I’ve spent a lot of my life on a bike seat. I raced road and cross country as a teenager, training constantly for almost 5 years straight before I burnt out. For a brief period I hated bikes, and avoided putting my feet onto pedals at all costs. But when I moved from Vancouver to Toronto for university, I rediscovered my love of cycling, and I’ve been using two wheels as my primary form of transportation ever since.
I’ve been through 6 bikes over the past 5 years living in the city. Two stolen, one destroyed in an accident (luckily I was not destroyed), and two that I sold to upgrade. Although I have a special place in my heart for each and every one of those steel frames, I have to admit, my current bike is my absolute favourite.
My bike’s name is Sherbert Lightening, and she really is a thing of incredible beauty. My wonderful partner bought her for me as a surprise when the bike I’d built from an old frame and hand painted over 3 weeks was stripped and stolen outside our home. With a frame the colour of some sort of tangerine dream, white accents, and just a touch of gold detailing, she really is the bike of my dreams. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize having such a pretty pink bike would render me a pretty little target.
By choosing to ride a brightly coloured bike, I unknowingly made a choice to subject myself to constant male attention and general heckling everywhere I go. It started off innocent enough, with compliments and catcalls, something I was already used to as a result of my very bright pink hair.
In my experience, men like to pick out the most obviously different thing about a girl and comment on it because they think they’re being more creative than a simple “nice ass.” My obvious beacon quickly shifted from my hair to my bike (and sometimes how my bike matches my hair).
Since my first spin through the city, I've grown accustomed to men endlessly pointing out my bike, chatting me up about where it's from or why I chose to ride a fixie.
“Nice bike!” they yell from the car window.
“Great colour” he says as I locked my bike in front of my favourite bakery.
A lot of men also try to race me on their bikes, passing me at a stop light and then doing useless wheelies and pops, blocking me and slowing me down to a point where I am fuming with rage and have to swing into traffic to pass them back. Riding something pink and cute apparently also makes me look slow on the road and easily impressed by my fellow male cyclists. For the most part it has been repetitive and annoying, but not really anything more.
But lately things have started to get a little more unbearable. I had a man come up to me while walking my bike through the market where I buy my groceries and ask me if I’d like to “help him with his fetish.” The comments on the street have become more and more sexual, turning from friendly to creepy with every new spin of my white rimmed wheels. The old compliments continue in a steady stream, but the more innapropriate ones keep coming up, too.
A man older than my father had me cornered on an isolated pedestrian bridge for half an hour a few weeks back, telling me about how nice his bike was and how fast he was on it. When I matched his bike knowledge and asserted I had experience cycling that exceeds that's of a commuter, trying to communicate I was not impressed, he only became more interested, moving in front of my bike every time I tried to walk away. No matter how hard I tried to show him I was strong, he couldn't seem to see past the colour of my bike.
But the breaking point for me and sherbert lightening came on a bright weekday afternoon. I was wearing a T-shirt, sneakers, and my favourite A-line swan print skirt, carrying a party pack of nanaimo bars I planned to devour that evening. I was just trying to get myself from point A to point B, just like everyone else in cars and taking transit all around me.
Going up the bike lane on a busy street, I noticed a car ahead full of ball-capped heads, slowing down and drifting closer to where I was riding. The power dynamic of a girl on a bike to a car full of men is pretty much that of a house cat to a lion, so I automatically had my guard up. The car got closer, holding up traffic to get parallel to where I was riding, and with windows down all of them started calling out to me and laughing to one another. The man closest to me in the back seat leaned out the window as far as he could and yelled, “Hey baby, can you ride me like you ride that bike?”
Horrified doesn’t quite touch how I felt as they sped away. I quickly called out, “Show some respect” in my defense, but they were already wizzing ahead of me.
I’m used to creeps bothering me and my friends in Toronto, but this seemed like a new level of disrespect. I was on my way home with a tasty treat, I was minding my own business, and they went out of their way to say something ignorant and rude to me. Something to make me feel like my bike and I were merely a sexual object in their peripherals, existing not to live my own life, but to entertain and pleasure them in theirs.
The general feeling I get is that my bike sends a message to men that I am weak and feminine, that I am an easy target. I catch their eye like a shiny jewel does a bird, and they (for reasons I’ll never understand) feel the need to spurt out whatever comes to mind first, even if that means blatantly asking for sex.
As a queer woman who generally feels uneasy around most male strangers, I am repulsed and infuriated when a man openly sexualizes me and my body. To objectify not only me, but also my bike, something that represents so much freedom and liberation to me, something that gives me strength and always has, feels like a total breech of my personal space.
People in cars are tucked away, out of sight, padded behind airbags and seatbelts, but on a bike I’m vulnerable and unguarded. I can’t hide, and I can’t honk a horn and zoom away.
As the seasons change and the weather cools down, I’ve started walking more and riding less. Part of it is the weather, and part of it is how rude and inconsiderate a lot of drivers are here, but a big part of it is also how uncomfortable I've been made to feel every time I settle on to my seat and start to pedal.
The sun is fading Sherbert Lightning's bright sheen into a more muted peach, and instead of moving her into the shade I encourage the change. As much as I love her bright paint job, I love my safety and ability to get around more. Aesthetics aside, I’m just trying to get home.