clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tales from the Road

road talesI like to ride the bike, but sometimes four wheels and an engine are necessary. Like, for example, when it's time to go surfing. So I pack up the Shack Mobile and set out for the beach. The road to the beach is also a favorite road for bike rides and there are always lots of people rolling along.

Sometimes I see someone I know. I roll down the window. Venga! Venga! Other times, there are large groups on the road strewn from gutter to centerline. I wait patiently while they sort themselves out and let me pass. I'm not much for hurrying. Still other times, I see random acts of cycling stupidity.

Below the fold, three episodes from this weekend's travels.

The Bus and the Lemmings

It has generally been my experience that challenging a city bus is a bad idea. Whether on the bike or in the car, the bus is always bigger. Oh city bus, go where you want to go, I will not get in the way. This is what I say when I see the city bus. Once in a while, the city bus will creep up from behind and take me by surprise. The engines are at the back, so stealthy the city bus. But the city bus drivers here are quite civilized and there really is nothing to fear.

It has also generally been my experience that stopping for stop signs is a good idea. It saves money on bike parts and it avoids awkward car-on-car and car-on-bike encounters. I don't know about you, but I'm not a fan of colliding with stuff. It's a good way to lose some skin.

So Saturday morning, I rolled up to the intersection and obediently stopped on the white line before the prominently displayed red sign. It said Stop. Who am I to argue? As it happens, a bike path empties onto the street just before the intersection and as it was Saturday morning, bikes streamed out of the path. From the other side of the intersection, there came a city bus. The city bus wanted to turn left and did not have one of the pretty red signs. The city bus could go wherever it wanted. I sat and waited for the city bus to do its city bus thing.

The bike riders proved less patient than I, and declined to obey the injunction to stop. They rolled into the intersection just as the city bus began to turn left. From where I was sitting, this decision did not seem wise. The city bus is way bigger than the average bicycle. Seeing the imprudent bicycles, the city bus stopped, which was good, because I really didn't want to see bicycle mixed with city bus. I'm a little selfish that way. Seeing no further bicycles, the city bus began to go again. But more bicycle riders suddenly streamed into the intersection. Maybe they were simply color blind or hadn't yet learned to read. The city bus stopped again. The city bus driver began to look slightly irked that so many bike riders wanted to run into his shiny city bus. Then the city bus tried to go again, because by now, the big city bus sat in an awkward position diagonally across the intersection. The city bus driver definitely wanted to turn left and get on with his life. But still the line of lemmings came. More bike riders. I watched bemused.

Clearly these bike riders had never studied physics. For if they had, surely they must have seen how much larger was the city bus than they. And surely, if they knew how much bigger was the city bus, they would not have issued the city bus such a challenge. Fortunately, the city bus proved surprisingly docile for its size and allowed these poor deluded fools to roll along on their way. And finally, I got to go surfing.

The Drafter

It is an invariable truth that wherever there are group rides, there will be riders late to group rides. And sure enough, the group ride rolled out, leaving behind several poor souls whose alarms went off too late or who hadn't synchronized their watches. It's always sad to watch these lonely riders try to chase down the group, since their odds of making the catch sit somewhere between slim and none. Still, there are always a few who are game to try. Life is a bike race.

This time, I didn't see the group ride roll out, but I did see a couple earnest riders trying to catch it. The First Law of Chasing: If you can't even see the group, you're in for a heap load of hurt. Undeterred, a solo rider pushed onward. Looking good, I thought, maybe he'll make it. Then began the slow fizzle as the air leaked from his balloon. Slower and slower he went.

By now, I'd nearly overtaken the chaser and since I didn't quite know where the group ride would pop up on the road, I was driving rather slowly. At the sound of the Shack Mobile, the chaser perked up. Ah-hah, he thought, here is my free ticket to the back of the group ride. Quickly, he swerved out into the traffic lane and sprinted out of the saddle to catch up to me. Clearly, the trusting sort, this chaser, he had no qualms about drafting an unknown car. I admit, I have such qualms. Alas for this undaunted chaser, he reckoned without the tired state of his legs. Try as he might, he could not reach that joyous sucking feeling of the draft that means more speed and less effort. Indeed, he blew quite spectacularly and went backward precipitously.

Up ahead, I could see the group ride rolling along smoothly. I watched as the chaser disappeared from the rearview mirror. The group rolled forward, he slipped back. It's a cruel world.

No Chain

It's a trifle hilly around these parts and sometimes, the hills pop up out of nowhere. There you are, riding along, not a care in the world. Then, whammo! A hill! This pattern can be quite disconcerting for you and your drivetrain. It's never a good idea to shift abruptly from big ring to small. Yes, it's a ticklish business, this shifting. One wrong move and you'll be putting greasy finger prints all over your new white bar wrap. Because you always add fresh white bar tape before the Saturday group ride, don't you?

Of course, embarassing accidents happen to us all. Once I rode out with some Real Life Pros and promptly dropped my chain on the first small hill to appear in the road. Did I have dumbass tatooed on my forehead? I tend to think I did. There was also that incident with the pothole, but that's another story for another day.

When the dread chain drop happens to you, what do you do? Do you:

a) Reach down, while riding, and flip it back on with your finger?
b) Slip smoothly through the group to the back, pull off to the roadside, and put the chain back on?
c) Stop right where you are, jump off your bike, and begin wrestling with your bike and chain in the middle of the road?
d) Toss your bike as far as possible into the bushes. (If you choose this option, do not stop to consider how you will retrieve your bicycle or how you will return home.)

As I was driving the Shack Mobile to the beach on Saturday, I came upon a hapless fellow, who had dropped his chain on a short steep climb. Turning steep all at once, it was the perfect spot to drop a chain. Fully engrossed in the disaster that had befallen him, the chain-dropper did not stop to think where he was. No, he simply jumped off the bike, and set about fixing his chain, which appeared to be not only off the rings, but firmly stuck. The dread chain-drop chain-suck double. As it happened, he had jumped off his bike in the middle of the road and there he stood, bent over his recalcitrant machine. He seemed to have no idea that anyone else might wish to use the road on which he stood.

The battle looked to be a lengthy one, and I really wanted to get on with things. There was a blind corner on the other side of the road, and in a rare moment of braveness, because really, I drive like your grandmother, I decided to go around the chain-dropper and be on my way. Fortunately, there were no on-coming cars to ruin my plan. Last I saw, the chain-dropper still stood in the middle of the road, his ass extended across the centerline while he yanked at his tangled chain. Really, you'd think he'd want to move the yanking activities to the side of the road. I suppose some people just enjoy a little extra risk in their lives.

* * *

And that, my friends, is the story of my weekend on the roads. I do sometimes wonder where these people come from. Is there a planet somewhere on which stop signs mean go? And city buses are made of squishy sponges so bicycles bounce right off them? Maybe it's the same planet where everyone has their own personal road that they need not share with anyone else. It sounds like an odd sort of planet to me. Meanwhile, I'll just be right here on my usual planet trying to get by.