Tag Archives: vulnerability

two truths about the road

Or maybe just one truth with two kinds: To bike in Los Angeles requires dealing with cars. There are two kinds:

  1. The first are the ones who don’t see you. They might be the ones talking on a cell phone, yelling at their kids, tuning their radio, late leaving work and looking to roll a couple stop signs on the side streets because all the arterials are clogged. They might be the ones who nearly right hook you because they can’t be bothered to look over the shoulder. I get mad about these people, but I don’t stay mad. There’s no point, because I realize that it’s not really about me. These drivers are the ones who merge without looking on the freeway, who get stuck in the intersection going the wrong way at red lights. They’re the self-centered ones who treat the rest of the road like so many video game dots and numbers. Out there, but not really enough to worry about. They’re fat and happy in their steel cocoons, coddled in roll cages and crumple zones like so many eggs in cardboard cartons. When they cut me off, I know it’s not about me.
  2. It’s the second group that piss me off. It’s the second group that sees me pushing it down Westholme, heading south through the last roundabout before swinging left at Santa Monica, riding to catch the green light. It’s the second group with the driver’s side window of their white sedan rolled down and the driver peering through his thin glasses up the road to where I’m bearing down and still thinking it’s a good idea to swing out into traffic because he doesn’t want to get stuck waiting for the cars that are trailing me. It’s the second group of drivers who see me brake, pull up, raise my hands to ask what the fuck, then gun their engine through the light because they know they’re in the wrong and think they can leave me in the dust. It’s these second kind of drivers who think that just because I’m a little fucking cyclist on a dark single-speed that that makes it OK. And do you know what? It’s those second group of drivers who sit in their car waiting to turn right onto Beverly Glen at the red light, one arm dangling a lit cigarette out the window as I pull up to the intersection, then see me roll up to the light beside them.

The moral of the story? Your shit catches up to you.

Ride safe.

ethics and aesthetics of biking

Some while back, I wrote a little bit about trying to work out an ethics of biking:

Very simply, and perhaps naively, a possible ethics of cycling might begin from admitting a shared vulnerability. Of course, as Kirsten noted, looking at some of the people who do ride near us, there’s a occasionally masculine and oftentimes aggressive image at work, an image which wouldn’t seem to be all the amenable to arguments about a common vulnerability. It is, again, a valid point, but working in the realm of the hypothetical, if you do posit a shared vulnerability (shared between cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, people), then one broad ethic might be: Don’t act in such a way that harms another. As a cyclist, this means that I expect drivers to give me space, to recognize and affirm my right to the road; but it also means that I ride in such a way that drivers can predict my actions and don’t feel pressured into making a rash decision. And when it comes to making choices about the stop lights and street signs, I can take a long moment to wait at a red light late at night, long enough to realize that the road will not recognize me nor the weight of my bike, and as such, there’s no issue with my crossing of Sunset at 1 a.m.. On the other hand, taking the time to stop at stop signs during rush hour traffic is a gesture to other cars.

I bring it up because the opposition of aesthetics to ethics has come up a couple of time in the last week, and I spent a little bit of time on the ride home mulling some things over. To make a long story short, one particular way of thinking about the difference between the ethical and the aesthetic is in terms of universals and particulars. Ethics, then, is that which should be universal to everyone. Aesthetics, in contrast, is the cultivation of an individual identity or style.

In a strange way, it might bear on the cycling world, or at the least cycling in Los Angeles: Ethics is asking whether cyclists have an obligation to yield to traffic at stop signs; aesthetics is color-coordinated bar tap and toe clips. Ethics is asserting a right to the road; aesthetics is asserting that right while riding a tall bike.

I suppose it’s possible to work through more than this, but two stories stand out as something neither about ethics nor aesthetics. The first is Will Campbell’s story about an orange soda and a Jaguar; the second is BikinginLA’s story about why truckers should never argue with cyclists while leaving their truck unlocked and idling on the side of the road. Not really sure what to say to either, but maybe this: If I read those stories and think, I wish I could have done that, the stories might be about an ethics of cycling. They may just be great reads.