Tuesday, February 15

Presence and Essence: Valor Over Discretion?

Prior to moving to Colorado the decision to ride my bike on the road was ultimately the decision between riding a bike and driving a car. Where we lived in Kentucky there were no off-street bicycle facilities and painfully few sidewalks even if I had been so craven as to ride on them. But even back then I realized that a greater presence of cyclists on the road meant better awareness and more safety for all.

Unfortunately back then, establishing a greater cycling presence just meant riding more myself. There were few who rode for other than court mandated reasons. The Denver area has a great cycling presence on the roads, but it obviously could be greater. We could convert scads to cycling and take over the streets. Of course, the catch 22 is that for more to ride, the streets would have to be safer for a greater cross section of riders. I understand that not everyone is comfortable riding in heavy traffic. I really don’t prefer it myself. I like my quiet rides through No-Man's Land.

And while riding through the empty and peaceful space between I-70 and the Coors industrial scab I have plenty of time to ponder the roads and whether I should be ashamed for denying them my cycling essence. For the benefit of my fellow cyclists should I be taking a higher profile route? Should I be out there, advocating with my presence and essence, on the more highly traveled roads? Should I be the example to motorists and cyclists alike? There IS safety in numbers, and I am diminishing the numbers by skulking along on the Clear Creek Trail; out of sight, out of mind.

So have I conceded the field to cars? Have I thrown in the towel and given up my space on the road so more SUVs can trammel cyclists at will?

Discretion is the better part of valor they say. And sometimes it is better to lay low and regroup. I had some bad experiences traveling Ridge Road and I decided for all involved it was best if I stayed away. I was not being the good example that I should have been. And the motorists were provoking me. That was apparent. It was not going to come to a happy conclusion in clover spackled fields with the sun shining and birds singing. We were approaching darkest post-apocalyptia on the roads. I was ready to start carrying items with which to defend myself against the impending confrontation.

But what of the rest of my road routes? They're typically lighter in traffic and I've experienced a fraction of the hostility that flies about on Ridge Road. I guess the biggest reason I've avoided Applewood and Denver West has been because the surface conditions have been painfully unforgiving the past few weeks. Applewood is all side streets (and thus irrelevant in this argument) and Denver West is the jurisdiction of Lakewood. Lakewood does not maintain the streets in Denver West satisfactorily and I refuse to ride on the horrid mess that it becomes.

I think I am exercising prudence these days. I wish I could say it didn’t matter, and that on principle alone I would return to the shortest and most expedient route to and from work. One iteration of commuting on Ridge Road was the result of me deciding I had as much right to ride on that road as the moto-fascist Mad Maxian fiends that tried to dominate it. But the final analysis is that no matter what my principles: when the eventual convergence of fender and flesh occurs I will lose and lose big.

Cyclists should be able to enjoy the same rights as motorists and travel on the roads that are most expedient for them. After all, all destinations in our universe are along roads and because of that incomprehensible simplicity the most expedient route between two points is typically going to be on roads, not MUPS, not single track trails, not the long way along the CCT and the Highway 6 Path. While these routes are peaceful, even serene and offer the traveler a lower heart rate and less stress-related weight gain, they are not the best choice every time. On those days I need to swing by the store on the way to work I have no choice, I must take to the roads. At least I'm comfortable doing so. Many are not. So I'll try to make a conscious effort to add my essence to the meager pool that exists on the Pavement's Edge in my community. I will, when prudent, make my presence and essence known.

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