The Many Attitudes About Cycling

This morning I rode down PCH (Pacific Coast Highway or Highway 1 if you’re not an Angeleno) with a friend. She recently moved down here from Marin too and she was raving about how much nicer people are in LA. She had just been back up in Marin a couple weeks ago and got sworn at, honked at, and yelled at while riding her bike. Her argument was that people in Marin are entitled and people in LA are much more laid back.

My argument would be that people in LA haven’t seen enough cyclists yet to hate them.

Yes, I have had some terrible, shitty, faith-in-people-crushing experiences while on my bike, and Steve has had more than me. And largely all that hatred and anger from those people isn’t because of me. It’s because of them and their issues. But it’s also because they’re doing the same kind of mass stereotyping thing that people who make racist or sexist judgments do. ‘I’ve met some asshole Asian people, therefore Asian people are assholes.’ Or: ‘I see a lot of cyclists and they clog up our roads and that one got in my way that time and I saw another one blow a stop sign and they’re annoying, therefore all cyclists don’t deserve to be on the road.’

It’s a hatred that comes from familiarity. Ideally, eventually, that familiarity will breed resigned acceptance. But, right now, I know that there are bike lanes and bike sharing and good bike routes and places you can get in a long ride in the Bay Area, but I also know that means there are people on those routes who don’t want to see one more fucking cyclist.

In LA, I don’t know that there are bike lanes and bike sharing and good bike routes and places for a long ride on the weekend. However, where you do ride, the people are still more befuddled and amused by you than annoyed. It may be how the first person who ran the Grand Canyon was treated. Now, there’s too many damn runners.

Yes, there are cycling group rides here. Safety in numbers! But, there isn’t the sheer quantity of weekend warriors and casual riders and commute bikers that you see in the Bay Area. That has meant that the main problem for me has been the problem you have with tourist drivers up in Marin: they just have no idea what to do with bikers on the road. While it’s not really their fault, it can actually be more dangerous for you sitting out there in the open on your bike with just some plastic on your head for protection. Biking around LA, which has mostly been commute biking for me and a little bit of training now, I’ve come across so many people who just aren’t sure why I’m in the road or what I’m doing or how they should react. Mostly, that’s fine and we can work it out. Tons of drivers have been weirdly thankful when I’ve moved over so they can make a right turn on a red light. But, every time someone gets mad because I need to get over to make a left turn or I have to come into the right lane so I don’t get doored by a parked car or they can’t get by for 30 seconds on the narrow street, every time I worry that this is just building up the resentment. And I don’t know how to avoid that.

What bothers me, though, isn’t the difficulty of finding places to ride or of getting around by bike. I’m not even really that bothered on a personal level by the angry hatred or the casual confusion. Those are problems, but they’re problems that will resolve themselves in the long arc of history. Hopefully.

No, what really bothers me so far about LA is the general attitude of dismissiveness in which that arc of history will never be able to plant roots and take hold. So many people keep raving to me about how great the culture is here and there’s so much to do and so many places to go and there’s something happening every week. True. Great. Fantastic. Then, the conversation usually has me next saying that yeah, but do they know any good places to ride, because so far it seems like biking is sort of rough here. You have to deal with a lot of cars — which isn’t just an annoyance thing, but a danger thing — and if you want to get away from the traffic and congestion then you have to drive really far to start a ride somewhere — which is fine for the weekend, but not a good use of time for weekday training. And, bike commuting can be really hit or miss — as in hope they miss and don’t hit you. And, every. single. time. I say this or ask about biking or mention open space or want to know how to get around, the local says ‘oh, yeah, well that’s just LA’ or ‘LA isn’t really a cycling place’ or ‘it’s a car culture, get used to it.’

That’s what really pisses me off. As if these are not even legitimate concerns worth having. As if they don’t even warrant a counter-argument. That’s an attitude towards cycling I’m not sure even allows a place for cycling to exist within it.

The Race That Wasn’t

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This is a picture of my car.

If it is true that you ‘get back what you put out there’ and the power of positive thinking can bring us Oprah-esque levels of success if we just try really hard to think Secret-style happy thoughts, if all that is true, then it is also true that Sunday morning I broke the car with my mind.

Once in high school on the way to a weekend speech tournament (for which you had to get up ungodly early and do your make-up and hair and put on a power suit — probably explaining my predilection now for sweats and forgetting to shower), I was laying half-asleep in the bus seat thinking about how I really didn’t want to do this and if only something would happen so we didn’t have to go to another high school cafeteria and make passionate speeches about recent world news. And, then, the bus broke down. After 15 minutes on the side of a freeway somewhere in Illinois, I decided actually I’d like to compete afterall and we should get a move on it, and magically — upon that thought — the bus started working again. I point to this and that one time I swear I locked the door by thinking hard at it as proof of my Jedi-like abilities.

