The old rules still apply.
It’s a jungle out there.
Most of my life I’ve owned a bike. As a youth, I pedaled for hours in pointless directions. In my twenties and thirties I couldn’t bike far and fast enough. Nowadays, I like to plan a route to not only remain within my limits but also to stay safe. There is so much traffic going to and fro it’s best to have a protocol. So I’ve developed a list of rules for myself and for others when saddling up. So read forth and take heed!
I – STAY ON THE RIGHTEOUS PATH
When biking in south Minneapolis, MN, I’m partial to a circular route, a transportation rondo, where to leave is to return. Most of my route is on designated bike paths, but first I have to get to them. So the first mile is a casual ride on city streets, a warm-up to loosen the joints and sharpen the senses. If I see too many motorists on the road, I will move to the sidewalk. If there is a pedestrian on the sidewalk, I will jump back onto the street. I take these extra steps for I find it annoying to see a motorist or pedestrian on a designated bike path.
Only once did I see a car driving down a trail meant for a bike, but seeing a pedestrian is a common occurrence and the frustration only mounts with this list of compounding offenders:
- Two walkers
- A walker with a dog
- A walker with a dog and baby stroller
- A walker with a double baby stroller
- Toddlers selling lemonade out of the double stroller
Most of my encounters with pedestrians I let slide. I keep any eruptions at bay and any name calling to pseudo-Italiano. I think it’s important to be polite. There is no need to escalate an incident when the next one is only a few blocks away. Let any conflict pass with a deep breath and quick curse: Idiotti!
II – HONOR THY MOTOR
I don’t think motorist start off their day thinking, “I’m going to be extra-aware and deferential to all cyclists for I appreciate how they take steps to lower their carbon footprint, improve overall health rates and help alleviate inner-city congestion.”
I know for a fact that most motorists view cyclist as pests. I even get frustrated when I have to slow my car down to a crawl because a cyclist is puttering along a narrow parkway.
Some think motorists should be deferential to cyclists. I think it’s the other way around. In the laws of the jungle does the rhino yield to the gazelle? Does the elephant tip toe around the aardvark? As far as I’m concerned culpability does not factor into physics. If a motorist and cyclist collide, it doesn’t matter who is right for the cyclist will always be on the losing end of the argument. That is why I take care when entering an intersection, especially when I reach Lake Street.
I never liked the street. At the intersection I will wait for the light to not only turn green but for all cross traffic to stop. It doesn’t take much for a motorist, distracted, drunk, sleepy or otherwise to blow right through a red light. It happens. It happened the other day. Even though I had the green light, it didn’t prevent a woman in a red convertible from sliding through the crosswalk right where I planned to be before I heard the screeching tires.
I have a golden rule when it comes to entering an intersection: Make eye contact with all motorists. If you don’t see them seeing you, they don’t.
Once, I waited as a guy in a dilapidated work truck rumbled down the street. He abruptly stopped when he saw me and proceeded to angrily wave for me to cross.
I remained on the sidewalk for I didn’t know why the guy was so angry and why he wanted me to move in front of his immense chrome grill.
This only made him furious, so he started to yell and wave like an angry hornet was inside his cab.
At this point I thought it best to cross before the guy turned his giant radial tires towards me. I quickly dashed across the intersection, keeping a wary eye on the truck as steam seethed from the open windows.
Son of a Bianchi!
III – THOU SHALL NOT DRESS LIKE FALSE IDOLS
Once I cross Lake Street, I will reach the Midtown Greenway, a perfectly nice bike path that cuts through south Minneapolis to the Chain of Lakes (Cedar, Isles, Bde Maka Ska and Harriet). But it’s not a place to relax. There is simply too much traffic. Also, local businesses decided to open their back doors to potential customers. There are art and yoga studios, hotels and apartments, restaurants and even a coffee/bike shop with tables that straddle the path.
Usually the tables are filled with cyclist in full regalia with clip-on shoes, spandex racing shorts and neon-colored racing shirts. You’ve seen these cyclists. They like to bike in groups and sometimes wear matching outfits. They are a peloton with no desire to leave the city limits. Instead, they bike for a few miles and then take over a local bakery or coffee shop, which is fine, but dress for the occasion if your end goal is to eat a jelly doughnut.
