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Column: Whether we like it or not, bicycles are peace machines

Posted by on June 26th, 2015 at 10:30 am

Occupy Portland bike swarm-10-9

(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

If you want to stage a violent protest or go to war, don’t do it on bicycles. Bicycles are inherently non-violent.

Last month, a gang of indignant and ignorant motorcycle riders decided to stage an armed protest outside a Phoenix mosque against the “tyranny of Islam” in response to an incident where two Arizona residents were killed by police outside a Muhammed cartoon-drawing contest in suburban Dallas.

“Armed Bikers Plan Anti-Muslim Protest Outside Arizona Mosque,” headlines read. The protesters strutted in front of the mosque during Friday prayer in t-shirts that said “Fuck Islam” while brandishing firearms.

I was shocked and dismayed by the hate and bigotry. But the headlines got me thinking: what is it about bicycling — in contrast to motorcycling or driving — that is incongruent with what happened in Arizona?

Put another way: what is it about cartoons like this that make us laugh?

There are two parts to a possible answer.

One is that it’s pretty hard to kill someone with a bicycle. The scale and speed of bicycles is intimately connected with the actual ability of the human body, and therefore it is much harder to perpetrate serious violence with it. On the other hand, a vehicle that can go 100 miles an hour gives people enormous power and tremendous force, a force that kills 30,000 Americans every year.

In Arizona, the protesters used their motorcycles as a tool for intimidation. Bicycles aren’t very good at being intimidating. In his book, One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility, Zack Furness points out that “in the few cases where adult bicycles are featured in the mainstream media, they are generally portrayed as being far outside the mainstream, most are depicted as childish men, eccentrics, sexually odd character, geeks, and/or financial failures.”


Occupy Portland bike swarm-24-23

An organized bicycle ride during the Occupy Portland protest in 2011.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Bicyclists don’t tend to create gangs like Hell’s Angels or Bandidos, which are known to be violent organized crime enterprises. It’s not that bicyclists are passive and ineffective. They engage in serious protest to make change, such as the Critical Mass Ride, which is heavily policed because cyclists are thought to not follow the rules of the road, thereby creating dangerous situations for automobiles. But most bicycle-led protests are associated with creating safer streets for bicycles and on occasion are mobilized in support of various social issues, such as Bike Swarm. Even at its most organized, bicycling is not associated with intimidation and violence.

You know you won’t inadvertently kill or maim anyone while riding your bike. And in the very violent world we live in, that is a big deal.

This is not to say that bicycles are never used for violence. Most recently, a person riding a bicycle shot a 17-year old standing outside of a convenience store in Philadelphia and subsequently fell off his bike. There are similar reports now and then. In 2012, a man biking very recklessly killed another man in a San Francisco crosswalk.

Obviously, it is possible to be violent while riding a bicycle. But as the Philadelphia example shows, it’s not easy. Riding a bicycle takes a lot of concentration and coordination, and so does shooting a gun.The two are rarely done together because it’s just too hard to pull it off physically. Plus, it’s hard to conceal your identity on a bike. Not only are bikes tools of nonviolence; they’re tools of transparency.

The idea of the potential violence of automobiles is particularly poignant in Portland right now after a man lost his leg in a collision with a truck, another lost his life and most recently, two pedestrians who were walking on the sidewalk of the Burnside Bridge were hit by an out of control vehicle, where one person died of his injuries.

Besides the numerous reasons you may bike, you can add this one to them: you know you won’t inadvertently kill or maim anyone while riding your bike. And in the very violent world we live in, that is a big deal.

In addition to that, you can take it to another level. You can embrace the peaceful nature of bicycling and as a person biking become an ambassador of peace on the roads. Certainly, people walking and biking face danger of being killed or maimed. But when we’re on a bike we can’t, and therefore won’t, engage with the latent danger of the automobile with counterforce. Whether we mean to or not, we fight the good fight of safe and peaceful roads by being nonviolent.

Taz Loomans is BikePortland’s subversiveness columnist. Read her introductory column here.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Jeg June 26, 2015 at 10:59 am

    Peaceful organization and occupation of the streets by multiple modes is more powerful than the insecure dominance of auto culture. Take back the streets from cars in peaceful celebration of all walks and bikes of life.

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  • 9watts June 26, 2015 at 11:02 am

    bikes are what Ivan Illich called a tool for conviviality.

    And they are also infinitely useful –

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  • Ricky J. June 26, 2015 at 11:10 am

    Now if we can just get more cyclists to practice anticipating the movement or mistakes of automobiles and to respond with patience rather than slapping hoods or yelling in people’s windows we might really be on to something. The tension towards automobiles from the cycling community in this town is ridiculous there are far more good drivers in town than bad ones but good drivers don’t cause inccidents so you don’t hear about them. If we ride with an unbiased eye rather than focusing on the negative it is clear that the majority of drivers and cyclists are safe making this is a great town to ride a bicycle. Of course there is always room for improvement.

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    • 9watts June 26, 2015 at 11:16 am

      “The tension towards automobiles from the cycling community in this town is ridiculous”
      But it is the 0.8%(?) of drivers who are inattentive or enraged we need to watch out for. So I’m OK with keeping an eye one them, frankly. And let’s not get too carried away with the false symmetry of poor behavior across different modes.

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      • Ricky J. June 26, 2015 at 11:20 am

        I’m not saying to turn a blind eye to that but it does not need to be the main thing that you focus on when riding all the time. Keep in mind of sure.

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        • 9watts June 26, 2015 at 11:20 am

          we agree.

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          • Ricky J. June 26, 2015 at 11:38 am

            Yes, that small percentage is my point exactly but the problem lies in expressing frustration with that percentage to a larger percentage of undeserving drivers because of the mentality developed from those rare situations.

