He flies past me, clad head to toe in black, no hands on the handlebars. He stops, dismounts, locks the bike up, lights a cigarette, and strolls away.
Everything about this short scene—lasting no longer than a minute—irritates me. First, he did not ring the bike bell to let me know he was passing. I startle easily, and there is nothing quite as startling as an unexpected biker. Although, I have recently developed a fear of bike bells. I hear one, my heart races as I look around for the incoming machine. After a few close encounters, it doesn’t take long to learn that pedestrians do not belong in the bike path. Very quickly, a nearly instinctual response develops in response to the chime of a bell. The first stage of reaction is a quick startle created by the noise itself. Followed by an assessment of surroundings to determine the directionality of the approaching noise. The final step is two-fold: simultaneously moving out of the way paired with minor annoyance. All from a simple “brringg- brringg.” Pavlovian conditioning at its finest.
Another irritation is the biker’s outfit. He wears a black shirt and black jeans, maybe even a light jacket. It is not particularly hot here, but neither is it cold. I cannot imagine how hot he must be in his ensemble. I am wearing a sundress and am sweating as I attempt to power my own machine up a hill. I love dresses. It’s frequently breezy here. I am reasonably certain I have flashed half of Germany while biking to class. My strategy is to either wear shorts under my skirt or at least make sure I am wearing cute underwear. (I’m kidding about the underwear Mom—sort of.) Perhaps not the greatest solutions, but they have been working.
The roads, particularly those paved with cobblestones, can be quite bumpy. He rides without hands, while I am doing my best to maintain my balance with two hands on the handlebars. The final straw? He is breathing steadily while I am now dripping in sweat. I am panting with each pedal up the hill that stands between me and class. Normally, being out of shape would frustrate me. He is breathing steadily. As I am trying to catch my breath, he pulls out a cigarette. A cigarette adds insult to injury.
Biking is an exceedingly popular mode of transport here. Bike trails and lanes are easy to find. Cars whizz past bikes, as drivers are familiar with seeing
them on the roads. Popular destinations, such as schools, shopping centers, and churches have bike racks filled with the machines. Despite my previous grumblings,I think the prevalence of bikes is amazing. Perhaps I am just irritated that biking is not as common in America, although it has been growing in popularity. Perhaps I wish I had packed another pair of pants. Perhaps I wish I felt as graceful and effortless as our friend looked. Perhaps I just want to make halfway up a hill without needing to catch my breath. And perhaps one day I will.