Wednesday, October 10, 2012


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.


  1. those of us without kids have a need for snappy comebacks, too. so many times i think of something clever 15 minutes later.

    i feel like saying something like "yep, just have to make sure people like you don't run us both over" might have felt good, but wouldn't have accomplished much. :)

    1. My favorite was when I was commuting to the Pentagon. I got cussed out for being in the HOV lane on Washington St 3 times...2 of them by single-occupancy vehicle drivers. Alexandria, BTW, allows bikes to use the lane.

  2. Don't ask me. I had almost exactly the same exchange and it didn't turn out well.

    I wanted to say only that we'll be fine as long as drivers are responsible.

    The driver's response to that was to physically attack me, but by the time any witnesses other than my shocked and upset child looked all they saw was my hand held out to stop her - so I was accused of assault instead.

    Ever since then I've given up on snappy comebacks. I just record every ride on video, and at the slightest hint of an on-road argument I call the police.

    1. Dave, that's just awful. I'm so glad that you use the helmet cam now, even though of course it shouldn't be remotely necessary for you.

  3. My favorite response to give car drivers is "Well, I haven't broken any laws on this trip. Have you?" By then the light is generally green or it's my turn at the stop sign or whatever & I pedal merrily away and then get paranoid that I angered them & they're going to run me over so make sure to ride Super Carefully until I get to my destination.

    1. That is an AWESOME comeback. I generally try to Kill them With Kindness, as I quickly degenerate into inarticulate rage if I genuinely try to be clever or snarky.

  4. What an awful experience. It's rare that people tell me to ride on the sidewalk, but my standard response to that one is, "It's illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk." (And it is: $250 fine in San Francisco.)

    However my go-to response to all parenting criticism is to yell, "Everybody duck! It's a drive-by parent!" Which is both literally and figuratively true in this case.

    For the passive-aggressive comments, which are much more common, I usually respond by talking about how horrified I am by the air pollution inside cars, and tell them that I hope they're protecting their children by keeping the windows down all the time. Then they change the subject.

    1. There is nothing about this comment I don't love.

  5. The notions people have about bikes are so odd sometimes. I look at cars like death machines, drivers look at riding bikes as death machines. It's also tough to know what to say, too, b/c while most people are just talking, there is that small portion of the population that is crazy and you don't know what they wlll do in response. And when they're behind the wheel talking to you, you are vulnerable. Sounds like you handled yourself well. You go, Big Orange Bike!