I’m one of those dipshits who never got around to getting a driver’s license. As someone who hates being the designated driver, I am truly blessed by this. However, it also means that I have to rely on public transport for most of my getting-around needs. In recent times, I’ve gotten sick of pee-smelling subway cars and delightfully cramped buses, so I’ve attempted to cheat code my way out of all of that jazz by riding a bicycle to most everywhere. And man, that has revealed a whole new, previously hidden world to me.
A whole new, hidden, terrifying world.
You’ll Always Reek Of Ass
Just so we’re clear, I’m not one of those spandex missiles you see Lance Armstrong-ing their way through the city at breakneck speeds. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not an exercise kind of person at all. My workout is of the “bare minimum you need to do to keep resembling a human being” variety, and is exclusively motivated by an innate need to be able to execute a perfect dropkick at anyone or anything I feel has slighted me. At best, I’m the Super Mario of bicyclists: medium speed, medium stats, a little too chubby to pass for an athlete, and I would secretly like to swap my bike for a go-kart.
Still, bicycling is a physical activity, even for someone like me, who uses it exclusively for transportation purposes and prefers to ride at un-exhausting speeds. No matter how slowly you ride, though, you’ll strain yourself way beyond most other forms of transportation. Which means sweat. Which means swamp ass. Which obviously shouldn’t be a problem. Obviously you take a shower and/or change your clothes after you ride to, say, work. Obviously. You wouldn’t have it any other way.
For me, that mentality lasted for about a week.
I’m sure that there are people who ride a bicycle everywhere and each time dutifully spend 15 minutes showering and changing clothes at their destination, but I’ve never actually met one of these folks, and I sure as shit am not one myself. It’s not that you don’t want to keep clean; it’s just that when you spend the day zipping around on a self-powered vehicle, you’d need three changes of clothing even without the whole showering thing. No one has time for that shit, so it’s easier to just do your best to clean yourself up a bit and resign yourself to the faint waft of eau d’taint following you wherever you go. So anything under five miles tends to be “Eh, whatever,” while longer rides might warrant a quick change of underwear and a baby wipe treatment to the armpits (which technically makes my hygiene habits the same as Brad Pitt’s … ladies).
Still, this is not necessarily a life-ruining thing. Hell, people might not even notice your secret grossness. But it’s not like you can ask a friend for an opinion, because …
Cycling Can Turn You Into A Social Pariah
One of the things I was most surprised about is that social interaction and cycling don’t go too well together, regardless of how well you maintain your stench.
In tons and tons of social situations, you’ll find yourself having to explain precisely WHY you use a bike right off the bat, and it can become a big thing. Sure, your boss probably values that you try to keep in shape, but when it comes to pretty much anything else, you’re screwed. Dating? Good luck, you now rely on the other person to haul you both around, which in turn can easily make them think of you as someone who’s not financially responsible enough to own a car. Heading for a night out with your friends? They’ll take their car, or an Uber, or public transport. You’ll be the fucker who turns up on a bike and has to change clothes — or worse, won’t change them, so that everyone can have a round of beers and another round of “What’s that smell? Is that cheese? Did Pauli bring cheese?”
Then you have to deal with the fact that you have a bicycle with you … all night. So now your friends have to deal with you. “No, guys, I know we agreed to meet with the rest of the group a few blocks from here, but I just found the perfect spot to park my bike, and can’t leave it behind, and don’t feel like unpacking it from the 12,587 chains and locks I need to make sure it doesn’t get stolen.” It’ll get old after a while, and even if you don’t mean to make a huge deal about it, it tends to become one, because from the group’s point of view, you’re now the shithead who insisted on bringing a totally unnecessary and hindering large object with you. As a social faux pas, it’s like heading out for a beer with your best friend and bringing Alex Jones as a surprise avec.
