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Home / Articles / / /  Mullen | Wheels Off: Don’t be a stupid bicyclist

Mullen | Wheels Off: Don’t be a stupid bicyclist

By Holly Mullen
Posted // July 30,2008 -

The cars were pressed bumper-to-bumper in both lanes of 300 South in downtown Salt Lake City between State and Main streets. That’s typical weekday traffic at 5:15 p.m. And then, from straight out of the shimmering heat waves on the asphalt he came—Mr. Fixed Gear Bicyclist, all mad and free with no bike helmet, the de rigueur nylon messenger bag flapping against his back. He zipped all the way through the two-foot gap between the idling cars, splitting the lane and then running the red light at State and 300 South.

I watched him from the sidewalk. The last I glimpsed him, he was pedaling eastbound, weaving through traffic simply because he could. Such a nihilist, this guy. With his bike cobbled together with grease, spare parts and bailing wire, he will selfishly continue to enrage people who drive cars and make it harder for cyclists trying to dent the motorized world to be taken seriously.

Are you this asshole? Why don’t you stop it? Why don’t you realize the more people ride bikes to save gas money and the environment, the more your lens needs to be trained on safety? You’re giving everyone on a bike a bad image. People have been lobbying the Legislature for bike safety laws and raising money for bike lanes and signage to make life better for you. The rest of us who ride bikes are fed up.

On July 25, I tapped out a post on this very topic on Salt Blog, which you can link to at I had witnessed a cyclist in Sugar House nearly get wiped out while making an illegal left turn in traffic. It’s easy to lob blame at cars, but this was an example of one very stupid biker.

Our sweet little City Weekly blog may not get the hits of the Huffington Post. Heavens, we’re not even Dooce. But my post titled “Stupid, Stupid Bicyclists,” apparently hit a few readers in the solar plexus. Creaky knees forced me to cut back on running years ago, and I found cycling. I’m hooked. So, even though my boss, John Saltas, thinks bikes belong only in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, I’m going out on the high wire here. I figure I can rant periodically about this topic with a sliver of expertise.

Utah law requires drivers to give a bicyclist three feet of space when passing them on the road. Drivers still have some learning ahead of them. But today, I’m going after bike riders.

From one of your own then, basic observations on bike riding idiocy:

Riding on the sidewalk. While not illegal, it’s stupid and dangerous. Sidewalks are for pedestrians (unless you are a 7-year-old with playing cards clacking in your wheel spokes and a little bell on your handlebars). A cyclist also risks clipping objects on the sidewalk like trashcans, planter boxes, baby strollers, signs and random sleeping homeless people. Also, stop riding against traffic.

Riding without a helmet. Not much worth lecturing about here. Ask anyone who has survived a headfirst spill about it. I did—on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail earlier this summer. My helmet took an inch-long gouge to the right front, which saved my brain from becoming mashed yams. If you want to ride sans helmet, I’d suggest filling out an organ donor pledge before hopping on the bike.

Riding in sidewalks. Stop it. Utah law treats bikes like cars. You have to follow the same rules as the average driver—stop for red lights and use left-hand turn lanes. When was the last time you saw a car on a sidewalk? It’s counterintuitive for riders out there who haven’t been on two wheels since the third grade, but you can do it. Riding a bike in traffic can be scary, yet the more you do it the more nerve you grow and drivers will begin to see you. Get out and claim your piece of the road.

Speaking of nerve, San Francisco and a few other super bike-friendly cities are considering amending a few road rules to ease commuting headaches for cyclists, including allowing them to treat stop signs like yield signs (provided there’s no cross traffic to endanger them, of course). Maybe we could get to that point in Salt Lake City.

More people are using their legs to get around town. Props to all. Mickey, a sales associate in the bicycle department at the East Millcreek REI store, told me last week most of the store’s commuter bike inventory is long gone. He was happy about that for the bottom line but lamented the fact he’ll get no more bike shipments this year. The store is already turning its attention toward ski season.

Meantime, we’ve got months left of good cycling weather. You’re making the time and effort to save money on fuel and to shrink our carbon footprint. Why not learn the rules of the bike world in the process?

Too many boneheads can’t figure out the rules, or think the rules don’t apply to them. You’re wearing the rest of us out. Ride big and brave or get off the road.


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Posted // August 13,2008 at 12:07 Holly - way to go. In looking at all of the responses to your article, you’ve clearly struck a nerve in our community. Bicycles and cars sharing the road and all of the safety issues that come about when that doesn’t go well.nnI think we could all do our part as citizens of this city: start sending emails to the mayor’s office, our schools, the DMV, the state legislature whatever venue you might have suggestions for teaching people how to ride their bicycles in safety, for teaching drivers how to look out for cyclists, and for improving our streets to better accomodate the different needs that we have.


Posted // August 8,2008 at 09:48 I am not a role model I like that Ron!!nnPoints taken above. I may not agree but when you have raised a couple of kids you tend to have a nanny reflex. nnYou speak of the poor as a generic group that cannot afford to possess helmets: there are ways that such things can be distributed. But if you cannot afford a helmet, you cannot afford health insurance, and if smacking your head on the concrete with a helmet causes less injuries than without a helmet (and thus less time in the emergency room) then it is in societies interest to put a brain bucket on that rider. Maybe we should spend more time accomplishing that instead of trying to get bikes in the hands of brainless kids.


