Biff America: Defending our cycling on Independence Day
My country and I were verbally accosted by four aliens on the Fourth of July.
Three of the antagonists were from Great Britain one was French.
My first inclination was to take the abuse from the Brits after – all Great Britain is our county’s oldest and strongest ally and they gave us the Rolling Stones. But the French didn’t even invent the french fry and they also suggested our invading Iraq was not such a great idea. (I guess we showed them.) Though I was outnumbered I fought like a badger – that is until I realized that the foreigners were correct.
Hoping to get a ride in before the July 4th festivities I arose at 6 a.m.. to bicycle up a nearby mountain pass. Upon reaching the summit I found four other riders on top. They were trying to balance a camera on a fence post to capture of photo of themselves. I volunteered my services.
The four were professors at a college near Cambridge. They were on a double cross-continental journey. Beginning their trip in Oregon they pedaled to Virginia, turned around and were heading back via a northern route. They too had begun their day early to sample some Americana.
With a kinship only possible among those with a mutual passion, bicycling, we talked about gear, the Tour de France and cycling destinations. Having biked across Europe, Great Britain, Ireland and the USA more than a few times myself, we all had pedaled through many of the same places.
Without being overly nationalistic I have to say my home nation has some of most spectacular scenery of anyplace I have traveled. With a pride felt not only on America’s birthday, I prompted my new acquaintances to join in my assertion that America is one of the most beautiful cycling destinations on the planet.
It’s not that they disagreed. They spoke glowingly of our national parks and natural resources. They specifically mentioned Yosemite, Arches, Blue Ridge Parkway, Tetons and the Northern Rockies. The French guy brought up that Americans are much more open and friendly than Brits or Europeans.
“And not just cyclists,” he said, “Almost everyone we’ve met face to face were friendly and kind.”
Despite that I sensed some hesitation in my fellow riders and perhaps a negative undertone.
“So, then” I asked, “You are enjoying bicycling in America?”
Being British and pathologically polite, the Queen’s subjects nodded politely. It was Frenchy who spoke up.
“Why do so many Americans hate bicyclists?”
The British professors seemed embarrassed but nodded.
At first I was a little indignant. Of course, having ridden in many other countries, bicyclists in my home nation are treated with little respect, often bordering on rudeness. I can’t remember my exact response but I mentioned something about bad British food and the French’s infatuation with Jerry Lewis (in other words I took the high road).
I was able to get them to agree that Colorado was one of the more respectful places that they have passed through, but they also asserted that in some parts of our state they were crowded off the road and yelled at.
“Why can’t Americans just wait until it is safe to pass us then pass safely? Every summer we pick a country, sometimes several countries to ride across. No place we have ever visited has been as dangerous parts of America. You people have the biggest country, the most room, yet you refuse to share the roads!”
I’ve never been ashamed of my county. Yes there have been a few policies and practices that I have profoundly disagreed with. But America’s strength lies in the checks and balances contained in its remarkable Constitution as well as the freedom to dissent.
Our nation is also unique in it empowerment of the average and protection of the weak. It is sad that the empowerment and protections doesn’t extend to cyclists and pedestrians.
Yes some bikers have earned animosity by disregarding traffic laws. I also know that some of my breed are also guilty of discourtesy. For that I say let the punishment fit the crime. They should be issued citations, fined and held accountable. But when a 2,000-pound vehicle purposely comes within a foot of a cyclist, that is like shooting hand gun 12 inches over someone’s head.
America’s attitude towards human-powered transportation changes with the locales. Where I live motorists are mostly polite. The percentage of jerks is about the same as the percentage of rude bike riders.
But there are some places and some roads on which riding is a death wish. All it would take would be for people to slow down and wait until it is safe to pass and extend the courtesy to the smallest vehicle.
But that doesn’t mean that we have to take lip from the French guy….
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or from http://www.webersbooks.com