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            • 9watts June 26, 2015 at 11:49 am

              I don’t personally feel anger toward people in cars as a category. My ire is directed at our collective inability to prioritize in ways that yield infrastructure, enforcement, and equality before the law when it comes to moving about by bike. We are treated as third class citizens by our institutions and our infrastructure when it comes to these matters.

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              • Ricky J. June 26, 2015 at 11:52 am

                I really appreciate your mindfulness

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              • Pete June 26, 2015 at 1:14 pm

                Just yesterday I learned the outcome of the trials of Melanie Souza of San Jose, who killed my neighbor Stan Wicka two years ago by driving onto the shoulder while texting, and then continued on to her destination (a coffee shop) instead of stopping.


                She did not lose her license, nor her ‘right’ to drive. I’m told she received two years of probation and a 6 month suspended sentence, serving a mandatory 90 days in jail. Apparently she got off light because she’d never killed anyone while texting before. (Three strikes law, right?).

                Here we read about the DA talking tough about how her mistake was in leaving the scene of the “accident”… (imagine if she’d have stopped and cooperated with the police!):

                So yeah, it’s hard to see a collective ‘non-cycling community’ label all bicyclists as scofflaws who run red lights, and then watch your friends get killed by people who aren’t in the least perceived as being responsible for their own actions and responsibilities. It’s hard to not build emotions and bias after years of seeing (and feeling) that… that ire ends up going somewhere! For me, it gets directed at the people who intentionally pass me while riding at 25-35 MPH so they can slam on the brakes in front of me to take a right turn that the laws of physics dictate they needed to slow down for anyway. And people wonder why we get so elated to read of ‘victories’ such as what Karl Zickwick just went through for the last 3 years…

                So, I’m sorry if I distracted you from your phone by yelling at you, or slammed my hand too hard on your car’s hood while pushing off of it to save my life, or whacking your driver’s side mirror out of surprise as you used the bike lane to pass me on the right with your Mini while I’m taking the lane to prevent you from passing me too closely on the left, or…

                I promise I’ll try to be more patient in the future.

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              • invisiblebikes June 26, 2015 at 3:05 pm

                I couldn’t have said it any better! +1

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              • 9watts June 26, 2015 at 3:29 pm

                Yikes! Here’s a quote from the DA from the article you linked to:

                “There is no problem if you get in an accident and stay at the scene,” assuming alcohol, drugs or other violation aren’t involved, said Ramos, the supervising district attorney overseeing the case. “It becomes a crime if you leave. So you’ve got to stick around.”

                How true: Kill someone with your automobile and stick around; no problem.

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              • John Lascurettes June 26, 2015 at 4:00 pm

                Michael or Jonathan: I’d like to nominate this comment of the week!

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    • William Henderson June 26, 2015 at 11:37 am

      Agree. I’d love to see bike (counter-) culture do more to embrace the vulnerability of riding a bike instead of reacting with anger or hatred. It’s easy to get angry when you or someone you love feels threatened, just as it is easy to feel smug when the world around you seems not to notice or care about all the negative externalities of our dominant mode of transportation. It’s easy, but we can do better. If riding a bike is about anything, it should be about non-violence, openness, and putting people ahead of your need to get around.

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    • soren June 26, 2015 at 11:55 am

      “The tension towards automobiles from the cycling community in this town is ridiculous there are far more good drivers in town than bad ones but good drivers don’t cause inccidents so you don’t hear about them.”

      What tension?

      I have had absolutely no negative interactions with cyclists as a driver in Portland. On the other hand, when I drive slowly and cautiously I am often the target of aggressive and threatening behavior from other people driving. From my perspective, as a driver, most of the aggression on our streets comes from other drivers.

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      • 9watts June 26, 2015 at 12:13 pm

        An excellent point, soren.
        Now that you mention it, I can’t recall the last time someone on a bike revved their engine as they roared past me, but—and I notice this more biking around town with my ten-year old daughter—people in cars do this A LOT.

        posting in two parts ’cause I keep getting error messages

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        • Chris I June 26, 2015 at 12:28 pm

          I was riding on the sidewalk of the St. John’s bridge yesterday and observed an interesting thing. It was during rush hour, so traffic was decently thick, but moving at speed (about 10mph over the speed limit). About 50% of the vehicles that passed me (I’m on the sidewalk, mind you) appeared to hit the gas just a bit extra right as they passed me, and then I could hear their engine back off just after they passed. Some even had to brake right after passing me, as they were too close to the car in front. I can only assume there is a subconscious effect going on.

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          • 9watts June 26, 2015 at 1:00 pm

            I know exactly what you mean.

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          • J_R June 26, 2015 at 1:07 pm

            Chris: While driving and cycling, I have certainly observed that many motorists continue to accelerate even as they approach a line of stopped cars at a traffic signal or even a stop sign. I’ve also experienced some acts of intimidation by motorists. However, I doubt that 50 percent of motorists passing you on the St. Johns Bridge were deliberately accelerating as they passed you and backing off afterwards. I think it’s more likely that you were experiencing the Doppler Effect, wherein sound waves are compressed as the sources moves toward you with the opposite occurring as the source moves away. You can find more thorough and precise explanations with a brief search on the web.

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            • gutterbunnybikes June 26, 2015 at 4:53 pm

              I’ve often also thought that what many people perceive at throttling, is in fact the transmission switching to a lower gear. I know my work truck shifts at around 20 mph, as does my personal vehicle.

              The switch over actually increases the RPM’s even though the vehicle is actually slowing,

              Though I do also have to say it also amazes me how many race towards red lights, and the often long line of cars waits for them.

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            • caesar June 27, 2015 at 3:56 pm

              A Doppler shift would have caused the pitch of the engine to drop as the car passed him and moved away and ahead. A drop in engine “whine” would sound more like slowing than accelerating. My guess is that cars were actually accelerating, but in order to make it over the hump of the bridge, not because they were passing a bike. Who knows…had to be there.

