Jim Dowd humorous bike response
Hey Joe n’ Gang!
Here is an amusing response to Joey’s rant at the Lycra weenies the
other day. It’s about being a cyclist in Gloucester and how
challenging that can be as well.
I also included a photo of myself to be used as admissible evidence at
my commitment hearing.
Have a good one! -Jim
I’m enormously glad that Joey has decided to expose the yawning divide between cyclists and drivers in our fair city. A few days ago he gave the motorists’ side, from the perspective of being stuck behind recreational bikers riding three abreast preventing anyone from passing. Annoying? Yes. But I think we can all agree people in cars are prone to some fantastically stupid behavior as well. Yesterday I was stuck behind a shirtless dude in a K-Car with an unbelted toddler and throwing lit cigs and used scratch tickets out the window. A couple of years back I watched guy doing fishtails at Lanes Cove who wound up careening sideways, right over the edge. When he climbed out into the low tide muck I was treated to the most gloriously feathered mullet I have seen on a man since the 80’s. Oh if they only gave MacArthur Genius Awards for maintaining outdated hairstyles, he would have been a shoe-in (otherwise, not so much).
As far as cycling goes, allow me to provide the perspective from the other side. Not from the lycra-wearing sport cyclist, but from a guy who uses his bike to get to and from the train station most days as part of my commute. I’m a utility cyclist, just trying to get somewhere like everybody else and let me tell ya, friends, it ain’t no picnic neither.
Riding a bike in Gloucester is as close as most of us will hopefully ever come to surviving in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. We have narrow, crowded streets that are constantly being torn up. There are innumerable jacked-up diesel work trucks racing to and from jobs, tinted-window Hondas thumping around to lethal levels of bass, stressed-out minivan moms late for the game with murder in their eyes and befuddled tourists in rental cars trying to find the Starbucks. Add to that the zombie-like pedestrians who shamble blindly into the road, blitzed-out from whatever mind-altering chemicals they have on board and there you have my afternoon commute from Gloucester Station to East Gloucester via Prospect and Rogers Streets. Oh, and everyone mentioned above is on a cell phone. Don’t get me wrong- this is all exactly what makes riding in Gloucester pure unadulterated awesome. The most physically demanding part of my workday at present is pretty much faxing, so I welcome the rides to and from the train as my twice daily chance to crank up my pulse and stare death a few times in the face before I get home and do some laundry. Typically I try to see the others moving around the city as fellow participants in an elaborate dance but I, like Joe, have a few grievances to air since we’re on the topic:
1. I am not the enemy. I am on a bike. You are in a car. Let’s think of each other as mutual beneficiaries of incredible advances in transportation technology that would have made our foot-bound ancestors weep with envy. Rest assured I’m doing my best to keep out of your way, but I’m highly averse to drawing my last breath while being ground under the wheels of a Kia. I’m therefore going to deploy all means at my disposal to prevent this even if it means slightly inconveniencing a few drivers along the way.
2. I will occasionally take up the middle of the road. You know why I’m doing this? To block you from passing me. Yes, I’m deliberately in your way. Am I just a massive dickweed? No (I’m so much more than just a massive dickweed). I’m doing this because if I don’t you’ll inadvertently squeeze me between your Nissan and the DPW truck that’s pulled up in front of Destino’s just as the driver opens his door. You see, I’m trying to maintain the highest possible speed to be less of an annoyance, but that also means I’m at greater risk to others and myself if people don’t see me. Greater risk to myself means I’m taking commensurate precautions against becoming an impromptu Jackson Pollock on the back of a FedEx van. And that’s why I’m taking up the lane for all of ninety seconds all the while pedaling as fast as I can to get somewhere safer. Like my couch.
3. I can’t stop as quickly as you can in your heavy car with its four large tires. My bike and I may not seem like much, but we can generate over two thousand pounds of forward momentum (F=MA) and yet have only a total of six square inches of tire area skidding along the greasy street. The only way I’m stopping short is if I slam into something (see above). So I’m bellowing like a Spartan when you blindly step out into the street, I’m maneuvering onto sidewalks when I get cut off and subsequently into yards and/or oncoming lanes of traffic when left no other choice. As Captain Sully Sullenberger said when he realized his stricken Airbus was not going to make it back to a paved runway: “Looks like it’s going to be the Hudson.” Hey, It’s not pretty, but you do the best you can with the options you have.
4. To add insult to potential grievous injury, the bicycling infrastructure here is a joke. Go to our two closest economic competitors in the global economy, China and Germany and there are bikes. Lots and lots of bikes. Bike lanes, bike shelters, bike parking, busses equipped to carry bikes, specialty cargo bikes, all kinds of bikes. I was on the amazing magnetic levitation train from Shanghai Airport a couple of years ago and I looked out the window to see what other technological wonders the Chinese were up to in their flagship city and what I saw were delivery guys on bikes with what appeared to be queen-sized mattresses strapped to their backs. I don’t want to confuse correlation and causation, but every high-tech hub in the world is lousy with bikes: Palo Alto, Cambridge, Seoul, Helsinki and bikes have become chic in Mumbai as well. In Gloucester we have the one faded bike lane on Rogers street everyone ignores, the train station has the bike parking on the wrong side of the tracks with no shelter and there is zero security (I’ve had one locked bike stolen there already).
You’d think what with the childhood obesity epidemic morphing our young people into enormous flesh-barges, our primary energy sources controlled by hostile lunatics and our love of all things mechanical that cyclists would be treated as American heroes. Instead people racing across town in SUVs on their way to get a Big Gulp honk at us. Oh, the irony.
If you experience bike rage, try and think that every bike you see is one fewer GI sent to some godforsaken country with an oil reserve or one less shady deal with a despotic foreign government. As you start to wind up because the cyclist in font of you moving marginally slower than the motorized traffic, think instead of that one fewer sketchy off shore drilling rig poised to annihilate an entire ecosystem. And when you see me puffing along up Highland Street, know that I’m one less case of chronic cardiac disease tacked onto the growing shared cost of health care. The other possibility is that I’m a soon-to-be fatal heart attack that will end my cost to the system once and for all. There, that feels better, right?
I’m a cyclist. You’re welcome.