Monday, May 24, 2010

Pursuit Begins with P

Saturday morning I did not eat enough absorbent food with breakfast, so I had to drop off at a convenient patch of woods on the ride to work. George rode on, because we needed to get at least one of us there somewhere in the vicinity of opening time.

Based on the time I spent off the bike, I guessed he had about a mile lead with about seven or eight miles to go. I hadn't planned to ride hard, but I have trouble resisting a chase. I wondered if I could reel him in before we got to work, without beating too hard on my tired legs.

I didn't expect to see George for a while. For a couple of miles the road has curves and hills that prevent a long look ahead. When I did reach the first straighter parts, George was still around the next bend. When I finally did sight him I still had to ride patiently. He stayed out ahead for another mile or two.

We came into the tighter curves riding together. George was pushing the pace. He's enjoying the results of a steady riding schedule. He's never trained for cycling before. He's not doing it with a racer's dedication and focus even now, but he's observing general principles that make his relatively long commute easier. He also sees the value of speed and maneuverability in traffic. But he's not as fast as I am. Not yet, anyway. I get nervous riding in traffic with slower people. I have my own sense of what is an appropriate speed. George almost reaches it, but I keep expecting motorist trouble when we hit the worst section together. I ride faster and more aggressively among the hurrying motorists, so they are less likely to dismiss me as just another piece of debris swirling in the road wind.

Summer brings a more aggressive breed of driver to our area. The morning commute is already getting more dynamic, and real summer hasn't arrived yet.

It may seem cold, but if George and I can't coordinate our speed in the nasty bits I will recommend we ride it well separated. The motoring public will have an easier time passing us singly than if we have to guide and control them past us as a more bulky duo. Besides, as he trains more it may be me dangling off the back. My recommendation remains the same. There's safety in singleness.

These are decisions riders have to make constantly when negotiating narrow roads with moderate to high traffic volumes. If that's all the road you have, you have to learn to operate in it.

I would bypass the most dangerous section by taking the Disappointing Excuse for a Rail Trail (DERT), but that chokes easily with only a few users. Pedestrians, dog walkers and recreational riders fill it on summer days. A transportation cyclist can't count on maintaining a steady pace. Then a rider has to make a left turn to re-enter the traffic flow on the streets, or take the subservient route in the crosswalk at Center Street. I avoid using a crosswalk with my bike because it reinforces the view of cyclists as inferior to motorists. Even if I'm going to take the path on the other side of the crosswalk, I will leave it at the closest street access before the crosswalk and rejoin it from the street rather than have the cars stop for "the biker" who appears to them as just a pedestrian on wheels.

One problem with the path is that it is so relaxing. I fall easily into a tourist mode, only to have to go to battle stations instantly when I emerge into the streets again. As much as possible, I will remain in the vehicular flow for my whole route.

Heading out of town the contrast is not as jarring. Traffic disperses as the speed limit goes up and the road widens. The path lies to the right of the direction of travel, so entry and exit are easier. Then the only issues are other path users and the poor design of the path itself.


Steve A said...

Interesting. In my heart I agree that "speed and maneuverability in traffic" is a virtue. In my MIND, I disagree, because it's easier to miss a slow target unless you INTEND to hit it, which almost no motorists really want, despite the rhetoric of an antisocial few.

Like you, I ride mostly with my heart, which really IS good FOR the heart...

Rantwick said...

"I ride faster and more aggressively among the hurrying motorists, so they are less likely to dismiss me as just another piece of debris swirling in the road wind."

Same here. And that was written SO WELL.

"debris swirling in the road wind"? Poetic genius. I'm not kidding. Sometimes I really love this internet thing.

cafiend said...

@Steve A: When I think of speed and maneuverability I envision using these qualities to flow more compatibly with the other vehicles rather than darting among them as some of our more flamboyant fellow cyclists like to do. By keeping my speed up I give an overtaking motorist more time to think while closing the gap. Approaching or crossing motorists may test my maneuverability (or impact resistance).

cafiend said...

@ Rantwick: Thanks, man. I feel that if I'm going to be so vain as to self-publish I should try to put out something enjoyable. What I lack in punchy news and cutting edge information I hope to make up for in readability.