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          • Chris Anderson June 27, 2015 at 2:28 pm

            When I drive and pass cyclists I’ll often slow down to maintain a respectful following distance, and only pass when it’s clear, so when I pass I’m usually accelerating. Maybe these motorists are doing a version of that. One that isn’t a full slow down and wait. Better than nothing? Maybe you are right and it is a micro aggression, that’s a big problem with cars, its hard to read the people inside.

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      • Ricky J. June 26, 2015 at 12:16 pm

        With that statement I’m just speaking as a cyclist watching other cyclists act rediculously everyday when I am on my bike over the smallest things from drivers, that is not me saying that is the only issue or the most important with the whole bike and cars sharing the road, but it is often overlooked.

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      • 9watts June 26, 2015 at 12:18 pm

        And after 32 years of biking among motor vehicles I have had a lot of opportunity to learn to differentiate between the sounds of ‘accelerating to pass with room to spare’ and of ‘flooring it while passing oh-so-close to show who owns this particular stretch of road.’

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      • Tom Hardy June 26, 2015 at 4:41 pm

        Very true Soren. On the bike I have been chased by irate drivers, some ticked off because I passed them while they were busy texting then trying to climb a power pole on the cable bracing it when they tried to catch my rear wheel with their bumper. Others just because I passed them when they were drifting over into the bike lane. In my car very few try to chase me for irritation but the vast majority wish to squeeze in front because they are sure I will not hit them because I am likely to have insurance. Most rice rockets, Camry, and Lexus prefer to be in front of a Mercedes even if it is 18 years old.
        I have been pretty lucky on the bike with cars. only 2 major conflicts. Some blood spilled but no broken bones. 6 cars have had major wrecks either tailing me or running lights while tailing me and getting T-boned. Only 1 that run off the road trying to chase me though.

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    • TJ June 26, 2015 at 12:25 pm

      I’m going to go with the majority of drivers of automobiles do what they believe is safe, disregarding law and other road users. Issues arise with interpretations differ. We need enforcement to set the standard; not how fast and where one believes they can and deserve to drive.

      I’ll continue to make a point when a drivers place me in dangerous position. I may be aware enough to avoid a collision, but the next cyclist may not. If a driver remembers to check their blind spot after I confront either politely or with a tone of frustration it’s potentially a life saved.

      We’re all kidding ourselves: Driver-on-driver confrontations far out weigh driver-on-cyclist. Certainly (weighted or not) cyclist-on-cyclist.

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      • Dan June 26, 2015 at 1:24 pm

        For two reasons:

        1) There are more drivers.

        2) When someone does something in a car that threatens your life, it is rare that you are able to catch up to them afterwards.

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    • Spiffy June 26, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      there are far more good drivers in town than bad ones

      how are you defining a “good driver”? because I see quite the opposite; very few good drivers…

      they may be good-hearted, but they’re not good drivers… they’ve let themselves become the product of a lazy and dangerous system and don’t realize how bad they are…

      most of the time they know they’re being bad drivers and they just don’t care because everybody else is doing it… being a good driver makes you hated by all the other drivers that are dangerously abusing the system…

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      • invisiblebikes June 26, 2015 at 3:13 pm

        How do I give your reply a 1000 thumbs up rating?!

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    • invisiblebikes June 26, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      I can not disagree with you enough, people driving cars have horns, size, speed, mass and agility… the only thing people on bicycles have is a voice!

      “there are far more good drivers in town than bad ones but good drivers don’t cause incidents so you don’t hear about them.” Ricky J

      Case in point (and I could write a book on just the last 4 months) yesterday I pull up to the stop sign at Salmon crossing SE 12th Ave as a steady stream of drivers (speeding) by on 12th. I noticed a young lady waiting patiently on the corner’s edge trying to cross (in the legal unmarked crosswalk) very visible to the drivers (no parked cars blocking her) now when I say steady stream, from the time I stopped to wait to cross I counted 14 drivers completely ignoring her.
      So I decided I’d had enough, as a small gap opened up (more than enough for me to dart across but not enough for her) I slowly creep out with my hands up motioning for the oncoming drivers to stop. As 3 drivers passed me without flinching I am now completely in one of the lanes, yelling for people to stop for the young lady trying to cross.
      Finally the stream of (speeding) drivers stopped… but you know what one of them did? He shook his head and threw his hands in the air at me like I was crazy?! BTW this is a heavily used crossing by people on foot and on bikes 24/7
      She smiled and waved at me for the assistance and promptly gave the guy shaking his head the finger.

      Are those 17 drivers “good” drivers? and this was just the “smallest” thing and I was just being ridiculous in assisting someone that was obviously frustrated with those “wonderful” drivers?

      See the real issue is that 99% of the time every single person that gets behind the wheel of a car will break at least one traffic law. Whereas 99% of the time a person that gets on a bike is Forced to break at least one traffic law… or they’ll die.

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      • gutterbunnybikes June 26, 2015 at 5:03 pm

        That is why we need more testing and more education. Most drivers quite frankly don’t know that legally they must yield to pedestrians at an unmarked crosswalk.

        I’ve been honked at and yelled at by even Trimet drivers (who honestly should know better – ya think) when stopping for pedestrians at unmarked crosswalks – on more than one occasion. I’ve had passengers ask me why I did so?

        Ignorance is no excuse, but I find it just as much fault for the DOT for not making regular testing for a driver’s licence the norm. Every 4 or years or so the test should be updated with questions that heavily favor new and changed rules and regulations.

