A Random Cycling Entry

t1lbwd7I bought a car last year (a 1993 Volvo that cost 700 whole dollars), and as a result, I haven’t been riding my bike hardly at all. Turns out I am really really lazy. I still think like a cyclist, though, and am always checking bike lanes and crosswalks for errant cyclists. I hope that I’m the driver that I wanted drivers to be, back when I was biking everywhere and trying to co-exist with car traffic. Anyway, I was going through a folder in which I had a whole bunch of half-written blog entries, and came across this, and figured I’d throw it out there:

As a cyclist, I hope that drivers can keep in mind that whatever their frustration with me—going slower than them, taking the lane, needing to cross three lanes of traffic in the span of one block so I can turn from 18th onto Larimer—I’m causing you perhaps 10 seconds of inconvenience. You have the power to KILL ME. Some people seem to think that cyclists think we’re invincible daredevils, and maybe some are (I can’t speak for all cyclists, obviously), but I am hyper-aware of the fragility of my meat suit whenever I’m biking in traffic. On the contrary, it seems like car drivers are the ones who are apt to forget their potential to injure and maim. I’m not saying that there’s not badly behaved, unpredictable cyclists out there—there’s about as many irresponsible cyclists as their are irresponsible pedestrians and irresponsible drivers—but when you, Mr/Mrs Driver Person, catch yourself about to lose your shit at some poor schmuck on a bicycle, please take a breath and remember you’ll be past them in ten seconds, it’ll all be over, and you can go about your day.

Some days it just feels like there’s no way for a person on a bicycle to win. And not just in a collision, where I am obviously going to be the loser. If I run a red light, I get yelled at for running it. If I don’t run it, I get honked at for holding up traffic. If I take the lane, I get honked at, never mind that the reason I moved left was to not get doored by someone lurking in a parked car, or because there’s gravel on the road, or because cars were blowing past me with barely a foot to spare and I wanted to force them to give me more space. If I stick to bike paths, I unintentionally goose pedestrians who are walking there; if I stick to the roads, I get yelled at and run the risk of getting plastered. It can be both dangerous and frustrating when all you want is to get home from work in one piece.

That said, it seems a shame that cyclists and cars so often let the bad incidents define the discussion. I ride my bike just about every day, and I have to say, my close calls and angry incidents are few and far between. So:

THANK YOU for pausing and letting me ride by when you’re trying to back out of your driveway.

THANK YOU for waiting to take your right turn and letting me go by in front of you, even though I was going slower than you thought I was.

THANK YOU for pulling a little to the left when you’re passing me to give me space.

THANK YOU for waiting patiently behind me at a light while I start from a standstill.

THANK YOU for stopping last week when I wiped out in the rain, and checking to see if I was okay.

THANK YOU for seeing me signal that I wanted to take a left and letting me cross the lane in front of you.

THANK YOU for when you who lift up your hand and let me know that you’ve seen me.

THANK YOU for pulling your dogs closer to you when you see me coming so I don’t have to worry about getting clotheslined (and I did slow down as much as I could so as to not scare your dogs, I hope that was okay).

THANK YOU to the kids who were waiting for the bus, saw me pushing my way up a steep hill, and started clapping and cheering–that was hilarious.

Thank you all for, so far, not killing me. Thanks to everyone who hasn’t thrown bottles at me, honked their horn for no reason, or yelled at me out a window. I do very much appreciate it.

Thanks. And let’s, when on the road, all just try to be patient with each other. Me included.

 

Bikes are Love. Hills are Death.

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I originally wrote this piece for a zine I put together in 2006 or so. These days, I actually really want a car, mostly because I’m job searching and in my city, the geographic considerations of how to get from Point A to Point B without a car and without having to take more than two buses is getting aggravating. But I’m going through my old stuff and feel kinda sad that so much stuff is just gathering figurative dust on my hard drive.

