OFF THE BOARD: Confessions of a Renegade Cyclist

Off the Board/Opinion by

To those whose misfortune it may have been, at two p.m. on any given weekday at the beginning of this summer, after my logic class ended, to have found themselves somewhere along the most direct route – and I mean the most direct – between campus and my apartment on Rue St. Hubert, I sincerely apologize. No harm was intended. I acted a fool.

Understand: I consider myself a genius navigator of these Montreal streets. My ego rests largely on the secure bedrock that is my ability to get from point A to point B without having to stop my bike or even slow it down. And my ego is too important of a thing to be sacrificed for the sake of fluffy words like safety and responsibility. It’s not go big or go home, but go big to get home. That’s my motto.

Beginning at the Milton gates-to which I must walk from anywhere else on campus due to the newly implemented and absolutely enforced cyclist prohibition – I know all the tricks to get myself home in the shortest time possible: treating Milton’s frequent ARRÊT signs and red lights as mere suggestions, barely braking while flying through a red light at St. Laurent and Prince Arthur, squeezing tightly around pedestrians and parked cars to slip next to the moving traffic, hoping drivers make space enough not to hit me. Fast approaching the complex intersection of Berri and Roy, my eyes scan the horizon, apprehend the situation, and I make my move. Next I cut across the double yellow into an alley, through a small bank parking lot, finally cruising on the sidewalk for the final stretch, whistling past visibly aggravated pedestrians, attaching my bike to any object I can fit my lock around.

In essence, I do what I want. The only rule is that you don’t need to choose a single set of rules. I claim the rights of an automobile when they best suit my interests, and those of a pedestrian when they do.

I once saw a letter in the Gazette in which the writer said that he hates pedestrians when he’s driving, and hates drivers when he’s a pedestrian, but at both times he can’t bloody stand Montreal cyclists. I laughed while reading this, but merely as a defence mechanism. My actual reaction was guilty as charged.

In soberer moments like this one I can admit that I’m a serious safety hazard to myself and many, many others. It’s no wonder McGill banned bikes from campus. I’ve already heard from a few non-cyclists who claim to feel much safer on campus without having to be constantly on guard lest they get side-swiped from around a blind curve. Not surprisingly, students prefer no longer having to part like the Red Sea at that one tight spot between the grassy knoll and the Redpath Museum steps. I can hardly blame them.

I’m comfortable with these public confessions because I know I’m not the only cyclist who recklessly takes liberties available only to those who use such versatile and frankly awesome machines. I’ve seen a lot of close calls myself. There are accidents reported in the Gazette all the time. The continually poor reputation of Montreal cyclists cannot be entirely undeserved.

Pedal power, to paraphrase Uncle Ben, comes with pedal responsibility. At the beginning of a new school year, I suggest that we collectively and sincerely, even if grudgingly, pledge to keep in mind that other people actually do exist in this world besides us, and that a modicum of respect for that fact should probably be shown. Even if it means getting home fifteen seconds later than we otherwise might.