So you become Bicycle Guy within your circle of friends. “We’re heading out for a drink, should I call Bicycle Guy?” “Nah, fuck him. He’ll just haul that damn bike with him all night, whining about how he can’t leave it out of his sight.” Your range of operations is also waaaay shorter than it would be for someone with a car — after a certain geographical distance, you’re going to be thinking long and hard on whether or not the strain to get there is worth it. And then there’s the fact that the carrying load of a bicycle is you and a backpack. Buy a new piece of furniture, and you’re shit out of luck unless you can bug some friend with a car to help you. Basically, you’re extra baggage to all of your acquaintances — from your point of view, everyone is that one friend with a pickup truck who people are always asking for a favor. From their point of view, you’re that fucker who keeps asking.
Maintenance Is Bullshit In Ways You Wouldn’t Believe
Because you don’t have to bother with gas or parking, cycling can seem like a pretty simple mode of transportation: Just hop on and pedal until you’re where you need to be. I know that’s what I thought when I first started. However, the grim reality is that you’ll be spending way more time on hands-on maintenance than with a car. 50 percent of bike ownership is shouting “What the hell is wrong with you?” at it.
For a relatively uncomplicated mechanical device, there are so, so, so many ways a bicycle can break down — which it absolutely will at the slightest provocation, unless you keep tabs on it. You have to constantly check that the nuts and bolts are tightened. Brake pads and lines need replacing. The tires will pop if you give them a sharp look, and magically keep leaking tiny amounts of air so that you have to check ’em all the time. The more often you take off the wheel and chain in order to replace tires, the more wear and tear you get on the stuff that holds it all together, so it becomes super easy to strip the bolts or make it to where they simply won’t stay tightened. Almost all bikes eventually get loose handlebars. The chain needs to be kept oiled and clean. Everything that can rust will rust super easily, so rain will wreck your shit. And that’s just the beginning. Here’s a handy list of 101 fucking things you’ll need to keep in mind unless you want to turn your bicycle into an expensive faceplant machine.
Sure, you could just take the bike to the shop every time something breaks, but lets face it, you won’t. That shit will set you back hundreds and hundreds of dollars over time just to keep the thing in working condition. You have to know how to fix all that shit, and how to recognize the various irregularities in the riding experience and minuscule noises that indicate potential problems. It’s a pain in the ass to the point where it’s easy to just end up ignoring the issues and ride on the solid principle of “Man, I really hope nothing breaks today. Better look into that strange noise tomorrow.”
This is obviously not the best move, as I once found out when one of the pedals (which had been acting a little funny for a week or two) snapped straight off mid-kick. In related news, completely and unexpectedly losing your balance while riding is a strange feeling that apparently leads into a kickass somersaults and a keen newfound interest in bicycle maintenance. In even more related news, turns out helmets are not just for decoration.
Not that maintaining your bike helps jack shit if you don’t know what you’re doing. I once accidentally tightened a nut holding the back wheel too much, so it chose to snap when I was riding down a particularly steep alley. This caused the wheel to partially jump off its fork, which also fucked up the brakes, seeing as they rely on the wheels to be where they’re supposed to. With no way to brake and the wheel stuck jumping up and down in the fork in a way that effectively turned the bike into a rodeo horse, I did the only thing I could do: I let out a passable impression of the Wilhelm Scream and rammed my feet against the asphalt, trying to ignore the fact that this also meant that my dick was slamming with equal force against the top tube. That was the longest five seconds of my life. I managed to stop roughly 15 feet before a wall. I still have the pair of Converses with the soles burned through somewhere in my attic.
Cyclists Are Despised By Everyone Else On The Road
The neighborhood I live in has a Facebook group, because of course it fucking does. I joined because area news and various local grievances are generally great for entertainment purposes, but I immediately found out that roughly 70 percent of all conversations in the group revolve around two subjects: the acceptable and unacceptable places where a dog can poop (nowhere and everywhere, respectively), and the way bicyclists are unrepentant assholes who endanger everyone’s lives.
This is not an isolated thing. Bikes versus cars is a famously bloody flame war, both online and in real life, and once you bring pedestrians in the mix, the shit soup is good and stirred. If you’re invested in the subject, you know the arguments: “Bicyclists are law-breaking dicks who zoom dangerously around in traffic.” “Cities are designed for cars.” “Cyclists are weenies who are trying to save the environment, or hipsters, or annoying fitness nuts.” And that shit bleeds way into real life. There are drivers who more or less deliberately hit cyclists and lose their complete and utter shit when dealing with them. There are cyclists who fatally run into pedestrians and call it “unavoidable.” I was kind of hoping I could find stories about pedestrians who eat cars or something to make this a rock-paper-scissors analogy, but it turns out pedestrians are just generally fucked.
