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    By Mary Welp 

    It started at least 10 years ago. In Cherokee Park I’d be breezing along on my bike, minding the rules, minding my own beeswax in the recreation lane, when — whoosh! An army of nylon-clad dudes would whiz past. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!

    In unison, they’d bellow, “ON YOUR LEFT,” as if I hadn’t heard them from a quarter of a mile off. What a pack of alarmists, I thought, after recovering from my initial state of unholy dread. The thing was, this stampede could not have been anywhere but on my left, given that on my right would have placed them squarely in the muddy waters of Beargrass Creek. The other thing was (and is), a pack of men should never yell at a lone woman. Or even at a group of women. In fact, there should be no yelling on bicycles. It’s plain and simply the wrong vehicle for the voice. Still, the next time it happened, I hollered after them, “Cut that out! You’re gonna cause a WRECK!”

    After a long season of such nonsense, I changed my time of day for biking. Instead of early evening (prime time for exercisers of every ilk to vent their puny sorrows), I switched my ride time to coincide with the end of morning rush hour. At first I found great relief in this: no more swooping armies; no more lycra-clad buttocks leaving me in their man dust; no more alarmist shouting. No more panic. But soon a new species emerged: the lone retiree on two wheels. This guy is no pack animal. He’s more like a cousin of that geezer common to town squares the world over — the one who sits on the bench in front of the courthouse, watching women parallel park, so that he can offer assistance, employing a host of hand gestures to accompany his, “Cut her now. Now!” In my own Hoosier hometown, my mother used to park the family car a block away from the A&P simply to avoid this old guy’s help. Then she’d make my brother and me carry the groceries back to the car. “Exercise!” she’d insist. Which is maybe why, decades later, I can’t stop riding my bike.

    Anyway, the new bike geezer (more energetic than his forefathers), while operating as a loner, has nonetheless picked up a few tricks from his younger brethren, the pack cyclists. He just wants to dole out the tips more painstakingly. Instead of shouting as he’s blasting by, he’ll actually stop his bike at the next bend in the creek and wait.

    “If you put her into a lower gear, you can pedal faster.”

    Her.

    Without stopping myself, I attempt a friendly wave, calling back, “I love traction!”

    Two days later, this same guy shouts, “You’ll get better traction in a higher gear!”

    Within a week, various other lone retirees share helpful hints:

    “Tires are lookin’ low on tread!”

    “Don’t turn around now! You’re almost to the top!”

    “Get down over the handlebars — more aerodynamic!”

    “Hey, better be careful riding alone!”

    “Lady, you should wear bright colors — almost didn’t see you!”

    Resting Bitch Face was invented for times like these.

    Remember when guys in pickup trucks were the woman cyclist’s worst enemy? Men in trucks tend to yell the same sorts of remarks that construction workers yell from rooftops — i.e., the same sorts of things that drunks at Derby yell in the infield. Both the anonymity and the mob mentality facilitate the crassness. Yet hard as it may be to swallow, there’s actually something more insidious about the lone mansplainer on two wheels. The truckload of catcalling dudes is gone in a flash, and they were never really trying to engage with you in the first place, only enacting a bit of misogyny inside the confines of the cab. A buckaroo in a truck mainly wants to impress the other buckaroos. The guy on the bike, though, he’s face to face with you — on the same plot of nature. While you are perfectly happy to be alone, pausing to watch a family of deer or perhaps an owl perched up high on a sycamore branch, the old guy on the bike wants to exercise his expertise, to reinforce his relevance. Though his former co-workers may be mighty glad to be shed of him, he never should have retired. He still wants to be the boss.

    This past summer, I took to wearing ear buds at all times inside the park. Often I was listening to nothing at all, but as any mass-transit rider in any city across the world knows, ear buds are the perfect way of signaling, “I can’t hear you. Moreover, I don’t want to hear you.”

    The technique remained useful until the day a guy on one of those reclining-seat cycles called out, “NEVER wear ear buds when you’re riding.” This man himself was blasting out REO Speedwagon on a mini jam box, for all of the park to hear.

    Shortly thereafter I went on hiatus from cycling and took instead to hiking the trails in the woods above and around the bustling lanes of Cherokee Park. I found it tranquil to be elevated over the constant flow of runners, pedestrians, oversized baby strollers, unruly dogs, motorcycles, cars, trucks and, most especially, unasked-for instruction.

    But what do you suppose I happened upon next? In the woods, there’s a whole other breed of cyclist: young’uns on mountain bikes who ignore all signs indicating the rule to yield to pedestrians. These boys do not apologize for knocking a walker off the path. No, ma’am.

    It almost made me miss the geezers.

    Nah.

    What it did was send me to the cemetery for my daily workout. I figure it’s better to be there, upright, of my own accord, than to be there because some guy in a Tour de France getup scared the life out of me.

    This originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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