I've been a bit reluctant to mention it, for fear my wife might get the wrong idea, but I think I fell in love a little one night this past summer.It was a beautiful night, warm but not too hot, with a slight breeze. The moon was up. Gibbous. Waxing or waning, I don't recall, but definitely gibbous.The streets were quiet, the cicadas loud.I left work at the usual time, just after 1 a.m., and started cycling home.A block or two west of Mass Street, a woman also on a bike approached from the south, turned, then pulled alongside.She was wearing a dress - a dress! on a bike! - and no helmet. She also had no lights, but she stood out in the dark.Her bike was a beautiful thing, all swoopy lines and graceful curves. It had a basket out front, and though I believe it was empty, I easily envisioned it full of flowers, or perhaps a dog.It had fat comfort tires, a saddle that might even have had springs, sweeping handlebars and maybe even a bell.If I had to describe bike and rider in just one word, it'd be carefree, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for a woman to throw on a dress and go for a moonlit summer pedal in the middle of the night.We rode side by side in silence for a few blocks, neither in any rush to get anywhere in a hurry.Finally, she spoke.With a hint of a British accent, she said, "Nice night for a ride," and I muttered my agreement. "Lovely helmet," she said, tossing her hair in the breeze.I nodded my thanks, unsure if she was mocking or truly complimenting me. We rode on, she with her hair flowing in the summer air, her dress billowing, me with my lovely helmeted hair and shorts neither flowing nor billowing.A block or two later, she slowed ever so slightly, said, "Well, I'm off," and turned down a side road, disappearing as quickly as she appeared.I rode the same route for weeks and never saw her again, and the whole event was so ethereal, so ephemeral and so unreal, I almost questioned if it really happened.Yes, I sort of fell in love a little one night this past summer. Those lines, those curves, the way she caught the moonlight : yes, she was a beauty.Her rider was pretty nice, too.
Hi. My name is Andrew - Drew - and I : I : drove myself to work the other day.Hi, Andrew - Drew._Uh, is this the point I talk about it?_If you'd like._Not really, but I guess that's why I'm here. There's really not much to say. It was raining - not hard, but steady - and I didn't want to sit in a puddle all night. So I drove._And how did that make you feel?_Dry._Funny. We can't help you if you don't open up a bit more._OK. Sorry. How'd it make me feel? Honestly, kinda wimpy. Like I said, it wasn't raining that hard. I've ridden in worse conditions. Earlier last week, I was on a ride in the country, 16 miles from home, when the sky opened up. I squished the rest of the way home._Oh, impressive._OK, I get it. So I am a wimp. I know, I know. I could always attach fenders to my bike to keep dry, wear rain pants and a rain jacket, but I don't like having to make concessions just to ride my bike to work._You mean, like driving?_No. Yes. I don't know._Do you wear gloves and a jacket when it's cold?_Of course. And I ride in the cold. I don't like to put a limit on it. Once you stop riding because it's, say, 20 degrees, you have a hard time riding when it's 25, or 32 and windy, or : you get the idea._And yet, when it was 70 and wet, you drove?_Yes, and I regret it. The worst is deciding to drive because of the threat of rain, working, then walking out to a starry sky and dry pavement._Besides feeling guilty, has it affected you in other ways?_Well, I have to admit I'm a little short with my wife and kids. Cranky. It doesn't affect my work, I don't think. Of course, I could be in denial : _OK, so focus on how you feel. Next time it rains, remember how you feel now. Think about all the benefits of riding, all the drawbacks to riding. And remember, you'll dry eventually. You won't melt._I'll try. _Oh, and one more thing._What's that?_It's not like you were drinking to excess or gambling away your life savings, for heavens sake. You drove to work. Billions of people do it. Get over it. And yourself.
