Thursday, October 8, 2009

With bells on....

I love the people in this world who have bells on their bike.  That sounds condescending, but I truly, truly don't mean it that way.  I think they are the optimists of the world, I think one would have to be to believe that the pleasant little ring a ding will make a difference among the horrible screeches, blats, honks, and squeals of the big city.  It's like the Miles Davis Quintet, circa 1956, with Red Garland gently caressing the sweet little piano intro, "Ding, dong, ding, dong," in the middle of a mashup of Masada, Minor Threat, and Gwar. 

"Ask me how do I feel, ask me now that we're cosy and clinging.  Well sir, all I can say is if I were a bell I'd be ringing..."

It's genteel and sweet, and I was lucky enough to have a bird's eye view of a classic bell scene this morning while going north on the fairly brand spanking new, drainage challenged Allen Street bike lane.  I was stuck behind a very upright woman on a dutch city style bicycle of the sort that people keep claiming to be the ideal commuter.  I personally don't find anything ideal about 40 lbs and a wingspan that barely fits the Manhattan bridge bike lane, let alone squeezing between cars in traffic, but to each their own.  That's the thing about all these commuter proclamations "your lock should cost more than your bike," "you have to have fenders," "we need more bike lanes," "bike lanes are no good."  Different people have different styles, different priorities.  Personally, I prefer taking a lane and actually feel safer being in traffic.  To some, comfort is important, and they would prefer to sit upright, separated from the cars and not have street scum splash all over them (yes, I eschew fenders, I know...I know...), but we use the street differently, and what works for the bike messenger might not work for the businessman.  The best we can do is try to empathize with what other people might find important, try to look beyond ourselves, at least try.  But I digress.  

Finally having passed the giant wingspanned commuter, I nearly clocked a Lindsay Lohan lookalike.  Fortunately, I was spared the pedestrian hate, since she never noticed a thing.  She was crossing the street, I think she was at least, in a very meandering way and had just gotten to the giant potted plant partitions when I passed her, head bobbing away and looking North through giant Aviators, even though traffic was coming from the south.  I heard the tinkle tinkle of the little bell and had to look back.  Li-lo continued staring north, the bell continued to ring and the cyclist eventually went around the still roaming aimlessly child star look alike, never saying a word, but ringing constantly.  

"Ask me how do I feel, little me with my quiet upbringing.  Well, sir, all I can say is if I were a gate I'd be swinging!  And if I were a watch I'd start popping my springs, or if I were a bell I'd go ding, dong, ding, dong, ding!"

"Well, if I were a salad I know I'd be splashing my dressing" -  interestingly, I did see a man pouring salad dressing onto this very same bike lane..., "ask me how to describe this whole beautiful thing, well if I were a bell I'd go ding dong, ding dong.....GET THE HELL OUT MY WAY, WHY IN THE WORLD DO YOU THINK IT IS OK TO AMBLE AIMLESSLY IN TRAFFIC WHILE WEARING HEADPHONES??!!"

Just not zen enough I guess, I strive to be "Relaxin with the Miles Davis Quintet," but often am still much more "Never Mind the Bollocks."


  1. Nice ditty! I noticed a facebook group of people supporting Bloomberg because Thompson said he would fire Sadik-Khan.

    I left a post summarizing my thoughts on the new brand of bike lanes...

  2. There was a bell in my New Belgium schwag bag. It looks right at home on the Nitto bar of the steel beast. Right colourway & all.

  3. Mikeweb - very well put, I couldn't agree more. Frilly - fine, but was there New Belgium?

  4. nice story, but of all of it I'd think you'd find the bit about the street scum splash the hardest to, um..., "swallow".

    ...yeah. you know what i'm talking about...

  5. pervert.

    ok, you're right. Mette suggested I start proclaiming the indispensability for urban cyclists of the mouth-fender.

  6. mikeweb -

    Please give the 8th and 9th avenue lanes another chance. I don't love them, and on my commutes I like to ride fast and deal with as few pedestrians as possible - but I use those lanes as a courtesy to those who feel safer in them. When you're mixing it up in traffic with one of those lanes available it's unfair to drivers who already lost road space - and it's technically illegal. (unless you can prove the lanes are unsafe).

    The 9th Avenue lane is also not usually very crowded with pedestrians at all. Salmoning cyclists are a problem there but really - not a huge one.

    Just use the lanes! They're really not that bad. Be alert, and just slow down if you have to. My little brother who uses the 8th avenue lane everyday to get to school will thank you.

  7. RatherBeBiking, not sure I understand your logic. Using the separated lanes as a courtesy to those who feel safer in them? As far as drivers, I get honked at most often when there's no bike lane available and I'm riding in a driving lane, if that's any indication.

    Actually, I get honked at most often when I'm riding in PP during car hours and I'm forced to ride in a driving lane because there's joggers using the bike lane instead of the specified jogging lane (don't even get me started on people who find it necesary to jog in the bike lanes or just right out in the street). So oddly, it seems that drivers are fairly acclimated to sharing the road with cyclists except in the case of the park drives where cars are only allowed during limited times.

    As for salmoning, I can understand where it might be easier to salmon for 1/2 a block to avoid having to ride another 3 blocks around to get going in the right direction. But most of the salmon I see seem to be going for a mile or more from point A to point B the wrong way in a bike lane. Just yesterday, I saw a woman (no helmet, of course) riding the wrong way in the Dean st. (Brooklyn) bike lane, when there's a perfectly fine bike lane going the right direction for her literally 150 feet away! on Bergen st.

    As someone who bikes, walks and drives in NYC on a fairly regular basis, this strikes me as not only unsafe and inconsiderate, but stupid. I can almost guarantee you that this same woman if walking and crossing a one way street after checking for cars or bikes in the direction that they're supposed to be coming from, stepped into the crosswalk and got walloped by a salmoning biker, would be the first to correctly blame the biker. Maybe the whole one way thing would then finally dawn on her...

  8. Bells are great because they SOUND condescending. When you use them (as I do on shared paths) people move but get slightly annoyed because the "ding" actually means "um...move." However, if you don't use one the foot traffic gets startled and yells.

    Lose-lose? Win-win?

    It does little in traffic, of course. But there isn't a more polite sounding "move it, d-bag!" on the market. It's like smiling while giving the finger.