I don’t know where I got the notion that bringing my dad’s clunky hybrid bicycle along with me to the Bay would transform me from a big-shouldered soft butch with a side-shave to the kind of girl that would figure heavily in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s day-boners.
Despite all my grumping and heaving about, I just knew that one stint in San Francisco’s hippy-dippy bikelandia would give me a curly-headed, sunshine-honeyed aesthetic that turned all of my photographs into Polaroids and all of my business lunches into Swedish synth-pop picnics.
I just wanted to wear floral sundresses and go barefoot! I was Into It. Until, of course, I actually tried to ride my fucking bike in this crazy-ass city.
Look. I was raised in the cushy suburbs of Northern California and, until about the age of 16, was shaped more like “a large plank of wood” than my current body style of “pizza slice with pepperoni hips.”
This made balance -- not to mention general road safety -- much more feasible in my dewy adolescence. So you’ll have to forgive me for getting cocky.
“Wow,” my housemate said the first time I lugged the Giant out of my borrowed minivan. “That’s…quite the bike.”
“Yeah!” I said, with forced bravado. “I think I’m gonna ride her to my friend’s house for Outside Lands tomorrow.”
“Down…Valencia?” Molly asked, clearly concerned. “That’s kind of a busy road if you’re not used to it.”
“Fsssshhhhhhhh,” I retorted, waving a non-prescient hand. “It’ll be fine!”
This was incorrect. It was not fine. Turns out that when Molly said, “It’s a busy road,” she was not exactly talking about the many Priuses that shied away from the five-foot wide bike lane, clearly cowed into submission through experience. She’d been trying to warn me away from the fleet of lean, swift hipsters who patrolled the area, seemingly for the sole purpose of shooting mean looks over their shoulders at the chubby, clearly hungover girl laboring her way up the world’s most insidious hill.
“Do you not know how to signal?” snapped one particularly vicious woman, adjusting her waist belt self-righteously. “Jesus Christ.”
“On your left,” hissed her mustachioed companion, smacking me with his messenger bag as he rode past in a cloud of stale American Spirit smoke. I dismounted, sweating in moist defiance of the 9 am cool, and walked the rest of the three miles to Lauren’s in a personal fog of burrito-scented misery.
Worse, these were not isolated incidents. Maybe it’s because San Francisco cyclists have a notoriously combative relationship with drivers, but they are awfully defensive when it comes to we suburbia-reared novices infringing in on their territory. I’ve had many an angry hipster scream expletives at me for riding too slowly down a wide, otherwise deserted street -- this, in a city where people frequently step out in front of cars like it ain’t no thing if they break their pelvic girdle.
I don’t know how it is in other lauded bike-friendly utopias, but San Franciscan cyclists are a political and social force to be reckoned with. According to my East Coast friends, things are much the same over that way -- but my New York compatriots are far too busy being glamorous and overworked to worry about what a few thirty-somethings with Feelings on goat farming think of their transportation attempts.
I, on the other hand, am both bizarrely competitive and deeply vulnerable to public scorn. So sometime in mid-October, I gave up. Even though it wasn’t my bike’s fault, I stuck her in the garage in disgust, like a belowdecks Miss Havisham, and haven’t taken her out for a spin since.
But this bike-celibacy, though briefly emotionally freeing, has not been without its own layers of shunning.
San Francisco’s public transportation is kind of the worst, so if you want to get anywhere with any level of speed, having some sort of wheels is the way to go. It’d be Friday night, with the dusk just starting to fall, and off my friends would speed in a tightly controlled phalanx.
“I’ll just catch up!” I’d shout-wheeze after them, half-running in the direction of their fading taillights. “Don’t wait for me, really!”
I mean, there’s a lot I like about cycling in general. Good for the environment, great work! Encourages people to get outside, nice job! And the whole biking thing totally paved the way for girls to wear pants, which I am 100% in favor of. But it’s hard to remember all that when a lot of them are so goddamned self-righteous about it all.
Like I said, cyclists in San Francisco kind of wear the banner for the rest of us no-good dirty hippies. In the never-ending war between bikes and cars, anyone not firmly aligned with the helmet set is doomed to be labeled a slave to couch-riding capitalism. No matter that I don’t own a car, either -- my particular brand of vegan feminist organic peacenik bullshit is apparently overshadowed by my implicit slavery to the combustion engine. Which, you know, kind of sucks.
In case you’re wondering, it’s a uniquely depressing experience to be publicly shamed over ethically sourced coffee for having never built one’s own road bike. As a result, I’ve begun to tend a strange anti-cyclist bloom in my exercise heart.
In much the same way that I involuntarily give the side-eye to people who wear a lot of North Face or get really excited about Stephenie Meyer books, I get weirdly, preemptively defensive about my right to occupy the sidewalk as a pedestrian against the raging tide of hypothetical bike tyrants.
Whenever my bicycle-riding friends (and really, ALL of my friends are bicycle-riding friends) get on my case, I react with a dead-eyed disdain that I hope haunts them in the small hours of their muscular-calved existences.
“Whatevs,” I say, invoking my best Aubrey Plaza. “I mean, have you heard about that asshole who totally killed a pedestrian the other week? Or about how cycling can totally kill your sex drive? And PS, biking is totally boring. You can’t even listen to This American Life. Not even with one earphone in. Not if you’re me,” I’ll conclude, with a long-suffering sigh. “Not if you’re me.”
But despite all this, there’s still a part of me that would love to be able to hop on my bike and ride to the park instead of trudging for a good 40 minutes. And I recognize that my anti-bike sentiments, both machine- and community-related, are totally based on a few negative episodes and too many trips to the pretentious fake dive bar on my corner.
So what do you think? Should I unearth the old girl from her cave of despair? Because in my most secretive of dreams, I still want to be a badass velocipedestrienne. I’m just not sure I have the courage to get back on the horse. Bike. Whatever, I’m still new at this.