Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

You’re Not Helping

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I, in my years of bike messengering and commuting via bike in Manhattan, have developed many strong opinions on helmets, bike lanes, traffic laws, activists and public image in general. I know that my take on the matter is a mishmash of conflicting views (that I self-servingly liken to a microcosm of the city itself) and justifications that don’t work beyond their intended audience.

For instance, I wear helmets sparingly because I feel I’m not as aware, aurally, of my surroundings when I have one on (that, and the aerodynamic shape of certain helmets – especially with the little plastic bill in front – seem to ensure that they’d crack on impact anyway) and if I’m to be broadsided by a crosstown bus I’d prefer avoidance than mitigation.

That said, my preferred mode of riding has always been in Manhattan, as the traffic never gets but so fast, both motorists and pedestrians are used to navigating around one another and around bikers, and because one usually sees only four basic types of bikers anyway (as compared to the two basic types of pedestrians: Tourists and assholes): Messengers, commuters, hobbyists and deliverymen.

Now that I’m working in Brooklyn, I’m seeing a much larger spectrum of bikers, which I’ll style hipsters and hoods.

Now, I’ve gone through this roundabout introduction to frame my argument about something I’ve witnessed today that I’ve never seen before. See, after all I’ve seen and done in Manhattan, after the lame excuses of Critical Mass when they inflame public ire against bikers as hypocritical jerks (making messengers look comparatively honest in their asininity), after the holier-than-thou smugness of activists and hardcore spandex-clad hobbyists alike, I at least have the sense that each faction is at least implicitly aware that what they’re doing is mean and unfair. I get the sense that when the hammer comes down on them they will know that in some way they’ve brought it upon themselves, and as such the Circle of Life in NYC is preserved.

I may be asking too much of people for such erudite introspection (after all, I ride like my ass is on fire and take morbid pride in effecting a moving violation every 200 feet or so) but I at least can feel deep down inside that these people have some buried sense of self-preservation under all that bravado. So when I saw today a hipster in Emo jeans on a one-speed crossing Eastern Parkway with headphones on, I could only stand agape.

Brooklyn and Queens are in a number of ways easier to navigate than Manhattan, I concede – the one-lane one-way tree-lined streets with double on-street parking certainly calm traffic precipitously (and kinda make bike lanes redundant, but bike lanes are a whole new can of worms with me) – but they also have what I can only call Car Levees: Concrete rivers where the speed is faster than a bike can hope to keep up and shoulders are nonexistent. You know the ones I’m talking about already: Flatbush Avenue, Eastern Parkway, Queens Boulevard, Northern Boulevard, etc.

As such you get these people who are far down the casual end of the biker spectrum confronting biker deathtraps. Hell, I avoid their Manhattan counterpart – the West Side Highway south of 59th with its attached bike lane (natch) – like the plague. So if it’s a deathtrap, why make it easy for people to make an excuse as to why you got hit, like, say, because you were wearing headphones at the time?

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6 Responses to “You’re Not Helping”


  1. Brooklyn Bikers « Big Smoke
    on Mar 8th, 2009
    @ 1:46 pm

    […] starters, it’s clear that Sullivan and I are different types of bikers. As in an earlier post I made, I pointed out the different habits of Brooklyn and Manhattan traffic flow and thus biker […]


  2. Just Desserts « Big Smoke
    on Feb 16th, 2010
    @ 3:45 pm

    […] Also, Critical Mass got what they always wanted: Attention. Serves ‘em right. […]


  3. Free Floating Anger « Big Smoke
    on Apr 20th, 2010
    @ 10:54 am

    […] I’m by no means a fan of Critical Mass, but herein lies the dangers of indicting a whole movement in a legal trial that […]


  4. Zilvinas Juraska
    on Mar 9th, 2011
    @ 12:59 am

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say fantastic blog!


  5. Gamer
    on Jun 29th, 2011
    @ 1:27 pm

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  6. Try-Hards « Big Smoke
    on Sep 11th, 2011
    @ 8:43 pm

    […] to say is that, under a simply pragmatic approach, biking is great. However, biking’s been hijacked as a ‘lifestyle’ that’s hurting its […]

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