Saturday, March 29, 2008

He just thinks he's an athlete...

Since I began posting old stories on my blog site, I have brushed aside the cobwebs and entered the tomb of ancient floppies. This piece, written in WordStar for the edification of you historians, must be from the early '90s. It's one of the stories I submitted to Velo Press for my second book, Half-Wheel Hell. Let's say it's 15 years old.

As you'll read in it, the "old bikie days" were past, and the new era of the aerobic-athlete-on-a bike had begun. As I ride the bike paths here in Denver (I love the bike paths here in Denver) I revisit some of the old feelings I wrote about in this piece. Almost nothing has changed. Oh, except that there are more cogs on the cassettes and more idiots on the bike path...

Something Happened

Cathy said she’d been riding with her friend John, a new rider getting used to clipless pedals. At a traffic signal, he forgot for an instant how to release his foot from the pedal. He toppled over, still attached to his bike.

At that very moment, another guy on a bike appeared, going the same direction as Cathy and John. Cathy told me he looked to her like a bike rider, in Lycra and a helmet. The guy saw John lying momentarily helpless in the crosswalk.

"Hey, get the f--k out of the road," the guy yelled.

Let's postpone looking at the man's anger. We can amuse ourselves guessing what he thought John was DOING, foolish and helpless on his side in the street. Did he think John CHOSE to lie precisely there, to present a guy-and-bike-size obstacle to motorists, pedestrians and cyclists?

Did he assume John did that same number at every stop sign? Had he never himself toppled, feeling stupid, off a just-stopped bicycle? Had he never done even one klutzy thing? Guess not, huh?

But the anger, after all, fascinates. I'm afraid, as cyclists like this guy vent their anger in antisocial bursts at pedestrians, drivers and other cyclists, cycling itself will be blamed. It'll be "those bike riders."

It's not cycling's fault. Guys like that one bring their anger into the sport with them. It seethes inside them someplace, only boiling to the surface at exercise-elevated pulse rates. Probably they think of all that frustration and animosity as motivation, as competitive fuel. Grrr.

They think they're athletes. They're assholes.

The worst part is there are so many of 'em. Just about anywhere you go in our society (at least the urban variety), friendly, considerate, reasonable behavior is no longer the norm. Uh-uh. Go to the movies, pay the six-fifty and see for yourself. Or drive a car.

Or, when you're on your bike, smile and wave at every cyclist you see coming the other way. Please don't hold your breath till someone waves back.

Or watch groups of cyclists training four-abreast across a road, blocking car traffic. Then watch 'em flip off the drivers, who (puzzled by the reluctance of two-foot-wide vehicles to let themselves be passed) eventually manage to blast by.

Watch as "serious" (read "brain-dead") cyclists practice that seriousness in absolutely inappropriate situations. You see them on multi-use bikepaths, bellowing on-your-rights and on-your-lefts, swerving among the baby strollers, skaters, recreational cyclists and skateboarders.

We bike riders complain about driver behavior, but are we better? Are we more considerate? Do we also act as if we own the road?

Is it truly, as we like to think, them and us? Or is it just one colossal us? Aren't we in truth one huge frustrated mobile citizenry, each of us ready to vent that frustration ("Hey, get the f--k out of the road!") at the first real or imagined excuse?

I'm afraid driver and bike rider are more alike under their thin skins than cyclists would like to believe. Driver and cyclist alike: driven, tense, hair-triggered. Hostile.

Wasn't always like this. When cycling was a lonely counterculture statement we all waved. We all looked weird together in our stretched wool shorts and shrunk wool jerseys. We didn't know anyone who made money riding a bike. We thought 100 miles was pretty far. We had heroes whose names we mispronounced.

We did not boast that our stressful, successful careers drove us to ride ever farther, ever harder, to unwind in our restless off-hours. Mostly, we didn't have careers. We were proud we'd opted out of that "trap." We weren't achievers, we weren't exactly athletes. We were bikies.

We worshiped Eddy Merckx or Fausto Coppi, studied the great tapestry of European cycling history. We were not then disciples of the great insatiable god Fitness, in whose name abuses beyond number are performed. We didn't do workouts; we rode our bikes.

We used to think - correct me if I'm wrong - that riding a bike made you mellow. Such mellowness made it easy to tell us from car drivers: we were generally thinner and not nearly so angry.

Mostly, we weren't getting ready for anything. We hadn't heard about pain, gain, personal bests, target pulse rates and amino acids. We weren't proving anything. We liked to ride our bikes.

We were less obtrusive on the road not merely because we were fewer but because we weren't each on some mission. We weren't dedicated to the righteous, relentless pursuit of fitness today. We liked to ride our bikes. What happened?

If you're the guy who yelled at Cathy's friend or one of the oh-so-many bikepath bullies just like him - strike a blow for quality of life. Stay home with your Soloflex. Thank you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Try for some satisfaction.