Aren’t you scared?

DSC01254Living car-free in a small town makes me something of an oddity and people come up to me all the time to talk to me about my biking. The most commonly asked question is, “Aren’t you scared?” I always explain that no, I am not scared, biking on the road is not dangerous and that I have loads of fun doing what I do. They often counter this so I try expand my answer. No, biking is not completely safe, but neither is driving a car, flying in an airplane or any other form of transportation. (Hint: there are very few activities in life that have no risk attached to them.)

I must not be very convincing because the conversation usually ends with some form of, “Well, good for you, but I would never do something like that.”

Lately though, when I am giving that answer, it feels like telling a lie. For the past month or so something that happens all the time has started to frighten me. It never used to bother me but now-when people talk about their own reckless behavior on the road it really scares me.

I am in the middle of a conversation with two teens and suddenly they are talking about texting on the road and other unsafe driving practices and I feel my face go pale.

A guy brags casually to me about how fast he can drive to a certain town and I can’t stop my heart from pounding.

Last week, a lady came rushing into a meeting. She triumphantly proclaimed that she “went seventy-five miles all the way, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make”. That’s an actual mindset people drive with? I shuddered visibly, enough that it must have caught her attention. I rushed to explain, mentioning something about the fact that I didn’t mind waiting a few more minutes, and how it is always worth it to take your time on the road to keep yourself  and others safe.

Completely unperturbed, she replied, “Well, this meeting is important to me.”

Ahhh!

Now before I go on, let me explain that I understand that safe driving is a much more complex thing than going down the road at a certain speed. Simply following the posted speed limit doesn’t guarantee safe driving while exceeding the speed limit doesn’t automatically tip someone into the “reckless driving zone.” There are different roads, different weather conditions, different drivers with different abilities and experience levels. I get that.

But these stories scare me. I picture myself on the road, pedaling unprotected on my bike while reckless drivers rush by. It doesn’t make me want to run out and buy a car-it makes me want to curl up in a ball and never venture on a road ever again, regardless of the mode of transportation. I don’t know why people drive recklessly. I don’t know why people talk so casually about their reckless driving.

But there is one thing I do know. The way to stop myself from being afraid it to get on my bike. Reality saves my fearful mentality. I remember that I know how to bike safely and minimize risks. I see every car pass me carefully and courteously. I am confident and sure. Being a cyclist is not a scary thing, no matter what tales people tell.

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36 thoughts on “Aren’t you scared?

  1. I think people on motorcycles are also worried about careless drivers. I’ve not met a motorcyclist who hasn’t had a near death experience that was their own fault. I hate to say this to a devout cyclist, but I like hiking better. I’m off the road, quiet, nature, away from the commotion of normal living.

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  2. When I tell people that I just bought a motorcycle, their most common reply is, “those things scare the hell out of me”. I replied, “they scare the hell out of me too, that is why I ride safely and defensively.” I ride my bike in the same manner. I think when you have ridden bikes long enough, you develop a sixth sense, and That can take you a very long way.

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    • Yup, but Bri just wrote a blog about how she looked up at the sky for a second and ran over something that flattened her tire. I used to run printing presses with safety first in mind. I thought about my girlfriend for a split second one day.. boom..caught my hand in the press. That’s life though. Ya get on the bike, develop your sixth sense, pay attention, but that’s no guarantee. Life happens.

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      • Yeah, my sixth sense is still in the developmental stage 😉

        I am not guaranteed safety on my bike. But this is my thinking on the subject. Safety is not a guarantee anytime, anywhere. So I am gonna go out and bike-getting hurt would be awful, but at least I am taking my chances doing something I love to do.

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      • I agree. In the same way, I never lock my house or my car and sometimes my bike. Well, not ‘never’, but most times. I just don’t worry about it..don’t give it a thought. I figure if I start fearing being ripped off, then It’ll happen. What you fear you become.

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  3. I guess rural riding and city riding are the same ‘dangerous’ level… just different dangerous drivers to look out for. I go 5 miles out of my way to commute in on a bike path away from the street – just so I can feel a little ‘safer’.

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  4. Ugh, I had a similar experience this week. A friend from here was headed to Utah for a family reunion, she posted on Facebook as they got to Idaho something like, “Idaho we love you, 80 mile an hour speed limits.” And my eyes just bugged out in disbelief.

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  5. I think commuting by bike makes you a lot more aware of your surroundings, and as a result, makes you a better driver (if you end up driving a car). As long as you are aware of your surroundings, it’s not as scary.

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  6. I agree with sevencyclist. When you are in a car you don’t get the sensory feedback that you do on a bicycle or a motorcycle. This cocoon gives a false sense of comfort and safety.
    I know the roads up your way and the wide paved shoulders are amazing. Central upstate New York is cycling heaven. (Don’t tell anybody. It might get crowded.)

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  7. The thing that makes me laugh is when people say something like: “I choose to drive my kids [the 200 yards] to school, rather than let them walk, because it’s too dangerous with all the cars on the road.”

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    • And yet they have no problem with their children dying in the thirties or forties from a heart attack, or even younger due to pollution-related chest/lung conditions. After an enforced year away from cycling a few years ago where I saw my health deteriorate due to lack of activity I just cannot get in to the mindset of those who choose not to exercise the (initially) perfectly healthy body they have.

