A couple of weeks ago, I was out riding with the GSO (who was not yet a GSO). It was a beautiful early summer Sunday, and the seawall bike path that winds its way around False Creek and over to Stanley Park was jam-packed with pedestrians, tourists, and cyclists of all shapes and sizes. I was riding Elfie , helmet off, my hair gathered in a messy ponytail, wearing a dress, and sitting upright. She, on the other hand, was riding in a more aggressive position on top of her 10-year-old Trek commuter, (with the branding “Urban Assault Vehicle” splashed all over its frame), helmet on, special cyclist sunglasses protecting her eyes. She rode slowly, much slower than she’s used to, and a couple of times I heard her mutter under her breath in frustration at all the people who were getting in her way.
At some point we stopped to get some water — or rather, I did, because she had a water bottle attached to the bottle cage on her bike — and as we stood in the shade, she remarked at how smoothly I moved through the crowd of people. “I’m back there huffing and puffing trying to keep up with you, trying not to run anybody over, and you just glide around them like they’re nothing!” I felt bad for her, so I found a detour that would get us away from so many people so she could open up and ride fast through the straights like I knew she was dying to do.
I’ve been thinking about that ride for the last couple of weeks. It’s clear that the style of bike you ride will dictate the kind of riding you’re able to do, but I never really thought how it would affect your relationship to the people around you. The GSO lives in the suburbs, and when she was commuting to work by bike a few years ago, she had to be light, fast, quick and aggressive to keep herself from being killed by harried drivers in their SUVs. Bike paths, if they were present at all, were little more than painted stripes on the side of busy thoroughfares.
I live in a walkable, bike-friendly community right next to one of the city’s major bike paths, and I have two major on-street bike routes within metres of my front door. When I ride, I ride slowly, mostly away from cars. I don’t feel like I have to compete with people for space, and I don’t I have to defend myself against drivers. Pedestrians used to be a problem for me until I realized that a cheery bike bell tingle given well in advance of your approach will give them more than enough time to shoulder check and step aside. This recent video by Marc from Amsterdamize is a pretty close approximation of how I ride when I’m out and about:
Later, I started thinking about how much I hate to drive now. I don’t like the person I become when I’m behind the wheel of my car. I’m angry, I look at people as obstacles instead of people, and I end up calling them all sorts of names because they’re in my way, dammit and should just MOVE, already. I know more than a few urban commando bike commuters who act like this when they’re in the saddle: I can only imagine what they’re like when they’re driving.
Riding my bike around town has really improved the relationship I have with my fellow citizens. It’s even made me start to think of Vancouver in a more favourable light, something that I never thought would happen no matter how long I lived here. You can add that to your “positive outcomes from riding a bike” column, in case you’re keeping score.