Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What is in West Marin's water?

I ride my bike a lot, and I usually choose to ride out in West Marin, in the bucolic countryside. Sometimes I am out by myself, sometimes in a small group, and occasionally in a large group of up to 30 riders. It seems like every ride, I have a negative encounter with an aggressive motorist, angry about sharing the road with cyclists.

What makes these hippies so unhappy? If you have chosen to live in West Marin, you have checked out of the fast lane. You are not in your pickup rushing to a board meeting. The CEO has not summoned you to the office for a critical strategy session. If you have to wait a minute until the road straightens out so you can pass safely, the world will keep spinning. And yet, I often see untempered aggression.

In Marin County, West Marin is the poor stepchild. All the tax base is within 2 miles of 101. Go west, and you are looking at subsidized living.

Bolinas is particularly irksome. Those people are downright hostile to visitors, and yet they have no obvious means of support other than tourism, agriculture (probably more accurately herbiculture) and welfare. The Bovine Bakery, which does serious business with cyclists and other tourists, delights in not having an espresso machine. "We only make real coffee", they say. What would Europeans, who have been drinking it a lot longer than we have, think about that.

During the Tour of Marin, where we had a rolling CHP escort, I actually saw a slackjawed yokel throw a Big Gulp at the riders. He was immediately pulled over...that guy is not just hostile, he is an idiot.

When I have ridden in other rural areas, people are just not like that. When you move to West Marin, you have to accept that there are going to be some inconveniences. When I lived in Oxford, UK, I faced a similar situation. In the summer, the streets were infested with tourists, mostly Japanese. The sidewalks were literally jammed with various tour groups moving like slow schools of fish. And they would not get out of your way as you tried to move through them. Did I start throwing sodas at them or pushing them into the street? No. I am a civilized person. I walked in the street to get around them, or waited impatiently when I had no other option.

So, what makes people in West Marin so unfriendly? If they are so put upon by cyclists, tourists and other money spending inconveniences, why don't they move to Iowa?

End of rant.


  1. It’s not always unhappy hippies instigating tension between cyclists and motorists, nor are the encounters limited to motorists. While rolling across the GGB on my commute home before they open the West Side I get a study in what causes the aggression. In my view, it is the relative speed of the opposing parties that causes friction - not the vehicle. Cyclists are just as hostile to the tourists walking along the Bridge as the bohemians are to us on the West Marin roads. 4 years I ago I witnessed a nearly horrific accident as a pack of rabid “Team Marin” type cyclists plowed into a family with young children along the Bridge’s pedestrian side. The children didn’t “hold their line” and caused the lead rider to swerve, jam up his brakes and take his whole pack down. Somehow nobody was hurt, not even the young kid that took the main blow. Watching the reaction of the cyclists as they collected themselves and berated the kids, parents and anyone who would listen was enough to put me off of the Marin group ride scene until I met Scott and realized that not all ride leaders promote this kind of culture.

    If we want respect (or, more important, to be safe) on the roads we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard in our interactions with both pedestrians and motorists. Is it fair? Not at all, but it’s the reality that we confront riding the same roads as 3000 pound cars on our 16 pound bikes wearing no more than what looks like underwear to most people. The family that had the misfortune to “hold up” that pack of cyclists ended the day by getting back into a car and driving home. I wonder how they felt about every “innocent” cyclist they passed on their way?

  2. Interesting observation. Basically, everywhere that you have bodies interacting that are traveling at different velocities, you get friction. Molecules, rivers, crowds, roads. Only on the road do I see such bad behavior, though.


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