In a car or bike, be as courteous as possible

Published in the Davis Enterprise on Jan. 29, 2010

By Mick Klasson

Many readers of this column may have found grim satisfaction, as I did, in the recent conviction and fiveyear prison term for a Los Angeles doctor — a doctor — for pulling his car around some bicyclists and slamming on the brakes, causing two cyclists to collide bloodily with the car.

Apparently he had been angry before at the recreational cyclists who often rode his neighborhood. I have to wonder if his rage is shared by my Davis neighbor with the “One Less Bike” bumper sticker on his car.

Rage is the chemical-emotional soup that enabled our forebears to fight off grizzly bears and wolves. It can bubble up in anyone, and the human challenge is to keep it in check or at least channel it to those times when one needs to lift a boulder off a loved one or otherwise accomplish some amplified good.

I’ve caused and felt rage. One time I had just pedaled to the summit of a fire road traversing a canyon in Marin. The long, twisting trail clung like an eyebrow to the improbably steep canyon wall. I was about to experience the joyous side of gravity, and the trail was clear ahead. There was just one fold in the hill where I couldn’t see, but what was the chance that another trail user would be in that one hidden spot?

I released the brakes and succumbed to gravity, brushing the brakes as I rounded the fold — to see a wall of horseflesh supporting two equestrians. I squeezed the brakes tight and slid to a stop a horse-length ahead of the riders. I apologized profusely and repeatedly. The horses scarcely shied and the riders continued on, silent.

They must have been thinking what I was thinking — the outcome for a biker sailing over that edge was questionable, a falling horse likely would be euthanized, an equestrian under a horse would be a big red stain. I think of that day every time I hear of people seeking to bar mountain bikes from unpaved trails.

Another day, riding a county road east of Stockton, a companion and I were brushed by a big pickup truck, which shortly pulled into a dirt driveway. The gray-haired driver got out and shouted nasty things at us as we rode by. We responded in kind.

Pedaling on up a long slow hill, I waited for the woman or her husband or son to return with a shotgun to finish the conversation. My best guess is that trespassing bikers had invaded her ranch in the past, engendering the antipathy that we experienced on the public road. Our angry rejoinder had not elevated the discourse.

I have pedaled across Davis streets mid-block, only to find myself cutting off drivers I had not seen. Driving on Covell Boulevard, I have slammed on my brakes at a green light to avoid hitting a late-crossing biker in dark clothing at night. During the day, I often see steady streams of junior high school students pedal through a four-way stop while fuming drivers line up in all directions.

Cycling is a marvelous way to minimize environmental impacts, free up road space and get a workout. But the cyclist is at the losing end in a collision, is breathing the exhaust from cars, is often between the driver and where the driver wants to park, and is competing for mind-share with every other cyclist the driver has ever encountered.

My point? Ride, please, even drive if you must. Forgive yourself and others for transgressions. But be courteous and transgress as little as possible. Do so because each of us is an envoy for cyclists everywhere.

And the surge of rage meant to bring survival to the enraged may explode on us, or on the next rider to follow, whether she or he stops at stop signs, stays to the right except to turn, or wears bright clothing at dusk. Jailing assailants can help, but by then there are already victims.

— Mick Klasson came to Davis to attend UC Davis and now lives here with his wife and daughter. He gladly stops at stop signs when drivers are around as a small price to pay to be back where bicycles are, mostly, welcome — Davis. To offer a column, write to Joe Krovoza at column@davisbicycles.org.

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