Words and Photo by Danielle Baker
Four years ago I finally got my driver's license. It was a novelty at first. It was nice that friends no longer smiled sympathetically and questioned my ability to lead a fulfilling and independent life without a license. The days of showing leg on the highway for a ride to Whistler or being the one that couldn't contribute to sacrifice shuttles were over. I even started driving to work. Then, as the high of feeling like a real adult wore off, I realized that my morning commute had become more of an observation than an experience; it felt like I was watching a movie. There was a subtle disconnect from my world. Pedestrians, people turning left, and even cyclists all annoyed me. Apparently I was a driver now; I couldn't interact with anyone beyond turn signals and brake lights.
While riding to work I had connected with the people around me. Riding had removed the barrier for communication. Sometimes the communication was, "Hey you asshole! You had a stop sign!" but more often than not, it was saying "good morning" to people collecting bottles in my alley, nodding hello to other commuters, or thanking pedestrians for giving me the right of way. I especially missed the occasional flirtatious interaction, chatting at stoplights or trying to look cool while I painful slipped a pedal into my shin. On a snowy commute one day a woman driving by rolled down her window and commended me for riding, I fell over about a block later, but that interaction made me smile all day.
Everyone has experienced 'that guy' who pins it passed while your wheel is off on the side of the trail or who doesn't even smile when you say “hi” on the climb. What is the excuse for not interacting with your community when there is no windshield? I am convinced that there is a secret society of elite athletes training on the trails that I ride. They are clearly focused on their time trials, heads down with no time to acknowledge you, and will one day be a big deal. My other theory is that they are dicks, the same dicks that don't wave when you let them merge into your lane in traffic.
I ride solo a lot, but even with a group, I never hesitate to smile, say “hi”, or slow down long enough to offer help to someone stopped on the side. I giggle to myself every time I slow to ask "everything alright?" because in all my years of riding and for all my enthusiasm to learn, I am still probably more of a liability than a help when it comes to a mechanical, but I always ask. Its easy to look the other way as you drive by someone with their hood up on the side of the highway, but I'm still shocked when a rider passes without asking me if I need a hand on trail.
I grew up in a small town, I like people and apparently I have a face that makes all the old men on the bus want to talk to me. I've chatted with strangers on climbs and met lifelong friends at the dirt jumps, but even if you aren't used to hearing about an old man's glory days, I can't see much excuse to ignore fellow riders. Simple trail etiquette, like yelling out "there are three more", "on your left", or "have a good ride" is all that's needed to connect with people, and more importantly, to not be a dick.
Communication and interaction is a luxury that we have in our sport, there aren't any barriers preventing it. Especially when it comes to situations of safety, like passing someone alone with a mechanical, we all have a responsibility to step up.
In two weeks of morning rides here in Mexico I already have my 'regulars'; people I see and say hello to every morning. There's the bun guy who pedals his bike through the villages selling baked goods, there are the school kids, sometimes three to a bike, the water guys, the tamale guy, the guy who waves and calls me 'party pants' and the guy that I've never seen, but who hollers "buenas dias" from deep in his field when I pass by. These are the type of connections that are lost on the vacationers in the rental car world. They are the connections that make me feel a part of the community here and lucky to be riding a bike.
On occasion I would rather have the bubble effect of my car, like when the traffic light won't change and the cracked-out guy is yelling at me that he really likes my tits. Overall though, I wouldn't have most of the friends that I do if I hadn't stopped on trail to offer a hand, or said hi on a ride, not just because that is how I met them, but because they would think I was a dick if I didn't. Don't be a dick, talk to the bun guy.