The Helmet Diaries – A How-To of Riding A Bike in Chicago for the Criminally Uncoordinated

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It’s true.  Somehow,  against all rhyme,  reason,  and gravity,  yours truly has been commuting via bicycle for nearly six weeks. To date,  I haven’t fallen, (other than that one time while standing still in my driveway,) gotten flipped off,  (other than that one cabbie but he was a dick anyway,) hit a pedestrian, (close call with a stupid girl in high heels holding an umbrella,  ipod, and cell phone in the middle of the street but she was a dick too,) or caused an accident,  (that I know of.) SUCCESS!!

If you live in Chicago,  you are likely firmly in one camp; pro-bike or anti – bike. As someone who started strong on one side and migrated to the other,  I find myself in the unenviable position of playing devil’s advocate on both sides of an argument.   Which,  incidentally, is the fastest way to lose credibility. I always end up apologizing for the way I ride a bike AND drive a car and kind of lose momentum.

So,  Chicago, I’ve come up with a list of rules for all of us that should make everyone’s commute safer and less anxiety-ridden in the hopes we can all make it to work safely in one piece and not shouting obscenities at each other.  Let me know what you think.

For The Bikers

*Follow the rules of the road. I’m not saying you can’t ever coast through a stop sign at an empty intersection,  but stop at red lights.  Look both ways.
*Yelling “bike lane,  mother fucker!” at unsuspecting motorists garners you no favorable points,  nor does it help your cause.
*If you are a hipster on a skinny bike wearing an ironic t-shirt, understand you are already a target.  Listening to your ipod whilst cutting off traffic makes you more of one.
*If you are a seasoned bicyclist and notice a chubby girl struggling up a hill,  there is no need to ring your little bell and yell in your best booming outside voice,  “LEFT LEFT LEFT!!” as you literally zoom by.  She is moving at the literal pace of a turtle and loud noises shall only serve to frighten and startle her into turning the handlebars left.  A simple “on your left”  at a reasonable decibel will suffice.  (This one may or may not be personal.)
*Right or wrong,  a bus is always more powerful than your bicycle,  regardless of how much of a dick the driver is.  You can be as self – righteous and pissed off as you want,  but it is still going to hurt when you are plastered to the windshield of the number 66.

For The Drivers

I do understand. You hate the bicyclists.  They get in your way,  block the street,  ignore the signs,  and are usually going a lot faster than you are.  That being said, here’s a few tips from those of us law – abiding riders.
*Please,  please,  for the love of baby Jesus and everything holy,  glance in your rear view mirror before opening your door on a busy street.  Just a glance. No biggie. If there is someone careening towards you close enough you can see the whites of their terrified eyes,  just hold off a sec,  wouldja?
*Same goes for pulling into traffic.  A quick look over your shoulder will tell you if you are going to completely ruin someone’s day by forcing them to split second decide whether it will hurt less to hit your car, swerve into oncoming  traffic, or flip over their handlebars when they grab the brakes. My heart is already pounding from struggling up that fucking hill,  it can’t handle surprises.
*Honking your horn at an unsuspecting bicyclist apropos of nothing as you pull up right next them is simply being a jackass.
*Same goes with cat calling out your window.  Look,  I’ve seen what I look like wearing my bike helmet. I realize you are mocking me and it simply makes me want to “accidentally” scrape against your car.
*Those aforementioned bike lanes? Actually are there for the bike riders and not for you to park for a quick thirty minutes. Know that by blocking it,  you are forcing an unsuspecting rider directly into traffic where one of your fellow drivers is waiting for a reasonable excuse to hit them.

For The Pedestrians
*Much in the same way the bus is always more powerful than a bicycle,  a moving bicycle will always do more damage to you than your flip flops will do to it.  Fair or not,  if a rider is heading right towards you,  simply step aside. Sometimes,  the rider is me and may have lost control.
*Next time you are out walking with your ear buds in while talking  on the phone and sipping your latte,  pay attention to how much you walk like a drunk trying to walk a straight line.  I bet you think you walk straight.  You don’t. I promise.
*If you are crossing the street against the light whilst staring directly into space,  I might say I’m sorry after I crash into you,  but I won’t mean it.
*There is a reason every mother,  teacher,  and babysitter always drilled “Look both ways before crossing the street,” in your head.  It’s because of bicycles. Look right then left then right. I promise,  you won’t be able to miss me heading towards you.  My helmet is purple.

All of that being said,  the bike riders have the most responsibility to be super aware of their surroundings. My hope is that these rules,  written by a law – abiding,  if somewhat clumsy,  bike rider,  will give some perspective.

Can’t we all just get along?

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Posted on 07/30/2013, in Chicago, general stupidity, life in general and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Interesting that as a biker, you expect both cars and people to look out for you. If the bigger, more dangerous cars should look out for the bikers, shouldn’t bikers likewise look out for pedestrians?

    While, in a perfect world, I’d like everyone to look out for each other on the roads we share, I expect neither. I pretend everyone can’t see me, I’m in their blind spot or they are talking with someone fascinating on their cell phone. Usually it keeps me out of trouble.

    Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoy yelling out ‘heads up’ to clueless pedestrians. 🙂

    • Oh absolutely – like I said, I think the person on the bike has the most responsibility to look out for themselves and pedestrians. I just think all three groups tend to only pay attention to what they’re doing! Myself included 🙂 one can hope though…

  2. funny stuff

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