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  8. Great post – resolving to reduce the fear and then imagining what you want to experience when you’re out riding is the best possible solution! Couple it with intuition and you’re on a winner!

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    • Hey, thanks for sharing! It is a great idea, I think it would work well for rain, wind and snow, although the problem with my set up is when it is raining or snowing I wear a protective cover over my helmet which would not be compatible with this. The other issue is that it won’t keep my face warm in super cold temps.

      But I will have to think about adding to my arsenal of biking gear-it is super handy to have the visor right on the helmet!

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  9. Oh, rats. I’ve been kind of waiting for this post from you. Be very careful, Bri. Careful with riding, sure–you already are, but that’s only half of it. It sounds like you are starting to get a sense of what goes on in the minds of people who don’t ride (and would likely never consider it). What you really have to be careful of is letting this knowledge turn you cynical. The things you relate in your post are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the deranged thinking that exists among some motorists who believe that driving an SUV is the only safe, sane, and responsible way to get anywhere. In many people’s minds, putting others’ lives in danger is no big deal, but failing to take every possible precaution to bubble-wrap *yourself* is irresponsible. I still enjoy riding, but many times I amaze myself with the extent of my under-the-breath mutterings aimed at the drivers around me, because I assume they are all either homicidal or mentally deficient–this is what you have to be wary of. That, and ending sentences with prepositions, as I have also seemingly taken that practice up.

    I hope it never happens, but beware if you ever do crash and injure more than your pride. The folks who now ask, “aren’t you scared?” will then tend to say “I told you so”, and subtly or not-so-subtly hint that you shouldn’t oughta be doing that bicycling thing. It’s so dangerous! Especially at 4am in the winter. You know it’s only a matter of time until…Don’t you have a car? Can’t somebody give you a ride? Can’t your parents help you buy a car? (Your family is also being irresponsible, see, for “letting” you put your life in danger).

    The funny thing is that if you drive to work on icy roads at 4am, nobody asks whether you are “scared”, and if your car slid off the road into the ditch one day, nobody would suggest that you’d better quit driving your car…

    I suppose if I had any real “advice” it would be to *know* that some drivers think this way and they therefore don’t put the full amount of due care into their driving, but don’t *fear* these things. Use knowledge and apply wisdom to your riding, anticipating the possibilities to avoid trouble. And a little prayer before you leave never hurts…

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    • This is such an awesome, heartfelt comment, oh my goodness, I don’t know where to start! First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to write it, you have no clue how much your words mean to me.

      The things you have mentioned in the event of a crash, the “get a car”, “get a ride”, “how dare your parents let you do such a thing” comments hit me in full force before I started biking last winter. I can only imagine how they will pile up if I actually hurt myself on my bike! But what you said is so true, when people get in a car crash they don’t blame it on the mode of transportation, “Well, that’s it, I am never driving a car again, cars are too dangerous”. No, they recover and then start driving again because that is their lifestyle. If I ever get injured on my bike, I hope I will be smart enough not to blame it on biking and that as soon as I am recovered I will get back on my bike, because that is my lifestyle. Others will probably not understand my decision but that’s okay.

      Thank you for your comment about being careful that my knowledge of irresponsible drivers doesn’t turn me into a cynic, it is a warning that I will to my best to remember.

      This is the weird thing- so far even though I know there are reckless drivers out on the roads, I don’t feel fear when I am actually out biking. (Except when a car pulls out in front of me without pausing for a stop sign. Even though I am constantly on the lookout, that always make my blood pound.) I don’t know if it is the real reason, but I attribute my lack of fear while on the road to the first ever insane snowstorm I biked through. I felt the presence of God in such an overwhelming way- and just a feeling of, “wow, this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing”. I think that may be the key for me, as long as I remember that God is with me no matter what and I have the sense that biking in NNY is what I am supposed to be doing, I will be okay. But if I lose that, fear and cynicism are gonna be hard to defeat.

      Once again, thank you for sharing your thoughts and advice with me, this is one of those comments that I won’t forget.

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  10. For routes that I regularily commute to and from work, shopping, necessary services….I try to fashion routes which are on bike paths/separated bike lanes. Or go at a lower car traffic area.

    Of course, another cyclist collided me on a bike path.. beginning of this yr.

    It isn’t speeding over the legal limit, but it is distracted driving/texting while driving which is scary. I also find more drivers DON’T always come to a full stop…they are very gently rolling the car while I cross the Intersection. Very impatient/careless.

    Hope you find a way of countering/gently educating people who voluntarily offer their dangerous driving habits.

    Maybe if you knew 1-2 near local incidents where pedestrian/cyclist actually was injured/killed….I know. Awful.

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    • Isn’t it funny? I feel the most afraid when I hear people brag about speeding, even though the only times I have really felt my safety threatened on the road is exactly what you have mentioned-distracted drivers rolling through stop signs.

      Your suggestion about using local incidents as a teaching tools is a great one. I just have to have the guts to speak up when needed.

      Thanks, Jean 🙂

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