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.