Cyclists’ Imaginary Shields

July 11th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Two cyclists, a young women from Allston and I, share the same pretense from very different perspectives. We each believe that our appearance protects us from the worst of road rage…at least face to face.

Yet, we could hardly be more unlike each other.

As well as being much younger, she is much shorter and much slighter, and of course, female. I am tall with an absurdly broad chest and shoulders. We have arrived into adulthood thinking our bodies make us undesirable victims.

Note that as a child, I tended to be one of the smaller kids in classes. I just kept growing until I was 21 or so, putting up about an inch and one-half inĀ  height after high school. The team wrestling and swimming, plus vocations like house carpentry crew and avocations like cycling added muscle.

As one of the less formidable elementary and junior-high boys, I didn’t seek fights. Instead, I had a pretty good sense of troublemakers and could almost always deflect them before they got nasty. Even today, I don’t feel like I have to play alpha male and prove myself around other men.

Charlotte Burger of the Boston Cyclists Union surprised me last month with a different take on the same attitude. We both attended a Hyde Park zoning advisory group hearing, where she introduced herself.

When the presentation part of the meeting broke, we chatting bikes, naturally. I had my tail tale of my purple butt from a hit-and-run driver. She spoke of a recent run-in with a road rage guy.

In her case, a cyclist hater was threatening her with his car and words. She spoke, shall we say, negatively, to him. He was ready to beat up that insolent little guy. Then when she removed her helmet and saw that she was a little woman instead, he backed off and clearly had no intention of proving himself at her expense.

From her perspective, being slight, even a bit delicate, is all to her advantage in such situations. Even the worst jerks don’t want to pound a woman.

From mine, I’m big enough that nearly all guys don’t want to mess with me. I just don’t look like easy pickings.

She’s too easy and a girl. I’m a boy and might well be too tough. Our very different physiques may in fact work the same for us from different angles.

Wouldn’t it be great if all drivers simply respected cyclists and didn’t have to act out against them or feel drivers had rights to use their cars like weapons and even start fights on the ground. Lacking that, I recommending being small or big.

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