How to Ride a Bike in Boston and not DIE!!!
As I drove home on the Jamaicaway late at night I witnessed the near death accident of a cyclist. This essay is not for him. He was a fucking idiot: with headphones on riding in the crosswalk, ignoring the blinking hand telling him not to cross, didn’t look to check for the racing pickup truck trying to make the light, didn't notice that it was midnight and he was in all dark clothes, that he was crossing the most dangerous road in the entire city of Boston. No, this essay is for the driver who, thankfully, was paying attention and risked his own life to swerve off the road and not kill him. This is to save that man a lifetime of nightmares of how he killed a senseless kid and has to live with it. I don’t care about people who ride as bystanders, abandon common sense, and ignore the laws of physics to give city bike riders a bad name. I care about the people who have to deal with it.
I live to ride, and ride to live. Period. When I looked into opening my restaurant in Roslindale, 10 miles across the city from where I live in Somerville, I rode in January to what is now RnR. It took 45 minutes on an icy road but I realized it could be done, and so continued a love affair of urban cycling. I have been riding my bike on city streets for 18 years without a major accident and I cross the entire city by bike multiple times a week. In that time I have matured and become a parent but that has not stopped me from riding. I don’t see riding as dangerous and I own a minivan bike to carry my kids everyday to school. I ride in rush hour, at night, and in the snow. Granted, my lights are much brighter now, I wear my helmet religiously even if it makes me look like an asshole, and I ride a little slower, but no less aggressively.
This city has no patience for patience. Now, now, NOW. Our cyclists are no exception. So when I read flyers about: taking your time/ ride casually/ always give the right of way/ I give a traditional New England “GUY! Really?” I say go harder, faster, stronger, and angrier at the roads. Go right up the gut. That’s what the cars are doing and that is what is safest for you. Do you think it is easier to see a cyclist who is sitting back passively in your blind spot or one who is in the middle of the lane keeping up with traffic? No brainer. Get in there. City riding is not about making exceptions but eliminating exceptions. As cyclists we are able to travel as fast as cars; one of the major reasons we ride. We should use this to our advantage for safety reasons. If the idiot from the beginning of this piece had been in the road he would have been seen by the pickup. Instead he was riding in the crosswalk and crossing as a pedestrian, waiting to get crushed by a Silverado. Cyclists should ride like cars to prevent being hit by one.
As a student in culinary school I sat in an Irish pub in the Hudson Valley and asked the bartender, a former Florida biker, about his days on the road .
“How many times did you lay your bike down?” I asked as I swilled a toxic tap beer at Patty’s.
“Never” he said.
“I rode every day sober and like no one could see me. Because of that I never had an accident in 15 years. I was always ready for whatever happened.” These are words to live by. Literally.
How many times have you been driving and been surprised by a motorcycle, bike, or pedestrian in one of your corners? We all have, even those of us who depend on drivers to look for us when we are riding. If two wheel travelers remember that, they will be ready to react to whatever comes up. Your attention is already heightened from the energy of the ride, use it to your advantage for safety reasons. Then there is the matter of what you are wearing. Do you want to look cool? Reflect. You know what looks really stupid? Getting knocked out by some 20 something from New Hampshire who is cruising Boston, just ran you off the road, and as you argue about who is at fault you insult his girlfriend and he and his friends pound your face. Just put on a vest and use lights so you don’t have to meet this asshole. And use real lights that people can see you, not those silly little things that all the hipsters use, including the guy who almost met his maker on the Jamaicaway. Hipster cyclists are a lesson in natural selection.
Rules of the road are there to save your life, nothing new there. But for some reason some city cyclists seems to think that they don’t apply to them. Exception- We don’t ride our bikes to sit at a red light. We do it to get there faster, fitter, and cooler. I’m talking about stopping at a red light looking both ways, and then going through. Run that fucking light! But for your own sake, stop and look both ways and if anyone has to slow down to keep from hitting you, DON’T DO IT, IDIOT!. What makes you think that there is a sunbeam shining on you, and you alone, which will protect you from a car driving through a green light? Well, there's not. Yet I see bikers blowing through lights without caution on a daily basis. Natural selection again. I don’t care about the idiot who does it, but someone is going to have to deal with the memory of crushing your skull with their bumper. They deserve better. Use and adhere to the rules of the road, they are there for the protection of everyone.
The most important laws that have carried me safely on a bicycle in this fantastic city for 14 years are the laws of physics. I have always protected myself by thinking about how badly a car could fuck me up if it hit me. Not to mention a truck, redneck, or train. If I step on a soda can it is the same amount of force of a car hitting a bike and a train hitting a car. Physics. You lose. I work out and feel strong, but a ton of good old fashioned American steel against my dainty Italian Bianchi and skeletal system is not a fair match up, even if we are both traveling at 20 miles an hour. A few eye-opening applications of physics for cyclists.
Do you race trains at crossings with the bars down?
Helmets, really? Are we still having this discussion? Toss a cantaloupe against the curb and see what happens.
If you have trouble walking a straight line after some drinks, what makes you think you can ride a balance driven vehicle?
Go to the thrift store and buy a beater bike. Stand it up on the road. Drive down the street and hit it at 20 miles per hour. See what the steel looks like. Then fill a milk jug with water, red food coloring, and twigs. Repeat.
I am writing this for one reason only, to help more people ride, and ride safely, in this city. It is the most important environmental decision that the average citizen can make for themselves and society. Every single person I have known who has left their car and started riding to work lost weight, gained a heightened sense of self purpose, and has had a lot more and better sex. Convinced? To ride safely in the city is a constant struggle, but one that is worth it. We cannot wait for the city to improve the roads, enforce traffic rules for cyclists, or convince the aggressive drivers of Boston to relax. We must step up to the challenge and educate ourselves. Self-protection (the basic principles of riding like a car), consciously obeying traffic laws and respecting the laws of physics will make us safer as a whole. When it comes to dangers posed to cyclists on Boston’s streets we have no-one but ourselves to blame, and more importantly to protect.