Columns

2013.05.15 Biking through Seattle

on . Posted in By The Way

Before my brother Dan returned home to Seattle, he left me with a present: a By the Way column. It gives us small-town people an interesting perspective of one slice of life in the big city.

By DANIEL GREEN

While walking the streets of Morenci I saw some bicyclists and

wondered if they were commuting to work. I'm curious because bicycling to work is a really big deal in Seattle. On a busy Seattle bicycle route during rush hour, it's not unusual to see 25 cyclists stacked up at a stoplight. There are lots of bike lanes and city buses have bike racks to accommodate cyclists who might need them.

This month, bicycle mania in Seattle reaches a fever pitch. Part of the reason is that after months of rainy weather, the sun is finally appearing. The fair-weather cyclists are joining the hardcore riders who have been commuting all winter in their foul-weather gear. The other reason is that May is officially Bike to Work Month in Seattle.

This month, businesses and civic organizations encourage employees to commute by bicycle. If cycling isn't possible, citizens are urged to take the bus or walk. There are contests and other incentives to get people out of their cars. The biggest event of all is Bike to Work Day, which is May 17 this year.

On Bike to Work Day there are dozens and dozens of "commuter stations" set up along popular bicycle routes. These stations offer free goodies, like water bottles, energy bars and mechanical tune-ups.

Some stations have tiny cafés serving breakfast. There are prize drawings. If you're really enthusiastic you can join the mayor (an avid bicyclist) for a morning bike rally at city hall.

I'm not done yet. At the end of the work day there's a street party with live bands and a cyclist-outfit fashion show. Don't forget bicycle happy hour at the bars. There's one bar that owns a 16-passenger pedal-powered beer-mobile. There are photos of this contraption on the bar's website: http://www.thecyclesaloon.com.

Some people spend thousands on the very best bikes and accessories. Not me. My bike is old and very sturdy with fat tires. Lots of riders clamp their bicycle shoes onto the pedals for maximum pushing power. I don't do that. Too scary to have to waggle my shoes out of the clamps when I have to stop. I do wear actual bike pants to avoid chafing, but I don't buy pricey paper-thin jerseys with colorful racing team labels on them.

I haven't been cycling to work very often for the last few years. That's because of the "terrible triad of the elbow." Several years ago I was on my way to work when I cut a corner too tightly and my rear wheel hit the curb. I went down with all my weight on the elbow and the doctors said I had the terrible triad; I'd destroyed all three important parts of the elbow. Three surgeries later, I have a more cautious outlook on commuting.

It doesn't really make sense, but I still ride most every weekend for fun, exercise and errands but I usually take the bus to work. Maybe I should just bite the bullet and go back to bicycle commuting. The building where I work just refurbished its bicycle parking area. The new bike cage is lined with wall hooks for hanging and locking the bikes. It also has a communal tire pump and a few common repair tools for riders. The building also installed a couple showers. It's all very inviting, and I might be persuaded to join the throngs of riders again.

Maybe I will, but sometimes I get angry. I get mad when I remember the car that rapidly backed out of a parking space and into my path. I screeched to a halt and found myself staring into the eyes of woman on the passenger side. She and the driver both seemed surprised to see me. Some drivers have bike-blinders. They pretend we don't exist and don't look for us.

I also get mad at fellow cyclists who ignore the rules of the road and make us all look bad. Then there are the annoying bikers who hold

"critical mass" rides once a month. This is when a gang of bike riders decide to take over an entire lane of traffic to remind everyone that the streets are not for cars only. They wave and yell while vehicles helplessly back up behind them. They are the radical wing of the bicycle rights lobby.

Maybe you didn't know bicycling was so complicated, involving fashion shows, special parking garages and fights over road rights. I'll end this with one simple message.

The most amazing thing I've noticed about bike riders in Morenci is that they don't seem to be wearing helmets. I have a name for riders who don't wear helmets—"organ donors." All of you unprotected cyclists, please sign up to be donors so we can all benefit if your head meets the pavement.

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