Thursday, November 10, 2011

Requiem for Cyclist

In a week dedicated to commemoration and remembrance, I want to acknowledge the dangers, not the pure pleasures, of riding a bicycle.

Hearing of a cyclist killed by a motor vehicle in Toronto is a distressing, deafening blow that leaves all conscientious cyclists astutely aware of their vulnerability in heavy traffic. The cyclist who was recently killed was clipped by a truck and dragged under the wheels. She had a trailer attached to her bike; she was on her way to pick up her son from daycare. One can imagine, as J.M. Coetzee writes in Slow Man, the moment of impact, that moment when a man is struck, “the blow catches him from the right, sharp and surprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off the bicycle…he is for a moment stunned (he hears rather than feels the impact of his skull on the bitumen, distant, wooden, like a mallet blow), he does not spring to his feet at all but on the contrary slides metre after metre, on and on, until he is quite lulled by the sliding….He closes his eyes; the world tilts beneath him, rotates; he goes absent.”

This death in Toronto is a heartbreaking reminder of the visceral dangers of riding a bike in city traffic. I fantasize about militant actions—of carrying (and making it visible) a weapon of some kind to counter the constant threat I feel but realize the futility of the gesture. I fantasize about vehicles respecting bicycles on the road—and a city infrastructure that compliments bicycle riders. I fantasize about safe roads. I fantasize about cyclists uniting in their rage, like Howard Beale in Network, and standing up to yell:

'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell- 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. Butfirst, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' …But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

I refuse to retreat; I refuse to be afraid; I refuse to abandon riding my bike in the city.

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