I hereby confess one of darkest, most distasteful sides of my personality: I own and ride a bicycle.
I know, it's a tough thing to take. After all, it seems the only good thing bikes contribute to society is being something everyone else can all hate together. Pedestrians roll their eyes in annoyance as bikes glide by. Cars honk their horns in appalled irritation when they want to hug the curb. A few weeks ago, Oprah Winfrey looked ready to punch Lance Armstrong in the face. And I don't think it's because he had taken performance-enhancing drugs and then lied about it. It's because he rides a bike.
I guess it's because bikes seem annoyingly in the way: too fast to ignore, but slow enough that cars have to go around. Still, the hate seems deeper. A few years ago, New York City added lots of bike lanes in an effort to make the roads more environmentally supportive. Since then I have never ridden in a taxi without the cab driver pointing out that the bike lanes are taking up so much of the road that the world has become completely ruined. Traffic can't function, the economy will soon collapse, and children no longer know right and wrong. I have been told that bike lanes are the worst thing to happen to this city while being driven by Ground Zero.
When friends find out you ride a bike, the first thing they do is describe the most gruesome bike accident they ever witnessed. People don't do that with other life choices. When you announce you're newly dating someone, your friends don't immediately describe the most hostile divorce they've ever heard of. But mention you have a bike and you'll hear "I once saw two bike messengers run a red light and get run over by four trucks while their parents watched. Everyone's brains poured out of their ears and somehow two kittens drowned."
Bikes are feared as if they were weapons. I have a bike that folds down to the size of a large briefcase. I once made the mistake of walking it into the lobby of an office building before beginning to fold it up. The security guard ran over, appalled. "What do you think you're doing? You can't bring that in here? You have to take that outside immediately." The tone of his voice acted like I'd walked in and started having sex with the plants.
I love bikes. They're relatively small and light. Riding them makes me feel great. And they're quaintly 19th-century, a reminder of a simpler age before everyone was peering down at their light-boxes of infinite information. I can't see a bike without hearing harpsichord music and pining for penny candy. I'm confident if you bike far enough at one shot you will grow a handlebar mustache.
Also, most importantly: for each bike present it means there's one less car. I know that people love their cars. But it is an inarguable fact that the most dangerous machine commonly used in society is the automobile. Cars are two-ton hunks of metal which hurtle forward at the speed of roller coasters and are piloted by people who just started puberty yesterday. Bikes can be dangerous, but not like cars. No one would be that scared by the headline "Traffic Stopped By 18-Bike Pile-Up."
I mean, I get that cars are more romantic. Bruce Springsteen would not have been famous if he had written "Born to Bike."
Look, I know, you know of a time that you saw a bike behave recklessly, even dangerously. And you know of a place where bikes are really just too much in the way. My point is that you will get more angry at this situation than is necessary. That you would swear and curse the bicyclist far more than you would a malfunctioning traffic light or a truck driver talking on a cellphone even though those circumstances are just as disruptive to traffic.
The dumbest argument I ever had was while I was bicycling across Manhattan on 30th street. A gentleman, and I use that term sarcastically, rolled down the window of his Escalade and said "Get out of the way!"
And I said "I'm not in the way!"And he said "Bike lane's too big! Bloomberg SUCKS!" (referring to NYC's mayor; the Escalade had Jersey plates)And I said "You've got plenty of room!"And then he said "Screw off, asswipe!"And I got flustered and said "Yeah? you're an asswipe!" as if I had thought of the term asswipe first, which was a dumb thing to say, and is more about my inability to get angry properly which is off-topic but my point is this guy had plenty of room but hated bikes.
I have no answer to this problem. I'm just going to keep riding and keep being hated. My only hope when someone yells at me is that nearby will be the only thing that drivers hate even more than bikes: a teenager crossing the street while texting. I can only hope.
Stock photos from Shutterstock .