It's not that uncommon to be the target of some sort of oral abuse when I'm out on my bike.I don't know what it is about a grown man on two wheels that makes him such a welcome target for big mouths on four, but it's common enough I come to expect it and consider it at least a weekly part of my regular commutes.And, for the most part, I shrug it off.When you've heard the unimaginative "Get out of the $%*&ing street" or the ubiquitous "Way to go, Lance," as many times as I have, you tend to tune the morons out.But my ride to work Saturday evening was a Bizarro World trip down the bike-commute auditory canal.Maybe it was the fact Kansas University was opening its football season at home. That results in more folks on the road and more folks from out of town, changing the typical traffic flow. And there's a festive atmosphere, so maybe that makes people more likely to abuse cyclists.Whatever the cause, Saturday's ride was odd in that I was accosted twice in a five-minute span. And the nature of the shouts were noteworthy, as well.First, a prepubescent boy leaned out the back window of a passing car not far from my home and hollered, "MMMMMMMMMNMM MMM MMMMMNNNNNNNNN MMMMM-GINA!!!!!!!!" Then, a few miles down the road, a woman of indeterminate age screamed, "HRMPH HMPMPHMPH HRPHRPMH MOTORCYCLE!!!!!!!!!!"I've stopped being perplexed to be the target of taunts, but both of those tirades were perplexing in their sheer weirdness. Both vocalizers were hindered by bad enunciation. And at first I had no clue what message the loudmouths were trying to get across.But as I pedaled on, I think I deciphered the cryptic messages.The first I initially assumed was likening me to a certain piece of female anatomy, one that has its own monologues. But I eventually dismissed that because I don't think many prepubescent boys would consider all the synonyms for that particular body part and pick that particularly proper term when there are so many others that are oh-so-much-more colorful. Especially when yelling out a car window and going for the startle factor, as this kid was, don't pussyfoot around: Let fly with your best banned-from-TV classic.So I eventually came to assume Bobby Blabbermouth was, in fact, worried about my health and cautioning my about the dangers of angina. He actually had my best interests at heart.Which brings us to the second venting.I couldn't fathom anyone confusing my plodding progress with that of a speedy motorized two-wheeler's, so I was stumped.Then it dawned on me: The Old Yeller in question recognized me from an earlier blog about the secret motorcyclist wave and was giving me a positive shout-out in acknowledgment.Now that I've uncovered the meaning behind both bellows, I'm glad I didn't respond unkindly. It just goes to show not every car-bound bike-berater is filling the air with negative vibes.
I have a friend. We'll call him Jim Whittaker, just to make things easy.For years, Jim tried time and again to get me to race on my bike. He e-mailed race fliers to me. He offered me free entry into races. He badgered, begged, belittled and cajoled.Now, don't get the wrong impression. It's not that Jim rode with me, saw what a natural talent I was and thought I was a born racer, wasting my considerable talent on long, slow slogs through the country and shorter but still slow slogs commuting to and from work.No, Jim is a coach - certified by all sorts of governing bodies - and a race promoter, so he has something of a vested interest in getting folks training and, ultimately, racing bikes. Unless, of course, he simply saw what a natural talent I was and thought I was a born racer, wasting my considerable talent on long, slow slogs through the country and shorter but still slow slogs commuting to and from work.I turned Jim down time and again, and eventually he left me alone. But I can't help but think about him now and then when I turn my daily commute into my own personal proving ground.Most of my rides to and from work best could be described as dawdling. But something about the sight of someone on wheels ahead of me stirs something inside.Experienced roadie on a fancy carbon-fiber wonderbike, mountain biker on a fully sprung fat-tired ride, DUI rider on a squeaking clunker, toddler astride a milk-crate scooter, octogenarian wheeling her tennis-balled walker : it matters not. Once I see my mark ahead, it's on. Oh, it's on.Keep in mind, I'm not fast. But I'm fast enough I can sneak up behind most unsuspecting riders and breeze past, holding my breath if necessary to make it seem I'm not out of breath as I sail by. I even think of my marks as "rabbits" or "hares." It helps to dehumanize the poor pedallers, lest I start to feel sorry for them.I don't always give chase.If I roll up behind a relatively fit adult who seems to know his or her way around on a bike, frequently I find one hamstring or the other calf suddenly becomes balky. So I won't put the hammer down, not because I'd lose, mind you, but simply because I don't want to sustain serious injury.And if somebody catches me from behind - hey, it happens, like that septuagenarian nun the other day - it's only because I was caught off guard. I only saw her coming from two, three miles away, and only because her habit was flapping in the breeze, and I didn't really try to hold her off. Not really. I'm sure I could have. If I really tried. Which I didn't.After all, I didn't want to be all sweaty by the time I got to work.Besides, she was faster than she looked. Maybe Jim should go to work on her.