Of course, this entire situation is because of a very specific group of people: assholes. Every mode of transport has its share, and for cyclists, it’s the jerkfaces who zip around in the traffic with nothing but an “I could squeeze through here” mindset, and often at way too high speeds. No one notices the people who ride their bikes carefully and follow the rules. It’s the assholes and their various accidents and close calls who hog the publicity, which leads to many drivers perceiving cyclists as hostile yet fragile meat missiles capable of nothing but erratic, borderline-illegal turns and twists. For pedestrians, it’s the same, but you’re a silent, fast meat missile riding on 30 pounds of cold murder steel.
But hey, let the rest of the world hate you. At least you still have your fellow bicyclists, who totally understand your thing and like you. You can always hang out with them, right? R-right?
Bicyclists Hate Each Other, Too
Ha! Plot twist!
Individual groups of cyclists may be tight, but even casual bike-riding will reveal that cyclists as a whole are an insanely fragmented demographic, and most of the splinter groups are wary of each other. When you buy a motorcycle, it’s like joining a club, and you happily wave your hand at passing bikers. When you buy a bike, you get passive-aggressive “11 types of cyclists we all know” lists from Cycling Weekly which make no secret about the fact that all 11 types are kind of dipshits. That article is exclusively about the spandex-clad hardcore riders, by the way — the very people who read fucking Cycling Weekly in the first place.
It’s the same all across the board. The cycling community is pretty tribal, and as befits an individual sport, most cyclists tend to be fiercely independent in their particular biking style and preferences. So even when everyone technically follows the law, the stink eyes cyclists give to everyone who differs from their preferred parameters can be something to behold. And how many stink eyes is that? Well, let’s look at some of the different types:
– The spandex-clad dudes with expensive sports bikes and a midlife crisis who hate everyone slower than them, which is everyone
– The laissez-faire people riding slow, one-gear bikes super erratically, swerving wherever the fuck they like and never letting on where they’ll turn next
– The men who can’t accept that some women have better bikes and/or pedal faster, and deliberately block their paths or attempt to overtake them regardless of what happens around them
– People who for some reason genuinely think laws don’t apply to them
Consciously or not, each and every one of them thinks that their brand of cycling is the right one. And whenever someone does something that differs from their narrow specifications of What’s Right, dirty looks that would make Ivan Drago take a step backwards fly through the air.
Of course, it doesn’t exactly help that every once in a while, every one of us earns those looks. It’s so fucking easy to make mistakes when you’re cycling. Know those times when you’re driving on a highway and there’s just miles and miles of open road in front of you? That chill cruise mode normally associated with driving can totally hit you when you’re cycling, too — and when it does, you’re not in a heavy, protective metal box. The monotone repetitiveness of pedaling and the sense of silently gliding over the ground can zone you out really quickly, right up until you notice that you’ve veered a little too close to the center of the road, or nearly collided with someone else, or stopped for a red light and somehow ended up at a 45-degree angle blocking pedestrians, bikes, and cars alike like a complete dipshit. It’s not something I’d call extremely common — it’s not like every cyclist out there is driving like a clown 24/7. But you see someone’s zoned-out bumblefuckery almost daily out there, and I’m not even going to pretend that I haven’t done my share of that shit as well. Hey, I just understood why drivers sometimes hate us.
In all fairness, that’s just my personal experience of bicyclists, and I’m a notoriously grumpy fucker. It’s entirely possible that to someone else, the cycling experience is way more of a “unicorns farting rainbows” thing than the Mad Max world I’ve described. Despite my tendency to give cycling a hard time, at the end of the day, I do enjoy it a lot. I enjoy it enough to write thousands of passionate words about it.
Besides, it sure as hell beats riding on a bus that someone has used as a toilet.
Pauli Poisuo is a Cracked columnist and freelance editor. Here he is on Facebook and Twitter.
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