Spring has finally arrived, flowers blooming, gentle breezes, warm rains, birds singing, and all the other pleasant clichés that attend it. One of those other signs of spring is that I got my bicycle out and tried going for a ride for the first time since last fall.
Let me explain how embarrassing it was for me to write that last sentence.
While a junior in high school I saved up my money and got a membership in the League of American Wheelmen, an organization that promotes bicycling and dates from the late 19th century, and was a major force for promoting the construction of good roads in the US, among other things. It’s now known by the less sexist title, “League of American Bicyclists” but when I joined it was still “Wheelmen.”
The summer after my high school graduation I took a solo bike trip from my home in central Ohio to the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan, just north of Cadillac, about 500 miles (800 km) or so. I went with about $35 in my pocket, camping behind bushes in stands of trees along the road at night. Admittedly, $35 went farther in 1975 than it does today, but still.
The trip up there took five days. One of those days I had a tail wind most of the day and went about 150 miles (240 km). My bike broke down in a manner that I couldn’t repair on the road shortly before I got to my destination. The last 50 miles (80 km) were slow and uncomfortable with a wobbly rear wheel missing four spokes and a serious flat spot on the rim. My father and my older brother came to rescue me. What remained of my $35 dollars wouldn’t have covered a new wheel.
In my last year at Ohio State University I didn’t bother getting a parking sticker for the student lot. Rain or shine, snow or ice, I rode my bike to school from my off-campus apartment. I calculated that for every time I drove to classes the previous year, that had I parked illegally in the student lot, got a ticket each time, and paid the ticket, it still wasn’t as much as what the parking sticker cost.
I was a veteran of many invitational club rides in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, and was president of our local bike club one year. I used to think of a twenty mile ride as a “short” ride.
Biking gradually decreased, partially due to knee and back problems, but also (let’s be honest) because of general laziness and the advance of other interests. My music “career” began taking up much of the time I used to spend biking.
My inaugural spring-time ride the other day was about seven or eight miles. A positive change I may have I’ve noticed: It seems that fewer motorists are overtly hostile toward bikers these days. In my early experience it wasn’t uncommon to be honked at aggressively, cursed at, and on one occasion I had a car full of young delinquents make several passes throwing peaches at me. (A peach going 50 miles per hour hurts. I had bruises.) It’s been years since I’ve seen that sort of thing. I can’t deny the possibility, however, that maybe I’m just not seeing it because I’m on the road less these days. I hope not.
Back in the seventies and early eighties the etiquette on crowded invitational rides was to announce, “On your left,” when passing a slower rider. This convention also applies for pedestrians on multi-use trails.
While I was doing my ride the other day, part of it did occur on such a trail, one reclaimed from an old railroad right of way. When I passed the joggers on the trail I dutifully called the warning, which has become practically a reflex for me. It seemed that few of them heard it, however. Most of them had earbuds from their smartphones in and were not exactly engaged with their surroundings. I avoided hitting anyone, but I came close once. It’s a narrow path.
Perhaps this is an opportunity for someone to develop a cell phone app to detect the sound of a biker approaching and give a warning over the music. Maybe it could use GPS and distributed network technology to keep track of approaching hazards. I don’t know.
I offer this idea for free to anyone who’d like to develop it. It could potentially prevent many injuries.
Or they could just remove the earbuds and engage in the environment they’ve taken the effort to put themselves into. But that’s crazy talk.