Up ahead on High Street there is a guy on a bike who kind of reminds me of … well, of me — black and yellow rain gear, timbuk2 bag (yeah, I know, so cool). He’s going about 10 mph, so I pass him.
A block or so up the road I stop at a red light. He pulls up beside me. Not behind me in the bike lane. But beside me — like it’s going to be a drag race. He says nothing, but the implication of this act is that he is going to smoke past me as soon as the light changes and he wants me to know it. He is not going to even pretend that I might ride at a pace sufficient for him. He is showing me he will need to pass me immediately. This is a gesture of contempt.
Mind you, most bike commuters in Eugene are not of this ilk. They seem content to roll along full of joy. They are mindful of birdsongs in the air. They know not the tyranny of competitive impulses. But you do run across the occasional outlier.
The light changes to green, and this guy who was poking along at 10 mph a block or two back is suddenly going 24 mph.
I must admit right up front that I suffer from this same condition, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to let him do that to me. I jump on his wheel.
Three or four blocks later I’m thinking I should come around and take a turn in front. This might change the competitive dynamic slightly — from his essentially telling me, “You totally suck, you don’t even know what it means to ride a bike and I am going to bury your ass while you listen to birdsongs” to, “I will grudgingly consider giving you a modicum of respect. Then I will bury your ass.”
We seem to have completely forgotten, of course, that we are simply riding our bikes to work. We think this is big. Huge. Two naked egos sailing up High Street.
Then I have an unsettling realization. After these three or four blocks at 24 mph I’m starting to suffer — even though I’m right on his wheel. This will tell you something about my training regimen these days. Another block and I’m wondering how odd it is that you never get a red light when you actually want one.
Now I begin to hope this guy is not going the same way I am going for the next several miles, because if he is, at some point, I am going to have to come around and take a turn in front if I am to prove myself worthy of having picked up this gauntlet in the first place. I am stubborn and foolish this way — just like this fool I’m chasing.
Then, a gift descends from the heavens. He has some kind of mechanical problem. There is a scraping sound, like something has gotten wedged between his tire and brake caliper. I don’t know what it is, but he slows. I go around him as he stops, I ride hard for another half a block just in case he’s watching, and then spin the rest of the way to work at my usual, oh, 16 mph.