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Sphere factor


I’ll admit to more than my share of irrational fears off the bike, but I like to think all of my from-the-saddle scares are warranted.

Of course, it could be argued that such rationalization is precisely what makes a fear irrational, but I fear I digress.

Among my most gripping two-wheeled terrors: getting sucked into the vacuum created by the rush of a passing semi; drunk drivers; texters/drivers; oil slicks overlooking rocky, razor-wire protected obsidian precipices (precipi?); clowns in little clown cars.

Lately, though, I’ve been cold-sweating a whole new irrational fear as I pedal merrily along: spheres.

Let me explain.

A couple of weeks back, I was riding home, and a vehicle veered a bit, forcing me toward a curb. Lining said curb were a dozen or so hedge apples. You know, those gnarly, green, goopy softball-sized orbs of evil that fall from osage orange (hedge) trees? I didn’t actually contact an ’apple. In fact, I wasn’t even all that close. But as I pedalled away, a hedge apple lodged in my mind’s eye, and I envisioned myself colliding with one of those awful globes of gloppy gunk.

Known enemy to cyclists everywhere: Behold, the evil hedge apple.

Known enemy to cyclists everywhere: Behold, the evil hedge apple. by Andrew Hartsock

As I saw it in my worst road nightmare, my skinny tire would meet up with an apple, start to climb, then — SLAM! — down I’d go in a violent heap.

See, round on round isn’t a good pairing. I’m no geometrist (or geometreer, for that matter), but there’s something about the meeting of two unstable surfaces that gives me an unshakable heebie-jeebie.

Hedge apples aren’t the only sinister spheres.

Walnuts can do a real number on a moving bike, though they do make a satisfying pop when they’re crushed under the wheel of a car.

Also along my regular commute is a house rife with sweet-gum trees. These gems produce oodles of sweet-gum balls that aren’t nearly as innocuous as they sound. They resemble old naval mines — round, spiky balls — and, as any sweet-gum-tree owner can attest, they outnumber sweet-gum leaves by about 1,500-to-1. Fortunately, they’re not particularly stout, or they’d be little tree-ninja deathtrap caltrops, dropping cyclists like black ice.

I’ve never pedaled in the tropics, but I imagine a coconut could be absolutely beastly.

I’m also terrified of encountering an in-the-wild, unavoidable smattering of marbles or ball bearings in my path. Because, you know, those darned things are everywhere you look.

I did encounter an odd orb just the other day.

Not far from my home, I looked to the gutter to see, in all its yellow, striped glory, a croquet ball. At first, I thought it might be a bocce ball, but as I drew near I saw the terrifyingly telltale concentric grooves.

I gave that bad ball a wide berth, and as I pedaled away I kept my head on a swivel, frantically searching for croquet’s close summer-fun cousin — which might be the well-meaning cyclist’s worst nightmare: lawn darts.

They’re not spheres, but those things can really do some damage.


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