Sunday, May 28, 2017

My Bike and I

It's a beautiful day here today: 21 and sunny, with a refreshing breeze. Mark and I just went for a little bike ride.
Not for long; he's out of practice. Truth be told, I am, too.

I ride my bike to work most days. That's not far, about sixteen minutes if I don't haul ass; I've done it in nine, once, and wouldn't want to have to do that again. (Forgot my bag one morning containing my lunch, my name tag/punch card, and all my work paraphernalia....didn't clue into that until I was halfway there. There was a time I woke up fully functional each morning. Not sure when that went away, but that time is long gone).

Seven years ago, I was riding 40 minutes one-way to work, and thirty years ago 40 minutes would barely have been worth pulling out of my driveway for. I used to ride for hours. Of course, that was in London, where there were these things called bike trails everywhere. We have a few here, but the only ones convenient to me are piddly-ass internal neighbourhood park trails. If somebody knows otherwise, PLEASE, speak up.)

I haven't ridden anywhere aimlessly in years. Decades, quite possibly.

Concerns have been expressed about my commute, even as short as it is. Mornings, there are three very low-traffic residential streets, about 300m of major artery with a bike lane, and then an exhilarating rush down two grades on industrial service roads. Coming home, there's about 500m on one service road, a very short stretch of Northfield Drive (again, a bike lane), an admittedly hairy left turn at Parkside--getting into the left turn lane across two lanes of Northfield is often impossible and I'm forced to turn right on Parkside instead, pull a U-turn and go through that way--and then a bike lane all the way to my street.

They say most collisions happen within minutes of home. It was on my street on Friday where a rather harrowing incident occurred less than thirty seconds away from my driveway.

I'm fine, we'll get that out of the way first. I was riding up my street, on which there is a breast-shaped hill with a gentle curve where the nipple would be. Grand River Transit, in its infinite wisdom, decided the top of that hill, right on the curve, would be a good place to put bus stops on either side of the road. There was a bus stopped opposite me as I rode by. It was just starting to move.

Not fast enough for the pickup truck behind it, evidently. He swung out to pass. Now he's in my lane. I'm still safe--I'm only a bike, and I'm riding where I'm supposed to be, no more than eighteen inches out from the curb.
But there's a car behind me. And there's no room for the bus, the pickup and the car to pass each other. I'd bet money on it.

I ding my bell furiously, scoot off the road using the nearest driveway, and violate my own ironclad rule that sidewalks aren't to be ridden on just long enough to get clear of the crunch I know I'm going to hear.

No crunch. Three horns that made a E minor chord, the bus horn providing the root. (Funny where my mind goes). I snapped a glance back and watch as the three vehicles somehow slip past each other with what looks like no space to spare.  of space to spare. If I had been three or four seconds behind, I would have had to ditch.

But I'm fine. A little extra cardio that day, is all.

Winter fazes me. Any snow on the ground, or any temperature below about -5, and I'm bussing. Also grabbing a bus if it's pissing down rain the morning: afternoon monsoons I can stand, but getting thoroughly soaked on my way to work in freezers and coolers all day is not optimal. Sure, I could pack a change of clothes, but for a variety of picayune reasons, why bother?

I have ridden in all manner of weather, from tornado-warned supercells (that was fun, let me tell you) to -15, windchill -24 (no problem, if you're dressed properly and it's bare and dry) to six inches or more of slush (never, ever again). Now, at the age of 45, I would prefer my riding climate at least somewhat clement. Call me a wimp if you wish, I can take it. Much easier than I can take six inches of slush.

The bike I'm riding now is the best bike I have owned by a pretty fair margin. It's still very much low end as bikes go -- but it was the cheapest bicycle on offer at a high-end bicycle shop you couldn't pay me to go into again. Eva and I were both treated like absolute shit because I refused to accept that bikes nowadays come with tires that have to be checked every time you so much as think about riding. (We had those tires the store we should have bought the bike from in the first place...and I've had to put air in them four times in the two years since.

One other modification: a seat. Did you know that bikes don't come with seats anymore? In place of seats, you get this thing the width of a gnat's pubic hair that would give me a vasectomy if I hadn't already had one. How in the hell do people sit on those? I can't. It would wedge so far up my asshole I'd look like my bike sported saddlebags.

I should also mention that my bike has fenders. These are almost as rare on bicycles now as manual transmissions are on cars, for reasons that utterly escape me. Fenders are vital, damnit. Without them, you get a muddy stripe up your back and if you're going fast enough, you get to drink the dirty road-water that shoots up off your front tire. Apparently, these are features, now. People are weird.

My bike represents the same thing for me that cars do for you normal people: freedom. There are, in fact, arguments to be made that a bike gives you so much more freedom than a car. Yes, you can go so much further and (most of the time) faster in an automobile -- something I have had renewed reason to lament of late...and, right, neither -24 windchills nor six inches of slush present much of an obstacle to a car.

But you can go so many places on a bicycle that a car won't get you to. It's almost infinitely cheaper to operate a bike, even if you have been rated to have a minus-87.5 mechanical aptitude like me. It really is good exercise. It doesn't pollute at all. If I could drive, I would still choose to ride the short distances whenever possible.

Mark says he'd like to ride more often, and work our way up to longer rides. I'm all for that.

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