Motion blur closeup of my quads over a racing bicycle


Published 2007-08-24

Almost daily on my commute I have a brush that, a few years ago, would have outraged me. Right-hand-turners in the bike lane. Cut off by left-turners. Clueless turkeys with no notion of the width of their car (hint: not as wide as you think it is.) Timid passers. Shouts of “get off the road!” (or better: “get a car!” — as if bicycle riding is somehow incompatible with car ownership.) When I first started commuting regularly by bike (about 6 years ago), this stuff so outraged me that I took to filling my pockets with gravel, so when someone did something that offended me, I could hurl a handful of gravel at their tailgates.

Somehow, I never got beat up for this.

When I lived in NW Portland, that was the worst. Most of the drivers in that neighborhood don’t live there. They are, in fact, suburban tourists en route to Pottery Barn. Or Papa Haydn’s. One fine midsummer day in 2002, while riding around the neighborhood, a guy in an SUV blew past me at a stop sign in a way that suggested he saw neither me, or the sign. At the next stop, I maneuvered into the lane so I was directly in front of his windshield — I wanted to be sure he knew I was there. He made a big point of passing me at the next stop, far too close and with too much acceleration. The kind of maneuver that just screams “overcompensating.” Ooooh, scary. I got an Incredible Hulk surge of anger adrenaline and chased him down to the next stop. I flew up to the driver’s side window, brandishing my U-Lock like a hammer. I’m sure I had a few choice words for him, too. The poor guy, he was just another bewildered suburbanite, 40ish, pudgy, the kind of guy with his cellphone clipped to his belt. He wasn’t looking for a fight, he was just in a hurry. And here’s this stinky dude on a bicycle, shaking and gibbering, and waving his U-Lock in way intended to be menacing.

He didn’t turn his head to look at me. He just coolly rolled up his window.

My current commute takes me the entire length of Terwilliger Drive. The piece from Burlingame into Lake Oswego is entirely downhill, two lanes, with no shoulder, through a forest. After the turn for the Tryon Creek parking lot, I can kick up to my highest gear and stoke steadily down the last mile to State Street. I work up to about 30 to 40 mph, and at that speed, and in those conditions, I move about 3 feet into the lane. The lanes are wide enough that an attentive driver can pass me with a few feet to spare, and still stay right of the centerline.

Yesterday, on this stretch of road, a car came menacingly close behind me. He eventually worked up the nerve to pass me, shouting (I think) “retard!” He was driving a WRX, which inspired conflicted emotions. As a fellow Subaru-owner, I was a little sad, in the same way you’d be sad when, on vacation in Laos, you watch an American tourist berate a restauranteur for not having ice water. But at the same time, I was definitely thinking: “overcompensating.”

He passed me just before the final drop to State Street, where I attain my best speeds. Good enough, in fact, to catch the WRX, then overtake him.

The icing on the cake was passing every other car on State Street, which was at the usual rush hour standstill.

When I bought my Vanilla bicycle in 2004, more than one person suggested I was “overcompensating.” Which is, I suppose, fair enough. But I wonder if it’s “overcompensating” in the same sense that “taking dozens of satisfied lovers” could also be construed as “overcompensating.”