Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Get scared or get stubborn

A car blew past me today so close I could feel the shockwave on my hand. A foot, maybe, off my handlebars. Too damn close, and going way too fast (it was on Heron Road, and the speeds there are a bad fit with how narrow the road is.) I shouted; I couldn't help it, just an inarticulate shout that came bursting out of me as the car passed.

And it had been such a nice ride, otherwise, too. I had a split second where I could have gotten terrified, or mad. I got mad. Which is a sign of how long I've been riding. I can remember times when I screeched to a halt when that kind of thing happened. Now, though, by the time I'd processed what was happening, I was looking to see if the car was going to hit the red light ahead and if I could catch up. I wanted to tell the driver that he'd been far too close, dangerously close, and if we lived somewhere with the one-metre rule, he would have been illegally close. So I started pedaling like mad to catch up.

But I didn't catch up. The light changed, and he went on ahead without knowing how angry I was. Although maybe he heard me. I can hope that the Doppler effect didn't steal my shout as he flew past me. By the time I got to the traffic light it was red again, which was not such a good thing, because it gave me a minute or so where the delayed adrenaline - and the short breath from my sprint - kicked in and I started shaking. Mad and about to cry all at once. So I sat there, calming myself back down, until the light changed, and then I set off again. Just as I got back into my stride, another van came past - not as close, but it was a van, and so its sheer size startled me.

Okay, fine. Fine, I thought. And again I kind of surprised myself: I got mad, and I got defiant. If they were going to keep blowing past me, then I was going to get out into the lane and make it impossible. So I came out about a metre into the lane - where, technically, I should be, but way further out than I usually ride - and I stayed there, determinedly ignoring the sounds of cars coming up from behind me. Or at least, not ignoring them, but not letting them push me sideways. I was absolutely done with being intimidated by cars.

A couple of things about that. One: I not only knew, but had internalized, the idea that the further out in traffic you are (within reason) the safer you actually are. I stay a long way over to the side out of courtesy for drivers, but if you want to be visible, and to avoid drivers thinking they can squeeze by you, you take up space. Two: I have a lot more confidence than I used to, about a lot of things. And I thought, as I rode the rest of the way home, about my Amazon friend's insight about the relationship between being femme and biking (or any kind of non-mainstream-ism and biking): that you have to take up your space, stop shrinking to the side to avoid being 'in the way,' stop trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. Unobtrusive is sometimes way too close to invisible.


  1. Good article. And unfortunately an experience that happens way too often in Ottawa. Cycling in this city takes some real courage!

  2. Reminds me of one of my videos... but I had no luck with catching up to this person either. I tend not to get too mad anymore, however I confront people from a safety point of view. Not to say I won't get mad but it's trending down. An upcoming video not posted yet will show me even yelling ;-)

  3. "Riding a bicycle should not require bravery." Roger Geller, Portland

  4. If you could, a perspective on your revised lane position would be helpful to many of your readers.