It seems I’ve been encountering a rising tension between cyclists and non-cyclists, most of which is directed at the cyclists from the non-cyclists, and, also, surprisingly, another subset of cyclists who call themselves “recreational” (suggesting that my type of riding is not recreational, which is totally wrong and I’ll defend that in a moment). Last night on a ride by myself, I once again was verbally assaulted by a motorist on the other side of the road–as in, not the side of the road I was riding on–who chose to shout, “I hate you!” A few weeks ago, another motorist–again, on the other side of the street–shouted, “BITCH!” at me. A friend of mine from Peninsula also reported that she was deluged by this uncomplimentary language while riding through Stow.
My frustration with this building tension reached its pinnacle yesterday on the way back from lunch where a coworker, who brags that he rides a traditional single gear bike with coaster brakes, decided to rant about how dangerous people on these “new, twenty-something geared” bicycles are and suggested that we–“non-recreational cyclists,” as he called us–don’t understand the point of cycling, which, in his terms, was to get from place to place and to view the scenery. In his opinion, no one needs to be going faster than 10mph and if we can’t get up a hill on our own leg power, we should dismount as he does and push the bike like a civilized human being.
Realizing that he was simply a crotchety man and I couldn’t change his mind about why I believe my fancy road bike is the best thing since sliced bread, I let the conversation drop while fuming inwardly. Where did all this unbridled hate come from? Why did he chose to unleash it on me after sitting quietly during lunch while my bosses were asking me about my bike riding this summer? Isn’t that like deliberately perturbing someone with your political views when you know the person you’re talking to has completely opposing views? And why such open hatred?
Amongst his many bitter statements against road cyclists, my coworker claimed that he is getting tired of being passed at “dangerous” speeds by unthoughtful road cyclists. I politely explained to him that passing riders should shout a warning of “On your left!” well before coming up on him and if they weren’t doing so, they were indeed being rude and dangerous. I’m always frustrated by the laziness on the part of my fellow cyclists who do not respectfully warn other cyclists and pedestrians that they are passing and I’m equally as frustrated by cyclists who do not obey the traffic rules and those who ride two-by-two instead of single file when a car is clearly trying to get around them. I don’t think these cyclists understand that this behavior is only increasing the division between cyclists and non-cyclists, causing, in the end, a heated (and potentially dangerous) anger from the non-cyclists.
In columns I read following the death of William Crowley, the cyclist who was killed this year on TOSRV, I was aghast by the comments from locals who claimed that Crowley deserved to die because road cyclists don’t obey the vehicle laws. The commenters to those articles got into endless debates about whose fault Crowley’s death was (the motorist or his own) and continued to miss the point of the tragedy of the death. How could anyone suggest that one person should be the martyr for all the cyclists who have done wrong on the roads? Even more to the point, what motorist can claim that they obey every law, every day, all the time? And, lastly, even if Crowley was in the wrong, does he necessarily deserve to die for his error? No one deserves to die! Sometimes it happens by accident–through your own fault or others–and it sucks. But it surely isn’t deserved by anyone.
I’m just stunned every time I come across more evidence of hate towards road cyclists. I think a lot of people are just in such a state of hurried pace, they just can’t stand slowing down for a little bit to pass a cyclist or two. Like it or not, we do belong on the roads. Sidewalks are narrow, bumpy, and designed for pedestrians. If we took to the sidewalks, the next people to hate us would be the pedestrians, surely.
As for the cyclists riding trail bikes and hybrids who hate us “serious looking” cyclists, please remember that we’re all on the same team here. Maybe you’re in it for a different reason. For me, the point of riding is to test my endurance, to push myself to my limits, to experience the thrills of making it up a very difficult hill. It’s my form of exercise. Perhaps cycling, at your pace, is your form of exercise too (it is exercise to even ride any bike at all). We’re just talking about two different levels of difficulty here–I like more of a challenge as well as the ability to alter my routes as the mood inspires me (because, believe me, I would get bored looking at the same scenery every day).
One form of riding is not better than the other and I would be insulted if you dared to believe that I thought that way. I started as a trail cyclist. When I got to the point where I could ride certain distances in less time, and I got tired of the trails, I took my trail bike on the road. Then, I started finding I wanted to do greater and greater distances. I bought a hybrid and spent my entire time in Colorado riding that hybrid on the streets as though I were a road cyclist. It wasn’t until I moved back to Ohio and tried to ride with the Akron Bicycle Club (getting dropped multiple times), that I decided it was time for me to upgrade to a lighter, faster bike. So I bought my Giant and the rest is history…
I am the kind of person who needs to be challenged regularly or I get bored with something. I have not gotten bored with road cycling because there are always steeper hills and longer routes and faster speeds to attain. I like to hear the sound of my own panting as I push myself to break new personal records. I enjoy pushing myself to that point right on the edge of my endurance, right before I’m outright suffering, because it feels so good to realize that I can do these things I’d never imagined before I tried them. I’ll never be a racer because the only person I want to compete with is myself (and maybe a few friends in a sporty way). To me, it’s not the destination that is so important but how I got there and, importantly, that I did make it.
