No doubt about it: with the 100-plus miles I ride every week on my bike across Los Angeles, any given seven-day stretch wherein I don’t get impeded or struck by an inattentive or pre-occupied motorist is a good one. And in fact other than the few idiots encountered the first six/seven months of this year and the spill I took in June that was entirely my fault I’ve strung together a succession of really good weeksÂ — which is all the more fuel for my disdain that redlines whenever I read of some would-not-be cyclist who trumpets the all-too-commonly held phobia that the streets are just too life-threateningly dangerous to pedal upon, be it around their neighbor or beyond it.
Me and the 3,800 miles I’ve rode around town so far this year are proof otherwise.
My street cred aside, the perceived lack of safety on the streets is an easy argument to make and not without some merit, but too often it comes from people who wouldn’t really know and instead are just subscribing to the easy out. To them I collectively ask “How do you know until you try?” But of course, the risk posing that question is that I’d get retorted upon from someone on the defensive who’d explain that they did “give it a try” and got hit or yelled at or a flat tire or sweaty or all of the above and summarily proved to themselves that biking on the streets is just not worth it.
And to them I’d ask “How do you know until you try again?”
Digress with me by having a seat in my wayback machine and come to my Christmas of 1968, and my first bike (pic, after the jump can be clicked to enlarge it a bit):
This is one of my favorite captures of my childhood, certainly not because of how goofyglee I look, and not because it shows that I freakin’ scored a decent boatload of toys from Santa that season, but primarily because it’s one of the few images throughout my life that showcase me with my preferred method of transport â€” and this particular one was pretty defining in regards to who I was then and who I am now (P.S. I have no idea who the man standing with me is; certainly it’s not my father but instead probably whoever my mother was dating at the time).
This living room is in the Beverly Hills apartment we lived in on the corner of Hamilton Drive and Gregory Way, a block south of Wilshire Boulevard and a block east of La Cienega Boulevard. I remember it very well: building forts out of the couch cushions and coffee table;Â watching episodes of The Lone Ranger on that black-and-white TV in the background; and running astride a broom I pretended was a horse around the coffee table in the foreground to endless repetitions of Rossini’s William Tell Overture that I played on my mom’s Admiral Hi-Fi.
Of all the toys though, the bike was a dream come true, and I rode it with its training wheels until finally a day came whn I wanted to learn how to ride a bike the way I’d seen older kids doing it. Whether I learned the lesson from my mom or it was just inate, I knew that if you wanted something done you do it yourself and so I borrowed the household pliers, sat down with the bike on the patio and somehow managed to muscle my four-year-old self through figuring out not only how to get the crutches off the bike, but also to put the nuts back on — andÂ tight enough — so the rear wheel wouldn’t fall off.
Then it was just the small matter of teaching myself to ride it. As my mom recounts the story she says she asked me if I wanted help and I adamantly declined her assistance. I’m not so sure that’s true, but whether it is or not, the bike and I wound up in the building’s garage and after several fails in attempting to find my balance (resulting in a scraped hand, then a scraped knee and some tears and me running in each time to mom who kissed it to make it better so that I could run back out and try again) I ultimately did and I’ve never ever forgotten that feeling of exhilaration and achievement as I pedaled down the sidewalk liberated and one of the big kids now.
There’s a little bit of that feeling that I still feel every time I mount up nowadays. Too many people forget it and that’s sad.
Anyway. There was a long-winded what-if reference point to that nostaligia trip and it’s: “Had I tried and failed the first time, with bloodied hand I could have decided I was too afraid of biking because of its inherent dangers.” But as demonstrated by my determination, that’s not who I am and I reaped the rewards far sooner than if I had abandoned the endeavor because of some heightened preservatory fear.
Having said all that, let me wrap this rambling thing up by finally explaining the headline and further fortifying anyone’s negative opinion as to the risks of road riding. The bike and I had two close-enough encounters on the roads to and from work this week. The first one Wednesday westbound on Venice Boulevard between National and Robertson and the second one on 4th Street, at the same intersection east of Rossmore where my friend Stephen Roullier got hit and pivoted (but unharmed) during our ride to experience the burger goodness of Indulge Cafe last winter.
In the Venice Boulevard incident, I saw it coming. I’m a firm believer that when it comes to a driver lacking awareness, the most dangerous they can be is slightly ahead of me on my left with me between them and any sudden right turns they might require to get them where they’re going. In this case, I saw ahead of time that the woman’s attention was focused not on driving or on the other vehicles she was sharing the road with, but on the mascara she was applying to her right eyelashes. Coasting a bit I dropped back from her and sure enough she yanked right at the side street we’d arrived at, still necessitating me to brake hard and get her attention with a full volume yell that I followed up with “Put down the make-up and watch the fucking road!” Realizing she almost forced me to tatoo her passenger side door panel, she hunched up her shoulders in the international apologetic gesture of “I’m a total loser” and we both went on our way.
With the 4th Street close-call I got to the four-way stop intersection at Arden, where I came to a halt for a rather oblivious jogger crossing 4th southbound on Arden. I arrived there ahead of a northbound vehicle that stopped and after the jogger passed I started across, trying to get the eye of the driver who was looking down either because she just realized how badly she was in need of a pedicure or because she was texting on her cell phone or because she was trying desperately to remember if she’d gotten her pants at Ross or TJ Maxx. Whatever the reason for her distracted driving, she kept her head down the entire time she accelerated towards me, and it was only because I cranked on the pedals that my rear wheel was able to clear her front bumper by about a foot, and she only looked up when she heard me laugh (not as in “ha-ha” but as in “fuck you and your discount clothing”) and yell “Missed me by thaaaat much!”).
At what she’d barely succeeded in avoiding, she blanched, another international realization gesture of “Sucks to be me!” and I briefly wanted to turn around to catch her and give her a broader piece of my mind, but it was Friday and my baby was waiting at home with Bonchon Chicken and so I proceeded there without delay.