Posted by: Noni | May 16, 2012

Never Judge a Bike by its Rider.

I’m often teased about my bicycle.  Originally a bright red beauty, now weather beaten to a pink like socks washed with a red shirt.   Last summer on my Tuesday excursion to the Drum Circle via the seawall at Stanley Park a pedestrian actually shouted after me, “Nice pink bike!”  His insincerity taken in stride, I peddled onward beaming with pride that I was in possession of such a head-turner. My prize, a cast-off from a friend who rode it back in its glory days, was perfect for running around town since I never had to worry about it being stolen. Having fallen victim to a string of stolen or stripped down rides, it was refreshing to own a bike that could be left unattended for more than 5 seconds.

When it passed into my care, I gave it an overhaul; tightened bolts and screws, oiled and greased the chain and wheels, adjusted the brakes and pads… The gear and sprocket guides were badly worn so I elected to leave it permanently in a stiff gear. (Much better work out!)  It was like riding with the brakes on. The seat lacked sufficient padding so I usually rode standing tall on peddles (better torque to push) and recently ‘adjusted’ the constantly flopping seat to a stable, tilted down position with one of my favorite tools, GAFF TAPE! Very classy! But who cares? It’s a method of transportation that is reliable and free.

It makes me crazy when people throw away perfectly good things. A friend was helping to lift the bike onto the bus one day and commented how heavy it was. “You can get a new one cheap that weighs half as much” he informed me. My reply “What? And miss the workout this one gives me!” In some respects it reminds me of my old rollerblades. I had skated for so many years and had worn them completely beyond repair. When I got a new pair, I just about broke my neck on the first step. They were so smooth and fast that I couldn’t even get a good sweat worked up.  I finally understood why I was so breathless when those who bladed alongside me were barely huffing.

Okay, I admit it; sometimes I’m embarrassed by my ghetto bike. It has a tendency to attract attention, and not in a complimentary way. I was told that it looked like it belonged to a crack head.

I brushed aside humiliation for the sake of convenience.  I could leave my junker for 2 or 3 days, with a flimsy lock, and no one would touch it. Last Saturday I retrieved Pinkie at Braid Station where it had been parked since the previous Wednesday. I got off at Broadway and biked home in about 6 minutes. I dropped my bags and headed back out the door this time headed for Braid again. I was going to meet a friend at the French Quarter Pub just over the freeway from the station.  Pinkie was the perfect method of transportation and paired with public transit met my environmental standards.

There are a couple of treacherous corners on route between Braid Station and the pub. The traffic heading along Brunette is merging on and off the Trans Canada Freeway and there are 2 streets that feed this flow. The intersection at Rue Bernatchey is a feeder route from Lougheed Highway to Brunette granting access to the Trans Canada Highway.  I’m incredibly cautious of traffic since people in Vancouver generally drive faster than they should. They run red lights, blow through stop signs and change lanes without notice or shoulder checking…. Pedestrians and cyclists take life in hand at each crossing.

I paused at the corner (Rue Bernatchey and Brunette Ave) to digest the sign over the Best Western Hotel. “Hot Waffles and Eggs” (Do people eat cold waffles? I dug my blackberry from my pocket to snap a photo but passed on the idea since I was likely the only person who thought that funny) I point my tire toward the dip in the curb and look left up the hill for oncoming cars. A giant arrow painted on the road restricts oncoming traffic to a right turn. There was a stop sign before the corner and since the closest car was over half a block up the hill, I ventured into the crosswalk. Safely. Or so I thought.

I won’t rehash all the details of the actual impact but… I will say I’m grateful to be alive at this moment. I watched as a car came steadily toward me.  It didn’t take long to realize that the driver did not see me and that she had no intention of stopping. Her attention was focused on finding a gap in the flow of cars instead of looking right in front of her. I don’t know how I managed to peddle forward fast enough but I thought she was going to hit me dead on and push me out onto the road. Instead she collided with the back wheel of my trusted Pinkie and I was spun around with a sudden jolt.

HOLY CRAP! I’ve been hit! That was the first thing that sprang to mind. Then, I’m not dead.

At the time I didn’t realize how severe the state of shock I was in. I kept saying I’m not hurt, I’m okay. My toe might be broken, but I could be dead. A bystander called 911 and moments later, an ambulance arrived. EMT’s questioned me while I sat on the curb examining my scuffed manicure. (Could have lost more than a coat of polish) They urged me to step into the ambulance to give me a better examination. I was shaking violently and fairly confused. I reluctantly agreed in an effort to appease them.

Apparently the police arrived while I was dictating medical history the driver was telling her version of the story. She said she had stopped at the stop sign and was inching forward to see the traffic when she hit me. Yeah, whatever! She neglected to mention that she tried to leave the scene without so much as a word to me to see if I okay. I forced her to stay by positioning my bike in front of her car. She never did apologize. She was pretty quiet, likely in shock too. I can imagine that hitting a person because you weren’t watching would be quite a shock.

The officer poked her head into the doorway of the ambulance and asked me what happened. When I started to tell her, she interrupted me and started to reprimand me for not wearing a helmet.  While I agree that it was stupid not to have been wearing one, with all due respect a helmet would not have stopped the car from hitting me. I failed to see how I was being berated for risking head injury by foregoing a lid. I never did get to give a proper statement at the scene. The police was not at all sympathetic to the fact that I had just been struck by an automobile. She kept lecturing me on the evils of riding on sidewalks and warned that she could ticket me for no helmet.

She instructed us to exchange information with our cell phones and when we started to exchange numbers she abruptly reprimanded us and told us not to give each other our personal numbers. I asked “What information are we supposed to exchange?” She got testy with me, “Just record her name and driver’s license number into the phone” I didn’t want to piss her off any further, female officers make me nervous, so I found the record function and actually ‘recorded’ the driver details while the cop rolled her eyes at me. I still didn’t get it.

I was quite confused as to her demeanor and it wasn’t until days later that a friend pointed out the obvious. My bike. The cop had arrived and interviewed the driver (who had been less than honest) but she had not seen me. She saw my bike, my crack-head bike. Is it possible she made an inaccurate assessment about me based on the bike? That certainly makes sense. It would explain the comment “You people riding on the sidewalks.”  I really didn’t know what she was talking about when she said that to me.

This has been a hard article to generate. My story came out in chunks and fits. Time has passed since the accident and the process to capture my experience but I still feel unsettled. Nausea churns in my core and my sleeps are restless. Perhaps publishing this will soothe my urgency to call attention to the issues contained herein.

  1. Always wear a helmet
  2. Watch for pedestrians and bikes at crossings and intersections
  3. Never judge a bike by its rider

Until then, I ride onward. Here’s my new ride…. Wonder what people will think of me now?


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  2. That someone could judge you by the value of the bicycle you were riding is exactly the type or reason I’m happy I left Vancouver…


    • Is it any better where you are now? Unfortunately, I see the same prejudices everywhere I travel.


      • We hardly have the same problems with it here in Toronto. I’m guessing it is because our homeless/drug problems are more under-control here.

        If there is one description I could use for Vancouver’s DTES, it is that of a zombie movie. I’ve been to the worst neighbourhoods here in Toronto, and they are hardly as bad. Equally, those neighbourhoods are hidden-away, while East Hastings is front-and-centre.

        So, yes, there are prejudices here. But, people in Toronto aren’t so shell shocked like the people are in Vancouver. That, and it seems to me that people here are more down-to-earth and realistic than in Vancouver.

        It is a refreshing change…


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