Bike commuting has turned me into a jerk. And I love it.
I didn’t know that getting on a bike and riding it to work every day from North Vancouver was to join a confederation of two-wheeled, blinking-lighted, reflective-striped Navy Seal commandos who live to outfox automobiles and hold the rules of the road and common sense in joyous contempt. But it was.
I didn’t know I would become one of those who sneered at the weather, daring it to bring on a gale, like Morpheus in the Matrix, the more vicious the better, the smugger, the more glorious the sprint through downpours and the more complete the disdain for the shivering, umbrella-clutching, wet-footed masses. But I did. I became a total jerk. And I loved every minute.
I like to think it’s Mayor Gregor’s fault; Vancouver’s mayor insists on biking to meetings in all kinds of weather, arriving at City Hall in a monsoon, ascending by some back elevator, stripping down to his GoreTex shoe covers and then appearing from behind a panel in his sober blue mayoral conference room, Superman-style, in a suit as fresh as a Vancouver cherry blossom. I imagine him, not a hair out of place on his head – helmet notwithstanding – with a smile that pierces the most obstinately grey of Vancouver days. You can just feel the men stiffen and the women soften when he walks into the room, Mayor Gregor is that hot.
It’s not just the mayor’s bike thing – though for the biking brotherhood he’s a saint, inspiration to not stop at stoplights, redemption for fingering the ignoramuses who’ve somehow been granted a four-wheeled license to kill. Not that the mayor ever did that – part of the Mayor Gregor mythology is that he’s so pure – I mean, he started a company called Happy Planet, Happy freaking Planet. It’s that now, as mayor, he throws his handsome self at issues no one else has the stomach for, like the small affair of finding homes for hundreds of people bunking down on the street at night in disconcerting stoned and drunken rows, like the sidewalk’s a dorm and would somebody please turn out that streetlight so I can stop twitching here, please, please? Still, the mayor’s bike lanes and bike share and greenways and potentially even an elevator for people and bikes from the Granville Bridge to Granville Island are a cherry on the alluring sundae of himself.
But I didn’t think about any of that when I started riding to work. All I knew was that when I swung out of the driveway on a good day, it was hardly like taking my life into my hands at all; with a little practice, I could insert myself between cars in the timid line of commuters, and hang a left before anyone really knew I was there. And then there’s this little downhill slope, and on any day – whether the light is soft and summery or the rain is coming at you sideways, mist weaseling in under your visor, seeping into your ears, penetrating your socks – I feel like I did when I was 12 and my golden girl’s Mustang was the world, my ticket outta here, my private jet, and my legs were strong and could spin me anywhere.
And then I pass in front of the elementary school, where the children are being taught to be overcautious and fearful, setting cones up in a bewildering maze on the street to slow traffic near a sign that says ‘No idling, young lungs at work’, and with gap-toothed zeal, kids stride into the crosswalk, brandishing Stop signs they can barely lift, eyes flashing, protecting the student body. Meanwhile, moms with bodies toned from thousands of hours of Pilates hand off their charges to the system, smiling the thin-lipped, don’t-show-your-teeth-whatever-you-do smile that is Vancouver’s key expression, then maneuver their SUV’s, mountains of protective metal, off to yoga.
Past them, past them all I go.
There’s an opportunity for a feeling of wicked superiority as I thread my way past the cars lined up at the four-way stop, plunging into the intersection before they even know I’m there, shooting past Starbucks and Delaney’s and the village clock (8:16!) and the same guys sitting outside shooting the shit (don’t these people have jobs?), watching out for inadequately-caffeinated drivers backing into the street blindly. Then I whip along a flat, past a school bus and across the overpass, with its weird bird’s eye view vertigo of six lanes of traffic. And then the road gets steep and twists and falls away, and it’s all Tour de France US Postal hyped up on Erythropoietin, and I zing down the hill, arcing around a near-hairpin – this is North Vancouver, everything is just gnarly, even when it’s paved – past a small forest where the air exhales a chill even in summer, until I hit the red light at 16th. It’s almost impossible to make that light, so I stop, sit upright, watching, eyes all around my head, a dragonfly breathing hard. I say hello to an old man on the sidewalk; he opens his mouth in shocked surprise to reply.
But I’m already gone.
Then it’s up past the Squamish Nations Reserve where the buses turn mercenary and the road narrows and becomes an industrial route and the asphalt is so worn from tire tracks, it puckers up into a ridge that’s nasty when it’s wet, and the draft off the big trucks makes the rain hiss and sucks you close. This is where a bike lane would come in handy, but no, the designated lanes here are mostly in places where the roads are already wide and the going is easy, so a stripe is painted on the asphalt and, butts covered, officials and bikers alike hope that no-one on four wheels crosses the painted line – not bewildered newcomers to the North Shore, the moneyed ones in cars intended for people with Autobahn in their genes; not the Veterans, God love ‘em, who can barely glare over their steering wheels; and not the N(ew) drivers, fresh faces in excited new possession of horsepower, prone to lead feet and bouts of amnesia about the use of signal lights.
Wait, was that my inside voice?
The whole metamorphosis of myself ends 15 minutes later at North Vancouver’s SeaBus terminal. I pop off my bike and turn off my various flashing apparatus; if it’s been raining, I begin the elaborate unzipping that will let air into gear that I’ve hermetically sealed shut with a labyrinth of zippers under armpits, up my sides and past my chin. Since my heart rate has increased substantially, this results in being somewhat poached inside my jacket, and when I unzip, air escapes like steam from a croissant. Then I melt into the crowd, just another commuter, heart pounding, endorphins streaming behind my eyes, a little superior and a little late for work again.
story © Dianna Carr image © Francis Tremblay