The fall bicycling season begins in earnest now, a grand time of year for this crowd. Days often stay cool enough so pedalers don’t sweat a gallon, but the September sun offers enough warmth to allow us to bicycle in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt — except at dawn and during cold snaps.
In books and magazines, I’ve seen a scientifically researched tidbit about bicycling clothing for different air temperatures, and one key rule strikes me as important for this month. At 65 degrees or below, long pants or tights help us avoid leg cramps, but above 65 degrees, shorts work fine.
Before writing my column, I was pedaling in 58-degree morning air with a stiff, cold northwest breeze while wearing shorts instead of tights or sweatpants. An old piriformis and hamstring injury kicked up early in the trip, until the thermometer had climbed into the high 60s.
Recently, the host of the “Bike America” TV show interviewed a woman in her mid-40s, who had begun serious bicycling seven years ago, and she said, “(Bicycling was) something I could do and stick with … and I loved being the motor.”
She looked in superb shape in Spandex bicycle clothing that shows all the body lines, but her comment made a bigger impression on me, mostly because I feel exactly the same way about bicycling — an exercise that is easy to stick with each day.
In fact, while I was recently sitting in a doctor’s office, my physician listened to me say that from late-March through early-December, I bicycle most days. I told the doctor, “I’d bicycle — even if it were bad for me.”
However, bicycling is a great aerobic and anaerobic exercise with myriad wellness pluses. Hunters and anglers cannot go wrong bicycling (or running), because either exercise gets outdoors types into shape to be more effective at their sports — be it deer hunting in hill country, upland-bird hunting behind dogs, wading rivers with a fly rod, etc.
Recently at Barnes & Noble in Augusta, Richard Morris of Monmouth, a serious runner in fine shape, was talking to me about his sport, and he sounded like me when I’m expounding on bicycling.
Richard and I have made similar commitments and joys to dissimilar sports — dissimilar because folks in running need no machine other than finely engineered footwear. Also, bicyclists have less wear on the body.
A friend, another writer, dislikes bicyclists and runners, and “hate” wouldn’t be too strong of a word, but he claims to be a Christian who hates no one. He thinks I’m polite to motorists so tolerates me, but he feels too many participants in both sports are rude and lack common sense in traffic.
Once, he explained to me how much he disliked bicyclists breaking laws such as going through stop signs or red lights. Before he made that comment, I routinely blew through stops signs and red lights when no vehicle was coming, and in fact, a stop sign near my home stands at the foot of a long hill. In the old days if no traffic was near, I would blast through that four-corner junction, hitting 25 mph, but my friend’s comment immediately ended me doing that.
It annoys motorists to watch bicyclists break laws, so after this guy set me straight, I stopped at signs and lights. These days, I try to be a goodwill ambassador, hoping to change public opinion about bicyclists one person at a time.
To be honest, though, whether I’m bicycling or driving a vehicle, I feel that often enough, folks from either side can challenge a saint:
• For example, two bicyclists pedaling on the road where I live routinely travel abreast and block vehicles in the right lane for the full mile between a junction and my driveway. On my worst day I would never behave like that. Wherever motor vehicles can safely pass my bicycle, I get in single file to the right to allow passage by me.
• On the other hand, when I’m pedaling through a junction and have the right of way, I occasionally have a problem with motor vehicles, pulling out in front of me, forcing me to stand my bicycle on end. I suspect many drivers may be unaware of how fast a topnotch road bicycle can travel, so they probably think my road bike is traveling 12 to 15 mph. On a flat, though, I may be sailing along at 25 to 30 mph and reach the vehicle much quicker than the driver expects.
Bicycles on public roads predate motor vehicles, giving pedalers a right to be there, and these machines continue growing in numbers every year. The solution to getting along starts with bicyclists and drivers showing mutual respect and understanding of road-user protocol, and that movement is gaining momentum — a good thing for this growing sport.
Consideration from both sides creates harmony, and this fall is a grand time for motorists and bicyclists to think, “Let’s all get along,” to keep up with the increased bicycle traffic.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: