Bike related diaries can sometimes stir up emotions. With that in mind, let me give the following disclaimer:
There are stupid people on bikes. I'm not one of them.
I'm not the crazed bike courier who cut your off at the intersection. I'm not the clueless hipster on a fixie who wandered into your lane while trying to text and ride. I'm not one of the people in team jerseys riding a double paceline down your favorite country road.
I'm just some middle-aged guy out there trying to get some exercise.
Ever since I was a kid I've loved bicycles. For my midlife crisis I didn't buy the red sports car. Instead I spent far too much money on a carbon-framed Italian road bike which I ride much slower than it's capable of going.
When you think about it a modern bicycle is a marvel of engineering. Light as a feather and incredibly efficient. Expending nothing but a few calories I can easily go 30 miles. 50 on a good day. I can cruise along at 15 mph all day long and can hit 25 mph on a good sprint. All that with an overweight 52-year-old powering it. It's fairly comfortable too. The carbon frame does a pretty good job of soaking up bumps. I think my old steel-framed Bianchi has a softer ride, but the carbon bike is sooooo much lighter.
I'm not a fast rider. I average a blistering 15 mph. The people in the team jerseys leave me in the dust. The last time I rode a century (100 miles) I heard "on your left!" so many times I thought it was my name. That's OK. I'm getting exercise and the bike is probably easier on my body than running.
I live in an area that was once exurban and is becoming more suburban by the day.
You know the place. When I moved in it was at the very edge of where the suburbs meet farmland. Now the suburbs stretch miles past here.
I used to be able to jump on the bike and be on country roads in short order. Not so much any more. Now the ever-advancing mess of strip malls, tract houses and big box stores has taken over.
I can still ride out here but I have to time it carefully. Weekends are still pretty safe. I restrict my weekday rides to the hours between 10 and 2. Around 3 in the afternoon people are rushing their kids home from school and it gets dicey. I certainly won't be on the road during commuting hours.
As I see more and more houses and apartments being built (where are all these people coming from?) I realize that the days of jumping on my bike and heading out to the country may soon be past.
So where to ride?
Stationary bike? Boring. The scenery never changes. Plus it's too much like my career. I work my butt off and never get anywhere.
Sidewalks? Mostly they don't exist this far out in the 'burbs. Even if they did, it's illegal in most places to bike on the sidewalk. Plus I would be a hazard to pedestrians. Even plodding along at my usual speeds, a 200 pound person on a bike is like a semi-truck to a pedestrian. Nope, sidewalks are out.
Bike paths? Sometimes. I'm fortunate that Ohio has a great network of bike paths. The last governor, the one that I liked, wanted to connect the whole state with bike paths. There are several within a 30-minute drive. This does however put me in the silly position of having to put the bike on the car and drive somewhere just so I can ride it.
The other problem with bike paths is that they're often choked with joggers, roller-bladers, baby strollers, dog walkers, etc.
Oh I can hear it now. "OMG! He hates dogs! And babies! You selfish bastard!"
Whoa! Easy there! I have no problem with people walking on the bike path. The more people that use it the better chances of it staying funded. BUT - a little consideration would be nice people.
And no, I have nothing against dogs or small children (well maybe small children) but they scare me because they're so unpredictable. I'm terrified that somebody's kid or their 80-pound Golden Retriever is going to dart in front of me as I go by. Even after I've slowed my already leisurely pace (and I will) my reaction time is only so good. So all I ask is that you keep a close watch on the little critters. Both the four-legged and the two-legged kind.
As for everyone else, a little "situational awareness" would be a good thing. In case you haven't heard that term it just means being aware of what's going on around you.
Some people seem to distinctly lack it. That or they're just self-absorbed assholes. You never know these days.
Believe it or not, there are actually bikes on bike paths! Bikes tend to go faster than people walking, which is kind of the point of riding one. So maybe, just maybe, walking abreast across both lanes of the bike path, oblivious to everything around you, isn't your best option. And don't look at me like I'm the jerk when I ring my bell to get your attention!
Here's a recent example. An older couple is walking in front of me. They're walking abreast and they're in the middle of the path blocking both lanes.
I start to slow and I give them a couple friendly dings of my bell:
I'm coasting now and my gears are going:
Clack! Clack! Clack! Clack! Clack! Clack! Clack! Clack!
I'll give them another shot of the bell. Maybe they didn't hear me.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! (slowing down more now)
Oh come on now!
Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!
Now I'm hitting the brakes and I'm unclipping from the pedals because I may have to actually stop.
OK enough of this nonsense. "On your left!"
Surprised look, followed by a dirty look as they finally move over. Apparently I'm the asshole here.
Sigh. I guess I'll go back out on the road and take my chances with the SUVs.
What about the roads? Here the situation is reversed. Based on size and speed I'm the most dangerous thing on the bike path. Out on the road it's the other way around. I'm a potential victim to every cell-phone-talking, coffee-sipping, suburban SUV driver out there.
Even country roads can be hazardous. Some drivers actively resent bicycles and will cut you no slack. I once was run off the road by a farm truck towing a very wide trailer. There was nobody in the other lane. He could have moved over. He didn't. The trailer passed close enough to almost brush my shoulder. I took the ditch.
In a perfect world, here's how I'd like to be treated by drivers:
Just be aware that bikes are out there. We're back to to situational awareness.
Please don't take offense that I dare to ride on your personal road (you know who you are).
Please cut me some slack. If you hit me it will mess up the paint on your shiny new F150.
For my part, I will obey the rules. I'll stop at intersections (I need the rest anyway). I'll signal my turns. I'll try to stay out of your way. If there's a bike lane I'll stay in it. If there isn't, I'll try to ride the shoulder as much as possible. If for some reason I'm not on the shoulder it's because the shoulder tends to collect:
Joggers (9 out of 10 joggers will force me onto the road rather than move over)
"OMG! He hates joggers too! You selfish bastard!"
Drivers, if you have to pass close by me, I'd appreciate it if you slow down. Your car or truck most likely goes 0-60 in less than 10 seconds. So even if you have to slow quite a bit to safely pass me, you'll be back up to speed again in no time. I hope my life is worth 10 seconds out of your busy day. Thanks.
Oh, and sorry you had to see me in spandex. Try to suppress the urge to gouge your eyes out with your car keys. Just stare at that dead possum on the roadside until the feeling of revulsion goes away.