Today is a perfect day for cycling; it’s bright, not too hot, with a few clouds in the sky to break up the sunshine. No high-speed travel for us today. We’re just going to enjoy a leisurely journey around town, exploring the surroundings.
For our rides we’ve selected vintage-looking, single-speed, “fat tire” bikes — the kind where you brake by moving the pedals backward and can stand on the pedals when you’re going up a hill. They’re a Schwinn and a Huffy, the brands many of us had for our first bikes as kids.
No baseball cards in the spokes, though — at least, not yet.
This morning we had a hearty breakfast, then decided to borrow some bicycles from our resort and pedal the five miles south to San Pedro. Our bikes were of the old-fashioned, balloon-tired, single-gear, pedal brake variety, with a top seated cruising speed of about 5 mph. (Standing, you might get it up to about 10 mph, and give your keister a respite, besides.)
The design of the bikes turned out to be welcome for two reasons. First, there’s lots of interesting things to see on any tropical roadway, and if you zip by too quickly you’ll miss some of it. Second, the road was unabashedly rustic in spots, and too much speed would do nothing but produced bruised kidneys and sore wrists. Slow moving, wide-tired bikes that could navigate between the potholes were the preferred mode of transportation — better than small cars, golf carts, or even motor scooters.
On our ten-mile round trip we learned that Minnesota is not only the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but also a brand to be reckoned with in the dentistry field in Belize. We rolled past condos under construction and dive bars on the beachfront, learned that bikes aren’t subject to the apparently occasional toll charged to cross the bridge north of town, were mystified by the exchange rate between Belizean and U.S. dollars, and for refreshment bought warm fresh water delivered in a sealed plastic bag. All were part of the many charms of the bumpy road to San Pedro town.
I’ve really been a slouch when it comes to riding my bike. It’s been at least two years, and probably more, since I’ve straddled the Schwinn Caliente and pedaled off. My bike has been needing new tires and some basic maintenance, and the bumpy brick roadways of German Village aren’t exactly conducive to a thin-wheeled bike, anyway.
This past week, though, Kish got our bikes fixed, and this morning I got up early and decided to take a ride. By staying on Third and Whittier I could stick to smooth asphalt roadways, and that worked out well because my destination was the Scioto Trail bike path on the Whittier peninsula. It’s a nice, shaded ride along the river, winding past the Audubon Center and under the I-71 bridges, that emerges from the woods at the southern point of downtown Columbus. If you’ve got the energy and desire you can then head north, past the Scioto Mile park, and join the Olentangy bike path that rolls past Upper Arlington and the campus area.
It was a beautiful morning and I rode for a few miles, turning around when I read the Main Street bridge. I quickly realized, however, that my years of non-biking had taken their toll. I can walk forever without a problem, but cycling uses different muscles, and on the way back my thighs were screaming as I labored up the very gentle incline that takes you over the railroad tracks on Whittier. I desperately fought the urge to hop off and walk my bike up the hill — which would be a horrible embarrassment and egregious confession of failure — downshifted repeatedly to the lowest gear, and kept going at a snail’s pace until I finally made it to the top and could blessedly start coasting again. Fortunately, I wasn’t passed by any elderly joggers or children on tricycles.
When I acknowledge that biking uses different muscles, I can’t ignore the hindquarters, either. My keister hasn’t had to deal with a bicycle seat in a while, and it clearly needs some toughening up.
Downtown Columbus isn’t exactly a bike-friendly zone. Don’t get me wrong, the city is trying to encourage bike-riding . . . but it isn’t easy.
The problem is a combination of bad traffic design (from a cycling standpoint, at least) and Columbus drivers. The downtown area has lots of one-way streets with weird turns and splits, and many drivers who aren’t especially attentive to or considerate of cyclists. On Third Street, for example, at the point where the street moves from downtown Columbus to German Village, a cyclist chugging along in the far right lane of that one-way street has to move over two lanes to the left to head straight into the Village, at the same time drivers are jockeying to move their cars to the right, to get onto 70 West/71 South, the far right, to turn onto Fulton Street, or to the left, to merge onto 70 East. Only the hardiest cyclists stick to the road and run the risks. Instead, they ride their bikes on the sidewalks — which isn’t exactly ideal for the pedestrians among us.
