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COLUMNS The Bike Madame

Riding Etiquette with Guillaume de Tour Landry

WHEN I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes at my elders’ paeans to the well-mannered youths of yesteryear, who never draped toilet paper in trees or used their underarms to produce bathroom noises. Now that I can legitimately begin a sentence with “Young people today…”, I still roll my eyes when I hear us ill-mannered children of the ‘70s described as paragons of etiquette. However, I have grown to appreciate good manners, especially on the road.

One night, after accidentally consuming caffeinated black tea instead of my usual herbal tea, and under the influence of a glitter ball and a bad SF novel, I discovered I’d summoned the spirit of Guillaume, Le Chevalier de Tour Landry. The medieval French knight wrote an etiquette book for his daughters, so I took advantage of his spectral presence in front of my cat-hair-covered papasan chair to ask him to share his advice on cycling etiquette. After I showed him what a bicycle was, he rose to the challenge. After that, he rose into the ether, never to be seen again, except in a mysterious pattern of tea leaves at the bottom of my ill-fated cup.

For your pleasure and edification, I have translated his remarks from medieval French.

“How wondrous are the ways of Fortune! Verily, I was tilting my lance at a target when I was unhorsed and struck my head—I had recklessly doffed my helm, which one should not do—and now I am transported in a vision to the future, where people travel about on metal-framed wheeled monstrosities! Yet even as the ways of the future are passing strange and wondrous, still we remain human and the duties of courteous life are incumbent upon us.

“In my rightful time and place, carts, horses, and pedestrians often collideth upon the roads because we travel in whichever direction we so desire. To stayeth safe upon the roads, prithee travel in the same direction as the horseless carriages do go and followeth diligently the same regulations, such as coming to a halt when the magic red light doth manifest. This renders your movements predictable to pedestrians and those who pilot the horseless carriages. It may seemeth expedient to weave between parked carriages, the syde-walk, and the road, but beware lest the 18-wheeled conveyance shalt flatten you.

“While we speaketh of that, many a high-spirited rider leapeth the curb and zippeth along the syde-walk where pedestrians do take refuge from the slings and arrows of the street. Rememberest that thou hast a vehicle and belongeth in the street. If you needs must go upon the syde-walk, I pray, dismount from your metal horse and walketh it beside the foot traffic. The exception is young children, who wobbleth too much to travel safely in the lane.

“When encountering others upon the road, whether afoot, in a carriage, or on cycles, it is well to alert them to thy presence with a bell and with devices that revealeth you to the eye, such as yonder magical lamps and bright, reflective clothing. You do not wish to surprise others.

“Betimes you come upon another cyclist who rideth slower than you do. Pray alert the other to your presence in a genteel manner and passeth safely upon the left. Some goeth around in a startling, loud manner or ridest amongst pedestrians to get around the leisurely obstacle.”

My knightly visitor then started to discourse upon the uncouthness of wearing skin-tight Lycra garments, so I was compelled to bring our interview to a close.