The first couple of times I was the recipient of the secret motorcycle wave, I didn't know exactly what elite company I had joined.But a quick search through the magnificent Interwebs quickly clued me in.If my 'Net research is to be believed, motorcyclists frequently acknowledge each other with a secret left-hand signal: Basically a small wave or peace sign with the hand barely off the 'bars.And, I've come to learn, it's not universal. While one Harley rider might be awfully likely to give another Hog lover the down-low gesture, a fancy-pants rocket-bike rider is all but sure to be snubbed by Freddy on his Fatboy.Thus, it came as a bit of a surprise to me the first couple of times a biker thus acknowledged me, a lowly cyclist. The fact we both can fall over at traffic signals is about all I on my bike have in common with a biker on his.Though I know a few biker/cyclists, I also know a few bikers who wouldn't be caught dead on a pedal-pusher, and I know cyclists who'd never be seen on a two-wheeler with an engine between their legs. And then there's the terminology thing. I've met more than a few cyclists who bristle when referred to as bikers, and I wouldn't be surprised if bikers felt the same way about the reverse. (Although as an aside, why is it that riders of road bikes are cyclists, while fat-tired riders are mountain bikers?) Whatever the reason, I've seen the secret wave enough in the past couple of years - usually when I'm outside the city limits approaching an oncoming biker with nobody else around - to know it's not a hallucination.The first few times I headed out in the know about this bit of clandestine biker bonding, I vowed to reply in kind, a cool motorcycle wave right back at ya, man. Except it didn't happen. I went months without a welcoming biker hello, and by the time I was flashed another, I was so taken by surprise I could muster little more than a feeble full-on howdy-neighbor wave, more Pee-Wee Herman than Dennis Hopper.Oh, well. I guess deep down I didn't really deserve membership in such a cool fraternity, after all.In a sense, I guess, we're all members of the same tribe facing oppression by the four-wheeled Man. I and my two-wheeled brothers are fighting the good fight against the cagers.But I don't really see it that way. It's not Us vs. Them. Though I'd plaster my bike with "Cars R Coffins" stickers if I didn't think some driver would take it the wrong way and try to put me in my own pine box, I don't harbor any ill-will toward drivers in general. I'm not especially fond of the ones who endanger me, but that's true whether I'm on my bike or my sofa.Then again, despite all my close calls with four-and-more-wheeled vehicles, I can't think of a single instance in which a motorcyclist cut me off or threw something at me or tried to put me in a mailbox. Maybe the fact any two-wheeler would bear the brunt of the damage in a wreck with a cage means we do look out for each other a bit, even if we don't necessarily frequent the same bars.So the next time I'm out there and a biker acknowledges me as a brother, I'll do my best to signal back in such a way that neither one of us is embarrassed by the other.
I have a confession to make: I considered harming a fellow cyclist just to make a point about how stupidly he was riding.No, I take that back. I didn't consider it, because that would suggest there was some chance I actually would follow through. Instead, I envisioned such a dastardly deed.The scenario: I was in my car (gasp!) with my kids on Sixth Street, waiting at a red light to turn right on the way home when I noticed two cyclists we had trouble passing (it was rush hour, and Sixth Street is a busy road) a few moments earlier were riding between the lanes of traffic. We were third in line at the light, and the cyclists breezed past, turned right in front of the front car - which had to wait for the bikes to get out of the way so it could go through the now-green light - and rode away.As the cyclists came up from behind, I was amazed at their stupidity and thought about what kind of damage I could do by flinging open my door. I was surprised such a thought popped into my head, because I'm a cyclist and not a hater, but I was appalled the adult male in the lead - I'm assuming he was the dad - was showing what I assumed to be his son a reckless way to ride.It's called lane-splitting. Cyclists and bikers both do it, and it's legal in some countries and in California, and I understand the concept. Done right, it helps alleviate congestion and according to some studies actually improves motorcycle safety.But as these two boneheads did it, the lane-splitting didn't do anything but put themselves at risk and anger at least one of the motorists behind them.And I'm sympathetic to the cycling cause.Thus, lane-splitting by cyclists - especially those who interrupt the flow of traffic and endanger themselves and anger others - is among my biggest gripes about cyclists.My [last blog] listed my top pet peeves as a cyclist relating to motorists.I promised fair play, so here goes, my biggest pet peeves about cyclists:The multipass: Cyclist pokes along well below the speed limit. Cars (patiently or im-) eventually pass, but get hung up at a stop light or sign. Cyclist works way to the front of the line, either by lane-splitting or sneaking along the curb, forcing the cars to pass again after the light changes.Co-joined cyclists: I understand the social aspect of cycling. Really, I do. Some of my best rides have been leisurely affairs in the countryside riding next to - and chatting up - my dad. That said, we're cognizant of traffic coming up from behind, and we're careful about blind rises and corners. Though we have the right to ride side-by-side, we go single-file when conditions dictate. I understand how motorists can get frustrated to encounter a dozen or so cyclists riding two, three, four or more abreast on narrow country roads.Look, ma, no feet: A track stand, done properly, is a beautiful thing. Talented, or at least balanced, cyclists can turn the 'bars and, using the natural slope of the road, balance without putting a foot down until it's time to proceed. Some cyclists can track stand for minutes, essentially motionless. It's cool. Unfortunately, too many, me included, can't really track stand. So they'll pull up to a traffic signal and turn the 'bars. Then inch forward. Wobble a little. Maybe inch forward a little more. Start to fall. Save it. Inch forward some more. You get the idea.What stop sign?: If I had to guess, I'd say cyclists are reviled more for running stop lights and signs than anything, and I have to admit it irks me, too. In truth, few vehicles - whether two- or four-wheeled - come to a complete stop at most stop signs. But rolling through signals without so much as slowing down is a good way to get dead. OK, enough hatin'. At least by me. For now. : http://www2.ljworld.com/blogs/rolling_along/2008/aug/18/nine/
So there I was, just riding along - JRA, in the parlance - on Peterson Road at a pretty good clip the other day when a minivan started to pass me.As it pulled alongside, I glanced left and noticed the right blinker was on.Uh, oh. I was about to get a right hook, a too-common occurrence for cyclists in which vehicles pass, quickly retake the lane and brake just before whipping a right-hand turn. One lapse in concentration by the cyclist can result in big trouble.In anticipation, I started drifting left a bit. I tend to do that when I anticipate getting hooked because it scrubs a little speed and allows me to avoid the turning car better.But then this traffic encounter took a troubling turn. The driver of the minivan braked, sure enough, but then stopped, right there in the middle of 45 mph Peterson Road.No amount of legal leftward drift would allow me to miss this impending badness, so, as I started to brake as quickly as I could, I pondered my options. I considered hopping into the center turn lane to pass on the left, but there was an oncoming car waiting there to turn into the same intersection. To make matters worse, I heard a car quickly approaching from behind. So I was stuck, about to become a hood ornament to the left, a bumper sticker ahead and possibly a cyclist sandwich from behind.All the while the driver of the minivan - and I'm not casting aspersions on women or minivans; I have a fondness for both, but one especially - was looking back at me with a polite close-lipped smile, like she was doing me some favor by not