It’s easy to think, when someone almost hits you with their automobile, that you’d be better off in the car than on the bike, and in absolute terms, that’s probably true. Force = Mass x Acceleration, and there is really no acceleration I can achieve with my 17-lb. bicycle and 155-lb. body that will overcome the mass of a modern sport utility vehicle. That’s why, as the nice lady in the late model Chevy drifted across the white line into the shoulder, I pounded her rear quarter pannel like a seven-year-old at a Whack-a-Mole convention.
She swerved back out of my “lane,” which was really just 18 inches of pocked pavement on the other side of the paint, not even a proper shoulder. Down went her passenger-side window. Out came a volley of I-don’t-know-what.
At this point in the interaction, I ought to have soft-pedaled away, glad to be alive, content in the knowledge that I was going to get where I was going about 15 minutes before she was going to get wherever she was going, because she was going to sit through the approaching light 3-4 more times.
But I circled back. I know better, but sometimes in the perpetual battle between flight and fight, I choose fight. Maybe choose is the wrong word.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” said my friend and fellow traveler. I said, “I was watching where I was going. I was going on THIS side of the white line. You belong on the other side.”
It bears saying that I have actually modified my behavior in these situations. I never swear. I never threaten. That doesn’t make turning back into the conflict the right move, but I find it keeps a bad situation from becoming a tragedy.
Anyway, my interlocutor wasn’t entirely satisfied with my contribution to our discussion, so she said, “Why don’t you go away?” Then she made a face, from which I inferred a piquant disdane, and added “With your stupid bicycle.”
I hope that I have reported these facts correctly, but even if I haven’t it doesn’t really matter. You have likely lived this scenario yourself and, like me, ridden away cursing under your breath, seething with anger, trying to calm your nerves. I have done it enough times already. I didn’t need this one, which is probably what bummed me out the most about the whole thing.
I have changed so much.
I don’t even ride the major thoroughfares anymore as a rule, because that’s where these things happen. I avoid them. I take the backways, the side roads, the short and long cuts. I don’t care. The bike is a happy place for me. Anything that detracts from that happiness I try to remove.
I am fortunate though, that I spent a lot of time car-commuting this past year, albeit due to injuries. What I learned is that no road is well-designed. No light is long enough. No one knows how to drive. I experienced all the alienating effects of being inside a box of glass and steel, all the self-centered delusion that arises from wanting to be somewhere else and not being able to get there. So I know what it is the woman who nearly hit me was going through. She was angry, and not at me, or at least, not exclusively at me.
In so many ways, riding a bike is no different. I’m still in my own space. I have that same sense of separateness and singularity. Why are all these cars in my way? Why isn’t the shoulder wide enough? What about me? Why isn’t it all set up to work for me?
I’m no better than that woman, and I say that, not as some rhetorical exercise, but in all sincerity. I’m not. We’re all trying to get where we’re going, and it’s not always easy. It’s not often easy. That’s why I take the backroads.
It’s easy to think, in a car-bike conflict that you’d be safer in the car, but I’ll take this side of the glass. It doesn’t make me morally superior or physically safer, but I prefer this flavor of isolation. I’m better off out here, even confined to 18 inches of cracked asphalt, to 155mm of saddle leather. I know that. Maybe next time will be the time I just ride away, but probably not.