One week ago I was riding home from work, enjoying a beautiful day when I heard someone call out to me:
Hey, your lane position is terrible, especially at intersections. You’re too far to the right.
I turned around and saw a fellow cyclist puffing his way up to the traffic signal I was stopped at. The light was about to change to green, and I wasn’t in the mood, so I just said, “Thanks for the tip,” and turned back to waiting for the light to change.
No, I’m a certified cycling safety instructor. This isn’t just a tip. I know what I’m talking about.
As he said that, the light changed and we both rode off. He rode down the center of the lane of traffic while I ducked up onto the sidewalk. Yes, I really do ride on the sidewalk during certain portions of my commute, despite being an advocate of cyclists riding on roads.
See, at this particular intersection, there are several factors in play that make me consider riding in the lane of traffic unsafe:
- On the far side of the intersection, the lane narrows for about the first block.
- Just past the intersection, there are cars merging in from the right.
- The intersection is at the top of a long steep hill and drivers coming across it can’t see the traffic ahead of them until they’ve fully crested the hill.
- The speed limit is 35 mph.
- It’s rush hour, and everyone’s trying to get home as fast as possible.
- The road is a major bus route, and the buses barely have enough room to stay in their lane in the first block.
In addition, I know that I’ve just slogged up a long hill and that I don’t have the speed in my legs to accelerate as fast as the cars can. At the end of the first block, however, if there’s a gap between cars that I can sync up with, I get back onto the street. By that time, traffic has generally backed up from the next signal and slowed down and I’ve gotten up to speed, so now I’m moving at least as fast as the cars are, making my presence safer for all.
Although I don’t write about it as much, I do also drive a car, so I know how irritating traffic obstructions are. My favorite example is the protesters who closed off lanes of the Key Bridge during rush hour. Look, I don’t give a crap what your cause is, don’t F-up traffic in Georgetown any more than it already is, and definitely don’t get between me and my baby when I’m on my way home.
They could have been supporting year-long sabbaticals on tropical islands for all fathers, and I still would have been enraged at them. “You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao,” you know what I mean, brother?
So it was with some frustration that I watched this jackhole ride down the center of the lane at at top speed of about 10 mph while everyone behind him was trying to get through at 35 mph. I kept thinking, “Someone’s going to get killed here, pal, and it’s not me…and it’s as likely to be the result of gunfire as it is to be the result of an accident.”
Soon enough I was back on the road and overtook him, moved into the fast lane and made my left turn, as I do every day without incident.
As I rode off, I thought, “You may be a certified cycling safety instructor, but let me give you some advice: riding up and immediately criticizing a fellow cyclist without finding out who he is, what he’s about and perhaps that he’s been riding on roads safely for over 30 years isn’t a good way to teach a lesson. And that’s not just a tip–I’m a certified jackass. I know what I’m talking about.”
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