My last close-enough-to-be called-near-death cycling experience wasn’t because of a taxi or someone driving while talking on his/her cell phone. No, this time I nearly got knocked off my mountain bike by a vehicle, driven like mad by a mother, who in turn was driven mad by her child or children. I could see her face clearly, looking over her shoulder, talking agitatedly to someone hiding on the backseat, as she whooshed past me with only centimeters to spare. The force of the draft, created by the speed, first sucked me towards the car, and a split second later, blew me off the road. There and then I decided I’m not going on a road again, ever, when I feel like going for a leisurely mountain bike ride.
This created a bit of a problem though. There are some superb mountain bike trails close to where I live, which start only a short ride away… by road. A friend of mine suggested doing as he does: load the bike on/in the car, drive to the starting point, do your thing, load bike again and drive home. So far I do this only if the place where I want to go for a ride is more than 20 kilometers or one serious mountain pass away from my home, but for a ride literally around the corner? That’s a bit silly.
To get to my beloved mountain bike trails, I’ve started using other routes, without having to ride on the road. First I ventured into no-mans land, the thin strip of dirt where neither cars nor pedestrians go, just off the shoulder. On my very first ride since my vow of no-riding-on-the-road-ever, I found quickly found out why it’s no-mans land. I quite liked the bumps and slope of it, but not the debris. All kinds of debris is lying around, deposited by people, drivers and pedestrians alike, who don’t seem to understand the purpose of a bin. On this very first ride I got stranded halfway between my home and the trails, with a slashed, shredded tire. I’d failed to spot the broken beer bottles.
This leaves two other options; the sidewalk and the unofficial footpaths. I like to avoid sidewalks, simply because it’s illegal to ride there, but if my only choice is between the road and the sidewalk, the sidewalk it will be! When I take this illegal route, I cruise at a safe, slow pace; I save the daredevil stuff for the designated trails. Sometimes I come across unaware pedestrians and I try to let my presence be known, long before I’m close enough to scare the living daylights out of them. In absence of a kiddies bicycle bell, I tend to apply my brakes hard, causing a satisfactory loud noise of grinding and squealing tires. This tends to get the desired attention. Some confusion usually follows, but so far the pedestrians and I have never collided. Rolling past, I always offer a courtesy “Sorry”.
When no sidewalk is available I use the unofficial footpaths, the shortcut paths, created by many human feet, going to and from wherever they have to go. These paths are great for riding, because they’re always clear of debris and take the shortest route between houses, roads and other types of town planning. The only ‘problem’ here is that because these paths are narrow, someone has to get off the path to let another pass. Being a hiker myself, I know how irritating can be is to have to give way to a mountain biker, who thinks he/she has the right of way, just because of their mode of transport. So I’ll happily duck into the bush to give way to the pedestrian. To be honest, they created the path in the first place… Plus it gives me a chance to practice my ‘standing stationary on a bike, without falling over’ trick.
Ever since I have been doing this, I’ve had no close-enough-to-be called-near-death experiences anymore, involving vehicles. Slippery rocks, dust-bowls and trees that jump in front of your bike, are a different story, for another time.
Lastly, if I could take my hands off my handle-bars, I would take my helmet off to you, brave road-cyclists, because that is what you are. Especially to those who ride two or three abreast on the road; you have to be either very, very brave or completely nuts to do such a thing.