I Tell Strangers Things

Six women and twenty-four men waited for the light. All of us crossing on bikes is an exercise in semi-controlled chaos. My personal strategy at this intersection is:

1. Position myself near the front if I can. 

2. Leap onto my pedals the nanosecond the light changes and sprint hard across so I don't block anyone in the intersection behind me.

3. Angle right and drop into formation.

So it was that I happened to land in the lead group on the other side. The only girl. Which can be kind-of awesome, actually.

As we climbed in a pack of paired riders, I was next to a Very Large Man I hadn't seen before. Not an ounce of fat showed on his very tall, very muscular frame. I am 5'6" when I stand up nice and straight and my hair is sticking up a little on top. I'm athletic but not bulky. Curvy yet strong. I am not tiny, but I must have looked like a child riding with this guy.

I found my rhythm and floated uphill. Blissed and fast. My muscles lengthening in the warming sun. I felt amazing. Graceful and relaxed. I noticed the way the dissipating dew left a slight haze in the air as I looked east for the thread of road that is my favorite hill climb. I thought about when I would have time to do that ride next week and how to time the climb to meet the rising sun. 

The next intersection is a bit of a cluster because many of the riders aren't sure where to wait. Our group goes through the intersection, yet somehow we always manage to block the right-turn lane too. Thinking that VLM might not be familiar with the route, I edged left as we approached the intersection, gestured left, and said, "This is our lane." Instead of moving left together to stop in the correct lane, VLM ignored me and blocked me out, forcing me to drop back.

Maybe he didn't hear me, or he misunderstood.

Whatever. Back to imagining how the light and shadows would change as I turn around at the top and descend my favorite climb next week.

Our group spread out across the lanes to wait for the light. 

Then a car drove up from behind. A cyclist behind me yelled that the lady in the car was trying to turn right. The dudes in front flagged the car around the group, but the driver actually wasn't turning right after all.

Cyclist behind me: "She changed her mind."

VLM: "Yeah, but he's really pissed off that you called him a lady!!"  



I glanced around, still the only girl, looking for someone, anyone, to eye roll with.

I eased forward a little closer to VLM, adopted a joking-around kind of tone, and said:

"He should take that as flattery. It was actually a compliment."

A couple of guys chuckled, and VLM just shook his head while I watched his back.

The light changed, and we blasted off again. 

A week later, I'm still not sure I should have said anything.

I think there's a way to be aware of the casual sexism that crackles in the background without becoming hyper-focused on victimhood and being constantly offended. I tend to err on the side of not freaking out about the minor stuff, so why did I speak up this time? 

In no particular order:

  • Only 24% of American cyclists are women. Myriad reasons include perceived hostility from the dudebros.
  • VLM was younger than me, and therefore young enough to know better. He wasn't just an oafish-but-well-meaning older dude joking around. He was a man-child being a jerk, and it was a fucking hostile thing to say.
  • Whether he intended his comment specifically for me or as more of a broad misogynistic statement against women generally, I found it effectively marginalizing.

To be fair, VLM might actually be a nice guy who was having an off day. So off that he needed to be a bigot. 

One reason I found it so jarring was that it disrupted my lovely moment of rapture Maybe I just needed to swat at that mosquito and get back to my bikegasm.

It's also worth pointing out that the reason I, a woman, was riding in the lead group with men just then wasn't only that I had landed in the pack at the light, but also that I could keep up with them on that section of the route. 

It turned out, as always, to be the Best Ride Ever!

It's also important to note that the group I ride with is overwhelmingly welcoming and friendly to everyone, women included. Dudes who act like VLM are rare outliers here. 

As they should be everywhere.


2:52... Because the worst possible insult to a guy is being compared to a woman.