Post-traumatic jackass syndrome

April 11, 2014 § 30 Comments

If you don’t know Adam Myerson, he’s a member of the Lost Generation. These were the guys who came of age during the reign of Lance, and unlike Hincapie, Vaughters, Leipheimer, and those who have gone on to profit greatly from their misdeeds, Adam took the Nancy Reagan option. He just said “No.”

Adam and I are friends on Facebook, which is to say that since we’ve never met we’re not friends at all, at least not in the way that I grew up understanding the word. Rather, I lurk when his posts pop up on my feed and I like his approach towards cycling in particular and life in general.

Yesterday he opened up with a simple question. “Is there a medical term for the long term stress caused by being taken within an inch of your life, every day, multiple times a day, for the simple act of riding a bicycle on a public road?”

I glanced at the tail end of the comments and was surprised by the number. I was also surprised by the tenor of at least some. This was pretty much a softball question that any rider could relate to. Nothing is more ubiquitous in road riding than the constant fear of death and mutilation, and no preparation is more essential to the task of cycling than mentally girding yourself for the physical, verbal, and emotional onslaught that is the price we pay for daring to take our legal piece of the pavement.

Blame the victim

Incredibly, at least one commenter (since self-blocked and self-deleted) put the blame, or at least tried to shift it, on Adam. Surely there was something in his riding that precipitated at least some of this hostility?

All hell didn’t so much as break loose as it organized a freedom train.

And although the pro-Adamites greatly outweighed the anti-Adamites, the dialogue quickly assumed the air of a back-and-forth about who follows the rules and who’s a more law-abiding cyclist. All I could think was, “What the hell does that have to do with it?”

The price of pedaling

I know a lot of people who take great pride in their letter-perfect traffic behavior. I’m not one of them. I follow the rules when it’s to my advantage and I break them when they aren’t. I can feel the daggers when I cruise through controlled intersections, and I can hear the honks when some jackass in a giant pick-up vents at my infraction of the moment.

He can kiss my ass, because until the laws are set up to protect me, I’ll keep on surviving, thanks very much. As a reminder of how worthless you are on a bike here in SoCal, Jorge Alvarado’s killer just received the incredible sentence of 90 days in jail. We wouldn’t want to ruin that kid’s life, after all.

Nor am I on a mission to make cagers love me. The ones who accept me, accept me. The ones who hate me, hate me, and the ones who are going to mow me down because they’re texting or drunk or fiddling with the radio, well, I can’t do anything about them anyway. The only ones I care about are the crazies who want to kill me, and they’re not going to be mollified just because I put a foot down.

As Adam said, more or less, why should the price of making a mistake on a bike be death?

Post traumatic jackass syndrome

The unfortunate answer is, “Dude, that’s just how it is.”

But what’s more unfortunate is that his original question was such a good one. What do we call the mental condition of being constantly under assault or threat of assault?

I think PTJS is a good start, and although I can’t really describe its symptoms, I can describe the absence of them. Take the bike path and you’ll see what I mean. Suddenly, the cager exits your mental picture. As you pedal along the path you’re watching for peds and bikes and dogs and kids and skateboards and roller skaters and perhaps also the first thong of spring, but you’re doing it without the constant awareness of whether or not you’re about to receive a 1-ton solid steel enema.

There is a lightness to your grip on the bars and a relaxation of your shoulders and neck. You’re no longer afraid.

There. That’s the thing that riding on the road hangs around your neck no matter how good, how fast, how quick, or how experienced you are. The factor of fear, sometimes slight and sometimes screaming so loudly that you tense up enough to taste your own death, that’s the thing that you take with you when you’re wresting your legal piece of pavement from the jaws of the cagers.

The safety of the bike bath

Of course many riders eschew the beach bike bath in the South Bay because they claim it’s far more dangerous than street. They may be right.

Surfer Dan was pedaling along and prepared to pass Mitzy and Bohunk on their cruiser bikes. “On your left!” he said, loud enough for them to hear but not so close as to startle them.

Mitzy moved over, as she and Bohunk were hogging the whole path, but Bohunk didn’t budge. Dan eased over to pass. “Slow down, asshole!” snarled Bohunk.

Surfer Dan is a pleasant fellow, I suppose. But he’s also a coiled pack of solid muscle, the kind of muscle you get from a lifetime of surfing big waves, and he’s a coiled pack of mental muscle, too. You don’t earn your place in the lineup just because you surf well. You earn it because you can defend it, too.

