Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Commuter Blues

This apparel item makes you "less than human" when worn.
 I've been a bicycle commuter steadily since 2002 and before that sporadically since 1993. So, I've built up a lot of knowledge in regard to my interactions with the operators of motor vehicles as I cycle through the Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro area. 

These are my observations only. Your area may be quite different. (I hope it is!) But a recent study reported on by Momentum Magazine online shines a light toward what I have always thought to be true. That being that when I dress in "cycling garb" I am treated quite differently than I am when I wear street clothing to cycle in. 

I have found this to be so true in my experience that - unless I am going for a long ride solo in the country - I wear street clothes to cycle in almost exclusively now. The difference is amazing. 

Of course, there are outliers and times when I get close passed by cars even if I am wearing street clothes and a ball cap, but probably 99% of the time or more I get a wide berth, people defer to me at intersections, and I never get yelled at. Wearing a helmet? That instantly makes my commutes more difficult. I get less consideration, and I have been yelled at. Wearing a full kit?

Fahgeddaboudit. You may as well be a worm.

Yeah, like the study I linked to says, why that is no one really knows yet, but we can guess. I assume that people see a "person" when they see a cyclist in normal garb. But perceptions about "cyclists" in a kit? I imagine those are mostly of the negative sort. Why? Well, I think that can range anywhere from "cyclists are neredowell rule-breakers that are unpredictable and in the way" to worse than that.  

I really don't know, nor do I really care. I just know what works, and what doesn't work, and I have adapted accordingly. Should things be different? Yes. In the meantime, I do what I have to do so I can ride a bicycle. My feeling is that until this culture of car-centrism changes to accommodate cycling and walking at an even plane to automobile usage, or at a higher importance than that, things won't change significantly. We need to see a philosophy of less cars are better, more cycling and walking is better first. 

But I don't think the powers that be are interested in it unless they can make coin out of it. Right now, that isn't the case.


Doug M. said...

That's *gulp* enlightening. Our lizard brains sure do betray us sometimes.

james said...

I live in So Cal and have been commuting since the mid 1980's. I have the exact same experience here as you do in Cedar Falls. I very rarely wear dedicated cycling clothes these's just shorts and a t-shirt + a ball cap to protect my bald head. My main ride is a Rivendell with swoopy bars higher than the saddle. It is rare that I have an issue with a motorists, if anything it is just distracted driving that poses a problem. Motorists almost always give me a wide berth and insist I proceed first through controlled intersections.
I'm just an old man with a grey beard minding my own business getting some fresh air and sunshine.

teamdarb said...

Similar study exist for motorcyclist as well. The odd thing is reversed though. The equipped rider is seen as human while the unequipped is not. I think people see bicyclist in traditional gear and think that the person must travel far and not be someone they'd (drivers) see daily. So being a butt is okay. The regular clothing dressed cyclist, however, would be assumed to be on a short ride therefore the risk of interacting with them again is higher. So the drivers give a bit more care. I hear all the time people assume I live around the local area, because I wear office type pants. Drivers assume I am just out to lunch or running an errand. Last year while cycling through Kent, Ohio several cars were making some insane efforts to move over. Then at a particular stop a driver questioned if I could take an envelope back with me to the post office. I was confused. Then I realized the navy blue shorts and light blue shirt looked similar to the USPS uniform. I could not stop laughing. It happens often as I am still wearing those items. Even when walking. Ha.

This post reminds me I really need to get another helmet. Thanks

PStu said...

Longtime bike commuter. I can understand the research, but I am trying to weigh the trade-off in visibility and head safety. In my Urban environment I’m worried about visibility and distracted drivers. Seeing me is human is not helpful if the driver doesn’t see me at all. At night, I often PS riders who are hard to see when I am a few feet behind them.

On the safety front, if not wearing a helmet reduces the risk of being hit by a car by 20% but doubles my risk of traumatic brain injury, is that a net positive? I don’t know the exact head trauma risk, but my neighbor, a nurse, said she sees the results first hand when someone else recently mentioned riding without a helmet.

Finally, at what point do regular clothes become too annoying? If I had a 3-mile commute, I might use regular clothes, but I think my butt would chafe over my 10-mile commute in normal shorts. And in our hot summers, a t-shirt would quickly become a sodden mess compared to a fast-wicking jersey.

Guitar Ted said...

@Pstu - At what point does a helmet protect you from ....anything....when being hit by a 3000+lb vehicle driven at 20+ mph? Having been struck by a truck going less fast than that and being tossed like a rag doll I can honestly say that a helmet does nothing for you there. I still suffer from the effects of that incident 9 years down the road. But- to each their own. You have to decide what risk you are willing to assume.

Safety in terms of visibility: Nothing will save you from a distracted driver besides being ultra-vigilant and never trusting anyone driving anything down a road. That said, I use lights and flashers all the time when I deem that to be necessary. I did not say to neglect visibility, especially at night.

Clothing: That is a matter of personal preference, but to your point specifically: There are plenty of choices in performance cycling wear that "look" like standard street clothing. So, you can have "the look" and have your comfort and personal sweat management issues covered if you are willing to do the research and spend that money for those items. There are no "bad conditions" only poor clothing choices. ;>)

Gary said...

I'm going to go helmetless on my commute, I already wear street clothes. I'll report back on what happens.