Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sharing the road with a fat cyclist

One of my favorite forms of exercise is to get out on the open road on my bike. However, riding my bike on the road does have its risks as my 20 pound bike is no match for the 1000 pound vehicles moving past me at 3 times my speed. Because of that risk, I take several safety precautions. I always wear my helmet, I follow the laws of the road, and I ride as far on the shoulder as I can safely get. I try to make eye contact with drivers when possible and wave to anyone who gives me a glance in an effort to build cycling goodwill.

Recently, I was on one of my weekly training rides and I experienced a lack of cycling goodwill. As I rode on one of our local country roads, doing my best impression of Lance Armstrong, a late model pickup truck pulled alongside of me. Initially I was excited, as I envisioned this truck serving as a support vehicle, handing me a fresh, ice cold water bottles and yelling me encouragement, “keep pushing, you are looking great!” Unfortunately, my imaginary world did not measure up to the reality of the situation. A very angry man began yelling what would best be described as “not encouraging and not supportive.” Let me clarify, if his statements had been on television, it would have resembled a Jerry Springer Show and been one long censuring beep, HBO producers would have blushed.

As this southern gentleman sped away with squealing tires and a plume of black exhaust smoke, I was left wondering, why was he so angry? Well, since I had plenty of time to think in the saddle of my trusty steed, I decided to try and identify the cause of this mad man’s angst. My first thought was that he was simply a concerned citizen who had my safety in mind. However, after careful consideration, and interpreting his parting statement of, “I hope you are run down in traffic!” I doubt that my safety was at the core of his anger.

My second thought was that he was upset by the sight of me in proper cycling attire. While these garments are highly functional for cycling, they unfortunately are not very flattering (unless you are Lance or one of his teammates). To be honest, “not flattering”, is probably a minimization of the horror of seeing a grown man, my size, wearing tights. If this issue was at the core of his fury, I actually wouldn’t blame him. In fact, the sight of me in that suit for most people is probably something akin to drinking sour milk. Although, as I rode along with only my thoughts to keep me company, I decided a normal response would more closely resemble disgust than anger.

That only left me with one possible conclusion for this level of rage - he felt inconvenienced by my presence with him on the road. Now I guess I can understand that at some level as people who drive 5 mph under the speed limit drive me nuts, but I don’t pull up next to the 80 year old woman and curse at her. Ultimately, the anger was simply uncalled for. The reality is, cycling is a wonderful sport and is good for the community. It doesn’t take much to slow down a bit and give the cyclist a little space, especially when the alternative can be life-threatening. So next time you see a fat cyclist plodding along on the side of the road, please slow down and give me a wave, just don’t make it the middle finger.

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