My First Assault

after some additional reflection on this episode, i felt it worthwhile to record for posterity.

the past two years have seen a marked increase in my own bicycle activity, and nowadays i’m a daily city bike commuter. i also frequently take longer rides on the weekends or holidays, weather permitting. in may of last year, i completed my first-ever solo bike trek, which lasted 166+ miles in 2.5 days. i invested in a new bicycle this past january, and completed my first-ever century (100+ miles in one trip) in june for the MS Bike Challenge with a few acquaintances of mine.

throughout all these events, trainings, and acquisitions, the notion of personal safety was often on my mind. of chief concern, of course, was actually owning and using a helmet. i just invested in a new one this past spring: one of those cool matte-finish, full-shell helmets that work for both skateboarding or bicycling.

because of my frequency of biking, as well as persistent news reporting, i finally invested in pepper spray last year. i took it with me on the solo trip and have it with me quite frequently while riding at other times. i used to have a handlebar bag in which i kept the 3-ounce canister on a side pocket, but now i end up storing it in a shorts or pants pocket because my current handlebar configuration doesn’t allow for the front handlebar bag at the moment.

it was friday–a week ago today–when i was riding back home from Towson, perhaps five or so miles away from my new home. the july evening was seasonally-warm, some time between 9:30 and 10:00pm at night. i had just biked past the senator theatre (which incidentally will be going up for auction next week…they’re actually selling tickets for admission) and cruising down york road through the govans neighbourhood.

a group of what i assumed to be teenagers was standing on the east side of the street; it looked to be about a half dozen individuals, both male and female, there. as i biked closer, one of them rushed out into the street, standing near the center line. he began shouting: “stop that bike! stop that bike!” or something similar. i had no intention of following his instructions, and just kept moving.

the guy then stood in the adjacent traffic lane (the left-hand side lane, while i biked down the right); swerved slightly to leave adequate room. instead, though, he swung out and punched me in the left shoulder.

for only a fraction of a second i hadn’t realized what had just happened. the good news was that i was still moving–my same pace, 16 mph or so–and my shoulder had some serious pain in it. i biked on, hoping that through the darkness my opportunistic assailant could see my left hand and its extended middle finger.

a fresh sheen of sweat emerged on my forehead; my heart pumped quicker than usual.

i didn’t want to stop and fight or anything like that–for one, i don’t believe in violent acts and additionally there’s no telling whether or not the guy’s friends would have joined in any kind of altercation. there was also always the potential of losing my bike in that neighbourhood, and i wasn’t interested in that, either. i realized that i hadn’t brought my pepper spray with me that night, so most likely i would have needed to rely on my fists, and hey, i’ve never been in a fistfight.

i made it back home that night, and related the experience to my housemate and several other city cyclists i saw later that evening. i soon realized that sure, my shoulder was hurt, but actually, my feelings were hurt more. what kind of person does it take to blindly pick someone out of the street and literally attack them unprovoked?

i’d insert some pithy baltimore-related joke here, “welcome to charm city” and all that, but i’m certain this happens in cities and towns across the world. i wouldn’t pick on baltimore just for this.

chatting with a bandmate last night on the way to a late-night show, i remember saying as i drove past that same spot: “it was right about here that i was attacked on my bike.”

“what?” he said, sounding genuinely surprised.

i related the story to him, and he was quick to remind me of the various times people tell him that they’re not going to worry about their safety, or the security of their vehicles, and so on, but time and time again we both have seen cars broken into, or police blotter reports, or even murder ink, with it’s tally of baltimore murders.

‘you still live in the city,’ he remarked.


a couple things i will be doing for all bike rides in the future:

–hang my u-lock on my handlebars (i used to lock it to the frame of my bike while riding) for quick access when in need of self-defense
–bring my pepper spray with me for any long-time rides throughout the city or anywhere else (1+ hours) i’m to be a fair distance from home
–occupy an entire lane during night-time rides through residential areas, so there’s more room to either side of me
–keep moving, unless i’ve fallen from my bike, during an encounter

does anyone have other suggestions or thoughts on self-defense while biking?

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