I’m on my bicycle, riding on the side of the road, not bothering anyone, not taking up a lane, or slowing down traffic, when a pickup truck (it always seems to be a pickup truck) comes from behind, veers as close to me as possible, while laying on the horn and flipping me off out the driver’s window. My heart, if it wasn’t already pumping from riding in the Florida summer heat, was officially started now.
Was that necessary?
Labels, we are all labeled in one way or another. If you are generally in favor of lower taxes you are lumped in with the conservatives and it is assumed you support the supreme a-hole, Donald Trump. If you think that perhaps, just maybe, there should be action taken to prevent innocent people being murdered in church, you are branded a liberal who is “coming after our guns,” and is generally in favor of communism. If you ride a bicycle, you are considered, what? I don’t know… a menace to society? An environmentally friendly whack job who should be put to death by Confederate Flag displaying pickup truck jockeys? Oh wait, there I go, not everyone driving a pickup truck flies the Dixie Flag, and not everyone flying the Dixie Flag hates people on bicycles. But sometimes, when you have just had the S. scared out of you for the upteenth time, it feels that way. I’m probably as guilty as labeling as anyone else, and I realize how intellectually lazy this whole labeling nonsense is.
The fact is, people yell at bicyclists because it is easy to do so when riding in a motorized vehicle.
“Why don’t you cyclists ride on the sidewalk?” ”Why don’t you stick to the trails?” “You don’t pay road taxes, like I do, get off the roads!” “Get off the roads or be a speed bump!” “Your group rides take up the whole road!” By now, I’ve heard them all, the shame, blame, and justification hurled at we HUMANS who also drive cars, pay taxes, and happen to enjoy the sport of road cycling. Like any stereotypes, labels are used to de-humanize us and justify the vitriol that is hurled at us: all of the comments above are actual comments made in response to an article in the Orlando Sentinel about threats being made against cyclists. For the record, riding on the sidewalk is illegal, riding a bike on the road is not, the only roads with minimum speeds are roads that cyclists don’t get near, we know that trucks have more horsepower than cyclists and most of us follow the traffic laws and are painfully aware of the danger we are in when the road gets narrow and the traffic picks up. We are looking for a road with less traffic too, being vulnerable is pretty frightening. And slowing you down is not justification for bad behavior or running people off the road.
The thing is, anyone who is treated badly by someone who is labeling them is being bullied. This applies to all bullied people no matter how they are labeled, by those who feel more righteous, threatened, angered, or even revolted by the behavior (or existence) of others. If you vent your anger on someone just because you CAN you are a bully and usually, the person being bullied doesn’t have the power to fight back. Ever yell at someone behind the counter at a retail store? You were probably feeling pretty confidant that she wasn’t going to come from behind the counter and rip your eyes out. Ever snicker at a gay guy when he walked by, so he could hear you? Bet you wouldn’t be in such a hurry to do it if the gay guy was with a bunch of his rugby playing friends, would you? Am I claiming to be Rosa Parks because I ride a bike on the road? Not at all: but I can tell you this, I’m tired of being bullied by people who feel they have the right to scream at me, drive me off the road, or scare the crap out of me because they are in a motor vehicle and I am not (even if a peloton of cyclists once caused you to get to Krispy Kreme after the “Hot Now” sign went off. Did you get a cold doughnut Sweet Pea?)
Someday one of these jerks is going to yell at a cyclist and it will turn out that he yelled at his boss’s husband and the subject might get raised at the company Christmas Party when the rather in shape cyclist is on more equal footing with his doughnut eating tormentor. (There’s one kid who must work the morning shift at Disney who feels free to yell across traffic at me, even if he is going in the opposite direction and someday I’m going to get to ask him about it when he is selling me a box of popcorn in the Magic Kingdom. At least I can dream!) Or at least write this, and I’m taking up for all cyclists’ defense on social media at any chance I get because I feel like the people who are so strident about cyclists need to know that we are people: we drive cars, pay taxes, are parents, children, spouses, employers, and we are more than willing to defend ourselves when given the opportunity; before you drive off shaking your head and giving us the finger.
Yes, people on bikes can be a-holes too, we should not run stop signs or block traffic, I’m not defending bad behavior by a few of us. But, in general, the fact that groups of people in a given community are enjoying the exercise and camaraderie of a group ride make your community a better place. Certainly; losing a few minutes to a group of riders can be an inconvenience, but, really, how often does this happen? We usually speed by a certain piece of road quickly, and it isn’t like we ride all day, every day. Most group rides are small and informal, groups of no more than 10 riders, usually just 3 or 4, who get together after work or early in the morning. The bigger groups usually happen on Saturday mornings and the routes are designed to minimize riding in high traffic areas, although some contact with cars is inevitable. We don’t like it either, getting hit by a car is not our goal.
My guess, from my experience on social media, is that my venting here has not changed anyone’s mind, that if you are sympathetic to cyclists you agree with me and if you have been made to eat cold doughnuts you stopped reading a while ago. I hope that people will remember that there is no such thing as “cyclists vs. motorists.”
We are all people.
P.S. I like donuts too.