turning in front of me and instigating a four-car pileup with me in the middle instead.In the heat of the moment, I did the only thing I could think to do. I passed the minivan on the right - she wasn't budging - while making sure the oncoming turner stayed put, pedaled through the intersection and didn't look back.That's the worst traffic situation I've been in in a long time, but it doesn't make my list of biggest pet peeves as a regular commuter.After all, that boneheaded blunder was so asinine, I couldn't envision it happening again. Peeves, I believe, have to be recurring to some degree.Here, then, are some of my biggest beefs as a regular cyclist with other vehicles on the road. (In the interest of fairness, my next blog will be my biggest pet peeves about cyclists as a driver, so save your anti-bike venom until then, if you please):The near pass: Car starts to pass cyclist, but misjudges the bike's speed. As a result, both vehicles are side-by-side as they approach a traffic signal of some sort or an oncoming vehicle. Invariably, the car refuses to yield, so the cyclist has to hit the hooks or get run off the road.You go; no, you go: Car and bike pull up to stop sign about the same time. Legally, tie goes to the vehicle on the right. But well intentioned driver insists the bike go first. Biker politely declines. Driver insists. Biker relents, but not before impatient driver rescinds offer. Both pull forward. Both stop. Repeat. Although the driver generally means well, I'd prefer we all just stick to the rules of the road, especially if there are other vehicles involved.Oh, high there: Properly lighted night cyclist encounters oncoming car from a distance. Driver becomes befuddled (apparently from seeing a bike so well lit). Driver pops on the "high beams" to get a better view. Cyclist temporarily blinded.Glomming off my stop: Impatient driver comes to a stop behind - or, sometimes, nearly alongside - bike at a stop sign. Cyclist waits his turn before proceeding. Impatient driver tags along, rather than waiting his turn.I'm bigger than you are: This affront takes many forms, from the aforementioned right hook to the left turn across the cyclist's path to going out of turn at a four-way stop. I try not to predict motivation too much, but I assume many slights can be boiled down to, "Eh, it's just a guy on a bike. He'll slow down or get creamed."
Recently I was cycling home from work in the wee hours when movement up ahead caught my eye.I've encountered all sort of animals during my late-night/early-morning commutes and figured I'd caught a glimpse of a critter up ahead.Before long, I learned what I had spied was, in fact, another cyclist coming toward me. It was a dark, moonless night. He had no reflectors that I could see, no headlight and no taillight. He wore dark clothes and no reflective gear. And as he pedaled past, before disappearing back into the night, I noticed he was riding no-handed - dialing or perhaps texting someone on the cell phone he had in hand.Amazing.I'm all for individual rights, but this struck me as lunacy at best. Never mind that the phantom cyclist was riding illegally. It also was irresponsible and, well, stupid.I'm of the opinion that folks should be held accountable for their actions. In the case of cyclists, I figure if you run a red light or a stop sign and get plowed, well, sorry, it's your fault, and you're bound to bear the brunt of the repercussions. And if you ride in the middle of the night in stealth mode, don't be surprised if you get hit.Personally, I tend more toward Oh Tannenbaum for my night rides. I have a bright red blinky light out back that doubles as a reflector, reflectors on my wheels - though they might be frowned upon by my hardcore cycling brethren - and reflective accents on my shoes. And I have a pretty serious headlight that's worth more than the bike to which it's attached, plus a backup headlight, just in case.It all ratchets up the dork factor, but I'd rather be seen as a dork than not seen until I'm a dead dork. And, to be honest, nobody ever rode a bike to look cool.I might not be as bright - in any sense of the word - as some night cyclists I see, with reflective vests, reflective tape, headlights on the handlebars and helmets, etc. But never have I had a near-miss I considered to have been the result of not being seen, nor have I ever had somebody yell out the window that they couldn't see me. And given the frequency with which drivers share their opinions of me with me, I'm sure I would have heard by now if I were hard to see.A bit of advice often given to cyclists is to ride like they're invisible. In other words, assume you won't be seen and ride defensively.A faction of cyclists, I've heard, takes that advice to another extreme by trying to be invisible. According to this school of thought, cyclists should ride under the radar so they're not seen. Drivers can't hit what they can't see, after all.I disagree. The more visible, I believe, the better.Personally, I like riding at night. It's often cooler and calmer, and there's far less traffic. And I reckon drivers can see me better at night than they can during the day.So in many ways I feel safer riding after the sun goes down than I do before.As long as I can steer clear of the idiots riding in the dark of their own creation.
