Bike Locked at UMMC at Lombard & Penn Street

Close up of a black U lock through a red bike rack, a black lock, and a blue bike helmet.

It has been a long work week, and today, when I finally have a couple of hours that I could spend on my bicycle, it is pouring rain, big winds headed our way, and nope, not going to get to do that today. I mean, I could, but I’m way past starting a ride in weather like this just because I feel like I “should” get the miles in. I’m still working on the listening to my body thing, and I will all too often start a ride when my body would prefer I rest, but hey, baby steps.

I spent my week riding my bike to and from work, where I spent a ton of time. I have spent more time with my work friends this week than I have in years; it was really nice and also really tiring. I gave a lil talk at this faculty symposium about community engaged research. I got to talk about my bike and how my relationship with it has helped me understand the politics and economics of place and space while feeding the sense of curiosity that makes life worth living for me. It was fun, and the institutional food was on real dishes, diet coke in a wine glass, because we’re inaugurating a new president at UMBC this week.

After the event lots of folks came up to say hi, good job, how’ve you been, all that jazz. One person wanted to talk about her own experiences on a bike. All for it, give me your bike stories, isn’t it wonderful to be freeeee??? As we parted ways she said, “Don’t get your bike stolen!” People say a version of this to me with surprising regularity. Believe me, I don’t want anyone to steal my bike. I have returned to my bike to see its seat gone before, and that was a terrible feeling. I’d been riding on that leather saddle for over a decade. It was shaped perfectly to my ass. It even had an extra dip on the right side, because I coast with my right foot down and my weight shifts that way as well. The seat was a good record of years of use, and it was gone.

I also once got back to my bike and my helmet was gone. This was truly shocking. I had often not bothered to lock it up at all, because nobody wants to wear a helmet, so why would anyone want to steal one? But it was gone, and I rode the two miles home that day without a helmet. It was better than walking my bike four miles home without a seat. People asked me if I rode it home without that essential part; they clearly have more bravery in them than I do!

My bike, though, has never been stolen, knock on wood. It has spent one single night outside–when I left it on campus 11 year ago, I don’t even remember why. I have locked it outside for hours at a time all over New Orleans, Baltimore, and many other places we’ve traveled together. I have my strategies for this. I lock up to racks as often as possible. I lock up next to bikes that aren’t locked up as well as mine–they have weaker-looking locks or are locked just through a wheel. I lock up in higher-traffic areas. I use an incredibly expensive and heavy lock. I know, it’s big and if I really wanted to be protective, I’d lock it through more of my bike to take away leverage from someone trying to break it apart, but this is the best I can do, usually. And if my bike gets stolen, I’ll get another bike, just like I got another seat and another helmet. It’s just a thing, even if it’s a thing I really really love. If I lived in fear of my bike getting stolen, I wouldn’t get to go anywhere at all.

But also when I’m anxious, under stress, and/or haven’t slept, I worry about my bike getting stolen. I lock my bike up at the same rack at least three times a week, but sometimes I’ll still get anxious and wonder if I locked it up right. Maybe this time I missed going through the rack, or through my bike frame, or I just forgot. On days like that, and several days this week were like that, I take a picture like this one that I took on Tuesday to look back at over the course of the day. We call this “self-soothing,” and it’s usually just between me and my bike, but today I’ll share it with you. If you are a compulsive checker, just take a pic so you can check it later. I have never looked back at the bike lock pictures in my phone, so at least for me it isn’t about opening another door to even more compulsive checking.

I didn’t say all this to the woman I talked to on Wednesday. To her I just said, “I’ll try!” And I will, but more importantly, for me and the life I want to live, I will not let the fear of my bike getting stolen keep my from doing my bike thing, just like I don’t let the very rational fear of being hurt or killed by a driver keep me off my bike. I do my best to be safe, and then I enjoy the ride. Here’s hoping the rain stops at some point this weekend so we can enjoy some miles together.

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