I'm a man of few pleasures. One of those pleasures is riding my bicycle. I tend to go for a bike ride almost every night, either on a pre-set path that I try to accomplish in an ever decreasing amount of time, or as a mean of transportation, either to visit friends or get things done. My bike is almost a finely tuned thing of fetish: slick road tires, a brass bell with a piercing ding, ultra-bright LEDs as headlights. To measure speed, distance covered and calories burnt, I even equipped my ride with a wireless tachometer. And since I'm a bit of a nut, in case of a breakdown, I carry tools, glue and an extra tube just to defeat Murphy's law. I even take pride that I wear cyclist spandex, but no matter how good I think I look in it, I can still hear the muffled chuckles from my friends.
The other night, after a smashing game of Dungeon and Dragons, I said bye to my friends, turned on my lights, hopped on my trusty metal steed and started pedalling home down Yonge Street, probably one of the busiest streets in Toronto. In front of me is a woman riding her bike. She isn't going fast enough for my taste, but just fast enough that's making it difficult to pass her, especially with all the cars driving past me. As I know I'll be making a left at the major intersection coming up, I put on hold my usual competitive edge that flares up with each cyclist I meet on the road and just ride a short distance behind her until we get there.
Except that she is making that same turn there. As I'm not in the mood to be stuck behind her some more, as soon as the light turns green, I push down on the pedals, pass her and quickly gain some distance. I guess getting passed by me didn't suit the woman very well as I can see in the rear-view mirror (yes, I have a rear-view mirror) that she's huffing and puffing to keep up with me. I'm puzzled, but I am determined not to let her catch me. It almost became a game, harmless as it was, to keep as far in front of her as possible.
These are my imaginary challenges. Make a routine bike ride something memorable. I do it all the time whenever I encounter someone else on the road. I pretend I'm in a race. I'm a wannabe Lance Armstrong, competing for the Tour the France yet again. I will get there first. You will be second. It's fun, it makes me go fast, it keeps me fit.
But this challenge actually proved to be quite difficult. Her bike was one of those commuter types, with really thin wheels compared to mine and she shifted gears faster than a formula 1 race-car driver just so she could use her effort to the max. I was impressed: she was clearly trying to catch up with me. The harder I pedalled, the harder she pedalled. The distance grew greater between us, but slowly and at great effort on my part.
So I cheated. At one intersection with a red light, I jumped the sidewalk to skip the row of cars in front of me, and made a sharp right turn into a side street that cut diagonally to where I wanted to go, saving me a few hundred metres and avoiding the wait. I looked back, she didn't follow. When I reached the other street, I looked to the left where she would've come out, but no sign of her. I had lost her, and in my mind won the race I had decided we were in.
I continued riding, although without the same tremendous effort until five minutes later I hit another intersection with a red light. As I waited, I saw her bike approaching fast in the distance. I couldn't believe it! She was still coming at full speed, a determined look on her face, redder than a pepper, pushing on her pedals as if her life depended on it. As soon as the light hit green, I began to pedal like a mad man as well. I would not lose this race.
At the next intersection, I pulled a similar stunt due to lack of space between the side of the road and the cars, jumping the curb and running the bike on the grassy side, onto the Pape viaduct's sidewalk until the bike lane started again. But it was too late. Just as I was about to hop off the sidewalk and back onto the road, the puffing woman passed me, putting all her might into her pedalling. As she rode by, she looked at me and, with a face redder than a Ferrari, screamed something unintelligible.
I struggled to catch up to her but was determined to pass her once again. I had lost quite a bit of speed and distance between the grass and the jump. At the next set of lights, she had to stop at a red light and just as it turned green, I zoomed past her. She caught up to me again, riding by my side, looking at me. I said, loudly, looking back, "What?"
"You're a sidewalk rider! Bicycle don't ride on sidewalks! What's wrong with you?"
Thinking she was joking I laughed and said, "Oh no! The sidewalk police is going to get me!"
I realized that she wasn't joking: she looked at me with deep anger. I was really impressed.
At this point we're riding side by side, neither one of us is really gaining on the other. It's a cool night, but I'm sweating like crazy. My tachometer says we're pedalling at 30km/h. We're both putting a tremendous effort to out do the other. I have no idea why, but it became a maddening battle to defeat the other cyclist. And I couldn't believe it: how could she keep up with me? I've been riding my bike most of my life. I have big, strong, cycling legs. I can ride up some pretty steep hills. I rode hundreds of kilometres between two major cities. I'm a challenge even for people riding their fancy racing bikes. I'm a passer, not a passed. And yet I can't shake her off. Every inch my front wheel gains on hers requires a tremendous amount of pedalling effort. I'm at my highest gear and no amount of clicking will give me that extra edge.
We reach Donlands Avenue and O'Connor. I get there just a second before she does. The light is red and we're both panting. She's making a left on O'Connor, I'm going straight, the race is over. I smile and say, "well, that was fun, have a great night!"
She looks at me scornfully and screams, "Sidewalk rider!" and looks away. Her sore loser reaction makes me realize I've won yet another imaginary race.
Incredibly, a trip that usually takes me close to forty minutes had been covered in under twenty.