Adventures in Urban Bicycling

At the encouragement of my parish priest, I started cycling about fifteen years ago.  It wasn’t a brand new activity. I had biked in college.  Two of my friends were serious cyclists and I tagged along with them.  These two chapters of my biking life have two things in common.  Then and now, I was always among the slowest riders in the group, and both groups rode mostly in rural settings.  Wide, quiet, tree lined roads are still my favorite place to ride.  On those rides, my primary concern was keeping the faster riders in sight.  Far too often that sight was my friends stopped at the top of a hill waiting for me to struggle to the join them.  As both my experience and strength improved their waits were shorter.

Living in mostly rural Chautauqua County gave me lots of rural roads to ride.  Because it’s snow country there is a berm along all but the most back country roads.  While they are not always smooth and clear of obstacles, they always gave me room in case traffic showed up.  Long, uninterrupted rides are a great time for fellowship with friends, or for cleansing the brain when riding alone.  The greatest danger is topping a rise or rounding a corner to discover a surprise.  Like the day I crested a hill and saw a lump of something in the middle of my lane twenty feet or so ahead.  There was enough time to slow down and identify the surprise as a snapping turtle making its way from one side of the road to the other.   That kind of room for error and surprise was a great gift.

Riding in Virginia has presented new challenges.  Country roads here don’t come with berms.  Which means there is no room for error by rider or driver.  Either of us can come around a corner and discover a very serious issue and no margin for a mistake.  The upside is that there are a lot of cyclists here, so drivers are accustomed to us.  That doesn’t seem to slow them down or make many adjustments on those roads, however.  Plus, there are just a few too many roadside memorials to fatal bike accidents for my taste.

Maybe I’m just getting old and less brave, but I don’t feel comfortable riding the way I have in the past.  That has meant very little time in the saddle over the last three years.  This year I made a pact with a friend (that same priest!) to shoot for a thousand miles in 2017.  That’s a big ask, about twice my best year ever.  The difference is that the riding “season” in Richmond is a lot longer than it is in western New York.  The goal is challenging (because all goals should challenge you), but it ought to be doable.

So the first challenge has been finding a place to ride.  The obvious choice was to become an urban rider.

Riding in an urban environment presents a different set of variables to consider.  More traffic, coming from more directions.  Pedestrians, speed bumps, stop signs/lights (obeyed to varying degrees) and the general impatience among city drivers.  Left-hand turns that require the rider to cross traffic to get into the correct lane position to make the turn.

And then there is the issue of car doors.  My encounter with the snapping turtle gave me time to figure out what was happening, and then sweep around the obstacle.  This past week while riding in the city, I had just enough time to swerve violently into a blessedly empty lane to avoid a door flung open into my path.  The driver was on her phone and pushed the door open with her foot.  The image of the door and her foot is burned into my memory.  This possibility had occurred to me from the start of my transformation into an urban cyclist.  When I ride along the rows of parked cars I try to keep an eye into the passenger compartments, looking for heads.  So I either missed her, or she was using her foot because her free hand was reaching for something in the passenger seat.  That would have put her head in a position not to be seen.  I have no idea what happens to either bike or rider when they slam into a car door at ten miles per hour or more.  My bet is that it’s painful.  I’m just as happy to avoid it.  The only other adventure so far was making a bad turn onto a major thoroughfare and realizing that I needed to cross two lanes of traffic to get where I wanted to go.  Lots of cars moving faster than my poor legs were really able to propel me.  I survived.  That mistake will not be made again.

Once a get a little more saddle time, (it’s less a matter of getting my legs ready than it is getting my butt used to the saddle) I’m planning on riding the Cap2Cap trail.  Fifty-two miles between the two historic capitals of Virginia.  The goal is to ride it several times this year.  I’m still on the hunt for other, longer interesting rides to help me make the goal.

I track my riding using MapMyRide.

Ride Total – 4

Mileage Total – 37.44

Let’s roll.


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