October 22, 2008

on commuting

It came as a surprise to one of my co-workers the other day when I told him that I stop at every red light on my commute to and from work. He said he just loves to weave in and out of traffic, and was quite taken aback when I told him that I don't really do that anymore, unless I'm in a big hurry. Nope, I'm all about riding safely these days, and I think it sort of just happened naturally to me. I think I've picked up those habits from reading about how to commute safely, in various bike magazines, and on websites. Some of it has just sort of presented it to me as the best way to ride, for me anyway. The way I ride most of the time, is not only the safest way (in my mind anyway) to get between places on my bike, but it is also the most laid back and stress free way of doing that. I ride aggressively when I need to, I take the lane, I don't ride close to parked cars I always filter to the front on stoplights (unless someone has their right-hand signal light on) etc. Most of the time however, I try and treat the other commuters (cyclists, drivers or pedestrians) on the road with the same respect that I expect from them. Interestingly enough, it even bothers me in the rare instances when people do me special favors because I'm on a bike. For example, I came to a four-way stop today, and there was this lady in a Toyota Camry that came to the stop sign well before me. Now, if I come to a stop sign at the same time as a car I usually go first simply because I accelerate faster. But this time I saw that she came to the stop sign ahead of me so I grabbed the brakes and made eye-contact with the driver, trying to imply that I saw her and was expecting her to go. She didn't go. She looked at me and waved me across, thinking she was doing me this huge favor. At that time I had slowed down to a stop, lost all my momentum, and then had to get going again to cross the intersection while she waited. If she would have just gone ahead like she normally would, my timing would not have been messed up, and both of us could have been able to cruise through that intersection in a far more fluid and efficient manner. I thanked her for the courtesy though, even if I wasn't too pleased with her. I should probably mention here that I contradict myself when it comes to stop signs. I stop at all red lights, but stop signs I regard as slowers, not stoppers. You see, we cyclists are using our own energy to propel us forward, and it takes a lot of energy to stop completely at every single stop sign. So even though I stop for red lights, I don't stop completely at stop signs if it's not busy. Then again, nobody really does that anyway, unless there is traffic that makes them stop. Sure enough, people slow down and look around carefully before going ahead, but in all honesty, not many of us really stop. My excuse for not stopping is to conserve my energy, my tires and brakes. At the same time I believe that cyclists see their surroundings better than drivers, and that notion should account for something. There are no b-pillars in our line of sight, right? But back to the red lights and my bewildered co-worker. "You seriously stop at every red light," he asked me. "Well, yes I do, unless I'm making a right turn," I said. "I practice my track stand." This made my friend understand things a little better. To him, my lame commuting ways all of a sudden seemed like a game. Which it is to a point, it's the "no foot down commuting game," and it's fun. Not to mention useful, as improving your balance on the bike is going to be helpful in every aspect of bike riding, weather it be mountain biking, road racing, or just going to the store to get the paper. www.yehudamoon.com

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