Oh, and I have a new bike. (Well, relatively new.) A steel Masi CX. It is much much nicer to ride than my old Mongoose. Although, I rode that Mongoose for more than eight years and never did get a flat, and the Masi gets flats ALL THE DAMN TIME because it is a sissy.

I used to have a car. I gave it away, to some friends of mine who were moving to a commune in Missouri and had no way to get there. After two years of paying $200 every six months to repair whatever new thing had broken, $400 every six months for insurance, $60 a month for gas and the odd $40 traffic ticket, I was broke. I didn’t have any money left for it. People say all the time that they can’t get afford to get rid of their car; I couldn’t afford to keep mine. My friends seemed shocked by my generosity, but really, I was just worried that I was passing my money trouble along to them.

So now I ride my bike everywhere. My bike is a purple Mongoose that I’ve had since middle school. I talked my parents into giving the bike new tires and a tuneup for my birthday (I’ve received the same bike for my birthday twice now), and now I roll along on the most energy-efficient machine mankind has ever devised. (Incidentally, I don’t know what kind of ridiculous armor-plated tires the bike shop gave me, but three years on I’m still waiting for my first flat.)

One day I was trying to figure out how to save some money so I could continue to live in the style to which I have become accustomed (which generally means eating every day or so), and I realized I’m a full-blown bike kid, checking out what other people ride, casting longing glances at the cute bike messengers that hang out on 17th and California, and generally hatin’ on cars, traffic, pot holes, and going uphill. I think of myself sitting in my old car—which was a Nissan Sentra—and all the space it took up, the thousand-plus pounds it weighed, just to get my relatively small ass to the grocery and back, and I wonder, how did I not feel absurd every time I drove that thing?

I loved my car when I had it, and I still harbor a certain affection that no human should ever hold for a machine. It got me where I needed to go to the best of its ability; and if the clutch pedal broke off once and the car stalled out a few times, at least it did it a block away from my house, and not while I was cruising down the highway. But the damn thing just cost too much money for me to love it like it deserved. Now I have my bike, which is a little heavier than I’d like (nobody’s perfect), but I’m way more fond of it than I was of my car. You want to borrow my car? No problem. Here’s the keys. Don’t crash. You want to borrow my bike? Not a chance. It’s mine. You might hurt it.

I like that I can’t do as much in a day with my bike. Actually, I can probably get about the same amount done, but I’m way less stressed because I don’t have illusions about how much I can get done. I like knowing what my neighborhood looks like. I like being able to smell the air and feel the breeze (by the way, you in cars have no idea how bad smog smells. Ew.) Going fast on a bike is so much more fun than fast in a car. I like having stronger legs, stronger lungs. I get to make fun of dorks in Spandex. I get to go faster than cars stuck in gridlock.

And riding my bike is just fun. Except for those first two weeks every year when my lungs are going to explode and my legs are turning to rubber and I think I just might be sick to my stomach if my heart rate doesn’t go down to something approaching normal, then it’s great. And after I bought long underwear for biking to work in 20-degree weather, it’s even better. Now I’ve memorized every available bike lane, and my brain possesses a fairly accurate topographical map of the city which helps me avoid hills (which are death). And I snicker at the indentured servants of Exxon-Mobil, waiting around to pay $3.50 a gallon so they can sit in gridlock every day.

Into the Wind

0428121331.jpgI hate riding my bike in the wind. Hate it. Riding into the wind will fill me with rage faster than just about anything else (I have been known to shout obscenities at the wind, though I gave that up when I realized it was only making me angrier and more frustrated, and not actually releasing tension). I’ve ridden in the snow (both when it was falling, and when it was three inches deep on the ground), I’ve ridden through the cold, I’ve ridden through warm rain and freezing rain. Nothing makes me feel like the universe is hateful and petty like riding into the wind.

But for the past few months, I’ve been riding a lot more, and a lot farther, than I ever really have before. One of my jobs is 12 miles away, and the other only 3, so on any given day (depending on whether I’m working this job, that job, or both), I’m riding my bike anywhere between six and thirty miles a day. Six days a week. And a lot of days–especially in the mornings–it’s windy. And a lot of our wind comes out of the west or out of the north (various meteorology websites actually say that Colorado’s prevailing winds are from the south, but I don’t believe them), perfectly pointed for me to run into it.

