When two fools cross paths

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.

8 thoughts on “When two fools cross paths

  1. I had a similar experience the other morning on my commute. I got passed, and sneered at. I of course took the challenge jumped his wheel and about four blocks later when the offender thought he had dropped me and sat up, I blew his wheels off. He was surprised to see me on his wheel and even more so when I passed him like he was standing still. I realized the foolishness of my own actions and the next morning when he passed me again, I let him go. I didn’t want to get as sweaty as I had the previous day. On the third day after, I had to stop at a construction zone and the same guy pulled up next to me and said “Haven’t I passed you like three mornings in a row?” Now if he had said “oh hey we seem to have a similar leg to our commute” or “nice bike” or almost anything else I would have been less incensed. I tried, but on that particular day I couldn’t hold his wheel and blow him away again. I think he knew I was there and so was giving it everything he had to prove his superiority. The last laugh was mine though, as he applied for a job in my business about two mornings later. I would not consider hiring someone that could be so rude to a fellow bike commuter. His resume quickly found its way into the recycle bin.

  2. There’s nothing quite as invigorating as a good commuter race to start or end the day. I commute to work on the bike path between Charnelton and Cityview and a couple summer’s back, participated in my most memorable duel. I was headed east on my commuter and had just passed under Chambers when a nattily attired racer type passed me. I didn’t immediately jump on his wheel, but when he assumed a more leisurely pace shortly thereafter, I decided why not. Conscious of my presence, he lifted the pace and by the time we reached Polk we were clipping along. I was beginning to lose contact near the fairgrounds when we were both passed by a complete slacker riding a bike I wouldn’t be caught dead on. He was probably late teens or early twenties in shorts and a tee shirt, and after passing the rider I was pursuing, sat up, took his hands from the handlebars, and proceeded to play “air drums”, while he continued to pull slowly away from both of us. I turned off at Friendly chagrined, but probably less so than my original opponent.

  3. I’m almost getting over being passed legitimately, pulling up next to me at the light and assuming they will be faster never flies just on principle. Just because I’m overweight, in dress clothes and have my laptop doesn’t mean I can’t keep up with most riders the 3 miles to my house. There was a guy who rode the Cross Florida ride one year (120 miles dip a wheel in the atlantic and gulf in the same day) on a huffy mt. bike w/ a kickstand and wearing denim cut-off shorts the year before I left. He beat 2/3rds of the pack, hurt a lot of egos and made a lot of people drop out early trying to stay ahead of him and wearing themselves out. Nobody I know was quite sure who he was but he obviously wasn’t some yahoo or a local but he must have had fun playing on the sense of pride we cyclists have about not letting people jump in front of us we don’t think should be there.

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