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Field Guide to Silicon Valley Bicyclists

September 3, 2017

Silicon Valley is a great place to bike. It pretty much never rains between May and October, and even our “hot” days don’t tend to get that hot (the current heat wave being a notable exception). And even during our “rainy” season, it typically doesn’t rain that often. I’ve been biking to work almost every day (except when it rains or I need a car during the day for some reason) for a few years now.

In that time, I’ve noticed several particular species of Silicon Valley Bicyclist. By far the majority are pleasant, polite, and well-mannered, and I salute them heartily for their decency and contribution to society (reduced congestion, pollution, and demand on the healthcare system). However, there are sadly a few types that detract from the bike commuting experience. This Field Guide provides a brief description of these types so that you can recognize them when encountered.

The first is the class of bicyclists that I call the Self-Centered Self-Movers. This class is focused on just moving themselves along, oblivious to the rest of their world. They have their headphones jammed firmly in their ears, and they pay little (to no) attention to the world around them. I can understand wearing headphones while walking or running; I do it myself. You’re moving slower, you can stay to the side, and you have plenty of time to check your surroundings if you need to change direction. But bicycling? You’re moving faster, you generally can’t stick to the side, you sometimes need to change direction and speed quickly, and (when you’re on the road) you’re contending with drivers who aren’t always good about keeping an eye out for bicyclists. But the self-centered self-mover doesn’t care who they might injure or inconvenience. They are ensconced in their own little world and assume that everything will just work out ok.

There’s a (thankfully) small subset of the Self-Centered Self-Movers that also appear to be Self-Destructive. This subset goes so far as to not even bother to check behind them when changing lanes or turning. On trails that would just be rude, but I’ve seen people in this set exhibit this behavior on roads. Drivers in Silicon Valley are generally good around cyclists, but seriously: sooner or later just pulling out into the roadway and assuming that cars will give way for you (especially when you’re weaing headphones and can’t hear them approaching) will not end well.

At the other extreme from the self-movers, we have those cyclists that appear to be convinced they’re competing in the Tour de France. While commuting. These Competitive Racers zip along on expensive racing bikes while wearing racing outfits and appear to be massively irritated that cars and other cyclists are using the same pathways they are. No gap is too small to run, no traffic law too important to ignore. Particularly through their flouting of traffic laws (I’ve seen cyclists blast through 4-ways stops with lots of cars waiting), this class of cyclists both gives the rest of us a bad name and actively makes the road more dangerous for us, making a number of drivers feel like cyclists “have it coming”.

A related class of cyclists are those individuals whose competitive instincts are a little overdeveloped. While our Tour de Frace cyclists are arguably also overly competive, they’re at least consistently fast. What separates this other class of Transient Competitors is that they’re not fast unless they’re about to be passed. They might be idling along at a slow pace, but apparently having someone pass them runs the risk of deflating their self-worth. Should you start to overtake such a cyclist, they will suddenly exert strenous effort in an attempt to avoid such a horrendous fate. Not only will such efforts involve a sudden burst of speed, they will unfortunately also include taking risks that frequently imperil other people.

If the Competitive Racers and Transient Competitors exhibit Silicon Valley’s competitiveness, the Shortsighted Cyclists exhibit Silicon Valley’s emphasis on moving fast and (likely) breaking things. They seem to be unable to look further than the immediate cyclist in front of them. More often that I would like (which, admittedly, would be never), I see cyclists attempt to pass a cyclist in front them without realizing that there is one or more cyclists in front of that cyclist, that there is oncoming traffic in the other direction, or some upcoming obstacle. Failing to look ahead and think, the Shortsighted Cyclist realizes their mistake at the last second (if at all) and simply attempts to plow their way through, other people be damned. I’ve seen at least one accident caused by such cyclists, and more near misses than I can count on two hands.

The final class is relatively recent, a development of technological improvements. These are the Scooter Riders. In the last year or two e-bikes started to catch on Silicon Valley, jumpstarted I suspect by some well-meaning company. And overall e-bikes are a net positive: they get people at least some exercise, and they get people off the roads. But a regrettable subset of e-bike riders have apparently had their “empowerment” go their heads. They’re somehow convinced that since they’re faster than other cyclists, they’re also better riders than other cyclists. As a result, they see no problem with riding their e-bikes at scooter speeds while paying minimal attention to other cyclists and pedestrians. Their attitude appears to be that if those other individuals were worthy of their attention they too would be riding e-bikes. Since they are not, they are not. While I’m generally supportive of e-bikes on trails, this class of riders is increasingly making me believe that such bikes should have speed limiters.

While Silicon Valley cyclists will encounter all of these classes, they are thankfully still a fraction of our overall bicycling population. Most local cyclists are pleasant and polite, and I thank them for sharing the trails (and roads) with me.


From → Musings

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