Don’t be That Guy. That is Rule Number One at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. It is even printed up in a guide on how to enjoy the show. It is part of an unofficial official code of conduct aimed at helping all of the concert goers have a great experience. At Bonnaroo it means don’t be that guy that is five beers over his limit at ten a.m. Don’t be the person that is trashing the campground with litter or throwing empty cans expecting someone to clean up after you. Don’t be that guy.
I started thinking about the rule and cycling after a phone conversation with a friend. He was stunned to learn that I had started riding my bike as much as possible and transitioning to road cycling. This was a while ago, and we were catching up. His first reaction was “don’t be that guy that shoots in and out of traffic, through every red light, and creates a rolling road hazard!” I laughed and reminded him that his own hobby, motor cycle riding, has That Guy too.
“Are you that guy that rides at 100 miles per hour, weaving in and out of traffic, popping wheelies on the highway?”
Of course he isn’t. He is a semi-professional racer that always wears a suit of leathers and a helmet when he rides, on the street or track. He knows that part of being a responsible rider is being a good citizen on the road, obeying the law and showing some consideration to his fellow motorist. He also realizes that his safety is primarily his responsibility and he rides accordingly. He knew exactly what I meant when I asked him if he was That Guy because he has seen them, but he isn’t That Guy.
This has been my first season on the road; I don’t know every rule and reason cyclists do things. I am also a lone rider; I don’t ride in a group so I don’t know all of their customs and cultures either. Even in mass charity rides I normally ride alone or with one other person because I am much slower than the cyclists that ride in pace lines. In short, I am a novice cyclist but a very interested observer. That is also my disclaimer for anything I am going to say about the cycling version of That Guy. There are many things that I don’t know when it comes to road cycling, but I do know that it is important for all of us to try to not be That Guy.
That Guy doesn’t follow the rules of the road. That Guy cycles through red lights, stop signs, and any other traffic signals. He doesn’t yield the right of way. He weaves in and out of traffic, using the road, the sidewalk, parking lots, or whatever else he can cut across or through to get to wherever he is going. That Guy will do anything possible to avoid clipping out. That Guy is a royal pain in the butt to everyone around him. That Guy gives all cyclists a bad name to anyone watching him ride. He views the world as something that he has a right to own and use for his purpose, not as something we all have to share. He will feel entitled and cause more ill will towards cyclists in one ride than any other cyclist can repair by riding courteously.
That Guy also rides distracted. That Guy might be doing everything in the preceding paragraph because he is chasing a record on Strava. That Guy uses his cell on the bike, using a free hand to hold it to his head. He even texts, riding no hands and no brains down the road, eyes glued to his cell. That Guy becomes a rolling road hazard. He believes that the world should look out for him and keep him safe, that it not his responsibility to safeguard his own life. That Guy will roll right into traffic but blame the motorist for any close calls.
That Guy shows up before charity rides too. He sits in the parking lot sizing up other riders as if everyone is about to leave on a stage of the Tour de France. He sneers at aluminum bikes, and laughs at people in miss-matched lycra. His disdain for the cyclists that don’t shave their legs is palpable. That Guy believes that there is a cost of entry into the sport or ride and if you aren’t willing to pay it he isn’t willing to accept you as a cyclist. It doesn’t matter that there really isn’t, that isn’t his problem, you either live up to his ideal or you don’t. If you don’t his reaction will run the gamut from ignoring you to outright derision.
Are all cyclists That Guy? Of course we aren’t; no more than all drivers are That Guy either. But I bet we have all done something that made us That Guy for a second. I know I sneak a look at my cell if a notification shows up. I keep it clipped to my handlebars to force myself no to pick it up, but I can see the screen. I know that we all fall into a trap that causes us to be That Guy, whatever it may be. I know that sometimes, to the uninitiated, some of what cyclists do to keep ourselves safe causes us to look like That Guy. The guy riding up onto the sidewalk and dropping back down into traffic may have felt forced up there, or there may have been a road hazard and his easiest and safest way around might have been the sidewalk instead of veering into traffic. I also know that we use that excuse more than we should. I have heard cyclists say that they don’t stop at lights because it is safer to run them.
Our other excuse is That Guy. That Guy in the car, paying attention to his phone, not giving us room, and openly hostile to cyclists driving his two ton weapon. That Guy exists, just check out Twitter. There are cyclist accounts that re-tweet hostile messages. That Guy doesn’t even know what he is doing to me, he is putting me in danger, I do this because of him. That Guy causes me to act like this, even if others will call me That Guy. It’s really their fault, not ours. That Guy is always a they, and they are always the problem. We are always right, right? We have to be, otherwise we might be them, and they aren’t good. If we start thinking that we might be them, then we have real problems! But we are them, every once in a while.
All of this has been swirling around my brain because I recently completed three weeks of cycling events. I wrote about each one, the Discover Hartford Bike Tour, the Hartford Criterium, and Cycle Martha’s Vineyard. In each case I saw That Guy. The Hartford Ride was the most obvious. It is staged by BikeWalk CT, a cycling advocacy group. They stressed that we needed to share the road and be cycling ambassadors as we rode through the city in a very visible group of a few hundred. No sooner had the tour left the section of the city where the roads were closed for the ride and That Guy showed up. Cyclists were blowing through lights and acting openly hostile to cars. I even saw a group of cyclists get angry at police who were controlling an intersection for stopping them to let cars go through. The same thing happened on Martha’s Vineyard, though to a lesser extent. I think it might have been because there were less cars and less cyclists to clash, but That Guy was there. Fellow cyclists were blowing by me as I slowed for stop signs even though cars were approaching the same intersection.
So, why not be That Guy? For the most part there is little harm done and you can always use an excuse. You needed to do something because it was safer. It was quicker. No one knows the rules anyway, so who cares? Apart from the obvious where we are all sharing the road and we are all adults and should follow the rules, when we act like That Guy, there is another consequence. I saw this first hand in Hartford and on Martha’s Vineyard as well. There is always another cyclist behind you. Two things happen when you are That Guy. The cyclist behind you learns to think that your behavior is correct and accepted. They will learn your bad habits from you, and might not even think they are bad. They might think that they see enough cyclists failing to stop at red lights; maybe it is okay to not stop. They might even think that they are doing the wrong thing by following the rules of the road. The other thing that happens is there are others watching you act like That Guy too. Maybe it is the motorist you just cut off at the light. He’s pretty angry now. He didn’t expect to see you shoot thru the intersection. He realizes that he could have hit you if he didn’t slow down when you did that. He’s scared. The cyclist behind you had nothing to do with your actions, but that is who the motorist will see next. It is who the motorist will have a negative attitude towards. Is it fair? No, but that is the cyclist that will deal with the angry scared motorist.
I’m not trying to be too preachy. We have all been that guy. If we haven’t been him on the bike, we have been him in the car, at the store, at the concert, somewhere. That Guy is everywhere. I know I have been him sometimes, and I know I need to try harder. I need to not be That Guy. I also need to help make up for That Guy. Maybe I need to share a smile and a wave with a passing motorist. Maybe I need to clip out and yield the right of way every once in a while. More importantly, I need to make eye contact before I dart out into traffic and make sure that everyone sees me. I need to remember that all cyclists are a symbol of the last interaction a motorist had with us. Good road manners are always appreciated. You are still thinking about that time someone let you pull out into traffic or gave you more room than you thought they would. Sure, I need to stand up for myself, take the lane when I need it and be safe, we all do. But I don’t have to be That Guy.
Have you ever been that guy? Have you ever met him? Want to share?