Until recently, I didn’t hate all bicycles. I was the true definition of ambivalent regarding their existence. Generally speaking, they were simply another means of conveyance, no better or no worse than another.
My feelings about bikes began to change just before I moved to New York. As a hot mess of a 21-year-old, I rage-rode around my parents’ hood while wearing ear buds and no helmet. It is officially shocking to no one that I got into an accident.
While going down one of Providence’s famous hills, a car buzzed up beside me. Because I was in my own world of the White Stripes, I didn’t hear it approach. As such, I didn’t have time to veer to safety, and as it passed by me at high speeds, a crushed branch shot right into my spokes, sending me ass over tea kettles.
As the pavement shot up to meet me, I realized my head was going to make furious direct contact. My life did not flash before my eyes. Instead, in my last conscious moments I shit-talked my dumb ass for my lack of safety skills and cursed mightily before falling into blackness.
When I woke up, it was to the prodding of a set of male identical twin little people. I asked them what had happened and they told me I needed to pull my shirt down because everyone was staring at my stomach. I remember this like I remember my first kiss and the moment I learned how to read. Turns out it didn’t happen. My ass was hallucinating.
Once I was at the hospital and with my family, things gradually came back into focus. Other than a concussion and some cracked ribs, I was fine. The bike was trashed. Which was awesome since I’d borrowed it without asking from the people I was housesitting for.
Not long thereafter, I moved to New York. If ever there’s a place to get back on a bike after a traumatic accident, New York isn’t it. In the past, as bike-culture became an important staple of indie-living, I’d just sort of rolled my eyes. Now the roll had become a sneer.
I’d see guys in tight pants without helmets whizz past me on the streets and think murderous things about them. Riding a bike is something a person does. It doesn’t make you cooler. That bike doesn’t make me want to blow you, it’s just how you get around, son. Fuck your fixie, OK?
The reverence they'd employ while pointing out ghost bikes was tinged with what sounded like envy. Somebody died who didn't have to. There is nothing cool about that.
Overnight, bike-culture seemed to be as prevalent in New York as “urban gardens.” I can get behind urban gardens, because obviously. And also tomatoes. But when guys are listing “loves to ride bikes” on their Internet dating profile, we’ve reached a place where we need to check ourselves. Why are we letting the Moldy Peaches romanticize two wheels? WHY?
I started getting pretty vocal about my disdain. Ride a bike, seriously, I don’t care. But the minute you get sanctimonious about your ride and give me side-eye for not wanting to hop on a bike, that’s when you are every bit as douchey as those guys who tell you to watch the leather when you hop into their hot rod.
My best friend, my sister, and my mom are all folks I know who love to ride their bikes. But they are not assholes about it. I’m not going to ride a bike. They all let it go. They respect my choice. As one should always respect the doing-no-harm choices of others.
I have been loathe to get on my soapbox about how bikes and the people who ride them need to get the eff over it already because I am aware that getting more people on bikes and out of cars promotes health for people and the planet and I love the planet -- I live here. But when the recent arrival of Citibikes, I can stay silent no longer.
When I realized that the general usually-non-bike riding public would have greater access to bikes, I was FURIOUS. Not because I am a tiny, negative, hopping-mad despot -- but because I think it’s the most irresponsible thing in the planet to provide easy access to bikes AND NOT REQUIRE HELMETS.
A cursory glance at recent reports about the bike-sharing program indicate that the rate of injury is low. To which I say, of course the rate is low. The program is a baby, only a couple of months old. Let’s keep that rate low by insisting on helmets.
I’d add that we aren’t Europe, where bike-sharing programs are the norm and have been for a long, long time. Like it or not, here in the states, we have different relationships with our cars, bike lanes be damned. The animosity between cyclists and drivers is apparent on New York city streets where the novice cyclists can be spotted violating almost every law that is possible putting themselves and others at risk.
When you make getting a bike easier and don’t provide instructions on how to bike safely OR provide a means by which to prevent injury when possible, you’re doing a vast disservice to all parties involved. If you like to bike, get on with your bad self. But set a good example to those tourists. Yes, yes, helmets are dorky and red lights aren’t for rebels -- but let’s be real. If you really wanted to be a badass you probably wouldn’t be employing a means of transport that clears folks out of the way with a circus clown horn or a delicate chime.
I know, I know, I’m the worst. Don’t care. Are you a bicyclist? Or are you anti-bike? What say you to Citibike making helmets a thing that happens? Do we need to talk about lice and why shared-helmets might be icky? Share all thoughts bicycular in the comments, mes cheres.