Riding the roundabout

Riding the roundabout

NPR reports on the Copenhagen biking network that spans 26 new routes that are direct connections from the suburbs to the city proper. The idea is that rather than cramming a bike lane here and there for cyclists along roadways, these new routes are carved directly across the landscape in roughly straight-line paths as stand-alone highways. Apparently, the traffic moves quick, too. It makes good sense when one-third of Copenhagers bike to work or school daily.

Carolina bikers (and drivers)
I’m not someone who’s about being super-green, or who bikes much (if at all, lately), but the story just reminded me of living in a medium-sized city for the past few years, and a city where biking was a roll of the dice with one’s life. Not that city planners hadn’t started to install bike lanes and plan for greenways, etc., but the local drivers didn’t seem to know what to do with a cyclist in the road.

I can’t exactly blame them for that, since up until I started riding more with my brother-in-law I had no idea what the rules of the road were with cyclists. I just knew they were pushing maybe 15mph when I was in a hurry, sometimes they seemed to purposefully take up the entire lane so nobody could pass, and they mocked me with their bulging calves and neon spandex. I’ve been that guy who zips by a cyclist in a huff and doesn’t mind getting a little dangerously close while passing, just to let him feel the heat as if to say, “Remember who really owns this road, broseph. My car versus your bike, I win every time.”

But for whatever reason, my brother-in-law, as I’ve said, picked up biking a good bit a few years ago. He rode fairly religiously for about a year, on- and off-road. I liked his riding style, unafraid to go anywhere in town, and always pushing it FAST. He said that since childhood he only knew one way to ride: as fast as he could possibly go. The first day he owned his bike he threw down 15 miles in a short time and proceeded to puke all over the roadside. Needless to say, his style and dedication inspired me to get my own bike and follow him, and it whipped me into shape quick trying to hang with him.

Changing seats
That’s when I started to see the road through the cyclist’s eyes. No longer was I, the guy on the bike, the enemy — the motorists were. How dare they get so close to nudging me forward with a bumper? Or pass so recklessly as to nearly clip my handlebars going by? Or let their metal beasts belch out a cloud of carbon monoxide the very moment I was gulping air after an uphill battle? They were big, anxiety-inducing, and noisy. So that was the epiphany. Not a mighty one. Just a new viewpoint on road-bikers. But I try to remember it here as we’ve moved to an even more metro area. After all, the other day I passed a guy struggling up-hill who had me and probably nine other vehicles backed up for a mile. It was tough not slipping into my old, pre-biking ways by at least giving him a stern look (or sign language) for impeding my very important driving time. I didn’t do it, but it would’ve been so easy, so “satisfying.”

So, overall, for me, biking has been just one more scenario in life when flipping perspectives really convicts me about self-centeredness. Not only that, but it convicts me that this very feeling of conviction is fleeting, and a new perspective isn’t permanent. This turnabout in perspective motivates me to keep on getting out of my own skin and my own head or eyes, but I know that it’s also something that has to be maintained regularly, or remembered often, to be effective.

All of that is to say, thank you, you tree-hugging, stout-calved Danes, for your cycle-super-highways. Keep on rolling. And maybe we can all work continually on pedaling in someone else’s shoes, being more patient, humble, and graceful, even in the long-run.

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