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  • Ricky J. June 26, 2015 at 11:13 am

    Sure a mistake of an automobile can cause extreme harm or death but you really don’t need the anxiety of focusing on that every time you want to enjoy life on your bicycle

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    • dachines June 26, 2015 at 11:32 am

      Now if we can just get more motorists to practice anticipating the movement or mistakes of bicycles and to respond with patience rather than sounding their horns or yelling out of their windows we might really be on to something. The tension towards bicycles from the motoring community in this town is ridiculous there are far more good bicyclists in town than bad ones but good bicyclists don’t cause inccidents so you don’t hear about them. If we drive with an unbiased eye rather than focusing on the negative it is clear that the majority of cyclists and drivers are safe making this is a great town to ride a bicycle. Of course there is always room for improvement.

      See how that works?

      So you’re right, bicyclists (and pedestrians) don’t want or need the anxiety of focusing on the fact that a mistake by an automobile can cause extreme harm or death, but unfortunately they have to.

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      • Ricky J. June 26, 2015 at 11:41 am

        We do not have to, I do not carry that mentality and I spend several hundred miles a week on my bike and I am not alone in that I feel safe around our community. of course there are rare situations that arise and I deal with them peacefully.

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        • dachines June 26, 2015 at 11:46 am

          However, the problem is that while you and I may feel safe “enough” and react/respond peacefully and reasonably, a majority of people WON’T even get onto a bike because they do not feel safe! Their first concern is being hit by a motorist.

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          • Ricky J. June 26, 2015 at 11:55 am

            And as I stated earlier and another commenter pointed out the percentage is so small that it shouldn’t be such a big fear. I am aware that it is and that is why I brought that up it is a lot safer out there than many make it out to be

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            • dachines June 26, 2015 at 12:01 pm

              Then I would suggest, as my original post illustrated, that you reframe your statement so that it is not putting the blame and responsibility on the most vulnerable road users.

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              • Ricky J. June 26, 2015 at 12:37 pm

                No that statement I made was not about blaming cyclists attitudes for everything that happens, it’s about one area that often gets neglected that we can improve for a more peaceful coexistence with cars. It is not the most important one, nor is it the biggest problem. Just something that I see regularly day to day. I stand behind that observation the only thing that will change that is not seeing it

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              • gutterbunnybikes June 26, 2015 at 5:08 pm

                And why don’t they feel safe?

                It’s because of all the people riding bicycles are telling them that it’s not safe. NO ONE else is saying that it isn’t safe, or if they are – it’s not even close the frequency of people riding bicycles that say it isn’t safe.

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        • Chris I June 26, 2015 at 12:30 pm

          Feeling safe isn’t going to keep someone from killing you with their car. Ask any of the recent victims if they felt safe just before they got hit.

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          • Ricky J. June 26, 2015 at 2:29 pm

            Exactly my point if it’s going to happen either way why live in fear

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            • KristenT June 26, 2015 at 4:40 pm

              I think I see what you’re saying– it’s going to happen anyway, so why worry about it ahead of time?

              It’s a fatalistic way of looking at things, to be sure.

              It’s not that I’m “worrying” about getting hit and hurt or killed, it’s that I’m planning for the eventuality so as to mitigate the effects of drivers who can’t be bothered to a)pay attention to what they’re doing; b)pay attention to the laws and follow them; and c)drive with the appropriate caution as taught in driver’s ed LO these many years ago.

              I’m not worried, I’m prepared.

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            • are June 27, 2015 at 11:25 am

              i don’t think it is true “it’s going to happen either way.” and i don’t think being on yellow alert the entire time you are out on the street on a bike is a negative. to be always managing unexpected emergent risks is to be alive, in the moment, in the flow.

              when i am on a bike in traffic i am constantly monitoring the behavior of surrounding road users and adjusting my line accordingly. “most” motorists are not doing this, in large part because they are in a box with an airframe protecting them, in part because the automatic transmission does the downshifting for you, etc.

              many cyclists are also not on alert, in part because they are used to driving, watching television, etc., and in part because the infrastructure “improvements” for bicyclists provide a false sense of security.

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            • soren June 27, 2015 at 1:00 pm

              A complete cop out. There is a reason that Portland has a far lower rate of vulnerable road user death than other cities. And as other cities have proven, we can do much, much better with little impact on people’s ability to get around. Or we can keep on clinging to the worsening status quo (pedestrian and cycling deaths have trended up nationally, state-wide, and locally),

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    • KatKamp June 30, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      I just had a guy run a red light and total my car on June 1st, so, now I’m biking and busing it (a blessing in disguise, really, because my ass is shrinking and I’m saving a ton of money) BUT, you can’t get away, totally, from the anxiety. Now when I ride in traffic, I’m very paranoid, but I’m hoping that it makes me even more careful and helps me to avoid accidents in the future. Every time I come to an intersection, I’m way more cautious, and even drivers I know who heard about my accident are, too.. a little paranoia and anxiety can be a good thing. 😉

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  • Todd Hudson June 26, 2015 at 11:16 am

    This article unfairly and negatively paints motorcyclists with a very broad brush. The majority of them are not gun-brandishing Bandidos. If anything, bikers have quite a bit in common with cyclists because inattentive motorists are as much of a detriment to them as they are to us.

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    • Granpa June 26, 2015 at 11:21 am

      Exactly Todd
      Vulnerable road users who automobile drivers kill and claim “I didn’t see him”. Motorcyclists don’t suffer much from the right hook, but left turning car drivers exact a deadly toll.

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      • Todd Hudson June 26, 2015 at 11:31 am

        The #1 cause of motorcycle accidents is the failure of the others to see the motorcycle riders. “Kill A Biker, Go To Jail” is the type of campaign cyclists need. Writing about how bikers are thugs and cyclists are special snowflakes alienates a group that has a lot in common with cyclists.

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    • Jeg June 26, 2015 at 11:22 am

      Maybe they should lower their exhaust below jetplane decibels if they don’t want to be judged poorly.

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      • Scott H June 26, 2015 at 11:38 am

        Generalizing and stereotyping another group makes you no different than the biased commenters on oregonlive. “Maybe cyclists should stop at stop signs if they don’t want to be judged poorly.”

