When I first told my sister that I had decided to ride a bike to work she accusingly inquired, “are you gonna be one of those crazy bicyclists riding on the street, in the middle of the night, wearing all black, with no lights or helmet?” Offended by the lack of confidence in my adulting skills I defensively responded “No! What makes you think I would be so irresponsible? And it’s cyclist, not bicyclist!” Expectedly our conversation went down from there, and while we’ve made up since this minor spat, we haven’t discussed this topic since that day. Hence, I continue to scoot around town on two wheels and zero doors, and she sneaks in snide bicyclist comments at family gatherings. You know, the usual sisterly love of avoidance.
While my sister’s frank comments still sting after five years of riding, the sentiment behind her accusation is understandable. That sentiment is fear; fear that I will run into a tree, slip on the ice, or fall into a puddle and crack my head on the sidewalk. And, most of all, fear that I will be fatally smacked down by a car when I suddenly appear in the driver’s line of sight.
The scariest part of this fear is that it’s complete perception and not grounded in fact or substantive proof that riding a bike is any more life-threatening than walking, driving, or sitting on the couch. I don’t mean to imply that my sister is unreasonable. She’s not; my sis is a perfectly rational human who lives in an American car culture. A car culture that exaggerates bike danger and fatalities while simultaneously normalizing and minimizing the number of car incidents and deaths. These days I ride bikes more than I drive (or ride in) cars and the only time I’ve been hit by a car was when I was in a car.
I know, bleak stuff for a cheery Afro-headed stick figure like me, but fear is the biggest hurdle in getting on a bike. At least once a day I hear “you’re braver than me.” They call me brave because of their fear, not mine. It’s ironic because it’s not bravery, it’s just lack of an unrealistic fear. Not that I am a fearless rider, not at all. I take to my bike ride with caution, care, and attentiveness; just as I do with any other activity in my life such as cooking, listening, walking, working, loving, talking, and breathing. No fear, just here.