I did not want to race Tri for Real on Sunday. I’d been going back and forth all week, until Saturday I signed up because I needed to snap out of this shit. Of course, then, Saturday night I was awake all night freaking out some more. When my alarm went off after 2 hours of sleep, I did not want to drive 100 miles to race. I dragged myself around the house. I took my temperature, hoping maybe I had a fever and shouldn’t race. I stood in the hallway and worried about going all the way there just to have a repeat of that episode in San Jose when I laid down on the side of the road in the middle of a race and started to cry. (In retrospect, that actually happened at two separate races in San Jose. The city, itself, may prompt spontaneous crying.) Finally, 20 minutes late, I snapped out of it and got ready to go. Because you can’t fall into the trap of not racing just because you don’t feel super excited at 4:45 a.m. on race morning; otherwise, you’d talk yourself out of 90% of races.

I made it an hour, with another 50 minutes to drive, when the red car battery light came on. I’m pretty sure that’s one of those serious lights you need to pull over for, so I got off the highway and found the car booklet thing. Apparently, a red battery light means ‘Proceed immediately to the nearest Volkswagen dealership.’ Of course, it was 6:45 a.m. on a Sunday, so even if I could make it to a dealership, it’d really just be a place to sleep in my car until Monday morning when it opened. I did some phone Googling and trying to look under the hood and calling the Volkswagen hotline just to find out what I should do and getting disconnected and calling back and having some guy tell me that ‘Oh yes, Darren is going to call you right back after he finishes putting in your order.’ YOU ARE LYING, I didn’t say. THERE IS NO ORDER. YOU ARE LYING TO ME. Of course, he never called back. Eventually, it was decided I would drive to Autozone 25 minutes away, or longer when you’re going 40 mph in the far right lane of the freeway in case the car battery suddenly dies.

In case you can’t tell from the photo above, the hood of our car is sort of smashed a bit. It’s all just (incredibly expensive) bodywork, not anything seriously wrong. But, we hadn’t been able to get the hood open recently. The guys at our car shop said you just have to “pull really hard.” It turns out that means REALLY hard. Like stupid hard. So, when I got to Autozone just after it opened, I was trying to pull the hood up, standing on the bumper and yanking, the whole car moving up and down. And, the guy came out to ask if I need help. Actually, yes, but not with this; this actually how you do this.

I am now a fan of Autozone, fyi. They spent over an hour helping me figure out what was wrong, charging my battery, testing it, pulling it out and putting it on the super charging machine, testing the alternator — all for free. It was determined the alternator needed to be replaced and the battery was rapidly losing power (information I had to then pay another $100 to the auto shop for Monday morning). With the battery charged 100%, though, I could make it home. Carefully.

It turns out that at least 67% of the tired shittiness you feel after a race is simply from getting up at 4:45 a.m., getting ready and pumping yourself up, driving far, and dealing with things. I felt at least almost as messed up as I would have if I had actually raced and I only eventually made it home about 45 minutes earlier than if I’d gotten all the way there and done the race. I had to take a nap.

But, I’m half-convinced the world was saving me from myself by not letting me race. The power of negative thinking.

 

This Really Has Not Been A Great Start To Things

So, yesterday, I crashed our car. It’s fine, I’m fine. And not just in that way people say they’re fine but have all these problems. Really, the car is a little banged up and driving it right now (until we take it to a shop tomorrow) is for emergencies only because it lost its power steering fluid. And, I have a sore neck right now from the whiplash. So, really, it’s fine.

But, man, this has not been a good start to things.

I drove out to Pt. Reyes to ride yesterday, because I told Steve and a friend I’d drop them off at a trailhead, so they could do this crazy mountain bike ride. And, added bonus, I’d get to do my two-hour ride out in the park – which isn’t really possibly from the house if you’re only riding two hours.

Out in the seashore, though, it was raining. It wasn’t raining at our house and it seemed like it was just misting/drizzling on our way there, but once I started riding I was drenched. 100% soaked. Riding up Limantour was great, but coming down was cold and miserable and impossible to see or brake. And, then, I rode another hour. By the time I was finished, I was freezing and miserable. Driving home I had the heat blasting and was cursing the whole endeavor. I had just decided that I wouldn’t stop to get burgers, would eat some smart leftovers, clean my bike, do my PT and stretching/rolling, then head out to finish some work projects.

