I’ve got a question that I think my new two-wheeled buds can answer.
The query: How do Wellington cyclists indicate to others that they’re about to pass them up? I’ll ‘fess up at the start, my fingers are crossed that the answer is not silence but that’s what I’ve been hearing.
For purposes of discussion, here’s a rundown of some practices I’ve seen in other parts:
On the Mission Beach boardwalk, the main artery for scantily clad cruisers, skaters and rollers in one of San Diego’s beachiest beach communities, the dudes, bros and bikinigirls anxious to refill their big gulps of beer will shout to the more mellow meanderers: “On your left!” Or, if enough big gulps have been downed, “On your right!” As a kid, this forced me to quickly learn my right from left to prevent frantic swerves directly into their path. As I grew into a beachier cool, I realized that I simply had to stay on course and the dude/bro would navigate around me. (My partner disputes that I ever really learned my right from my left, and he may be right, but I survived my childhood with no major tragedy on the boardwalk.)
When I arrived at university in Davis, California, self-described as the bike capital of the U.S., and the new home of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the swarm of cyclists there do the same as the wobbly riders in Mission Beach. It seemed that the beach bums and Davis’s liberal scholars had more in common than just impressive blood alcohol levels.
In Japan, I borrowed a bike from a friend’s family during some months of study in Kyoto and discovered the joy of my pealing bell. And everyone else’s pealing bells. Riding along the busy footpath near my apartment, I often laughed at the almost constant orchestra of bells alerting other cyclists and the many pedestrians of yet another happy rider.
When I first started riding in San Francisco, I confronted the bell versus horn versus shout versus awkward, hopeful, dangerous silence quandary head-on. A local friend had told me that party favors on bikes– bells and horns– are “so rude” and since he rode a bike, I believed him without doing further research. (My friend, it turns out, was more of a mountain biker, wedded to the pleasant peaceful growl of his tires on dirt.) So, I’ll claim all blame for the frightening incident when my “On your left!” almost caused a disaster on Valencia Street. It seemed I’d found myself behind another laterally-challenged cyclist who, upon hearing my intention, swerved directly into my path. Fortunately, we both survived the clip and the car behind me was able to avoid taking us both out. From then on, I realized, I needed something. I went to the bike store, found a squeaking frog and decided that San Francisco cyclists, motorists and walkers could have no issue with the croak of my horn.
Although SF cyclists responded well to my froghorn, ultimately, I switched to a bell after finding that cars seemed to find my croaker funny and not necessarily a request that they attempt not to kill me. And my bell worked all over the city of fog, without causing offense or further calamity. In fact, I think I had more fun with other riders precisely because of my bell.
Now, here we are in Wellington, and I’m hearing nothing but wind and the pound of my heart when a super fast road cyclist sneaks past me on these narrow streets. And my own bell? Well, sure I ring it, but I’m feeling a little lonely about it. So, what gives, Wellington riders? Silence, I don’t think, is all that safe. So how do you get around other cyclists? And what would you like to hear when someone else is about to zoom around you?