Am I A BMW-ist?
I’ve been called all sorts of things in my time, many of them not particularly flattering, though many quite justified. But I have thick skin - something that probably comes from being an engineer. Unless insults are printed out on tractor-feed paper & backed up by a lot of calculations, I just don’t understand them.
Anyway, I seemed to have upset a whole bunch of people last week with a comment I left on the superb Yehuda Moon & The Kickstand Cyclery comic strip’s site:
Yes, cars mess with your brain. In a bad way - you end up as ‘the car’ rather than the PERSON driving it.
This is why BMWs always seem to be driven by complete schmucks. It’s not the driver, but the car that made them do it.
Of course, WHY someone would want to buy a BMW in the first place is an entirely different question. They may in fact be a self-selecting group of schmuck drivers . . . .
Wouldn’t you just know it - turns out that a whole lot of Yehuda Moon readers also drive BMWs / have friends, family & relations who drive BMWs, and assumed that I was talking about them. I guess it could be quite easy to take the above personally, but people really got quite hot under the collar (guilty conscience maybe?).
However, I was focusing on BMWs as an example, and not the only one. I don’t know how car designers do it, but there’s something in the way every car handles, accelerates, smells, feels throught he fingertips / buttocks / feet, enhances some sounds while muting others, restricts your view, shows more / less of itself to you, etc, etc that encourages different driving.
Take my first car - a 1962 Morris Minor, like the one shown here. 948cc engine, non-synchromesh gears, drum brakes that would be put to shame by most modern bicycles’, and rear-wheel drive through tyres that were narrower than your average beach cruiser’s. This was the perfect car for someone in their late teens / early twenties. No matter how much testosterone I had flowing through my bloodstream, it was hard to drive this car like any kind of loon. It would take 6-8 hours to do the 300 miles of motorway between my house and Wife-to-be’s parents’ farm in Wales. The acceleration wasn’t there, the braking distance was measured in parsecs, and any attempt at any kind of ‘racy’ driving would result in the rear wheels gently losing traction. As a result, I grew up accepting that you don’t (just can’t?) drive fast.
Tom Vanderbilt has quite a lot to say on this subject - if you haven’t already read it, I can heartily recommend his book, “Traffic - Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us)“. Traffic is also available in the USA.
He points out things like pickup drivers are less likely to wear seatbelts than other drivers; that with the top down, drivers of convertibles suddenly start acting more like people than guidance computers; and that SUV drivers tend to drive closer to the vehicle in front of them.
In a recent post, he singled out drivers of Hummers. To be fair, it wasn’t him that did the singling out - it was the data that said Hummer drivers get the most tickets, while the ubiquitous granny-mobile, the Buick gets the fewest. As I said about BMW drivers, this may be the product of self-selecting groups, or it maybe something to do with the vehicle’s design.
Something I’ve noticed recently though is that these stereotypes don’t just apply to types of car. Particular jobs seem to change people’s driving. Taxis seem to squeeze through narrower gaps next to cyclists; drivers of skip lorries seem to have no compunction about turning left in front of a bike (if you’re in the USA, think Right turn); and bus drivers all seem really courteous when pulling out, but will blithely skim past inches from your handlebars in an effort to race you to the bus stop. Where they’ll promptly stop right in front of you.
Maybe it’s just that I’m getting more cycling in England experience under my belt, so I’m seeing more of this stuff. Or maybe it’s that now I’m aware of it, my mind is attuned, and so I notice it more.
Anyway . . . I think this “It wasn’t my fault - the car made me do it” relationship between what the designer did, and how you drive also applies to bikes. I have a . . . few bikes, and they fall into two broad camps. The ones you sit on and as you lean over the handlebars, the saddle jabs you down there, causing a little squirt of testosterone to be injected into your bloodstream, and the tandem, where I can sit up, smile beatifically, and generally just waft through life.
OK, it’s not quite that black’n'white - Trixie The Fixie (converted ’80s Raleigh road bike) makes me ride like a scamp; Christine (road bike, sometimes set up as a Tri-bike) is all about distance, cadence and the smoothness of my pedal action; and Wilf (hybrid & sturdy commuter) is like riding the bicycle equivalent of a Hummer. Seriosly - riding Wilf feels almost like piloting the drop ship from Aliens. But without the benefit of Sigourney Weaver wondering around in her underwear anywhere in sight.
But Wilf’s now termnally ill. He’s done somewhere around 3,000 miles, and I failed to keep up on chain wear. I’ve kept it clean, but not checked it for wear properly, and now it’s eaten the chainring, sprockets and chainwheel. Oh, and the back wheel’s pretty much had it too. So in a month or so, Wilf will be joining his namesake, Wilfred Owen. And I’ll be replacing him with something a little closer in spirit to my Morris Minor. So journeys will take a little longer.
But you know what? I don’t care - I’ll have had time to smell the roses along the way. Just like we used to do on those long drives to Wales.