Driving to Rides

When I joined my cycling club way back in 2008, one of the things that attracted me to it was that it was based right in the neighborhood. For our Sunday morning rides, I hop on the bike at home and ride exactly one mile to a Starbucks where we gather before setting out. If I’m not riding with the club, I have a repertoire of six different rides from my front door, so I’m never riding over the same ground on successive rides.

But every once in awhile, I get the hankering to ride somewhere new and different. So I’ll throw the bike in the back of the SUV and hit the highway. It’s usually worth it. Two weeks ago, I drove 30 miles to ride with a small group on country roads that I don’t get to experience often — precisely because they’re 30 miles away. The ride was great, even if I did tackle that iffy downhill I wrote about two posts ago.

I also like to do rides with the Austin Cycling Association, and they start from a variety of places. Some are even farther than 30 miles from the house. So I’m driving to those rides, too. Any organized rides I do involve driving to the start.

  Unloading the vehicles before an organized ride.

Usually, it’s worth it. Every now and then I wind up with a clinker, like the one last weekend where I drove 30 miles again — in the other direction — but wound up on a ride that traveled busy suburban streets. A lot of folks seemed to like it, but if I’m going to drive to a ride, I want to wind up out in the country.

Sometimes, I read about bikers who bike to their rides — and that can involve an extra 25 miles. One way. So when the ride is over, they’ve still got another 25 miles to go home. That’s certainly in the spirit of biking. It’s using the bike as an alternate form of transportation, and mixes the utility and the sporting uses of biking. Most of my fellow club members ride farther than I do to get to Starbucks. Some come five miles or more.

So while I will happily drive to a ride, sometimes I feel a little conflicted by doing so. We’re using fossil fuels in pursuit of a recreational activity that makes use of human power. Somehow it doesn’t seem right. Or logical. Or something.

But I enjoy the different cycling locales I visit. I know my enjoyment of cycling has been heightened by discovering a new route that I might return to every so often. I think I can say with certainty that I will continue to burn gas to get to the start of some rides.

How about you? Thoughts?

Keep It Safe — But Keep It Fun

Wow, that post on cycling more cautiously sure got a lot of attention! In case you missed it, my friend David reminded us in the comments that accidents can happen even to the safest of bikers, because we have no control over what a car driver might or might not do.

“You never want to make yourself small on the bike,” David wrote.  “Ride like you are supposed to be there and make the traffic deal with you.”

We’re each responsible for our own safety. For those who are pulling in their biking horns a bit, that’s fine — but there’s no reason to give up on the sport we love altogether. By riding “like you are supposed to be there” you’re practicing some of the safe biking techniques suggested by the League of American Bicyclists.

The League’s website features a five-point plan for riding safely. To paraphrase, those points are:

1. Follow the rules of the road.

Use the rightmost lane and obey all stoplights and stop signs.

2. Be visible

Ride where drivers can see you — wear bright clothing.

3. Be predictable

Ride in a straight line — make eye contact with drivers.

4. Anticipate conflicts

That’s another way to say “Ride defensively.”

5. Wear a helmet

Duh.

Practicing the above guidelines will make you a safer biker, and might raise your confidence level when riding in traffic. I recommend the League’s “Ride Better” page, which features all sorts of good ideas about safe riding.

But in all our discussions about staying safe on the roads, don’t forget why you’re biking in the first place. I just got back from dinner with Bike Noob reader Ramon H., who is spending a few days here in Austin. As you might guess, our dinner talk was about fun rides we’ve had, challenging rides we’ve had, bikes we’d like to have, mileage goals — all things biking. Not once in our conversation did we talk about the dangers of biking. While you’re being careful out there, don’t forget that riding is just plain fun.

Getting Cautious

The comment by Blackpearl in the last post triggered some resonant thoughts in my mind. He’s concerned that road riding is losing its attraction for him, because it’s just becoming too dangerous. I’m not there yet, but I do think I’m getting more cautious out on the road than I used to be.

In Blackpearl’s case, it was a near miss at some distance from home that upset him. He started wondering about what could have happened if the incident had been more serious. I guess a lot of us have that kind of reaction. I know that after my first major fall it took me about a year before I rode with my previous verve. On the club ride last week, the group turned off on a side street, then waited a long time for a stoplight to change before we could turn onto a major arterial. I mentioned to the ride leader that if we had gone on a few blocks more to a busier street, the wait at the light would have been much shorter.

“Yeah, but that’s where I had my crash,” he said.

A pickup truck’s mirror had clipped his helmet when turning too close, and he went down. His injuries were severe enough for an ambulance trip to the emergency room.

“I’d prefer not to ride there again,” he added.

I haven’t crashed in almost two years (knock wood), and I do like to bomb downhills with the kind of élan I had when I was a new biker. But in some situations I find myself backing off because of sudden timidity, too. Just a week ago I was way out in the country and faced a long downhill. The speed climbed to 37 mph. Problem was, the road was really torn up. The surface was uneven, with wide cracks parallel to my direction of travel, and spots of gravel or small potholes. Oncoming traffic kept me from getting out in the middle of the road where the surface was a little bit smoother. It was an exhilarating hill, but I was glad to put it behind me.

Another route I like out in a different area has a nice straight downhill that I always look forward to, but the last two times I’ve ridden it I found myself braking once I get to 34 mph. It also has an uneven surface, and I’m a lot less comfortable on it than I would expect, considering that I have never seen a car on that road.

One popular route north of the city features long rolling hills. It’s easy to get into the high 30s going down, but the crosswind that usually affects this route bothers the heck out of me. On a group ride two months ago, I watched the person I was chatting with zoom ahead of me on the downhill, while I feathered the brakes to guard against the (imagined) feeling I had that the wind would blow me off the road and over a steeper drop at the side.

I mentioned to my friend David that I’ve gotten more cautious in certain situations.

“That’s not caution, that’s wisdom,” he said. David is 61 and has been biking for over 20 years. But he said even he is backing off when faced with some stretches he doesn’t care for. At the same time, he recently took me a different way to get to the Veloway than usual. We rode in the left lane of a 45 mph highway (where the traffic is often moving well over 50) for about a half mile before being able to make our left turn. For him, it was a normal ride. Myself, I don’t care if I never go that way again — too nerve-wracking.

On today’s group ride, I was heading back on a four-lane divided road with no shoulder. I rode “as far to the right as practicable.” Usually, cars will take the left lane to pass, but not today. They whizzed by pretty close — well closer than the three feet we cyclists like to see. It would have been easy to get off onto a residential side street, but this was new biking territory for me, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to navigate side streets out to the next turn. I held my ground. Most cyclists who confess to timidity say it’s because of situations like this one, where the cars come too close. The only advice I can give is to ride with at least one other person. The bigger the group, the more cars will have to give way. They won’t like it, but they’ll do it.

Ultimately, the decision about when to ride aggressively and when to back off lies with the individual cyclist. As the instructor in my Road I course said three years ago, “If it makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it.” There are things I won’t do.