Power Struggle: Sucking, and Sucking it Up

While bicycles and motor vehicles can often run afoul of each other with disastrous consequences, the issue of bicycles and pedestrians can be no less contentious. This is especially true in big cities like New York, where cyclists and pedestrians often follow their own interpretations of street signs and laws. In fact, this past weekend, the New York Times published an op-ed piece by Robert Sullivan about the problem of cyclist-pedestrian intermingling on the Brooklyn Bridge:

As you may be aware, there is a genteel, non-competitive cycling conspiracy (GNCCC) afoot (or awheel) in New York City, and to a certain extent Robert Sullivan is its literary voice, giving it ready access to media outlets such as the Times. Furthermore, David Byrne is the conspiracy's celebrity spokesperson because his rock star status appeals to the youth (in the context of the GNCCC, the "youth" means people 55 and under), and the Dutch city bike is its de facto symbol and totem. While ostensibly the GNCCC is pro-cycling and works in our favor, there runs beneath it a sinister undercurrent of elitism, strange helmets, and pro-Dutch propaganda.

Robert Sullivan is also the father of "schluffing" (or "dorklocross") which is a means of propelling your bicycle demurely on the sidewalk:

In any case, it's true that the Brooklyn Bridge is full of tourists who often step into the bike lane and in front of cyclists, which can lead to tragic Giuseppe Guerini scenarios. This is extremely frustrating for everybody involved. As such, I read Sullivan's op-ed with interest. Fortunately, he did not advocate "schluffing" across the bridge, though he did take the opportunity to admonish faster cyclists:

On the other side of the line are two kinds of bicyclists, most pedaling peacefully, a few confusing bike commuting with driving rocket cars on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

While we've all encountered the overzealous commuter, this sort of finger-wagging (which is not to be confused with fingerbanging) is also typical of members of the GNCCC, to whom a reckless cyclist is anybody who rides faster than 10mph, or whose bars are not higher than his saddle, or who has the temerity to cycle without essential safety gear such as flat pedals, a tweed blazer, or a baguette. Also, I'm not sure why Sullivan finds himself beset by rocket cars, unless he keeps encountering faired recumbents.

Despite this, I found myself agreeing with the essential point of Sullivan's piece:

Thus, I present the following condition. Yes, ban bicycles on the Brooklyn Bridge walkway, but allow them on the roadways, where they are now not permitted, by creating physically protected bike lanes.

This makes good sense to me. The Brooklyn Bridge is a major tourist attraction, and as such it must be readily accessible to tourists. Furthermore, an essential component of being a tourist is wandering about oblivious and agog, like a teenager in a strip club. This sort of behavior is just not conducive to sharing space with cyclists, who for the most part are simply concerned with getting someplace. So by all means, give the pretty part of the bridge with the view to the tourists, and give a portion of the roadway to cyclists, so that each can use the bridge for their preferred purpose unmolested.

Unfortunately, shortly after this, like an overeager fingerbanger who attempts to employ an additional digit Sullivan goes too far:

If we bicyclists cede the Brooklyn Bridge walkway, then it might be a step toward winning the public’s respect. Then, just maybe, pedestrians would call a truce and recognize that their real enemy is the car, that bikers are like pedestrians in that they are just trying to get to work without the use of a gurney.

Cycling's enemy is not the car; it is the idiot. And idiots travel by foot, car, and bicycle. If anything, the bicycle has more in common with the car than it does with the pedestrian, since the bicycle is a vehicle too. Really, the problem is that too many people don't consider bicycles vehicles (which is why they tell us to "Get on the sidewalk!"), coupled with the fact that too many cyclists don't ride like they're operating vehicles in the first place. Also, try telling a pedestrian who's been hit by a cyclist that his real enemy is the car. If we start equating cycling with pedestrianism instead of vehicle use then before you know it we'll all be "schluffing." Anyway, everybody knows the enemy of the cyclist and the pedestrian is not the car; it's the Rollerblader:

When it comes to sharing our roadways, the most important thing is to retain our humanity by respecting our fellow humans. And you are a human, whether you're using a vehicle or you're on foot. However, I believe that the Rollerblader is exempt from this, since the very act of Rollerblading is a denial of humanity. Rollerblades are not vehicles; they are attempts to actually transform the body into something else. This is acceptable and necessary when you must venture into other environments that are inhospitable to human life. If you need to go underwater, you use flippers and a scuba tank. If you need to go into space, you wear a spacesuit. However, simply moving about outside does not require putting on shoes with wheels. When you do this, you're not a vehicle user, nor are you a pedestrian. Instead, you simply combine the most irritating elements of both and become a menace. Consider the act of Rollerblading:

The green arrows represent the Rollerblader's wingspan, which is considerable and far exceeds the width of even New York City's ample new bike lanes. Furthermore, the blue arrows represent the sweeping arc of the foot, and if you somehow manage to avoid being slapped in the face you still have to contend with a wayward skate. Meanwhile, while the black line represents the ostensible direction of the skater, the red arrows depict the skater's actual motion as he propels himself forward. Of course, "Rollerblade" is actually a brand, and what many of us call "Rollerblading" is actually inline skating. (Just like cycling is not "Schwinning.") However, while the wheels on the skates may be in line, there's little that's linear about the actual skater, who extends along all axes like a windmilling kindergardener or the frills of a Giant Koosh Ball of Death. In short, modifying the human body in this manner is only acceptable when it's essential for human survival. Otherwise, it's simply a selfish waste of public space.

Still, for the most part I did find myself agreeing with much of what Sullivan had to say in his op-ed, and I found that surprising--almost as surprising as Cadel Evans's World Championship win:

Despite my surprise, as a cycling fan I was very pleased to see Cadel finally go from whining to winning. Moreover, he didn't just win--he won in a decisive and impressive fashion. I only hope he manages to avoid the dreaded "curse of the rainbow jersey," and that those stripes don't complicate his life in the same way the Ring complicated things for his cousin Frodo.

Meanwhile, Interbike is finally over, and it turns out that the reason I didn't find any of the stuff I saw online exciting is that I don't have a proper appreciation for power meters:

While a power meter is certainly an important tool for a professional cyclist, the bulk of them are of course sold to amateurs who misinterpret their amateur status and poor results as signs that they need to spend a huge amount of money on a power meter when in fact their amateur status and poor results are actually the very reasons they don't need a power meter. If you're an amateur, buying a power meter to train is like hiring an accountant to tell you how broke you are or like buying an iPhone just to check your Cannondale stock. Yet amateurs not only buy power meters, but they think $1,000 for a power meter is actually cheap. Clearly then, I will make a fortune when I introduce my own power meter at next year's Interbike, since it will be the cheapest and most accurate one ever. Yes, for $5 you'll get an LCD display which constantly flashes the message, "You suck."

If that's not enough data for you and you crave downloadable information, simply plug your own license number into the USA Cycling website and analyze away.

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