Welcome and congratulations! Whether you are embarking on a quest to more fully commune with the paved world around you, step up your commitment to exercise, circumvent another DUI conviction, or overcome a recent vehicle repossession, you have joined the rewarding world of Cleveland bicycling. This is a wonderful thing.
As a newcomer to bicycling, you will no doubt be overwhelmed by a multitude of pressing questions, such as: Is this really the best way to move myself? (Oh heavens yes) Will I perspire? (With any luck no) Do I need tassels? (Yes) And how do I light my cigarette while riding? (With practice)
Rest in the comfort of knowing that you've made the noble choice: Automobiles deplete our fossil fuels and foster international contempt for our collective American sense of entitlement. Plus, RTA no longer offers service in your neighborhood.
Biking, meanwhile, is reliable, healthful, and cost-efficient. Most important: Despite what Henry Ford would have you believe, biking is the true embodiment of the tetherless, independent American way.
Why bicycle? Because street urchins do not request your spare change when you are on a bicycle, and even if they do you are twenty feet past them by the time they get through their plea. This brings us to Lesson No. 1:
1. Bicycling makes you better than everyone else. This includes automobile drivers, pedestrians, lion tamers, clergymen, and boat skippers. Chiseled calves are but one benefit derived from pedaling; as if blessed by the hand of St. Peter himself, you will feel chosen and special, because you are. The non-chosen will soon learn better than to request valuable moments of your time.
As the most important person on the roadway or anywhere else, you the bicyclist will be prudent to acclimate yourself to the many pitfalls placed to foil your two-wheeled adventure. Here then is a primer on how to maximize the pleasure of your ride while ensuring that the unwashed others do not pummel you with a tire jack. Thank you for joining us.
CLEVELAND: BICYCLE CAPITAL OF AMERICA*
(*second only to 38 other metropolitan areas)
As you prepare to pedal into the embracing breeze of Lake Erie, take comfort in knowing that you have selected a most opportune setting for your endeavor. According to a brand-new survey presented by Bicycling Magazine, Cleveland is the 39th most bike-friendly city in the country! (Given that our fine settlement had not previously cracked the top 1,000 in the past twenty years, it is likely our ranking has vaulted to No. 1 by the time you are reading this.)
Bicycle "activists" (defined as those who arrive to work with underarm sweat stains) claim this is the result of years of dedicated "lobbying" (defined as whining at council meetings) for the creation of bicycle paths, bicycle racks, bicycle street lanes, and conveniently located emergency rooms.
Among the prime locations for your bicycling adventure are several well-known thoroughfares. The Towpath Trail, so named because it consists of a path that also resembles a trail, offers unfettered access to trees and birds and other nature parts. It begins in bucolic Kentucky and ends at the scenic site of Cleveland's former industrial Flats, now a veritable arboretum of Northeast Ohio's many weed varieties.
The Cleveland Metroparks, our "Emerald Necklace," offer dozens of miles of glorious wooded trails and more than 300,000 walkers on any given day who cheerfully opt not to adhere to simple rules of the road that could avert regrettable accidents with conscientious bicyclists, such as yourself.
The crown jewel among Cleveland's famed bicycle paths is the Cleveland Lakefront Bikeway, a beautiful tour from Edgewater Park through downtown that reputedly ends near Euclid Beach Park. The path is deemed so idyllic by officials that it has been determined best not to share its whereabouts with the public.
"No one knows how to find out about it," offers Lois Moss, a member of the local group Walk+Roll, which is dedicated to locating the city's hidden public trails. "It's a beautiful ride, but the only place you'll find a map of it is one page on the city planning department's website."
Good luck finding it! But fret not if you can't, for Cleveland is a wonderland of roads and other flat surfaces that are ideally engineered for weaving in and out of passing motorists.
IT'S YOUR THOROUGHFARE TOO
Three out of four Cleveland bicyclists agree that, to ensure optimal enjoyment of your ride, it is best not to be killed by vehicle traffic.
In this section we offer valuable advice to ensure that if anyone must perish for the sake of your recreation, that it be the fellow in the Audi who gave you the finger back by West 14th and Starkweather.
First and foremost, this means displaying a healthy neglect of regional traffic laws.
Ohio Revised Code states that bicyclists are permitted to ride on sidewalks, but no city can force them to do so. Not that you would want to: Sidewalks are teeming with grandmothers, cocaine dealers, and cable TV salesmen. They are no place for bicyclists.
Which leaves us with the road.
Rule 1: Ride with traffic. This law is designed for your protection: Motorists approaching you head-on will find it much easier to hurl 24-ounce Speedway specialty-roast coffee products on you. (For more on automobile-to-cycle projectiles, please see Chapter 3.) In comparison, studies show that vehicles moving in the same direction as bicyclists are 60 percent more likely to curse you than to throw foreign objects in the direction of your spokes. For this reason, riding with traffic just makes sense.
