Who are you calling Fast and Fearless?!

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: Cycling Safety, Rides

Who are you calling Fast and Fearless?!

I am a careful rider, who looks ahead and tries to foresee possible danger spots in order to avoid them. After decades of riding in traffic, I feel competent and confident. I was surprised that cycling advocates characterize riders like me, who are comfortable of riding on most roads, as “Fast and Fearless”.
“Fast and Fearless” appears to be a reference to “The Fast and the Furious”, a movie franchise about illegal street racing in cars (above). The movies show the sort of thing that any responsible driver would abhor, rather than the skills and control that real car racers possess. Unfortunately, this was affirmed by the recent death of the lead actor in a fiery car crash while driving on the open road.
I am still stunned that experienced, confident cyclists are compared to illegal car racers who are a menace to all, including themselves. I am even more surprised that this characterization has made it into official government planning documents for cycling facilities in Seattle, Portland, New York and probably elsewhere.
Competent and Confident. I think this is a better term to describe riders who know how to cycle in traffic, and who weigh the risks and realize where the dangers lurk. We know it’s safer to take the lane at 20 mph than to weave in and out of parked cars at 7 mph. To understand why “fast” and “fearless” don’t necessarily go together, think about driving a car.
Imagine driving your car down the freeway at 20 mph, because you think it’s safer to go slow. You’d be much safer flowing with traffic at 65 mph. Nobody would label you “Fast and Fearless” when you drive at the speed limit. Everybody knows that competence and confidence go a long way toward making you a safer driver.
The same holds true for cyclists. Being able to keep up with traffic, knowing how to maneuver your bike, being able to stop quickly, and especially being visible all make you safer.
Why do cyclists label each other negatively as “Fast and Fearless”? One part is purely political. Many experienced cyclists are opposed to new plans to build European-style cyclepaths in North America. Attaching the label of “Fast and Fearless” to these experienced cyclists makes it easy to disregard their input when planning new facilities, rather than having to consider the expertise they have built during decades of riding.
However, the label would not resonate with many casual cyclists if there wasn’t some resentment toward faster riders. Why the resentment? Unfortunately, racers and especially racer wannabes can be less than welcoming to new riders, whether it’s calling them “Freds” or chasing down anybody who looks like they might be an “easy target”. And since the bike industry still promotes racing as the only valid form of cycling, it’s not surprising that there is resentment toward racing, and by extension, to all riders who enjoy going fast.
Where will all this end up? Are experienced cyclists going to label those who weave in and out of parked cars and ride in the “door zone” as “Slow and Stupid”? I sincerely hope not! I don’t think we want animosity between cyclists. Here are my hopes:
Let’s encourage newcomers to cycling, and not pass them at all costs. Let’s respect those who are competent and confident – without envy. Let’s find the best solution for getting people to ride bikes more often, safer and with more fun – without resorting to underhanded tactics to “win” the argument. And perhaps most importantly, let’s respect every cyclist – no matter how they like to ride.

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