Playfully, Dan looked at Bohunk, a giant, hairy, stupid creature who oozed ill will. “Please, don’t!” Mitzi begged. This obviously wasn’t Bohunk’s first brawl on the bike path and you could tell he relished the opportunity to beat up another wimp riding around in his underwear.

Dan grinned at Bohunk and said, softly, “Wanna go?”

Bohunk lunged for the bait. “Fuckin-A, you asshole! Let’s go!”

Dan eased his rear tire to within an inch of Bohunk, ready to whack the cretin’s front wheel out from under him in case the guy was crazy enough to try and get into a fist fight over being passed on the bike path. He had no intention of cutting his knuckles on this guy’s teeth. Bohunk reached out his left leg and aimed a mighty kick at Dan’s bike, but Dan easily moved over just as the full thrust of the extended, trunk-like leg fully extended into the open air.

Bohunk lost his balance and splatted hard on his shoulder, bouncing his concrete-like head against its brethren, the asphalt of the bike bath. With a long smearing sound of skin against pavement and sand, the aggressor then fouled the rest of himself up in the still-moving chain and rear wheel.

“Have a nice day!” Dan said, smiling as he rode off.

I’m guessing that he’s not suffering from post-traumatic jackass syndrome as a result.

 

END

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§ 30 Responses to Post-traumatic jackass syndrome

  • Rick says:

    I have a Spot dualie bike that I use to ride to coffee and back. It has a belt drive so I can ride it with my street clothes. I never wear a helmet when I ride the Spot. My rides to coffee are pleasant and relaxed. While not a bike path the road to coffee is very pleasant. 25 mph residential low traffic street. It’s almost a bike path. I notice the contrast in my mood and anxiety between when I roll out on my Spot vs. when I roll out in armor and gear on my road bike. There is a seriousness that accompanies being clipped in and protected by Oakleys and Giros.

    By far, my favorite ride, is my Spot. The ride to coffee reminds me of my childhood 50 years ago.

    • Sandy Hackney says:

      Some years ago I began graduate school in Collegeville, MN (at the age of almost 60 – what’s the hurry). I was a dedicated road rider/racer for many years. Stopping at some road construction once while on my bike I saw some cyclists riding on a “Rails to Trails”. What’s that? That is for pussies. I ride The Road!

      Well, later I tried it out of curiosity. Was I ever mistaken! 40 clear miles of straight, level, paved and beautiful riding (no hills either, but that is something else). I immediately switched my allegiance. I loved that 40 mile stretch. It even had its own cop on a mountain bike. I took pleasure in blowing by him with a hello knowing he could never catch me -ah hum, he did have a radio, tho, and I kept that in mind.

      Yes, I am constantly aware even on the very rural roads on which we ride in upstate NY that a cager could get us anytime, no matter how many blinking lights we have or how non-aggressively we ride. Goes with the territory today.

    • fsethd says:

      Off-road or off the road, it’s quieter.

  • ipdamages says:

    Gotta love Surfer Dan!

    I was out riding with my 12-year old the other day, coming up Ardmore at MB Blvd., when she got buzzed by a cager for the first time in her life. She broke down in tears immediately, fearing for her life at the hands of a Yukon buzzing a 4’6″, 68 lb. girl smiling from ear to ear with the wind in her hair, because he didn’t want to move over into the left lane or let a gap open to slow him from getting to the next stoplight. I felt bad for her and angry at him, but not much, bc I expect as much in this harsh and egocentric world in which we live.

    • fsethd says:

      Part of the preparation is zero expectations. If you play this game, these are chips you have to push to the middle of the table.

  • Winemaker says:

    While I love the story about SD, and give him kudos for the moment…a more “John Lennon” approach would have worked too….just ignore the brute and get on with your ride!…Lennon had a better attitude in regard to those who would choose to cuss you out and do violence. Maybe he could just absorb more of the crap that got tossed his way….

    This one for ipdamages: We have a bus out here in East County, the infamous “864” bus that goes from the Viejas area west to El Cajon and back…those drivers think absolutely NOTHING about missing cyclists by less than a foot at 60 mph….I decided just not to share the road with that bus…when I see it or hear it..I just pull off and stop…I know that is a copout, but there is too much wine to make and drink in this life…

  • Crashgybe says:

    I just spent three days commuting in the Richmond area of San Francisco. What a massively different attitude towards cyclists the folks have here. I have been routinely waved through stops at intersections, had traffic slow and wait to pass on narrow sections. Waived across lanes to get to the bike lane. They even have a section of road called the I-80 bike road, that parallels the freeway. I’m not sure I want to come back home!

