I was out for a run last weekend and pondering the strange non-relationship I have with cyclists. I didn’t know it as I was running and pondering, but that morning, a couple towns over, a driver with no license careened over the center line, across the opposing traffic lane, and into a group of cyclists. Two of them are dead.
I don’t bike much, partly out of fear of that sort of thing, but I feel a solidarity with cyclists. We are all out on the pitted, potholed roads, edging around blind turns and hoping we’re visible to drivers who are hopefully not texting. We get crowded off, pushed around, and recreationally honked at by people who seem only to want to see us jump.
We have so much in common, cyclists and runners. And yet, I can hardly ever coax even a nod of the head from one of them. To clarify, by “cyclist” I mean mostly the young to middle-aged male with a sleek road bike and full spandex. Women, older men, and most people out on some thick-tired, wide-seated cruiser bike will happily greet me, most of the time. But the cyclists, with a grim set to their mouths, largely ignore my attempts at even the slightest interaction. This is quite noticeable and awkward since I am a runner and travel against car traffic, and they are cyclists and travel with it. This means we pass within inches of each other in many instances. And yet, my waves, nods and hellos go unanswered.
This puzzles me. I can count on a greeting, however slight, from any other runner on the road. Even the well-muscled young men nearly sprinting down the road in sleeveless shirts and dark, wrap-around sunglasses will muster a curt nod for a fellow runner. I’m guessing cyclists are the same with other cyclists. Humans are tribal after all. But I think our true tribe is broader. I think our tribe is anyone willing to risk his poor, soft body and its brittle interior bones, unprotected as a shell-less snail, on the side of a road where oblivious, texting, speeding drivers wield their multi-ton murder weapons. Our tribe is all of us who wear embarrassing technical garments. The cyclists have their spandex and gaudy jerseys, we have our short shorts and water bottles in fanny packs that we call “hydration belts” but which are fanny packs. We are all detested, derided, and despised by drivers (though probably the cyclists a bit more, I grant). Our tribe should be all of us who do something other than sit around and eat beef jerky and Red Bull all day.
I’m a runner, but I greet all the walkers I meet on the roads, and I try to make sure my greeting doesn’t sound like I’m saying, “Hi, people who are not as serious about exercise as I so obviously am,” but merely, “Hi, fellow traveler!” I greet everyone on the road, even in the situations where I meet them both coming and going. Those situations strike me as so awkward that I am tempted to dive into the bushes rather than have to figure out what to say or do the second time we meet. I spend a lot of time seeing someone approaching and trying hard to appear lost in my own thoughts, or looking intently at something else until the very last moment when I can pretend I have only just seen the person and look up brightly and say hi with feigned surprise.
There’s a lot of thought that goes into these brief interactions, and I am a New Englander by birth and therefore diffident and not good at breezy, casual interaction. So if I can manage it, cyclists, then I think you can too. Lest ye forget, this is not the Tour de France. This is Route 108 in East Kingston, New Hampshire, and we both look profoundly silly in our outfits. Let us embrace it.