Full disclosure: I’m not a cyclist.
I do admire their fitness and their tenacity. When I’m behind the wheel of my car and I pass cyclists on the road, I often think to myself something along the lines of, “I wish I could do that.” Just as often, though, that thought is followed by “man, those are some brave souls out there.” To me, they look so vulnerable; at the mercy of drivers who at best, try hard to skirt the cyclists as they pass but who don’t have much room to do so on narrow roads, or at worst, seem a bit malicious as they cut it a little close, zooming by the cyclists as if they’re the only ones with a right to the roads.
Avid cyclist Ralph Perri tells me it’s not as bad as I think it is. “I am certainly not daunted riding in Saugerties,” he says, “and I’ve ridden all kinds of roads, in the country and in the cities.”
He’s concerned that I’m out to discourage people from riding. “You shouldn’t say that the streets and roads of Saugerties are unsafe or daunting, because I don’t find them that.” He stresses that you just have to know what’s going on when you’re out on the roads, and use common sense. “You have to be savvy, you have to wear bright clothes, have lights, not wear black, not ride on Route 28 – take another route, learn the map, make a plan before you go out.”
I tell Ralph that I think my aversion to riding a bike on the main roads in this region is partly due to my having grown up in Long Beach, California, a city that has been called “one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world.” I’m conditioned to seeing bicycles co-exist in peaceful communion with cars in wide, friendly lanes with plenty of room for all. The bike lanes in Long Beach stretch all throughout the city, and it doesn’t hurt that the weather conditions are non-challenging for the most part.
Ralph isn’t buying it. “I grew up in New Haven, and I’ve been riding for 50 years. That was certainly way before the era of bike paths – what you might call ‘lines and signs.'” He points out that bicycling has become more and more popular here in the last decade, and there are plenty of people out there doing it, even in the rain. “Still, you can do it. You know? You can do it.”
Okay, okay. His optimism is actually inspiring, but I’m not convinced yet.