You’ve heard it ad nauseam: Share the Road – a mantra adopted much by cyclists and not at all by motorists. It’s become a passive petition: vulnerable bicyclists begging for enough street space to not be run over and killed from drivers largely indifferent due the empathy-crushing confines of the metal machines they drive. Even worse, groups like Please Be Kind to Cyclists have taken this kind of Stockholm Syndrome to absurd extremes, using language that would embolden any bully, ceding them power over their pleading victim.
The PC urban professional crowd you see on their corporate sponsored, helmet-required tours will shun assertive language and cling to a vocabulary of non-confrontationalism. For them, reputation and obedience are more important than responding to clueless motorists and their lethal driving habits with equal and opposite force. Whether in the streets or in our ongoing discourse, the tendency is to back down, to let the oppressor define the rules of engagement and debate. That kind of power dynamic has gotten us basically nowhere.
The burden of mortality is always on the person riding a bike, yet the burden of responsibility for using a car to kill or maim a person virtually never falls on the driver. If that pisses you off, it’s time to start acting like it. We’ve come to a point where all the soft-ball pitching of our needs has failed to deliver streets that are safer. Asking for permission to ride without fear doesn’t work – motorists don’t care, or they can’t hear you. It’s time to start adopting principles of two-wheeled liberation.
Liberation theories vary depending on the discipline, but most include language recognizing true emancipation can never come from above, liberation can only be derived from the self. Another major component is addressing the socializing that places normalcy on the state of oppression, or even places blame on the oppressed for their condition. How many times have you read a comment claiming if a cyclist gets killed by a car, it was their own foolish fault for getting in the way? And how many times have you witnessed people calmly appeal to said commenter’s empathy, only to watch them predictably prove they have none?
Even more horrifying, if a driver does in fact kill a person walking or biking, they’ll likely be conditioned to believe they were in fact the victim. A recent Op-Ed in the always anti-bicycle Oregonian by a woman (who previously drove her SUV into a man and killed him) warned people on bikes to watch out – she’s killed before, she just may kill again! Even though no bikes were involved in her lethal act of driving that day, bicycles and the people who ride them are now apparently the target of this woman’s misplaced guilt. Such is the pathology of entitlement that so many drivers adopt. Newsflash: if you kill a person with your car, you don’t get to lecture anybody else on their road behavior, EVER.
As has been noted before, the enclosure of the automobile and the anonymity of the internet have a common denominator in creating road rage and flame-warring. Those who employ rationality in these kinds of debates may be noble, but they’re wasting their time. Those who laugh at the idea of running down and killing people on bicycles have no better angles to appeal to. You don’t stop bullying behavior by trying to make the bully see the other side, you stop a bully by standing up to them.
So many cycling advocates have gone to lengths to stress there isn’t a war on cars for fear there could be an even greater backlash against us than already exists, as thought that were somehow possible. A war is here whether you like it or not, and it’s killing hundreds of people on their bikes each year. As The Stranger rightly pointed out in an article titled Okay, Fine, It’s War, “This antagonism traces directly to the creation of the modern car driver, a privileged individual who, as noted, is the beneficiary of a long course of subsidies, tax incentives, and wars for cheap oil. For cars we have paved our forests, spanned our lakes, and burrowed under our cities. Yet drivers throw tantrums at the painting of a mere bicycle lane on the street.”
We’ve all had drivers come close to killing us. Many of us have been hit, some severely injured. I’ve lost count the number of times I’d meet a friend who’d just had their life flash before their eyes, retelling an F-bomb-laced story of how a motorist nearly took their life just moments prior. Personally, I’ve been deliberately hit by moving vehicles before, and have experienced a dozen more encounters where a driver swerved to hit me with their car but failed to make contact.
Every day I ride the Tour de Fuck You.
While I’d caution most people about kicking and punching the vehicle belonging to a driver that almost just ended a life, I cannot stress enough how important it is to not let them simply drive away without holding them accountable – even if it’s only to receive a strongly worded scolding of their dangerous behavior. If they can almost kill you and get away with it, there’ll have zero negative feedback from which to form a lasting memory of the incident, and they’ll be that much more likely to do it again.
It’s okay to get mad, it’s okay to curse. Don’t get out of control, and always be aware of your surroundings. First and foremost, keep yourself and your comrades out of harms way. But remember, you don’t have to take shit from anyone. Somebody rides your ass with their two-ton death machine blaring the horn, that’s a threat, and you have every right to defend yourself from that kind of aggressive action.
Just because you’re at risk out there doesn’t mean you have to be a victim. Remember, you’re on a motherfucking bike.
Courtesy Yehuda Moon.