Wednesday, 27 September, 2006

Insulted for the crime of being courteous

Part of my daily bicycle commute has me riding about a half mile on a sidewalk through a neighborhood association's greenbelt.  The sidewalk is meant for bicycles as well as pedestrians and it shaves about a mile off my ride.  More importantly, it keeps me off a busy two-lane road that has no shoulder.

Most days I encounter people walking on the trail.  If I approach from the front, of course, it's rare that I need to attract anybody's attention.  I slow down and make eye contact, though, to be sure that people really do see me coming by.  I smile and say hello, and then continue on my way.  But when I approach from behind I have to warn people that I'm coming by.  Not only as common courtesy, but also as a safety measure.  Many people are walking dogs or walking with children, neither of which I'm particularly interested in colliding with.

As I approach from behind, I get within range where I can say "bicycle behind you" loud enough to be heard, but not so loudly that I'm screaming.  I always slow down, of course, and if the person does not acknowledge, I will repeat it, "bicycle behind you", in a louder voice and much closer.  Most people hear the first time.  Almost all hear the second.  Without fail, they thank me for making my presence known and they ensure that there's room for me to pass.

Periodically I come upon somebody who's listening to music or somehow otherwise so preoccupied that he (or she) doesn't hear my warning.  Since I don't feel like screaming to scare anybody, I just ride slowly by and hope that he doesn't take that moment to start his Fred Astaire routine.  All good, right?  Except that almost every time I do this, the person with the music blaring in his ear will yell obscenities about rude bicyclists.  It's absurd.  I'm in too much of a hurry and too non-confrontational in any case to turn around and explain that I made my presence known but he was too involved in his music to hear it.  Probably best in any case, as it's doubtful that such actions would have a positive effect.

There's a hike and bike trail near the house where I ride my mountain bike from time to time.  I perform the same ritual there and experience the same results.  Conversations with other bicyclists have confirmed that this is a common problem.  We do what courtesy requires and yet we're verbally abused because some people don't have the common sense to turn down their music so that they can hear what's going on around them.  What, exactly, are these people thinking?