Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hybrids, Reputations and Leaps of Logic

If there is one thing that cyclists are sensitive about, it's the idea that we are probably responsible if and when (and if you ride a lot, it is certainly the latter and not the former). The impression amongst many on the other side of the glass and steel wall seems to be that since we often run red lights or otherwise disobey traffic laws (true) that we are inherently reckless (false) and are probably responsible or at least not entirely innocent in the event of a crash. This general impression is maddening enough for those of us who ride within inches of cars every day, but is even more infuriating when the finger wagging comes from the occassional self-righteous cyclist who doesn't, for whatever reason, run red lights, ride on the wrong side of the street, etc.

Here is a perfect example that is two years old and comes from a site that attempts to subvert  the uncleverness of its name by intentionally misspelling it:

These helmeted wonders answer to no one. With their flashy pieces of aluminum and rubber, they wobble and coast through city traffic like God's gift to the ozone layer. When you're saving as much energy as they are, you're obviously totally free to run red lights, turn in front of oncoming traffic, and knock people's side mirrors around. They know they can ride right along side your car without a care in the world, because if you hit them, you're the careless, SUV driving, ball-scratching gasoline whore. 

While I am not claiming to be anything but a self-righteous "helmeted wonder", the common perception that cyclists see themselves as swashbuckling outlaws is laughable, and certainly doesn't stand up to simple scrutiny. It is terribly obvious to me that the best way to survive city cycling is to minimize the odds against you -- there is always going to be an element of uncertainty, a variable quantity of madness in the air that, when it reaches critical mass, is going to strike you down no matter how carefully you ride. So when I break a traffic law, it is generally to minimize the chances of an unfriendly encounter with a car (or to get home faster, or to thumb a finger at cars stuck in traffic, or to escape). I don't want to oversimplify this, since of course there is the point to be made that most people who commute by bicycle do so because we are control freaks and don't want to be held captive by the whims of traffic. So we cycle in order to bypass traffic jams, and so that we can leave whenever we want instead of waiting for a bus that will almost certainly be late and full of steamy stinky wool-wrapped-human burritos. But the fact is it is usually safer to ride illegally than legally. By breaking laws, I minimize my risk of death. So it is a calculus I make based on the need to keep my body alive, not my image.

So I am naturally predisposed to call bullshit on things like this Treehugger article, which makes a subtle argument along the lines of the commutofascists that will stop at nothing to defend their sacred cow, hybrid cars.

The implication seems to be that the "data" is "no good" that shows hybrids hit more people and bikes more frequently than regular autos by virtue of being so quiet. While I don't really have a say in the matter, and am frankly too lazy to read the full study, the casual way in which Treehugger brushes the claims aside, single-minded in its glowing praise of the bepedestaled Prius is similar to the way Sean Hannity doesn't let poor turnout ruin his coverage of crazy-as-Quixote Michelle Bachmann's tea party protest.

I don't care who you are, if you refuse to entertain information that lands outside your predefined boundaries, you're a close-minded prig-- a label that applies to most cyclists, unfortunately, as well as the Treehuggers and Sean Hannitys of the world.

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