July 28, 2013

I’m on My Bike Because I Seek Respect. ~ Carol Burbank

There is an experience all too familiar that occurs when I speak to a dude, a man and oftentimes a guy, while I am near my bike or in any of my cycling gear.

By way of example:

While prepping my trip, I rode out to North Vancouver to pick up a ridiculously overpriced data card for my GPS. This required that I ride over one of Vancouver’s bridges. I googled my route and cycled to my destination. The ride over the bridge was a new experience for me: the arch had a huge downhill made all the more exhilarating by the high winds, narrow bike lanes lined with high railings and massive steel beams running perpendicular to the sidewalk that the bridge’s builders had not laid flush in the sidewalk. Fun! (Read: totally scary and I rode my brakes for a large portion of the downhill holding up several cyclists in full spandex behind me).

On my way home, I retraced my steps back to the bridge. As I approached the bike lane I had used earlier to cross the bridge, I realized I was supposed to use a bike lane on the other side to cross back. I stopped, puzzled at how to reach the other lane. There were six lanes of fast moving traffic, on/off ramps and the TransCanada highway separating us.

A man in spandex, thick around the waist and stout, was riding his bike towards me, having just crossed the bridge. I asked him “‘scuse me, how do I reach the other bike lane to cross the bridge?”

He answered, “Where are you headed?” A telltale sign that I was about to have one of those experiences. That wasn’t my question!

I responded: “Victoria Drive and 1st Ave.”

He asked: “What address?”

I said to the man: “1637.”

He responded: “So right around 1st Avenue. Right below 1st actually.” Now, in my head I’m thinking, “What the fuck? Is this guy’s head full of sand? And, no! If we’re going there, It’s above 1st.”

Aloud I said, “Hum.”

He then gave me the information that I so clearly needed: “So just cross the bridge, then there are some switchbacks that you’ll ride down which lead to a sidewalk, like, a wide sidewalk with loads of room”

I cut him off: “Yeah, but, how do I cross the bridge? Where’s the entrance to the bike path across the bridge?”

He gestured maybe 15 feet to my right, “There’s the sidewalk, it’ll take you over the bridge.” I looked to where he was pointing and understood that I was supposed to ride on the sidewalk. (Like any Torontonian, my assumption is that the sidewalk does not welcome to my two-wheeled friend, but Vancouver is the Wild Wild West.)

The man continued, “So you take the switchbacks, they’re steep, to the wide sidewalk, when you get to the covered tunnel, not the first covered tunnel but the second covered tunnel, ride under it and through the parking lot on the other side, across Renfrew, and… I’ll give you a shortcut along Adanac. Before Nanaimo you hit Kaslo…”

I mounted my bike and said, “I’ll manage. The route’s too much to remember right now. Thank you.”

I rode off, experiencing a myriad of emotions and utterly confused at which ones to identify with. I was seething at his complete lack of attention for anything I had said, while grateful that he gave me directions to cross the bridge. By the time I rode under the second covered tunnel I knew I felt annoyance. This man had done nothing more than explain the well signed bike path that I had taken to cross the bridge in the first place.

I wasn’t annoyed at the man’s directions though. I was annoyed at his overall treatment of me. Had he actually listened to my first question, he could have saved himself and me three minutes of non-informational blahblahblah.

More importantly though, he could have saved me the frustration that I feel every time I am treated like I’m lost and confused when what I’m actually doing is something unusual and awesome. I know he was trying to be helpful, but his bias was towards assuming I was a confused and helpless girl. How did I get myself onto this bike in the first place? No doubt, inadvertently! How had I found myself at the intersection of Main St. and Highway 1? By accident, obviously!

So aptly summed up by Susan B. Anthony when she named the bike the ‘Freedom Machine’, I ride my bike because I want some space, a release and to challenge my limits.

But when I’m cycling aggressively, cycling solo, or taking per say risky routes I’m also performing outside my gender’s stereotypes. The stereotypes that in high school I was told no longer existed, the stereotypes that guys and men maintain because it’s easier than actually ceding to women, ladies, girls, femmes, dykes, queers and trans the space to appropriate and reinvent. The stereotypes that still exist because it’s easier to treat a woman like she’s lost than acknowledge that what’s really going on is a loss of traditionally male dominated domains.

The worst part of the whole experience—the feeling that sits in the pit of my stomach—is the silence that I experienced when I stood there and endured his unsolicited advice. Not wanting to appear rude or ungrateful, I never spoke out to correct his preconception about who I am. I wish I had told him that I knew which route to take home.

It’s not my intention to encroach on anyone’s space when I’m on my bike, but I’m not going to perform (or adopt) anyone else’s expectations.

Above all else, I’m on my bike because I seek respect, primarily from myself, but if you’re a dude, a guy or a man and you’re all bent on showing me the way, please shut the fuck up and show me some respect by listening to me when I speak.

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Assist Ed: Julie Garcia / Ed: Catherine Monkman

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