Columbus is trying to change that, by adding painted bike lanes on Third Street and other avenues that show when the lanes changes need to be made. We’ll see if it works, but I’m skeptical. The problem isn’t the absence of designated lanes, but the merges and moves that the road designs require. If drivers are looking back to make sure the roadway is clear, or speeding up to make their merge, they could easily miss a cyclist — and the cyclists know it. They aren’t going to be keen to move left into a lane that may already be filled with cars or that is the target of other cars trying to make various upcoming turns.
I think we walkers will continue to share the sidewalk with our helmeted friends until the entire Third Street/70/71 design is revamped into something that approximates rationality.
At the corner of Broad and State Street in downtown Columbus, a bright white bicycle stands. And it’s not just the frame that is white. The spokes of the wheels, the tires, the seat, the handlebars and grips, and even the kickstand are painted the same brilliant white. The result is a bicycle that is so white it stands out sharply against the asphalt pavement and stone sidewalks and immediately attracts the eye of the passerby.
That is the whole idea. The bike is called a ghost bicycle, and it was put at the location by Ride of Silence, a group that exists to call attention to the number of cyclists who are killed or injured while riding their bicycles on public roadways. This year the ride of silence will occur in Columbus and at other locations in North America on May 20. There is no charge for riding. Organizers ask participants simply to ride at no more than 12 miles per hour, wear helmets, follow the rules of the road, and maintain silence during the ride.
Interesting, isn’t it, that people whose first vehicle operated on a road probably is the bicycle they had as a kid can grow up to be motorists who seemingly are oblivious to the right of cyclists to share the street. A nice person I knew was killed recently while cycling, and my friend the Biking Brewer has often mentioned that riding your bicycle on a public street can be a dangerous proposition. If the Ride of Silence and its ghost bicycles can raise awareness of the need to be mindful of bicycles on our road, it’s doing a good thing.
You could wear headphones on your walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, but I really would advise against it. If you wore headphones, you’d be eliminating the effect of one key safety device that might otherwise protect against a catastrophic bike-pedestrian collision.
It’s that little metal bike bell with the lever that you push to make the shrill cha-ching sound.
The walk over the Brooklyn Bridge is great, but you are sharing the narrow walkway with other walkers, joggers, people pushing baby carriages, people taking photos, and cyclists. And the cyclists are usually in a hurry to get to work or to get home. They labor up one side of the path to and then across the bridge, but when they hit the downslopes they really take off — and if you stray from the walker side of the road you risk getting run over.
This is where using your ears comes in. On the wooden part of the walkway, the approaching cyclists make staccato thundering sound as they charge across the planks. But on the asphalt sections they’re like a whisper in the wind — which is why the little cha-ching bells are so important. On several occasions I heard cyclists use the bell to warn people to move over as the bikes came rolling past.
I don’t think I’d ever heard bicyclist use the little metal bells before, but every bike in New York and Brooklyn seems to have them. And thank goodness they do!
On this morning’s walk I came within a whisker of being struck by a bicycle.
It happened on one of the darkest parts of the leisure path, where there are no street lights. The cyclist didn’t have a headlight. I could see him because there was a dim red light on the back of his bike, but he apparently didn’t see me. I moved to the right edge of the path, but he kept veering inexorably over in my direction. I’m guessing he was fiddling with his gear or water bottle and wasn’t paying attention; I’m fairly confident no one has put out a bicycle hit on me. Finally, I trotted off the leisure path to get out of his way, and the sudden movement got his attention. He said “Sorry!” as he righted his bike and went whizzing past, and I emerged from the encounter unscathed, with only an adrenalin surge to remember him by.
There’s always been an uneasy truce between cyclists and walkers on leisure paths and sidewalks. Bicycles move much faster than pedestrians, of course, and it’s unnerving to hear cyclists shout “On your left!” from behind you before they go flying by. When I see cyclists weaving though the people on the path, I’m tempted to think that the path should be reserved for walkers and joggers. Then I remember that I ride my bicycle on the path, too, because it’s a great ride — a smooth path, unhindered by stop signs or cars that drive too close, with a cool tunnel, little hills to get the blood pumping, and long coasting runs. It’s perfect for cycling, just as it’s perfect for a brisk, head-clearing morning walk.
There’s no reason why cyclists, pedestrians, and joggers can’t share the leisure path, day or night or early morning. But the cyclists need to really pay attention, especially when it’s dark outside. Having a light on the front of the bicycle would help, too.