The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: The Power of One

In life, some people are "ahead of the curve." Others just wish they were "ahead of the curve," and in their attempts to be that way they wind up "jumping the gun" and failing spectacularly. I belong in the latter category. For example, I was the first person on my block to get a Zune, and as soon as I did I threw my iPod in the Gowanus. Also, thinking eyelid tattoos would become the new knuckle tattoos I got a pair of eyeballs tattooed there, and now flight attendants keep bothering me on planes while I'm napping because they think I'm awake. And most recently, I've been declaring the whole "fixie" thing dead, when in reality it is still very much alive.

Not only that, but it's also continuing to poison society and turn the entire world against us.

I realized this recently when I was riding in Manhattan during rush hour in one of our fancy new bike lanes. Next to me, pointedly not using the bike lane, was a Nü-Fred on a shiny Pista. Generally, you can tell a Nü-Fred not only by the shininess of his Pista, but also by the fit of his clothes and bags.

See, when "urban cyclists" first get started, they wear clothes that are somewhat baggy, and they let their brand-new messenger bags hang low with a bit of slack in the strap. Over time, though, the clothes get tighter, the bag straps get cinched up, and within six months to a year they're wearing skin-tight pants, form-fitting shirts, and wear their empty messenger bags "slammed" right up against the backs of their heads like reverse dickeys. Essentially, these sorts of people look like they've been through the dryer one too many times, and everything appears faded and shrunk. This particular rider, on the other hand, had not yet seen his first laundry cycle, and it wouldn't have surprised me to see Old Navy tags still on his clothes.

Anyway, I don't have a problem with people who choose not to use the bike lane, or who ride Pistas, or who shop at Old Navy for that matter. However, what this Nü-Fred was also doing was running all the lights, and this being rush hour it meant that the crosswalks were pretty crowded. I made no attempt to keep up with him, but I kept him in my sights for awhile, during which I probably watched him ride against the light through three or four crosswalks. Furthermore, at each of these crosswalks, I'd estimate that at least five pedestrians looked at him like they wished he'd get run over by a truck--and this wasn't even in the most crowded part of town.

Basically then, a single hapless Nü-Fred (though I suppose calling a Nü-Fred "hapless" is redundant, since the haplessness is implied) has the power to turn five New Yorkers against cyclists every single block. This means that, in the course of a 20 block journey during peak hours, one (1) Nü-Fred will make one hundred (100) New Yorkers hate cyclists. (If you'd like, we can refer to this 20-block 100-person figure as one (1) "Nü-Fred Bike Hate Unit," or NFBHU.)

Of course, it's impossible to say with any certainty how many Nü-Freds there are in New York (at least without subpoenaing Bianchi, Specialized, and Felt and forcing them to disclose their regional "urban fixie" sales records). What we can determine though is how many NFBHUs it would take to turn each one of New York City's eight million people against cyclists, and the answer is this:

80,000 NFBUs.

Really, if you think about it, that''s not all that much. All it would take to would be for some evil anti-bike mastermind to unleash 80,000 Nü-Freds on the streets of New York and in a single weekday morning the entire populace would turn against us. By week's end, bicycles would probably be illegal, they'd turn the bike lanes into free car parking, and without cyclists to preoccupy them the police would then be free to focus the entirety of their efforts on beating Occupy Wall Street protesters, harassing food trucks, and insulting the poor while they defend their right to break the law.

And by the same token MetroCard, with 6,200 people a day riding bikes over the Williamsburg Bridge, I don't think it's unrealistic at all to say that at least half of them are probably Nü-Freds. That means 3,100 people on bikes a day are probably pissing other people the fuck off. Actually, they're pissing 310,000 people the fuck off, according to my own crackpot NFBHU formula.

I realize at this point that I've typed a lot of words without including a single picture, so in an effort to make up for this editorial oversight I present you with the following:

I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Of course, we have to keep any mass Nü-Fred indictment in perspective. For example, in the past 24 hours I was nearly "right-hooked" (or, technically, "left-hooked" given the peculiarities of New York City traffic patters) by at least three drivers, and of these three drivers at least one of them looked at me as he did it as if to say, "Yeah? And what are you going to do about it?"

These weren't the sorts of "right hooks" that result from trying to beat cars through the intersection. These were simply people flooring the accelerator to pass me and then turning sharply in front of me. All too often, this sort of thing results in death, and as we all know, when it does the police are disinclined to do anything about it.

On the other hand, even if the evil bike-hating mastermind were to unleash 80,000 Nü-Freds upon the unsuspecting populace of New York City, while they'd make the entire population hate cycling, they'd be highly unlikely to actually kill anybody. Bad cyclists are mostly just annoying, but bad drivers are deadly.

From all of this, I can only draw one conclusion, which is that New Yorkers have zero tolerance for annoyance, but they're perfectly fine with death.

Anyway, as I crossed the Manhattan Bridge, I found that I was "commuter salmoning" in that I was leaving Manhattan while everybody else was heading into town. Cyclist after cyclist streamed past me. I saw a number "fixies," and I saw a number the fixed-gear's heir apparent, the cyclocross bike. But I also saw folding bikes, and old three speeds, and beat-up mountain bikes, and cobbled-together pieces of junk, and all the rest of it. They were piloted by men and women, young and old. It was, to be sure, a pleasing sight, though I couldn't help noticing something amusing:

Of all of these riders on this fair and sunny day, it was only the ones on fixed-gears who had their necks and faces bundled up with designer bike scarves like it was 20 degrees.

I also made a point to give a friendly wave to the "Pedestrian Safety Managers"--or at least I would have if they weren't all so busy with their cellphones. I suppose that would account for the presence of pedestrians on the bike side of the bridge.

As for "helments," I didn't notice who wore them and who didn't.

I only noticed when people opted to put them on places other than their heads.
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