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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
April 8, 2002

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Please Don't Kill the Cyclists

The weather is warming up (mostly), the sun is shining (usually), and we who ride bicycles are back on the road.

Please don't kill us.

I know that to some drivers, cyclists look like nothing more than bigger-than-average possums, waiting to get mooshed.

But most of the time, the near-death experiences that cyclists have are caused, not by malicious attempts to turn them into roadkill, but rather from sheer inattention, irritability, or ignorance.

Let me offer some thoughts that may help reduce the number of deaths and debilitating injuries.

Cyclists are required by law to ride in the same road as cars, going the same direction. Believe me, that wouldn't be our first choice. We'd rather ride on separate bike trails and never see or hear or smell a car the whole time we're out riding.

But there are only a few thousand feet of trails like that, and they don't go anywhere.

For any other purpose than going around and around, we have to get out on the street.

And since the custom around here is to create roads with grass shoulders (which usually means mud), there isn't a spare inch of room for us to ride and stay out of the driving lane.

Cyclists -- like tractors, house movers, postal delivery vehicles, and people pushing babies in strollers -- are every bit as entitled to a lane of traffic as your car is.

Of course, cyclists are narrower than tractors, house movers, and postal delivery vehicles, so it looks like there's more room to pass us.

But we still take up some room. There are no roads in Greensboro wide enough for it to be safe for you to pass a cyclist without at least partly leaving your lane.

If we happen to be far over to the right, and it happens to be a smooth stretch of road without storm drains, there may be just enough room for you to get by without crossing out of your lane, and without smacking us in the butt with your side mirror.

But you don't know that.

Why don't you know that?

Because bicycles have (duh) two wheels, not four. We wobble.

And you don't know when we're going to wobble, because we don't know when we're going to wobble. There are rocks in the road. They don't affect you in your car, because you just go over them, but we either have to dodge them or risk a spill by hitting them.

There are wet patches, irregularities in the surface, cracks, creases, bumps that you don't see, but any of them can cause us to shift suddenly a foot or two to the left -- directly into your path, if you're trying to pass us in the same lane.

And it gets worse when cyclists try to check out what's coming up behind them. If we look over our left shoulders, there is a natural tendency to lean or turn the bike in the same direction.

In fact, one of the greatest dangers to cyclists is when you come up behind us and honk. First, it shocks us, which might make us wobble into your path. Second, we might reflexively turn to see who's honking (and why) -- which would, again, turn us into your path.

Third, even if we have truly irritated you by driving slower than you in front of you, we have nowhere to go. So while your honk might inform us that someone way more important has just come up behind us and wishes us to disappear, we can't.

Another problem comes when car drivers forget that we aren't pedestrians. We may not be moving as fast as your car, but we are usually going between ten and twenty miles an hour, and that's not standing still.

So when you pass us on our left, and then immediately slow down and make a right turn directly in front of us, chances are very good that we have overtaken you and by turning right, you are either going to hit us or force us off the road.

And flying off the road at even ten miles an hour is not a joke.

Because, you see, we're a lot more breakable than you are. If you hit us or force us off the road, we could easily die or be crippled or disfigured for life, while you would merely have to get a paint job on your car -- or just a good car wash.

Of course, there are a few car drivers who would answer, "Then stay off the @#$%^ road, you bicycle-riding creep!" Or, more charmingly, "You Yankee/yuppie jerk!" (The assumption that a bicycle rider is a Yankee no doubt arises from the fact that any native southerners who wanted to use the road without a car wrapped around them were killed off long ago.)

But before you try to kill us with your car, give it just a moment's thought.

What if, for half a mile or so, you can't get past us safely and are forced to drive behind us at, say, ten miles an hour?

It might make your trip a whole minute longer.

Do you really think that saving a minute of travel time is worth taking a serious risk of killing or maiming another person? Do you really think that because a cyclist irritates you, he or she deserves to die?

If you do, then I suppose it's just a matter of time before you're in jail, because you have rage management problems way beyond the scope of this column.

But if you're a rational human being, then ... relax. Slow down. Wait. You'll get by us soon enough.

In fact, you might give some thought to getting out of your car and riding a bike yourself.

It's good, low-impact exercise. It gets you outdoors, in the sunlight and air. It's also good transportation for errand running.

If more people joined us on bikes, it would be safer for all of us. Drivers would get used to sharing the road with us. Stores might put up bike racks where we could lock our bikes. Street designers might put three-foot paved shoulders outside the white lane lines, where bikes and pedestrians could have a fighting chance to stay alive.

And if you ride a bike long enough, you might even start lookin' good in those tight little Lycra bike shorts.

*

"Clock Stopper" seemed from the promos to be just another dumb kid flick, but when Kristine and I took our eight-year-old to see it, about a third of the way through the movie we turned to each other and said, in surprise, "This is actually good."

Of course there's the obligatory dumb science -- it wouldn't be Hollywood sci-fi without that.

There's good writing, though -- good dialogue, inventive scenes, exciting action, and while the director (Jonathan Frakes) doesn't do anything to make you say, "Wow, great directing," I regard that as a virtue in a filmmaker.

What Frakes does better than most directors is get good performances from his actors.

Because the movie is aimed at families, there's no bad language and no stupid sex. Instead, there's clever dialogue, genuine humor, and even, believe it or not, sweet romance.

Somebody actually cared about making this movie good, and it shows.


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