The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: The Wurst of Times

(...unless they hit you first.)

In the 1850s, before the pennyfarthing was a lopsided glint in James Starley's eye, Charles Dickens wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Then, in 1991, the group Black Sheep came along and rapped, "You can get with this, or you can get with that..." While Dickens and Black Sheep were separated by about 140 years (as well as by Dickens's glaring lack of DJ accompaniment), the message has not changed: we live in a world of extremes. At any given moment in history, the spectrum of human experience and endeavor ranges from the sublime to the repulsive, and from altruism to malice. Where we place ourselves on this spectrum depends equally on our choices and our circumstances--we can live lives of beauty or of misery, or we can avoid both and live in that mushy, tasteless, and odorless middle area known as "meh."

Our own moment of history is no exception, and it's certainly both the best of times and the worst of times for cyclists. I was recently traveling upon the Great Hipster Silk Route (the hipsters and Hassidim are now bartering with each other, and I was on my way to help negotiate a complex body jewelry/kasha varnishkes trade) when I noticed that a vast new lime green bike lane is underway on Kent Avenue, where until recently muffin top-related skirmishes were erupting with disturbing frequency:

Moreover, while Kent Avenue was formerly a two-way street for motor vehicles, it is now a one-way street. However, the bike lane is bi-directional, which I interpret as a preemptive strike against bike salmon. Also, if you're familiar with the area, you'll note that the bike lane is on the unpopulated side of the street, presumably to best shield the pious local residents from the constant procession of visible ass cracks and worn-v-neck-and-messenger-bag-strap-induced nipple-slips.

However, while this may herald a new era of peace and understanding, I fear for the future of the bike lane itself, since I'm sure it will soon be riddled with skid marks. Or will it? Perhaps the white tire trend is actually motivated by courteousness, and hipsters are simply palping them on their brakeless bikes in order to keep the new bike lanes looking clean and fresh. (They almost certainly learned this at their parents' country clubs, where they were not allowed to wear sneakers with black soles on the tennis court. I suspect they formed their eating habits there too--I recently witnessed a hipster asking for "balsamic" at a greasy spoon.) Still, it still doesn't explain their grips:

They look like a cross between Shrek's ears and the Cat in the Hat's hat.

But while more bike lanes can mean better urban cycling, so far it really only helps if you can afford to live in "Hipster Zone 1," which is where all the bike lane innovation is currently taking place. Basically, it's the best of times for hipsters, but the worst of times for everyone else:

And even in Hipster Zone 1, these improvements cause as much acrimony as they do celebration. Take this recent Craigslist post:

Every single one of you on the bike/foot path - 27 (Williamsburg Bridge)
Date: 2009-09-13, 6:29PM EDT

For those of you observing rules, common sense and courtesy, thank you.

The rest of you, however, can get fucked.

I can't be bothered to count, but there are dozens of painted stencils in each lane the length of the bridge outlining which way and in which lane pedestrians and cyclists are to travel. Please do not yell "fag" at me when I try to get around 11 of your teenage asses flanking the bridge. If you cannot see what is coming up behind you, perhaps walking on the other side will offer you a safer and more pleasurable bridge crossing.

If you and your friends are too tired to ride over the bridge, no problem. Walking side by side with your bikes takes up the majority of the road.. This is rude. Single file!

Every cyclist that makes a point to dart directly in front of me when passing, kissing my front wheel and looking back angrily, please next time just slow next to me and let me know you'd like to be punched in the face, so I don't have to catch up with you at the bottom to do it.

Bike "punxxx" who need to stop riding to have a beer and fifteen cigarettes and choose to do so in places that aren't the middle or bottom of the bridge are also on my list.

I'm as for courteous cycling as I am against homophobic epithets. That said, even I have to admit that it is every teenager's responsibility to goad and antagonize any responsible adult who admonishes them outside of a school or other bastion of authority. Expecting teenagers to follow pedestrian rules is like leaving a steak on the floor and expecting your dog not to eat it. That's what they do--it's simply the way of the world. Also, it's important to remember that sometimes passing is necessary, like when you encounter a rider with two fully loaded panniers:

You might even find yourself stuck behind someone towing a canoe, as I recently saw on my new favorite website, Xtracycle Gallery. (It's like Fixedgeargallery, except with twice the smugness and like ten times the hauling capacity.):

That said, there's a nice way to pass people and there's a rude way to pass people, and as for the aggressive wheel-choppers if they're adults they have no excuse--though it is possible they read this piece in the current issue of Bicycling magazine:

As both a writer with a monthly column in Bicycling and a bicycle commuter I must say I was troubled by this advice. There's enough ridiculous commuter behavior out there as it is in the form of shoaling, red light trackstanding, and general obliviousness. The last thing these people should be doing is adding traffic light sprints and mid-block "bursts" to their routines--which is to say nothing of doing one-legged drills. As amusing as it would be to see some guy on a hybrid sticking one khaki-clad leg and wingtip-shod foot out while pedaling frantically with the other, I don't want to be anywhere near him when he falls, nor do I want to be the one forced to fashion a tourniquet from his braided leather belt in order to stanch the bleeding of the pedestrian he's just flattened during another "midblock burst." I especially love the following bit of advice: "When the light turns green, blow off the line with intense energy." That's a great way to get killed by a driver who's mistimed a yellow light run. All that would be left would be your Nitto bars and your deerstalker hat:

Fortunately, though, not everybody wants to take part in rush-hour training or competition. For example, when it comes to being challenged, this rider simply says, "Frame me out:"

Actually, I'm not sure his "Frame me out" t-shirt means "Don't challenge me," or if he simply wants to be framed out of any photographs, in which case I'm sorry not to have obliged. Or maybe "Frame me out" is simply another way of saying, "Do not put anything in my flower box."

But while overly aggressive bicycle commuters can be irritating, slow-moving bicycles can sometimes be just as annoying. And there's no bicycle slower than one that's still in the box, like these which I encountered this morning as they were being unloaded from a truck in front of a bike shop and placed right in the middle of the bike lane:

If I were Danny MacAskill I might have relished the opportunity to bunnyhop the formidable Wall of Specialized, but since I'm not it just made me cranky. And no sooner had I circumvented this obstruction than I found myself inhaling the filthy two-stroke exhaust from this idiotic moped:

I've been seeing increasing numbers of mopeds on the streets of New York City. Judging from the Chrome bag and general mode of dress, I suspect this may represent the next evolutionary stage of hipster mobility. Sadly, it's not one that's fast or large enough to keep them out of our bike lanes and out of our way; instead, they're still there, only their bikes are just louder and smellier. I wonder if any of them go brakeless. Personally, I don't understand why people sacrifice both the efficiency of a bicycle and the power of a motorcycle by riding things like mopeds, much in the same way I don't understand why this man sacrifices both the minimalism of a flip-flop and the full coverage of a shoe with his stomach-turning choice of "mandal:"

Clearly, he wanted to get with this and with that, and clearly it's the worst of times for shoes.
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