Once in a while I see these signs around southern towns that say, “Bicycle friendly” or “Bicycle community,” or something of that sort. I’ve seen them in Gainesville, Florida, which has a bike trail that takes you all through Gainesville proper with a safe secure feeling while you enjoy the environment. Washington, D.C., has one as well that goes all over town. You can ride out to Mount Vernon, around the Kennedy Center, downtown, Arlington Cemetery, you name it, you can get on this thing and ride to your heart’s content.
Columbia, South Carolina has a wonderful trail adjacent to a Hampton Inn and just off the interstate running north to Charlotte. These bike trails are probably 10 feet wide, asphalt and have mileage and points of interest signs that designate important stops along the route. You can take a bike, walk, use inline skates, and any number of ways to navigate while being safe on the trail. These are truly “bicycle friendly” communities” and if you ever visit one of these places, take your bike.
But, most of our Southern towns are not bicycle friendly and some are downright bicycle hostile. A culture that you would think lends itself to the social opportunities presented by riding a bike has fallen woefully short.
Let me take you for a ride in a “non-friendly bicycle community.” To ride on this Trail of Tears you need to have a thick skin and some type of device that will not allow you to hear epithets that will be hurled at you either at stop lights or while you are enjoying a ride in the country. Yes, ear buds are recommended. However, with the ear buds comes the increase in the odds that you will not hear a vehicle approaching from the rear. This is where the ability to stay within one inch of the dirt on the side of the road comes in handy. A balancing act worthy of Ringling Brothers Circus is required.
Hitting the dirt will probably cause a short-term problem but being hit by a driver intent on getting that last text in to his/her best friend can be time consuming as you will no doubt spend time recuperating in the nearest hospital.
Also recommended is a bicycle helmet of some sort. Designed to protect the cranium, these look goofy but might useful if you are struck, hurled from your bike and manage to land with your head directly below your body. The rest is up to you. A better helmet might be one used in football. They don’t seem to do much for the football player, but could do wonders for the biker.
This helmet is secure on the sides, has plenty of padding which makes you look like an athlete, and with the ear buds and some classic rock, you will never know what hit you.
Today’s bicycles come with multi-speeds. One to over 20 available, but no matter what gear you find yourself in, the car is almost always faster. I would recommend that you ride in a circle or square with the starting point somewhere near the hospital emergency room. Oh, and watch that passenger side mirror. Just when you think it’s safe to relax and enjoy the ride, some Neanderthal who probably hasn’t checked the thing in days will use it to send you flying into the brush.
I remember riding my bicycle as a 10-year-old through the puddles down at the beach. The water would rush up your legs, almost hot. The faster you rode the higher it would go. Most people were actually driving their cars back then and it was safer. No texting, no CD player to mess with, no iPod, iPad, or Sirius radio with 150 channels to surf.
With all those gadgets, some drivers don’t see the road but once or twice on the way to the store and probably can’t remember what it is they saw. I heard where some manufacturer is about to build a car that drives itself. I hope they make it where it recognizes a bicycle. Maybe there’s an app for that somewhere.
Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09.blogspot.com.