On my way home this afternoon, I was envisioning sitting down at the computer and riffing on the complete inability of bikers and runners to communicate effectively here in the city of brotherly love. But as I was composing my thoughts in my head (a favorite past-time that long precedes my days of blogging), I had a rather annoying – and kind of creepy – encounter that quickly took precedence.
I have this bike. It’s an old, well-worn, and well-loved steel-framed commuter bike that’s been passed down through several owners and has criss-crossed the country on more than one occasion. It came into my life by way of Brent, who received it as a hand-me-down from his ex-girlfriend’s mother a number of years ago. It’s a lovely bike, comfortable and trustworthy.
And though I’ve used it to ride to and from school every now and again over the past year, I decided this week that in my newfound commitment to adventure racing and my declaration of this as the Year of the Bike, I would properly outfit it with panniers so that it could get me to work without having to lug my computer, my clothes, and my books on my back.
Since Brent had spent a couple hours yesterday assembling my new toys, I thought this afternoon would be the perfect time the test them out. After a couple of dreary days, the sky was blue and the air was warm. I had a department picnic about 10 miles from my house, down a well-worn river path along the boundaries of Philly’s Fairmount Park.
The ride down went smoothly as I shared the path with the hundreds of runners and bikers eager to make the most of the waning days of summer. On the return trip, though, about five miles from home, I noticed a biker right on my back tire. I started to pull off to let him pass, but he said, “No, that’s okay. You just keep doing what you’re doing. I’m enjoying the ride from back here, letting your panniers break the wind.”
Now, I’ve actually had two conversations in the past week about the inappropriateness of strangers spontaneously forming draft lines off your ass. But still, not wanting to be rude, I turned back around and continued riding.
And then the conversation started.
“So, were you out for the BikePhilly [a 3000-biker-strong event in the area] this morning, or is this just a recovery ride for you?”
I’m riding a beater bike in jeans and sneakers, with my purse strap hanging out of my left pannier.
“Um,” I reply, thinking of the hilly 16 mile run I finished yesterday afternoon “I guess it’s a recovery ride, but mostly I’m just riding home.”
“I ride a fair amount,” he says a minute later. “But not as much as you, I think.”
“Hmm,” I mumble.
“You look like someone who knows how to do all their own bike repairs, too.”
“No, not really,” I say.
“No? How come?”
This was probably the point at which I should have said, “No, my husband takes care of that for me.”
“I don’t really have the patience to learn.”
“Yeah, I guess commuting everyday takes up a lot of time.”
Who is this guy?
We’re coming to the end of the river path. I would ordinarily continue up onto a multi-use, car-less trail that veers off to the right and follows a creek around to my house. But there was something about this situation that gave me pause. I’m generally a pretty vigilant person anyway, but given everything that’s happened in my neighborhood over the past couple months – middle-of-the-day holdups around my house and a 6:30 PM rape on a local running path – I was hypersensitive to the 30-something man riding just a few inches off my back tire.
“Which way are you headed?” I ask him nonchalantly.
As he points toward my intended route, I stand in the saddle and speed off in the opposite direction, preparing myself for the monster climb that accompanies this alternative trip home.
“Have a nice ride,” I yell behind me.
Was I in any danger? Probably not. But you never know. And either way, I had no interest in another few miles with this guy drafting off of my panniers.