So what am I going to do? Spend my whole ride pissed off? Not ride? Let an unavoidable fact of nature make my life more difficult than it has to be?

If it’s not the wind, in another month or so, I’ll be riding in 90 degree heat. I just got done riding in the below-freezing darkness, chunking my bike over frozen goose poop. There’ll be rain and flat tires and every other damn thing. There’ll always be something to keep me from riding if I let it. But if I let the possibility of those shitty, annoying things keep me off my bike, then I’ll never have the days when everything magically clicks together, and I feel like I could just pedal and pedal and pedal until I end up in Wyoming.

If I keep getting on my bike, then maybe I’ll pass the guys who cheerily tell me to “Keep your mouth shut, the bugs are bad ahead!” or the people who just say hi as they go by me, or call out “Behind your left!” when I’m being overtaken

If I keep getting on my bike, then I’ll see the goslings grow up, and maybe see a turkey again, or the heron that I’ve seen twice now.

Just keep pedaling. That’s all. Just keep pedaling.

Product Placement

photo.JPG I figure I’ll spend some time talking about what I wear on my bike. Since I spend so much time on my bike and preparing to be on my bike.

From the bottom:
On my feet I have Teva Links sneakers. They’re cycling shoes, but ones without cleats on the bottom, which is good as I just ride on platform pedals (I want this to change soon). They have stiff, grippy soles and stiff, sturdy uppers. I love them because my feet don’t slide around in them, so I can pedal for miles and miles without jamming my toes into the fronts of my shoes. I’m trying to remember to untie them before I take them off so that I don’t collapse the heels like I have in every other pair of shoes I own (I never untie any of my shoes).

Wool socks. Since it’s winter, as thick as possible.

Synthetic long underwear bottoms. These are mid weight REI brand that used to be my dad’s, that he passed along to me when he gained too much weight to fit into them anymore.

Shorts. I have two pairs of mountain bike shorts. One’s a pair of Fox cargo shorts, the others are Specialized. I could probably wear some other shorts, but I pretty much always wear one of those two (really, I pretty much always wear the Specialized ones). What I’m looking for is a pair of shorts with a gussett in the crotch so that I’m not sitting on a seam on my bike. I don’t wear padded bike shorts (so far on rides under 15 miles I don’t need them, so I figure why bother), so generally all I’m looking for is as little cloth as possible in the nether regions.

Shirts! I love Icebreaker. Have I said I love Icebreaker? They make wool clothes. I also have a pair of Icebreaker long underwear bottoms, but I hardly ever wear them on my bike because I don’t want them to wear out in the crotch (wool is less durable than synthetic, but it also catches fire in a less spectacular fashion). Pretty much all of my shirts that I wear on my bike are Icebreaker wool. Wicks, doesn’t get stinky, doesn’t rub my skin the wrong way the way synthetics do.

Oh, and a Moving Comfort sports bra.

So anyway. I wear a bra. Then I wear a super-lightweight Icebreaker short-sleeve shirt that’s meant to be worn next to skin. Since it’s been so cold, I usually wear two other Icebreaker layers as well: a lightweight long sleeve base layer (that’s purple!) and a heavy-weight long sleeve shirt that’s not quite a sweater, but almost. These three together keep me warm even at 6am and 20 degrees. Over that in the morning, I wear a Gore-Tex shell layer that zips up over my neck and keeps the wind out. On my way home, it’s usually warmer and I ditch the Gore-Tex.

I had a pair of knit mittens that I wore on my hands until I lost them at the Tattered Cover. Now I just wear usually two pairs of those cheapass $2 gloves you can get at Target and in grocery store lines. One pair is still too cold. As I’m riding if it gets warm I’ll peel off one pair. I have bike gloves but don’t always remember to wear them; they don’t seem to do much to stop my hands from going numb.