  • colin says:

    <3 surfer dan

  • channel_zero says:

    As a reminder of how worthless you are on a bike here in SoCal, Jorge Alvarado’s killer just received the incredible sentence of 90 days in jail. We wouldn’t want to ruin that kid’s life, after all.

    That should be your next post. Just that. 30 years in riding bikes around L.A. and it’s no better where it matters. It’s nice to see many more people on bikes, but… 90 days for killing somebody.

    • fsethd says:

      I think the reasoning was, you know, the killer was white and the victim was Mexican, and what a shame it would be for a nice white boy to grow to maturity at Corcoran.

      • Matt says:

        And that kid still got to play college soccer, go to college parties, etc etc. What a disgusting shame. But like you said, it would’ve been sad to put a private university educated white boy in jail for longer than that.

      • fsethd says:

        Yes, imagine the trauma that he will suffer even spending 90 days behind bars. There is no justice.

  • i thought i was dead. That Range Rover pulled a U-Turn in front of me…and all i could really think of (after i computed that there were NO possible escape routes) was THIS IS HOW I’M GOING OUT!!???
    Jorge had to feel the same helpless feeling… as those out of control cars came thundering at him…!
    My crash was more than 2 years ago, and i’m still effed up…mentally…i have a hard time riding on the street at speed, constantly worrying about cars pulling out of driveways…crossing the center line…stopping for no reason…and as i see the riders i’m with, ride away, i’m worried about them too!…i can’t imagine how they can go down a hill as fast as they are going… “knowing”…or “NOT knowing” what lurks ahead…
    Cars could give a shit…the worse thing that can happen if they kill us is 90 days in the slammer. Cripes.
    …as you know, Mr. Wankmeister, i’m a big fan of the bike path…it’s no damn wonder.

    • fsethd says:

      Some folks love the BP, some folks hate it, but everyone agrees that if you try hard enough you can get hurt riding a bike.

  • Robert says:

    Glad to hear Dan rode away unscathed and doled out some cyclist justice, every in a while it happens the right way. I try to continually be respectful and let people know I’m on the left, most recreational cyclist out there appreciate it, but all it takes is one idiot.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve run into the same Jackhole before or some idiot just like him, as a result I try to avoid the Strand most of the time.

  • Peter Schindler says:

    I find that I am enjoying riding my mountain bike more and more. It is peaceful and fun and kind of like riding like a kid again. I mean ride the whoops and tell me it isn’t a childhood playground. And Greg, I got T-boned on my bike January, 1999, broke my back. I understand how you feel, I feel the same.

  • No one of consequence says:

    UH oh. I smell a conflict of interest. Bohunk just contacted CalBikeLaw.com

  • Gary says:

    Adam Myerson mentioned three particular incidents contributing to his bicycle riding stress: (a) getting right hooked, (b) getting cut off in the shoulder and (c) getting buzzed (close passed). All three of these actions are clearly the fault of a motorist’s illegal conduct on the road. But they are also the type of cyclist-endangering behavior that a cyclist can discourage by controlling the travel by riding near its center. See http://cyclingsavvy.org/hows-my-driving/comment-page-1/

    As for the motorists who are out to intentionally intimidate, maim and/or kill cyclists, there’s nothing a cyclist can do to protect against them. But if there were many of these on the road, I wouldn’t be here today (nor would many of us reading this).

    I have been cycling almost daily for nearly half a century, including lots in New York City, Montreal, central Illinois and Chicago, and now Los Angeles. Plus cycling during shorter stays in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America. I have never come close to being hit (or hitting) a motor vehicle. Lucky? That may well be part of it. But I think it’s more than that.

    If I felt like Adam Myerson does about cycling in traffic, I wouldn’t go near it.

  • victor says:

    it is 2014 and we are still fighting for equality on the roads. when will people start listening? People die, the killers walk free and it keeps happening. Bicycle fatalities increased 13.2 percent from 99 in 2010 to 114 in 2011. ** that is about 1 every 3 days . Keep writing!

  • Cagers suck says:

    Great comments and insight all! And I believe that until the punishment fits the crime nothing will change. Arrogant, ignorant, stupid and dangerous cagers will go on with their heads firmly planted so far up their backsides they can smell what they are going to have for lunch.
    After all it is the world that owes these brave souls who have to face traffic from behind the wheel of a 2,000 pound screaming metal death mobile. Proof is by how many of them smash into each other. And they do so far more often than they smash into us.

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