I no longer hate bicyclists.
Before last Sunday, I was one of many who thought of bicyclists as an annoyance. I didn't understand why I had to share the road with them. Frankly, I didn't want to.
But last Sunday, I rode around downtown for several hours on a borrowed bicycle. I wanted to see for myself what biking was all about. After looking up the rules of the road for cyclists (I had no idea a right turn is signaled with the left hand, for example), I set out to see if bicyclists bothered drivers on purpose or accidentally annoyed them.
My aversion to bicyclists has been in the making for years, the result of a number of close calls and cyclists who aren’t going fast but feel the need to wear brightly colored aerodynamic clothing. The latter irritation isn't likely to go away, but that’s another story for another day.
I have always thought that bicyclists have an unnatural indifference to the fear that my nearly two-ton car should instill in them. I know hitting the curb would be scary, but a large hunk of moving metal should be scarier. Now I realize (thanks mostly to you, Mr. Sandwich Delivery Driver who nearly ran me off the road) that bicyclists have a perfectly healthy fear of cars. They also should have a practical fear of sidewalks.
As I rode down a city sidewalk, enjoying the summer breeze whipping through my hair, an elderly gentleman stepped out of a store and into my path. We both may have seen our lives flash before our eyes, but luckily, I swerved in time.
Mortified at having nearly run him down, I didn’t look over my shoulder to make sure he was all right. In hindsight, that was probably a good decision, as the maneuver could have been deadly to my novice cyclist self. Moral of the story, sidewalks are no place for bikes. That's why it's against the law downtown (but not on campus, by the way).
My new sympathy for cyclists extends far beyond their “lesser of two evils” decision to ride on the road. Before last Sunday, I would have been very short on compassion for our two-wheeled friends. But being the target of a few rude (and vulgar) remarks and gestures quickly changed my mind. The middle finger was unnecessary, Ms. Honda Accord. When there are parked cars on both sides of the street on an incline, my little legs can only pedal so fast.
Feeling dejected after receiving “the bird,” I found consolation in the look of solidarity from another cyclist. You could tell he knew what he was doing — one pant leg rolled to avoid the bike chain, messenger bag over his shoulder and a bike that didn’t look like someone’s 14th birthday gift. I’ve found that there’s a subculture of which cyclists are a part, and within it there's thick-skinned acknowledgment that the vehicular world can be cruel.
Those within the subculture also know that cyclists don’t ride on the road for the fun of it; they love to have their own lane. In fact, bike lanes are God’s gift to cyclists. That two-dimensional stencil validates our presence — the “nana nana boo boo” of the cycling world. Still, practically speaking, there can’t be a pretty little bike lane on every road, so cyclists and drivers will have to coexist.
Because of my recent enlightenment, I’ve decided to retire my glare and stink-eye toward the biking community. I can’t promise not to roll my eyes the next time I get stuck behind one of you on a narrow street, but I can promise not to punish you for it. Maybe some day, bicyclists and car drivers will live in harmony, but until that day you have earned the compassion of one more motorist.
And you've gained a convert. I not only appreciate bicyclists for having the courage to brave the city streets, but I also want to get a bike of my own.
Jordan Wyner is a public safety reporter for the Missourian and an undergraduate in the Missouri School of Journalism.