There was hate in the cyclist’s eyes.
I was caught by traffic and blocking an intersection. Dumb move on my part; I should have been paying more attention. He was on a high-end road bike and in full kit—tall, skinny, powerful, and unshaven. I had blocked his turn. He yelled, “You Fucker!” and then slammed his fist on my hood as he slipped in front of me.
There was a moment when I moved to grab a flare from the side pocket, jump out of my 4Runner, and throw it at him. Sanity prevailed and I pulled through the intersection. What he did was totally uncalled for; a sociopathic overreaction to a traffic problem.
There are a few Boulder cyclists who are unfit for the human race. Every bike town has them. Due to some chemical, genetic defect, or bad socialization they act as if traffic laws, common sense behavior, and the unwritten rules of civil interaction don’t apply to them. They are self-involved anarchists whose words and actions endanger everyone on a bike.
Out in the flats north of Boulder I heard a car speeding behind me. Instinctively I moved to the right. Within a second the mirror of a white SUV blew by my shoulder, six inches away. The truck was close enough and going fast enough that his slipstream drove me further right. The driver was either not paying attention or trying to blow me off the highway. In either case, he had threatened my life. I yelled “ASSHOLE!” as loud as I could and flipped him off.
He turned into a side road 300 yards ahead and parked. He’d heard me.
My cycling partner yelled, “No Bear! Not worth it. He could have a gun.”
I crossed the highway and pulled up behind him, knowing that he’d have to get out of the car to be a threat.
“You are an ASSHOLE!” I needlessly reiterated. I could see arms flailing and the passenger wrestling with this guy. Maybe I’d gotten in the middle of a domestic, or maybe he’d gone for a gun and his wife was trying to stop him. I didn’t know. But somewhere in my small brain, the abandon ship klaxon was going off. I spun my bike and peddled off to rejoin my partner.
“You’re an idiot.”
“You could have gotten killed. Worse, you could have gotten me killed.”
Last night Blue Eyes was checking news websites before shutting down for the evening.
“Oh damn,” she said.
“A guy was killed by a semi on Valmont this morning.”
“Unclear, but apparently the he was caught under the real wheels of the truck.”
I rode out this morning and stopped at the white ghost bike. Here in Boulder County when someone is killed riding a bike, a white bike appears at the site the day after. Often family, friends, and total strangers leave flowers. After a week or so the bike disappears and is replaced by a bike wheel wired to nearby sign or post as a reminder. Sometimes flowers appear in these wheels. I think this is done all over the country, and if it isn’t, it should be.
I took off my helmet and sweat hat. I think I shook as I said a prayer for this guy. I’m not religious. I believe in rocks and trees and maybe some sort of a greater being (who is most likely female), but I had to say something. I think I said, “Sorry this happened to you. Goddam trucks.” Thus doing the poor cyclist no good at all and breaking the third commandment, all in one short prayer. I stared at the white bike for a while and involuntarily shook again. There are people I love who regularly ride bikes. This guy who was killed could have been anyone of them.
Vehicle cyclist contact results in one of two things: the cyclist is hurt or killed. The only protection we have is our vision, experience, and reaction time. But here are some ideas to curtail this carnage on the highway. Add your own ideas with a post.
Could we agree on a cycling code where we simply don’t react to provocation? Think Martin Luther King. No more yelling “Asshole” and flipping birds or pounding on hoods. It simply doesn’t get us anywhere. Remember, there are people out there who endanger cyclists just to see us react in anger.
Let’s not give a driver any reason to think we are arrogant or above the law. We are subject to the same traffic laws as drivers. Yeah, I know it’s easier to look both ways at a stop sign and blow through it, but let’s start unclipping. When we turn to look behind us at a stop light, make eye contact. Smile, engage the driver. Stay in your lane, don’t ride double causing cars to maneuver around us. You know the drill. And the anarchists among us? Simply quit riding with them. They have an agenda that could get us killed.
Support your local bike organizations. There is a concept called green bicycle routes or bike lanes separated from the road by a barrier. Whatever the concept, make it a plan to support the riders who work with city and county government to make cycling safer.
One other thing—helmet cams are now featherweight, high resolution, and fairly cheap. There are some bad people out there who really do try to hurt cyclists. Don’t fight them. Simply keep you camera running and use your video to file a complaint with the sheriff.
As to the ghost bike? Let’s have some years in Boulder County, and your county too, where the ghost bike never appears.
Alan Stark is a freelance writer and a member of the Buffalo Bicycle Classic Committee. He splits his time between Boulder and Breckenridge.