Today I got into my first ever baby-biking argument with a driver. While I waited with Alex at a light—perfectly positioned behind the crosswalk, in the center of the lane, paying attention to the light—a driver stopped her car in the middle of a left turn in order to tell me that I shouldn’t be biking with Alex on the street:
Her: “You better take care of that baby.”
Me [after checking bike-seat straps, helmet, blanket]: “…?”
Her: “You ought to be riding on the sidewalk. It’s not safe for that baby in the street.”
Me: “Actually, it is safer in the street. They’ve studied it and…”
Her: “NO. It is NOT SAFE to ride a bike in the street. Where are your mirrors, huh? You want to ride in the street, but you don’t even have any mirrors on your bike.”
Me: “LOLWUT? Ma’am, when was the last time you rode a bike in the street?”
Her: [yells something unintelligible, drives away]
So yeah. This is the first accusation of irresponsibility I’ve received while actually on the bike, and it definitely has a different flavor than the usual passive-aggressive comments I hear in social settings: “You actually ride your bike on the street with your baby? That’s very… brave. It’s fine for you (I guess), but I just wouldn’t feel comfortable risking my child’s safety that way.”
Clearly I need some snappier comebacks in the future. And let’s be honest: this middle-aged, motherly-looking woman was exactly the sort of person from whom I’m used to receiving unsolicited advice on all aspects of childrearing, so she probably would have found something to criticize regardless of the circumstances in which we met.
Ultimately, however, I have so many more positive interactions with other road users than negative ones. Just this morning, the following things happened:
- I unexpectedly encountered a Kidical Mass mom—sans adorable baby daughter—and had a nice red-light chat with her about the next Kidical Mass ride and optimal routes for biking to the National Zoo.
- While I waited to turn left on green at that very same light, an oncoming driver yielded his right-of-way to me so I could turn. (I know that some bike advocates hate when drivers do this. I think it’s sweet and take drivers up on their offers every time.)
- The driver of a huge handicap shuttle van grinned and gave me a thumbs-up as he slowly, carefully, respectfully passed our bike while we cranked up the final hill to Alex’s daycare.
I’ve been incredibly lucky so far to get as few negative comments as I do. I attribute that partly to my conservative/assertive riding style, and partly to the fact that I ride a massive cargo bike that clearly communicates that I take biking with my son very seriously indeed.
Still, my hat is off to other biking parents who get these sort of comments on a much more frequent basis. While most of us (I hope) would agree that the positive interactions outnumber the negative ones, it can be awfully hard to remember that sometimes.