Wednesday, March 28, 2012

the small dreams, angst and tiny dramas of a bicycle commuter

[warning:  this is a long boring story.  feel free to move on]

A few weeks back on my way in to the office I came up to the red light at Embarcadero.  A second bicyclist was waiting there as well and in my usual (hopefully non-creepy) way I look him over and make an educated guess as to how fast he will be and I decide "not so fast."  He has a nice bicycle, better than mine. He's got a half-assed fender which says "I commute often enough that I'm sick of ending up with a stripe of mud" but I'm just not seeing Lance Armstrong here and then the light turns green.  I give him a little bit of time to get up to speed but ultimately he's not very fast and so I peaceably go around and pedal away enjoying the lovely feeling that is bicycling faster and faster on a road where the cars are not much of a threat and there is plenty of room for bicyclists of all capabilities. 

The next light is Oregon Express-way where a bunch of us commuter types are piled up waiting for the green.  One of these bicyclist has an odd, grey, plastic, packety-thing mounted to the back of his bicycle.  What is it?  After considering and discarding a few options I ask the bicyclist what's that bolted to his rack?  The light turns green and as we pedal on our way he describes his home-made bicycle lighting system and how he rigged the rechargeable battery.

Now is the return of the Slow Earlier Bicyclist who has caught up while I waited and passed me while I talked to Home-made Lighting Bicyclist.  I pass Slow Earlier Bicyclist again as he's well, slow but he calls out to me so I fall back.  After a certain amount of hemming and hawing he tells me that with all due respect, he has never seen a female bicyclist as fast as I am before.  Do I race?

Answer:  No.  I do not race.

I say (nicely I hope), "You haven't see a female bicycle commuter who is this fast but by racing standards I am not even average.  Also some of the female bike commuters are faster, they just don't seem to come out much." 

Still, a nice compliment eh?  I like it that the old lady can still turn the pedals.  We pedal along side by side for awhile and he tells me that he has two kids and all of his bicycling takes place on the way towards work or away from work.   We have things in common.  We both really love bicycling.

Ok, so, why is someone who loves racing other commuters not out in the peloton on weekends racing for real?

1.  I'm not fast.  In fact, I'm slow.  It pains me to say this but it's true.  It used to bother me that I was of average speed but you get old enough and you stop complaining about being someone who can't run a 6 minute mile and start feeling lucky that you aren't dead yet.

2.  People bicycling close to me scare me unless we are married.  I like plenty of you but I have a fear of colliding with other bicyclists.  This is not a phobia that is going to serve me well heading down a La Honda mountain in a peloton of crazed roadies.

3.  I don't have the time.  When I trained for marathons I'd run five hours and then come home and eat everything in the kitchen and then fall asleep.  Training takes way more time than racing.  One of my favorite things about commuting by bike is that I get a nice ride in without taking a bunch of time away from my family who I adore.

Then what happened?

A few days later I am bicycling along and I come to a four-way stop with a bunch of cars waiting and taking turns.  I get to the front and it is almost but not quite my turn.  Behind me more cars are waiting.  The car crossing in front of me makes eye contact and we agree that it is his turn.  He starts forward.  A bicyclist comes up on the side at high speed and goes through the intersection without stopping.

This enrages me.  I hate this.  I can't even explain why I find it so violating when bicyclists do this.  Maybe I'm jealous, maybe I want to be an asshole too I don't really know.  But it makes me feel angry and betrayed.

My turn comes around and I go through the intersection and furiously take off down Bryant, catching the rude bicyclist and dusting him thoroughly.  He knows me.  Yes.  It's Slow Earlier Bicyclist and he is happy to see someone he knows and he calls out "hi!" to me and I ignore him, totally snub him because I hate it when bicyclists ride the way he is riding.

But I'm not happy.  I'm sad, almost depressed.

Yesterday I am again waiting at the Oregon Expressway and Slow Earlier Bicyclist arrives next to me.  I can tell he's wondering if this is the day I am going to be Friendly or if this is the day I am going to be Mean.  I can tell he has no idea that the way he rides bothers me.  I think about Contraption Captain who is always smiling and encouraging people and I think about how frosty I am when I'm mad and how the way I am changes nothing for the better.

I smile and I say hello and I ask him how he's doing and whether his weekend was nice.  He looks incredibly happy and tells me he has been well and then he puts out his hand and introduces himself and tells me his name.  I tell him my name.  We bicycle a little together and he asks about my SPD pedals.  He tells me about breaking his hip earlier this year and being unable to bicycle.

I'm still a mean bitter bicyclist who will tap on someone's window so that I can tell them that their car smells like Limburger cheese that has turned but I want peace with the other bicyclists.  It's hard enough out there without having me fighting among my own kind.

1 comment:

  1. Chafed,

    It's a nice story.

    It remains my proudest sporting achievement of a (very) unathletic career that, one day during the 2008 Olympics, after I'd hared home down Brixton Road trying to shake off some guy behind me, he caught up with me at lights just before my house and asked, "Have you ever been down Herne Hill Velodrome? (the still-used cycling venue from the 1948 London Olympics)." I said no. He said, "You should. You've got a turn of speed." I said, "I could say the same about you." He said, "But I had your wind."

    I'm not actually that fast, however, I've never raced and I've still never been down the velodrome for myself. My (10-year-old) daughter is nevertheless giving it a try.

    All the best,