I’ve come to realize that when I’m out on my bike, I’m not the most popular girl in town. It’s only on my bike, for instance, that I get honked at while being cut off.
With experiences like these, it’s no wonder that male cyclists outnumber female cyclists by three to one. According to one University of Washington survey, the most cited reason women give for opting out of cycling is fear of distracted drivers.
A few years ago, I faced my own fear of distracted driving when I decided it was time to shelve my aging vehicle for a used road bike. Around then, I rode in my first Bay Area Bike to Work Day. For me, the reward that day was more enduring than the smoothie I savored in Millbrae. Bike to Work Day boosted my confidence in my own riding ability and reassured me that riding on the roads isn’t as dangerous as I had imagined.
Unlike a distracted driver. I now notice things I would otherwise miss, like the smell of the Bay when the wind blows from the East. Or the tents that pop up and reproduce in hidden corners only to be broken down all at once. Or the amount of rage wasted on getting from intersection A to intersection B a fraction of a second faster.
I understand the contempt for cyclists, though. I’m a driver sometimes too. I get stressed when I’m stuck behind someone slower than I. I get a burst of cortisol every time I barely miss a green light. But bike commuting has given me the hyper focus and 360-degree vision of someone constantly on the lookout for danger.
So when I see a cyclist on the road, I appreciate that she is saving me a parking spot when I get to my destination. I understand that I take up six times the space she does. Whatever decision she makes on her bike, she has calculated how to maximize her own safety as well as mine. If she swings wide, there’s a pothole ahead. If she catches my eye when she pulls up beside me, she wants to make sure she has my attention.
She’s an easy target.
She’s a fragile life.
Take care of her.
She loves this city.
With a Perspective, this is Whitney Heavner.
Whitney Heavner is a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and lives in San Francisco.