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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn
Bicycle Rants, or
Bikes and Roads do Mix—Really!

Cyclists do seem to have a tendancy to rant, but I suppose it makes sense, since of the more straightforward ways of expressing frustration upon our nations’ roads are denied to us—cutting people off, or flipping the bird, or other rude and ill-advised behavior (aka road rage) could really get us killed. That's not to say motorists don't get run off the road, or subjected to horrid rudenesses from their fellow drivers; but people are calculating beasts by nature, and physics’ laws are unbreakable—force will be distributed evenly between even masses, and disproportionately to smaller masses.

This is why getting hit a car while riding a bike is so much more deadly than when in a car, and while I believe, on the whole, drivers of large (civilian, as opposed to professional, who are contrained by other rules) vehicles are more likely to be rude. They will suffer less in the calculus of accidents, and they know it.

Which is not to say all cyclists are pleasant and perfect road companions, nor that drivers of SUVs always exceed the speed limit and brutally cut other folks off.

Nevertheless, it's my belief that cyclists benefit society in general and even motorists in particular—after all, the former reduce competition of the latter for scarce petroleum, parking places, even ‘road space’ during traffic jams. Yet, even the most bike friendly city in the world still only boasts a 17% rate for commute by bicycle. Cars, and all the amenities needed for them, are not going to be driven away (forgive the pun) by cyclists any time soon.

(I expect the energy crisis will do that, sooner or later. Why not let cyclists help make it later?)

I've always felt group rides were a major community tie for cyclists—no doubt because I learned much of what I know about safe and effective cycling, road etiquette, not to mention how to ride in a group. The fact that it was one of the major ways I spent time with parents after I was an adult, not to mention how I got to know my best friend, no doubt also had an impact on this feeling.

So, like a lot of other cyclists, (however infrequent and still highly car-dependent) I was dismayed when the Colorado State Police wanted to ban group rides of over 2500 people. —That sounds like a lot, but it isn't, really: PALM eventually topped out at 700 or so, not because we were overloading the roads, but because the middle schools where we camped out simply couldn't provide showers, toilets and the like for more; and the little towns couldn't feed us.

During group rides, people typically spread out, since they leave at differing times, ride at differing speeds, and usually, they're not even all on the same route, since there are often bonus miles for folks who want more of a challange. Such rides also tend to look for low-traffic roads; even so, despite the fact that Michigan law allows for cyclists to ride two abreast, I generally prefer ride single file.

With the exception of that nasty little town last year that told us we could only ride single file, and had to pony up our parade budget to ride through their stupid-ass little town. It still makes my blood boil, and I don't even like parades that much—but PALM always has had one (and then, we do all ride together and close down the streets) for a mile or so at end. We all wear matching t-shirts, and it's kinda fun. Last year, ours was in a parking lot.

I felt kind of sorry for the merchants, who did their best to make us feel welcome; but I refused on principle to purchase anything while under their jurisdiction, and so, I suspect, did a lot of others. Never have I loathed the sight of police cars more. Me, just about the most boring, law-abiding, middle-aged person you could imagine.

So no, I don't think this is a good idea.

And I wrote to tell them so. —Since the letter was addressed to a specific person, I was a little more polite (I hope) than when I'm just grinding teeth at the world in general. So here's my letter, which is not that great, but after 90 minutes, I finally decided it was never going to say exactly what I wanted it to. However, these links, one from the League of American Bicyclists and another from two of Colorado's own congresscritturs no doubt express it better.


Dear Colonel Trostel:

[A friend], who rides his bike to work every day, forwarded me the news that Colorado State Police is considering a ban on rides over 2500 people; to be arbitrarily lowered at need.

Cyclists are as interested as auto drivers in road safety—the moreso, because the consequences of accidents are so much more severe on us—so it seems to me that educating cyclists would ultimately serve your purposes better (and, by the way, large organized rides can serve as an excellent opportunity to disseminate information—PALM, or Pedal Across Lower Michigan, was my first exposure to written information, and also includes nightly discussions, even workshops on topics such as sharing the road and rider etiquette. On the other hand, one town, and its police department, decided to harass PALM by requiring a parade permit; and never did my respect for police officers, which I generally hold in esteem, dip lower. Surely the opprobrium of cyclists isn't your goal.)

I urge you to reconsider. —Thus far, I owe my first hand experience with Colorado in general and Boulder in particular to a visit during a professional conference several years ago; as it happens I was able to stay with [a friend], who lives in the city, and who encouraged me to return for other professional opportunities in your fine state. My happiest memories were hiking about the trails just on the outskirts of Boulder, which struck me as a wonderful place for cyclist/car-lite families such as ours to visit or live. It has, therefore, a particular place in my esteem, not shared with most other western states.

Banning rides sends a bad signal—not only to residents of your own state who desire a bicycle-friendly atmosphere, but to others not so progressive (like, I'm sorry to say, Michigan); moreover by discouraging enthusiastic cyclists, you are more likely to promote a culture of unnecessary car-use, with its attendent pollution, consequently decreasing the attraction for, and eroding the esteem in Colorado for residents and visitors alike.

Very truly yours,

Sylvus Tarn

file created 07dec05. Note: the letter has been slightly edited, with less-identifying terms used in [square brackets].