I moved to MN in 2002 and came to Mpls the following year. April, my wife-partner and best friend, was the first person I met at random in this new city. I was seated in a tea shop. She pulled up on her bike. I watched her from the moment she glided in front of the window, locked up, came in and ordered. She spoke first. I guess it was just meant to be.
I've been a cyclist for many years -- junior road racer, part-time commuter back in Tennessee and someone who skirted the cycling scene in previous lives. I was an ardent cyclist but not someone who embraced the bike for a true transportation alternative. I was reminded of this tonight as a friend and I shared a beer and the topic of riding on busy city streets came up. I thought back to my own impressions from not so long ago.
The first date April and I went on was aboard our bikes. I had just got my only bike -- an old Cannondale Delta V -- running again and rode to her apartment on Lyndale Avenue. We pulled out of the parking lot and onto the main road. I was new to the city, as well as new to city riding. Even though Mpls is, to me now, hardly what I'd call "city riding" back then it was weird and intimidating. April, who had several years of Twin Cities commuting experience under her belt, took the lane undaunted. I remember distinctly thinking she should ride more toward the shoulder. Some guys in a car passed and shouted cat calls at her. She simply replied, "Come on, is that all you've got?" and rode past. I was exhilirated by the whole experience and enamored with her.
But tonight, as Seth and I talked about people being scared to ride in the city I realized how that is a part of my not-so-distant past and how hardened I have become to routinely pedal in lanes while diesel engines idle and rev behind me, passenger cars wizz by at greater-than-safe speeds, horns honk and drivers occasionally shout their judgments against my presence on the road. That memory from seven years ago is bright but is distanced by experience and my current reality.
So what should I do with this memory?
I do what I do now as a matter of course. At one time we owned two cars. I sold mine a few years ago reasoning it was a superfluous expense and selling it would make me commit to riding my bike all the time. Perhaps that was not necessary because I am committed to riding anyway. As a bonus, I love riding; I love being outside, engaging the reality of weather. I suppose that helps.
I don't preach to others about riding. We all have to make our own choices. I won't tell you to fuck off for driving if you don't tell me to get the hell out of the road. Live and let die, right?
I do feel where I ride and how I ride set an example to sympathizers and haters alike. I intentionally rode down a multilane, major road today (France Ave) with the thought "Drivers need to see cyclists. They need to know we are here." I don't need Critical Mass or a posse of fellow wheelpersons. Whenever I do this I ride according to all rules, as if I were also driving an auto. It's a fun game because the 'opponent' is never of singular motivation and friends are always among them.
The road is the western boundary to a series of shopping meccas. It also happens to be the most direct route to my job and a road that gets first priority for plowing, so I often take it when there's snow. During a snowstorm drivers give me loads of berth. I got mixed results today because it's sunny and the ice is receding and people act like our whims can rule the world again since Mother Nature's gone on a bender and cut the apron strings.
I feel especially violated when an environmentally sensible car with a bike rack attached buzzes past me. Who are these drivers? I want to know. How can someone who obviously also rides a bike pass me in their car and score a total naught for self-awareness and respect? I presume, far too often, that any two people who co-inhabit the Earth, let alone a few million roof rack owners, can feel the same.
And I am reminded of one of my first impressions of the person I was to later discover I had more in common with than anyone. In that moment she was out of her mind, or so I thought.
That was summer, and by fall we were connected. April announced she was buying a new bike. Her friend who worked in a shop had her talked into a fixed gear that was a conversion of an old road bike. I knew road bikes but WTF did "fixed gear" mean? I did some web research. On Old Skool Track I read about the Zen of fixed riding, as well as plenty of tales of what can happen when things happen. I asked April if she knew what she was getting into -- she could die riding this new bike. But before long I was convinced I should try it for myself.
That memory is so recent that I can still remember the inflections, the verbage, the smell of the room. Yet, here I am living something wonderfully antithetical to what I defended a mere 7 years ago. Not with fixed gear riding, but with bikes in general. Bikes are my life at the moment, in such a way that even if my career was no longer bikes, my life would still be bikes.
In one way or another, we all astonish ourselves because we need to be astonished. Latching onto beliefs and ideas is a personal choice that is astonishing. Letting beliefs and ideas guide one's life is comforting. After all, who doesn't want comfort? However, never questioning or challenging the adaptation of beliefs and ideas is the stagnation of human intellect.
I do what I do now -- and think how I do now -- as a matter of course.