Accidental Activist

It'll End in Tears: A Long-Time Cyclist Reflects on Toronto's Mean Streets

Tapping errant automobiles is my calling card, except I don't leave a mark. Not anymore.

By Ben Bull
Published September 22, 2016

"It'll end in tears."

Last week, my wife repeated my Mum's favourite expression when I told her about my latest bike-car interaction.

It was a tame coming-together by downtown Toronto standards - me tapping the front bumper as I wheeled around the car inching across the bike lane.

The driver wasn't looking my way - of course. If he did he would have seen me, dinging my bell, white-knuckling the brake levers and weaving into traffic.

The love tap was not appreciated. The driver pumped his little horn and screamed abuse. You know, the usual bike-car love-fest. I stopped to listen and offered him an assortment of hand signals in reply, after which we blew each other kisses and went our separate ways.

Ah, just another day biking in the city.

When I was a kid, "It'll end in tears" was bandied about by my Mum for any old infraction:

"Stop kicking your brother! It'll end in tears."

"Get down from that tree! It'll end in tears."

"Take that out of your mouth. It'll end in..."

You get the picture.

It never occurred to me at the time that my mother was frequently right. I remember filling a plastic baking bowl full of blood after going out in a gale to "see what it's like." And I regret crashing through that plate glass window, the result of yet another It'll End In Tears game gone awry.

These days, my recklessness is mostly limited to bike riding. It's amazing how much trouble you can get into just wheeling around. I don't go looking for it, bumpers and bonnets just seem to have a way of finding me. And when they do I almost always react. Tap, tap, tap.

Take a ride downtown Toronto any time of day and you'll see what gets me tapping mad:

Tapping errant automobiles is my calling card, except I don't leave a mark. Not anymore.

I used to. My bike rage used to be so much worse. Three years ago I was biking home along King Street when a limo screeched to a halt in front of me. I moved to the centre of the road to get around him but then he started to reverse - right at me. I had nowhere to go.

The bloke was aiming for a parking spot to my right, but that's where I was! I dinged my bell and scooted over to the curb just in time to watch his bumper whiz by me, millimetres from my legs.

As I wheeled back around, I lashed out with my foot and clipped the car door with my heel.

Uh oh. Limo guy did not like that. I pedalled away and looked back to see the car stopped dead across the road. The driver threw open his door, charged into the street and tossed a stream of abuse in my direction.

What? This is bullshit...

Not only had I nearly been kicked to the curb but now I was getting insulted?

At that moment, something clicked in my head. Without thinking, or even understanding what I was doing, I felt my hands squeezing the brakes. I spun around and pedalled as fast as I could toward screaming limo guy.

His fists were raised, his ranting loud and aggressive, but I didn't slow - I went faster. My eyes were squinting, right at him, my mouth curled into a snarl. I pedalled - hard. What was I going to do? I had no idea.

When I got within ten feet I could see the man's eyes. I saw his expression change from fury to fear. At five feet he dived back into the car and tried to back away, but - too late. I remember the tinny, scraping metal sound as I slid my brake lever down the side of the limo, the black paint flaking away.

When I ran out of car I looked up. There was a bus shelter full of people across the road. Every mouth hung open. Their faces reminded me of the real world, like the time I woke up from a sleepwalk when I was a kid - my Mum's face looming before my eyes.

"It's okay, love, it was just a dream."

I shook my head and looked back. There was the limo, in the middle of a three-point turn. Yikes, time to go.

As I pedalled away, I wondered how it had all come to this.

The incident had been many years in the making. It's not just Toronto that's made me biking bonkers. I've been cycling for a long time. I grew up glued to the pedals. As a kid in England I was never without my wheels. I rode to school, to the shop, to my friend's house, round the block for no reason.

A few years after graduating from my trike I was scooting along the A61 in Leeds, twenty miles to Knaresborough and back every Sunday before lunch.

There were no bike lanes then and no helmets either. It was understood that cyclists were invisible. You squeezed left, rode in the gutter and prayed for your life. Feeling the swish and the occasional clip from an errant mirror was par for the course along major English highways in the 80's.

I eventually hit the tarmac, of course. It was after a fifty-mile ride during the annual London to Brighton. An old guy at a roundabout was trying to skirt his way through the traffic and - slam. I got up, bleeding, my wheel bent to crap, but the poor bloke was so upset I didn't have the heart to complain.

Most of my pratfalls have been self-inflicted. There was the bike with no brakes, me tearing down a hill, up a ramp and, splat - into a bush. And the time I hit a patch of ice at full speed and bounced along the trail on my head. At least that time I was wearing a helmet.

But cars have had their fair share of me too. Three months ago I was car-doored for the first time, scooting up the share-the-road-sharrows on Spadina. A taxi was dispensing its passenger and: wee, click, slam.

They say you never forget your first time. It's been three months and I'm still paying a chiropractor to treat my tennis elbow...

After my latest It'll End In Tears escapade my wife made me up my life insurance then printed out a will.

"Are you going to kill me?" I asked (she watches a lot of murder porn).

"No" she replied, (perhaps a little too quickly?) "I think you're doing a fine job of that yourself."

When you're riding in Toronto there are two good options if you want to stay upright:

  1. Bike like a psycho-courier; or

  2. Bike like an old lady.

These days I'm an old lady biker. I go slowly, usually on a lumbering Bixi, throwing out my arm for every minor deviation. You'd have to be a moron to hit me, but people try. And when they do, tap, tap, tap. Because sometimes, well - you've just got to cry.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By Kevin (registered) | Posted September 27, 2016 at 20:38:43

Always great to from you, Ben. I feel your rage. Susan, who says ‘hi,’ and I lived in Japan for 27 months, way back, before marriage. We rode bikes everywhere and I was hit by a car five times. On my fourth occasion, a guy blew through a stop sign and sent us flying. He tried to drive away, but Susan’s bike was pinned, under his car. I kicked in his grill and a headlight, before he backed up and drove away. It felt good. It feels better not to get involved with idiots, however, and I’m a card-carrying tootler, now. The only reason we weren’t killed was because we were in residential neighbourhoods, with slow moving traffic. Slow. Slow. SLOW. We were not killed because everyone was forced to drive slowly. You should write more, Ben; you’re good and, more importantly, it’s good for you.

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By RustyNail (registered) | Posted September 28, 2016 at 10:15:44

Thanks Kevin! Pls say Hi back to Susan. No doubt your girls are teenagers now...scary how time races by. All is well over here. I very much enjoy your articles also (love the humour - I think we write with the same wry smile on our faces). I'll take your kind advice and try to write more (RTH readers beware!).



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