By now, you’ve likely all seen or heard about the events that have taken place in Brazil during one of their many Critical Mass rides. Brazilians are biking mad. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. Trust me they like their bikes (and their Red Bull). And with that love for riding, it is so painful to watch and read about this obviously insane man, who ‘had had enough’ and decided for himself that driving directly through the collected mass of riders was his solution to rowdy, problematic cyclists blocking his way…causing massive destruction to bodies, bikes and the spirits of humans who could not believe a person could do this. You can see what occurred that night here. Yet I warn you while the images are not necessarily deeply graphic, they are so disturbing I can not bare to watch this any longer.
So what’s the point of this post? It’s not to fan the flames of driver-vs-cyclist. Quite the opposite. It’s more of an exposition on ‘staying safe’ as a cyclist…or as safe as possible by making good decisions when you are typically worked from riding hard out on the open roads. When we don our helmets, shoes and road bikes and set out for our ride, we immediately put ourselves at risk. Even in bike-mad towns like mine (Boulder), we are still a happy little minority of blissful humans who are focused on on improving our health and our life experience…with the bike as the tool to help us achieve those things. As of late, I’ve come to re-fall back in love with my road bike again. I don’t know what it is…maybe neglect. Maybe some odd cyclic thing where every 2 years I go through this mad ‘spring classics fever’ and I just need to ride my roadie. I am now also remembering why I am a mountain biker having put in many hours on the road this winter…
With this re-found lust for skinny tires, I have been heading out on the numerous group rides I used to do to get in some fast paced training. Boulder has a ton of group rides. On any given one, you’ll see a gaggle of top local pros head out with what are truly (and obviously once the pace cranks up) newbies who are amped to get their ‘Tour de France’ on. It’s very unique to be able to gain this experience for someone new to the sport and get a ‘taste’ of the tempo and the discipline required to ride in a pack. Many of the group rides are as close as you’ll get to race pace without donning a number. Yet, it’s dangerous at best as the pace heats up with overlapping wheels and generally bad decisions being made by folks who are pinning themselves, getting hypoxic and not able to put safety and sensibility first. They do not have the experience to rely upon when their heart rates are rising north and their heads drop down. In these moments, I question my sanity being in these rides and either try to pin it to be in the lead group who will naturally separate and carry on safely, or bail. It’s just not worth it.
During these rides, every time and without fail, I see enraged drivers which our group rides invariably cause. We veer out into traffic, have sloppy pace-lines, ride two abreast awkwardly where the riders on the right are literally in the middle of the shoulder pushing their partner to the left out into traffic. Lines of cars stack up behind, horns begin to blare, middle fingers shoot out of windows, side mirrors get a bit to close for comfort as the driver nails the accelerator after FINALLY seeing a window to get around the weaving peloton.
We do not own the road in this way. We are not sharing as the signs all over town say to do. Open roads are not closed race courses for our follies.
Above and beyond it all what I witness…continually…are the equally impulsive moves by cyclists who are made irate by these motorists and ‘their audacity of blowing their horns at us. I’ll give them a piece of my mind.’ We’ve all seen it: the horn blows or that mirror gets a bit too close and the rider sprints to catch up with the driver at the next light and unloads an entire magazine of obscenities, clenched fists, and hate. It may sound like I’m defending motorists here. I’m not. I am stating the obviously situation:
WE CAN NOT CONTROL ANYONE ELSE BUT OURSELVES!
When will we get that? And we doesn’t necessarily = cyclists here. We = humans. We = people. We = citizens. While we can not do anything about getting plowed from behind by a motorist who is texting while driving, we as cyclists can control what WE are doing and how WE behave on the roads. Am I in traffic? Am I potentially causing a potential wreck by overlapping wheels? Am I absolutely crazy-eyed angry at that driver who had the audacity to blare their horn at me? At that moment, you can control you and your emotion. You have no idea who that person is, their potential insanity, their emotional state and ‘need to get past the herd of crazy bikers,’ their willingness to roll down the window after you chased them down only to be staring down the barrel of their .44 magnum. Lastly, don’t assume I think you’re cool or doing the right thing on our group ride when you make the choice ‘for us cyclists’ when you chase down the car. You’re being an idiot as far as I am concerned.
I hate to over-dramatize here but it’s how I see things. Society and peoples’ emotional states have become extremely brittle. There is a waning lack of compassion or general understanding of what others needs are. We can contribute to decreasing the contention by acting responsibly or if you truly need to think defensibly, by acting with a sense of letting the idiot go on with their lives after they got too close to you. Reduce conflict, reduce emotion and think clearly before you act. If there was a dangerous driver who you feel almost took you out, report them. There are tons of ways now to do this. Use those mobile phones and shoot their license plates. Save the anger for later…and miraculously when you save the anger, watch as it dissipates when you let it go and you complete that glorious ride with satisfaction and joy. Most of all complete it safely to get back to your families and friends with everything…including your spirit…in tact.