Friday, December 11, 2009

Competitive Bicycle Commuting

Have you ever been driving down the freeway, with your cruise control on, and somebody passes you, only to slow down, and then when you catch up to them, they speed off again? Meanwhile you're on cruise control , so you know you're going a constant speed. Well, I've been having a similar experience during my bike commute. I ride at a pretty consistent pace. I'm not flying, but I'm not dawdling either, just cruising along comfortably. And every day, I see these people who, apparently, think the commute is a race. You know what I mean, you're sitting at a light, and someone pulls up next to you. When the light turns, they stand up and SPRINT! like they're trying to take Contador at the tape- pounding those pedals, throwing that bike left and right- only to have to stop and sit at the next light. Then they do it again, over and over, stop light after stop light, never really getting away from you. People do this to me every day. Meanwhile, I'm cruising along at a steady pace, my goal being to not have to unclip at the light- not to see how fast I can possibly get to it.

Another common thing is people flying by me ("ON YOUR LEFT!!!) only to settle back down to my pace or slower within a hundred yards or so. Then, when I catch back up to them, they sprint off again. And meanwhile, of course, I'm just cruising along at my steady pace.

I also often wonder, do people know how to use gears? I'm not sure. My commute home has a lot of uphills. Again, I'm not particularly fast, but I'm steady. So people will fly by me on the flats, then three blocks later I pass them on the uphill. I'm chuggin' along, the same speed (or a tiny bit slower) than when they were channeling Fausto on me three blocks back, but when I pass them they are grinding that drive train, looking like they're legs are in slow-motion and panting like my old black lab. And then, when they see me, they double the effort, though they usually still fall back- at least until the next flat.

I'm not sure where all these racers are racing off to. Why are they in such a hurry? As far as I can tell, we're not in a race. There are no podium girls at the stop lights. There are no crowds cheering for us, the old fat guy in the red devil suit is nowhere to be seen, I don't see Bob Roll or Al Trautwig anywhere, though I confess, in my mind Phil Liggett- with that gorgeous voice- sometimes narrates my commute:

"There he is, The Captain himself, poised at the light. The rain is coming down, the
exhaust fumes drift by, what can be going through the mind of The Captain right
now? But he's-oh look! The light has turned green! He's pedaling! He's going through
the intersection! He's taking the lane! He's definitely going to make it home in time
for dinner tonight!"

But I digress, (as I so often do). Now back to our commentary...

Are they late for a meeting? Do they just not know how to ride relaxed? Are they worried the hipster-bar will run out of PBR? Me, I'm just not in that big of a hurry. I like to get to work on time, but my office is not going anywhere, I don't have to chase it down. And it's not like they won't let me in the building if I'm not there by 7:56 am. And as for getting there (wherever there might be) before they run out of beer, this is Portland for Christ's sake, they're never going to run out of beer- ever! And certainly not before I get there.

So race on, competitive commuters. Just tell the bartender to save one for me.


Aaron said...

You make some worthwhile and rightful comments. Basically there's two gripes here. Passing without giving a signal (which is considered bad practice most of the bike community) and commuter racers. I will start with the latter since I often AM one of those. The reason is often simply being late. I'm late for almost everything and since I've never driven, the tardiness actually has the positive effect of getting me in better shape. If I want to be there on time, I better pound it. But to be fair, every person has different abilities. Some people can ride very fast on the flat roads but lose steam quickly on a hill (I'm the opposite). So I'll find myself passing commuters on the uphill to the Hawthorne Bridge (thank god for the double lane) but because I'm careful around pedestrians sometimes the person I pass races to my left while I'm behind some walkers.
On the issue of signaling the main issue could be that many of the people who don't pass kindly are simply not in the same circles as the people who go to transportation discussions or bikeportland socials. There is simply no opportunity to share our frustrations with them.
BTW - I like to call out that I'm passing and then as I get ahead wish the person a nice day to leave a good feeling. There may not be solutions to these issues, but we're all in this city together.

Captain Hairdo said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Aaron. I should clarify for you, and other readers, that I'm not mad about any of this stuff or at other cyclists. I just get a kick out of it. My post is completely meant as good-natured fun-poking at fellow cyclists (and myself!).

Michael M. said...

One thing I really miss about my old commute, which was a little over two miles and which I did on foot, is that I could walk as quickly & directly or as slowly & meanderingly as I pleased, with nary a thought to anyone covering the same distance as me more or less quickly than I was. There is just no opportunity for competitiveness when walking to & from work. Now, cycling around, no matter how fervently I tell myself I'm not a competitive person, no matter how varied or random I try to make my journey, I still feel a twinge of "oh nos" if someone speeds by me with an "on your left" (or worse, without one). And a twinge of satisfaction when, even if I'm not really trying, I catch up to him or her at the next light -- a kind of "see, look where that got you" glee.

Cycling is so much more like driving than it is like walking. I guess the whole "who can get there first" vibe is inherent in operating a vehicle, whether that vehicle has two or four or more wheels.

Sunrise over Little Tohama, from Ingraham Flats, 2007