Steve sent me someone’s inquiry that came in off of the AAA contact page. Usually these are either “hey you guys rock” or they are lost advertisers who try to sell ad space somewhere they shouldn’t and don’t get it when we shame them.
Here’s the full email. I put it out there in full, and then I will ruminate on why i wavered for two weeks on writing this post at all:
From: Jonathan Ciaccio Date: December 26, 2009 7:32:31 PM EST To: antiadvertisingagency.com Subject: New Blog Post Suggestion Dear owner of http://antiadvertisingagency.com, I’m the webmaster of http://www.sharethedamnroad.com. We came across your blog today and thought that you might want to know about a cycling jersey we are selling that is stirring up quite a buzz. The new jerseys at www.sharethedamnroad.com send a message to aggressive drivers. If you decide you want to write a little something about us for your blog, let us know and we will reciprocate a link back to you!! Best regards, Jonathan Ciaccio Cycling@ciaccioseo.com
So first problem: the guy writing the email is some hired gun SEO “webmaster” who is out fishing for pagerank. Not only is he a SEO, he is a SEO who hosts his domain at blogspot: http://ciaccioseo.blogspot.com/. His client’s site is way down in the search rankings for whatever keywords they are aiming for, and he wants a piece of our pagerank. It appears that his hired gun is doing a fine job as the site has thousands of links to it and a pagerank of 3/10 (which according to his payscale means the SEO is currently charging $250/month), so I’m not going to put in a link. On principle.
But I’ll discuss: If you go to the site (by copying and pasting), you can see he is selling bike jerseys that say things like “DON’T RUN ME OVER!” and “DON’T HONK AT ME.” The word “Thanks” is emblazoned across the front in a mirror image, so drivers can read it from their rear view mirrors, but realistically it is virtually invisible to drivers unless you are sitting up in a victory pose. These are the creation of Phil Gaimon, a rising 24 year old racer and blogger for Bicycling magazine. He writes that it is about trying to:
finally experience the joy of having the last word. The goal is to convey messages of safety and cyclist’s rights, but there is an element of humor and frustration, which we feel cannot be denied in the cyclist/motorist relationship, so these jerseys are not for wimps
I’m not sure where Gaimon is training, but in my experience, this is just the wrong approach to communicating with cars and their drivers. I “train” on the streets of New York, which affords me the opportunity of actually speaking with cars at stoplights, because I can ride faster than traffic. I can have the last word. And I’ll be the first to admit this: I start out calm, but I don’t shy away from someone shouting at me. I love to try to have the last word. This is what the last word sounds like:
I knock on their window and politely tell the driver that they almost hit me, and they should watch out for cyclists, or I tell them that I can hear them coming and there is no need to honk; honking only scares me and could make me loose my balance momentarily and cause me to ride into their oncoming car: the exact thing they were (honestly) trying to prevent.
Then one of two things happens:
They are very quiet. They apologize, or say “oh, I didn’t realize that” and we all go on our way happily. This happens about 1/3 of the time. 1/3 of the time, our conversation makes riding a bicycle in NYC safer.
They get very loud. They tell me to fuck off, and it goes downhill from there. Sometimes it goes really far downhill really fast. Many times drivers have gotten out of their cars to physically assault me. (Advice, immediately ride against traffic.) One of those times, the driver got back in his car and hit me intentionally with his car. Not fun. He then stood over me and yelled at me in front of several witnesses. I got his plates, pressed charges, and he probably got a warning. Still, not fun.
So it becomes a question of what is the right message. I guess that is an advertising question. Or maybe a social marketing question. I think he is closest to the mark with his shirt that has an arrow pointing to the rider’s left and the words “3 FEET.”
What we need is rider education, driver education and more generally public education. But we also need riders who are not being smart asses about our public image. Just because they are not “wimps” doesn’t meant that the wearers of these jerseys are helping progress the overall image and presence of bicycling in this SUV focused country.
Instead of a funny jersey that is good for a few good quick laughs, I present three different ideas that brings the focus back from having the last word:
One: Transportation Alternatives has spent much of the last year and will spend much of the coming year focusing on bicyclist education. They published their Biking Rules street code guide, ran an enormously successful PSA campaign and massively sold out screening at BAM. They even got Bike Snob to be one of the judges. The point is that the biggest problem is bicyclists themselves: from angry pelotons in Central or Prospect Park cussing out joggers, to hipsters on track bikes without brakes running lights to delivery men riding against traffic, we need to be better citizens if we want to be treated as good citizens.
Bright Bike v2.0 from Michael Mandiberg on Vimeo.
Two: Passive visibility is a secret weapon. Of course you need to have your front and back headlights at night, but nothing stops a driver dead in their tracks like a fully visible bicycle. Case in point: I wrapped my entire bike in retroreflective vinyl. And then I wrapped my helmet too. There is nothing quite as awesome as watching a car see you in their headlights as they are crawling forward, about to make a turn across traffic, and stop abruptly. Seeing an entire bicyclist completely light up in their headlights shocks them into realizing there are other people out there using the roads too. After a year of people asking for it, I made DIY Kits. See the original video here.
Three: If you really want 3 feet, give yourself three feet! A couple of industrial designers came up with a design prototype for a rear mounted LED with a green laser that marks out a 6 foot wide bike lane around your bicycle. I guess it won’t help during the day, but after dark is when it really matters. And after dark no one will be able to read your jersey anyway.