Why I love bicycling – and hate smug bicyclists

When I moved to Madison from the Fox Valley two years ago, one of the things I most appreciated was my new home’s bicycle-friendly vibe. Specifically, I was happy that I no longer had to feel like an outsider when I rode my bike to the grocery store or the library. In Madison, if you’re on a bike, people generally assume you’re a health-conscious, environmentally astute pillar of the community on your way to work or a farmers market. In Appleton, they assume you’re heading to Hooter’s to celebrate your fourth DUI conviction.

So when I heard that Trek Bikes had donated $2 million to fund a local B-cycle bike-sharing system, I was doubly enthused.

According to the Madison B-cycle website, the bike-sharing system, which is up and running and will continue to be implemented through the summer, will provide access to more than 300 bikes throughout the city. Using a credit card or membership card (memberships can be purchased online), riders can pick up bikes from stations across town and return them to any other station. An annual membership is $65 a year (about 18 cents a day), and with that, you get 30 minutes of free riding per trip before you start to get charged.

Of course, this sort of attentiveness to healthy, environmentally conscious, sustainable transportation warms my squishy liberal soul. I imagine it could have a domino effect that ultimately shrinks the poverty rate; convinces Dick Cheney to remove freshly harvested, still-throbbing baby seal hearts from his family’s Thanksgiving menu; and inspires Sarah Palin to launch a literacy program dedicated to teaching Sarah Palin how to read. In other words, the Age of Aquarius. (This is how I prefer to view the world, okay? Please don’t stomp on my illusions.)

But there are other potential benefits. The benefits to commuters – who might like to park away from downtown and ride the rest of the way to work and who may not want to get in their cars during the day to run errands – are clear. They can save a little fuel, get some exercise, and spare themselves some parking hassles.

But there may be a wider impact as well. If it gets more rear ends on bikes, it could provide a boost for Madison’s many bike-related businesses as people discover how fun, easy, and convenient biking can be. (Indeed, one estimate puts the economic impact of bicycling in Wisconsin at $1.5 billion.) Hey, there’s got to be some reason Trek decided to put up all that scratch, right?

And all that is well and good, but I’d just like to say one thing before more Madisonians take to the road on two wheels. Please don’t be jerks, okay?

More than once in this town, I’ve seen bicyclists dart out in front of traffic – seemingly without looking – while I headed down the street in my evil, fossil fuel-burning, subcompact automobile. I could see the smugness radiating from their bodies like stink lines from Andy Capp on a three-day whiskey bender. The implicit message was, “Cars shouldn’t exist, so we’ll proceed as if they don’t.”

Now listen, dingleberry. I’m in a car. You’re on a bike. Your sense of self-satisfaction and moral superiority do not alter the laws of physics. You hit car, you fall down and get owie. And if I accidentally kill you because you gave me 3 feet of braking distance, you can be sure that they won’t use your body as sustainable biomass fuel or organic chamomile fertilizer – and the body bag they stuff you in most likely won’t be made out of recycled hempen sacks that were used to transport fair trade babybjorns to impoverished Central American villages. They’ll stick you in a vinyl Halliburton bag and pump you so full of embalming fluid you’ll decompose slower than a Styrofoam packing peanut. Enjoy.

Of course, the vast, vast majority of bicyclists in this town – including me, I hope – are great. It’s the few who take such a cavalier attitude toward their own safety who really puzzle – and infuriate – me.

Now, they said that only Nixon (a rabid anti-communist) could go to China (where he probably ran over a bicyclist from Willy Street who wasn’t looking). So I believe it falls to me (a bicycle advocate and longtime lib) to send a message to the few bad actors out there: Hey bad actors, knock it off.

But I’d like to be an ambassador of sorts, too: New bicyclists, welcome to the joys of bicycling. And Trek, thanks for the opportunity.

Now let’s try not to blow a good thing.

Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click here.