“The Lecture” and “The Myth of Sisyphus”.


“I know the law, but, …”

I cringe when I hear (or read) that phrase. We all seem to use it sometimes. I’m guilty too. Most often it’s the intro to “The Lecture”.

The leaning forward. The lowering of the chin. The eyes of “Inarguable Truth” staring directly into yours. The hunched shoulders and clasped hands. You go to speak, and up comes the hand, palm toward you, signalling you to wait. ….. The pursed lips, ready, prepared, and, settling in. A quick breath, and here we go,… with resignation, …

“Let’s get real here”.

A shaking head and the hand again, for once “The Lecture” begins it must be completed, or it’s profound truths may be lost. And so, following as he or she must, the lecturer moves into the first of two key “Inarguable Truths”:

    points out how much a car weighs vis-a-vis a cyclist

    explains basic physics

    raises eyebrows, drops chin, and looks into eyes

The end is the truly beautiful part. The epiphany, as it were. Your epiphany.

The actual, ugly truth – a cyclist hit by a car moving at speed will most likely die a horrible death, is never mentioned. It’s subtly, but profoundly, implied. No words needed.

A magical moment, really, as it’s built on respect – the lecturer has granted that, given the evidence presented, and your epiphany, you can surely do your own math. All you needed was to be awakened to the truth.

Sometimes, mercifully, it moves to the second “Inarguable Truth”. And then it’s over. That fast. Just a few lines, and a few seconds of your time.

Or, ,,,

Subsequent lecture options include:

    stating roads are made for motor vehicles
    pointing out most people drive and will continue to do so
    mentioning that cyclists are “exposed” vis- vis contained drivers
    explaining car safety features vs “exposed” cyclists
    noting the effect of road conditions on traffic
    reminding us there are legions of bad drivers
    accepting there are many distracted/drunk drivers

All moving inexorably, inevitably toward, finally, the ace in the hole, the biggie:

The second, and primary “Inarguable Truth”.

    “it doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong when you’re dead”

Spoken with all the certainty of a teen on his eighth beer, sobering up to drive home.

We Get It

We all “get it”, right? All on our own, without coaching. Certainly everyone with the minimum wherewithal “gets it” that the cars sharing the roads with cyclists weigh a lot more than cyclists do.

And yet I’m regularly asked, even by friends and others I respect, even by other cyclists (often accompanied by an anecdote) whether I and other bike commuters understand and appreciate the difference between what a car weighs and what a cyclist weighs.

Clearly we do, or should. Only an idiot doesn’t. And I mean a real idiot, like the can’t tie their shoes kind. Does that mean the Lecturer thinks we’re idiots? What to do?

Why argue? Maybe it just needs to be explicitly said. So once again I slip on my Captain Obvious tights so that it can be written:

all grown up cyclists understand that motor vehicles weigh a lot more than a cyclist on a bike and that if they get hit by said motor vehicle moving at speed they will die.

Ahhhhhh. … Let’s all get beyond that. Wishful thinking?

It would appear so.

So with extreme artistic license, I give you Sisyphus.

Sisyphus was doomed by the Gods for all eternity to push a rock up a mountain; upon reaching the top, the rock would roll down again leaving Sisyphus to start over.

Cyclists are doomed for all eternity to listen to “The Lecture”.

It’s a stretch. I know.

Chinese Water Torture

Listening to “The Lecture” repeatedly, forever doesn’t seem too bad compared to pushing a rock up a mountain. The “Chinese Water Torture”, or the “Cross to Bear” analogies don’t work, because they don’t last for eternity.

We all have our crosses to bear.

“The Lecture” will. So it’s actually worse – a fate worse than death.

It can get to any of us, if we let it. Obviously it gets to me. There’s no getting around it, it must be accepted and endured. Just nod and wait for the lecture to end. Don’t disagree or take issue – it’s a trap. What’s to disagree with?

With acceptance comes peace. I shall let it go.

Jim's Edmonton Cycling Blog

More people visit this post than all others put together. I think it’s a search engine thing. Since people actually do visit looking for advice, I though it best if I updated and re-arranged for clarity (and to make myself look better). Less rant – more info.

Thanks to “G, on September 10, 2012 at 11:04 am” for pointing out my mistakes.

Riding in crosswalks

I was riding home, here in Edmonton, Canada. It was warm, sunny, and clear. A beautiful fall day, and a beautiful ride, mostly through parkland. On a day like that there’s no place better to be than Edmonton.

I have a fair commute, each way. While the ride may be awesome, especially on a nice day, I’m in as much of a hurry to get home as any commuter.

I’d just crossed the river, turned left off of the LRT bridge, and was riding west…

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Alphonse, Gaston, and the Flashing Yellow Lights.

Alphonse and Gaston

Alphonse and Gaston

(AL-fons uhn GAS-tuhn)
noun: Two people who treat each other with excessive deference, often to their detriment.

“… their “After you, Alphonse”, “You first, my dear Gaston!” routine often gets them into trouble, such as when they can’t evade a trolley which mows them down while each insists on letting the other go first.”

A recent, occasionally heated exchange (sorry about that) on the subject of riding vs dismounting in crosswalks took a sudden turn for the better, yielding this tiny nugget of advice from the goldmine of yours truly, the gift that keeps on giving, Captain Obvious: Don’t ride out in front of crossing (moving) traffic.

It’s not a question of rules, rights, signs, or lights. As basic as “don’t step in front of a speeding train or you’ll be killed”. That simple. Darwin aside, everyone over a certain age can do that math. It’s instinctual. Shouldn’t need to be said. Anyone who doesn’t understand needs to stop reading now and go over it until they do.

Even smart people do dumb things, sometimes. Especially when distracted. Or impaired.

