The driver of the small school bus ferrying young campers rolled down her window and yelled, “you’re not supposed to be on the road.”
I was biking with my friend Randy one weekday morning through a suburban community in New Jersey when we received this admonishment. A brilliant sunny day, the temperatures rising to the high 80’s, we’d set out at 9 for a three- hour ride. As we moved to the left side of the right lane, we each signaled our intention to turn left.
After we turned, we talked about cycling. (Cyclists do this a lot, on the bike and off.) Drivers need to respect cyclists more. Cyclists need to obey the same rules as motorists. Americans should bike more. We talked about how biking in Holland is a way of life, ingrained in young children and considered a major form of transportation.
We’d read Russell Shorto’s article “The Dutch Way: Bicycles and Fresh Bread” (New York Times, 7/31/11) that described how Dutch children must pass a bicycle safety exam and how drivers are taught to open the door with their right hand, thus turning their bodies around so they can see oncoming cyclists. Taxi fares are high, bus fares low and it costs more than $1,000 to get a driver’s license. People cycle to work; children cycle to school.
Shorto did point out the geographic differences- size of the US, how spread out towns are, how difficult it would be to do errands on a bike in most places. Yet, bike lanes, places to park bikes at work, and promoting cycling for exercise and environment are good places to start.
As part of a cycling group, (majortaylorclub.com) we recruit riders to an activity we’re crazy about. One member put it so: “We live for it.”
A colleague convinced me to join this group, saying I’d be riding a road bike (I had a hybrid), I’d start training, and I’d do group rides, and even complete a century. I disagreed. I was happy with my bike, didn’t know how to ride in groups, and was afraid of fixed foot pedals. 100 miles? He had to be kidding. I rode leisurely, about 20-30 miles, stopping for long lunches mid-ride.
He knew better. I’ve since done all those things: designating my hybrid as my “town” errand bike, purchasing an elegant road bike, learning to clip in and out of the pedals, and collecting an array of colorful jerseys (they are not called shirts, I was told) with matching socks and bandanas. I ride about 50-70 miles, and have completed one century. Quick refueling snacks- pb& j sandwiches, dried fruit, nuts, and electrolyte energy chews have replaced lengthy stops and I love seeing places from a bike, saving gas, and burning calories.
I’ve also driven a “sag” – support and gear – vehicle for long distance rides, including the Longest Day this past June. New Jersey is a small state; the hale and hearty can cycle it in a day if they choose, 208 miles from top to bottom. I met 9 riders at 4 am, and rode behind them, lighting the road until daybreak, carrying food, water, aspirin, and rain jackets. Like a den mother in charge of cub scouts on a field trip, I kept my eyes on each cyclist, worrying about weather and traffic, watching the car speedometer drop as they climbed hills and rise as they descended. I traversed the state, vicariously enjoying the ride.
I began riding a bike when I was about 5. I remember my father taking the training wheels off my first two-wheeler. To stop, I’d crash into the bushes, trampling my mother’s flowers and breaking branches. Undeterred, I got back on and rode again and again. I graduated to a 3 speed, then a 5, then a 10 speed. I rode from my rural Connecticut home to my parent’s farm 5 miles away, all downhill, and then put the bike in the truck to get home.
I still have lots to learn. I’m nervous balancing with one hand and reaching down with the other to grab my water bottle mid-ride. So I wear a camelback water pack. I’m slow, really slow, going doing downhill, not yet confident enough to trust in the bike and let go. Pace lines and group rides find me still in the back, watching how others seamlessly weave in and out, taking turns leading a peloton, riding each others’ wheels.
I don’t see myself doing that. Then again, you never know.
Here’s a cool story about aspiring cyclists: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/16/139674894/colombian-cyclists-dream-of-racing-out-of-poverty?sc=tw