Monday May 21, 2012
Terrors on two wheels
SAMBAL ON THE SIDE BY BRENDA BENEDICT
It’s sunny again and cyclists are zipping everywhere, with some becoming a road hazard.
IT’S that time of year when melodious birdsong is occasionally interrupted by the jarring screech “Fahrradweg!” (bicycle lane!) – the battle cry of the übercyclists.
Before I continue, I would first like to emphasise that I have nothing against cycling itself. It is a workout for bodies gone wobbly over a long winter of overindulgence. It is an ecologically friendly mode of transportation that gives you a certain degree of autonomy over your travel schedule. And it’s a cheap alternative to a day ticket to Frankfurt that would otherwise set you back by €8 (RM32).
I also have no problems with law-abiding cyclists who go about their merry two-wheeled way.
I do, however, have a large bone to pick with the gadflys whose antics sometimes fly in the face of traffic rules, yet they raise a ruckus if so much as one-eightieth of your car’s tyre were to veer onto their sacrosanct cyclist lane.
Often enough, these are the ones kitted out in neon, skin-tight togs and helmets, looking like they took the wrong exit out of the last Tour de France. Not to be outdone are also entire families or cycling groups who think nothing of cycling five abreast on regular streets.
And woe betide pedestrians who accidentally cross over to a demarcated cyclists’ lane. You risk having a handlebar rammed into your back, if the furious jangling of bicycle bells hadn’t already made you scuttle like cockroaches.
This despite the traffic food chain that clearly places pedestrians at the pinnacle of the pyramid! Cyclists come in second, followed by the rest of us four-wheeled juggernauts. (This is in stark contrast to the Malaysian pyramid, which I believe is oftentimes inverted).
During driving lessons, you are taught to look out for cyclists. It’s not just a matter of glancing at your side mirror; you must look over your shoulder to cover blind spots or you could lose points during the practical exam.
But what to do when a cross light for pedestrians and cyclists turns red, thus permitting you to make a turn, and a cyclist whizzes past, leaving shrieking brakes in his wake? I experience this so often whilst driving through the city and I am a wary driver. (One only needs to look at German cops to know that lawbreakers don’t stand a grovelling chance of being let off the hook). And yet where are the stern Herren in green when the bane of my life flagrantly flouts the rules?
This has made me somewhat apathetic towards recent debates on the rising number of accidents involving cyclists and motorists. To be fair, there are motorists who should have their licences revoked – but some cyclists are not all blameless either.
Many ride around in the dark without lights or reflectors. This is especially dangerous since many suburban and country roads are not lit at night. What’s worse is that some even ride against traffic. It’s bad enough that one has to look out for deer crossing when passing dark, forested areas, what more cyclists dressed in black!
Once again, I must reiterate that there are just as many law-abiding cyclists out there who do not pull these stunts. But all it takes is for one freewheeling Lance Armstrong wannabe to get wedged on your bumper and you’re to blame.
Take, for instance, those cruising around during the morning rush hour on their recumbent bicycles, which place riders in a reclining position. Apparently it boasts ergonomic advantages as “the rider’s weight is distributed comfortably over a larger area, supported by the back and buttocks.” So while the rest of us are expected to make like owls swivelling our heads in all directions, can a supine cyclist truly register the goings-on around him?
Or take that bizarre buggy I recently encountered. It looked like Lady Gaga’s 2011 Grammy egg – on wheels. One could tell that the other motorists were unsure of what to do. Treat it like another car or overtake it as you would a regular bicycle under the prescribed circumstances outlined in the German driving theory course? In the end, the egg won. I later discovered that it is a velomobile. Wikipedia describes it as “a recumbent bike or tricycle with an aerodynamic shell.”
Well, with the weather improving by the day, one can only expect more of such human-powered vehicles on the roads. So now I simply look on the bright side. A speeding bike racing out of nowhere? No sweat!It’s a good test of my reflexes and my brakes.
> Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. She often deflects her husband’s suggestion of getting her a bike by insisting that it be turquoise.