Rule 2: Find a safe spot. Ohio law also mandates that bicyclists ride "as far to the right as practicable." This is merely a suggestion. By riding safely to the right of the yellow center line, you will significantly reduce the odds of being pelted by the gourmet coffee of oncoming motorists in the adjacent lane. It is equally wise to steer clear of the mountains of cigarette butts, Budweiser shards, concrete chunks, and discarded laundry baskets that occupy the berm area (or "berm" for short) to your right.
Recommended positioning: Down the center of the roadway's marked lane, ensuring that vehicle traffic behind you can clearly see that the safe navigable speed for all travelers is 11 miles per hour.
"A way to philosophically start thinking about the road is that everyone needs to get where they're going," says Jim Sheehan, director of the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op, a local group known for its new-age bicycle quotes in newspapers. "But roads existed long before cars. The League of American Bicyclists were the people who lobbied for paved roads 130 years ago. So, first come first served." Thanks, Jim! We'll spread the word.
"In fact," he continues, though we didn't ask him to, "someplace in the traffic code it says that you're still allowed to use the roadway to drive your livestock to market."
Rule 3: There is no Rule 3. You are now equipped with all you need to know to enjoy an invigorating ride on the charm-strewn streets of Cleveland!
(Further insight is available through the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op, which offers weekly traffic lessons such as How Not to Panic When You've Punctured a Tire in Hough. Likewise, the Ohio Department of Transportation website offers a series of bicycle guidelines useful to those aspiring cyclists who have been experiencing difficulty sleeping.)
To recap: Ride with traffic, establish a safe riding space near the middle of the road, and yield to oncoming livestock caravans.
LIQUOR BOTTLES AND OTHER PROJECTILE HAZARDS
Now that you are equipped with the essential rules for safe riding, it is time to address the less fortunate outcomes of motorists who are not so well versed in the law as you.
While most drivers you will encounter are no doubt aware that the roadway you kindly share was created expressly for use by you and assorted farm animals, it is an appropriate kindness to allow them safe passage behind your bicycle as well.
Because there are some who will not recognize this well-known fact of Ohio law, it is wise to be prepared for worst-case scenarios.
Ask any veteran bicyclist and the answer will be the same: Discordant verbal offerings accompanied by a purposeful thrusting of the central finger are the most common responses among those who are not sufficiently appreciative of your grace.
But a salty, more daring devil of the pavement can be expected to trot out the big guns: anything in the car that can be hurled in your direction with vigor — including but not limited to empty cans, bottles, Peabo Bryson cassette tapes, and wood.
"I was coming over the Detroit-Superior Bridge, and a motorist threw a 2x4 of wood out the window," explains longtime cyclist Marty Cader. "It hit my handle bars, hit me in the throat, and I couldn't breathe. I could not fathom someone being so angry they would do such a thing. I wasn't blocking them; I was going in the opposite direction."
Herein lies the flaw in poor Marty's logic: If only he had thought to ride
with the flow of traffic (see Chapter 2), the airborne lumber likely would have resulted in no more than a glancing blow.
But Marty, being the upstanding public servant that he is, opted not to retaliate with a puerile gesture of hostility, as any motorist surely would. Rather, he dusted off the offending 2x4, gathered up his dismembered limbs, and calmly walked himself to the nearest urgent-care facility, 17 miles up the road.
But not all aggrieved bicyclists are so disciplined. Take the cautionary tale supplied by Jim Sheehan, the celebrated bicyclist best known for his contributions to Chapter 2. One sunny day he was driving alongside a car when the driver spat on him — a gesture that, while not illegal, is also not in keeping with the spirit of Ohio law.
Thankfully, Jim came fully equipped to deal with the assault that fateful day, and his reaction should be a shining example of how to deal with offending drivers, especially those who spit on you. Which brings us to...
PROPER HANDLING OF OFF-COLOR EPITHETS AND OTHER BREACHES OF ETIQUETTE
"The people who have the crappiest cars with temporary tags and rusting wheels are usually the ones yelling at you."
— Lois Moss, cyclist and stateswoman
Let us enter into this most thorny of conversations with a teachable moment from our friend Jim Sheehan:
One day, before commencing a ride on his bicycle, Jim had packed a delicious and fortifying peanut butter and Nutella sandwich with which to quell his inevitable hunger. Upon being spat on by a passing motorist for reasons that are not germane to this lesson, Jim calmly removed the sandwich from its protective container and hurled it through the window of the offending motorist.
Simple, effective, and tit-for-tat in its severity, Jim's hair-trigger counteroffensive undoubtedly sent a clear message to the expectorating scofflaw. Jim has, in fact, not been spat upon since, nor otherwise been provoked to employ a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich in a lethal manner. Indeed, the motoring world has learned not to [expletive deleted] with Jim. Bravo and well done!
But what, you may ask, is an aggrieved cyclist to do in the event he is not harboring a launch-ready peanut butter and Nutella sandwich?
Carrying retaliatory comestibles can be a cumbersome and oftentimes unnecessary chore. In a pinch, an available bottle of water (emptied and refilled with stomach fluid), chewed piece of gum, or crossbow can supply more than adequate return fire. In short: Employ whatever means are at your disposal.
Just remember the old adage:
Don't bring a bike to a car fight, whatever that means.
