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Wheel Turn 2

or, the Mountain Goats' "Heel Turn 2" Is Going To Get Me Killed, Or Save My Life

Get stomped like a snake
Lie down in the dirt

I have, mercifully, been doored only once in the approximately twelve years I’ve been cycling as my primary mode of transportation. If you are unaware, being “doored,” as a cyclist, means having a car door opened directly into your path of travel too suddenly to avoid it. I don’t know if all doorings are the same, but mine was a startling and wholly disorienting experience. I was cycling merrily along at probably somewhere between twelve and fifteen miles per hour, and then, before my brain even had a chance to process what had happened, I was horizontal in the middle of the street. I was lucky, in that I suffered no serious injuries from being knocked over, and luckier still, in that there was not a car just behind me to run me over and kill me instantly. But it only takes one dooring to make you aware of that possibility every time you ride down a bike lane idiotically placed immediately to the left of a stream of parked cars, any of which could at any time be populated by a person about to emerge and commit involuntary manslaughter in so doing.

Cling to my convictions even when I get hurt
Be an upstanding, well-loved man about town

I still use bike lanes, even ones that run alongside parked cars, despite the risk of being doored. I still operate under the regrettable delusion that I can be “one of the good ones” who doesn’t inconvenience drivers by riding to the left of the bike lane, taking up the “car” lane and preventing them from driving at their customary five miles over the speed limit. See, drivers? Bikes and cars can co-exist just fine, and I don’t have to be in your way! I don’t run stop signs, nor red lights, even though it would often afford me the opportunity to ride a few blocks without being in anyone’s way! I’m a responsible, law-abiding cyclist! Please don’t hurt me!

But I tried the losing side
I don’t want to die in here

Lately I’ve been getting the Mountain Goats’ song “Heel Turn 2,” from their 2015 album Beat the Champ, stuck in my head a lot while cycling. It’s a catchy song, of course, but I listen to a lot of those. For some reason, riding my bike in traffic seems to put me in the mood to ponder whether being one of the good ones is worth occasionally feeling like my life could be drastically changed or possibly ended in an instant by someone who failed to notice me, because I was being too polite, because I was trying not to inconvenience anyone. To “turn heel,” in professional wrestling, means basically to turn from a good guy to a bad guy. The protagonist in “Heel Turn 2” isn’t turning heel because they think it’d be fun. They’re doing it because they think it offers them a better shot at survival.

You found my breaking point, congratulations
Spent too much of my life now trying to play fair
Throw my better self overboard, shoot at him when he comes up for air

Would I feel safer, I wonder, if I tossed aside my compulsion to unobtrusiveness and did all the things that ensure that drivers notice you, sometimes at the cost of pissing them off? In some memorable cases, the answer seems to be a clear and terrifying no. But what if the cyclist had stayed courteously to the right, in the bike lane, and—as can happen at virtually any time, with little or no warning—been doored, and knocked directly into the path of that truck? How many instances of cars cutting me off to turn right across the bike lane in front of me could I avoid by just claiming the “car” lane, as is permitted by law in Washington and many other states, and denying them the ability to do so? How many cars could I prevent from passing me dangerously closely if I rode in the middle of the lane rather than courteously hugging the curb to allow them to pass? Is it worth it to be an impediment, but one who is sure to be noticed, if occasionally I incur the wrath of someone who thinks I’m out of my place and decides to try to scare me back into it? Would I rather risk injury by neglect, or by malevolence?

Let all the trash rain down from way up in the rafters
I’m walking out of here in one piece
Don’t care what comes after
Drive the wedge, torch the bridge
I don’t want to die in here

One of my friends went Full Heel Turn some time ago, at least presumably according to the hundreds of motorists he’s caught on video violating traffic laws and thereby endangering his and other cyclists’ lives who would prefer to do so unrecorded and unconfronted. I think about him and his way of life fairly often. Some of his confrontations with these motorists are scary. He’s got more guts than I even think I want to have, to knowingly inconvenience entitled people in two-ton armored vehicles and then demand they respect his dignity and safety when they get affronted, like they so often do. But I bet he doesn’t have problems with not being noticed.

Contact me? My email is my first initial and last name at gmail.com. I'm also on Twitter as @valrus (mostly defunct) and Mastodon as @valrus@aleph.land.