It wasn’t always this way. When I first moved to the Twin Cities there were bike paths but not a plethora. Most were consigned to bodies of water. Not many were connected. But that all changed with Martin Olav Sabo. He was the United States Representative for Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs. He also was the chairman of the House Budget Committee. More importantly, he was an avid cyclist who funneled federal dollars into building bike paths for his hometown.
By chance, I was a beneficiary of this largesse as one of the bike paths first built was alongside an active rail line that started downtown and terminated a few blocks from my employment. For a time it felt like this path was solely built for me. Every morning was a solitary commute as the din of the city faded into a grassy prairie. I saw more wildlife than people. I felt more like a cowboy traversing the open prairie than a commuter heading into work. Everything was wide and open. It felt like freedom.
The federal dollars kept pouring and more and more bike paths were built. Soon there were so many they started connecting with each other until Congressman Sabo’s dream was realized: Most of the metro could be reached on a designated bike path.
One of the advantages of building all these paths was it encouraged more and more people to bike. But what was once blue skies and open trails started to feel a little more crowded.
IV – BE WARY OF THOSE WHO CAST STROLLERS
Since walking paths run alongside most bike paths, there are always pedestrians crossing. I personally slow down for you would be shocked how many pedestrians will step in front of a moving cyclist: kids dashing away from parents; seniors looking at their feet; teenagers thumbing through a text; blind dates looking for their blind date; beleaguered dads hauling picnic equipment.
Once I was biking past a heavy confluence of people: walkers and runners, in-line skaters and longboard skateboarders, swimmers and sunbathers, kayakers and paddle boarders, onlookers and preeners, all waiting to cross.
One lady had it with the waiting. She had a willful look when our eyes met. The look said she was done with the endless bike parade. But instead of stepping into traffic herself, she shoved her stroller (with a baby) in front of my bike.
Luckily, I saw her intention to use a baby stroller as a roadblock and swooped around. I quickly glanced back, but another cyclist was already behind me.
“Did that really happen,” I asked.
He only shook his head in disbelief.
V – THOU SHALL NOT BLOCK
It’s not only pedestrians that clog up a bike path. Cyclists are the worst offenders. Sometimes a biker will catch up with a neighbor without pulling over. Others will stick out into traffic when fixing a flat tire. Just the other day I came across a guy who had laid his bike on the path and was giving directions to other cyclists who were also stopped on the path. Double block!
I’ve been guilty of this offense. I think we are surprised to see someone when we are out and about we forget where we are. If we are at the grocery store, it’s no big deal. If we are on a bike path, there are other cyclists who may not know your former band teacher and may want to get around your trip down memory lane.
A static block is annoying but easy to circumvent. A more difficult task is the moving wedge.
I can understand why people want to bike together. After all, it’s in the bible when Noah walked the animals two-by-two into the ark. I personally don’t mind. Biking should be fun and people should be able to chat along the way. But they should also be aware other cyclists will want to pass. Most do look out for advancing cyclist and move over with a simple request. Others need a little more encouragement.
The other day a woman biking with her husband didn’t move over when I approached and seemed unresponsive when I said I was behind her.
Her husband heard my second request and told his wife to move over, which she did but not without complaint.
“You should have said you were behind me.”
“I did… Twice”
“Well not loudly enough.”
No Dante, Dim Verdi!
She was irritating but not the worst. That goes to a guy I came across in the middle of a date.
It had to be their first encounter for the couple was exchanging information. Actually, the guy was doing all the talking and most of it was braggadocio.
All I wanted to do was to get around but Fredo Fugazi wouldn’t budge from the left lane. I think his main focus was moving his date beyond social discourse and recreational exercise for he didn’t respond to any of my pleas.
GUY: Ferakh Maamer should only be ordered on the streets of Marrakesh.
ME: On your left.
GUY: You should bike thorough the Pyrenees with a local guide next time you are in France.
ME: Still behind you.
GUY: I’m considering moving our family’s operations to Denmark to have better access to the European Market.
ME: Do I need my passport to get around you?
