my normal automobile commute, I spend at least an hour in the car round trip. And that's only when there are no traffic delays! In San Diego, the walk from our hostel to the conference center is only about 5 minutes, and I was doing something I would be doing even if I didn't have anywhere to be; walking around, taking in the sights, stopping for a bite to eat, and enjoying the excellent weather.

If I drove a car to work five days a week, that's five hours a week spent in a stressful, unhealthy, unproductive, not-fun environment! Then I have to add in time to get in a workout. Biking to work, while it takes longer than the car, actually saves me time in the long run.

Now, after a few days back in the real world, all the stress has come back. I rode my bike to work Monday, and I wasn't as out of shape as I had feared. Tueday and today I had to drive for unusual logistic reasons. Tuesday morning I enjoyed the ride, as is usual after a day of biking. It's always nice to savor the ease of transport after sweating it out the day before (and traffic was light as I woke up late for work). By the end of the day, I wished I was back on my bike.

I try to drive legally. This makes me a second-class citizen. Its nearly impossible to safely drive the speed limit on the interstate, and even cruising 5mph above the posted speed limit will draw lots of aggressive behavior and odd looks.

Driving down Wake Forest Ave north of the Beltline is the worst. It is an exercise in maintaining one's Zen to remain calm and let go of anger when constantly being dangerously and illegally cut off and intentionally blocked. It is possible to avoid taking such behavior personally and try to imagine a good, reasonable person behind those dangerous maneuvers, but it often takes more control than I have.

The tension creeps into my shoulders, and I want nothing more than to SHOW THEM! I'LL CUT YOU OFF AND SEE HOW YOU LIKE IT!

Ahhhh  (...breathes deeply...)  Even writing about it is enough to bring my blood pressure up.

The funny part is that while I often face much more aggressive and personally targeted behavior while I'm on my bike, it doesn't bother me nearly as much. Perhaps its because of the endorphin high I ride around with (See this: or perhaps its because I get to channel that frustration and adrenaline into ever more intense locomotion.

When on the bike, if someone cuts me off or crowds me or any of the dozens of things people do to let me know they don't think I belong on the road, I can usually smile and feel sympathy for the small world that person lives in (smugness helps a great deal). And there's often the satisfaction of smoothly and calmly passing same said psychopath when traffic backs up half a mile down the road.

It is frustrating that my wife and my work locations make it impossible for either of us to live much closer to our jobs. But till Wake County wakes up and implements some decent public transit, I'll continue to do as much of my commuting by bike as I can.