Fully Vested / El Hombre Invisible

Since healing up from the busted arm, I’ve ridden with a fluorescent orange safety vest while bicycling. The first couple of days, felt like a total dork. All “cool” goes straight out the window. Trade that in for becoming kinda sorta visible to cars. I use that word with caveat and caution, as I still proceed with the assumption that i am el hombre invisible. Nevertheless, there is this unfamiliar phenomenon: cars come to a complete stop 20 feet away, motion me through the intersection. I never know whether they think I’m law enforcement or “something official-like” on account of the vest, or simply that the vest brings out the dormant courteous driver in some people. But there’s no question it makes a difference in the way cars treat me. I also use a super-spazmodo LED flasher on the seatpost now, which arrests vision from the rear at 50 paces.

Bike aside, my whole attitude toward traffic is permanently altered. Since Matthew’s death, my accident, Mike’s accident, and the eerie confluence of accidents that have affected so many friends and family over the past year, I drive like an old lady. Smell death and damage around every corner. See every merging car as an incoming 2,000-lb smart bomb. Have no lingering youthful sense of invulnerability. Feel lucky to arrive at any destination intact. Freak at every arrogant cell phone using, fast-food-eating, lipstick-applying, radio-twiddling, inattentive driver.

If only people knew what a thin razor’s edge they ride at every moment on the road. An edge that grows thinner with every passing year, as culture accelerates, population explodes, courtesy vanishes.

I think of Matthew every day when I slip that vest over my head.

5 Replies to “Fully Vested / El Hombre Invisible”

  1. I’m glad to read a sequel to your bicycle accident story and am impressed by your new precautions. I wish more of the bicyclists I see here in New York City were as uncommonly serious and cautious as you are.

    Far too often while out walking my wee doggies I see adult bicyclists zooming down the sidewalk amidst pedestrians, riding against traffic on one-way avenues, ignoring traffic signals, never using hand signals, rarely using helmets, etc. I can forgive kids, but adults doing this? I sadly now consider most bicyclists to be hazards to my little poopers along with skateboarders, drunks, razorscooter-riders, and pedestrians in cell-phone trances. I’ve even seen people talking on their cellphones zipping the wrong way down a street on their bikes! It’s great when people ride bikes safely, but it seems that most would rather not bother. Maybe it’s different in California.

    If bicycles were taken more seriously as vehicles here in the US and regarded less as toys, perhaps people would use them more responsibly. I hope I don’t sound like too much of an old fart with this little rant.

    My love to you, Amy and Miles.. :-)

  2. Hi Scot,

    You’re so right – not all cyclists are as conscientious as you. I recently only saw a bike coming down the road towards me because he was silhouetted in an oncoming car’s headlights – at night…

    I still maintain that everyone should have a non-serious accident at least once in order to remove that cockiness and invulnerability. Not that I would wish injuries like yours or Mike’s, nor wish what happened to Matthew, on anyone.

    BTW – I see cycling the wrong way down one-way streets every day here in Bath, UK. It’s not just ‘big’ cities…

    Peace,

    Tim

  3. A year ago, when I was still living in Boston, I noticed that I could see other cyclists with the neon green vests and jackets from a mile a way. I went out and bought one of each and wear them religiously now, along with ankle reflectors and blinking lights on both ends. Even so, I still have nearly daily occurences of some idiot driver nearly causing me an accident. (Usually it’s of the passing-to-close or the not-looking-before-pulling out variety.) But there is no question that people can see me a lot better now that I have my glowing neon vest/jacket. I wouldn’t trade my dorky look for my safety ever.

    Jamie

  4. I think most car drivers tend to overlook bikes not out of malice or negligience, but simply because bikes as well as runners have such a small visual footprint and move so slowly.

    This is no excuse for stupid behaviour on any side, of course, but I think many accidents could be avoided if more bikers and runners realised that often car drivers really can’t see them even if they want to.

    Note that I’m both running, biking and driving myself, so I know the situation from both sides.

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