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Gear Prudence: I want to buy a cheap used bike, and I know that there are a ton available on Craigslist. But is this a good idea? It seems sort of sketchy. —Unknown Seller Equals Deals?
Dear USED: There are three big reasons to be concerned about buying a bike (or anything else, really) from online listing sites. The bike might be stolen, so you’ll want to ask about its provenance. If the seller has purchase paperwork, that’s great, but a bike that was heretofore in mom’s garage probably won’t have a receipt. Secondly, there’s the transaction itself. Bringing a wad of cash to some back alley to give to a stranger isn’t everyone’s idea of the most savory form of commerce. And lastly, caveat emptor, which is Latin for, “If you don’t know shit about bikes, you could end up having to pay more on repairs than you did on the initial purchase.” There are a bunch of reputable local shops and nonprofits (the Old Bike Shop and Phoenix Bikes in Arlington, Gearin’ Up in D.C.) that deal in used wares. Maybe start there instead. —GP
Gear Prudence: I must say as someone who has lived and cycled in New York, Oakland, Paris, and now D.C., that the drivers and bicyclists here are the absolute WORST. They’re the rudest, most selfish and most arrogant. Where did this totally shitty transportation culture come from?—Just Everyone Roadwise Kinda Sucks
Dear JERKS: It’s an unfortunate vestige of the the Cold War. President Dwight Eisenhower, along with pioneering the interstate highway system, ordered counterintelligence agents to surreptitiously infiltrate local driving schools and motor vehicle departments. In case of invasion, D.C.-area drivers and bicyclists were to behave so recklessly, selfishly, and haplessly that the onrush of Soviet tanks would become so exasperated that they would make a volte face to Moscow, where transportation culture is so much more orderly and polite.
Truth be told, I think every locality believes its drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to be the most terrible. Is #thistown really any worse than Boston, New York, or L.A.? Maybe! Many of us are pretty awful. But it’s hard to say, since familiarity breeds contempt. Norms play a part, but so does infrastructure. Studies have consistently shown that dedicated and separated bike lanes lead to reduced injury (for cyclists and pedestrians) and greater compliance to traffic laws. Perhaps as these superior facilities diffuse throughout the region, a better culture will accompany them. —GP