Brookline Tab/ OP ED

The Ninja cyclists are rolling among us.

Perhaps you’ve seen one. Riding stripped-down bikes, they favor black clothing and black-hooded sweatshirts (with hoods fully deployed). Poking out from beneath their helmet-less hoodies are wires from iPod ear buds. The most Zen-like among them prefer “fixie” bikes that have no brakes. Moreover, the rear of the bike is free of all ornamentation. That includes one of the few things left in this world that still costs 50 cents: a small, circular reflector. Then again, there may well be no fender on which to mount a reflector.

Apparently, the goal of Ninja bicyclists is to render themselves as invisible as stealth planes on moonless nighttime flights. The iPods help shield riders from invasive sounds like car horns. Occasionally, Ninja cyclists will use their martial arts training — just an imperceptible flick of the wrist training to flip open a cell phone while in full glide.

What Ninjas fear most is losing Ninja status, which can happen if they are actually forced to stop because of a pedestrian or traffic light. Stoppage must be avoided at all cost. Touching foot to ground, except at journey’s end, constitutes a grave moral offense to all Ninjadom.

Ninja bicyclists travel light in every respect except one: They carry tons of attitude in their imaginary panniers. Not only are they young and invulnerable, but they are also the greenest of all commuters in a time of global meltdown. Every ride, therefore, is a kind of crusade.

For this reason, they despise motorists. Now it’s true most motorists in the Boston area are despicable, myself included. We burn fossil fuels and drive in crazed ways. I won’t even attempt to defend us. But we are crazy with a difference: We drive huge heavy hunks of metals at high speed. In collisions with bicyclists, we lose our honor, perhaps our licenses, but rarely our lives. Not all crazies are created equal.

Which brings me to the issue of rights. No group is pricklier about their rights than the Ninjas. They can recite their rights faster than a career criminal can recite the Miranda warning. Most dear to their hearts is the right to ride in heavily congested roads at rush hour. Some believe that their birthright — or is it death right? — entitles them to an entire car lane. Their unspoken motto seems to be: “Ride Free and Die.”

Let me get personal. One day, while driving home on the Riverway, I was stopped by a red light at Longwood Avenue, where I intended to hang a right. It was summer and my windows were open. I heard an argument to my left, where a Ninja was going at it with a motorist. Our two-wheeled friend was intending to cycle between the two lanes of heavy car traffic. Knowing that the Jamaicaway lay straight ahead, I suggested to the Ninja that if he wanted to live to ride another day, he might consider using the broad sidewalks and bike paths on this intense stretch of roadway. He not-so-politely told me where I might go.

More recently, I got the same X-rated response from another biker who — horrors! — was scandalously forced to stop at a red light on Comm. Ave. in Allston. A black-clad phantom. No reflector. I decided to tell him something that might actually save his young life. “You should think about getting a helmet,” I suggested. “@*% you!” he gratefully replied.

Let me end on a less profane note. About 25 years ago, one of my sons was enrolled in a terrific day-care center on Mission Hill, where he had a wonderful teacher. One day we went to pick him up, only to learn that the teacher’s husband had just been killed on Mass. Ave., a few blocks from the old Boston City Hospital. A truck had run a light. He was knocked to the ground, and he wasn’t wearing a helmet. The victim was a big, burly, strong-as-an-ox guy. He was way bigger than most of today’s college-aged Ninjas, but his head was just a fragile egg to the pavement. Two young kids lost their dad that day.

Ninja bicyclists of the world, there are things more important than your right to die. You also have a right to reflect. Maybe it’s time to lose the look so you too can ride safely off into the sunset.

Bill Schechter is your basic despicable Brookline-based driver, just trying to be helpful.
Oct 15, 2009

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