Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Try to Survive" and Other ABQ Cycling Tips

I've been putting off a bicyclist's etiquette post for some time, but this afternoon, during rush hour, I saw a cyclist taking a cell phone call while biking East on Rio Bravo just past the light at Isleta Blvd. For those who don't see much of the South Valley, cycling at 5:30 PM down Rio Bravo while on a cell phone is about as wise as juggling fish while unicycling around turn three during the Daytona 500. It is an action beyond unadvisable, well into death-wish territory. One might say it's akin to cycling up to a Israeli border checkpoint holding a large device with wires coming out of it.

So, as a public service, here are a few etiquette ideas for ABQ cyclists:

  1. Don't ride down Rio Bravo at 5:30 PM while talking on a cell phone.
  2. The reason we cyclists ride with the traffic instead of against it is a simple computational math problem. If we ride at 15 mph and are hit by a drunk driver going 50 mph the impact speed is 35 mph; if we ride at 15 mph into a drunk driver going 50 mph the impact speed is 65 mph. I don't really know that it makes a damn bit of difference, but perhaps feeling that dreaded shove into oblivion has an advantage over seeing oblivion about to plow into you. I'm going to stop thinking at all about these scenarios now, but just remember to ride with the traffic instead of against it.
  3. Any act that leads to increased cyclist's survival trumps any traffic law. For instance, I always cheat at the dreaded corner of Rio Bravo and Isleta by riding illegally down the white stripes of the divided turn lane, illegally get far in front of the first car at the left turn light, and peddle like Hell the second the arrow hits in a mad rush to get to Isleta before being struck by one of the 64,000 possible cars flying through the intersection for no reason. It is a true mark of how dangerous the intersection is that I am ECSTATIC about riding down Isleta Blvd. after the traumatic area is passed. Going from Rio Bravo to Isleta is like switching from life in Baghdad to life in post-New Orleans Katrina, only with more gravel and transmission parts in the road. I guess everything IS relative.
  4. Any cyclist's arm motion indicating a turn is pointless when it comes to motorists. In reality, motorists are like the Idi Amin of the road and we cyclists are mere subjects hoping that Amin is in a good mood today. We are just bugs that haven't landed on the windshield yet. The only real effective cyclist's communication tool I've found is eye contact. I just stare at that person who might decide to turn right into me at the intersection until I see them look at me. If they don't look at me I know I'm in trouble. So, instead of those supposedly universal arm gestures for "right turn", "left turn" and so on, I just wave madly, trying to get the motorist(s) to notice me. And don't try those little bicycle bells ("ring, ring"), they just annoy drivers or make them think the ice cream cart is nearby.
  5. Wearing one of those bright orange road work crew-style pullovers doesn't do much, either. I have one and wear it, but haven't noticed a difference in visibility. I have noticed, however, that my school students laugh harder when they see me on the bike wearing it. The road worker look is definitely a higher peg on the cycling Dork-o-Meter.

When talking ABQ cycling etiquette one must also address social conventions along the Rio Grande bike path, a road nearly choked on some weekend days with cyclists of various stamina, rollerbladers, runners, walkers, dawdlers, horse & horse riders and the occasional drunk on an ATV. I have spent quite a few weekend days recently on the bike path and have a few observations:

  1. Yep, I really did see a drunk on an ATV one Sunday late morning. Or at least an ATVist, who I imagined must have been drunk to have been stupid enough to ATV down the path. I can say with pride that he was roundly ostracized and turned around not far from the Rio Bravo gate.
  2. The cycling proficiency of bike path riders range from just below Lance Armstrong 2004 to John Candy 1989. Speeds range from almost 30 mph to 1 mph. Since I ride smack dab down the middle between those speeds I see alot of 30 mph meets 1 mph interaction. A few words of advice:
  • Hey Lance Armstrong, slow the #^&# down! We know you're training for the 2007 Tour de France and/or need to feel some physical superiority to make up for some psychological shortcoming, but flying up to some 5 year old on training wheels and getting all pissy when the kid doesn't notice you is bush league. You know, if you were REALLY training for something you'd attempt something like A HILL OR SOMETHING. The bike path is utterly flat, and your "training" isn't doing squat for any real bike tour, race or even decent organized ride.
  • Hey John Candy, ride single file! Yes, the bike path is used by many people out on romantic dates. These dating people tend to ride slowly together, always talking and sometimes spending more time gazing into each other's bike helmeted eyes than looking at what is going on around them. So, a medium speed bikerider approaches from the opposite direction or behind and the romantic dater riders stay side-by-side, even to the point of hogging the road and forcing the other rider to head off the pavement. I have many pieces of advice for these romantic dater riders, some which can not be printed in a "family blog". Hell, most of which can't be printed in a family blog. Let me just simplify my advice to these people and anyone else who stays double-file when they should be single-file. Imagine a head-on bicycle wreck. Watch a few Driver's Ed-type films on the subject if you can't imagine it. See them in slow-motion, then at full-speed. Ask your date about how their romantic feelings for you might change if they saw your brains splattered all over the bike path pavement, bike helmet or no.
  • Say "Hello". Okay, this is one of those Holy Grail type things for me, but I think all of us on the bike trail (riders down to dawdlers) need to say a greeting when passing each other. I know on some Sundays the number of "Hello", "Morning" and "Hi" statements would literally be over a hundred, but I think it's important. As a sort of statement/sociological study I make a point to say either "Hello", "Morning" or "Hi" (with an occasional "How ya doin'?" thrown in) to every single person or group that I pass. I can tell you that I get a response a bit less than 25% of the time. I can also tell you that my highest response rate is between Montano and Paseo in the North Valley, and that the response rate between Rio Bravo and Bridge is almost 0%. My most effective greeting for getting a response is, for some reason, "Morning". Perhaps this is because the word is said in a lower tone than "Hi" or "Hello" and the passing cyclists, etc. can hear it better. I don't know for sure. I do know that my chipper little greetings are often met with silence bordering on shock, especially by those 30 mph Lance Armstrong types. It is those people, of course, that I make it a special point to greet warmly, as if to say "I know you think you're in some Olympic training or something, but I see through you and that you're really just training in some utterly flat public area, instead of a place with HILLS AND MOUNTAINS WHERE REAL CYCLISTS WOULD TRAIN".
  • I swear I'm not hostile about it, however. I greet everyone the same, even those Lance Armstrong types. I also, if I may be so bold, suggest that you do the same.
P.S.: I just read that former Texas governor Ann Richards died. Richards is one of my top three favorite public officials of all time. One of the few things I've missed about not living in Texas anymore is hearing Richards talk and write some of the funniest truth ever uttered by a "politician". Well, she's sure to be raising Hell wherever she is now...I just wish she was still here to help raise more Hell 'round these parts. We could sure use it. Happy Trails, Governor.


sda said...

just ran across this ... good post. ya' gotta vent everynow and then.

Anonymous said...

Richards was a class act.
You must be up as late as I am!