Who’s judging how you ride your bike? Me, among others.
Riding a bike is a mode of transport for me. It’s not something I’m proud of. (“You biked here? Well done!” I’m tempted to reply “You drove? They gave you a license, you must be happy about that!”.)
My biking is not a put down of those who don’t. It’s not a political stance, not a lifestyle. It’s just a choice. No trail biking, no biking club, no biking around France. I only ride in the city where I live and I’ve never taken my bike with me on a trip.
I’m the one locking up my bike outside the bank, stuffing food purchases into my basket, looking for a bike rack outside the cinema. I’m anonymous, but you’ve seen me, whether you want to or not.
I wear 4 four lights, two on the bike and two on my helmet, which is white. I wear a big dayglo vest and a dayglo armband. Now that it’s winter I’d frankly like to buy more dayglo stuff. I use my bell. A guy in a bike shop looked at me once and asked if I rode in winter. Yes, if I can. Why? “Well, because you look…uh…very safe”. Damn straight. Goal achieved.
I am keenly aware that it’s not much of a contest between me and anything else on the road and my only hope is that drivers see me. I see them. I watch them all the time.
Sitting in a car is like sitting in a bad living room with a great view and your own soundtrack. It’s too easy to drive when you’re angry, having a fight, a teeeeny bit drunk, or are just sleepy. How can you pay attention to all that road action as well??
Bikers are another unpredictable variable on a road full of them, and unlike animals or kids, we consciously choose to be there. Drivers hate us.
We scoot pass them stuck in traffic, riding something worth maybe $500. They are paying off a $20,000 car and we get there first and we always get a parking space near by. They’re paying for a gym membership. We aren’t. We rarely get a ticket since cops chase drivers. We don’t need a license and many bikers have never learnt to drive so they have no idea about the rules of the road.
Car drivers really hate us.
We are a baby version of Jackie Robinson, the first Afro American to play Major League Baseball. Like him, we have to be perfectly behaved to get a smidge of respect. We cannot drift, cannot let our mind wander, we can’t bully the traffic. It’s stupid and it’s dangerous.
So when I line up at the stoplight, with my dear brethren bikers, I see you. You’re literally, right in front of me. If you think other bikers are watching you, they are. Yes sometimes admiring your form, but more usually, noticing the lack of it.
Dressed entirely in black, you’re riding around at night with the light the size of a pimple on your bike.
Wearing headphones. Not buds (stupid enough) but big honking cans.
Yakking on the phone.
Shooting through yellow traffic lights.
Never stopping at stop signs at very busy crossroads.
Riding on the sidewalk to the alarm of those not as physically nimble as you.
You’re making us look like idiots who don’t deserve the tiny acknowledgment we get from drivers.
You might think they give us a pass, let us through first, because they respect us. They’re just afraid of killing us. And they’re tempted.
Riding a bike when you’re middle aged is as close to a rock and roll lifestyle as I get and that is fun. I like being lumped in with people who bike not just on sunny summer afternoons, but every single day. They are a cool tribe, and my kind of tough.. They wear foul weather gear. They change at work. They watch the weather. Carry a plastic cover for the seat. And when the theatre ends and all those fancy coats and high heels pour into cars and cabs, maybe you see me, or someone like me, changing shoes, clapping on the helmet, snapping on the lights, and unlocking that metal beast they love.
And those of who bike with the common sense of a drunk 8 year-old, make me feel like a marine whose fellow soldier has let down the uniform.