I learned to ride a bicycle at a rather young age. I never had training wheels. My introduction to the bicycle came from the boy who live next door. He had a new bicycle and he dared me to ride it. His front yard had a very slight incline from the house down to the street. I got on the bike at the top of that slope, saddled up, and rode on down. My brief ride ended quickly as I was forced to take a fall right in front of an on-coming truck. But when you are that age you are immortal. I got right back on the bike and rode like I had been on it for a long time.
When I went home I badgered my parents into getting me a bike. My mother had a friend who had an old bike in her cellar. I can still see it. Fat tires, spray painted gray fenders, and it only cost $10! That was my first bike. I rode it until it literally fell apart and my parents got me a brand new bike for my birthday.
From that time until I got my driver’s license I rode a bicycle constantly. I rode one bike so much that one of the welds split apart and it broke in two. I learned to fix the brakes, change the chain, fix any flat I ever got, and anything else it needed. But the automobile spelled the end of my bicycling for many years to come. I had fallen victim to the American love affair with the automobile and I had forsaken my physical health in that cause.
Then about 12 years ago I saw the need to exercise and took up jogging. Everyone did it and you can do it just about anywhere. For a person of my age and body type I did fairly well. My best day jogging was a non-stop 12 mile run. On any given day I jogged six or seven miles. But after a while my knees started complaining and I noticed it became more difficult to keep up my pace. My new bicycle had 27 gears, something I had not experienced before. But it did not take me long to get used to it and to get a routine going.
It was not easy making an exercise routine out of it. I did not know simple things like pacing and proper shifting along with which gear to be used and how fast my feet should be rotating. That has taken a number of years. During the interim I gave away my first bike when I decided to buy a carbon compound very lightweight bike that is made for speed. That did not last long as I found it to be too much bike for me. I sold the bike and got one far better suited for what I wanted to do.
That is the bike I am using today and it is just about at its 10,000 mile mark. I have done that in about 4 years. I was going to replace it at that mark but I have decided to replace certain parts and hold off on a new bike until next year. I learned that things like chains stretch, the rear gears wear down, and all those moving parts need to be changed more often than I had dreamed. I have replaced all of those parts but still have a few more to go.
For the past twenty plus years there has been a group called the Rail Trail Conservancy that has been acquiring abandoned railroad lines and converting them to use as bicycle paths. The funding is a combination of private donations and federal funding. I am fortunate to have such a railtrail near me. The Minuteman Rail-trail goes from Arlington through Lexington to Bedford, a distance of roughly 10.5 miles. I access the railtrail a couple of miles from its beginning that gives me a total roundtrip route of 23 miles.
I have found that doing that 23 mile trip 4 times a week or more is enough to give me a substantial cardio-vascular exercise routing. I average 14 MPH on my route. To put that in perspective, the average pleasure rider goes around 8 MPH, a normal exercise speed is around 12 MPH, while mine is listed as a strenuous rate. Still, that is far slower than the 18 – 20 MPH average that speed racers move in their routines.
A good exercise routine is measured in large part by how much time you put into your daily exercise. My 23 mile route takes around 1.5 hours to complete. That is 3 times longer than the suggested minimum for a good amount of exercise. I find it usually is pretty easy to do 1.5 hours on a bike as my mind is engaged in a constantly changing surrounding. That is as opposed to exercising in the gym where the only thing changing is the people around you, and even that happens very slowly.
Even though I like using the rail-trail there are days when it is not a good place to go. It is a very popular route for people walking. A lot of people on the rail-trail makes it rather difficult to maintain a constant speed safely. At those times I move over to the road and that is where other problems begin.
For the most part, motorists are pretty good about sharing the road. But there are some who seem either oblivious to anything else on the road, me in particular, or who are resentful about sharing the road. I have had many close calls with cars and have been hit once. That one time a woman decide to turn right when I was right along side her car. I was going about 15 MPH so my reaction time was extremely limited. Fortunately I have always been someone who bounces well so I bounced off the side of her car, taking off her side-view mirror in the process, and then off the pavement. I had my share of cuts and bruises along with an injured back but nothing serious. She rushed out of her car very apologetically and said she had not seen me. I was tempted to suggest she might have looked into that side view mirror I had taken off her car and should would have seen me. I am rather hard to miss.
True, there are too many bicyclists who do not observe the rules of the road as they should and I believe the police should come down on them. That includes me too, of course, when I do not follow one. But I do stop at red lights and stop signs. I stop for people in cross-walks, and I always ride with traffic and never against it. I do not go up a one-way street the wrong way, and I always walk my bike on the sidewalk.
I think the use of bicycles in the U.S. is going to continue to rise. I hope so. But right now our roads are not made to accommodate cars and bicycles very well. Motorists need to be aware that a bicyclist has as much right to the road as he does. Even more, at least in Massachusetts, when you are on a four lane road the bicyclist has a right to one of the lanes.
I hope that state and local governments will provide for bicycling in their annual budgets and planning. I also hope that motorists will realize how vulnerable a bicyclist is to their car. In a collision, the car always wins.