By Clara Spars
When my grandma presented me with her 55-year-old, green, Peugeot bicycle to take to school, I knew immediately that it would come with its quirks. After only a week on campus, I realized just how noticeable these quirks were, and how they grouped me together with a broader collective of individuals that became more and more apparent over the course of my freshman year.
For me, it started with a pedal being positioned slightly askew – just enough so that one of my knees jutted outward as I pumped my legs.
“Why do you bike with a leg sticking out?” I was asked once. “You look like a flamingo on wheels.”
Darn. Was it that obvious?
My bike was so old and rickety that even a whole bucket of WD40 couldn’t drone out the terrible shrieking that ensued whenever I sped across campus. You could hear me coming from a mile away, a shudder-inducing SQUEEEEEEEE followed by a chorus of metallic honking and wheezing that could easily be mistaken for a demonic Roomba-gone-rogue, or maybe even a street-cleaning truck on particularly rusty days. I was embarrassed. Frequent visits to the bike shop weren’t helping. I didn’t want to spend money on a new bike, and I didn’t feel like walking everywhere on campus, so my immediate solution was to stick headphones in to mask the screeching and refuse to make any eye contact with passersby.
I still do so today, though my embarrassment has subsided somewhat as I find comfort in the fact that there are others with biking quirks of their own.
These characteristics place me into a few biking categories out of many that you’ll find around campus. Here are a few:
1. Speed Demons
It’ll start as a low buzz coming from somewhere behind you. As they approach, it’ll grow into frightening howl of wind as these hasty bikers rocket past, leaving a trail of cool air and aggressive energy in their wake. Speed Demons are often seen hunched all the way over their handlebars, their knees coming straight up to their chins with every push of the pedal. Students who arrive late to class with a sheen of sweat on their foreheads and an audible shortness of breath are often associated with the Speed Demon category.
2. The Skirt-Wearing Type
Palo Alto’s warm weather allows for comfortable skirt-wearing all the way through autumn, but biking is a whole other story. All across campus, you’ll find skirt-sporters skrrt skrrt-ing down elaborate, significantly more inconvenient pathways merely because they are less exposed to a breeze that might blow up their fashionable outfits and cause for some serious flashing. More often than not, you’ll see them pedaling with their knees locked together at uncomfortable inward angles to keep from any such incidents.
3. Blind Bikers
Often you’ll come across a friend or acquaintance biking towards you in the distance. “Hey, Bob!” you’ll call out confidently, but you’ll quickly have to mask your humiliation when Bob zooms past you without a second look. These individuals tend to do so simply because they get too zoned in to whatever place they are heading to, whatever music they are blasting through headphones, however bad their eyesight is or, in my case, however much they want to avoid eye contact with passersby.
4. Electric Bikers
Even my lil’ Peugeot’s screeching sometimes can’t compare with the rumbling sound of an electric bike. “What even are those?” I asked a friend once, as we sauntered by a bike rack ridden with heavy-set, thick-wheeled Sondors. “They look like the bike equivalent of a Batmobile.”
5. The Miscalculators
“Is this package too big to carry on my bike?” is a question that should always, always be answered with “Yes.” Yet, multiple times a day we find individuals performing the precarious balancing act of biking with an enormous Fedex package or some other large-scale, miscellaneous object placed inconveniently between themselves and their handlebars. They are aware that handlebars are necessary to steer and maneuver the bicycle, right? If you see any enormous figures looming in the distance, make way. It could be a student fresh out of the Tresidder Fedex, trying his or her luck at bringing a package home on a bike.
6. The Incapable, Nervous Type
Up ahead you see a biker zigzagging in the distance. You may think that they are having a jolly old time, swerving back and forth just for giggles. That very well may be the case. Other alternatives, however, include that they’re incredibly inexperienced at biking, or that they simply have no sense of balance whatsoever. Thus, they find themselves making ridiculous, unpredictable maneuvers that take up the entire width of the pathway. Pairing this with the “Nervous” category might produce random bouts of braking. In this case, those behind the biker are subjected to a rush of uneasiness, as they never truly know when there will be a safe time to try to skirt around the nervous biker without suddenly crashing.
7. The “Safety First” Type
You’ll catch this biker sporting a sleek helmet – sometimes with a tasteful Stanford logo somewhere on the side, if their overly enthusiastic parents purchased it for them way back during Admit Weekend. They might even stick on some elbow pads or bike gloves for good measure. Their trusty steeds are often decorated with a serious of high-tech bike lights, reflectors and bells. In extreme cases, the helmets and gloves will be worn into the classroom, only to be taken off once the biker is seated comfortably, with all essential school items prepared for lecture.
8. The “Cool,” Dangerous Type
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the “Bad Boys” of the biking world. “What even is a helmet?” they’ve been known to say while shrugging lazily, still mounted on their bikes with a Coupa coffee in hand. These individuals can be caught texting while biking, biking without hands on the handlebars, never using turn signals or stopping at stop signs and shortcutting the wrong way around the Circle of Death – or any other roundabout – even at rush hour. Some even have a few stories about escaping the campus police by ducking around non-car-accessible corners.
9. The Hipsters
Last but not least, we have those who reject the mainstream concept of “biking” entirely. Instead, they’re found skateboarding or walking to classes, even when it means leaving 30 minutes earlier. Some say that their bikes were stolen; others say that they simply “love walking.” I like to think of them as Hipsters, fighting against the stressful biking system.
Contact Clara Spars at cspars ‘at’ stanford.edu.