October 14, 2009

Bicycle commuter’s survival guide

Remember to bring your joy. Those poor drivers are stuck inside what Thomas Merton called “capsules of indignation,” listening to caustic radio opinions and wondering what to do about the Check Engine light.

We are on our bikes! We’re using a leisure activity to accomplish an otherwise dreary chore, sorta like fishing home the groceries or bowling out the garbage. Kick out your legs! Ride in a serpentine pattern! Pop a wheelie!

Be outrageously courteous. Wave. Smile. Say “good morning” to strangers. Claim your territory but give drivers an easy path around you. Mentally say “please” and “thank you.” When somebody sneezes, say “Güzel Yasayın,” which is Turkish for “may you live beautifully.” If you do hock a loogie on a Hummer, feel bad about it.

Use a rearview mirror. Just as in life, it’s important to know where you’re going but also to be mindful of where you’ve been. And if a Chevy Silverado is bearing down on you, your mirror will give you a last-second chance to flash the driver a fleeting look of forgiveness just before he crushes you flat. You don’t want to go into the beyond with hate in your heart.

Leave your iPod at home. Turn off your cell phone. The distraction is dangerous and you want to be able to hear the festive sounds of birds singing and crickets chirping and children offering to sell you drugs. Here are some ways you can amuse yourself in the face of all that silence: Compose a love letter. Recite Shakespeare’s Sonnet XIV. Sing the “Bugs Bunny” theme-song lyrics to the tune of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Recall your first kiss, only this time pretend there was tongue involved. Forgive someone you haven’t forgiven. Solve a conundrum, like “If everything has to be created, who created God?”

If possible, commute in another place. According to the American Lung Association, Louisville has the 13th most polluted air in the nation, so you’re better off commuting in Santa Fe or Honolulu or Glacier National Park. If that’s not convenient, try holding your breath for your entire commute.

Learn to spot texting while driving. This is worse than drunk driving because drunk drivers tend to be out at night, whereas texting drivers are out 24/7, weaving chaotically, correcting their trajectory at the last second, flashing a terrified look, then going back to texting and weaving.

Don’t run red lights. It’s not worth it. Then again, you are a freethinking person capable of rational thought and traffic lights are not. Many red lights will switch to green when you pull up in a car, but your bike isn’t heavy enough to trigger the detector. You could sit at some deserted stoplights until there’s peace in the Mideast and still not get a green. Here’s how to proceed: Check carefully to make sure no cars are coming in any direction. Slowly move out to the center of the intersection, stop, extend both middle fingers and slowly rotate. Proceed on your journey.

Wear a helmet. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life having loved ones wipe your butt every time you poo just because you weren’t wearing a helmet the day the cross-country team ran by in sports bras. Wear bright clothes. You don’t need to wear clownish bike gear so tight your pancreas shows, nor do you need a corporate sponsor, but you do want to be visible to FedEx trucks. Yes, with your helmet and bright clothes you will look like God’s own dork. Make peace with it.

Avoid busy streets. You know that road where delivery trucks battle with twittering soccer moms against mid-life-crisis salesmen in BMWs? The road that was designed by a consortium of corrupt real estate developers? Avoid it, even if you have to pedal a mile or two out of your way. What’s more fun than bike riding? Answer: more bike riding.

Allow plenty of time. If you’re in a hurry, you’ll make bad judgments, like pulling out in front of a car or marrying someone who’s wrong for you. Assume drivers can’t see you. Ninety-nine percent of drivers are attentive and courteous to cyclists, but that’s no reason to tempt fate by cutting off the driver who’s munching popcorn chicken while e-mailing his divorce papers and reloading his pistol.

Familiarize yourself with the law, especially this law of physics: an 4,000-pound car traveling at 45 miles per hour colliding with your bicycle can seriously impede your ability to understand physics.

Happy commuting!