My family and I rode to the doughnut shop the other morning, and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable rides I've had in a long time.The company helped, but I was struck by how infrequently I was, well, almost struck.Cars gave all of us a wide berth. Drivers let us go out of turn at traffic signals and smiled behind their windshields, gleefully waving us through stop signs and hanging back - way back - as they approached from behind.Later that same day, on my commute to work, one driver cut in front of me and turned right, forcing me to take evasive action to avoid becoming a smear. Later, another car turned left in front of me on Mass. Street, again eliciting an emergency squeeze of the brakes.At first I chalked up the difference to the "mood" of the traffic.I hate to stereotype, but it seems folks collectively drive differently at different times of the day.Drivers during the morning rush (like I see many of those) seem to me more laid-back - "Sorry, boss, I'm late, but I got behind a slow guy on a bike " - than those during the evening drive time -- "GET OUT OF MY WAY, BIKER BOY, I'VE GOT A DATE WITH A PIZZA AND 'AMERICAN IDOL!"I've always considered Saturday overnight to be the time most likely to get hit, while Friday night/Saturday morning seems to be the time most likely to get hit by a projectile.Our doughnut run was a Sunday morning, and at first I just attributed our carefree jaunt around Planet Bikejoy to be a result of timing. All the Saturday partiers were still in bed, I reasoned, while folks filled with feel-good church vibes were showing their newfound fondness for their Almighty of choice with some goodwill toward men (and women and children).Then it dawned on me our idyllic ride was the result of the two ankle-biters we had in tow.That's right, drivers were nice to all of us because my 10-year-old daughter Carlyn and 7-year-old son Brooks were along for the ride.Of course, I'm biased. I think my kids are awfully cute. But apparently something about Brooks wobbling along on his almost-too-big big-boy bike and Carlyn on her purple mountain bike with the Fourth of July streamers still in her spokes makes people drive friendly.Why that goodwill turns to outright rage in some drivers when they encounter a grown (or nearly grown) adult cyclist has me bewildered, but whatever. I guess I simply should enjoy my human shields while I can.Now if only I can find a way to have Brooks and Carlyn lead me out for my commutes to and from work ...
One of the best things about riding a bike to work regularly is all the great stuff you find.I don't mean the hokey stuff - fitness, yourself, a love of nature, purpose, yadayadayada.I mean the stuff people lose, drop, misplace, throw out of windows and forget on the hoods of their cars. It all ends up on the road or close to it, waiting for some two-wheeled scavenger to come along and claim it.I reckon not being isolated by glass and steel makes it easier to find stuff, but my dad is quite the auto scrounger. He could spot a dime on the freeway at 70 mph. OK, he never goes 70, but he could spot a dime on some deserted highway at 45 mph.Among the goodies I've found:Money, and lots of it. Sure, most of it jingles, but it adds up. I started a fund of found money and have cashed it in a couple of times - about 20 bucks each time - over the past couple of years. I found a tenner once, and a couple of $5 bills. But I do have my standards. I won't stop in the middle of Sixth Street at rush hour for a penny, but I'll turn around and go all Frogger for a fivespot.Tools galore. Sockets, wrenches, screwdrivers, hex keys ... you name it. I'm going to start a tool kit for my son of found tools. First in is a nifty multitool I found the other day.Cell phones. I always pick 'em up and try to find the owners whenever possible. I've probably returned a half dozen to mostly grateful owners. One woman actually insisted I drive to her workplace to return hers to her; I declined. One man offered a reward, which I refused. Two weeks later, he showed up at my house with pizza for the whole family.Credit cards. Most I figure were stolen and tossed, but every now and then I find one, call the number on the back to report it and hear from a thankful owner that he/she used it to pay at the pump, set it on the car and drove off.And that's just the stuff I bring home.Part of the fun of bike commuting is spying all the unusual roadside debris and trying to figure how and why it got there.For instance: What's with all the silverware on our roadways? Spoons, forks, knives ... there are probably a dozen or so just on my five-mile ride to work. Who chucks a spoon out the window?Or here's a good one. Coming home from racquetball this week, I saw on the side of the Clinton Parkway multiuse trail several empty bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade, set up similarly several yards apart. OK, somebody was partying on the trail. A few yards farther, I rode past a condom. Then another. And another. So, the liquid courage kicked in and our partiers started feeling a little randy. Then, just before I turned off, I happened upon a pair of latex gloves. Uh ... that's when my imagination failed me. Thank goodness.