ON BIKE CULTURE IN EUGENE | Fine blogging since 2010 (with periodic long breaks)
That was close. Closer than I care for. And I’m pretty sure it was my fault. I can’t blame the guy in the car, even though that’s what I wanted to do, especially the way he was laying on the horn like that. I could try to blame the long-haired guy on the mountain bike in front of me. But that would be scapegoating, too.
It was one of those brief mental lapses we all have — probably many times a day. A loss of concentration for second. A bad decision, lazily made. We do these things often, I think. But usually nothing serious is at stake. The moment passes. Nothing happens. You go on. But every now and then you have a lapse at an inopportune time.
Like the other day. I was rolling along Coburg Road at a decent clip. I was in the bike lane. The long-haired cyclist ahead of me was riding on the sidewalk. He was one of those guys who rides a mountain bike with a really low saddle and so he’s always out of the saddle, standing up while pedaling. I think this is to keep his hair from getting tangled in his derailleur.
He did one of those really exaggerated, dramatic bunny hops off the curb into the bike lane. So when he lands after dropping that 6 inches, it looks like he’s just made an amazing landing on the ground after riding his bike off the roof of a house.
But I shouldn’t make fun of him, because it turns out he was smarter than me.
He was far enough ahead of me that his power hop into the bike lane wasn’t a problem, maybe 20 yards ahead. Once he was in the bike lane, he wasn’t exactly riding a straight line, though. He was weaving side-to-side. I saw him look over his left shoulder once as he swerved over toward the white line delineating the separation between the bike lane and the car lane. It looked like he wanted to shoot across the street. There are four lanes of traffic here. Plus a turn lane in the center. But he veered back toward the curb. Then back out toward the white line. Then back the other way. It was a little erratic. Not to mention distracting.
I was coming up on him, now, and I knew there were some cars behind us. It should have given me a clue, too, that he apparently wanted to bolt across the street, but opted not to just yet. But I thought the first car was still a little ways back. I gave a quick, cursory look over my shoulder, the kind of thing a baseball pitcher does to check the runner on first base.
I didn’t take a good look.
This is taking a good look. Remember this?
I didn’t do that, but, hey, I thought, it’s just going to take a split second for me to go past the guy on the mountain bike. He was close to the curb at this point. So I started to pass. I was probably right on the white line. I thought I had plenty of room. I thought the car wouldn’t catch up to me until I had gone by the other cyclist.
But I wasn’t past him when I heard the horn blare. Not a beep-beep, certainly. A long, angry blast. And I wasn’t past him when the car whizzed past my left arm at 40 mph. It was the kind of close you can feel. The air pushes you a little. Which may not be especially close when you’re talking about a big square bus with the aerodynamics of a shipping container. But it is close when it’s a wind-tunnel-tested Toyota sedan. The passenger-side rearview mirror passed within a few inches of my arm.
Maybe this was the fixie gods getting back at me for making fun of the guy with the short-short bars, because, see, they really would have given me a little more breathing room on this occasion.
Honestly, though, I think it was gratuitous for the guy in the car to lean on the horn. There was nothing the horn was going to do to change the situation at that point. It wasn’t a warning to look or get out of the way. It was just his way of saying, “WTF?!!”
Which is what I’ve been saying to myself, too.
I’m sure he cursed all cyclists in general as he headed down the street. So keep an eye out for the nasty letter to the editor. My bad.
It’s so easy to generalize a specific incident. I sometimes think so much road rage is probably about someone’s momentary lapse. That person who just cut you off probably wasn’t a total idiot, but was — for a split second — distracted. Or lazy. Or, you know, sending a text.
Not that there’s any excuse for those things. And there wasn’t an excuse for my lapse. I usually try to be careful.
It’s had me feeling a little freaked out for a couple of days. And I think the reason for that is that it was my lapse. If it had been the driver’s fault, I would have gotten over it quicker. When you’re confronted with your own fallibility, it’s harder on your psyche.
I’m wondering, too, why I didn’t hear the car. I’m a real opponent of riding your bike in traffic while listening to an iPod. I think it’s important to be able to hear what’s going on around you. It’s not a substitute for taking a look, but it’s another sensory window on the world. But this, time, for some reason, I misjudged. And I don’t remember hearing a thing until I heard the horn.
Huh, you say, that’s all kinda serious sounding. Well, yeah, it was a bummer.
Speaking of bummers, bummer …
They even took the nuts and washers. Man, that’s low. You could leave a guy his nuts and washers.