Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Way of the Bike

A friend of Damn Arbor and visitor to Ann Arbor commented recently on our city's bike culture: namely that so many people ride their bikes on their sidewalks, frequently at high velocities and without head protection. I've noticed this on a number of occasions as well, usually from behind my handlebars. So what is it about biking in Ann Arbor that gives rise to this widespread two-wheeled devil-may-care attitude? Here are my thoughts.

We don't actually have bike lanes. BCB has written about this before: most of Ann Arbor's bike lines are actually in the middle of regular traffic lanes. That is to say, when you are riding your bike there is usually a car right behind you, the driver is on his way to Buffalo Wild Wings, and he has very little patience with you, who is the only thing between him and spicy meat and televised sports. I will take my chances with pedestrians.

File:2009-03-07 Man with bicycle helmet.jpg
This guy looks dumb.

Helmets look dumb. There is no way around it. It is impossible to look cool while wearing a bike helmet. Sure it is whole lot stupider to not wear a helmet (closed head injuries, etc.), but at least you don't look stupid. That's what really matters.

Michigan roads suck, even in Ann Arbor. This one is real. A few weeks ago, I was riding to work and hit a pothole. Except, apparently, my body doesn't believe in inertia or any of the other laws of physics to the same extent as my bike, and I quite unexpectedly found myself on the ground. And there stood my bike still inexplicably upright, its front tire still in the pothole. Luckily, I was wearing my helmet.

These are just my thoughts. Does anyone else have any comments about Ann Arbor's particular bike culture?


  1. There's fresh graffiti on the train trestle over N. Main at Argo dam that says in huge letters "BIKE LANES PLEASE".

    Some of the new bike lanes are really bizarre. Last night I was driving on Washington near Division and couldn't help but think about the bike icon with chevron I was literally driving over. These new “lanes” seem a bit unarmed without having the roads they're a part of changed in any other way besides donning an icon. No lines painted and certainly no traffic shifted. Bikes have just as much right to the road as cars but some of these new so-called lanes really have me scratching my head.

  2. Phil, those are "sharrows" and we have them all over SF. They're for places where there isn't enough space for a full bike lane... Although here, unlike in MI (as far as I'm aware), bikes are allowed to take a full traffic lane and most drivers are more accustomed to sharing with bikes.

    Ben, you can totes look cool in a helmet, especially when paired with a beer-branded cycling cap:

    People favor skate-style helmets here. However, I will admit that we may allow bike culture to influence our fashion sense TOO much...

  3. I feel like the sharrows have a psychological effect.