Biking While Fat or Driving While Stupid*

(*post renamed following suggestion from Ann Marie)


The general consensus is that it’s hell to drive in Montreal. If you don’t have the snow and ice to contend with in the winter, you are faced with the dreaded orange cones on the myriad of road works sites all happening at the same time from May until November, and all being terribly managed by our inept city administration.

The summer of 2016 is a perfect storm kind of situation. With a bridge about to collapse, an interchange falling apart and the 375th anniversary of the city looming just around the corner, everything is happening at the same time. It’s frustrating enough for drivers, but for pedestrians and cyclists, it’s downright nightmarish, because nobody thinks of them in their planning. They block the streets and sidewalks, leaving just enough room for cars to go through in a very narrow line and no alternate route for pedestrians and cyclists.

Last night, I was invited for dinner at a friend’s place on the Plateau. From my home in the Hochelaga borough, it’s a pretty simple route. I ride up to the Rachel bike path, which takes me right through the Plateau, only one block up from my friend’s place. Simple. Yeah… No.

Road works on Pie-IX and Sherbrooke meant blocking the bike path abruptly and offering absolutely no way across. I had to ride on the sidewalk (something I hate doing) and hop off whenever I crossed pedestrians to find an East-West street with no road works but also large enough for bicycles and cars.

I managed to get to my friend’s place (almost on time) and immediately thought about how the hell I was going to get back home later in the evening.

In the end, I opted for a pretty long detour but one I knew was free of obstacles and would allow me to ride safely home. And it all went well… Until I got to just three blocks from my place. A road works site that wasn’t there when I left home four hours earlier was now blocking my bike lane and much of the road. Fortunately, at this late hour, drivers were kind enough to give me room to circumvent the obstacle and join the bike lane again, which I did, only to be stopped once more—this time by a driver who had chosen to park right on the bike lane. Not only that, but also right in front of the point where the bike lane becomes a bi-directional bike path, which meant that I couldn’t bypass the car on the road side because a platform stood between the road and the path. So my only option was to bypass it on the sidewalk side (something I hate doing—repeat). As I was doing that, the driver came back to his car and so I told him, in passing, that parking there was not exactly brilliant. And those were pretty much my words. No invective, no swear words, no yelling—just me saying, “Hey! That’s really not smart to park there because you’re blocking the bike path.”

(A quick aside: I rarely, if ever, engage with drivers when I’m wearing my cycling helmet. They are sitting in a potential weapon and road rage is not as uncommon as one might think. I’m a very respectful cyclist. I stop at red lights and stop signs, I signal my intentions, I check my blind spots: in short, I always keep in mind that if an accident occurs, I’m the one who will wind up dead or, at the very least, seriously injured. The end.)

Of course, that driver could not accept responsibility for his poor choice of parking and had to stop very aggressively (or more appropriately: jump in my lane) at the next red light to shout a “What did you say to me over there?” in my direction. Because he was blocking my path, I didn’t have much choice but to engage. I repeated the same words I had said earlier in a calm voice. He made threatening gestures at me. I told him that he was the one out of line and I had been nothing but polite, but the fact remained that he had parked on a bike lane, which is illegal and—well—frustrating and unsafe for cyclists.

And of course, because you can’t bicycle while fat, that’s when he chose to call me a fattie and to stay in my way until the light turned yellow just so that I would miss my light. Thanks so much for that, best buddy! It’s not like my ride home already took an extra fifteen minutes because of the long detour I had to make or anything.

I have to ask though: Do the people who try to insult you by referring to your weight actually think it’s a great insult? The ultimate diss? The retort to kill all retorts? Because between you and me, that’s pretty weak. And honestly, I was much more concerned with the possibility that he might run me over than by whether or not he thought I was fat.