How not to be an asshole, part 1 of 3,536

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I thought I’d take a moment to make a brief public service announcement on how not to be an asshole. This is a 3,536 part series and we’ve got a long way to go, so let’s get started.

For part 1, I’d like to take a moment to address drivers, specifically of the motor vehicle kind: please don’t kill me.

It’s been a year since I’ve started riding my bike around town for most everything and I’ve logged thousands of miles. Yet to this day despite thousands of dollars on public ad campaigns and infrastructure upgrades, people still seemingly don’t know how to drive around a cyclist. Allow me to explain some things from my perspective.

When I ride my bike around Indianapolis, most of the shoulders on the roads look like what you see at above right.

From a car you can’t see that it’s full of crap.

Lesson #1: Don’t litter or drive around with loose trash. Unless you’re a dump truck, why are you even riding around with this much loose trash that can just fall out of your car?

But take a good close look. There’s wood, splinters, weeds, mulch, mud, puddles, plastic, and all sorts of stuff stuck over at the side of the road. All roads. Every road. Every where. I’m convinced this is why shoulders were invented — to give garbage a place to drift to. When the road doesn’t have a shoulder, it just ends up in the grass off to the side of the road. Or, more accurately, the weeds on the side of the road.

I have cycled past, near, and over countless bags of fast food, cups, wrappers, and plastic cutlery. I’ve even cycled around furniture, boxes, what looked like a breast implant, toys, and more dead dogs and cats than I care to. In a car speeding past or around road kill you think, “Aww, that poor kitty.” On a bike you think, “Huuauaauaugh — that, oh my god, that cat.” I once cycled past a dog on south Emerson Avenue that must have been hit at an insane speed because it didn’t just get turned into a greasy spot in the road — it was eviscerated. I cycled past the dog’s head at one point and several yards later found the body, and then several more yards away was the dog’s back right leg. I could go into more detail, but when you’re hunched over the road traveling at about 15 MPH, you tend to have time to notice these things.

Lesson #2: If you have a dog, put it on a leash. It saves the dog’s life when it otherwise runs into the road and prevents it from chasing me down the road, which they do. A lot.
Lesson #3: As you’re driving, slow the heck down or else you’re going to end up with a puppy’s head stuck to your windshield wipers.

The point is, there’s a bunch of stuff in my way and there’s nothing I can do about it, so stop getting testy with me. If you’re driving a car and you see a baby grand piano in the road, you’re going to swerve to avoid it. Guess what I do when I see something in my way?

But take a closer look at what’s on the side of the road. It’s everywhere, and impossible to avoid:

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See it? There’s a big piece in front, but all through there are tiny bits of glass. I have no clue where this much glass comes from considering no one drinks out of clear glass bottles anymore, and beer bottles are tinted. My best guess is that this is glass that comes from people’s cars — headlights, windshields, mirrors, and tail lights. People get into a wreck and the glass is swept to the side, or, people drive around with cars that are falling apart and it decomposes right there on the road. Why the city doesn’t dispatch a street sweeper at accident sites is beyond me.

Lesson #4: I can’t ride over broken bits of glass anymore than you can ride over glass or nails (of which, there are plenty of on the road — who are these people dropping nails everywhere?). Stop honking at me for riding my bike in the driving lane. I know there’s a shoulder there, but I can’t use it.

The same goes for designated bike lanes. The bike lanes are, in effect, a generous shoulder with some fancy markings and signs spruced out along the way. I can rarely ride in the lanes as a result of your crappy car’s inability to stay in one piece.

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Lesson #5: If your car is in such piss poor shape it’s falling apart, that’s not only against the law, it’s dangerous. It’s time to get rid of the car.

Not to mention the ridiculous amount of potholes that litter the roads. A pothole that’s relatively small to a car means a flat tire or a bent bike tube to me. The above shot is from an actual bike lane.

