The hazards of pinning your two-year-old race number to your messenger bag

Published 2011-04-20

So yesterday I was homebound riding south up SW Broadway. Just before the complex intersection where Broadway crosses I-405 another cyclist passed me. There was much to remark about his appearance but most remarkable was that, for whatever reason, he had his 2009 OBRA race number pinned to his backpack.

Portland streets are full of colorful bicycling characters and I would not have noted or remembered his race number, or anything about the guy at all. Until he pulled a really uncool bikes-in-traffic stunt.

We approached the intersection where the I-405/US 26 off-ramp meets Broadway, and our signal was red. Traffic was at a mostly-dead stop, backed up from the freeway. This happens a lot at this intersection, but the bike lanes follow entirely through the intersection, so I usually just wait for my green, and then thread through the stopped cars to the bike line on the far side and continue on my merry, unimpeded, totally legal and respectful-of-other-road-users way.

I’ll let you guess what my interesting new friend did here. What’s the number one most annoying thing that cyclists do, that bike haters will not hesitate to complain that ALL cyclists EVERYWHERE do at ALL red lights because we are SCOFFLAWS and SELF ENTITLED and therefore deserve to PAY OUR OWN “ROAD TAXES” or go RIDE ON THE SIDEWALK? Guess what my fellow cyclist with the OBRA number pinned to his backpack did in front of DOZENS of people who were probably already angry and frustrated because they’d been sitting at a dead stop through several cycles of the traffic signal.

Well, he pulls straight through the red, riding along the laneline next to the outermost lane (which still has mostly free flowing traffic), makes a dodge through said traffic (against the signal, mind you) and is long gone.

Normally, this would be the end of my little rant. Ah, I made a blog post and don’t we all feel better now? But because this gentleman had a race number pinned to his backpack I have a little lattitude for some ... followthrough. Because OBRA numbers are publicly posted along with your name and race results.

A few minutes on the Internets turns up a fellow who rode in two events at one Fast Twitch Friday at Alpenrose in 2009. I have his name, so a comically tiny amount of sleuthing turns up a profile on Facebook.

The profile photo’s a little hazy but that could be my guy. And because this is Facebook and people share way too much on Facebook, I also know where he grew up, where he went to college, his employer, and the names of 85 people willing to publicly use the word “friend” in association with him.

Aaaaaaaaaanyway, I’m not going to publicly rat this guy out or make a citizen’s arrest or some stuff. I am going to write him a little Facebook Message. Something like this:

Dear Mr. [name redacted]:

I just wanted to let you know some jerk is wearing your 2009 OBRA number on his messenger backpack. This person ran straight through a full-on red light in front of dozens of witnesses in idling cars on SW Broadway at the I-405/US 26 off-ramp. This thoughtless act, perpetrated by someone who might be mistaken for you because you look so similar, and because he somehow acquired your race number, will do a little bit of damage to the reputation of bicycles as a respectable mode of transportation in Portland (a subject dear to my heart as I've been fighting for that kind of respect for a decade now).

Maybe if you see this guy you can remind him that bikes are legally vehicles in Oregon, and that running a red light carries a $280 ticket, and that it also makes him look like a total turkey. I'm sure you can persude him of this because you appear (from your Facebook profile) to be a highly educated grown adult with a job that requires a lot of problem solving, and because you also like Douglas Adams and racing bikes. Just like me! So I know you're a decent, thoughtful person, and not a walking cliche of anti-bike rhetoric: the Scofflaw Cyclist Who Runs Red Lights at Crowded Intersections Instead of Just Cooling It and Waiting Like Fifteen Seconds.

Anyway, you might want to do something about this guy because he’s making you look bad.

Best regards,

Paul Souders


My original post was (probably unnecessarily) judgemental about OBRA-Number-Guy’s sartorial choices, and the personality of a person who would make those choices. In the spirit of Samma vaca (right speech) and Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not, that ye be not judged”) ... I relized these were unhealthy words. I’ve edited the post to focus on OBRA-Number-Guy’s actions, not his appearance. I hope it’s still a little funny.

I also want to point out that this event has happened somewhat to me, in reverse. About three years ago I made a left turn onto SW Hooker from Barbur (Southbound) against the red (crosswalk) light. (In my defense this is an ambiguous signal, because it’s a crosswalk, and even cars turn left against it because they’re protected from heavy traffic on NB Barbur. But still.) A cyclist — someone I see routinely on my commute, actually — was waiting northbound on Barbur; he pointed at the light and said, “Dude, that light’s red. Not cool.” It was a memorable experience and I have not blown a stoplight since.

Also worth noting, and as advice to young people, I could have learned a lot about this guy in only a few minutes on the Internet. We live in the Panopticon now. Seemingly anonymous actions like breaking a traffic law on your bicycle can potentially open your entire life. As a kind of conservative person I don’t think this is an entirely bad thing but it’s worth considering that a person may gain more in our world of glass houses by living a life of self-honesty and genuineness, instead of preening and posturing.