Commuter's Corner #5: Rock Stars

by Stephen Perz

The more I have commuted by bike, the more it has happened: non-bike commuters would tell me, excitedly, that they saw me riding down the street. “I saw you the other day going up 43rd Street!” Non-commuters would even tell me that their friend had seen me on such-and-so street, and told them, and told them to tell me. They really wanted me to know that they’d seen me.

This wasn’t little kids, either, as much as I love to wave at them, especially if they are riding their bikes. This was coming from adults. Adult motorists, mind you.

At first, I honestly didn’t know what to make of this. I had to work to find a way to square this enthusiasm with the occasional honking, bellowing, engine-revving motorist who was evidently not excited to see me in the street. But the steady trickle of “I saw you riding on X avenue!” and “My friend told me they saw you over on Y street!” provided ample food for thought.

I eventually concluded that the comments were in fact not sarcasm, a sort of motorist dog-whistle to other motorists pointing out the loony commuter cyclist for inside jokes after he left the room. I also decided it wasn’t pity. I finally asked a couple of people why they like to tell me they had seen me in the street. Then came the explanation, and there was one only: some version of “I’d love to do that, too, but it’s just too dangerous!”

Other commuter cyclists who write have pointed out the need to humanize other road users so we can all get along better. I guess I’ve managed that among a few people. But the longing to ride, and the fear of doing so, posed another big challenge.

I would dutifully point out that good practice in fact serves to minimize the risks, more cyclists calm the traffic, and hey, commuter cycling is a ton of fun. Then the next revelation came: the “I saw you riding!” complement was also intended to invoke a strange form of admiration of the seemingly unattainable: the achievement of the nirvana that is commuter cycling. Translation: more people than you might think actually think commuter cyclists are a sort of rock star.

This one hit me right on the forehead and bounced off, leaving me dazed and confused. Being admired for commuter cycling had never, ever crossed my mind. What do people think, I have a repeating soundtrack of “Rock You Like a Hurricane” in my head as I pedal down the road? I do not. Let’s clear the air: commuter cycling does take a high level of focus, but it is attainable by most anybody. I managed it, with decidedly average inborn cardiovascular ability. It takes good practice, and not a high VO2-max. Or a rock music soundtrack.

Nonetheless, the bicycle-commuter-as-rock-star thing has its benefits, and they are well-known: we are one less car, one more healthy person, a smidge less spew in the air, another open parking spot, and so on. To that we can add: the inspiration for more bicycle commuters! So, the next time you see a bicycle commuter, salute them safely if you can, and then go tell your co-workers, friends, families and even complete strangers how excited you were. Then make your plans to join the rock stars. I’ll see you on the road!

Hearts for our Hospital