This also forces me out for the shoulder and into the driving lane again. This is such a common thing for me that I’ve given up on riding on the shoulder or bike lane in most every place but the newest of paved roads. I’m going to ride in the driving lane because it’s the safest place for me and I’m relying on you not to be an asshole about it. I have a legal right to it under Indiana law. I understand that when the only thing that separates you from being an asshole and not being an asshole is the angle to which you hold your ankle to the accelerator, that it’s really hard to not be an asshole.

Lesson #6: You’re encased in a two ton car that burns money, gas, and emissions and is probably empty with exception of you and your latte, and I’m wearing a foam hat with no heat or air conditioning. Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate who the bigger man is here.

And you can’t tell me to ride my bike on the sidewalk. Sidewalks in Indianapolis are even worse, so much so in most places it’s against city code to ride your bike on the sidewalk anyway. The sidewalks have a bunch of problems. They start and stop at odd angles or just stop at curbs with no access ramp. It’s like riding along the highway at 60 MPH only to find that the road just drops off and ends 10 feet in front of you.

Plus, people are too lazy to take care of their portion of the sidewalk, like this guy:

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When his trash cans aren’t just sitting in the sidewalk, his bush is. Low-hanging tree limbs are just as bad. Plus, you can see here that the sidewalk is uneven, too, which can hurt when you just plop down a few inches randomly.

Lesson #7: Keep your sidewalks clear. It’s the law. It’s also a nice thing to do.
Bonus Lesson for this guy: The city won’t accept trash not in their designated trash cans. It’s been like that for a year. And four days after trash day your trash is still sitting outside, probably because you’re an asshole.

I go to great lengths not to piss off motorists. I really do. Twice this week I have gone far and away out of my way, miles out of my way, just to avoid some roads with narrow lanes that make it difficult for motorists to pass me. That’s right. I’ve pedaled in 100 degree heat for an extra 4.5 miles just so I can take roads that are just as crappy for a cyclist, but have fewer motorists.

I signal with my hands, I pull over sometimes if there’s not much room to get around me, I wear bright clothing, I signal and wave and say “thanks” when I can. I motion for people to come around me in right turn lanes if it’s safe for them to do so, just so they don’t have to wait for me.

And people still honk at me, sometimes (I think), to say, “Hey, excuse me. I’m behind you and coming up on your left.” Except car horns are really fucking loud. All I hear is, “HEY I’M IN A BIG CAR AND I’M SPEEDING BY YOU 10 MILES PER HOUR OVER THE SPEED LIMIT SO BEEP BEEP BEEP OUTTA MY WAY HERE I AM WEEEEEE!”

Lesson #8: Do not honk at people on bikes. It startles us and can cause us to swerve or become too distracted.

Roads with very low curbs or that sit an inch lower than the surrounding driveways and entryways pose another challenge, which is that if my tire hits the side of the very, very, low curb, I’m going to lose control. I have zero room for error and your honking, swerving, or speeding by me as if I can move is wrong. I can’t move. I’m stuck. I have literal inches of space to keep my tire lined up with and god forbid I stare down at a pothole. You’re the one that has all three other lanes, you have to move.

And as a final note, don’t ever tell me this is my fault. That somehow I asked for this because if I’d just have a car like everyone else I wouldn’t have this problem. No, that’s not the case. If I had a car I’d have to worry about assholes that might steal my car. Or assholes that might ding it in the parking lot, or ticket it because I parked on some magic painted line I didn’t know existed, or have to pay a bunch of interest to an asshole bank.

Lesson #9: Don’t steal or damage people’s things.

Cyclists are the ones who are able to save money like people are supposed to, who don’t pollute, who actually do something about protesting the gas pump. You “dump the pump” when you get mad on some random Thursday in May because gas went up that one time. We really dumped it. We’re the ones who pay property taxes to fund roads we can barely use. We’re the ones making a go at truly sustainable living. Just slow down.

Just stop being an asshole.

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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