Now that Philadelphia is experiencing a transit strike I count myself amongst this fine city’s proud cycling commuters.
If you were to ask me how I feel about this, i would reply “absolutely terrified.”
It seemed like a good idea yesterday, as Elise and I walked the three miles to and from work. It seemed like a good idea last night, as i whipped out my credit card at Target. It even seemed like a good idea this morning, as the adrenalin hit me as i sped up 5th street on my brand new bike.
Riding my bike to and from work may, in actuality, be a good idea. That doesn’t stop me from being so terrified, though. In this case, along with the vast majority of other cases, i blame my mother. She never taught me *how* to ride in a street. As far as i knew, only hooligans who didn’t value their own lives rode in the street.
Quite to contrary, commuting cyclists are by no means expected to ride on sidewalks. It’s considered to be more dangerous, and in some places it’s even illegal! Yet i have no concept of how to ride my bike on the street because i was never allowed to. In fact, now that i think about it, aside from trips to my grandmother’s house i can only recall two times i rode a bike while not under my mother’s supervision, and they were both in college. Not only do i not know how to ride in streets, but i only know how to ride with my mother barking things at me from her adjoining vehicle.
(Incidentally, i also blame my mother for a day-long Italian-mother guilt trip she laid on me regarding the fact that i am now taking my life into my hands by riding a bike, and that she is convinced i will be “doored” by a park car as many other unfortunate souls have directly preceding a trip to her ER.)
This morning i walked my bicycle at all points above Broad and Vine due to my vast mother-induced fears. This makes me, in the words of elderly bike curmudgeon John Forester, an unrider.
At work, I decided that i would not be bullied into unriding a $200+ dollar piece of aluminum around the city. I read the highly recommended Bicycle Safe for an absolutely unapologetic guide to avoiding the ten collisions most common to bike commuting, and the informative and spiffy Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia informed me that all city bike shops were performing free bike safety check. A free bike safety check sounded like a wonderful way to assuage my fears, so i headed to the conveniently located Breakaway Bikes.
And, well, it didn’t, because i discovered that my bike’s wheel was noticeable bent and had probably been that way since i left Target with it last night. But, i left feeling empowered. I had went to a bike shop. I was becoming an informed consumer and commuter.
I’d love to say that the story ended there, happily. Unfortunately, and with a cruel sense of irony, i feel compelled to report that I fell off my bike twice – TWICE, the only two times i can ever recall falling off of a bike – both in the parking lot of Target as i went to exchange my bike. One was a full on, head-over-handlebars tumble that has left my left hip scraped, my right leg highly disfunctional, my left hand sprained badly enough that i wince every time i spot a guitar, and myself even less sure on two wheels than i was this morning.
In about nine hours i’m due to mount my bike and ride to work, and thanks to the convenient convergence of my mother and my own parking-lot clumsiness i am convinced that with every rotation of my gears i am spinning closer to a sure and sudden death. And, in this terrible sureness of my own demise, one thing keeps me aimed true for that pillow-padded saddle seat: if i commute six miles a day by bike i will eventually become both physically and conceptually more attractive.
Hopefully that happens before the death part.