Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but since it became my job a couple decades ago to ride motorcycles, I no longer spend every weekend riding them too. One of the new activities I acquired in the last few years is pedalling around on a bicycle. I always did keep a beach cruiser around the house for short hops and for, ahh, cruising to the beach. When the kid absconded off to college with that fat-tired beater, I decided it was time to find out what I was missing that all the guys with the $5,000 bicycles were so excited about; your Josh Hayeses and Ben Spieses and plenty of serious professionals really love their bicycles. So I bit the bullet and bought myself a nice “hybrid” road bike, what we used to call a ten-speed when I had a Huffy, but with a flat handlebar that makes it what we’d call a standard if it were a motorcycle.
Buying a bicycle is probably more complicated than buying a motorcycle; they even come in different sizes, and the salesmen only agree that the one in stock is your size. I actually spent about $500 on my Specialized Sirrus, which I’d equate to about a CB500F Honda – just a nice-enough bike to give other bicyclists the impression I’m trying to be one of them, but I was really just after good, reliable transpo. I do not wish to wear the Spanx at this time.
It was good timing when I bought my bike, though, because a forced relocation now has me about a 14.5-mile pedal from the beach instead of my old 3-mile one, and fresh out of $500. Instead of meandering down residential streets, I now pedal 5 miles east to hit the Santa Ana River bike trail, which is a 12-foot wide smooth-paved strip of asphalt which runs 30-some miles from the Riverside County line to where the river dumps into the Pacific. From where I get on the trail, it’s about 9.5 miles to the ocean, and on the weekends when I typically ride, there are usually more than a few very serious bicyclists on the trail, many of them in long drafting pelotons, French for bunch of pushy jerks.
Suddenly, I’m the old guy driving slow on the freeway, not that it ever comes close to being that crowded. I always keep right on the bike trail just like I do on the freeway when I’m not passing somebody, but that doesn’t keep faster people and groups from gleefully shouting when they come up behind me, “Passing on your left!”
“Eating my shorts on your right!”, I think but have so far managed to keep to myself. Now and then I’ll be able to draft off the back for a while if it’s a good-sized group with a thick girl bringing up the rear, but not usually for very long. I attempt to look like I don’t really care by wearing tennis shoes instead of the ones that clip to the pedals, and trunks instead of real bicycle shorts. But it’s just like the old saying about motorcycles: Whenever there’s more than one, it’s a race, and it’s just like people on motorcycles at track days: You really can’t tell by looking who’s going to haul ass until the flag drops, big-boned ladies included.
Just like riding motorcycles, the fact that most of us have been pedalling bikes since about the time we could walk doesn’t stop other people from letting us know we’re doing it wrong. When I still had the beach cruiser, an older gentleman passed me fully logoed- and Spandexed-out on a Panigale-expensive-looking bicycle, and I latched onto and stuck with him for maybe half a mile. When I fell off the pace in the straw Wal-Mart cowboy hat I favored at the time, an attractive person who may have been his daughter also passed me a minute or so later with a single word I at first mistook for “casserole.” With a bike that pricey, it could’ve been his wife.
Must’ve broken some rule?
People are mostly polite, though, because unlike the motorcyclist who smokes you on the track and is gone within a few corners, on a bicycle, most people who pass you generally make a show of going past pretty quickly before settling into a pace only 1.2 mph faster than yours; it takes them awhile to get out of earshot. The Strava program I loaded onto my phone never lets me forget my average speed over the 29 miles to the ocean and back never exceeds 13.7 mph, and I think it was 13.5 when I started doing it a year ago. Oh well.
Just like the motorcycling ATGATT community, a couple of strangers have let me know I’m a jerk for not wearing a helmet; nearly everybody does wear one, including a guy I passed yesterday in an old Bell Moto 5. I exchange knowing nods with other crusty rebels coming the other direction who also choose to let their freak flag fly. I don’t have to ride in traffic at all on my beach route, and if Baby Jesus wants me to bump my head that hard at 13.5 mph and take me home after all I’ve been through, then so be it. I usually do wear gloves in case I need to break a fall, and pad my noggin with my Bjorn Borg replica headband.
In every field of human endeavor, of course, there are guys who live their lives waiting for an opportunity to yell at you. I bumped into my pal Joe Neric last weekend on the trail, and we were blocking about half of the northbound lane while we stopped to chat. We were the only ones in sight, but after about five minutes, a group of three guys rode past us, one of them yelling “GET OFF THE TRAIL YOU F********G IDIOTS!” When you put some people in uniform, even if it’s just a two-sizes too-small Spandex bicycle-riding one, the authoritarian jerk will out.
In the winter, the Pacific’s too cold to swim in, but in the summer I like to run my own little triathlon, substituting the running portion with drinking a beer possibly before and always after the bike ride and swim. Thirty miles aren’t that many for serious bicycle people (Erik Buell told me two weeks ago he was doing 100-mile rides till a back problem sidelined him), but for me it’s more than enough good clean low-impact heavy breathing and a good way to keep in touch with the community.
Just like rural areas where people like to display their wealth in the form of junk cars in the yard, the homeless who’ve taken up residence under the bridges along the river trail always have a variety of bicycles parked outside their shelters to juxtapose the high-end carbon-fiber ones whizzing past their front (lack of) door.
At the end of the day, the bicycle thing is great exercise for the mind and body, and I have to agree with the many motorcycle riders who think it makes them better motorcyclists too: It for sure strengthens your legs and core and improves balance, or something like that, and basically gets the positive juices flowing. Most of all it makes you want to fall to your knees weeping and thank God you’re not having to pedal when you do get on a motorcycle, now that you realize how much work it takes to go 29 miles at 13.7 mph. God bless Gottlieb Daimler!
I suppose it’s only a matter of time before I’ll need a better bike, those stupid shoes and some tight shorts with a chamois in the crotch, just so I can go 2 mph faster and yell at people who get in my way. Or not.