Posted // August 7,2008 at 06:51 Maybe we need to have signs for our bags that say The actions of this cyclist are not necessarily representative of other Cyclists(tm), which I think I need along with my I am not a role model t-shirt. Down with the nanny society.


Posted // August 7,2008 at 05:33 Ah, the cantaloupe test. Akin to this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs. Very charged, very vivid, filed with holes.nnNow, if you put a body on this cantaloupe, of say, more melons and then drop it from the second floor, what happens to the entire body?nnNow, place a helmet on the body, rinse repeat on the second floor drop. What happens to the entire body?nnPerhaps, cyclists should full body armor when cycling. Or we could mold a giant orb around us, a cage to protect us from the dangers of getting into an accident.nnNow them there are safe melons.


Posted // August 7,2008 at 00:48 Personal responsibility should not be legislated. If I do not wear a helmet and the facts about helmet use are true, who [besides me] is harmed? Since when did the government become my nanny? apparently I cannot be trusted to make my own decisions on things that affect me and harm no one else. John, one difficulty that comes out of a mandatory helmet law is that when a cyclist is injured in an accident, and there is a mandatory helmet law in place, the insurance company may argue for a reduction in damages because [supposedly] damages may have been reduced if the cyclist was wearing a helmet. I have heard about this happening, successfully, in places that have MHLs. You do cyclists a disfavor when you pass laws such as this. Many people that ride without helmets are poor people, particularly the homeless you see around downtown. People that cannot afford to eat, and you expect them to go out and purchase a new helmet. And if they don’t get a helmet? well, then they just accumulate tickets and maybe have their bike confiscated. And this may turn into just another law that the police will use when they want to harass homeless people and groups they do not approve of (like critical mass). And before anyone writes in and argues that police would not do that and that I have an anti-cop bias, I have seen it happen (at least in the case of critical mass) with the bike registration law. Helmet use and mandatory laws is a particularly complex issue. As with anything else, education is the key.nnSpeaking of homeless, a lot of people that one sees breaking laws and riding unsafe are people that really do not knowing about proper bike riding technique and safety. They are riding out of necessity, for the most part, and not out of a love or enjoyment of cycling. I do not think they really care about the image of cyclists any more than they understand that they practices are dangerous, for them and others. Holly, it sounds a bit classist to assume that the fixed gear rider’s bike is cobbled together with grease, spare parts and bailing wire. First, all bikes require grease and one’s bike would not be held together by grease. But it sounds like you assume that people are riding fixed gears because they cannot afford the good bikes and just threw something together. Most fixed gear riders take pride in their bikes. whilst some actually do start riding fixed gears by converting old road bikes and do use used parts (usually the beginner’s fixed gear), a lot of people buy dedicated fixed gear frames or track bikes and build them up with new parts, sometimes top of the line parts at that. Just look at Michael Wise’s bikes for an example. So to assume that the fixed gear rider you saw had a bike being held together as you describe reveals a bit of a classist bent. I apologize if I am jumping to conclusions there. And fixie riders would never use bailing wire to hold their bike together. That is what duct tape is for. nnOh yeah, bikes lanes and signs do not equal safety and it is presumptuous to assume that it is what we as bicyclists need or even want. You are doing me no favors by contributing to the segregationist attitude of bikes belong there, cars belong there. Maybe if the bike lanes were thoughtful bike lanes, but bike lanes that are also the door zone. No thanks. nnOn the issue of the art of cycling (formally called by the more appropriate the art of urban cycling) and the messenger admitting to breaking a few laws, the lesson to be learned is personal responsibility. Do not expect a helmet to save your life (I feel a lot of helmet wearers get a false sense of security), do not expect driver’s to give you the right of way that belongs to you, and really do not expect to get that 3 feet. Take responsibility for your own safety by being aware of you surroundings and the other users of the road. anticipating what the other users are going to do, and improving your cycling skills. I too recommend the Hurst book as well as the course offered by the collective. There are a lot of things that drive me crazy about cyclists here in italy (where I currently reside) that remind of things you learn in the Road I course (such as being predictable). Speaking of Europe: few people wear bike helmets, few head injuries. According to the current paradigm, there should be a ton of head injuries and deaths from said head injuries. And the cities are not necessarily more bicycle friendly, particularly here in italy where there is very little shoulder, not very useful bike lanes, and drivers are crazy and look at speed limits as suggestions. Improve your knowledge and skills, become aware of your surroundings, including the other users of the road, and do not depend on helmets and laws to protect you. nnAnd can you people stop pretending to refer to what Ryan said about the complexity of the issue. He said that Black Mamba’s comments comments do not speak to the complexity of the issue not that the issues were so complex that he should not comment on it. Geez, talk about taking things out of context. While I presume to say what Ryan was thinking in regard to complexities, I can say that my take on it is that people should do some actual research and reading on the topic rather than just posting from the gut. Become more informed and stop passing off personal bias as fact. Let the flaming begin.


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