Then, coming down one of the twisting hills by my house, I made a sharp turn and the car fishtailed on the wet, slippery road. It skidded into the other lane. And, I know you’re supposed to turn into a skid, but the only thing I could think was that the road is narrow and I didn’t want to go over the side of the hill. I fishtailed back and forth across the road, into the other lane and back, skidding and trying to correct. I thought it was coming under control — the fishtailing was getting smaller and the car straighter, but the whole thing also caused the car to lose its power steering fluid (which you could see in the road afterward) and I couldn’t quite control it enough. I hit the side of the hill and the car spun around.

Trying to decide what to do after that was a nightmare. I drove the car sort of the ten feet up into a pull-off, but it was still facing the wrong way on the road and I was still not 100% sure how I could drive it down the hill because the steering was so messed up. Our insurance pays for towing, but you’re supposed to call the Emergency Roadside number and not just a towing co. Only that starts a whole claim process and was taking forever. Calling the police was sort of weird because there were no injuries or anyone else there. Eventually, though, the CHP gave me an escort so I could turn the car around and get down the hill with the super shitty steering and then it was just a straight (slow) shot home.

Today I couldn’t really do much. I mean I could, but it’d be sort of stupid. My neck hurts. My head hurts. My right arm hurts. I suppose tomorrow I’ll see how I feel and then go from there.

This really has not been my best three weeks ever.

A Conversation About Gender Roles and Cycling

Lately, Steve and I have been riding with him on the mountain bike and me on my road bike. This evens out the playing field some, since riding a mountain bike on the road is slower, which is probably good for the health of our relationship. But it also makes us look pretty recreational, since he’s sort of dicking around on the mountain bike instead of all being decked out in his fancy gear like usual.

This past weekend, we were riding and a guy with a backpack and a bell sprinted to pass us, after we passed him at a light, and then slowed down right ahead of us. Steve and I basically had this conversation then:

Steve: That was weird.
Me: That doesn’t happen to you? Happens to me all the time.
Steve: No. I usually get respect.
Me: Yeah, well, middle-aged weekend warriors always feel the need to sprint past me. The problem is it’s just enough work to beat them that it’s sort of hard. On the other hand, though, cars don’t harass me as much since I look little and female.
Steve: It’s a trade-off.

Why Do Old People Hate Cyclists?

I don’t bike that much anymore and when I do most of my bike kits are — accidentally — pink. So, I look all small and girlish, which means, for a variety of vaguely sexist reasons, I don’t get yelled at as much by angry drivers and people who want to re-claim the roads for the cars or whatever. (I mean I do get yelled at, obviously. There’s a lot of hatred towards anyone on a bike over the age of 10. It’s just not as much.)

But, Steve does. He gets all kinds of crazed people screaming at him about paying the road tax. Primarily because he rides a lot and because he looks all pro and cyclist-y. If you look legit, someone will try to kill you with their car. If you want to avoid the hatred: don’t wear spandex, stick as many baskets or carriers or extra whats-its on your bike as possible, preferably carry a backpack — but don’t be a tourist. It’s complicated.

People say things to me when I’m running, but, for the most part, no one’s tried to kill me.

We live on the edge of a whole shitload of nothing. (Side note: someone dropping something off at my place once saw a deer and was convinced “it’s so quaint” and “rural.” But, like, I dunno, we were standing outside a Panera when she said this, so.) The point is, though, that you go through one stoplight getting out of our neighborhood, then you can bike and bike for maybe six or seven hours without seeing any stop lights or large towns or, sometimes, people. There’s really not a whole lot for drivers to get upset about.

And, yet.

Yesterday, when Steve was riding out of our place in the early evening, he was making a left turn and in the left-turn lane, signalling or whatever. An old guy pulls up behind him honking and honking and screams out the window, “I don’t care if you get killed. In fact, I hope you do.”

Um, ok.

A couple months ago, a very elderly woman started swerving into Steve when he was riding back from the valley to our house. He kept moving out of the way and she kept riding into him to force him to pull over, I guess. Eventually she pulls up next to him and starts yelling at him. “I saw you go through three stoplights and, I’m not the police, but you just need to know. I just wanted to tell you I feel sorry for you.” And, Steve was like, um, I haven’t been through a stoplight in three hours; there are no stoplights here. She just kept yelling at him, “I feel sorry for you.”

(It sounds like I’m making all these people old in these stories, but that’s just a fact. Old people are crazy.)

There’s other, lots of other, crazier stories he has and I have and friends have. Whenever I do ride home at commute time, with so many stressed cars on the road, it usually makes me hate people and feel bad about the future of humanity. But, sometimes, when they’re just so crazy, you have to wonder what they do the rest of the time they’re not harassing cyclists.

What’s the craziest thing anyone’s yelled at you while biking?