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        • Chris I June 26, 2015 at 12:32 pm

          It’s hard to defend people that modify their motorcycles above the legal noise limit. They are a major detriment to life in an urban environment. I feel that I can stereotype them, because every single one of them selfishly chooses to operate an illegal vehicle for their own benefit, and to the detriment of those around them.

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          • Pete June 26, 2015 at 1:25 pm

            It can be argued that the “loud pipes save lives” rationalization of some motorcyclists isn’t terribly different than the practice some cyclists use to yield at stops or ride outside of bike lanes (in Oregon where it’s technically illegal).

            (I’m frankly not a fan of loud motorcycle, but I do see equivalent justification from an analytical perspective).

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          • John Lascurettes June 26, 2015 at 1:32 pm

            His point is that not all motorcycles are loud hogs. There are many, many modest sounding bikes on the road that do not rattle windows and set off car alarms.

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            • Scott H June 26, 2015 at 4:47 pm

              Indeed, and the point seems to have gone way, way over some heads. And, motorcycles with perfectly good mufflers far outnumber the louder ones.

              To see people here make broad judgements about motorcyclists based on a small handful of scofflaws is really eye opening. It fully explains the prevalence of “cyclists don’t obey the law.”‘

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              • Oregon Mamacita June 28, 2015 at 11:41 am

                Making broad judgments from a small group of scofflaws is the raison d’etre for this blog. If they couldn’t hate on cars (while owning them) the activist cycling community would have no boogy-man to organize around.

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              • KYouell June 29, 2015 at 2:57 pm

                Before you think I’m being sarcastic, I’ll say I’m genuinely curious as to why you read this blog?

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      • Granpa June 26, 2015 at 12:29 pm

        They, like they all are like that is an overwhelming generality that collapses when scrutinized. Lots of Harley bad-azz types have loud and annoying after-market pipes, but most motorcycles don’t. Think of the BMW motorcycles that carry cameramen and clear spectators out of the way at LeTour de France. Those are whisper quite. They are so quiet that YOU never noticed them.

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      • Aaron June 26, 2015 at 12:30 pm

        This is about as bad as “all cyclists ignore the rules of the road.” Except it’s even worse, because obviously you never hear all the motorcyclists with reasonable exhausts. How can you not realize this?

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      • Tom Hardy June 26, 2015 at 4:57 pm

        Many of the Motorcyclists have the very noisy exhausts so the motorists will hear them approaching while they are busy driving and on their cell phones.

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    • 9watts June 26, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      “This article unfairly and negatively paints motorcyclists with a very broad brush.”

      I understood Taz to be saying something rather different.
      Semiotically motorcycles differ from bicycles in that in our minds we recognize a pairing of one with violence (instances of this come to mind) that we don’t in the other. She is not saying motorcycle gangs that rape and pillage are all we need to know about motorcycles, or that the Vietnam War ended because people rode bicycles.

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      • JAT in Seattle June 29, 2015 at 11:43 am

        I want to embrace peace as much as the next person, but calling bicycles peace-machines seems silly and spurious. I’m glad you raise the Vietnam war issue; the war ended for my dad (buried in Willamette Nat. Cemetery) most likely due to ammunition brought south on a bicycle.

        Peace-machines? Broad brushes paint both ways.

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    • Gary June 29, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      “This article unfairly and negatively paints motorcyclists with a very broad brush”
      I didn’t get that at all. She makes the point that motorcycles can be (and sometimes are) used in a violent way, whereas her observation is that doesn’t seem compatible with a bicycle. I didn’t read any generalizations about motorcyclists.

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  • Tom Hardy June 26, 2015 at 11:27 am

    Loved the Bizzaro cartoon. Been there dun that!! North of San Diego in Hell’s Angels territory. Too bad there was not one concerning the Haight-Ashbury demonstrations in SF in the 60’s, was there on bike. Anti war rally and women’s lib, as a Vet.

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  • Tom Hardy June 26, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Those cyclist with the tension toward motorized vehicles is a very close approximation in numbers of drivers of motorized vehicles looking to do damage to an inattentive cyclist.

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    • Spiffy June 26, 2015 at 2:40 pm

      it sounds like you’re saying that the number of cyclists that slap cars is equal to the number of motorists that want to kill cyclists…

      if so, that’s a very large number…

      most of the motorists that get their cars slapped weren’t intending to kill anybody, they were negligent… the ones that are really trying to kill you don’t stay around long enough for you to slap…

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  • SilkySlim June 26, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    I’d like to cite the movie Quicksilver as a key piece of evidence. Bad guy: in a car. Good guys: on bikes (often dancing).

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  • Aaron June 26, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Clearly you haven’t seen this:


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  • Andy K June 26, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Great post!

    I feel a sense of camaraderie with motorcyclists because we all have to ride defensively.

    Fatality rate per 100 million VMT
    Motorcyclist: 30
    Bicyclist: 11
    Passenger car: 1

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  • Glenn June 26, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Just for contrariness: Bicycles in War, Martin Caidin 1974.

    Still, the main point of the article stands, and I agree with it. Bicycles aren’t very intimidating.

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  • Stephanie B June 26, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    I disagree with this premise. I think in our car-oriented world, where cars are the default against which everything else is measured, bicycles may indeed generally seem safer and more docile. However, if you are walking on a well-used path in a park with a three-year-old, you feel a constant and very real fear of bicycles. I was even intentionally hit once by a man on a bike when I was riding my bike in a park. There was nothing peaceful about that. Finally, if you read Bike Portland comments on mixed-use paths, you will begin to encounter the same unpleasant human attitudes that faster people tend to harbor towards slower people.

