Letter From A Former Bike Salmon

by Patrick Appel

Caleb Crain discusses "bike salmon," bicyclists who liberally violate the laws of the road, and the war between cars and bikes:

It would, after all, be swell if motorists paid more attention to the road. The trouble is that motorists hate to have to pay more attention. Their disgust has to do, I think, with the asymmetrical nature of the warfare between cyclists and motorists. As I vaguely recall from high-school physics, the damage that a moving object can do is proportional to its momentumits mass times its speed. A 5000-pound SUV going 35 miles an hour is therefore about 81 times as dangerous as a 150-pound cyclist on a 30-pound bike going 12 miles per hour.
The worst thing a motorist can do to a cyclist is kill him, and the worst thing a cyclist is likely to be able to do to a motorist is saddle him with the guilt of having killed. But guilt enrages in a way that fear doesn't, maybe because people are softies underneath, and would rather run the risk of being killed than of killing. (Between the certainty of one or the other, the choice might be different, naturally.) The only way a motorist could level the playing field would be to drive 81 times more prudently than the average bicyclist, and that may not be humanly possible.