Thursday, July 7, 2016

ON YOUR LEFT: A Road Cyclist's Introduction to Being The Change You Want to See on the Crescent Trail

A police officer stops a drunk man on the street. 
Officer: How are you doing this evening, sir? 
Drunk: Officer, I think somebody stole my car. 
Officer: Where did you last see it? 
Drunk: Right at the end of this key. 
Officer: Alright, buddy, why don't you just call a cab. And zip up your fly while you're at it.
Drunk: Ah, man, they got my girl too!
--Townes Van Zandt, as told on Live at the Old Quarter

I was driving my wife and new daughter home from the hospital and I saw a car plow into a cyclist--a teenager with the kind of cocky, carefree look on his face that riding the wrong way through traffic gives you. You're a god when you get away with that stuff. But he turned right into the hood of  VW Golf on 11th in Columbia Heights and went flying and didn't get up.

"Oh, shit!" I shouted, my own recalled broken bones and impact on hot pavement coming back to me.

No helmet, but it looked like, at worst a few broken bones. My hope--the hope of old men--was that he'd heal up soon and go riding, but with a bit more awareness and maybe a helmet.

Lately I have had the urge to ride the ugliest, worst bike in DC: my Diamondback 9-speed with barely attached rack and fenders. I have nicer bikes. I just feel like riding my crappiest bike. Sometimes I fill my pannier, which I barely bother to conjoin the precarious rack, with various odds and ends that are prone to rattle when I hammer down the Crescent Trail.

When I first started this, soon after the birth of my daughter, I didn't know that requirement of Path Law that requires the making of a noise when passing.

I had assumed the rattling of my Diamondback Shitkicker (TM) alerted all pathletes within significant earshot of my approach.

But the first few passes led to complaints. I couldn't hear what the complaints were exactly over the jangling of my trusty Shitkicker, but the tone--I have a good ear for detecting discontent of middle aged folks, and I could something was wrong. Perhaps they were on Bluetooth and the discontent was not directed at me. Or maybe they were given a fright by the hullabaloo of the Mason jars of pennies and Bolivian bell-festooned leggings in the Shitkicker's stowage.

And so I passed by, with shouts of "HEYY [inarticulate]" and shrugged. The noise really was tremendous. It felt good. The sound of it was the sound of a world of thousands of clangy, nearly insignificant, poorly lubed, overly worn components that screamed DANGER! DEATH BY POOR MAINTENANCE AND NEGLECT AND ZIPTIES AND BUNGIES REPLACING HARDWARE. Everything working, but everything from hub to crank to chain to headset to seatpost to pedals on last, last legs.

So I ramped it up to 25mph (I'm guessing, because the Shitkicker is a pure soul rider, lacking instruments to measure its speed or Watts or cadence) and let the jangling soar into the tree tops and set the geese aflight on the canal and the lazy, totally unfaze-able deer to lift a foreleg and an eyebrow.

Somehow, above the sound of a few hundred tiny jackhammers, as I was passing her, a MAGIT (middle aged grandma in tights) managed to articulate, quite clearly, "On this trail, it's customary to let us know when passing."

Ah. OK. So I guess the Shitkicker's armada of annoyance didn't count. I had to go buy a bell or shout "ON YOUR LEFT, MAGIT."

So that's what I do now. I shout "ON YOUR LEFT", on average, 23 times over my 16 mile daily commute.

It gets old. But it is something I guess you are willing to do when you have been on the ground from your own mistakes on the bike, and because you are willing to accept norms because you recognize norms keep us from the world becoming a vast Diamondback Shitkicker (TM)

So that's what I do. For my daughter, you know.

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