You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it. Robin Williams

Location: Kentucky, United States

Friday, March 28, 2003

Look out behind you

I have read somewhere that a dog does not recognize someone on a bicycle as human. My experience on the road makes me believe this is true. Many times, a drooling hairy mound of teeth, trying to take a bite out of the calf of my leg has turned into tail wagging best friend once I stopped and got off the bike.

I think this phenomenon extends to humans as well. I have lost count of how many times I have had near death experiences while cycling the narrow hilly roads in Kentucky because of drivers with a death wish. My life has passed in front of my eyes so many times I know it by heart. (Insert winky smiley face here ;)

There is something about getting behind a steering wheel that instantly lowers a person’s I.Q. This includes me as well. Zack says I am “grumpy” when I drive. What he means is I keep a running critique going of how badly the other drivers are performing. I am the self-appointed Siskel and Ebert of the roadway. “I give that idiot who didn’t use a turning signal two thumbs down. Beverle, what do you think? Boys, wave nicely now as I cut him off at the next light”. It is not that bad, but sometimes it does get close. However, although I might understand the mentality, I would never do anything that might endanger my family, and by extension the other driver.

I used to stay close to the shoulder of the road when a car approached from behind, but I quickly learned this just makes the driver more likely to turn stupid. The incident that changed my mind occurred in a curve between two hills. I heard a car approaching from behind. I moved over to the shoulder of the road while also keeping an eye on the car coming the other way. Then was almost blown off the bike as the car from behind passed within arms reach, meeting the oncoming car. I thought I was dead. The driver had not slowed at all and probably accelerated trying to beat the oncoming car. Now, when a car approaches from behind I move to the left and claim my legal portion of the highway. If they are going to pass me illegally, they are going to put themselves at risk too, and if they run me over, the greasy spot that used to be me will be in the lane so the cops can see it and arrest the butt-hole who ran me down.

Cyclists have had to come up with several defenses to survive the shark-infested highways. We have our own language. “Two-back” yelled from the rear rider tells all his fellow riders that two vehicles are approaching from the rear. “Truck-up” informs you that a Semi-truck is about to blow you off the road. Why do we call them Semi-trucks? If anything is a “whole” truck, they are. Maybe we should call them “Freaking Big” trucks instead. What is the last thing that went through the cyclists mind when he was squashed by a Semi…

His butt.

Looking over your shoulder to see if a car is coming seems like common sense, but it is not as simple as it sounds. To look behind yourself over the left shoulder; you hold to the hood of the hand brake with your right hand, let go with your left hand, sit up and turn from the waist while placing your arm behind your back. This counter balances your weight on the bike so while looking behind you do not veer into the lane you are riding in. Veering in front of an oncoming car would rather defeat the purpose of looking back in the first place.

Mirrors make seeing behind you much easier, but with a road bike you have several riding positions that you must keep shifting between. Part of this is has to do with the balance between applying power and being aerodynamic. However, it also has a lot to do with numbness in areas of the male anatomy better left unmentioned. Sitting on a tiny hard saddle for a couple of hours requires subtle shifting every few minutes if you plan on walking (or other things) after getting off the bike. If you placed a mirror on the bike for every riding position, you would end up being reported as a U.F.O.\Unbelievably Foolish Object

Someone a lot smarter than me invented the eyeglass mirror. This is a coin-sized mirror on a three-inch boom that attaches to a pair of sunglasses, or in my case, bifocals. No, they do not make cool sports glasses in bifocals. Yes, growing older sucks.

With the eyeglass mirror, just a subtle shift of the head allows you to see what ever happens to be bearing down on you from behind. This gives you plenty of time to scream or curse, whichever you would prefer.

After taking a ride, I regret having to take my mirror off. It has helped me survive another day on the highway and you can get somewhat attached to something that saves your life on a regular basis. After all, knowing what is sneaking up on you from behind is always a good thing. If Robert Johnson had worn a bike mirror maybe he could have gotten a head start on those “Hell hounds” on his trail. Then again, maybe he should have just stopped and gotten off the bike.

Another Time


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