And a little Icebreaker beanie that fits under my helmet. And a helmet! Bern helmet. Which I think I will want to replace as it gets warmer. But right now it helps keep my head warm.

Bike Ride

Image.jpgMy bike ride to work is about twelve miles, each way. My usual shift is 7:30am to 11:30am, though I’ve been working late (with the boss’ permission, this time), so my ride to work is in the dark every morning, and my ride home in the early or mid afternoon. The ride there is in the dark, and the cold, and I’m not terribly observant because I’m still tired. This new ride takes up significant time, significant life, significant attention on my part. It’s fair to say that after the job, I spend the most time on my bike (at least during weeks when I’m able to ride, which has been maybe half or two-thirds of the time so far, and the rest of the time I ride the bus).

I always eat before I get on my bike, but I don’t eat as much as I thought I’d have to when I first got hired and committed to riding my bike 24 miles a day. For breakfast, I have two slices of toast with peanut butter. If I need to eat after I eat lunch at work, I just have a Luna bar or a Clif bar or some such. It keeps my belly from feeling empty and my legs from feeling buttery when I get home.

The first mile and a half is through my neighborhood. It’s full of stop signs (every other block, there’s a stop sign), and at 6:00 in the morning with dark deserted streets, it’s really tempting to just blow through all of them. But in the interest of not becoming bicycle pancake, I slow down and check each intersection. I’ve memorized parts of the road and can steer around potholes and chunks in the road without thinking about it. I turn right at the Catholic school, and left at the rec center, through the alley on the south side of the building. Past the basketball courts and the big central air conditioning units that I see kids hanging out on in the daytime. I cross the street, and for the next half mile or so, I’m on the sidewalk–the one and only place in Denver where I do this, and only because there are signs specifically instructing cyclists to use the sidewalk rather than the road (which is a thoroughfare through an industrial district and full of tractor-trailers, city buses, half-ton pick up trucks, and other heavy-duty things along with regular car traffic). The sidewalk is littered with broken glass and gravel, though not nearly as bad as the road is (thanks, guys who wait for the bus every day, and apparently can’t resist throwing empty glass bottles around). This is the one place on my ride that I’m most paranoid about getting a flat, and also the one place where I’ve never actually gotten one. The road dips down and travels under a set of railroad tracks, then slopes back up. When the weather was still slightly nice I slowed way down going under the tracks so as not to spook the homeless guy who slept on a cardboard pallet down there; the last thing I needed was for him to startle awake and hit my bike somehow. Since the cold has gotten bad he’s disappeared. There’s also an inordinate amount of pigeon poop under the railroad tracks that I try not to ride too close to. Past the tracks, I pass the Butcher Block Cafe, with its big windows all along its front side. I can see the rounded shoulders of drowsy bottling plant workers with their elbows on the deli counter, flannel-clad truckers, and the waitresses pouring coffee, and then I’m past, crossing Brighton Blvd, passing trucks on their way out of the plant loaded with bottles (and cans) of Pepsi. Turn right at the bottom of the hill, ride past the plant’s loading docks, then turn left onto the entrance to the bike path. Down a hill towards the river, past the benches and picnic tables that are full of homeless men in the daytime, over the first bridge, and I’m on the South Platte River Trail. For the next six miles, I’m along the river trail.

There’s no lights, so I asked my parents to give me a bright headlight for Christmas (80 lumens! So bright that I turn it away to the right when I see oncoming cyclists, and I’ve had several of them call out thanks as they go by). I found out the hard way that goose poop is hard and bumpy to ride over when it’s 20 degrees out and dark and cold and it’s been sitting on the trail for days. In the early, dark morning, I’m almost always alone on the trail (and until very recently, I was all alone on my ride home too, so that I’m still surprised when I see cyclists on my trail and sometimes forget to make space for them) except for assorted animals who wander into my headlight beam. Mostly rabbits, but one day I saw a raccoon trundling along, and early one dawn my path was crossed by a herd(?) of wild turkeys that I didn’t even know lived in Colorado. Once on my way home (in the daylight), I came out over a rise and nearly got hit in the face by a hawk of some sort (or that’s what it felt like. Really he was probably at least six feet away, falling out of the air as he got his wings under him). The river reflects whatever light I’m riding by, shining like solid obsidian, dotted with dull little bundles of sleeping ducks and geese. On my way home, I’ll watch them bob around and tip themselves face first into the water with their feet in the air; or take flight all at once. For now, they’re pretending to not be there.

