Sunday, March 08, 2009

15 Enemy Within : Uncivilized Bike Riders In NYC

On the front page of The New York Times online today was this :

I'm a regular on, and I don't feel I'm exaggerating when I say that this article was nothing short of embarrassing for me as a cyclist. The writer of the piece aptly titled 'Wild Bunch' is Robert Sullivan, an environmental activist and author of the book "The Thoreau You Don’t Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant".

Sullivan, who happens to be a long time bike commuter, writes that the once dreaded biking location that were the streets of NYC has now really become more friendly for cyclists like him. Listening to their voices, the city has introduced special bike lanes, bike shelters and biking incentives among other much needed provisions. But sadly, the other group of 'wild cyclists' have taken all this for granted, paying zero attention to traffic lights, showing little courtesy to other pedestrians, and not respecting civilian speeds in busy places.

Perceptions are important to our breed if we need the support from society to grow. And perceptions about us from motorists are not very good in many cities at the moment. Now pedestrians in NYC are hugging each other for dear life when a cyclist whizzes past them at the speed of sound while displaying little or no concern about whats happening around them. Is it of little surprise that generally, cyclists are taking a lot of criticism from other users of the road, irrespective of how safe and attuned to the rules of the road some of them may be?

It seems to me like we have an enemy within. Its not good news. How can you be sympathetic to the cycling cause when you have detractors in the bunch? Did these detractors lose sight of their roots in the city? Did they quickly forget how they came to inherit all the city's cycling privileges? It was due to the hard work of some good minded transportation folks, and the leaders of the community who were willing to make a change for the better. Sadly, some don't realize those things and make life worse for others who are also users of the same privileges.

Sullivan has a modest proposal; for the good of the cycling community in NYC, he urges all cyclists to take the "high road" (read : civilized cycling).

I felt the meat of Sullivan's 3 page article was contained in this interesting excerpt :

"The Brooklyn Bridge is an important front in the bike publicity war; it is a place where bikes are losing. The essential conflict can be grossly caricatured like this: Guys dressed as if they are in the Pyrenees stage of the Tour de France try to set speed records as Italian tourists linger in the middle of the bridge to get a photo of their cousin, Paolo, backed by the Empire State Building.

Bikers won’t stop, fearing they will lose a few tenths of a second off their times; and tourists from former Soviet republics confuse the phrase “Get out of the bike lane, you jerk” with “Enjoy your stay.”

Confusion ensues, slowing down the furious bikers and dragging into the mix City Hall-area office workers who are just trying to get in a little lunch break walk-a-cise but are now risking loss of limb.

Next comes another species of biker, which I call the Really Cool Biker, because they are really cool — usually younger than the Lance Armstrong types, wearing skinny jeans and a windbreaker imprinted with, say, the name of a bar or a bowling alley, and riding a sleek, fixed-gear frame bike that I myself am too uncool to even adequately describe.

Now, as the Tour de France vs. the tourist melee is exploding, the Really Cool Bikers attempt to skirt the scrum of tourists, using the moment of chaos as an obstacle course, causing tourists to break like pheasants after a bad shot. The Really Cool Bikers speed silently around terrified bystanders, leaving a trail of bike-induced horror. Even bike commuters complain about bikers on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Once, cars were the natural enemy of bikers, and vice versa. But as the Brooklyn Bridge biking shows, now that the city has made some progress in holding back the cars, bikers have begun to treat people the same way the cars they used to battle do — in other words, like the enemy.

Likewise, for pedestrians seeking to complain, bikes are easier to attack than cars, a fact that plays on the strength of the bike. It is driven by a human being you can see and communicate with more readily than you can with a guy in a car whose windows are shut and whose stereo is blasting."


  1. Anonymous5:06 PM

    well, what do you know! its the fixie hipsters behind the trouble again!

  2. Anonymous5:57 PM

    This is a great article you linked to. I feel the behavior of cyclists towards pedestrians can be likened to that of motorists towards pedestrians. Somehow, being high above the ground on wheels may fool your brain into thinking you're somehow more powerful than the rest, and you try to reinforce this image by traveling ruthlessly. You are part owner of the biking lane, but no one gave you ownership to overwhelm others with your stupidity.

  3. The monkey dust video is so awesome.

  4. It is frustrating! I see it here where I live. The drivers are pretty respectable and we should be the same for them. Just this morning my wife and I were walking our son to school. Up the hill comes a couple of cyclists riding two wide. It's a two lane road that can get pretty busy on a work/school day. Behind them... four cars and four school buses... waiting. That's ridiculous! Why can't they ride single file and wait until the slower secondary road to go back to riding two wide. It just makes sense. Give the respect you would like in return my friends!

  5. Anonymous1:30 PM

    I frequent nytimes as well, but I guess I missed this story. Thanks a bunch for pointing it out.

  6. Anonymous5:15 PM

    Did NYT reference the monkey dust video too?

  7. Don : You're right. Bikes are a solution. Bad bikers are the problem. How come they all misunderstand that they're some entitled to break the laws as soon as they step into their cycling attire?

    Anon : NYT didn't not point out the Monkey Dust vid. Such satire was fitting for the topic at hand so I youtubed it. :)

  8. Ron,

    I too agree with the NYT author. His four proposals: (stop at lights, ride with traffic, don't use sidewalks, and signal) are pretty basic stuff. I'm willing to go a step further, though. Check out my post:

    Cheers, and thanks for your stimulating blog!

  9. Thanks Rob. Nice post there on the same topic.

  10. Well said.
    Glad you wrote this.

    Many people seek their niche and wry criticisms, with self justified perspective, are seemingly popular in contemporary culture.

  11. Anonymous1:32 PM

    If this isn't straying away from the topic, a group of elite Olympic cyclists in Canada (of all of them) were charged with violating road rules for not riding single file. They were struck by a motor vehicle. Here's the story :

    The article mentions one of the cyclists involved as saying that riding side by side (and hence occupying more of the shared road) is safer than riding single file. That is a strange comment.

  12. June, I don't find that comment at all strange. It makes sense to "take your lane" in many situations rather than be forced over to the curb. This forces the motorist to make an accommodation rather than to believe that he can just "squeeze by" (which is where accidents often occur.)

  13. BTW, I agree with Bike Boy. The video is very cool. Does anyone know more of the provenance of it?

  14. Robert,

    Monkey Dust is a popular British tv showgroup , and mostly satirical (almost dark comedy if you will)

  15. I've been preaching against inflammatory cyclist behavior for years. If there were no cars, would we be the oppressors over the pedestrians as thoughtlessly as the motorists have trampled us?


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