The bicycle has become a symbol of something far more interesting than a basic mode of transportation. Not that the basic transportation aspect should be overlooked or marginalized, but what I’ve found is the bicycle has become a lightning rod for all kinds of emotion, politics, and finger-pointing. No, I’m not joking. Last year I rode my bike to buy groceries. Pretty simple idea, at least I thought so. As I was leaving the grocery store parking lot, SO THRILLED my bike had not been stolen during the time I was inside the store, I was confronted by a man in his fifties who looked at me said: “You should NOT be here on that.” “Come again,” I asked. “You should NOT be here on that and this is NO place for a bicycle,” he replied. I said nothing, hopped on and rode home. But the idea of this has stayed with me. The man was irate, upset, almost looked like he wanted to physically confront me, something which I am always one hundred percent prepared for but never asking for. I realize now he was angry at a lot of things, none of which had anything to do with a bicycle, but the bike became the easy target. The man was angry about the traffic he had to sit in while attempting to get to the store. He was also angry about not finding parking once he did get to the store, and he was-I’m guessing-angry at the cost of fuel and probably the cost of the food he was about to buy. (It was a small market where food is equal to the cost of gold.) All things I’ve been angry about plenty of times.
Recently, I was at a party and I heard someone say “I hate cyclists.” Now, if I created a list of groups to hate I’m not sure cyclist would appear in the top 500. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Even before I was a cyclist I don’t remember hating cyclists, and I also don’t ever remember speaking with a cyclist because they always seemed to be…..riding their bike. And where this man lives there are so few cyclists I was puzzled by the point, so I did what any smart person would do. I got in closer to hear further detail of the hate. It turns out he was pissed at a LOT of things, none of which had anything to do with cyclists, but the bike became the focal point of his anger. Now, had this man lived in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, cities where you DO see a lot of bikers, I could have at least added this man’s name to the list of people who think cyclists create all the traffic. Something I’ve heard echoed in all those cities, as well as Paris where I was the first day they turned the right lane into a bike only lane and the taxi drivers went on strike and blocked all the roads.
For whatever reason, when I think of bicycles I never think of my own situation or cycling in general. For whatever reason, I think of some of the earliest photographs I saw in The National Geographic. Photographs of people on bikes….in China. And I mean A LOT of people. Those images of Beijing where hundreds of thousands, probably millions of people were on bikes. And I also think about what Beijing looks like now, so polluted it would be impossible for me to even think of riding a bike. I’ve been to China and have witnessed the pollution first hand. It makes LA look like an ad for clean. I wish I would have been able to see China in this earlier, cleaner form.
Yesterday I delivered a package on my bike. I wasn’t wearing spandex or a “biker outfit.” Just normal clothes. One person swerved their car at me. A truck actually, which is the number one driver who has problems with cyclists, and I also had plenty of people stare with gaping mouths. But when I walked in to drop off the package the guy behind the counter said “Cool,” and nodded his head. There is hope people.
Next time you find yourself hating the bicycle, redirect that rage at someone more deserving. Like people who fly kites, people who picnic or people who like the color blue, who are clearly responsible for the traffic.
I think the same applies when walking in the U.S.
I was recently near Dallas on a business trip and about 900m away from the hotel on the same side of the street was a 7-Eleven. I walked there one evening to get a drink and in the distance I saw someone walking in my direction. “That has to be a European staying at the hotel I thought” as I kept walking, until I got close enough to see who it was…and it was my colleague who I was on the same trip with. When we met we both laughed as had the same thought I did. During the 10 day trip we never saw anyone else walk that path and everyone drove, even just a short distance.
I read about people cycling in Australia and having bottles thrown at them, name calling, etc. It’s truly puzzling to think about the rage boiling under the surface about something so sterile as riding a bike, but I think it’s reflective of the number of unhappy people in the world, of which there are literally millions. And fearful people. I see and talk to them all the time here in the US. People who watch TV as opposed to learning the facts about what is actually happening. Bikes are just another target. Yesterday it was a guy in a brand new BMW 750 who was irate a cyclist was on the road. He roared past shaking his fist even though there was a huge bike lane.
Boy, there are a lot of angry people out there not knowing they’re actually angry at themselves. Here in Canada people love to put all their problems on the weather… and when it’s sunny then everything’s fault is because of cyclists of course!
I would say angry and afraid. Unhappy too. And there are millions of them out there.
I’ve been riding all kinds of bikes for years and years, and the only times I ever expect together shouted at (usually for just being on the road) is back home in the U.K., or in Australia. Even here in the big Japanese cities drivers tend to be fairly patient and just consider you as another road user, not an obstruction. I have a theory that is only in English-speaking countries that drivers regularly get pissed off for whatever reason.
That is an interesting theory but you might be on to something. I think it’s all about fear, unhappiness and lack of education. In some cases here in the US, entitlement. Most of the people I’ve met who hate cyclists are overweight, out of shape, unhappy and fearful of just about everything.