My name is Susan and I wear a safety vest when cycling.
It’s super embarrassing to my ten-year-old daughter. So embarrassing that not even the free-form safety dance I performed for her by the school bike rack could surpass the “ugh, Mom!” factor that this dorky garment even exists.
Well, she announced to me a few months ago that she’s ready to ride her bike to school alone. She will agree to wear something reflective if it is fashioned as a jacket or perhaps a hipstery scarf of some kind. I can work with that.
It is 1.3 miles from our home to school on residential roads, with only one busy four-way stop. Drivers on the route are generally alert to pedestrians and cyclists, and in most places the road is fairly wide and/or has a designated bike lane. I’m not worried that she’ll make a wrong turn. But I do know she hasn’t mastered defensive cycling yet.
Still, there’s one lesson she has learned very well at this point: give others plenty of room.
Her sphere of body awareness is much larger than her five-year-old brother’s, for instance. He will graze your elbow with his helmet as he zooms by but his brain is clearly telling him, “person way out of range–no problem.” Camilla gets it, though, and I have to brag a bit about that.
One day as I rode with her home from school, I let Camilla get ahead of me by almost a block. Let this be a little test, I thought. Will she look over her left shoulder before dodging a parked car or trash bin in the bike lane? Will she think about who or what is behind her as well as on both sides?
As it turned out she was doing a good job of monitoring ahead of her. A PT Cruiser piloted by a teenager kicked up dust as it abruptly backed up into the gravel shoulder, right in front of Camilla. Camilla slammed on her brakes (that is, if one can “slam on” hand brakes) and stopped. The driver pulled forward a little bit, then back again. He angled the wheels and made to peel out into the street. What the heck is this driver doing?, I wondered.
Then I heard him shouting at another teen who was walking on the gravel. The car backed up fast again, about six feet. Luckily Camilla had spotted the erratic movement and waited at a good distance for me to catch up.
We finally decided the driver was going to talk with his friend (or whatever) for a while. I tried to make eye contact with the driver as we rode around in a wide arc, to let him know we were there. Even after we turned the corner I checked a few more times. What if the driver gets mad and slams on the gas, spinning out into the street again? We were soon well out of the way.