City Cycling: How to Survive the Network of Stupidity

June 9, 2016

Here’s the thing: cycling is, hands-down, a great way to get around the city. It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s fun, it’s exercise, it’s challenging, it’s liberating. But on the flip side of that coin, it’s also a great way to immerse yourself within – what I like to call – the Network of Stupidity. Yep, that’s right, I said it: road users are idiots. And that includes cyclists.

Maybe you’re thinking, “But surely not all motorists?” or even, “But cyclists don’t pose any danger to cars?”

That may very well be true. But frankly, I don’t care. While I like to think of myself as an open-minded, non black-and-white thinker in the real world, when cycling in the Network of Stupidity, generalizing is safer. It’s safer to assume that all road users – from cyclists to motorists – are stupid idiots who don’t care about anyone but themselves.

Here’s how it works.

How to Not Die While Cycling through the Network of Stupidity*

Choose to never be surprised by the stupidity of motorists and cyclists alike.

Never be surprised that the motorist turns right without checking her shoulder. Never be surprised that the car door swings open directly in your path. Never be surprised that the guy cycling behind you squeezes past you without giving a heads up.

Because it will happen. It isn’t that it might happen, it will.

So choose not to be surprised when it does. Always be ready. Scan the horizon like it’s full of hazards – because it is full of hazards. Is the car ahead of you turning right? Hold back and be ready for when he cuts you off. Are you cycling past parked cars on a busy street? Slow down and be ready for when that door comes flying open. Is there a cyclist bullying you from behind? Take up that whole bike lane so she has to ding her bell while cycling past you.

If you cycle in a way that minimizes – as much as possible – situations where you’ll be surprised, you’ll automatically be safer.

Make choices wisely when they are based on your “rights” as a cyclist.

Yes, you have a legal right to take up an entire lane of traffic with your bike. And yes, in Ontario vehicles are now legally required to pass a cyclist at a distance of at least one metre. But when a mom driving an SUV gets it in her head that you are what’s causing her to be 20 seconds late for picking up her snotty kids at soccer practice, the laws don’t mean much.

While I do follow the road rules, I don’t always make choices out there because the law tells me it’s my right to do so. At the end of the day, rights are just things written on paper. While cycling, sometimes you have to rely on your good ol’ common sense above all else.

All motorists are late for a job they hate.

Or at least, I pretend they are. It’s actually quite funny imagining this. Just the other day, while I was cycling along a narrow residential side street lined with parked cars, a bully of a BMW pulled up behind me as close as possible to demonstrate how badly he needed to get to the next red light. He even gave me a get-out-of-my-way toot. I knew that he was going to do whatever it took to get around me, and I could have responded by shaking my fist and blocking him.

Instead I started laughing, I pulled over and I let him pass.

Sure, it might seem like I just “gave up.” But I don’t see it that way. I see it as a way of removing myself from his I-hate-my-life-and-job mindset. People are miserable in their cars: they are trapped in a box of misery, squeezing that steering wheel like it’s the neck of their boss.

But on my bike, I am free. I’m getting exercise. I can feel the sun on my face. By pretending that all motorists are late for a job they hate, you can remove yourself from situations where their misery tries to not only mess up your day, but also your body.

And Don’t Be a Dick, Either

Both motorists and cyclists can both be completely unreasonable. Of course we all know that nobody wants to hurt anyone else out there, and there are plenty of road users who make an effort to be considerate.

I once saw a cab dropping off a passenger into the bike lane on College St. This can be very dangerous (I was doored this way myself). However, in this case there was only one cyclist over a block away, and the door was very clearly open into the bike lane. Still, as the cyclist approached the cab while the passenger struggled to climb out with her suitcase, he started screaming and yelling obscenities at the passenger and the driver.

He was being a dick.

When you see a motorist being considerate, send them a little “Thank You” wave. Show them that you’re not their enemy, you’re just trying to get where you’re going in one piece. Even idiots in the Network of Stupidity appreciate a little recognition wave when they do the right thing. And besides, they all hate their jobs, so it’s the least you can do for them. 🙂

In spite of everything you do to remain safe, the unfortunate reality of cycling in the city is that there are no guarantees. You need to have as many strategies as possible in your tool belt. And while you’ll never be able to control the actions of motorists or your fellow cyclists, there is one thing you will always have control over while you’re cycling through the Network of Stupidity:

You can always control how you respond to it.

*Stay safe out there, friends! Please note that I an not a cycling expert, nor do I have any cycling safety certifications. All opinions and suggestions are solely my own.

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