Living 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.”
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.