To claim that I don’t appreciate the beauty of a day as I’m racing past is blatantly an elitist assumption. It’s like someone who walks all the time claiming that someone who runs is not appreciating the surroundings. We’re doing it in our own ways for our own purposes. If we were not doing it for the feeling of sun on our backs, then we would just do our exercise within the four walls of the indoors. Doesn’t a beautiful day fill you with energy? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt gloomy on a summer day only to walk outside and become invigorated with a passion to run (and I hate running!). Exercise outdoors connects us with nature.
I have taken bike trips through Germany and Italy. Each summer, I take various trips to registered rides across my own state, and sometime I’d like to do a registered ride in another state. If I were riding merely to satisfy some impulse for speed and superiority, wouldn’t I be happy simply riding around in the same general area? Cycling is the best way to see the world. You’re not zipping by in a car (also a trapped environment with four walls) or barely getting anywhere in a walk–you’re meeting the world half way and seeing it at a speed at which you can enjoy it. I’m not one of those cyclists who push from start to finish with no breaks, either (though, there’s nothing wrong with these cyclists–they have their own motives and I respect their desires to these motives). If I encounter some scenery that moves me, I’m always more than willing to jump off my bike and observe it, perhaps take a picture.
I think of anyone who gets on any bike you pedal as my kin in spirit. Truly. When you decide to ride a bike, you’re choosing to take a more environmentally friendly mode of travel to actively take part in the glorious outdoors. No matter what kind of cycling you’re doing, you’re partaking in a healthy activity that can only have positive effects on your life. For me personally, cycling has literally saved my life:
Cycling helped me finally quit smoking for good, thus decreasing my changes of getting lung cancer or emphysema as well as improving my lung capacity and my asthma-associated breathing problems.
The activity of cycling made me feel again in the seemingly unending stages of grief I’d been dwelling in for over six years. It gave me something to strive for, something to achieve. Through diligence and determination, I pushed myself to a new level of cycling that made me feel so much better about myself and life. The physical pain of it continues to be a focus into which I can push all my inner anxieties and fears and sadness–I praise the pain because at least I can feel it when others I have loved no longer can. The pain reminds me of what it is to be alive and I welcome it openly. I know that sounds really masochistic, but I think that every person who is into an endurance sport such as cycling carries with them a little masochist.
The endorphins produced by the activity of cycling have managed better than any psychiatric drug I’ve ever taken the bouts with depression I’ve always been prone to. I still get depressed from time to time (just did in the last few days, in fact). But I would get depressed on the psychiatric drugs, too–a little depression is normal in anyone’s life. The fact is, when I keep up a regular exercise routine, I’m more stable and mentally sound than I am when I don’t. You can get this from any form of exercise, I’ve simply chosen cycling as my way to combat it. I firmly believe that you just have to find a form of exercise you love, and then you’ll be able to stick to a regiment with it. (Outdoor activity is unfortunately hard to maintain in Ohio winters.)
Maybe I’ve gone a little off the topic here, but I just wanted to explain how vitally important cycling is to me in an attempt to defend my right to ride around the roads in my funky Lycra shorts. I’m not doing it to piss off motorists or make slower cyclists seethe; cycling is my healthy passion! I know that those among us who are angry about cyclists on the road or cyclists going fast will continue to hate us regardless of what I say. The hatred these days is running deep. But if you were expecting your angered shouts to drive me off the road, you were wrong. I’m not leaving.
I suspect with the rising gas prices, more and more people might be taking to bikes for short commutes across their home cities and I welcome this! Maybe the presence of more bicycles on the roads will force cities to build bike lanes and more bike routes. I hate to always bring up Colorado, but Denver and Boulder had a huge bicycling community. I’d never lived anywhere with such an extensive system of bike routes and lanes. Downtown Denver, in fact, had this bike path straddling the river that reminded me of a car highway in that there were marked exits off the path to the streets. I miss that kind of attention to bicycle traffic.
Colorado wasn’t nirvana, however. Despite the wonderful bicycling community, the state had its fair share of angry motorists. I suppose you’re always going to have those. My snap retort to this sort of behavior is, and always has, been, “If you’d get off your lazy ass and ride a bike, you wouldn’t be so pissed off!”
I’ve had one abiding dream since becoming a cyclist: I’d love to build a city in which you couldn’t travel by car. I imagine that you would have a big parking lot surrounding the city’s parameters so that outsiders could visit, but they would have to leave their cars at the border. Maybe there would be little bike stands with those “free bikes” a lot of progressive cities have these days where you can borrow a bike to take somewhere, and then you can just leave it so that someone else can borrow it another day. Oh, what a paradise my dream city would be!
Until that day, I guess I have to learn to live with the impatience of angry motorists. Hopefully, I don’t get killed in the process.