Friday, January 24, 2014

small peaceful moments in time

2013 was the year I made peace with other bicyclists.  I used to get bothered if someone passed me on my left as I waited at a stop sign.  I used to get childishly annoyed if a faster bicyclist went in front of me.  I'd get huffy if I saw a mother riding without a helmet.  I didn't like people on electric bicycles.  There was an entire litany of sins and annoyances that I would levy against the other bicyclists.

Then I decided to stop caring about the actions of other bicyclists.  I reasoned that they were not a threat to me the way cars were a threat and I decided that their presence, even if it was an uneven one, ultimately made me safer.

At first I had to grit my teeth and fake it.  I'd be pedaling through an intersection with the right of way and a bicyclist with no lights would cut across in front of me, out of nowhere, and startle me.  I loathe being startled.  But I didn't say anything, just clenched my jaw tight to keep the obscenities leashed.

And a funny thing happened.  I progressed from pretending to not care to actually not caring and from there I progressed to wishing these other bicyclists well, to hoping they had a good and safe ride.

So it is a few weeks before Christmas and I am on my way home from work and it is quite dark.  The road is a residential one and very bike friendly, both legs of it actually take you to different bicycle bridges.  The road forks and I need to go left.  Approaching me is a bicyclist who if she continues on towards me, has the right of way.  To my left is a car waiting at a stop.  Both of us bicyclists have the right of way over the car but I am watching the care carefully because I don't trust it to wait for us and I effectively have to cut in front of it to make my turn.

The bicyclist goes right.  I make my left turn.  The car guns it's engine with frustration at having to wait twelve seconds for two bicyclists (TWO.  TWO.) and then peels away and a moment later I almost collide with a third bicycle.  I am spooked because I pride myself on seeing everything around me and I have zero clue where this guy came from.  Zero.  I swerve around him and I say nothing and I feel no hostility, I'm just trying to get around and on my way and not have a collision.

The dark mystery bicyclist is now just behind me and he says in a self-deprecating way, "A light would probably have made that easier."  I turn to look at him.  He's a young guy in office like clothes on an ordinary bicycle.  I say "Lights help, yes."  And then.  "I think I have an extra.  Want one?"

He can't believe it.  He's ridiculously happy.  He tells me he had a light but someone stole it and he hadn't replaced it.  I show him how the neoprene ones  go on and off very easily.  We turn the light on.  It flashes a happy red.  He thanks me profusely.  He tells me that he was attending Stanford Medical school but is on leave to develop a drug that he thinks will halt the progression of a rare disease.  I tell him, gently, that this is all the more reason to have lights on his bicycle.  He agrees and we ride together for awhile and he thanks me so often it gets embarrassing.

If you have not already, turn and make peace with the bicyclists around you.  They are the ones with whom you truly share the road.  The forces lined up against us are too strong for us to be able to tolerate being divided.  We belong together.    


  1. What a lovely story. I often think we all would be happier and safer if all road users could stop seeing each other as objects (cars, bikes) and think instead about the human beings with individual stories who are using those modes.

    1. I have tried to extend this tolerance to cars but have had very little success. They're just too scary.

  2. Chafe,

    You're quite right. Here in this scary North America with its 33,000 annual road deaths, we should not get worked up about other cyclists. There are people who are annoying. There was a guy last year who passed me way too close on the Hudson River Greenway then took out the next cyclist he passed. That's silly. One of the three times I've been knocked off my bike, it was a bike that did it. But, ultimately, it hurts far less to be hit by a bike.

    All the best,