In early April, I bought a bicycle. It is by far the nicest bicycle I’ve ever owned, and the first I’ve had in Vancouver. It has transformed the city for me. I like Vancouver about 150% more now that I experience it on two wheels.
(It troubles me, slightly, how sincerely I’ve slipped into several much-ridiculed Vancouver stereotypes: Vegetarian. Cyclist. Hippie. I don’t do yoga but I wish I did. I don’t own anything from Lululemon but I’m sure I would be helpless in the face of their garments’ superiority, had I the money to buy them. I am trying to eat more quinoa. Go on. Label me! Plaster me with stickers proclaiming what I am, until only my little eyes peek out. It’s okay. I’ve done it too.)
Vancouver is a cyclist-heavy city, with a large and ever-growing network of bike routes. Most days, I ride my bicycle to and from school, which is a 40-50 minute commute each way; a significant time spent traversing these miniature highways of the city. At peak times, the popular bike routes become downright congested. I have friends that choose their routes specifically to avoid the presence of other cyclists. Occasionally I, too, wish that I didn’t have to jockey for position at the stoplights, or debate when and how to pass the just-slightly-slower cyclist in front of me. I wish I didn’t have to hear the approaching chatter of a mob of lycra-clad super-cyclists as they blow past me on hills, or check my speed behind a crew of variously-wheeled dudes that are swooping back and forth across the entire width of the road, glancing indifferently over their shoulders at the traffic behind them. Sometimes the best thing in the world is an empty road.
But then I would never see the characters. And this is one of the best parts of Vancouver’s bike routes, for me: you speed down the quiet backstreets along with hundreds of other people that are in some way your kindred, and many of them are very interesting. Straight-up crazy. Eccentric to say the least. Or, simply, gorgeous. At the very least, most of them fit into some characteristic subset of Vancouver Cyclists, and there’s always a pleasure in being able to catalogue and recognize. It’s like birdwatching. To name something, and name it again and again as you encounter it. To order your world, and in ordering it perceive the more complicated depths and details.
Sometimes I’ll ride slowly on purpose, just to keep ogling or eavesdropping. Some people I never see again; some people I’ll see over and over again as we both make the same commute day after day. Do they recognize me? We all look up at each other as we flash by, scanning for a familiar face or a potential mate, smiling or scowling with the effort of the ride. The camaraderie, somehow, is much greater than that of pedestrians. Or perhaps it’s simply boldness. We can look into each other’s faces as openly and shamelessly as we like, our curiosity bald-faced and our own expressions unrehearsed, carved more by the wind than by our social graces; in a second we’ll be carried past by swift two-wheeled momentum. There’s none of the awkward eternal seconds of the pedestrian approach, the uncomfortable inner monologue of look at them. no, look away. am I creepy for looking?… is it offensive if I DON’T look? are they smiling? should I smile? do I KNOW that person? are they flirting? is that flattering or offensive? eye contact no eye contact eye contact no eye contact WHEW they’re gone. On a bike the other person is half a block behind you before you can even start to worry about these things. We look at each other with frank curiosity as we fly past.
……. Later: actual people seen while riding my bike.