One more reason to ride a bike

Interactions between drivers and cyclists are often no fun for anybody. But not always!

Published August 22, 2010 10:23PM (EDT)

Despite tired legs and a sore butt after riding my bicycle a hundred miles in the fog and cold of West Marin on Saturday, I dragged my ass off the couch to return a DVD to the rental store on Sunday afternoon. It's only a three-mile ride, but requires negotiating some mildly gnarly traffic between Berkeley and Oakland, so you have to keep your wits about you.

I was about halfway there and needed to make a left turn that required first cutting through a lane of quickly moving cars. I looked behind me, and saw a white sedan far enough back that I had room to cross over. I signaled my intention, and then looked back again to make sure the sedan had noticed me. The sedan slowed and I took the lane. While waiting for the light to change, I noticed the sedan was also turning left, but thought nothing more of it.

I made it to the store, returned my DVD, and was unlocking my bike to ride back home when a tall stranger called out to me.

"I want you to know that you have convinced me to buy a bike."

My brow furrowed. What new scam was this?

Then I noticed he too was holding a DVD in his hands.

He continued -- "I was behind you back on Shattuck..."

I interrupted. "You were driving the white car!"

Yeah, he said. And then, noting that we had arrived at the rental store about the same time, he said that watching me zip through traffic had convinced him he needed to get his own bicycle. He talked about getting in shape -- he even mentioned the magic words "carbon footprint." I told him about my favorite bike shop -- which happened to be just a block away from the rental place. He gave me his name, Joel, and I gave him mine. We discussed the always delicate intersection between cyclists and car drivers out on the open road: My moment of tension, wondering if the white sedan driver would get aggro when I took the lane; his moment of impatience wondering whether I was just going to sit in the lane and slow him down.

"I hope I see you out on the road, Joel," I told him as I headed home. He smiled.

You may be wondering why I decided to share this tiny urban cycling vignette. In the big scheme of things it's not all that important. But it brightened up my day like a ray of afternoon sunshine breaking through a blanket of San Francisco Bay Area fog and I just had to share the glee. Real human contact with a complete stranger is much rarer in our lives than it should be. And any time someone decides to ride a bike instead of driving a car is good for them and does the world a favor. And might even be good for someone else too, who isn't riding a bike ... yet.

On my 100-mile ride in West Marin yesterday, I signaled for a left turn on a rural highway, and I got yelled at by a woman who was irritated at having to slow down to accommodate me. A blasting headwind for the last 20 miles of the ride did not improve my mood after that all too familiar demonstration of our ability not to get along. This morning I woke up sore, and not really crazy about the idea of getting back on the bike at all.

But I did, and lo and behold, the fog lifted! Today is a good day. Go ride a bike.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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