the road can be a battlefield

This week I read a couple of sobering stories about cyclists and the dangers we face.  The reports are out there if you only look.  They are ubiquitous; there seems to be a lot of cyclist hate in the world. 

Certainly there are assholes of every stripe in the world but it consistently astonishes me how much cyclist hatred there is.  Yes, there are jerks who take chances, run lights, cut dangerously in front of cars, play chicken, etc.  You name it; there are plenty of examples.   There are also assholes behind the wheels of cars all over the road.   However, as cyclists we are painted with the same brush and we’re assumed to be assholes before we have a chance to prove otherwise. 

I could say that we need to ride defensively and yes, we should.  But no amount of awareness and consideration can prepare you for something like this:  Avid Cyclist Grabbed, Dragged by Man in Passing SUV:

Jana Kinsman, 27, had been heading north on Kimball Avenue to check on a friend’s cat in Albany Park just after midnight. As Kinsman passed Wrightwood Avenue, an SUV rushed her.

“A car pulled up really close next to me — this big maroon-purple Tahoe — and it was pushing me against the [parked] cars and I couldn’t do anything,” Kinsman said. “I couldn’t brake or swerve. I was pinned between this moving car and this other car.”

Someone reached from the rear passenger-side window, Kinsman said, and grabbed her messenger bag, which was slung across her back.

“I started screaming. I didn’t know what else to do,” said Kinsman, who said she’s been cycling in Chicago for about six years. “I could hear them laughing like it was a game or something.”

After a few seconds, Kinsman’s bike smacked into a parked car. The man lost his grip on Kinsman and she fell to the ground — hitting her hip hard before bouncing onto the left side of her body.

Bystanders rushed to help Kinsman, who laid on the ground until police, paramedics and her roommate, Brent, arrived.

“My arm hurt really bad, and I was too scared to move,” she said.

Kinsman, an avid cyclist who works as a beekeeper and freelance illustrator, doesn’t have health insurance. She turned down an expensive ambulance ride in lieu of a taxi trip to Swedish Covenant Hospital. She was badly bruised, doctors said, but no bones were broken.

Who in the world would do something like that?  Why would anyone think that was a good idea, or a fun thing to do?  

I’ve been yelled at, chased, honked at, clipped, and nearly run off the road.  I’ve been forced to stop and I’ve pulled my pepper spray on a guy and threatened to use it.  I had an asshole in a giant black pickup truck road rage at me because I dared to flip him off when he clipped me and honked his horn in my ear.  He kept passing me, then turning around so he could continue to heap invectives on me, veins bulging in his forehead, spittle flying, u-turn after frightening u-turn.  The amount of rage he spewed scared the hell out of me. Unfortunately I had a load of groceries and I wasn’t very nimble; I had to take his abuse until he tired himself out from screaming and he peeled away, spitting loose gravel as he tore out.  Must be pretty sad to be that insecure and nasty.

At that time I didn’t have the police department’s phone number programmed into my phone; I do now.  I also have steeled myself to ignore even the most egregious insults while I ride.  These people want a reaction.  They get off on fear.  And I’ll be damned if I give that to them. 

But I’m fortunate so far that no one has physically accosted me.  It’s all been verbal, other than the guy who physically stuck his arms out, forcing me to stop or run off the trail.  I think the best I can do in a situation like that is to stay as calm as possible, don’t talk back, don’t react.  Don’t give them the reaction they want.  I’m working on the blank stare. 

But for crazy people who might grab a cyclist like the story I linked above?  There’s no way to plan for that.  But I’ll be damned if I let fear stop me from riding. And neither should you.  Take as many precautions as you can – don’t ride by yourself late at night, be aware of your surroundings, make sure you can be seen with bright colors, lights, and reflective tape.  Follow traffic laws and show by your actions you are a responsible cyclist.  Stay on lighted roads as much as you can.

But please take the additional precautions of programming the police department’s number into your phone and keep it handy (or use bluetooth).  Carry pepper spray.  Make your camera app easily accessible on your phone in case you need to record a license plate. Plan your outs.  Be prepared for how you’ll react when you will be yelled at and insulted.  Because you will be hassled.  It’s a given. 

And each time you get to your destination safe and sound, breathe a sigh of thanks to the universe; that you survived to ride another day.  It’s a scary world out there and we all need to have our wits about us. Be safe, be smart, and enjoy your right to the road. 

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