Hard Candy: Bikes

Remember riding your bike when you were seven? Pretty awesome, right? I had a red three-speed I got one Christmas, and I rode it all over my neighborhood with my friend Maria. After school and over the summer we went everywhere we could in a five-block radius, returning home only for lunch, dinner and twilight.

30 or so years later I still like to ride my bike. I’ve traded the three-speed for a blue cheap-o one-speed with fat ol’ tires and a basket on the front for Calypso. Sometimes I ride it to work, or to the pool, or to the store. Other times I’ll take ride the bike path at Fort DeSoto. I still love the way it feels when I stand up, pedal real hard, then coast a few hundred yards. Nothing feels as good as taking my feet off the pedals and letting them stick out as I whiz along the roadside.

Somewhere along the way I think some local bicyclists have lost that feeling of joy. The biking world rides on two disparate paths: slackers like me who ride a bike at our leisure and stick to sidewalks and bike lanes, and the intense cyclists who insist that it is their legal right to ride their uber-expensive lightweight racing bikes on the road. You know these folks; you’ve seen these folks. They generally wear stretchy bike shorts and flamboyant spandex shirts as they tool down the road, heads down, puffing with exertion.

Tool, of course, is the operative word here. I understand cycling for fitness, I do, but these folks do it at the expense of everyone else on the road. I think of them as vigilante bicycle groups, like people used to think of Hell’s Angels before we realized they were all just a big group of tattooed teddy bears in leather, donating kidneys to sick children or whatever it is Hell’s Angels do.

These cyclists have hijacked our roads and I say it’s time we took them back. I do not accept the idea that they have as much right to the road as a motorcycle, car, or truck. As my friend Richard said last week, if someone invented the bicycle five years ago, no way would we allow it on the road. It isn’t safe. That’s why god invented bike lanes.

Of course, our vigilante cyclists will not use these lanes. These men and women ride five or more abreast, blocking any traffic from passing. What’s more, they ride in groups of, oh, I don’t know, a thousand, and when one guy in the front stops for a stop sign, the 999 riders behind him decide that they’re covered, too, and therefore do not need to stop. Red lights? If one rider makes it through on green or yellow, you can bet your Huffy that the rest are going through, too—even if the light turns red. In my world, that behavior is acceptable only at funeral processions. Given their risky behavior, perhaps these cyclists are training for such an event.

What really gets me –and pretty much everyone I talked to when I mentioned this subject to my editor and he called me a cranky old lady- is that these are the same cyclists who insist they can ride on the road because the law says so. Seems rather arbitrary, doesn’t it? I would love to be able to pick and choose what laws I obey. Sorry, Officer, I know I was going 120 on I-275, but, hey, I’m not drunk, so we’re good, right?
Every week I drive up the beaches to see my parents in Clearwater. Along I way I see something I think took a lot of foresight: Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores reworked their roadways to include one lane for passenger vehicles, one lane for pedestrians, and one for bicyclists. This impressed me from the first moment I saw it. What failed to impress me, though, is the number of vigilante cyclists pretending the bke path doesn’t exist as they pedal down the middle of Gulf Boulevard. It is illegal for cars to pass them in the same lane and since these roads sacrificed their passing lanes for the bike and pedestrian lanes, cars must stay behind these riders until the cyclist reaches his destination or someone runs her off the road. Which, by the way, I am totally not endorsing.

Because, you know, they’re correct when they argue it’s their right to use the road. So much so, I think, that in the spirit of taking back our roads, we should treat them just as we would any other vehicle on the road.

When someone’s driving too slow in front of you—I’m talking 10 or 15 miles under the speed limit—what’s the best thing to do? Take deep breaths? Oh, no: the time for civility passed long ago with these bicycle terrorists. Pass them- in fact, cut them off- and then drive slow in front of them. I’m talking three miles an hour. Actually, just put your car in neutral. After all, it is their right.

Oh, or hey, when they run a stop sign? Just go ahead when it’s your turn. Of course, this will mean you’ll have to blast your horn and probably slam on your brakes (you don’t want to actually hit them; the spandex shorts just make a mess of your front grill), but, as they like to say, it’s their right.

I cannot imagine this will win any points with these cyclists. Since you’re in a car, though, you have the upper hand. What choice do they have? Well, there’s always that nice, cushy bike lane. Who knows, they may even have the chance to slow down enough to look around, take their hands off the handlebars, and coast for a few hundred yards. Isn’t that the best part of riding your bike, after all?

Contact Cathy Salustri at Cathy@TheGabber.com.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.