My Responsibilities as a Cyclist.
I’ve been living in Providence since…I think 2003? Maybe 2004. I’ve had apartments in some of the rougher and some of the nicer areas. Right now I own a house on the south end. Not the best, but definitely not the worst area I’ve lived in. It has its “city problems,” but I’ve never personally had a problem with crime anywhere I’ve lived in the city…with the exception of roommates having creepy friends stay over and then I’m suddenly missing something.
It was in I think 2005 when I got more into cycling. I was working a third shift job at Target…and I came in one day and they told us that after that night, our schedules were changing from 10-7, to 2-12. I said bye to the friends I had there, and that was my last day. I was out of work in a crappy economy and slowly it dawned on me that despite having a decent car I needed to start conserving gas.
I started biking out of necessity.
I did it to apply for jobs, I did it to follow up on jobs, I did it to visit friends and just enjoy myself.
Eventually I talked to my dad about working for him. Despite having aspirations that were very much not his company (he owns a paper converting factory, I’ve wanted to be a biological anthropologist since my biggest word was only two syllables long), we agreed we could mutually benefit one another by me working there.
But by then, I had already started seeing changes. I have patellofemoral syndrome in my right knee. I was on temporary disability at 18. Since starting to bike, it’s been virtually absent. I’ve always had a hopeless sense of direction. Since starting to bike, I’ve learned my way around places I’ve never been. I gained confidence that I had never had and I had fun doing something that wasn’t tethered to the approval of others–this was the beginning of a new way of managing an anxiety disorder that has deeply affected every aspect of my life.
I started to get more serious.
I had a $25 road bike from Savers that I gave to a friend. Then I had a trash picked Giant road bike that was stolen. Then I went to Benny’s (a local hardware/little department store thing) and spent $180 on a GMC Denali. I loved it.I’ve gotten a few bikes since then, and I’ve liked a lot of bikes a lot more, but this was the one that started the chain reaction.
I road about 700 miles that summer, and talked about it nonstop. I started riding to work. I work 16 miles away.
I lost 20lbs without intending to lose weight.
Really it changed so much about my life and my perspectives, in ways I will touch on in future posts.
Now I’m in a funny place with cycling, but I find it an important one.
I live in Rhode Island. It’s the youngest of the original states, in a country that grew up around the car. Cycling is sort of in a transitional period in America. Basically…the country doesn’t really like it, but it’s happening anyway. Lance Armstrong…attitude, drugs and all, brought a lot of that to popular attention.
I started out of necessity, got into it because I liked it, it changed my point of view as an anxious person, and it made me into a fitness nut.
In this particular position, I feel like I’m straddling a few different worlds of cycling. I’m equally at home in cuffed jeans wearing a bag or in spandex and a heart rate monitor. I can discuss gear ratios and group sets but appreciate a good, crummy commuter bike.
In my particular position I feel more of an ambassador. There are a lot of different “tribes” in cycling, to reference a book I’ve never read but intend to read. Some commute for fun, some for necessity, some for fitness, some for almost a meditation, some race…lots of reasons.
Cyclists are sort of a misunderstood, marginalized group. Anyone who is a cyclist has a certain degree of responsibility to represent their community in a way that doesn’t piss everyone off. It sucks, but we kind of have to walk (ride) on eggshells, and sometimes that can be difficult. I’ve found my particular journey through the world of cycling/cyclists to be formative in how I deal with everyone else on the road and path–motorist, cyclist or pedestrian.
I’ve been intimidated by the fancy, legged-shaved cyclists. I’ve been yelled at by drivers (and I’ve yelled back at times). I’ve been frustrated by the slow, meandering people who seem rather oblivious to the fact that they’re part of traffic…and I’ve probably been that person.
What it comes down to is that I, and every other cyclist as well, have a responsibility to make everybody feel welcome.
As a commuter I make eye contact with everybody that I can. Eye contact with drivers means they know I know they’re there. We’re on the same page. Sometimes drivers piss me off and I’m sure I’ve pissed them off too but for the most part we get along.
Because I acknowledge my responsibility as part of traffic and I acknowledge the rights others have to the road as well as their ignorance regarding the place of cyclists within traffic.
When I’m riding for fitness, either on a bike path or a long road ride, I try to interact with everyone. There are a lot of people on the paths in Rhode Island. There are kids on skate boards, people walking their dogs. People of all shapes and sizes and fitness and confidence levels on mountain bikes and recumbent bikes and road bikes and hybrid bikes.
Everyone has just as much a right to be there as I am. Sometimes I’m riding in jeans with friends. Sometimes I’m riding with my partner–either for fitness or for fun (or both!). Sometimes I’m alone and in spandex and at times wondering if I’m going to make myself puke from the intensity. On any given ride I can come across as an obstruction to the racers or an intimidating snobby asshole to the casual user of the bike path.
So I accept my responsibility. When a couple, or a couple of friends are riding shoulder to shoulder, taking up the entire path, I slow down a bit. Let them know I’m coming up behind them. Typically they’ll apologize for taking up the entire path…because typically the people dressed like they’re in the Tour de France want the path to themselves. Some of them are having fun, and some of them are putting themselves out there, really working out. And they’re in public. It wasn’t easy for me when I first started dressing the part…even when it was running shorts and not bike shorts. It might not appear that someone is working out to someone who is on a completely different level and mindset. I’m not a racing cyclist but to some I may come across as one.
So it’s my responsibility as a serious cyclist to make them feel welcome.
Then, when I’m out there just kind of putzing around. When I’m with my partner and we’re shoulder to shoulder. I keep an eye behind me and when someone comes hauling ass behind me, I get behind my partner and I’ll wave for them to pass.
Because as a recreational cyclist, it’s my responsibility to acknowledge that not everybody is just moseying along.
Sometimes I drop the ball and that’s ok. But I’m operating a vehicle and I acknowledge that. Early on I encountered a lot of snobbery from people who were “better” cyclists than I…who felt their multi-thousand dollar bikes meant they inherently enjoyed it more than I did, or meant they were inherently entitled to more of the road, or more of the path than I was. And it’s now my responsibility to try and make sure nobody feels excluded. Because fuck that.
All of us who are cyclists, and all of us who are motorists, and all of us who are both have a responsibility to make everyone else feel as welcome as they should be.
Because all of us appreciate the same views.