I wrote this piece between '94 and '97 while I lived in Berkeley - before I moved to small-town northern California. In my memory, my troubles with traffic developed several years later, in Tucson. Clearly though, I was already having problems in Berkeley.
VN is VeloNews.You will note that I used quotations marks around the then-new phrase "road rage." Jeanne Golay, whose bikes fit me, was a star racer for Saturn. A Helios was or is a Giro helmet. Och's guys were the Motorola team; the Sheriffs were the Chevrolet-LA Sheriffs racing team. The "district's" means your areas regional championships. Shell-shock is what folks used to call Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
I live in the "suburban" San Francisco East Bay. Why the quotes around "suburban"? Because many VN readers would look at my 'hood and call it urban: dense with people, dense with traffic and increasingly mean.
Mean streets, angry drivers: Hey, we got 'em. It's not just inattentive, inept, infirm or inebriated drivers scaring us road riders. These days it's all of them and the infuriated, too.
And not just here. England's all abuzz with reports of furious drivers. The papers there call the phenomenon Road Rage.
Having to share the road with so many yo-yos has changed my riding. If it ever was carefree, it no longer is. As a protective reaction, I'm doing fewer miles and trying to minimize my exposure to traffic.
Riding less might be easier for me than for you. I have no fitness goals beyond staying lean and being able to eat whatever sounds good. I don't own a heart monitor, don't record mileage, don't read training articles.
I'm not trying to peak for the district's. I never time myself over sections of rides. Any fitness I gain on my regular rides isn't aimed at competition. It is training, though.
I'm training for upcoming social opportunities.
I want to stay fit so that the two or three annual, multi-club rides we do in the fall will be fun. So they're conversational outings, not tongue-on-the-tire death-marches on someone's wheel.
I want to stay fit so that this November I can finish 112-mile El Tour de Tucson — with my friends and without post-ride oxygen.
I want to stay fit so that, in the mornings before afternoon stages at the Women's Challenge, I can borrow Jeanne Golay's spare bike and roll around with the racers for an hour or so. I want to be able to hear the women's voices over the sound of my own breathing.
I want to stay fit so that if the USPS or Saturns or Sheriffs or Och's guys decide to hold early season training camps near here, I can tag along on easy days and not embarrass myself or my VN jersey.
I want to stay fit so that, the day before next year's CoreStates, I can hang in on the Founders' Ride. That's 60 glorious, rural New Jersey miles with a bunch of my heroes, guys who were legends to me when I was learning to ride.
Those rides and eight or ten others like them keep me on the road, but road training is less appealing every year. Increasingly, you gotta pick your times and routes. You want to use common sense, meaning you pass on Friday evening rides and you avoid pedaling on airport runways.
Here's my program. I can ride from home in three directions and make 25-mile loops, all eventually hilly. One loop means an immediate climb on cold legs, a two-mile grade starting at the end of my driveway. I have to be in the right mood to go out that way. One day I may be.
The second route starts out flat but passes though a couple of strip- mall, 4X4, Harley-decal towns where bikes are not all that welcome. On your bike in those towns, you survive close calls with faded El Caminos with dirty mags and half-scraped-off One Day at a Time stickers.
We're talkin' El Caminos tracking crabwise down the road, skinny women driving, smokin' generic filters, wearin' unflattering lipstick, Hard Rock Cafe tank-tops and fake Oakleys. Sound attractive to you? Me neither.
So I go the third way, meaning I ride through downtown Berkeley, not as scary as riding through war-torn Bosnia or The Valley of the Shadow of Death, but surely scary enough. And not about to improve anytime soon: Christmas Season's nearly upon us, ho ho ho.
I take the cross-town route local riders have always taken, the "bikie way." These days, however, that way's as friendly as the forbidden tomb in a Harrison Ford movie...
Let's brush aside the cobwebs and puzzle out the symbol writing on the tomb wall: O foolish brash cyclist! (It says) You had the effrontery to enter here into forbidden downtown Berkeley on your bicycle, invoking the ancient curse. You have angered the Traffic Gods.
Read and know: Early in the second Hyundai Dynasty, Traffic Lord Lexus sealed this square-mile tomb. He placed a curse on rash roadies whom sorcerers predicted would someday defile it. He posted sentries, turbaned mercenaries from the warlike Checkercab sect, to punish those defilers.
Foolish bikie! You think that Helios will protect you here? Will you cry out to Ergo-Power for help? Too late, offending roadie, too late...
Hark! Hear the huge boulder rolling to crush you and fulfill the ancient curse. Hear the Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer rolling to crush you and cause the driver to cut short her cellular phonecall.
Hear and smell the sanitation truck hastening to pass you mid-block, O foolish cyclist, only to turn unannounced across your path at the corner, crushing you and causing its driver to drop his comic book into his lap and dribble smokeless tobacco juice on its pages.
Hear and smell the city bus rolling to crush you and ruin its proud driver's 2-week, no-fatal-accidents record.
Maybe I'm a little shell-shocked.
Even if I knew I'd never get hit, it disturbs me to watch people drive so badly, so carelessly, so obviously in states of emotional upset. Just watching them sends shudders through my fragile serenity.
We know how vulnerable we are out there, protected only by wariness developed over miles of sad experience. We have to be totally defensive, totally vigilant, totally aware of everything around us.
Evidently we can't depend on anything but bad driving and bad attitude from our fellow Americans.
Hey, all this exercise and fresh air's supposed to make us mellow, am I right? If I finish rides angrier, more agitated than I was when I rolled out, am I doing myself favors? Am I fitter for other aspects of life? Is fitness solely physical?
Write or email me care of VN and tell me what you think. (That won't work. Send me a comment; that'll work!)