Several years ago, when I lived in a Chicago neighborhood called Logan Square, biking was nearly a year-round activity. Weekday mornings, I'd meet two co-workers at an intersection not far from where I lived and we'd bike in to work. Fifteen degrees was our threshold. If the temperature dropped below 15, we'd abandon the bikes that day. Even a Chicago winter stays above 15 most of the time. As a result, only rarely the three of us weren't on our bikes.
When I moved downtown in 2009, the biking tailed off considerably, for several reasons. I lost my biking comrades, the heavy traffic downtown discouraged biking and the shortened commute to work didn't provide the same work out incentive.
Nowadays, I rarely bike in the wintertime. My threshold has risen from 15 degrees to close to 40 degrees, if not higher. Considering that the 2011 Chicago winter lingered late into the year and that the spring has been much rainier than typical, my bikes have spent most of 2011 up on the racks. Only within the past few weeks did I ride one for the first time in several months.
For me, there is always a period of adjustment after breaking the bike out of hibernation. It takes a little while to get used to peddling around downtown Chicago without being terrified that a bus or taxi will run you over. Also, as a person who is physically not typical, I feel more vulnerable while on a bike. With that, the beginning of bike season brings a psychological hump over which I have to climb.
Just a few weeks ago, Chicago had one of its first very nice days of the spring. The sun was out and the temperature was mild. It was a Saturday, days I usually play basketball with a group of friends. I biked over to the gym where we play. On the bike ride home, I waited for a light then took a left turn at a large intersection close to my apartment. When I was about halfway through the intersection, someone in a car pointed in the opposite direction howled out his window. It is hard to describe the sound he made, kind of a cross between a coyote's cry and the signature laugh of Nelson from the Simpson's. The man directed the howl at me. As I made my way through the intersection and peddled away from the car down the street on the opposite side of the parkway, his howl became louder. He wanted to make sure I heard him. With the louder howl came a realization on my part that made the psychological biking hump of early spring much easier to navigate. He wasn't laughing because he thought I looked funny on a bike. He howled to try to make me feel bad.
Maybe I've thought about it before when trying to come to terms with the experience of harassment while riding a bike, but the realization a few weeks ago made a big difference. What I, and probably other people of short stature, experience from time to time when we are in public, has less to do with who we are and more to do with the desire of harassers to attack a supposed vulnerability in others. Obviously, the howling man had an affect on me because I am thinking about it several weeks later. But I don't feel negative about it. Instead, it is almost as if the experience provided a clue with which I can figure out a problem that's been lingering a long time.