I got followed today. It was brief, and vague, and legally I surely had neither cause nor recourse, but it was unsettling, to say the least. You know what I'm talking about, especially if you're a woman. But I'm not. I clearly identify as a man and I drive a bicycle in the city of Chicago, that's all. I have chosen the bicycle because it's inexpensive, quick, minimal, ecologically responsible, energy-efficient, and most importantly it affords me an independence I cannot find through any other means of transport. Not only do I drive a bicycle, but I also take great pains to do so as legally, predictably, and safely as possible. I don't swerve abruptly. I stop and wait at lights. I wear a helmet and I have lights and plenty of reflectors. I don't carelessly dangle cargo off my bike, and I stay aware of my surroundings. I don't gesture or yell at people riding in cars unless they've clearly threatened me, at which point I occasionally let them know how they've endangered me and/or broken the law. So I'm vulnerable simply being on the street, and possibly I'm even more vulnerable if I choose to remind people that I'm vulnerable.
But this morning's infringement on my commute was not the typical bicycle/car rights-to-the-road contest usually voiced by a motorist as a gunned engine, cursed directives flung from a window (get the fuck out of *my* way), a vehement middle finger. It was profiled intimidation targeting the vulnerable. It was a wilding threat camouflaged by the innocuous ubiquity of a pile of young men in a car on a weekday, a pile of young men who mumbled something out their window as they overtook me, inches from my handlebars, only to have me overtake them moments later as they were caught in the queue at a stop sign. It was traffic monotony that morphed into a threat that followed me through one right turn, then a left, then a right, onto a side street. At 10 am. And then, as I reached my destination, they were gone without a word, on to the next potential victim.
What rule of conduct, codified or otherwise, did I violate? Was I supposed to allow the car of thuggish mumblers to remain ahead of me despite the bicycle lane being open, despite that fact that I'd have had to come to a stop in the middle of that lane to allow it? Was I supposed to acknowledge whatever remark they made to me despite not having understood what was said? Should I have taken the bait? Would it have made a difference in their response? Should I, too, get out of the saddle and into an internal combustion vehicle so that I, too, can enjoy the extra layers of insulation against social engagement a car affords? Should I relinquish the independence, health, and awareness cycling affords me in favor of strapping in to the devolving culture of lassitude and civil complacency many people tacitly support? What should I do? What did I do wrong?
Is this hyperbole? Paranoia? Victim complex? I think not. Our social environment is littered with sanctioned intimidation of the vulnerable. Women know this, and endure the overwhelming majority of what testosterone, greed, and might-makes-right has in store. And this rant is not to minimize women's burden, but rather to highlight that its source percolates into every mundane crevice of public action.
Yes, I drive a bicycle in the city. And just as you need nothing from me, you cowardly fucks, just as I've done nothing to draw your scattered intimidation and needless threats, your harassment will do nothing to change my conviction about my chosen mode of transportation.
-dedicated to those who endure this shit every day, with no apparent way out
Whether you're intentionally trying to become car-free or you're committed to bikes for their versatility, health benefits, and low overall cost (monetary, environmental, and psychic), the following, simple approach will help you organize your energies toward assembling your own stable of pedal-powered equipment that gives you maximum versatility and enjoyment. Don't forget that accessories, appropriate clothing, and other add-ons make all the difference in expressing your personal style.
You can handle nearly every transportation situation with three pieces of equipment: a nimble city bike, a capable bicycle trailer, and a high-capacity cargo bike. I'm not suggesting everyone can run to the bike shop and buy all three of these wonderful machines at once, but if you set you mind to accumulating them over time you won't be left wanting for a better solution.
If you normally need to carry groceries, kids, large or heavy documents, gardening supplies, or the like, your daily rig should be a cargo bike of substantial capacity. Either a long john or long tail style will do, depending on your preference and budget. Typically long tails are less expensive than long johns, but each has its technical advantages and limitations. We are always happy to discuss the details of your specific cycling needs with you.
Because few of us are always carting a big payload, some of the time you may want to get around town on something lighter and nimbler. A good, lightweight bike with fenders (keeps you clean), a lighting system (keeps you seen), and internal hub gears (neat-o keen!) is the best combination of reliability, versatility, and speed. When you hook up your trailer to your lightweight town bike you magnify your cargo capacity two to ten times over, depending on the trailer.
Search the web and you'll find dozens of trailer designs and construction methods. It might make you delirious, but you have to start somewhere, which is why we recommend something readily available like those from Surly or B.O.B. If you find your trailering needs become more specific and detailed over time, we are happy to work with you to develop, build, and customize equipment to suit.
Until Green Machine Cycles's storefront is open, this quaint little corner of the internet will suffice. It's cozy enough, but the lack of bikey hardware and softwear is bumming me out.
The mean streets of Chicago are rife with potential for pretentiousnessless creative communality and cultural thriving. Human-powered cargo-hauling action is waiting for you. Do away with the car, the bus, the train, the postal service, restaurant delivery, all of it.
Here are some equipment issues to think about: This is a relatively flat city, in case you didn't notice. That means hauling heavy loads up hills won't be an issue, but that doesn't mean you don't need gears. Starting out from stationary with a trailer full of amplifiers or a big bag full of your family's laundry takes a lot more power than with nothing on your bike. Gears are a cargo cowboy's friend, and there are options to suit all budgets and needs.
What we have plenty of in Chicago, however, are potholes and generally crappy road conditions. Blame city government or the freeze/thaw cycles of our enviable temperate climate or whatever suits you, but the fact remains. So, while you're enjoying the wide gear range that allows you to haul your crate of phat pants to the rave, make sure you've fitted your wheels with sufficiently ballooney tires that you protect those expensive rims. You might be surprised at how pleasant the ride on bigger, airy tires can be, and they won't slow you down the way you think they might. The bigger cushion allows you to float over the bumps, while skinnies will beat you up and increase the risk of rim damage. This is especially important for cargo use because you're not going to be able to bunny-hop potholes with veggies and a yellow lab in the crate.