Admisision of Fear

I am a cyclist. But unfortunately and I am ashamed to admit this, I’m also a closet motorist. I hate saying it because I know the benefits of my bicycle are numerous. It keeps me healthy. It keeps me fit. It keeps me mentally stable. Emotionally strong. The list could go on for days, down to my molecular makeup.

If you follow me on any form of social media you know that I absolutely love riding my bike. If you have read any of the other pieces I have written you know that biking is more than transportation in my mind. You know how important my bicycle is to me, it’s my only child, my spoiled brat, my true love.

And despite all that, despite all my love and confidence in my bicycle, I remain absolutely terrified about riding my bike on our messy roads. We have to admit that Northern Michigan winters are really tough. Bicycling on our streets becomes even more stressful. I try to admit when I am terrified and winter bicycling is one of my biggest fears.
So far this winter I have witnessed too many close calls of vehicle versus vehicle.

People in huge SUVs suddenly become so much more confident in their ability to drive, they take crazy risks in the snow. Sorry, your four tires still suck on our icy roads. You are not a professional stunt driver, and even if you were I think you’d be smarter than to pull out of that parking lot on to the frozen street into traffic. Thank you for causing me white-knuckle anxiety.

It’s the idea of me on my bicycle going up against that 4,000 lb SUV that scares me to death. No matter how great a bicyclist I think I am, I lose every time. No matter how much I train myself, I lose every time. No matter how much my friends and family psych me up, I lose every time.

And yeah I am the first to admit that living your life around the “what ifs” is not a healthy way to live. But this is not a warm dry bike lane we’re talking about here. Hell, it’s not even a puddled rainy bike lane. It’s a complete loss of the bike lane to the plowed over snow. The banks completely take it over. All so that people in their massive GMCs and Jeeps can drive to work. It’s icy streets that pull my head to the concrete. Slush that tells me I can’t go there but instead must go here.

I have seen people on bicycles riding through those banks, on that ice and commanding the slush to their will. How funny is it that a person with two, leg-powered wheels can blast through the snow while an all-wheel-drive vehicle requires a person to wake up at god-awful hours of the morning to clear the roads for them? Doesn’t that seem backward? I’m sure the bicyclist would love it if the bike lane or road was completely cleared for him but no matter, he’ll ride confidently through. That says something about the “go with the flow” attitude of many cyclists. “Yeah, I’ll probably be late for work but at least I’m on my bike!”

It’s a confidence I don’t have. I wish I did. I wish I had the confidence in the motorists of Traverse City to not kill me. I wish I had the confidence in myself to ride aggressively through the snow and on the ice. It’s tough to get into that mindset though. Sometimes I get all hyped up and then poof, I see myself getting run over. “Mr. O’Brien, it will take you many months of rehab to get back on that bicycle. And even then you probably will not ride as you did before,” the doctor will say. A lawyer’s eyes will glaze over with the amount of money “we” can make with a lawsuit. Oh, great, now two lives are ruined? Just what I need.

“But Shea, can’t you walk to work?” I could, sure, if the sidewalks were complete west of downtown on Front street, yeah I’d love to walk. “Oh, just go through the medical campus.” Yeah, where people drive even worse than they do on Front street? At least the hospital is close enough I can get there quickly, no ambulance required. Also, much like the person driving the plow, I don’t care to leave my house two hours before my shift starts to get there on time. Feeling rushed isn’t fun, it can cause you to cut corners and as I believe I have cited above that doesn’t end well.

These are all excuses, with huge holes in them, I know. And I’m embarrassed for making them. The excuse that sticks with me, clings to me, is fear. And once that seed of fear is planted, it’s hard to persuade someone otherwise.
I’m not sure what the point of this piece is exactly. Maybe it’s a cry for help? Maybe it’s a plea for drivers to slow down? Maybe it’s nothing at all. If I had to guess, it’s simply an admission of fear and guilt for not riding my bicycle year round. It’s a way for me to admit that I am weak and now that I have openly admitted my weakness I can properly destroy it.

So to that end, let us get out there and ride hard, ride fast and ride safe – all year long!





Shea O’Brien is a Traverse City native, Civic Center neighborhood resident, Traverse Heights Elementary alum, Clubhouse member, Marketing Specialist at Superior Physical Therapy, lifter of weights, Traverse City Advocate Academy participant, and proud book worm. Follow his adventures on Instagram at @shea.m.obrien.

TC Bike Life is a story series featuring ordinary people doing ordinary things on their bicycles in Traverse City.

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