Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Need more gorillas

Star Bike Shop opened at 1 p.m. Sunday and I was there around 1:03 p.m. with my badly bent wheel and ruptured tire pump. Chuck Larcom, the owner, sold me a new wheel and told me to pick out a new pump from the sales floor, despite the fact that my damaged pump was more than a year old and had been heavily used. He said he'd take it up with the manufacturer. Star is an old school shop and off the beaten path. The hipsters seem to prefer The Bicycle Link, but I'm loyal to Star because the scenario described above is typical of my experiences there.

Chuck also gave me some very good advice to help avoid future encounters with cars. He said, "Ride like you're invisible." In other words, never assume someone sees you, even if they are staring straight at you. Sometimes motorists look directly at cyclists, he explained, but don't see them because they are so focused on scanning for other cars. It sounds like folksy bike store owner advice, but the inability of motorists to see cyclists (and pedestrians) may be due to something called "change-blindness," which is described here. A snip:

Working with Christopher Chabris at Harvard University, Simons came up with another demonstration that has now become a classic, based on a videotape of a handful of people playing basketball. They played the tape to subjects and asked them to count the passes made by one of the teams.

Around half failed to spot a woman dressed in a gorilla suit who walked slowly across the scene for nine seconds, even though this hairy interloper had passed between the players and stopped to face the camera and thump her chest.

However, if people were simply asked to view the tape, they noticed the gorilla easily. The effect is so striking that some of them refused to accept they were looking at the same tape and thought that it was a different version of the video, one edited to include the ape.

So, folks focusing on basketball passes don't see gorillas on the court and motorists watching exclusively for other cars may not see cyclists, even if they look them in the face and thump their chests. I think a possible cure for change-blindness is to get more gorillas on the court. Perhaps then, drivers won't focus so narrowly on spotting other cars. Looks like there will be plenty of cyclists on the street this weekend. Nonetheless, I'm still going to pretend I'm invisible.


Al Carter said...

Just saw your comment on my bike commute - total length is 9 miles each way - so not too long, luckily I ahve a shower in work. I used to do 18 miles each way through gorgeous countryside but sadly changed jobs!

The Mighty Pen

Jim said...

Pretend you're invisible, but realize that you are not. Seems to me that the invisible routine fails when it causes you to cower too close to the edge of the road. This allows even the drivers who see you to attempt to share the lane with you, running you nearly off the road. And being so close to the edge makes you blend in with the roadside scenery. I try to make myself as visible as possible and use eye contact and hand signals all the time to convey my intentions. I am making a habit of holding my lane to force the cars to take another lane to pass. That said, I still watch my ass and get the heck outta the way when a potential danger presents itself.