Flashing yellow lights don’t afford cyclists the same legal or actual protection as they do pedestrians. (One advantage to cycling is being able to easily get off the bike and become a pedestrian. The woman or man stuck in traffic can’t do that).

At a flashing yellow crosswalk, pedestrians, including you if you get off the bike, have right of way over everyone else. Drivers and mounted cyclists should expect to grant it. Drivers have right of way over crossing cyclists who stay on their bikes. Cyclists should expect to cede it. Too many don’t. Point taken.

Cyclists move a lot quicker than pedestrians, may be harder to spot (“she came out of nowhere”), can’t stop or “jump out of the way” as easily as pedestrians, and drivers just may, correctly, take the right of way. As they should.

It all works so much better when we all follow the rules all of the time. It really does. But we don’t. None of us do, all of the time. I don’t.

Continue reading

Long time away

Wow, it’s been a long time between posts. Health issues have been keeping me from riding much at all. I’m getting on the bike more now, and it’s a huge health benefit.

I’ll try to post regularly. I’m passionate about bike commuting here in Edmonton. I can come across as a bit of an evangelist (like a lot of bicycle commuters I’m afraid). My bike is my primary means of transportation, and I don’t drive (haven’t since the ’80’s).

Most people, it seems, think car first, and often car exclusively. I think that way about cycling. It’s natural. What bothers me is the “that’s just the way it is” attitude too often used to justify why bikes are second class, and an afterthought best considered after the “real issues” for most Edmontonians (drivers) are dealt with.

The tyranny of the majority can be only too real to bike commuters. One way to deal with it is to get more people out riding their bikes. On the street.

The number of Edmontonians commuting by bike has gone up a lot, even over the last few years. But there still aren’t enough people getting on their bikes and trying a commute, even a small one, by bike.

They have bikes. I see them on their balconies, and in their garages. The percentage of people who own a bike is actually pretty high. But the percentage who ride their bikes regularly is still woefully small.

What’s keeping more people from cycling? What’s stopping more people from riding the bikes they already have? What are the barriers to commuting by bike?

Regular, seasonal, and even occasional bike commuters know how it feels to bike instead of drive. A common thought is: “Why isn’t everyone doing this?”

Much of it is just a matter of getting people to try using their bike. Not just for recreation or the occasional Sunday ride through the river valley. But for a trip somewhere, maybe an errand, or running to the store to pick something up, a visit to a friends place, etc. Or, ahem, a trip to work and back.

In my experience once people try it they usually like it.

I’m going to be posting (and reposting) a lot of tips I’ve learned over the years commuting year ’round here in Edmonton. I encourage comments and appreciate anyone who posts their own tip. I won’t get into the whole bike vs car argument. It’s a waste of time and we’ve all heard it all before, so I’ll delete most of those posts.

Good to be back in the saddle again!

Back in the saddle.

First day back on the bike. Man, am I ever out of shape! And everything’s fitting kind of snug. To say the least.

It was a good ride along 111 ave to the Royal Alex and back to Westmount Mall. Now I remember what it’s like to ride into the wind.

I’m going to try to go for a ride every day. Another week or so, then it’s off to Lungbuster Hill.

Broad changes, not just helmets, key to bike safety

Broad changes, not just helmets, key to bike safety.

I doubt there are many people more adamant about wearing a helmet than I am. As I wrote in a previous post (“thanks Bell”) – my helmet saved my life.

But I don’t support mandatory helmet laws for adults. This article outlines some of the main reasons.

Cycling is very safe. We cyclists often like to talk about our close calls, bad drivers that nearly hit us, wipe-outs, the challenges of riding on icy roads, blocked bike paths, etc. We play up the dangerous aspects because it’s the aberrations we notice, not the mundane circumstances that make up the overwhelming majority of our riding.

It’s just not very interesting to relate a story of yet another uneventful ride. While cycling is immensely enjoyable in and of itself, it’s not very interesting to hear about second hand.

So we relate our stories of danger. It makes us feel and appear brave, and it’s exciting. But it doesn’t give the true picture.

What it does, predictably, is lend the perception that cycling is dangerous. Which discourages potential cyclists from getting on a bike. Which, ironically, makes cycling less safe. One of the most effective means of ensuring cycling safety is by getting more cyclists on the road. Cyclists are treated as if they belong when there are more of them out there.

Many more people would ride except for the perceived danger. Ironically, driving a motor vehicle is much more inherently dangerous, but it doesn’t stop people from doing it because the danger is primarily to other people, that is, people on the outside of the car (I’m not suggesting most drivers aren’t concerned with the safety of others, but it’s only natural to feel safer when wearing seatbelts surrounded by a metal box). And you can’t fall off a car.

So, let’s think twice the next time we start to relate some of our harrowing tales. And let’s concentrate on how enjoyable the activity is, how good it is for us, and how much money we save over driving. The more people we have driving, the better.

And, please, (says to self) WEAR YOUR HELMET!

Gary Mar takes commuter challenge!

On his bike Friday morning, Provincial Tory leadership candidate Gary Mar, second from right, beat everybody else in a commuter race, including, left to right, Sarah Covey on transit, Dana Eason in a vehicle, Bike to Work Day founder Lonny Balbi who was also on a bike, and Julie Checknita on transit. Photo courtesy Bike to Work Day.

While you were watching the royal wedding this morning (by “watching” I mean “sleeping”), provincial Tory leadership candidate Gary Mar mounted a bike and bested a driver and transit rider in the annual downtown commuter race, an event that’s part of the May 6 Bike to Work Day.

From the Calgary Herald’s “Pedal Magazine” blog. It’d sure be nice if the Edmonton Journal did something similar.