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    • Spiffy June 26, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      I can’t remember every having an issue with a cyclist in a park… and I can’t think of any instance where one even came close to my kid in a park…

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    • B Safe June 29, 2015 at 12:24 am

      Exactly. Not just small kids, but big adults also, must be aware of speeding bikes when they are walking on paths shared with bikes – Leif Erikson for example. Fact is, even a pedestrian staring at their “smart” phone can injure your 3 year-old if they walk into the child.

      If you are moving, you could injure someone. If you are standing still in a path where others are moving, you may contribute to an accident.

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    • KgR July 17, 2015 at 2:13 pm

      This article has an interesting premise, but the more I think about it the more I agree with Stephanie’s comments. Fast bikes on mixed use paths (especially, but not exclusively, with daydreaming toddlers) can be really very threatening. Think about all the places where skateboarding is outlawed because of the perception that these devices (much smaller and less intimidating than a bike!) will be wantonly mowing down little old ladies on the sidewalks. The iconic stereotype of the urban bike messengers breaking windows of cars with their u-locks as they zip by is very much a warlike trope as well. Bikes are just a tool like so many tools: they can be used for peace, they can be used for aggression, and probably most of the time they fall somewhere in between.

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  • Tom Hardy June 26, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    On the St johns bridge or elsewhere the cars accellarating then passing is really noticeable with diesel vehicles while they are pressing full throttle while riding the brake to make as much smoke as possible.

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  • Paul June 26, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    BMX Bandits? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085204/

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  • AG June 26, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Have you ever been around when the Portland Police use their bikes for crowd control? They become combat machines.

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    • Spiffy June 26, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      but they’re doing it to keep the peace, right?

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    • Tom Hardy June 26, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      I think the Portland mounted patrol (horses) should be riding bikes. They would make a much smaller mess.

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  • Josh Chernoff June 26, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    “they are generally portrayed as being far outside the mainstream, most are depicted as childish men, eccentrics, sexually odd character, geeks, and/or financial failures.”

    Damn it how is it that I full under all of the above?

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  • gutterbunnybikes June 26, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    I gotta admit, the biker example is a poor one, and does seem to unfairly generalize a population of road users.

    I grew up around bikers, and many of them do some pretty great things like food and toy drives, stuff with Jerry’s kids, motorcycle organizations are often the first to respond and ward off the Westboro Baptist Church wacos from soldiers funerals.

    I mean as far as doing charity and general good public deeds at an organizational level, many of them make the bicycle community look pretty selfish. There might actually be something for us to learn from them.

    Just like everything else there are good apples and bad apples. Bad apples make the front page.

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    • Alan 1.0 June 26, 2015 at 11:15 pm

      Amen, GBB. My guess is that bicyclists are more likely also to be motorcyclists than are non-bicyclists. I am. I’m surprised that Maus, who speaks of not stereotyping in his choices such as “people riding bikes” decided to run a column bashing bikes that are different than his. Can’t bicycle riders just be peaceful without categorically condemning others?

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  • Adam H. June 27, 2015 at 3:09 am

    two pedestrians who were walking on the sidewalk of the Burnside Bridge were hit by an out of control vehicle

    No. Two people who were walking on the sidewalk of the Burnside Bridge were hit by a person driving a vehicle.

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    • John June 27, 2015 at 4:25 pm

      Exactly, thanks Adam

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    • caesar June 28, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      No. Two people who were walking on the sidewalk of the Burnside Bridge were hit by a vehicle being driven by a person.

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  • 9watts June 27, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Adam H.

    two pedestrians who were walking on the sidewalk of the Burnside Bridge were hit by an out of control vehicle

    No. Two people who were walking on the sidewalk of the Burnside Bridge were hit by a person driving a vehicle.Recommended 3

    Or were hit by a person failing utterly at the task of piloting his vehicle

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  • rachel June 27, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Before policing the expressions of anger by some cyclists, consider why sometimes anger probably makes sense. There are folks in the cycling community who are marginalized in other parts of their lives (by race, gender, age, etc). Some marginalized people live in a constant state of trauma and morbidity. While fatalistic, this makes sense historically for some cultures… certainly not the WASP one which most greatly informs Portland society or its roads.

    So excuse me and others who aren’t here for old white men’s lectures on how to play nice with cars (because, you know, their experience is so valuable and relevant since they’ve survived so long on this earth). I practice defensive cycling, but if someone endangers my life I have no problem confronting them. If we want to hear more stories at rallies from people who aren’t aged white men, maybe we should stop dictating how they’re told.

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    • rachel b June 29, 2015 at 2:00 am

      hi, rachel. apologies for being off subject, but it might be less confusing around here if you use a last initial, too! all the best, rachel b.

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      • rachel June 29, 2015 at 4:11 pm

        Thanks for acknowledging how off subject that was! I would say you’re in the clear from being implicated in holding my opinions, thanks for speaking up.

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        • rachel b June 29, 2015 at 6:08 pm

          Well, that’s one way to interpret my comment. If you’ve read this site’s comments at all, it’s more likely you may not want to be associated with my opinions. If you’re going to just stick with “rachel” please let me know here and I’ll change my name.

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          • Dan June 30, 2015 at 7:38 am

            Even better, make yourself an avatar! https://en.gravatar.com/

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            • rachel b June 30, 2015 at 10:47 am

              Huh. Doh! Why didn’t I think of that? Thanks, Dan! 🙂

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  • John Romeo Alpha June 27, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    Peace from Phoenix, and Ramadan Mubarak. Boldly project the love and harmony you would want to receive, and very often it will reflect back at you. Even from drivers. Please try it.

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  • BC June 27, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Imperial Japan conquered Singapore in WWII on bicycles. They are wonderful machines, but let’s not get carried away. Just saying.

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  • Middle of the Road guy June 27, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    I ride my bike for exercise, not for a political statement.

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  • Joe Adamski June 27, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    the more prescient point is that cars are powered with oil and our reliance on oil sparks more conflict and ultimately, war. The challenge is our economic engine is predicated on easy access to cheap oil. Thus is the challenge of our empire.

