Bikes (Bykz?) In The Hood

I ride my bike through a lot of bad/high crime/poor/black/inner city/whatever-you-want-to-call-them-you-know-what-I’m-talking-about neighborhoods.

I stared doing it out of necessity. Our house in Birmingham was at the bottom of Red Mountain, the geographical feature that separates B’ham from its white flight middle and upper class suburbs. Most of the rides in B’ham began on the other side of the mountain from our house. The ride starts and geography meant that if I wanted to participate I had to either: 1) begin the ride by going up and over the mountain, or 2) put my bike on my car and drive to the start. One is no fun, I like climbs, but not on cold legs. As for two, I have a pet peeve about driving in order to ride. Eventually, though, I found a semi-flat route through a low spot in the mountain. That route went through some of the city’s less desirable neighborhoods: Woodlawn and Gate City. Still, I thought I’d try it, and it worked out great. I now had an easy way to get over the mountain to the rides.

It worked out great in another way, too. After taking the route several times without being mugged, shot at, or in any way harassed or threatened, I began to explore different areas. Looking at my local map I realized that if I could ride a few miles through some other bad neighborhoods, I’d come out into some really nice out of the way country roads. Hence, I zipped through East Lake and Tarrant out into the rolling hills of Northwest Jefferson County; road east through B’ham, Lipscomb and Bessemer before hitting the woods and hills along the Shannon-Oxmoor Road, and; snaked through Norwood and North Birmingham to Coalburg Road, Brookside, Graysville, and other old mining towns before returning home through Ensley. Here in Shreveport, I ride through the ghettos west of downtown and out to beautiful Cross Lake.

At first, I considered these areas something to be endured on the way to better rides, but eventually I came to appreciate them for what they were. No, these neighborhoods were no longer the nineteen fifties stereotypes about which I’ve heard many a middle age white person reminisce. Yes, the weeds are high, the roads littered, and many houses dilapidated. But kids still ride bikes, folks walk down the street, and the smell of barbecue grills fills the air. They are not places in which I would live, but who am I to look down the end of my nose at someone else’s community.

Why am I writing this? I dunno. Mostly because I think a lot of cyclists unduly limit their riding options because they won’t – or just don’t – ride through these bad neighborhoods. I think that’s a mistake, like I said, the ‘hoods are often cool themselves, and they also lead to great places to ride. Still, I understand the hesitation. You are more likely to get shot in Queensborough than in any of the usual S’port riding locations.

But if that is the only reason for the hesitation, it ought not prevent the ride. Here’s why.

First, I have made many, many, many of these rides and have never had a problem.

Second is what I like to the call the “it’s just business” reason. That is, I think most of the crimes you see on the news happened because someone owed someone someone money, or someone disrespected someone at a party, or someone messed with someones woman. It might be senseless violence, but it isn’t causeless. When I ride through these areas, I don’t cause anyone any harm, I’m just a guy in funny shorts on a bike. Thus, I don’t think I have much to fear.

Third, the few crazy folks who would attack a cyclist just for the fun of it, or so they can sell the bike for crack, are probably still asleep at the time of day I ride through the neighborhood.

Fourth, the choice isn’t “dangerous ride” or “safe ride.” The choice is between dangers. Generally, the typical local group rides go through the burbs, where roads are narrower, traffic heavier, and speeds higher than through inner city neighborhoods. That means  that while I’m more likely to get mugged in, say, Cedar Grove than in the Ellerbe Road area of S’port, I’m more likely to get nailed by a Hummer driven by some oblivious woman on a cell phone while on Ellerbe than I am to be hit by a car in Cedar Grove. In fact, the inner city neighborhoods are probably safer, when thought of like this. If the choice is thugs or cars, I’m sure I have a better chance of escaping injury free from an encounter with a teenage gangsta wanna be than from an encounter with a Ford Exhbidition.

So go ride.

Explore posts in the same categories: Sports - Road Bike

5 Comments on “Bikes (Bykz?) In The Hood”

  1. Frank Says:

    This is why I love reading your blog. I completely agree with what you wrote, though I doubt I ever would have thought to write it myself. Thank you.

  2. wheeler Says:

    glad you like it; and glad you followed me over here.

  3. Del Says:

    One beautiful Easter Sunday afternoon a couple of years ago, my husband took a group on a bike ride through a downtown neighborhood adjoining ours (the group were heading to a spot where they hoped a waterfront park would be developed). All white people, you understand. Hubby was helmetless, wearing dockers and riding his crappy Sears bike; group was all laced up in bike shorts and helmets to ride maybe two miles on low-traffic residential streets. Since it was Easter, the black residents were gathered on their porches all along the way, eating, grilling, and visiting family. As the husband’s tour group passed one such crowded porch, a little boy pointed his finger and loudly said, “Look at all them honkies!” His mama shushed him.

    So yeah, that’s the closest we’ve ever come to “trouble” riding through these neighborhoods.

  4. draftsonyou Says:

    In all my riding, I have never once been yelled at by a black man in a cheap car. I have also never had a black person throw anything at me or flip me off. Ironically, it’s the white guys in pickups and jeeps that are the most dangerous, at least deliberately so. This is disconcerting to me because I, myself, am a truck/jeep driving kinda redneck, and so it makes me want to fight. And I am wondering if they even know one single cyclist. I’ve often thought of getting a rebel flag jersey to protect myself from these a$$holes, but then I’d just look like a jerk to everyone else. So, another couple ideas I’ve had for jersies are: 1. “Father, Forester, Fisherman”
    2. “My other bike is a truck” or 3. “Republican Gun Owner”, or to appease the militant environmentalists 4. “Endless miles / gallon (walk your talk).” Number 1 may be my epitaph.

  5. wheeler Says:

    i’ve often thought about getting an american flag jersey on the theory that while your average redneck would love to run over one of them there sissy cyclists, they would never trample old glory.

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