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Playing Jedi Mind Tricks in Traffic

by Wesley Cheney
Yoda teaches Luke to use the Force to take the lane.

“Do or do not take the lane. There is no try.” (Image by Victor Lebowski.)

Hey, I think I passed you on my way home last week, my trumpet master told me, You were riding up the bridge on the bike with all the lights on it, right? Boy, you’re trusting! I’d never ride in the city like that.

Trusting? Ive been called many things on my bike, but never trusting. Then again, maybe it was a Jedi compliment: Perhaps I was trusting, from a certain point of view.

You must really trust people to to ride your bike on roads like that! Sure, I try to ride twenty miles a day, but I do it on trails. Its completely different to ride in traffic.

Well, I replied, I don’t really trust anyone, to be honest. Thats why I have all those lights on my bike.

How many do you have? I mean, you had them above and below and everywhere!

Oh, just four: theres a front light and a rear light on my helmet, and then a flashing light on each hub that rotates with the bike. I figure if you cant see me with all of those lights, then your’e so drunk that you shouldn’t be driving in the first place.

See, thats what I mean! Thats trust! There probably are drunk drivers out there.

Thats true. But drunks usually freak out and slow down when they see flashing red lights. I cant tell you how many times Ive been mistaken for a cop on my bike. I guess I trust, but I also verify: I ride with a rearview mirror and only one earbud, so I keep an ear and an eye on traffic coming up behind me.

My sister-in-law was involved in a typical head-on suburban crash last month. She was talking to my brother when it happened. A driver coming the opposite way made a left hand turn into her car in a 45mph zone. So the speed of impact was easily more than 65mph. It ended with shattered glass, crumpled steel, and deployed airbags. Both cars were totaled, but she walked away. Now she’s looking for a new car.

Call me silly, but I feel more agile and therefore safer on my bike. In my car, I feel trapped in a steel box. On my bike I choose my own path. I ride at my own pace. I’m a smaller, yet more visible target. I take the lane, which is a Jedi mind trick. I trick people into seeing me as an equal user of the road, and worthy of respect. Granted, it doesn’t always work so well on the feeble-minded.

What Would Yoda Ride?

What Would Yoda Ride?

Statistics back me up. Cyclists have a longer lifespan than drivers. Drivers are more likely to be obese and die of heart disease. Cyclists are leaner, but more likely to suffer broken collarbones. Broken collarbones, though, aren’t usually lethal.

From a certain point of view, commuting by bike is as deliberate as Luke Skywalker choosing the Light Side over the Dark Side. I’m choosing to see my fellow citizens as worthy of trust. I’m choosing to believe that we can all share the same road. Driving a two-ton SUV through a school zone is as much of an anti-social, selfish act as carrying a loaded gun to the grocery store. It says, “Never mind you. Never mind us. Me and mine come first.”

If I use Jedi mind tricks to take the lane, and generate good karma by smiling at drivers and yielding to pedestrians, then it begs the question: What would Yoda drive? Would Yoda drive a Prius, or a VW Beetle? Perhaps, but I think Yoda would be more at home on a Brompton or a fat bike.

But as for Yoda’s former apprentice Darth Vader, we all know what he would drive…a truck as big as his ego that will never, ever be driven off-road where the custom paint job could ever be scratched.

His is bigger than yours.

His is bigger than yours.

Paduwan Wesley Cheney bikes for family, fun, profit and necessity in Norfolk, Virginia. He writes about bikes and kilts at Foto by Wes and (re)builds bamboo bikes and bamboo kayaks at 757 Makerspace. When he is not delivering sandwiches for Jimmy John’s on his bicycle, he aspires to earn (another) Bachelor’s in Music Education at his alma mater, Old Dominion University. Wesley loves leather saddles, full fenders, helmet-mounted lights and mirrors, platform pedals, front racks, double kickstands, and vintage friction Suntour Command shifters. He warbles on a flugelhorn, sings bass in the choir of Christ and Saint Lukes Church, and studies ukulele under the amazing Skye Zentz.

 
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2 Responses to “Playing Jedi Mind Tricks in Traffic”

  1. Paul says:

    I’ve rode daily for decades. At night I have one super bright headlight and a regular blinker taillight. I don’t ride much after dark though. A few years back I discovered something that really gets me noticed: safety green clothes. I now have a wardrobe of safety green t-shirts, long sleeve shirts, and even a hoodie. There was a noticeable decrease in near-misses and a noticeable increase in cars yielding to me. (night and day)

    I’ve also tried safety orange but the safety green seems to be best. You can get a week’s worth or safety green tees at jiffy shirts.com for about $4 each. I bought the hoodie on amazon.

    Of course they may be yielding because my sartorial choices make me look like a madman.

  2. Jerry says:

    A related article in the Boston Globe: it’s not just how brightly you’re lit, it’s whether the lights or reflectors move as you pedal:

    https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2015/11/01/exerciseinthedark/54CYANwIs7QscnGO88BYuO/story.html

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