To diffuse the situation the woman slowed her bike to allow me to pass on the right, which I tried to do until the guy moved over to block me. He didn’t offer a countermove when I shifted back and passed on the left.
VI – BE SLOW IN TRAFFIC
This is a rule I’ve been practicing more and more as I get older. Speed is a young man’s game but not everybody is in this demographic, which can cause congestion.
One place that is heavy with traffic is the tunnel that connects Lake of the Isles with Bde Maka Ska. It’s a narrow tube that goes under Lake Street, allowing bikes and pedestrians to freely move from lake to lake. It’s a perfect place to slow down for there isn’t much room to pass.
Once I was behind some cyclists that were having a tough time climbing out of the south end of the tunnel. While I patiently waited, a teenager from behind told me to pick up the pace.
I turned back to say “What?” but the jackatini was already passing me on the left, up the slight grade, along the bending curve and into oncoming traffic that had to swerve to get out of his way.
Just the other day I was passing a family of four when a testacalda from behind shouted, “On your left.”
But I was already on the left. There was no more left on the left, which brings us back to the beginning and the most important rule of all.
VII – THOU SHALL NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S LANE
If you go for a bike ride, accept the fact that others will be on the path and they have as much right to be there as you do. It’s all in the bible.
Make me a bike path full of peace
Where there is frustration let there be calm
Where there is a crowd wait to pass
When one is slow do not act like a carofocaccia
Harriet is my favorite lake to not only bike around but to also catch a concert, grab a beer, or sit on a bench and watch traffic go by.
It was at Lake Harriet where I saw a car on the bike path. It was a patrol car. A police officer slowly turned from the parkway into the park. And after displacing cyclists and pedestrians, he stopped his squad car, got out and sauntered onto a dock that overlooked the lake.
I happened to be right behind him, sitting on a bench, wondering what was going on. Was he in heated pursuit? Was he standing on the dock thinking, “Looks like that duck is going to get away.”
I strained my eyes. Then I saw them: three boaters, wearing life jackets, bobbing in the middle of the lake for their sailboat had capsized. (A rare feat to commit on such a calm day.)
The police officer shrugged and called it in. Eventually, the sheriff’s department would arrive with a rescue boat. The police officer sure was not going to recreate an episode of Baywatch.
After Lake Harriet, I will take a path that runs along Minnehaha Creek and takes me home. Although there isn’t as much traffic, this path can be problematic for bikes runs in both directions with bends along the creek and curves through groves of trees.
Unlike the Midtown Greenway, this path has a lot of blind spots. It’s my worse fear that lurking around one of these bends is a cyclist, bedecked in spandex and neon yellow, barreling right towards me for he is on his phone or worse, eating a French cruller.
The reckoning has yet to appear. Only once on this path did another cyclist and I almost collide. Luckily, it was at a stop light.
Normally when a group of cyclists converge at an intersection from opposite directions, everybody keeps to the right to leave room in the middle. One lady didn’t get the memo and proceeded to cross the intersection on the left and right towards me.
I was in a bind. I couldn’t move to the left because of the swell of oncoming cyclists. I couldn’t out-flank the lady on the right because of the waiting motorists. So I stopped.
Although unsteady, the woman had a determined look on her face. She never looked at me for she had a fixed spot on the other side of the street.
“I need to go there,” she said as she slipped past.
Her statement was neither rude nor impolite. It baffled more than irked me. Why was she telling me where she was going?
As I look back, what she said is what we all need to hear.
For me, biking began at the beginning when God said, “Let there be pneumatic racing tires.” It didn’t even dawn on me that not everybody shares this experience. The woman may have taken up biking that summer and being at the intersection with the cyclists, the motorists and the narrow avenue was not a simple feat but a harrowing experience. The fact that she was on the wrong side and biking towards me was too much. She just needed to go there!
I sometimes miss those days of open skies and empty trails. I also remember how nice it would have been to see another cyclist on my commute. I guess there is no happy medium, only the reality that biking for me is no longer a lonesome ballad but a comedic opera: young and old, ten-speeds and fat cruisers, we are all out there, trying to make our way while trying to avoid each other.
Oafa de Buffa!