I love to drive my car. I love to ride my bike too. So I can say with complete neutrality that there are crazies and morons on both sides of the ongoing Battle Royale between cyclists and drivers.
The other night I was out for a lovely road ride with friends on a perfect fall evening, made perfecter because I was not home doing laundry. At some point, two friends took a detour, and as they rode along, a car came up behind them and the driver started blasting them with the horn. The riders waved the driver past, the lane beside them being completely clear. Not quite taking the hint, the driver continued to fondle his horn then gunned it past them, pulled in front and proceeded to slam on the brakes, causing one of the riders to hit the back of the car and fall over his handlebars. Thankfully, in addition to having fast reflexes, my friend has great bike handling skills, so the fall was controlled and he did not end up on the hood of the car like a fancy lycra-clad hood ornament.
But, of course, that is not the point.
When he slammed on his brakes, the driver used his car like a weapon. This meek little old man, with his lovely little old wife sitting beside him, did the equivalent of swinging a hammer at my friends’ heads because he was late for…. bingo? Coffee at Tim’s? Anger management class?
I am, by nature an impatient and easily irritated person. It can be incredibly annoying having someone take up the entire isle at Safeway while they decide which type of soup to buy. Sure, I get pissy. I may even sigh loudly, or roll my eyes to the ceiling in a clever and bold display of moral indignation.
But I DO NOT TRY TO KILL THEM.
No matter how much I want to, I don’t ram them with my shopping cart, or pummel them with a frozen turkey. In fact, I will probably even mutter “sorry” as I squeeze past (I am, after all, Canadian).
Thankfully, for the most part, cyclists and drivers do get along, but we have a long way to go. Drivers need to understand that people on bikes are allowed on the road too. We pay taxes (grudgingly) like everybody else, and when we’re on the road we are vehicles, but without fancy hard metal shells and airbags to protect us. I’ll be the first to admit there are some crazy cyclists out there too, however they are generally at a bit of a disadvantage. Unlike cars, cyclists are soft and squishy and won’t damage your paint job like, say, a concrete pillar would. Cars get dents. Cyclists get dead. In a case of cyclist versus car, car usually wins.
Riding a bike on the sidewalk (as is often suggested by irritated drivers) is, for the most part, illegal. According to the Manitoba Highway Safety Act, no person shall operate on a sidewalk a bicycle with a rear wheel the diameter of which exceeds 410 mm. So unless you are a child, or riding a circus bike, you should be on the road. In his recent book, His Holiness the Bike Snob wrote (I’ll paraphrase because I had to give my copy back to it’s rightful owner) that yelling at a cyclist to get on the sidewalk is the equivalent of yelling at someone in a car to get off the road and drive inside a shopping mall.
You cannot own a gun without a license, any more than you can operate a vehicle without one. But I suspect many more people are killed by cars than by guns, and yet we fear guns far more. Perhaps what we should fear the most is the sudden anger, or impatience, or resentment that drives ordinary people to reckless and irrational acts of violence. Because when blinded by rage, people will use whatever weapon they have at their disposal, whether it is a gun, or a car, or a frozen turkey.