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Every Time I Put My Helmet On, I Could Die




In Michigan earlier this month, a drunk, high or otherwise screwed up pickup driver ran over nine bicyclists, killing five and maiming the other four.

So many cyclists are on social media acting surprised.  They shouldn't be.  Riding a two-wheeled vehicle is dangerous anywhere.  Sharing a road with hundreds of two-ton vehicles makes it more dangerous.  When the drivers of those vehicles hate bicyclists, someone is going to get hurt, and that someone is not the driver of the two-ton vehicle.

And the hostility on the road from the two-ton cowards in pickup trucks is increasing.  The Republican nominee trashed John Kerry last week for crashing on his bike during a State Department trip.  Dumpy Trump told his even fatter fans that he, Donald Trump, would not fall off a bicycle.  Because, of course, Trump would never get on one.  Many conservative talk show hosts have attacked bicycles for various reasons that can be summarized in a fat man's envy of men who are in shape.

Most of the real hostility I have suffered on a bicycle in the last 20 years has been from pickup trucks.  If a driver swerves, spits, hits me with a can or bottle or yells "Faggot!" it is a fat guy in pickup truck.  If there are bumper stickers on the truck, they are Republican/conservative.

In Iraq when we were on the airbase, we did not have to wear battle gear, but when we went outside the wire, we wore helmets and body armor.  In Iraq, putting on the helmet meant leaving the patrolled perimeter of the Ali Air Base and flying to somewhere that we had not "won the hearts and minds" of the local people.

Although we were safe on Ali Air Base, there was on place I felt vulnerable.  I rode the perimeter of the airfield to get everywhere on base.  This nine-mile road was mostly far from the perimeter, but near the junk yard on the east side of the base, the perimeter fence was an easy rifle shot away.  As I rode around the base, especially at night with a red light blinking under the bike seat, I imagined an Iraqi with an AK-47 looking at me like I was an arcade target.  And the Arab aiming his Kalashnikov would not even know that I am half Jewish by birth, so for him I would be a double score target.

In the end I rode more than 5,000 miles in Iraq and have ridden more than 150,000 miles in the last two decades, so I know rationally, that road riding is statistically safe.  But now that I have turned in the camouflage helmet, I am very aware that the greatest routine risk I face is a porcine pansy in a pickup truck.  Sometimes people ask me how I can enjoy riding in New York City or Philadelphia or Paris.  There may be heavy traffic in cities, but there is not the malice of cowards in pickups.

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