Starting to dislike cyclists

by Michael Smith

I've been riding my bike around in New York for oh, twenty years or so. But after all this time, I'm starting to dislike cyclists, and it's the West Side riverfront path that's done it.

Back when we were all fighting the cars on the street, I felt a certain sense of solidarity. But now that we've got this dedicated -- or sorta dedicated -- space, I'm finding that a lot of us are, well, assholes.

There's a certain population of cyclists -- and you know who I mean: they're all togged out in head to toe spandex, and of course they're wearing helmets, and they usually have pretty nice bikes. But the main thing about them is, they're going fast. They're feeling the burn. They're in training. They're pushing the envelope, reaching deep inside for that last extra -- oh, you supply the rest; I'm not very good with all this Leni Riefenstahl jockspeak.

Whatever it is they're doing, they think it's pretty important, and they think everybody else should get the hell out of their way. In fact, they are Drivers On Bikes.

They can't stand it that there are erratic inline skaters, moms pushing baby carriages, Japanese tourists taking pictures, or even elderly low-end cyclists like me cluttering up the path. They whiz past with an inch to spare -- just like that Guido in the SUV who nearly killed you on Sixth Avenue last week. They yell abuse at you -- they have to yell because they can't honk -- any time you violate some bike path vehicle code that exists largely inside their heads. I'm sure this vehicle code is both complex and fluid, but I'm also sure its fundamental commandment reads, make way for me me me.

In short, they can't stand it that they are in a public space, in a city, and have to share it with all kinds of people who couldn't care less about going fast on a bike -- people who are unlike them, in other words. They are suburbanites at heart. That whole messy, anarchic, mixed-up urban thing drives them crazy. What they really want, I think, is a kind of New Jersey Turnpike for bicycles -- a limited-access bike-o-bahn.

Oh, a lot of it is the DoT's fault, of course. The path is horribly designed. It's so horrible that I don't know where to start. It's not a street -- there are no motor vehicles on it, except the four or five dozen cop cars and Parks trucks that you pass every time you ride on it. (And then there are the horse cops and their shit, or rather, the horse cops' horses' shit -- I don't think the cops themselves are shitting on the pavement, though with cops, you never really know.)

Anyway, shit or no shit. it's not a street, exactly. But it's not a public square either. It has some disturbing road-like qualities: lane stripes and pavement hieroglyphs, and a wildly complex, Talmudic system of grade separation -- pedestrians here, bikes there, except for the next two hundred feet, where hey, let's switch! It has stoplights -- sweet little things with red and green bike designs in the lens, very pretty and Christmassy.

But they're like, toy stoplights. Santa Claus Land. The eensy, knees-up theme-park steam train. Are they a joke, these bikelights? One of those complicated, ironical, New York jokes that regular Americans just don't get? Or does somebody really think we're going to stop for them? There's something that just doesn't compute about a bike red light. Worse than that, they're dangerous -- suppose some driver some day took it into his head to believe them?

But old jokes are the best jokes, and we're used to idiocy on DoT's part. It wouldn't be a big problem for cyclists if we all had a good, mutinous, urban attitude about it. On the contrary, it would be a source of delight -- the way every workplace has a designated jerk that everybody makes fun of. We'd just laugh at the stop lights, and give the finger to the indignant, honking drivers. And we'd all feel like comrades or co-conspirators or something.

Alas, into this hypothetical Eden enter the Drivers On Bikes. And as cyclists are so fond of saying about each other, these jerks spoil it for everybody. There's no solidarity among the drivers on bikes; there's only the baboon-hierarchy pissing contest of who can pass whom.

Oh, I know, competition is the great American religion; but this isn't America, fortunately, it's New York -- where one hand washes the other and even Italians have rabbis. Where did these whippet-like exotics, these endorphin-crazed Lance wannabes, come from? And wherever it is, will they please go back there -- or anywhere? Will they -- please God! -- move to fucking Scarsdale as soon as their kids are born?

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