It has been close to ten times I have heard those words now, each time from a pedestrian, each one a woman in her fifties or older. And each time I have been slightly shocked. Approaching her from behind, on a shared pathway, perhaps more for pedestrians than bikes (let’s be honest, I’ve been riding on footpaths) I have rang my bell, maintained a steady pace, and braced myself for abuse. Instead I get thanks!
I think these women are hearing a sound from their youth, before the ten-speed craze stigmatised bells—along with reflectors, mudguards, stands, or anything else that might have stopped riders dreaming they were racing somewhere. The 1960s and 70s are like yesterday in these ladies’ ears. Little girls for a second, they instinctively move out of the way of a big person passing on their big person bike. They catch themselves, remember what year it is, and next see me coming along on a gentleman’s bike from the 40s. "Thanks for the bell," they say, in such a respectful tone that I melt.
Car culture is dehumanising. We see older women who we don’t know in cars, and all they are to us are cranky, impatient people of the least possible use. Women on the old side of menopause sense these reactions, and the negativity feeds on itself. But out there in cyclespace its a whole other story. We can all relate to each other as people, instead of heads behind the controls of machines, honking on horns. There’s an elderly woman cyclist who I pass on the cycleway most mornings and nights. She’s certainly not an old bag in my estimation. Rather, I’ve been working up the nerve to say hello to her for over a year, as though she were someone I wanted to date. I know! When I see her, I’ll ring.