"I would say you're probably better keeping your sandwich and having it for lunch," Marty sagely advises.
OUR PUBLIC PARKLANDS: PUBLIC USE STRICTLY FORBIDDEN
If the modern bicyclist has any fault with Cleveland's glorious park systems, it has nothing to do with the parks themselves. After all, what words of scorn could one find for miles of pristine asphalt winding through the most scenic nature that taxpayer funds can buy? The Emerald Necklace was protected and developed for just such pursuits. That, and for high school boys who've finally bagged that date with Loretta from the cheerleading squad. Idyllic surroundings for both.
It should only be so simple. According to Marty Cader, the Metroparks are ground zero for motorist indiscretions. Nature, it turns out, was invented for automobile shortcuts, not picnics or wholesome recreational activities or perspiring.
"I get hollered at the most in the Metroparks," says Marty. "If you're in the Rocky River Reservation, on the road, it's very common to hear 'Get off the road and get on the bike path!' and a lot of horns. I know the parks have a movement to get 'Share the Road' signs out, but people use the parks as a cut-through — it's their high-speed route."
High speed, indeed: Motorists traversing the Metroparks have been clocked as high as a blistering 30 miles per hour. Share the road with such miscreants at your own peril.
"It creates problems. If you're trying to go at a fast pace, 18 to 22 mph, those kinds of speeds are not safe on the bike path," Marty says. "You have dog-walkers, strollers, walkers — and high-speed cycling is not an activity that lends itself to multipurpose trails."
But that's not the only problem. While bicyclists are encouraged to hold fast to their piece of parkland pavement, off the road there's a very different story to be told: Mountain bikes, those dual-wheeled dune buggies popular among displaced skateboarders and marijuana smokers, are explicitly outlawed on the Metroparks' off-road trails, which would seem to the untrained eye to be the most logical place for an off-road bicycle to be used.
These "equestrian" routes, as they are called, were allegedly designed for use by horses, who contribute almost nothing to the tax base that supports their supposed trails. Off-road bicyclists caught riding off-road are subject to a fine of $200.
And it's not just the Metroparks.
"One thing I don't think people realize is that mountain biking is illegal in our two biggest public parks: Cuyahoga Valley and the Cleveland Metroparks," says Lois Moss of Walk+Roll. "There's close to 80 miles of equestrian trails. I don't know anybody who owns a horse, and there are probably thousands that own a mountain bike. Our public parks have less than two miles for bikers. It's a social injustice."
Yes it is, Lois. In the words of Jim Sheehan: Our great nation's roadways were designed expressly for the safe passage of livestock. Must our horse trails welcome horses too?
EARN THE SCORN OF MOTORISTS, NOT YOUR FELLOW CYCLISTS
Softball players dislike Softball Guy just as recreational basketball players dislike Basketball Guy. There are ways to adapt to a culture in ways that encourage people to like you. And there is going too far. Following is a series of guidelines to ensure that your passion for cycling does not become your neighbor's passion to stab you in the face with a tire pump:
• Bike shorts should be worn only by retail store mannequins and never at work, even if your job is professional cyclist. No one benefits from an unflattering framing of your anatomy.
• The most cost-efficient means of procuring a new bicycle is your local playground. Price: free. Children, not surprisingly, make for poor examples when it comes to secure storage of their possessions.
• Do not fraternize with motorists. Do not wave them through a crowded intersection if you have even a remote claim to the right of way. Even if you've had nothing but positive interactions with motorists, be sure to stockpile imaginary horror stories to pass off as truth. These will endear you to your new friends in the bicycle community.
Remember, above all, that Cleveland will not be a better world for bicyclists without your proactive effort. If you don't speak up, only one thousand other bicycle advocates will.
Now that you are a member of this impassioned community, one with no apparent shortage of free time or hubris, seek avenues to improve your city at every turn for your bicycling brethren. No opportunity for pontification should be wasted.
Is there a council meeting regarding infrastructure? Attend it and ask about bicycle lanes.
Is there a proposal for a new grocery store? Circulate a petition for bicycle racks to be installed in the frozen food aisle.
Has a new neighbor moved in? Slather his SUV with egg and suggest visiting a bicycle shop together.
There's a charity bike ride anywhere in the tri-state region? Attend it and tell everyone you know that you are attending it and invite them to sponsor you, whether or not you actually intend to go.
Lance Armstrong does something? Do it exactly like he does, even if it means biking to Mexico to buy HGH from the back of a burrito van & pharmacy.
Bicycling is gaining in popularity but occupies a precarious foothold in our society. Without your tireless efforts it could fade once again into the background of the civic conscience, replaced by walking or some other insidious fad activity.
Speak up and speak often. You own these glorious streets. Do not let anyone tell you differently.
Noted author Vince Grzegorek has not ridden a bicycle since the Clinton administration. His last such experience involved "borrowing" a stranger's ride at Put-in-Bay at six in the morning, in order to more efficiently case the island for stray beer. He was not wearing shoes and did not find beer. Grzegorek's favorite marine species is the gar fish. He drives more than 40 miles every day. Send him feedback at [email protected].