The trail runs mostly north-south on my part of the trail, all the same, it has bends in it that follow the winding river. On my way to work, I mostly notice the smells: there’s horse barns and a goat barn, the Wonderbread bakery (which sometimes smells like bread, and sometimes smells like danish), a factory with a stereotypical red and white smokestack that smells like burning something horrible. And there’s a Purina dogfood factory that I can smell sometimes, and oil refinery peppered with thousands of lights and its own distinct smell. Today I finally noticed an asphalt-making place because I smelled it as I rode by. When I’m riding home in the daytime, the three major landmarks that I can see–the oil refinery, the red and white smokestack, and the Denver skyline–seem to swing along the horizon. I’m always faced the same direction, as far as I’m concerned; it’s the horizon that swivels around me. Now the smokestack is on my left, but when I get closer and eventually go by it, it’s on my right. The refinery seems far to the east, but the trail actually runs right up against its western fence. I pass over, under, and ride alongside the interstate; I pass under and ride alongside (but never go under) the train tracks; and I pass over and ride alongside (but never go over) the Platte River. The bridges are wooden slats that rattle beneath me. Ice accumulates on the underpasses where melting snow has dropped down and accumulated.

The last mile of my trail riding is along the Niver Creek trail. There must be a slight invisible incline on this part of the trail, or I hit the end of my stamina at the exact same place every day, because this is when my bike suddenly stops with the ability to pick up momentum and just grinds along in the most horrible way. It’s one thing to go up a hill–I go up a ridiculous hill a couple miles further on–but maybe it’s the fact that I can’t see this hill, and can’t see where it ends, that makes this slight one so much harder than the epic one(™) three miles down.

According to Googlemaps, when I depart the Niver Creek trail, I’m only halfway to work, which is weird because about two-thirds of my ride time is over. I pedal through a suburban neighborhood, and turn right up the Epic Hill(™) which is two blocks on and generally necessitates me shifting down to almost my lowest gear. At the top of the hill (luckily, just over the crest) is a busy light that I have to stop at. This is usually where my asthma kicks in, either because I have to stop behind idling cars or because it’s the first time I’ve stopped in twelve miles and so my breathing pattern has changed. So I breathe, and I cough, and I breathe, and I cough, and eventually the light turns green and I get to ride down the other side of the Epic HIll(™) that I just rode up. I turn right at the second light, and then take the second left, only instead of going into the loading dock of American Furniture Warehouse I turn onto another bike trail and get squeaked at by indignant prairie dogs. This trail is short, maybe 3/4 of a mile, and then I’m at an RTD Park-n-Ride (major bus stop with an attached parking lot) which is next to the interstate. There’s a walkway that goes under the interstate, and the Park-n-Ride straddles both sides of the highway, southbound and northbound buses exiting for just as long as it takes to load up new passengers and head either towards or away from downtown Denver. The southbound side of the station has a departure board on it listing the next hour or so’s worth of bus times, so I can look at the next scheduled time and tell if I’m running late for work or not. I pick up the bike trail again on the other side of the Park-n-Ride, and run parallel to the interstate for the equivalent of a few blocks (once I saw a guy get pulled over by about 5 cop cars and pulled out of his car at gunpoint), and then down a big hill, and up a big hill, cross a light, and I’m basically at work. Except for the part where I have to wait eight minutes for the last light to change because my bike doesn’t set off the sensors and the pedestrian button doesn’t work.