A week ago today, a local fellow was riding a bicycle along a country road in south Blount County.
It was a gorgeous afternoon and perfect for outdoor activity.
Riding alone, he was staying to the right border of a road and not impeding traffic.
What happened next was dangerous and illegal.
A truck drove by and a passenger in that truck shot this fellow with a paintball gun.
Now this might not seem so bad, people shoot each other in paintball venues regularly.
But those people are expecting it.
If you are riding along on a bicycle, minding your own business, and somebody shoots you with a paintball gun, it can startle you enough to make you wreck.
This rider only ended up with a nasty welt but if he had gone down while traveling at 20-plus miles per hour, it could have been nasty.
My question is this: Why do people hate us so much? What do you have against us?
Oh, I’ve heard all the excuses why bicycles shouldn’t be allowed on the roads.
We don’t pay taxes on them. The roads are built for motorized vehicles.
It doesn’t take a license to ride a bicycle.
That we hold up traffic. Some of the other excuses are so lame that they don’t even need to be mentioned.
Don’t pay taxes? I had to pay sales tax when I bought my truck but if there is another, an annual tax, I’m seriously in arrears. I paid sales tax on my bicycle when it was purchased, just like I did on my truck. Same percentage. Don’t get me started on all the taxes I pay.
I pay my share. The roads are built for motorized vehicles?
What about transfer trucks?
They sure are hard on our roads.
What about motorcycles?
What about those that don’t have a car but still need to get to work?
No license required to ride a bicycle? Well, you’ve got me there.
If a license is required, I’ll get one. But what about my grandchildren that love to ride? And we slow you down?
We might cost you 30 seconds on your way to wherever you’re going. Are you really in that big of a hurry?
I don’t ride alone very often. It’s too scary out there. Most of my rides are group rides. There’s some safety in numbers. We’re easier to see if there are several of us.
And there are witnesses. But even groups aren’t immune.
I was riding with my wife near our home once.
A guy in an SUV passed us well within the 3 feet that is the law (you’ve got to give a bicycle 3 feet of clearance). I motioned for him to come back and chat, which he did. I calmly told him that we were people, too, just out for some exercise. He knew me but when I asked his name, he told me … well … I can’t repeat that. He showered us with gravel as he spun out.
The next day, now sober, he called me at my office to apologize. Through tears, he told me that I had never done anything to deserve that treatment. That’s the good side. The bad side is that my wife never rode a bike again. In an obvious attempt to scare us, drivers will drive too close on a too regular basis. We call it getting “buzzed.” Almost every rider out there has a story about something being thrown at them while they ride along. Wrenches. Beer cans. Spit cups. I’ve heard it all.
A regular occurrence is a one-finger salute. We get that all the time. One time an old guy just passed by a group of us stopped on the side of the road. It was someone I knew. As he passed slowly by, extending the middle finger salute, I said “Oh hi, Clarence. How are you doing?” Maybe we were anonymous up until that point.
But we’re not anonymous. We are people just like you. We’re your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends.
We’re your fathers, mothers, grandparents, sons, and daughters.
We are just out there trying to enjoy our beautiful area just like you are when you drive the new Foothills Parkway or the Cherohala Skyway. We just move a little slower but don’t burn so much gas in doing so.
So tell me, please, why do people hate us? No, really. My email address is at the end of this column. I want to know.