Monday, May 26, 2014

Things I've learned while riding a bicycle in Rio

For the last three weeks I’ve been riding a bicycle through Rio, mostly to and from my Jiu-Jitsu class that sits in that awkward distance where it’s too far to walk and too short to justify taking publication transportation. I don’t know if I’d say Rio has lawless traffic rules, but I would say that they are pretty improvised. Recently, I’ve found the courage and confidence to ride alongside the traffic and at times even against it. For the most part, if you have all your wits about you, there’s no real danger, though perhaps a few close calls every so often. Either way, these are some of the things I’ve learned in doing this 5 days a week.


Riding a bike is all about timing, hell, life is all about timing, but I’m not going to get all metaphorical here. Judging time and distance, whether that’s between cars, motorcycles or people, is crucial. And if there’s even a slight doubt about making a squeeze in between a couple of cars, I don’t take it. Another opening will come along soon. 


If you see a clear straight-away and you want to take it, you take it, all the way. No hesitation. Going half-way will get you killed.


Since my bike has no real reflectors or any sort of visibility at night, sound is my only ally, and since there’s no horn, my bell is my best friend. It’s important to be heard, to be recognized. Sometimes I feel bad for people because I feel that I might be tricking them into thinking that I’m selling ice cream, but then again, I haven’t really seen any ice cream vendors using bicycle bells so maybe that assumption is due to my own assumptive cultural upbringing as a child. Cultural insensitivity runs deep.


Thirty-seconds is probably a generous estimate, it’s more like every 15 seconds, because even if an empty street appeared the last time you looked behind you, a motorcycle can pull up on your ass faster than you think. It’s always nice to check up on what’s coming up from behind.


I’ve been told the ideal height for the bike seat is so your toes can lightly touch the ground. Mine might be positioned a bit lower, but I’ve found that to be quite helpful in maneuvering the city. Whether it’s a road barrier, a garbage can, or just a huge rock, I use everything to maintain balance and push off. And if it really gets tight, jumping off the bike and running onto the sidewalk is always a nice option. 


I’ve gotten pretty aware of my space and surroundings, and can predict where a person will end up as long as they stay on their projected trajectory, and at their current speed, so I make moves to steer around them as to not interrupt their day. Basically, I try to be as unnoticeable as possible. The problem is sometimes people see you coming and they’ll just stand there, half-stepping with one foot and stopping with the other. This creates an incredibly frustrating scenario where I wish people would just fucking walk, and for a slight second, I think if I run into them, it’s kinda their fault. But it’s not about fault, it’s about someone being hurt, and in the few times I’ve had to come to an absolute stop to avoid the collision, we both kinda stare at each other, nod our heads, and move on. 

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