This past fall, students across campus found themselves embroiled in passionate debate. Names were called, fights were picked, demonstrations were demonstrated and mud was slung as it had never been slung before. I unwittingly found myself at the epicenter of this debate with an uncomfortable amount of muck on my face when I woke up one unseasonably warm fall morning and made a bold declaration: Today, I am riding my bike to school.
With a smile on my face, I pedaled to class and arrived 10 minutes early, thanks to my two-wheeler. I assumed that the glares thrown my way were because I had declared far too loudly and far too early that I was riding my bike to school and had woken weary students throughout the neighborhood. It did not dawn on me until I had rode to class a few times that by choosing to ride my bicycle, I was crossing far past both conservatives and New Yorkers in the amount of baseless hate directed towards me.
Since my decision, I have been a victim of verbal abuse, ranging from “You’re one of those people?” to “You really ride your bike?” While the words certainly stung, I must emphasize that I did arrive at class sooner. My Schwinn Impact has borne the brunt of the physical abuse. The handlebar grips have been torn off and the spokes are dented. Even my electronic rear safety blinker was stolen — a not so subtle message to bike riders that our safety is of no concern and we should all die.
While the ruling bodies of Michigan debate crucial campus issues like the Iraq War and which billionaire alum to name the Residential College after, they are ignoring the true issue at stake: there are no billionaire Residential College alums. They are also failing to realize that the bikers are in terrible need of support and defense from unjust violence. Other wronged and downtrodden sects have special groups set up to make everyone aware that they are wronged and downtrodden, such as the Squirrel Club, the University of Michigan football team and the Coalition of the Wronged and Downtrodden. Bikers, on the other hand, are left with no support, save for a shared look of sorrow as we chain up our rides to the same parking meter.
A common misconception about bike riders is that we ride our bicycles to school so we can run pedestrians off the sidewalk, intimidate children and make walking as hard as possible. This is simply not true. We only try to run pedestrians off the sidewalk if we are having a really rotten day or can force them into a giant puddle. The reasons for riding vary. Some bikers ride because they want to save the environment from car pollution. Some ride because they want the exercise. I feel that most, like myself, ride because you can pretend you’re Lance Armstrong in the mountain stages of the Tour de France, especially when traveling east on Hill Street.
It’s not as hard as it may seem to pretend you are in France, what, with all the angry and condescending people roaming around. One day, I observed a girl, cell phone in one hand, mocha and cigarette in the other, jaywalk across South University Avenue in the middle of traffic. Her conversation kept her oblivious from the screeching brakes of the car that nearly hit her as well as the crowd of gawkers that was building. What she was not oblivious of, however, was the biker who was cruising down the sidewalk and had to veer into a parking meter to avoid her. She made it very clear, using a number of the French words that you have to excuse yourself for, that she was not happy with his bicycle coming so close to her. I’m not sure if he heard her since I am not sure if he was conscious. I did hear the gawkers stroll away grumbling at the biker, who they agreed was an idiot.
I cannot defend everything my fellow bikers do. I have seen them steer into crowds of people at a high speed, assuming they would part like the Red Sea. I have seen them disobey traffic signals and nearly cause pile ups at intersections. I have seen them tear down mass meeting signs for rival groups. Bikers are not perfect, but neither are pedestrians.
We must find a common ground or at least a common sidewalk that we can all use to stretch our legs after exiting the cramped Natural Science Auditorium or for rapid travel after oversleeping for a one o’clock class. We need to realize that when it comes down to it, we’re all Michigan students. At the end of the day, pedestrian or biker, we’re just trying to get to and from class. It’s important that we realize this.
If not, the terrorists will win.
Adam is contemplating getting a big shiny bell to put on the front of his Schwinn Impact to warn you that he will indeed run you off the road. Tell him what you think about this idea. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.