Life On a Bike.

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race”  H.G. Wells

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Do you remember your first bicycle?  Mine was a beat up old hand-me-down from my cousin Rick.

I never had a set of training wheels; I fell down a lot, skinned my knees, and bruised my elbows.  I never thought I’d learn to ride, then in one magical moment I went sailing down our street.  If I close my eyes tightly, I can still recall that instantaneous exhilaration, the wind in my face and the freedom my bike delivered . . . any present day worries I might be feeling soon fade away and the smiles of a childhood are returned to me.

My current set of wheels.  ©Eli Reichman, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Life has its way of creeping up and making adults out of us all.  My bike was left behind, the castoff remnant of a boyhood long forgotten.

Several years ago I checked in with the doctor for a routine physical exam.  As I stood on the scale watching the weight slide further and further to the right I remember thinking “surely there is something wrong with its calibration”.  I asked the nurse for another shot at it without my shoes on and she obliged.  The verdict of course remained unchanged.  The crazy part was I never saw it coming.

The dilemma I faced wasn’t if I’d do something about my rotund shape, but what I should do?  In the corner of the garage sat a newer dust-covered bicycle.  The old saying about “getting back on the bike” apparently escaped me as I quickly discovered that cycling wasn’t automatically the uplifting experience I once knew.  It would have been easy to quit right then returning to the comforts of the couch.  But I persevered, overcoming the awkward rediscovery and have since settled into a regular road cycling routine.

As bike commuting, triathlon training and recreational cyclists numbers continue to increase there’s a high probability you’ve seen someone just like me during your daily drive time.  I used to think street cyclists were absolutely insane and more importantly; they were always getting in my way!  Then I was converted, becoming “one of them”.  This newfound perspective opened my eyes to the safety issues road cyclists face, leading me to understand that sharing the road isn’t an “us versus them” battle.

The relative safety provided by a well marked bike lane in south Kansas City is upended by sewer drains . ©Eli Reichman, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Ever day cyclists across the country encounter the same personal safety issues of inadequate or unsafe bike lanes.  It’s not uncommon for a designated bike zone to abruptly end or be covered with obstacles forcing cyclists out into high-speed vehicular traffic; thereby exposing themselves to a potential “death zone”.

Thirty six sewer drains extend well past the bike lane line during this 1.3 mile stretch on Bannister Road between Holmes and State Line streets in south Kansas City, Missouri.  There is no space for a cyclist to maneuver around the drains without venturing into moving traffic. ©Eli Reichman, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

There have been too many unnecessary cycling deaths as a result of negligent drivers.  Both the driver and victims families lives are irrevocably broken by what in most cases are avoidable accidents.  We can reduce continued loss of life with the inclusion of bike lanes on metropolitan boulevards and thoroughfares and by enacting a federal law prohibiting all use of cell phones while driving a moving vehicle.  Studies have shown that cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle is the equivalent to driving drunk.  And cyclists need to be mindful of their responsibilities as well.  I’ve witnessed far too many riders rolling through red lights en masse or riding 3 and 4 abreast commanding an entire lane of traffic.  If cyclists are going to demand drivers obey the rules of the road, we must do the same.

Like you, I pay my fair share in yearly taxes funding city, state and federal services, including maintenance of our streets, county roads and highways.   I’ll venture a guesstimate; at least 90% of cyclists also drive cars.  Simply put, we’re all in this together.  All I’m asking is that you maintain a safe three foot distance between your vehicle and my bike and a little extra patience as you await your turn to drive around me.

A newly constructed sidewalk near Highlands Elementary school in Fairway, KS provides safety to children walking to and from school.  The tape measures 13 + 1/2 feet from sidewalk to curb and a duplicate sidewalk with the same green space runs across the street as well.  Currently there are no plans to add a bike lane on either side of this stretch on the road. ©Eli Reichman, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

The time has come for urban planners to include commuting lanes for cyclists throughout metropolitan and rural areas in the initial planning stages, no longer waiting to add them as an afterthought or only as a convenience for “school zones”.  The dividends would add a tremendous benefit to society in the form of a healthier population and less petrol consumption.  It’s a win-win proposition.

Every individual plays an important role in another persons life.  You’re a father, mother, daughter, son, husband, wife or perhaps a lifelong friend, but no matter who you are, we’re all irreplaceable.  The next time you see a cyclist, give them a wave and don’t be surprised if you see the smile of a child in return.

A pristine new bike lane on Mission Road, runs .6 of a mile before it vanishes forcing cyclists into the main traffic flow. ©Eli Reichman, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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4 thoughts on “Life On a Bike.

  1. I agree with everything in your article. When I’m zipping by a line of cars in the bike lane, I envision that line of cars being one car longer if I wasn’t on my bike. My bike is way less of a nuisance than another car.

  2. I’ve recently read a debate about “Share the Road” signs on “An Old Guy On Two Wheels.” Some advocates argue these signs are counterproductive because (technically and legally speaking) people are not required to “share” the road. Cyclists have a right to the lane they are in and do not need to share it, so the argument goes, and these signs actually reinforce the notion that cars should share what is theirs when, in fact, it isn’t.

    You just can’t please everyone, I guess…

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