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Pedal and I See You, Drive and I Pass By

Cycling to see and be seen

Are any of you bicycle commuters?

As some of you may have seen, I get from place to place on two wheels powered by my own two legs. I log about 20 miles a week just getting to and from work — not counting the times I cycle out on weekends to grocery shop or explore.

And no, this is not an article about getting toned legs.

I am more aware of my surroundings when I cycle. I pay attention to the placement of my bicycle, which acts as an extension of my body on the road. I am more observant of the streets and lanes (not all roads are created equally flat) and pick up on little tips and tricks I see other cyclists employ on their daily commutes.

Some things I see on my 14min ride to and from work:

  • A woman with teal blue hair, always wearing a black dress
  • A man with an Angels cap
  • A blue bike with pink wrapped handlebars locked to a pole which, over the weeks, the bike’s seat, front and back wheel have disappeared
  • Smashed camel cigarrette boxes
  • At least one person with the same color helmet as mine (neon yellow)
  • A building, all boarded up, that looks like a small brick version of the supreme court
  • Two holes in the street that 70% of the time I cycle right over with a loud “BAH-BUMP”
  • An albino squirrel

On a bike, I am exposed to the gaze of others, yet free to observe everything. My face is visible for smiles of camaraderie to other cyclists. I can hear everything including one cyclist who said, “Hope you’re staying hydrated!” as we both crossed an intersection on an especially humid day. People probably saw me getting progressively soaked in the rain today despite my rain coat. Did I feel ridiculous? A bit. Mostly though, I felt free because “this is me for the world to see.”

In a car, it’s just easier to be passive. Cars are becoming increasingly advanced. Private extensions of work and home outfitted with sophisticated GPS, bluetooth to phone interface, personalized climate control and rigorously tested crash protection. Cars can take us to many places in addition to crashing into and cutting off other cars; especially cyclists.

I don’t cycle into downtown to get home because I just don’t want to jockey for room on the road. And even with the word “jockey” I imply somehow that space on the road is a competition. It shouldn’t be. A competition means every person for themselves.

But to see the world as a cyclist is to see and be seen.

It means sharing the daily transition of going from one place to another. It means communicating clearly and moving safely. Every day when I arrive at work, I write, under my goals for the day: “arrive in one piece” and then check it off.

Take in the sights of your next commute. Try to be observant and aware of the crosswalks and who is crossing. Consider how much space you’re taking up and don’t see cyclists as a competition — they are humans seeing you and being seen by you. There is great power in seeing people for who they are. Let’s keep sharing that.

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