“When you’re a spy,” Michael Weston informs us, the key to survival is to trust no one and look for danger everywhere. The Burn Notice character has nothing on cyclists.
Yes, it’s summer again and all us weekend warriors are pumping up our tires and confidence as we take on deadly threats unimagined by mere mortals. It’s a miracle any of us survive, but miracles do happen. All you need is a little luck and the instincts of a ninja, plus a download of The Intersect. Sorry, wrong show.
On the surface, bicycling is a pleasant way to spend a weekend afternoon. Beneath the veneer, it’s mortal combat. When you’re a spy, you only wish you had the instincts of a savvy cyclist.
When you’re a cyclist, you watch out for mom. Not every mom and probably not your own mom, but the one coming out of the shopping center. Two kids in the back, Blue Tooth engaged, focused on her next errand, she’s MULTITASKING as she rolls across the sidewalk and noses into your slice of road. If you don’t move fast enough, she gets a new hood ornament.
When you’re a cyclist, you avoid killer sewers. Lots of towns use sewer grates with slats that are exactly the width of a bicycle tire, positioned lengthwise to catch tires and send cyclists headfirst over the handlebars. Try to avoid these deathtraps and you come dangerously close to the giant mirrors of that tricked-out mini-van driven by a Killer Mom. Do the guys in the Streets Department have a betting pool going each summer for that year’s head count? You gotta wonder.
When you’re a cyclist, road crews are your mortal enemy. When road work needs doing, the bike lane or sidewalk becomes a trash pit. Asphalt boulders and holes the size of canyons can blow a car tire, but they present an existential threat to pedal pushers. Hmm, do I want to drop into that hole in the ground and flip over or swerve left in front of that dump truck that’s closing in? Do the guys in the Streets Department have a betting pool…..?
When you’re a cyclist, you must yield to cars, trucks, boats, cars hauling boats, boats hauling mopeds and anything else that burns dinosaur poop instead of carbs. That’s on the street. On the bike path, we also have to yield to pedestrians, horses, deer and badgers. If it moves, or it doesn’t, we have to yield to it. We’re second-class citizens, but nobody protests on our behalf. We’re on our own, friendless, like John Rambo or Tony Hayward.
When you’re a cyclist, you survive by reading the signs and knowing they aren’t written for you. All signs are like that old game in which you end each fortune cookie message with the words, “in bed.” For us, the magic words are, “for cars.” No Outlet means No Outlet for Cars, which can be a lifesaver as a small sidewalk or footpath frees us from traveling on a 50 mph road.
When you’re a cyclist, you use cars as your protection. That guy who’s about to make a left turn across your path isn’t going to worry about you, but he won’t challenge oncoming traffic. If there are cars coming in the same direction as you, it’s safe to keep moving. If your side of the street is empty, it’s Defcon 1.
When you’re a cyclist, you know eye contact isn’t just for dating. It’s impossible for the driver on your left to miss you in your bright yellow Spandex and matching helmet. And yet, he’s achieving the impossible. He’s looking to the left, because he’s about to make a right turn and he wants to be sure nobody is going to hit him. He hasn’t bothered looking to the right—you can tell because he’s not giggling at how silly you look in yellow Spandex. To him, you are only an unlikely possibility, like the Loch Ness monster or cable guys who show up on time. Until you make eye contact, consider yourself a statistic.
There’s much more, of course, but you get the picture. That paunchy old guy who’s already having an asthma attack as he coasts down the driveway this morning? He’s a hero. Not just a hero, but a hero on par with Navy Seals, demolition squads and whoever it is that cleans up Grant Park after Taste of Chicago.
Summer cycling is a dance with
the Reaper. We only wish we had it as easy as burned spies.