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    • soren June 28, 2015 at 11:06 am

      Not all cars.
      My used electric car is powered by 100% renewable offset energy.

      My previous car sat unused for 3 months prior to purchase of this vehicle (dead battery). And when I learned that I could buy a used leaf for less than 10 grand I wrestled with the decision for an entire month. Eventually I decided that purchasing the car was the ethical thing to do (I’m a fanatical priority utilitarian) even though I personally have zero need for a motorized vehicle.

      I bought it for multiple reasons:

      1. To set an example to my neighbors.
      2. To allow my cohabitant to use it on her commute (and hence greatly reduce our household GHG production).
      3. To facilitate camping and bike trips. My reluctance to travel in my cohabitants prius has greatly inhibited our outdoor activites.
      4. To help stimulate demand for e-cars by purchasing a vehicle that sat around unsold for over a year.

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      • Oregon Mamacita June 28, 2015 at 12:47 pm

        Soren, I do appreciate Prius owners, because they did “put their money where their mouth is.” The thousands of Prius owner, collectively, did some good IMHO. And, surprised as I am that you own a car, I do think that
        it is nice you bought a Leaf.

        I write because you say some things in your post that I find unsettling for the same reasons I find the hard core anti-car stuff unsettling.

        1. Buying to set an example for your neighbors, hmmm. Are you that influential? Is that how we live in the US- looking at a neighbor’s choice and then adopting it? Concerned that there is a bit of superiority here.
        This goes to my concern that there is a lot of group think on this blog & a certainty that you are right and the general population is wrong.

        2. Better commute and access to the outdoors- that is normal.

        3. Inhibited access to the outdoors- thanks for bring that up. The anti-car lifestyle can really shrink your world, in so many ways.

        4. Your purchase stimulating demand- now that is another exaggeration of the effect of your choice in cars. Almost magical thinking.

        It is nice that you bought a Leaf. That is all it is. Nice. We are not our mode of transport. We are not influential. Our neighbors don’t share each and everyone of our ideas and that is okay. We are not better than other people. We all do different things. Some of us have pets that pollute, some of us eat mutton, some of us buy too much crap from China- it all adds to climate clusterbuck. Its nice to pay attention to transport, but the hyper-focus on cars and not the biggest drivers of climate clusterbuck doesn’t get us far.

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        • 9watts June 29, 2015 at 10:27 am

          “Buying to set an example for your neighbors, hmmm. Are you that influential? Is that how we live in the US- looking at a neighbor’s choice and then adopting it?”

          I’d venture that well more than 95% of us do what our peers do, whether that be deciding how frequently to bathe, choosing our mode of transport, deciding whether to get a tattoo, what shoes to buy, how much to eat at a meal, etc. Very few people think for themselves to the point where these decisions by others have no effect on them. Soren is absolutely right that car choice is subject to the same herd mentality that most of our consumer choices are. Ten or fifteen years ago, more TDI Jettas were sold in the Portland area than just about anywhere else in the nation. Why would that be, I wonder? Similar with Prii. We emulate the behaviors of those in our peer groups.

          Which is why bicyling, the switch to biking, is more about the collective mood than we tend to allow. It is infectious, notwithstanding your tendency to suggest otherwise.

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          • Oregon Mamacita June 29, 2015 at 2:56 pm

            9 watts, why does the “herd mentality” you describe supposedly only lead in one direction (pro-bike). Apparently everyone is looking at their neighbor’s Subarus and buying those….

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          • 9watts June 30, 2015 at 10:28 am

            Oregon Mamacita June 28, 2015 at 12:47 pm
            “1. Buying to set an example for your neighbors, hmmm.”

            Oregon Mamacita June 29, 2015 at 2:56 pm
            “Apparently everyone is looking at their neighbor’s Subarus and buying those….”

            I rest my case.

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            • are July 2, 2015 at 1:14 pm

              context. she is making a critique of your logic, not asserting people are in fact buying subarus because.

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        • soren June 29, 2015 at 4:08 pm

          “Concerned that there is a bit of superiority here.”

          Oregon Mamacita I’m not following you at all. How is my desire to pollute less without sacrificing the convenience of a personal car superiority? And I can assure you that my neighbors have been ogling my leaf and peppering me with questions. One family on my block is actually interested in buying one to replace their subaru.

          “Your purchase stimulating demand- now that is another exaggeration of the effect of your choice in cars. Almost magical thinking.”

          I believe that my enthusiasm for electric vehicles is shared by many, if not, most early adopters. The law of supply and demand is not magical thinking. People like me drive demand!

          “Its nice to pay attention to transport, but the hyper-focus on cars and not the biggest drivers of climate clusterbuck doesn’t get us far.”

          I’m happy with my lifestyle choices in other areas and I’m also happy that our household now pollutes even less.

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          • Oregon Mamacita June 29, 2015 at 5:09 pm


            It is your conviction that your, Soren, are so right, and your neighbors so wrong, that they will follow your lead. I guess it’s ego. I have lots of friends who try and pollute less, but they don’t see themselves as these figures that everyone else will imitate. To me, you seemed to portray yourself as “‘superior” in that post.

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            • soren June 29, 2015 at 8:15 pm

              Where did I say that my neighbors are wrong? How many times are you going to demean me Oregon Mamacita? I’m still trying to understand what exactly provoked your animosity.

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              • Oregon Mamacita June 30, 2015 at 8:38 am

                Soren, if your neighbor’s aren’t “wrong” by owning Subarus why the big deal about buying the Leaf as an example of what they should drive?

                Are you now saying that you accept your partner’s Prius and your neighbor’s
                VW Jetta?

                You imply that all drivers are bad all the time. Look at your comment about the poor guy that crashed on Larch Mountain. You said “meh” to the idea that the driver of the car might have suffered psychological trauma.

