A few days ago I was out riding with a few friends, and at one point while heading down a descent with a fast, sweeping right, I ended up going up the inside of one of them because at that very moment I though I would be going through faster than him. I then realized that I didn’t quite have the measure of confidence to finish it off properly, so dabbed the brakes a little and made a bit of an obstacle of myself. Sorry Tony.
Later that day, that got me thinking about how we make decisions. In general, of course, but more specifically while on the roads. In my case, that’s on a bike, but it applies to motorists, and even pedestrians. I should not have to point out that the consequences of bad decisions are less severe for pedestrians as compared to cyclists in the grand scheme of things, and outrageously less so for cyclists as compared to motorists. But of course, all too often, I am confronted with the fact that, yes, I do have to point this out. Because people are silly.
The thing that is behind many bad decisions is insufficient time to consider the options, and by considering I mean considering and then actually applying reason to those options.
…I was just thinking that lack of time and lack of intelligence might yield similar results, yet lack of intelligence plus time will often not improve things. Incompetence is just as big a danger behind the wheel or handlebars as speed, but I’m just realizing at this very moment that selfishness is perhaps the real root of the problem of lack of time. If you’re not thinking about yourself as the centre of the universe, various things will happen: you will leave ample time to get to your destination, you won’t rush past and then cut off a cyclist to get to the roundabout first, you won’t tailgate, you won’t treat an open, public road as your private race track (motorist or cyclist), you won’t speed, you won’t check your messages while driving, and you won’t try to take the inside line through a fast corner on a very informal, recreational ride with friends.
But here’s the thing – if we don’t go all the way back to the root problem of humanity (which we won’t solve) and simply settle on the topic of speed, then I think we can see quite clearly that speed, and as a consequence, time, has a direct effect on decision-making.
This is not a new, novel idea. It’s really, really obvious, in fact. Not only is 40kph far less dangerous than 50kph for pedestrians who are hit by a car, but they are also less likely to be hit in the first place because that extra 10kph cuts into your reaction time more than you might want to admit.
Speed kills, yes, but it also does a number on your ability to think properly… which can then kill… And that’s when I thought about:
See, at some point in my life, I was told that people who eat with chopsticks are less overweight than people who do not, that this is because it takes longer to eat with them, and when your body has more time to realize that it is full, you have more time to consider whether you would like to keep shoveling more calories into it than are required. Waiting a bit for dessert after dinner usually results in me realizing that I no longer feel like I need anything, and my desire for it looses it’s strength. It was all just the idea of dessert that made me want it, but given a bit of time, I come to the conclusion that it’s something I don’t need to do. I’m not actually hungry anymore. Usually it’s time that is the only cure to me overeating.
Whether or not this is actually the case with chopsticks is irrelevant (though it is a rather popular theory), for the idea illustrates the effectiveness that slowing down has on decision-making. We often talk about speed in terms of the effect it has upon physical impact, but fail to consider that the primary reason lower speeds are safer is because accidents are less likely to occur in the first place. We fail to consider this in our daily lives because the evidence is a lack of evidence. Something not happening doesn’t make quite the same impression on us as narrowly avoiding a potentially fatal incident, but it does seem a rather universal human trait to push the boundaries until something snaps, with that cycle repeating itself ad nauseam in most cases.
So back to the chopsticks. Riding an upright bike at a slow pace (or just riding at a slow pace, which is actually possible on all kinds of bikes, you may be surprised to hear…) or driving slower and without distraction may take more time (though it usually doesn’t), but it will pay you back in terms of safety, stress, physical effort (getting sweaty), fuel economy and emissions, wear and tear on the brakes, noise pollution, and even travel times, not to mention still being a rather enjoyable way to get around. Eating with chopsticks may take more time (though I realize that with great proficiency with chopsticks this is probably negated), but your overall experience will be better due to not having exceeded that comfortably-full feeling. The upright bike, championed by many cycling advocates, may in fact be the ideal bike for this analogy, for they’re not really designed to go fast, nor do they encourage one to try.
Still, all of the other benefits aside, when cycling or driving with chopsticks you have time to think about what you are doing and are less likely to make a snap decision and end up getting into trouble. Furthermore, when you are travelling slower, momentum isn’t as valuable. There isn’t as much of a cost to slowing down compared to when you are travelling at high-speed. As cyclists, especially, we want to conserve energy at all costs, so when we are travelling quickly it costs us more to regain that speed. If you need to slow down from 20kph, the perception of how much that costs you isn’t as great as needing to slow down from 50kph, so we don’t mind as much. More time for good decisions and less motivation to push the boundaries of smart thinking.
We’ve all done this at roundabouts. I do it on my bike. When you don’t have a wide-open view of the entrance to the roundabout and you are approaching at speed, there is a huge urge to maintain your speed and blast through it because you don’t have to stop, like you would for a stop sign. If you spot a car or a cyclist entering it at the last second, not only do you have almost no time to stop, or even consider stopping, but the effort to brake hard and then regain that speed actually encourages you to just press the gas a little more and blast through. Like eating with chopsticks, travelling at slower speeds gives you the time to consider whether or not this is a good idea, and won’t cost you as much effort to slow down.
Lower speeds result in far fewer accidents, which is also why cycling is a much lower risk for of transportation than driving (if you take motorists running into you out of the equation). Haste is waste, they say. Of stress, effort, time, in the long run, and haste could be a waste of your life or someone else’s. On my way home today, I was tailgated and then passed by cars a couple of times in plain sight of an approaching red light, and on two occasions did a car pass me only to turn right (away from me, for the rest of the world) 10 meters later. Seriously, what’s your hurry? What have you accomplished in doing that?
So slow down, you bunch of selfish pricks. Pick up the chopsticks and enjoy your meals without shoveling it in all at once. Travel at speeds that allow you to react to all possible (realistically possible) scenarios. Leave enough time to get you to your destination without rushing and life will be better. Think about whether or not you actually need to pass this person right now and if it will actually accomplish anything meaningful (aside from rightfully pissing off the person you cut-up and heightening your sense of aggression).
Grab life by the chopsticks. You’ll thank me somewhere along the way.
Header image: source