I did not have the pleasure of tandem commuting today, however I did ride the single bike and have the opportunity to face a more and more common sight on the road – a distracted driver headed straight toward me in my lane. I deliberately chose to ride up one of the steeper hills in Carrboro through a quiet neighborhood in order to avoid the worst of 5pm college town traffic. I met just one car on the street, and it was coming right at me. He corrected his course just before I needed to veer away, but he passed by close enough that I could see what was up – he had just finished dialing his cell phone and was bringing it up to his ear. I gave him the raised-arm open-palmed what-are-you-thinking salute, and got a negligent wave in return.
There’s no need to repeat all of the research that’s been in the media lately, but suffice to say, we cyclists have to watch out for them, because they’re not looking out for us. The roadways were unsafe for lots of other reasons before all of these devices increased the amount of distractions to drivers. There’s just that much more riding on our own defensive awareness now.
As non-motorized road-users, we also need to evaluate our own device use. All of us: bikers, runners, pedestrians. A road user is a road user, we’re in the same space, and we can little afford to be distracted. As among drivers, more and more complaints are being raised about cyclists on cell phones weaving across the bike lane, and runners and cyclists oblivious to road noise because of the headphones in their ears. Often, that road noise can convey some pretty essential information, like there’s a bus on your left that’s just not going to stop, or there’s a car crash currently happening next you, as I’ve witnessed while cycling on the Lake Shore bike path where it parallels Lake Shore Drive in Chicago some 20 feet away. Some cities are thinking about creating ordinances to ban use of some of these devices while walking or riding on city streets. Maybe some already have. (I guess it’s not a new issue -found this article from 1982).
I see a lot of my friends heading out for long bike rides on the bucolic rolling hills of the North Carolina farmland with the little white cords dangling from their helmet straps. Sometimes even while we’re riding together. Does this make the ride more interesting? Does it take your mind off the pain, or help keep you in rhythm?
I’m not a pill enough to comment on it to them, but maybe I will start. I tried riding with my ipod a couple times on a bike path, even rode years ago with a big old discman once or twice stuffed into a rear jersey pocket of a cycling shirt. But I never liked it. Mainly because I had to have the volume cranked to the max in order to hear past the whoosh of the wind, and I thought it best to save what remains of my ear drums for live rock shows. Maybe being able to hear the road conditions has saved my neck once or twice, too.
The question for tandem riders is, What about the stoker? It’s important for us to be able to communicate about road conditions and navigation. But it seems like it would be really helpful if the stoker could “multi-task” back there, snapping digital pictures over my shoulder (note the fine photography at the beginning of this post) ,taking cell calls from my soon-to-be in-laws, checking a map on a wireless device. Maybe even tune out my rambling by ducking her ears into headphones.