Over the past two months, I've noticed a distinct difference in the way I communicate with those around me when I'm on a bike. By car I'm the constantly rushing, frustrated driver, whose most in-depth conversations with fellow motorists are in the form of unpleasant hand gestures. But, by bike with no metal shield to hide behind, I share the road, follow traffic laws more stringently and even have the odd conversation with fellow travelers.
Perhaps it's the close proximity to others--to the landscape--or maybe it's because I don't take for granted the energy I consume when I'm on bike, which comes from my legs and not an oil barrel. Regardless, the random interactions with strangers have become one of my favorite parts about biking in the city. Here are a few that have piled up over the past two months.
At The corner of State Avenue and Washington Street
Stopped at a red light, I pulled up next to a man on a moped. We smiled at one another.
He leaned over and said: "Do you want to race?"
"I think you've got the better odds," I laughed. "But these thighs pack power."
"You never know," he replied.
The light flashed from red to green. He sped off as I yelled: "Hey! I thought you were going to give me a head start!"
At the corner of Mass Ave and Park
A cyclist in a yellow jersey and all the racing garb zoomed past me, only to get stopped at the same red light.
"How's it going?" asked the Yellow Rider.
"Good. Yourself?" I replied.
"I'm fantastic," he spouted enthusiastically. Then after a pause for water: "This is the first time I've commuted by bike to work and to school. And I'm pooped."
Could have fooled me, I thought, sweat-drenched and dehydrated on my own bike.
"I'm actually a first-time commuter myself." I said.
"Really? Where ya headed?" asked Yellow Rider.
"Home now," I said as I motioned in my apartment's general direction.
"I gotta make it all the way to Broad Ripple."
The light changed and he was off before I even noticed.
"Good luck," I said, holding up traffic behind us.
At a street crossing on the Monon
An older gentleman pulled up beside me and my cycling mentor, Pat. He noticed me shaking my hands.
"Hands cold?" he said.
"They're numb." I said.
"From the cold?" he asked.
"From the gripping, I think. I guess I need fancy gloves like you."
"Well, they do help with that," he winked before zooming off.
Of course there are less-pleasant interactions as well. The man who yelled at me from his car last week, while I pedaled in the pouring rain. The motorist, who honked and honked at me for going too slow, then flipped me the bird as she nearly ran me off the road. And the man in the white truck, who sheepishly apologized to me from his driver's side window for blocking the crosswalk on the Cultural Trail.
Good or bad, these exchanges are authentic. And I'm amazed at how my brief foray into riding has revealed an indelible line between the world of bicycles and of cars. My question: aren't we all sharing the same roads?