By Ulrike Rodrigues
“You cyclists,” spat a driver as I caught up to his beat-up hatchback at a red light, “You ride around like you own the streets, you break all the rules, you bang on my car – “
“But that’s not me,” I huffed, “I’m not like that – “
“It doesn’t matter,” he roared as he furiously rolled up his window, “you cyclists are all the same!”
Sometimes when someone like him sees someone like me on a bike, he sees all cyclists and I become a typical cyclist.
For example, when I savor a steak, arrive at a gala or call myself lazy, a non-cyclist will look at me incredulously.
“You eat meat? But I thought you were vegetarian! Why? Well, you’re a cyclist – you know – the environment and all that.”
“You rode a bike here? But you look so – dressed up! Usually bikers wear those loud yellow rain jackets!”
“You? Lazy and out of shape?! But you ride your bike every day! You’re an athlete!”
Apparently, because I ride a bike, I am a superbly-conditioned, badly-dressed, soy-sucking environmentalist. Don’t you hate when people generalize?
The next day, the hatchback driver’s words stuck with me as I went about my errands.
I started the day helping a friend create more novice-friendly signage at his bike store. Next, I grabbed an Americano misto to caffeinate up for a meeting with my local cycling policy advocates. I was all for “sexing-up” the marketing for the venerable organization.
After the meeting, I headed to Paul’s house and locked my bike next to the cargo, art and kids’ bikes in his backyard. We enjoyed salmon, hemp beer and a videotaped marriage proposal spelled out in MonkeyLectric bicycle wheel lights, then pedaled to a warehouse sock-hop hosted by the B:C:Clettes dance troupe. We locked our bikes at the Woodward’s building and navigated around souvenir shops and night clubs to join the party.
My caffeine-and-hemp-beer buzz faded about midnight, so I bowed out and went back to the bikes. I noticed an older fellow curiously circling the bike racks. He was frayed from years of living on the street, but his gaze was clear as he surveyed each bicycle.
“What’s with all the bikes?” he asked as I unlocked my own. “Oh,” he chuckled, “I guess it is a bike rack.” He looked up to where a building span formed a shelter. “And it’s covered from the rain, that’s good.”
I straightened up and smiled at his astute bikey observation. “Yeah,” I said, “That is good.”
He wandered over to a bike and beckoned me over. “This one, they left the light on – maybe you want to turn it off? I’d do it myself,” he shrugged, “But I’m a homeless guy, and you never know…” He stepped aside and I flicked it off.
I returned to my bike and he followed me. “Listen,” he said as he opened his black backpack and reached inside. “I want you to have this. See – it’s sealed, it’s good. My gift.” He pulled out a package of maple-flavored tea – the kind tourists buy from the nearby souvenir shops.
“You’re a cyclist, right? Tea is good on a rainy night. I know you cyclists like tea.”
“Yeah,” I said, accepting the cello-wrapped box, “Us cyclists like tea.” I thanked him and wished him a safe night.
You can try to lump us together, but there’s no such thing as a typical cyclist. We ride for different reasons. Some of us cycle to connect with the world around us – for better or worse, for insults or tea. It all seems to balance out. We get it all, just riding a bike.
Ulrike Rodrigues lives, rides and writes in Vancouver, Canada. She loves maple syrup, and she loves tea. ulrike.ca