Road Rage

Mixing Might, Right, and Wrong
By Patrick O'Grady
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Wrecked bicycle
Wrecked bicycle (iStockphoto)

An Invitation to Mayhem
A cyclist on an American road is like a skinny kid shuffling into the exercise yard on his first day in the penitentiary. Everyone is a whole lot bigger than he is, nobody's happy to be there, and shaved legs suddenly seem like a really bad idea.

Today's roads are prisons to which Americans have sentenced themselves for gambling more than they can afford to lose on the internal combustion engine. Overcrowded and underpoliced, the smogbound streets are an invitation to mayhem. And there is a widespread feeling among motorists that when automobiles and bicycles face off, it is the cyclist who should assume the position. Yo, big legs, you gonna be bunkin' with Dodge, you gonna be givin' it up.

Many cyclists taunt these already edgy drivers by prancing around bitchily in traffic, as though by relying on our shapely legs for locomotion, we are exempt from rule and regulation. Then we're shocked and outraged when some berserker in his behemoth takes it upon himself to enforce an unwritten code—the law of the jungle—where might equals right.

Who's Right (of Way)
Vehicles are growing larger for a reason: Corporations expect us to be living in them. More and more, our crumbling arterials are clogged with harried drones trundling about from office to mall to school to soccer practice. And so autos now must come equipped with drive-through windows into the consumer fun house, from onboard TV and hands-free cell phones to e-mail and Web browsers. With an ever-larger number of customers sentenced to Traffic Jam without Parole, Big Business wants to remain firmly in the driver's seat.

These electronic distractions, however, will do little to dispel the rising anger fueled by workdays that seem to blur one into another without respite, suburban assault vehicles that cost more than the small home one rarely sees, and gasoline that's growing pricier than a big Cabernet.

And suddenly, there you are, riding three abreast on a jam-packed two-lane, treating stop signs as suggestions, and weaving in and out of traffic as if that Lycra jersey had a big red "S" and cape attached. The vehicular equivalent of Pee Wee Herman flipping the middle digit to Mike Tyson, and having fun doing it, too. Not a good idea.

Keep the Easy Finger in Check
Just ask James Bray, if you're handy with a Ouija board. The 32-year-old cyclist was shot to death May 5, 2000, in Denver during a traffic dispute with a motorist. According to witnesses, James Hall's pickup truck cut Bray off, the two exchanged words, and Hall shot Bray once in the chest with a .25-caliber handgun.

Why scratch the itch on someone's trigger finger by riding like a fool? Cycle with the same courtesy and respect for traffic laws that you demand from motorists, leave enforcement to the police, and don't expect the latest gas crisis to bring you an early parole until Texaco starts hiring sommeliers to present its 87 Octane Private Reserve.

Writer and cartoonist Patrick O'Grady is a contributing editor to VeloNews and Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, and has freelanced screeds, scribbles, and the occasional piece of straight journalism to the likes of Bike, Outside, Inside Triathlon, and Dirt Rag. An unhealthy fascination with the obscure led the 46-year-old lactic-acid addict from freestyle swimming events through road and mountain-bike racing to cyclo-cross; in 1999, he won the Masters 45+ competition in the Colorado Cyclo-cross Series. In 1996, O'Grady helped edit the second edition of Cyclo-cross, Simon Burney's classic how-to work on the discipline. His own book, a collection of cartoons titled The Season Starts When? was published in 1999 by VeloPress.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 16 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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