Cycling, in my view, is not just a hobby, a fad, or a form of recreation; it is an inherent trait of dedicated cyclists. In my own case, with the exception of my infancy, I’ve ridden a bicycle for one reason or another, throughout my life.
Sometimes, my bike served as my sole form of transportation. Other times, I chose to ride it because it was faster, more convenient, better for the environment and more fun. A bicycle has always been an integral part of my life, not an afterthought or something tangential.
Many people use and see bicycles differently. They buy a bike for fitness or to take on a bicycling tour for vacation or to participate in triathlons. For those people, a bicycle is just something to use on occasion, for a particular purpose.
Besides the single purpose cyclists, there are the non-cyclists. They are opposed to riding a bike for a variety of reasons including fear of injury, fear of ridicule or fear of nonconformity. These are the people who see cycling as childish, and who shun it out of a desire to be associated with more sophisticated activities — at least in their own minds.
Such individuals are often swayed by fads and advertising. They are content to let others tell them who to be and how to live. Independent thinking is antithetical to their very being because they long to be part of the majority.
These group thinkers, I believe, will never understand why anyone would choose to engage in an activity which is not regarded as chic, and which requires physical effort. Our modern world is based on the premise that convenience is paramount, in order to live the good life. To that end, we have cars, air conditioning, Internet access, cell phones, televisions, GPS’s, washers and dryers, dishwashers, microwaves, snow blowers, lawn mowers — and the list goes on and on. Why, then, the non-cyclists think, would anyone choose to do something as exhausting as riding a bicycle? It is counter to our culture.
I wasn’t exactly thinking along those lines when something strange happened to me recently. I was riding my bike, minding my own business — out of necessity because I was riding on a deserted road — when an SUV pulled up alongside me. I couldn’t imagine why, when there were no cars on the road, this vehicle slowed down beside me.
At first, I thought that the driver was lost and wanted directions. Since it was nighttime, and I don’t care to engage strangers in conversation after dark, I ignored the vehicle and just kept riding. For several minutes, the SUV drove alongside me, with the driver saying nothing.
I began to worry when the SUV didn’t pass me, as I’d expected it to. The idea of turning into a side street occurred to me as I sensed trouble in my immediate future. Nonetheless, I hated to be diverted from my destination by bullying, so I held my course, ready to turn off of the road at a moment’s notice, should the situation turn ugly.
Out of the blue, a man’s voice called out the window “Can I ask you something?” Of course not, I thought, and didn’t look towards him, hoping that ignoring him would cause him to go away. No such luck. He continued his slow pace alongside me, pulling closer to where I rode, a few feet to the left of the curb.
A long glance down the road showed no cars parked in my path, so there was no need to worry about getting doored or having to swerve from my course. The SUV was too close for comfort, but I held my ground.
“Why are you riding a bicycle past midnight?” the driver asked. “I’m just curious.”
“Why not?” I replied.
“Where are you going?” he continued, refusing to mind his own business, despite my curt reply.
“Just up the road,” I said, while looking straight ahead. Making eye contact with such people just encourages them.
“Where, if I might ask?” he persisted. No, you can’t ask, I mumbled under my breath.
“I’m almost there.”
“Do you need a ride?”
“No, I’m fine, thanks.”
“I can give you a ride, if you need to go somewhere.”
“No, I’m not going very far, that’s why I took my bike,” I continued, trying to discourage him from this line of questioning. Actually, I was going pretty far, but I didn’t see any reason not to use my bike to get there.
“Are you sure you’re OK?” He wouldn’t give up.
“It’s OK, really,” I assured him. “I’m just headed up the road.”
“Where?” the voice almost pleaded. I didn’t answer.
Muffled voices came from the back seat. The driver and his passengers were discussing my nocturnal bicycle riding, as if it was their concern. None of them could grasp the concept of using a bicycle to go somewhere late at night.
Finally, he replied with a firm “OK,” signifying his satisfaction with the conclusion of our conversation. He turned left onto a side street and pulled into a driveway. This surprised me as I was riding through an affluent neighborhood, and due to his behavior, I had taken him for a thug.
Good riddance, I thought, as I rode off into the night. He had broken the meditative silence which I have always associated with riding late at night into the early morning hours.
What’s wrong with riding a bicycle twenty-four hours a day? Nothing, as far as I can see. But, for non-cyclists, bicycling is an activity filled with restrictions — restrictions forcing cyclists onto bike paths, restrictions keeping cyclists off of certain roads, and restrictions on what time of day cyclists can ride. The non-cyclists see bicycle use as circumscribed by the majority’s view of a proper life.
Until the seekers of the easy life are willing to acknowledge other ways of doing things, cyclists will always find themselves outside the mainstream, and will sometimes be questioned, by total strangers, just for doing what they love best — riding a bicycle.