Observations from the desk of the Bruin cyclist.

11/30/09

Five years ago after suffering through another doctor induced medical procedure which proved to be unnecessary, my husband and I decided to spend less time listening to and enriching medical professionals and more time exercising. We have always ridden bicycles, but this time we bought Dahon folding bikes because we live on top of a hill and need to get down to the valley before we can do much riding, and we hate grappling with racks on the car. These bikes came with six gears, kickstands, and racks on the back. Since we never have been part of the spandex crowd, these bikes are adequate for us; plus the folding and unfolding takes less than a minute. Also they have a low bar which makes it easier for an older person to mount and dismount, adding a feeling of security. We do rides of from seven to fifteen miles most of the time. We are now in our early seventies and to say that these bikes have changed our lives is an understatement. We travel extensively in the United States and Europe and feel that our cycling has helped us to maintain a good level of fitness although we both could stand to lose a few pounds. My husband still works full time, and we do all our own gardening and housekeeping.

We rarely miss a weekend ride and ride as often as possible during the week, no matter how cold or forbidding the weather is. And we have traveled with these bikes tucked into the back of our Toyota Matrix up to Canada and across the country to Chicago, where we got caught in a driving rainstorm that came close to dumping us in Lake Michigan. We also use our rides to run errands. I have a good set of panniers on my bike, permitting us to visit the hardware store, the office supply store, or wherever to accomplish chores. We are fortunate in that we have a wonderful path called Iron Horse Trail running through our valley, and many shopping areas lie fairly close to this path. Also the usually mild weather in our part of California makes year-round cycling possible.

I plan to use this space to make some observations about situations that I see on my rides up and down our valley and elsewhere. There is a lot of antipathy between cyclists and drivers and cyclists and pedestrians, and some issues that I think need to be addressed. I once had a neighbor put his hand on my shoulder and tell me that cyclists must obey all the laws that govern automobile drivers; I’ll admit that I had been riding on the sidewalk (in a spot where the road is dangerous) but had dismounted when I saw him. “Yes,” I responded, “ I am aware of that, but people in cars have far more physical protection than do bicycle riders.” And I thought, “How dare you put your hand on my shoulder.” I always stop at red lights and at least hesitate at stop signs, but occasionally I do ride on the sidewalk, where that is the only safe alternative. For instance, today in Danville on the main street an EBMUD truck was parked over the bike lane in a place where it was signposted, “No Parking at any time.” I rode on the sidewalk for a short block until I was able to get back into the bike lane. To have ridden in one of the auto lanes would have been foolhardy indeed at that particular place. I always ride slowly and carefully when I am on the sidewalk and get off of my bike if the situation warrants it.

We spent most of the month of September in Germany, where cycling is big. There people ride in the streets, on the sidewalks, even through busy market squares, and one rarely sees any animosity. People move at a slower pace and appear more accepting of one another. Many grandmotherly types ride to do their shopping with their purses sticking up out of baskets on the rear of their bikes, apparently unafraid of snatchers. Although here most of us do not face the necessity of cycling to get things done, many people have discovered the fun and other rewards of cycling, and we could all benefit from a more relaxed attitude toward each other. However, I must admit that sometimes I do get irritated by the actions of other as I go on my way.

I would like to have input from other cyclists, and pedestrians and drivers as well. Let’s get a conversation started.

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