Biker chick 

You gotta watch out

You gotta watch out for those cars,” the cop chastised me. “I know,” I mumbled harshly and continued on my way. The exchange was unremarkable on the surface. Within a few seconds, however, a feeling of pride was welling inside of me. I was beating the system, I told myself. I was winning the battle that I wage on a daily basis. What system? What battle? You see, I wasn’t in another car or even on foot when the cop and I interacted. I was on a bike in downtown Indianapolis during rush hour. Being the suave urbanite that I am, I reside in a loft at the heart of the city, doing all of my working, shopping and playing smack dab in the downtown area. What with rental prices and parking fees being what they are, I choose not to own a vehicle. Plus, it’s good for the ol’ environment. Easy enough, right? Wrong. Ever been on a city bus? Ever walked 2 miles to work? Ever wanted to tear your hair out in frustration because a thunderstorm appeared from nowhere just as you were getting ready to head home after a long day at the office and now you’re stuck because you have neither an umbrella nor a rain coat and your only option is to wait or get soaked? Most of the time, I enjoy my non-car status. On occasion, however, I just want to get somewhere quickly. That’s where my bike comes in to play. It’s a fairly decent bike and I have the requisite accoutrements that make it safe: protective helmet, flashing lights, working brakes and a secure lock. When I first began riding it downtown I was so timid that I’m lucky I didn’t get run over. I’d wait until all lanes of traffic were absolutely clear before making a right turn on a red light. I’d suck in exhaust fumes galore while waiting behind five blocks of immovable traffic during the busiest times of day. I’d refuse to cross against a light, even if there wasn’t a pedestrian or automobile in sight for blocks, lest some hidden bicycle cops speed out of nowhere to hand me a citation. In short, I behaved like a car. Or rather, like a car ideally should (but often doesn’t). I soon learned that even though bicyclists are supposed to obey the same traffic laws as cars, mitigating circumstances are such that I often have to write my own rules. As I’ve become more accustomed to the traffic and aware of the workings of the streets, my riding has accordingly become more aggressive. No traffic? No problem, I’ll pedal away, especially if it’s at night. Stopped traffic? As long as there’s room, I’ll pedal between the curb and the cars, easily bypassing the knots in traffic and getting home much faster than my automobile-bound brethren. After all, there have to be some advantages to riding a bike. With no bike lanes, very little awareness on the part of drivers and an ever-increasing number of cars downtown, the daily commute of a cyclist is none too easy. The ability to bypass traffic, traverse areas beyond the roads and experience a measure of personal freedom are the greatest rewards of straddling two wheels day in and day out. Which is why the above-mentioned incident has so strongly affected me. There I was on my bike with nothing between me and pavement save the clothes on my back. And the cop was telling ME to watch out for the cars? Wait — didn’t I have the right of way? I was crossing the street with a green light ahead of me; the cars were turning left. I was fully following the rules of the road at the time. Shouldn’t the cars, therefore, have stopped for ME because I was on a bike? And that’s when I realized that I had become a bad-ass city biker. Apparently, the most dangerous person on the road at that moment was me. Never mind the driver encased in a ton of steel turning the corner with reckless abandon. Heaven forbid someone watch out for me. If I had accidentally hit a car — so goes the cop’s logic — something terrible would have happened ... to the car. Motorists beware! There’s hell on two wheels downtown and she’s coming after you! Before you throw your bike safety manual at me, think about this: The time is coming when our cities will no longer be able to accommodate every motorist’s need to drive to work. As a biker, I’m ahead of the curve, out there risking my life to use a clean, healthy form of transportation. And I’m going to stay on the road because biking on sidewalks endangers pedestrians and is not legal. Therefore, I must either compete with the automobiles or stay home on my couch. I choose the former because I refuse to submit to the cult of the car. I’ll continue to “watch out for those cars” because they don’t watch out for me. I’m going to ride down the street with my helmet-encased head held high because I use an alternate form of transportation. So when you’re stuck in traffic on New York Street and a biker goes whizzing by in the right lane between the cars and the sidewalk, don’t get mad. Just wave. It’s only me heading home from work.

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Emily M. Hall

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