Tales from the road

RoadBikeRider, a terrific weekly e-newsletter published by Ed Pavelka and others who once worked for/with Bicycling magazine in Emmaus, Pa., promises an occasional dispatch from newbie commuter Gary Kirkland of Gainesville, Fla. This is for all the commuters out there who are slowly moving out of the gutter one inch at a time….


“Take your space. Don’t hug the gutter — or that is all you will get.”

This advice came from Eric Snider in St. Paul, Minnesota, in a comment to my initial column on my education as a rookie bike commuter.

I have to say Snider’s words stuck with me. By nature I’m a gutter hugger. Doing the two-wheeled waltz with 2-ton steel partners takes practice. Trying to be totally alert and relaxed while a fully loaded cement mixer thunders by my left ear doesn’t come naturally.

Yes, I shake my head when I see riders on the sidewalk where no motorist is looking for them. But I think maybe they’re working up the courage to take the plunge, and hope they stay safe until then.

The sentiment voiced by Snider is both true and one that I’m trying to practice, taking my space one inch at a time, but there are still moments when my inner gutter rat takes over.

While my skills improve I feel being safely timid is better than being boldly wrong. I am fortunate that I have an on-road bike lane most of the way to and from my office, but that hasn’t stopped me from looking for the cycling equivalent of the scenic bypass.

Off the Beaten Path

In talking with other riders in town it becomes clear than many veterans have developed off-the-beaten-path routes that piece together back streets, parking lots and neighborhood connector paths not open to 4 wheels. This not only shortens their route, it offers a more pleasant ride between here and there.

My regular route contained only one “I hate it” spot. Trying to cross the busy 4-lane in front of my office during the afternoon dash home was a white-knuckler.

I had to do a 2-lane sprint to a median cut-through, then cower in the center as a wall of traffic flew by uncomfortably close on both sides as I waited for another safe gap. It was hot, loud and the exhaust fumes were intense. Knowing I was inches and one dropped cigarette or cell phone distraction away from obliteration was enough to rev my heart to near aerobic levels. I knew I needed an alternative.

So, I looked on Google maps, plotted a slightly longer but more peaceful route, and set my wheels on a healing path to my afternoon heebie-jeebies. Only the route proved to be a phantom, existing virtually but not in reality.

It was frustrating, but then a friend who lives in the neighborhood showed how 10 yards of bumpy road and 10 feet of well-worn walking path could magically help me connect the dots. Now my afternoon ride is about 5 or 6 blocks longer and 100% improved.

Click below for the rest of Gary’s report.


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