Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sometimes it's just about riding

This weekend I participated in a "group ride". It was a first for me, with the exception of completing the cycling portion of a half triathlon two summers ago; which, by the way was the second longest distance I'd pedaled a bike, the longest being the completion of the Prairie Spirit Trail (click on the highlighted words to go to their website)followed by an additional 11 miles on to my parents' house. It was a ride sponsored, organized, and led by members of  Kanbikewalk, which you can access by clicking on these highlighted words:Kanbikewalk. I estimated the turnout to be about 15-18 cyclists, I never did count exactly how many were there, what with me being a "word guy", and more prone to describing the experience through sensory detail, rather than quantifying the experience through data.
"The word guy" at a young age.
We made a nice group, but we didn't show much diversity.  Most were men between the ages of 35 and retirement age, and all "white", that is to say Caucasian, meaning varying degrees of pinkness through tan-ness, depending upon how much sunlight and wind 
each of us is exposed to regularly. Luckily, one pleasant female cyclist rode with us who spoke with a genuine Indian accent, and no I don't mean Lakota, or Iroquois, but Hindi, and her healthy, vibrant complexion was darker than most and was not caused by exposure to the elements.
November granted us a nice Saturday morning to ride. The temps climbed from the mid forties to the high of fifty seven. I liked the cool temps, it allowed me to wear several layers and peel one or two of them off  when needed. As I feared, I was the best dressed cyclist at this event. I decided beforehand I was there to represent the commuter aspect of cycling, rather than the recreational aspect. With this in mind I opted to wear pretty well what constitute my normal work clothes for teaching English to high school students: button up collared shirt, belt with buckle, pants (I wore denim jeans, though for four of five school days I wear khaki pants), brown leather casual shoes, and a faux tweed sport jacket, or suit jacket, whichever you prefer. Let me just say that the other cyclist looked better, because though I wore "dress" clothes, they are threadbare and nearly worn out and would not pass for "dress clothes" much of anywhere except a school full of high school students where half of them wear pajamas to school

 and the other half wear wife-beaters. 
Nonetheless, due to my clothes and my three speed bike, I was right where I always try to position myself: at the center of attention! Several of them let me know I should participate in their annual "tweed ride". Sounds cool to me. Here's a video of what a tweed ride might look like; some elements of it anyway.

The purpose of the ride was to show off a portion of some of the nice bike/ped trails the city of Olathe, Kansas has to offer. They were nice, curvy, blacktopped things which meandered along Indian Creek and through suburban America. The highlight of the trip was the "multi modal transportation interchange". To put it simply, this was a busy intersection of interstate highway, busy city street, and busy county road. What KanBikeWalk did was push for access for all forms of transportation (pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles) at this busy intersection (I noticed they didn't include horseback). It worked very well, and is a model for how all cyclists would like to see it done as far as bike lanes are concerned.
The nicest design feature was how the bike lane was between the vehicle right hand turn lane and the left hand vehicle lane so vehicles who intended to turn right were already on the cyclist's right and the danger of a vehicular cut off was greatly reduced.

I was in no hurry on the ride. The first half, roughly, was on the "meandering trail" I mentioned already. I suppose people are creatures of habit, and it didn't take long for all of us to bunch up and form a big clot of cyclists on the path. This kind of riding requires the cyclist to pay more attention to the cyclist directly in front of him in order to judge if he/she is slowing; the purpose being to avoid a rear end collision. I didn't see the point of driving 40 miles to go on a bike ride through a beautiful cross section of America on a gorgeous day just to watch the rear end of the cyclist in front of me. So, I hung back several bike lengths, just as I do when I drive, only when I drive it's several car lengths.

I noticed a few of the other cyclists just couldn't stand my approach and felt the need or desire to pass me, which was fine by me. Probably their desire to pass and get on up there was because they were riding bikes made for speed and racing, rather than looking around and enjoying the ride. Long story short, I ended up riding at my own pace, which was considerably slower than the others, and hanging back to provide encouragement to the aforementioned lady who needed a little emotional boost.

I stayed quiet during the meeting of KanBikeWalk. I find it's better to stay quiet and look ignorant, rather than talking and proving it to everyone. They were some smart people in there, and I like what they're trying to get going. They're pushing for safe walking and bicycling. That's it! Pedestrians and cyclists simply wish walk or bicycle without being harmed. They're pushing for the end of the vehicle centered transportation system. Yes, vehicles do account for the largest part of transport, but does that mean they are less accountable for their actions? A cyclist or pedestrian walking on or along a roadway and adhering to traffic laws, should not be "taking their lives into their own hands", or doing so "at their own risk", no more than vehicle traffic should feel they are.

I'm not sure what my role in this is, but as the Midwest Bicycle Commuter, traffic laws and traffic planning affects me. I don't want to be harmed commuting by bike only to have the law enforcement officers and the community at large feel that I "had it coming."

This has been a long entry and my mentioning so only makes it longer. Keep on riding your bikes and walking. Keep being a good example. Help people you know ride their bikes and walk places. I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. I'm thankful I live in the United States. I'm thankful for my family.

Keep on commuting by bike.

1 comment:

  1. Clayton,

    I'm glad you went to the meeting and the ride. I hope to do a tweed ride here, it sounds really fun.


    P.S. - For me, reading the colored background is really hard.


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