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8 March 2011 No comments

Temper, temper! Tips on Dealing with Thoroughfare Exasperation.

Temper, temper! Tips on Dealing with Thoroughfare Exasperation.

Readers may recall how, after skimming through some of the old catalogues recently, we were given cause to mention the phenomenon of what was in Mr. Brooks' day known as Thoroughfare Exasperation.

It became common in the late 1800's on any roughly cobbled or badly planned city street where bicycles, horses and their respective owners met.

Typically, an instance of the above might see (near-) unprovoked horse rider cuff (almost) unwitting cyclist about the head with the butt of his whip while overtaking said cyclist, or allow his horse to relieve itself unadvantageously (for the cyclist) if both were stopped at a junction.

Now clearly, horse riders in built-up areas had been behaving unreasonably, aggressively and impolitely to each other for hundreds of years, but the advent of the bicycle gave them a much clearer focus for what are in retrospect quite obviously a manifestation of pent-up, difficult-to-pin-down feelings of uncontrollable anger-via-inadequacy. Where was Dr. Freud when they needed him?

The putative seed of the altercation was generally some piffling nonsense in regard to one's opinion of how the other was conducting himself in traffic, but depending on how things escalated, this seed could often bloom into a trip to the infirmary or gallows for one; or for both; or vice versa, possibly.

Remember, Mr. Brooks' patented Sword and Gun Clips, though fairly easy on the eye, were not produced for decorative purposes.

Anyway, horse and jockey were soon largely out of the picture, and gradually replaced in the twentieth century by automobile and driver. Whereupon said drivers spent a few generations making "vee signs" at each other, honking their horns, cutting each other off, that sort of thing.

But by the 1970's, experts in the burgeoning business of Trying-to-Give-Every-Tiny-Little-Variation-on-a-Theme-its-Own-Special-Name reckoned nastiness in the driving seat had escalated in frequency and kind to a point where the (admittedly little-used) term "Thoroughfare Exasperation" was perhaps too mild.

So they came up with Road Rage.

This worked for a while as the general handle to use when describing undue aggression on wheels or streets, but over time has necessarily spawned a few clunkier sounding subdivisions.

Car-starts-on-other-Car is still the classic one, of course. Car-starts-on-Motorcycle another. Bike-starts-on-Car another still, Pedestrian-starts-on-Bike... you get the idea.

In a way it might be more convenient to label it all "Angry People Plus Those In Their Vicinity" and have done, but when you think about it a little, most of these subdivisions have something which makes them stand alone from the others. We don't wish to wax poetic so soon before our Limerick Competition, but they do all seem to have their own distinct... is "energies" the word?

Anyway, until recently, one of the lesser documented permutations (along with Truck-starts-on-Pram) has been Bike-starts-on-other-Bike.

Of course, a lot of cyclists do a lot of looking down their noses at each other, but intuitively you'd think most might regard each other as having some vague sort of common cause. At least insofar as they'd try to restrain themselves from uttering the unutterable.

It seems you'd be wrong. If you're going to San Francisco, for one thing, it seems you can dispense with the flowers and get a good helmet instead, because the chances of meeting a lot of gentle people there aren't as, um, high as they once were. We'll let Brooks North American P.R. Suzette Ayotte take up the story...

BRR on the Streets of San Francisco!

From the Intentional Tourist

Angry cyclists pervade our streets. A pre-disposition to Bicycle-Road-Rage (BRR), or rather the absence thereof, is not discernible by a rider's saddle choice. While in an ideal world there'd be conditions associated with owning one (ie. you’re not allowed to be a jackass whilst in motion on the bike), lots of tightly-wound-up people seem to ride a Brooks, too. But maybe they've all stolen them.

Increased exposure to BRR as of late, begs the following two questions:

Am I causing it?

With the increasing usage of the bike for transportation, is this the new norm?

Leaving my apartment one afternoon recently, I was onto the bike and out of the garage in a flash. Time being of the essence, I looked left to ascertain that my quick exit, sharp right, and immediate incline would not lead to the cutting off of an oncoming cyclist given my apartment’s location directly in the middle of a San Francisco hill on the populated bike-path street of Polk. I was able to get a quick jump on the lone cyclist I saw fast approaching, and moved immediately to the right in case he wished to pass.

After a quick little one-block ascent, I crested past the junction of Polk and the infamous Lombard Street, curviest street in the world.

Two blocks later I looked back, expecting to see him on my wheel. He was actually two blocks back. “Hmm,” I thought, “he's a lot slower than me. And I'm not fast.”

Within a block, Zippy came flying by. In fact, he went blowing through the next five stop signs that encompass five always-busy cross-sections of Polk St. Typically, San Francisco’s official bike-lane streets (as well as any other city’s) indicate that they are highly traveled, and Polk is no exception. There are most always cars to your left and right at the cross-sections, and there are most always pedestrians crossing as well. Rarely will you pass through stop signs on the eighteen block long section of Polk on the north side of Market and not need to stop.

Zippy blew through one particular stop sign, smack dab in front of a Paddywagon. Track-standing at the stop sign, I glanced back to see if John Law had noticed. I considered spinning around to offer up a tip along the lines of, “If you’d like to log a sure-as-sh*t-happens Moving Violation ticket, just follow that guy in the bright blue hat, on the jet black bike with an admittedly beautiful, weathered and broken-in Brooks B17 saddle on top.” Two wrongs don't make a right, though. My nagging sense of human decency wouldn’t let me do it and I kept going.

By the time we got the fifth blown-through stop sign and I’d caught up with him at the high-and fast-moving-traffic section of Broadway and Polk, I’d decided to say something.

“Hey,” I offered, “maybe you don't realise this, but every time you blow through a stop sign, you give car drivers a tool with which they can form incorrect generalized assumptions about cyclists.”

Words to that effect, anyway.

He looked over at the other cyclist waiting for the light to turn, looked at the red light, looked to see if any cars were coming, said, “Thanks for the lecture, b**ch” and took off. I must admit, the words emitting from my mouth after that weren't what my mother would refer to as "lady-like", but suffice it to say they are not words you haven’t uttered in front of your parents, children or boss at one time or another. John Boultbee Brooks watching from his cloud would certainly have passed their use in the heat of battle.

Zippy turned back – and the next word out of his mouth was a word that I know must have had Mr. Brooks still reeling a week later.

It's a word one tends to avoid if one is looking to impress, although I’ve heard it used judiciously in certain parts of Scotland. But never have I heard it SCREAMED OUT at high noon at the intersection of Broadway and Polk perfectly equidistant from four pedestrian-littered corners.

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