Friday, September 10, 2010

Unhook Your Fury Now

Launch Ramp, Mingus Mountain, Arizona

For a hang glider pilot, failure to hook in before takeoff can be a fatal mistake. As I was pausing in this beautiful spot

View to the right

looking around, I was wondering if there's anything similar to the "hook in now" rule for bicycles. Is there anything cyclists must do before riding off, every time, that if we fail to do it, is likely to be a fatal mistake? With the mountains spinning breezy air around me, I thought of, and rejected, some candidates.

Risk v. Reward: Take the High Road

Wear a helmet? Not a bad idea, but not a certain fatal mistake on a bicycle, more like a personal choice made after balancing the risks. 

Check equipment for tightness, adjustment, and air pressure? Again not a bad idea, but a lot of us have adapted the "ride it till it breaks, carry tools, pumps, spares, and duct tape" approach, at least for commuting. Probably much more important to personal safety for racers road mountain or cross, but not that big a deal for me on my daily open air smile ride to work.

Practice effective cycling techniques in traffic, and follow the traffic laws? This one I can't dismiss quite so quickly. Tonight, for example, I bobbled my steering just a bit while crossing the "suicide lane" (center, both directions turn lane) and came close to being bitten by bad technique. Again, this morning I could have kicked myself, no easy stunt while riding a bicycle in traffic by the way, for taking an uncommanding lane position in a narrow lane, thereby inviting a woman in one of those boxy little Scions to pass me too close, which wasn't that bad for her, but wasn't too good for me since I don't think the big black pickup riding her butt could see me. I could have elbowed his door without stretching when he went by. 

Thus, I was riding home tonight, saying to myself, "Well, yep, that's it, your post is not going to fall into place as you had hoped, effective traffic cycling techniques plus following the laws comes pretty close to imperative, a fatal mistake if omitted by cyclists." 

I had just reached this conclusion, and started to think of a different conclusion for this post, when, while waiting to turn left behind a car in the left turn lane from a busier street onto a side street, a cyclist riding in the bike lane against traffic rode right in front of the car as it proceeded to turn. I tried to yell a warning to her, but it didn't matter: she was rocking ear buds and was fairly oblivious to the whole thing. She almost added herself to the statistic for the number one type of cycling accident, true, but I could no longer call it invariably fatal.

So, lacking a critical preparatory imperative for cycling, it seemed like I needed to take a broader view. Open up my horizons a bit. Take a step back.

Let's take a step back, talk things over, and look at this from another point of view.

It's hard for me not to spin off on political issues this weekend. I won't do it, because I have access to plenty of other forums for that, so do you if you like, and I seek to make this blog a place of refuge from those arguments. Believe me, living in state #48, I have started out many draft posts here full of cursing and righteous indignation, only to delete it all to get back on track. But, I know you, reader, are well aware of current events, and understand without much explanation the context of this post. With all that in mind, and wanting to stay on track, I'm going to close this by placing the focus on myself only, on my decisions and thoughts about what I have come to think of as my own critical preparatory imperative for cycling, but only imperative for me, and no one else. Which, by the way, is exactly in line with one of the ways I have thought about what I write here: to refer to later on down the road, to remind myself what I was thinking, what I was hoping, where I've been, and where I planned to go next.

So, John Romeo Alpha, on September 10, 2010, you defined the following critical preparatory imperative for yourself. Before you get on that bicycle and ride into traffic, before you ride the miles to get into the office to deal with whatever the day may bring, you must, and I mean must, do one thing. Take a few conscious, focused breaths. Acknowledge that people are imperfect, erratic, unpredictable creatures who will commit all manner of frightening, aggressive, and irrational acts while driving a car, or indeed, while doing just about anything. Expect that these acts will trigger natural responses of fear, stress, or aggression when they are done in your general direction, John. And when that expected thing happens, do this, without fail: prevent those natural responses, which you already know to expect, from ruling your emotions, thoughts, or actions. Deny them access to your core being, bar them from your feelings, fence them off from your hands, feet, mouth, and heart. No matter what. Survive, certainly, do what is required to that end, but ride happy. 

JRA: When confronted with furious insanity, unhook your fury now, endeavor to be sane, and tolerant. That rabid, insatiable curiosity of yours can help, too. Along with an active sense of the absurd, and an unbreakable sense of humor. And keep dreaming of a better world for all. Got all that, John? Ok. Get up. Go ride.

It'll take a lot more than rage and muscle


  1. That seems a good conclusion. My own would probably be a bit less gracious to those using cars, so I well appreciate the point.

    I do not understand why people ride on the wrong side of the road though.

  2. Not hooking in is not invariably fatal to a hang glider, nor is jumping from a plane without a parachute. It's all probabilities, just as the lady with the ear buds demonstrated.

  3. workbike thanks for stopping by! I guess people ride the wrong way out of a mistaken idea that it's safer. One or two near misses, though, and I'd think they would figure it out.

    Steve, yeah, agreed, only two things are certain, all others must be qualified by probabilities. I plan on continuing to learn about which of my own actions or responses land on the far lower end of the life-threatening scale.


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