The most tricky thing a cycle commuter has to navigate is not what you think

As an admitted (you read it here first) Recognition Junkie, I am very fond of road waving. I ride my bike to work most days and I absolutely love that I can get a friendly wave from many of the vehicles and bikes along the way. Ranging from the merest reluctant twitch, to the full wave, hoot and holler: each one is cherished.

It is, of course, more complicated than that. There is the thorny issue of deciding if I should wave to strangers, risking stony indifference in return.

You see, I am still nursing a deep wound to my psyche that occurred almost 20 years ago. I was in Week One of my very first bike tour. I’d made a very trepidatious pre-dawn exit from Bangkok a few days previous and was in the full throes of homesickness, loneliness, worry, physical discomfort and self-doubt. Turns out there’s nothing like the initial stages of a first-time solo bike tour, ill-equipped and naïve, to put oneself smack dab in the crucible of despair.

I was very close to emerging from this torturous state, I rather fancy like a phoenix from the flames, so was therefore at rock bottom when in the polluted and heavily populated distance I could see the unmistakable form of bike tourers coming towards me on the other side of the road. I had several minutes to prepare for and anticipate the joyful encounter. I wiped the tears from my eyes which added to the general griminess of my face, removed the dust mask which left a startlingly clean area around my nose and mouth, and applied a large, welcoming smile that in retrospect might have been more grimacing than was quite right. I also began waving: small hand movements to begin with, becoming exuberant full-arm flapping. The overall impression could not have been as welcoming as I intended it to be.

Sure enough, as the distance closed, a chill took hold of my heart and I knew these two bike tourers were going to ride right by me without even a wave. Which is what they did. I was crushed. Humiliated. Completely rejected. And my moral stamina was as low as it ever had been, and ever would be.

I rode on, the tears flowing, my body aching and my mind loosened to range freely on everything in my life up to then that had ever caused me to feel even slightly depressed or stressed. There was an abundance of uninterrupted alone time in which to review the catalogue. Not to gloss too lightly over it or anything, but eventually I realized I was in fact, managing to cope. A few weeks later I was having the time of my life. Never stronger.

The wound remains, and it makes me reluctant to wave first and risk a non-wave in return. I wish I didn’t hesitate. Waving means so much to me and the non-waver might not realize how fun it is to engage in waving behavior.

I am applying a little too much amateur psychology into my daily commute. Basically, I just prefer biking to driving which explains why, if I happen to be in a car and you are on a bike and I don’t wave, I am just feeling resentful. If you, the biker, are impeding my progress and therefore delaying my exit from the vehicle, well then that increases my resentment.

It’s probably as complicated as it sounds. Impossible to sort out.

Drive carefully, ride well to the right, and wave at everyone. I am going to see if that helps at all.

Anna Helmer thinks the over-sharing writing craze is super fun but hopes it is just a phase.


One thought on “The most tricky thing a cycle commuter has to navigate is not what you think

  1. Kristine says:

    I want to ride with you. Not to work per se, but in the mountains. And if that happens, I promise to wave at you the whole ride 😉

    Also…two hands on the wheel, lady. I expect your cameraman is you and that photo was clearly at 40-50 km/h 😉

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