There is snow on the ground here now, the remnants of last week’s storm. It’s been frigidly cold, and so the sun melt that comes during the day has really only shrunken and compacted what fell. The edges of the road are smeared with ice where the melt has run off the curb and refrozen overnight. It’s rideable, but narrowed and a little unpredictable.
And so the commute gets a little nervous, the six inches or foot we’ve lost to the ice making the whole parade of us, cars and bikes, a mite tighter than any of us would choose. Twice on the way in just this morning, I was nearly squeezed out coming into lights.
I think a lot about how we share the road now. Having been hit a couple times, just riding along minding my own business, following the rules, I am far more careful in traffic than I was ten years ago. This has made the whole city riding experience better and less fraught. The more I follow the rules and ease up on the speed, the more friendly waves and space I seem to get.
I have changed, and certainly the driving zeitgeist has changed as well. With the wholesale adoption of mobile phones came a dark period, every other driver seemingly barreling along with their head down, but that has possibly eased up a bit, the spate of accidents and deaths that resulted perhaps curbing the worst behavior most of the time. It’s hard to tell with all the variables changing almost all the time.
There was a time when I believed that a war of sorts would develop between riders and drivers, so hectic and angry were my commutes, but in retrospect, I think that was more about me and my attitude than the world at large. I felt entitled to my piece of the road, and I made a lot of noise when I didn’t get what I thought was mine. I was younger, and thought I knew things.
Today, I ride pretty easy, though conflicts occasionally arise. I have bad days with my own attitude, and my analogs behind their wheels have their own trying times. We are all just trying to get somewhere, and sometimes we step on each others toes (faces).
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: How is it where you are? Do cars and drivers get along? Is it getting better or worse? How are you changing? And what future do you see for riding your bike on the road?
Image: Matt O’Keefe
It’s National Bike-to-Work Day here in the States, or as I like to call it “Day.” When you distill all the riding I’ve ever done, road, trail, etc., the most persistent “style” is commuting, in which I include errand running, date going-on and most all general transportation travel. If you ask, I’ll tell you I’m a roadie, but that mainly means that those are the bikes I drool over and dream about. And that’s what I ride to work.
Over the years, the bikes I’ve commuted on have morphed from old mountain bike frames with slicks, to cross bikes with fenders, to a plain old, go-fast road bike. Really, whatever bike seems right at the time is what gets ridden.
Rivendell founder Grant Peterson is on NPR today talking about how he thinks Americans should ride, i.e. more like Europeans, and we got to wondering how many of you, who we perceive of also, by and large, as roadies, are actually commuting as well.
If you’re here, you love the bike, but is it just a hobby for you, or is it a workhorse as well?
This week’s Group Ride asks: Do you commute? What do you ride? Do you kit up to go to work? Or do you wear your work clothes, a la Amsterdam? Do you have a complex shower/clothes storage strategy? What is your co-workers’ attitude toward your cyclo-commuting? And do you notice more people doing it now? Or less?
The Italian sees the future. Where everywhere people are saying, “My customers are asking for this. My customers are asking for that,” the Italian says, “Your customers don’t know what they need. They do not think of the future. They only read magazines and stare at the television.”
The future is in Urban riding, he says. He pronounces it “Ooor-ban,” and he doesn’t mean hipsters on fixies. He means a type of riding that includes your commute, your errands, picking the kids up from school, everything. Commuting, according to the Italian, is a bad word for cycling, because it implies only one use for the bike, to get from home to work.
Even Oorban doesn’t capture his meaning correctly, but it is closer, he thinks.
Cycling needs a new vocabulary, new words to express the benefits attendant thereto. “No other machine is so perfect,” he says. “Nothing else moves you from place to place, makes you healthier, eliminates pollution, connects you to the world.” The Italian uses only vegetable based lubricants. They are not the best lubricants, but when you use them correctly, they are good, and they do not destroy the environment.
The Italian doesn’t seem to care for Italians very much. “Terrible businessmen,” he says. In Italy, we only race. No one is riding Oorban. No one is touring. He rides the white roads of Tuscany, stops at a hotel, and gets greeted in English. “I am Italian,” he says. “Why are you here,” they reply. “Here we only have Americans and Germans.”
“Since Coppi and Bartali, we have only racing,” says the Italian. “They ruined everything.” Even riding with your friends is racing, in Italy. I ask him why they don’t win more races then, and he says, “Because they are terrible businessmen.” I laugh. He does not.
In the car, on the way to the bus, the Italian explains the entire European debt crisis to me, in detail, quoting the exact value of bond issue returns. The Spanish have been downgraded, he informs me. He then explains the difference between the quality and construction of various makers of merino wool cycling gear. Again, there are specific references to the percentage of wool and synthetics in each garment, the advantages of each. “Wool is the future,” he says, “as it was the past.”
The Italian is one of these people you meet in the bike business. There is a charisma and insanity to him. You don’t speak with the Italian. He speaks TO you. And you listen, because he sees the future.