Unless I know enough about a topic to address it with authority I usually don’t say much. This subject has nothing to do with animals but it is one that I am familiar with. I am talking about the ongoing debate over cyclist groups, their right to the roads and their behavior when using those roads.
I don’t ride now but I used to. Some years back, for my 40th birthday, my wife bought me a quality cruiser bike. I enjoyed being outside and took ten mile rides several times a week. I got a speedometer for my bike and could pedal 14 miles an hour for the duration of my rides. My rides were comfortably settled between the casual neighborhood rider and the hardcore road bikers.
The bike was nice but it was heavy, not exactly built for speed and quite frankly I grew tired of riders zipping by me on their road bikes. So I saved up and went to Naples Cyclery. The friendly and helpful staff got me set up with everything I needed to upgrade my cycling experience. After a customized tutorial I left with a decent road bike all tricked out with everything I needed for day or night rides, plus the obligatory helmet, shoes, and clothing.
I learned the shop conducted its own moderate speed group rides and my goal was to join them on those twice weekly outings. To do so, I would have to build up my average speed to 18 miles an hour and ride 26 miles without stopping.
Despite the growing frustration I had with my cruiser, that big, heavy bike was silently conditioning me for better things. Within just a couple weeks I doubled my ride distance and could do so at the required 18 miles per hour. I soon got the green light from one of the techs at the shop to tag along on the group ride.
I can in no way vouch for any of the other group rides in town that non riders are more than happy to vilify but from my experience with Naples Cyclery I can verify that their rides make safety paramount for both riders and non-riders alike. There are numerous hand signals and vocal instructions that must be learned and followed. Each outing has a ride captain who takes point and is responsible for the safety of not only the group riders but for everyone we might encounter on the ride: car drivers, pedestrians, joggers, dog walkers, rollerbladers, and slower bike riders.
Non-riders call cyclists rude, saying they are being yelled at. When a couple dozen riders are approaching at speed there just isn’t much time for pleasantries, sorry. “Rider back!” is a quick heads up that a group is behind you and to be aware of that immediately. Before I got my road bike I got passed all the time but I never got annoyed. I got inspired. I wanted to be one of those guys, riding twenty plus miles an hour, a blur of wheels, frame and brightly colored spandex.
Naples is not really a bike friendly town although I am pleased to see that some of our new roads are being built with bike lanes. I think the serious cyclists do their best with what they are left to work with. It’s not easy to always find miles and miles of asphalt with bike lanes included. The roads are for all user groups and a philosophy of live and let live should be observed by everyone.
And let’s chat about the stop sign issue. I know what the law says. We all do. But let’s face the reality of asking twenty or more riders to all stop at every single stop sign, disengage their toe clips, look both ways, mount up and ride on. To me, that is far more dangerous than the ride captain approaching the stop sign, determining the traffic issues and then giving the group the signal to stop or move on through. I see single recreational riders blowing stop signs all the time but it only seems to be a big deal when group riders do it. Trust me; riders would love to have thirty miles of stop sign free roads.
These days I get melancholy whenever I see cyclists around town. I have an old work injury from decades ago that plagues my back and every time I rode it hurt but I liked it so much I kept myself in constant denial until I just had to finally give it up. So now instead of a quality time spent outdoors with our local scenery for a view I am resigned to my new elliptical trainer in front of a television. It’s not the optimum in my world but it beats the alternative: buying pants in a bigger waist size.
My advice to everyone is to use mutual respect and just as the license plate says, “Share the Road.”