                You are so uncomfortable with cars that you, by your own telling, gave up visiting the forests and beaches because your partner’s Prius isn’t virtuous enough for you.

                I don’t feel anger, Soren- I am just here to sharpen my claws (keep your friends close and your enemies closer) and to experiment with ways to derail group think. I have been reading about cults/group think lately- a little intellectual interest of mine. IMHO, you feed into BP’s group think and you draw some bad conclusions (your “meh” comment).

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              • Dan July 1, 2015 at 8:37 pm

                What strange motives…

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              • are July 1, 2015 at 9:07 pm

                dan, i may not always or even often agree with mamacita, but there is nothing “strange” about coming onto discussion boards for the express purpose of derailing groupthink.

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        • Zimmerman June 29, 2015 at 6:50 pm

          I believe it is called “peacocking.”

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      • B Safe June 29, 2015 at 12:34 am

        I’ve heard about the 100% renewable offset energy program that you refer to and have looked for proof that it is actually 100% renewable offset energy – but I could not find any real data on it. Do you have any data on it? How many people get their electricity from it, how many kWh are consumed by those people annually and how many kWh are consumed in Dec, Jan, Feb, and the kWh output of each renewable source annually and for Dec, Jan, Feb, etc. I find it very difficult to believe that it could be providing power to very many people – it may be what they claim – but I’ll believe it when I see some numbers. Got a link with real data, not just a marketing/sales brochure?

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        • Dead Salmon June 29, 2015 at 9:55 am

          Perhaps that 100% renewable includes hydro – which is renewable – although not necessarily good for the environment.

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        • soren June 29, 2015 at 4:14 pm

          It’s a cool program and its the largest in the USA.


          An offset of energy generated by nat-gas/coal is an offset. The timing is not important to me at all. The offsets are verified by a 3rd party:

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  • Andrew June 28, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    I think the bevavior of drivers is not too dissimilar from the behavior of people on the internet. The anonymity provided by sitting in a metal cocoon traveling at a high rate of speed detaches the driver from others on the roadway–whether the others have motors or not, they are still ‘others’. I’m brand new to biking.. Bike commuting i mean.. I was previously the ‘interested but concerned’ category. Personally i drive mindfully and pay attention to my surroundings. Not only is it much safer for myself and others, if you pay attention to how you’re driving you can save a whole lot of gas. If I’m approaching a cyclist I leave plenty of room until I’m certain I can safely pass, the definition of safely being no different than passing any other vehicle, meaning if there is no oncoming traffic I allow the cyclist to have the lane even if they don’t need it. My driving pisses off other drivers quite a bit, when I let off the gas so I can coast to a stop I frequently get honked at and tailgated, worst case they make their feelings clear with a threatening gesture. If I stop for a pedestrian or a cyclist i get honks and waving hands. The worst a when I ’caused’ an accident when I came to a stop for a pedestrian on Powell before pulling in to a driveway. I stopped, the car behind me stopped, but the guy behind him sure didnt.
    I fully expect to encounter rude and dangerous behavior from drivers at some point as a continue cycling.

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  • B Safe June 29, 2015 at 12:48 am

    Taz said about the bikers protesting violent, radical Islam: “I was shocked and dismayed by the hate and bigotry.”

    Taz, I invite you, and all BP readers, to open your minds and learn what is going on in the world you live in – and even in our own country. Spend a few minutes per day reading the headlines on this website (link below). You don’t even have to open the stories if you don’t want – just read the headlines – the reporter does not make this stuff up – she merely reports it – and gives her opinion on it. I think after reading her headlines each day for a week or 2 you may decide that the actions of the Arizona bikers were extremely timid and week.

    Here’s the link: http://pamelageller.com/

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    • B Safe June 29, 2015 at 12:49 am

      I mean weak, not week. 🙂

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  • B Safe June 29, 2015 at 1:30 am

    Taz, do you think it is possible that those “indignant and ignorant” Arizona bikers might be wanting to prevent atrocities such as these from coming to America? I’m guessing this is just one example of the type of “tyranny” they refer to. Check it out and let us know your thoughts:

    OR, maybe this tyranny (for being gay) is what the bikers were thinking of when they protested:

    OR, maybe the bikers were thinking about this type of tyranny that occurred in Oklahoma:

    IMHO, I think you owe the Arizona bikers an apology.

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    • Dead Salmon June 29, 2015 at 11:38 am

      Not only were the bikers protests justified, but open carry of firearms is legal in Arizona. Taz, and other commenters above, insinuate that the bikers are bad people because they carried firearms.

      Another thing she says is: “….where two Arizona residents were killed by police…..” She fails to mention that the two “residents” were killed after they drove to Texas and opened fire, with guns, on the cartoon contest. She also fails to mention that the mosque in Phoenix is the mosque that the 2 “residents” were associated with. I’m starting to think Taz may be just a tad biased and maybe she should research the facts of a story prior to publishing it.

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      • Oregon Mamacita June 30, 2015 at 8:46 am

        Oh hogwash. The Ariz. bike thugs were there to inflict the kind of group justice that they supposedly reject when it is inflicted by is-hole fundie

        The Ariz. biker protesters have been warped by hate into actions that are
        more fundie is-hole than red-blooded American. People sometimes come to resemble their enemies.

        Thuggery begets thuggery.

        Taz- if you want to know more about bikers, I suggest you read Sonny Barger’s autobiography and wave at those often gentlemen known as the Patriot Guard (nemesis of the Westboro Baptist Knuckledraggers). I saw a Patriot Guard dude on Powell- they usually have an American Flag on their bikes when attending funerals and their jackets have a Patriot Guard logo.

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        • Dead Salmon July 1, 2015 at 6:49 pm

          I was not aware that the bikers had opened fire on the mosque in the same manner that was done to the cartoon contest. In your own words, that would be the “kind of group justice that they supposedly reject”.

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