Tales from the saddle - Safer cycling with the "idiots!"-assumption
(Yes, i’m starting to blog again. About whatever crosses my mind. I will put some articles from time to time into my Jekyll for publication the next day at noon.)
Until last year i was cycling a lot. I had a rather long pause from it but this year i will restart my schedule. But that is not the point of this blog entry. I cycled thousands kilometers and i cycled them rather safely. The reason for this simple. I’m always cycling under the “Everyone is an idiot” assumption. Or to say it more politely: Everyone has moments where she or he is challenged in their situational awareness and you should anticipate this in your own actions. For shortness i will just use the name “Idiot” because that is the word you are usually shouting after such a person.
Once of a while everyone of us makes an error when driving a car or cycling a bike or walking around. I’m doing this, you are doing this, everyone is doing this. Errors are human. Anyone telling something different is just not telling the truth. I’m not singleing out group. I’m riding long enough to know that this isn’t an issue of a single group and i’ve seen enough cyclist earning the title idiot with distinction.
You are stepping on the street without watching, riding with your bike where you shouldn’t and you didn’t saw a cyclist clad in black MAMIL gear (guilty of that… wearing black) and didn’t crashed in him or her just by sheer luck. Black MAMIL gear by itself qualfies at least in autumn for a idiot honoris causa (guilty of that too, but i simply don’t like high-viz pink). People using their phones when walking, riding or driving. I could add endlessly to this list. A cyclist leaving the pedestrian way to the street five meters in front of you while looking in the wrong direction. Or the Zwift crowd that sometimes seems to forget that you have to use the handlebar for more than holding a towel and that you can’t ride through people. They lose their situation awareness and make errors and you are start shouting “Idiot!” and most of the time you are lucky and that’s all about it. However sometimes you are not and the assumption is just about that.
So everyone behaves sometimes like an idiot in traffic. Obviously you would be extra cautious in the presence of idiots. In other areas “Hold my beer” is the internationally recognized code word for this. However in traffic you don’t have this luxury. Especially if your only protection is a rather thin layer of lycra, gloves and a helmet. Let’s see it this way: There are 42 Million driver licenses in germany. Assume that you behave 1 minute per months like an idiot on streets. You create 500 million idiot minutes in traffic. That are roughly 1000 Idiots at each moment around you. And thats without pedestrians and cyclists without a driver license.
Yes i know, there are day where you may think “yeah, and all the 1000 idiots are around me” however you should always have in mind if everyone around you is behaving like an idiot, you should think hard if a mirror is the right tool to find the real culprit. But that is just a side note.
However the rub of the situation is: You don’t know when the people around you have their this months idiot moment.
So the only way to get unscathed though traffic with a bike is to assume that everyone around you is an idiot. This is a reason why i’m only go to full speed with the bike outside of cities, why i’m riding on cycle ways as soon there is one available that isn’t in bike destroying condition. Why i’m braking when i see a car even when i have the right of way. Why i’m spending my money on brake pads like a dunken sailor. Why i learned to break from fullspeed without jumping over the handlebar by moving my ass … sorry … my center of gravity as far as possible to the back.
And keep in mind: You can be an idiot and be perfectly within your rights. People ride at neckbreaking speed at the entryway of the underground garage of my apartment complex … where it’s partially impossible to see a thing and you just need an uncautious moment to have a cyclist on the motor hood. As a cyclist you learn to anticipate those situation, even when sitting in a car. Still i’m wondering how many cyclist have been hit on this way over time.
Having had the right of way doesn’t help you if your bones are broken and your bike is a cloud of carbon particle dust under the tyre of a lorry.
There is a website of bicycle lights with cameras. I watched a lot of them to learn. Of course there are eregious situations that border or cross the line to malicious intent but often i’m thinking this would be a preventable crash with the idiots assumption.
Of course it’s hard to get “into the flow” when you are riding a bike with the “everyone is an idiot” assumption. But perhaps “the flow” isn’t something for an area where you share the roads with cars and pedestrians.
So simply, assume that everyone around you is an idiot and try to be an idiot as seldom as possible when you ride a bike for your self. Nice extra: You shout much less expletives after cars driving this way which is good for your blood pressure.
(written January/February 2022)