Monday, May 5, 2014

Cruising the Mean Streets of Salt Lake City

For the past year I've been commuting by bike fairly regularly. I know it's a somewhat hazardous activity, but my advice is, just stay off the sidewalk. That way I probably won't run you over.

Oh, don't look at me that way. I'm careful. Sometimes I even slow down enough to hear people swear at me. The other day I was told off by a lady going to catch the train. I was trying to climb the overpass, wheezing like a locomotive with my asthma, so she had no trouble keeping up and explaining how I didn't belong on the sidewalk. I agreed with her. I think the road might be a little less steep, but I was too out of breath to tell her so.

I ride what professionals call a wussy bike. It's got springs in front and under the saddle so that I won't notice the bumps so much, and nice fat tires. In fact, the fellow at the bike shop who sold it to me told me it had a very soft ride. Sounded perfect to me. Of course, the road is as hard as always, and not hitting the road in an occasional spill is a skill I have yet to master.

If you're going to get into biking, there are a few things you'll need to get to accessorize your bike. To start with, you must get a helmet. Trust me on this. If you're going to go down South Temple at 30 miles per hour, and any moment someone who didn't see you coming can turn across your lane, you need a helmet, because no matter how quick you're on your brakes, you will hit them. Once you've come out of your coma (which will not involve brain damage because of your helmet), you can thank me for this essential advice. There's a reason why bikers without helmets are called organ donors.

Lights, of course. You'll want to spend about a thousand dollars on those. They'll double the weight of the bike, but with proper lighting you can be sure that when someone runs you over, they'll know right away it was a bike. You'll want a light on the back, and one on the front, and maybe put one on your helmet and one on each arm and, while you're at it, have a fellow with a twenty million lumen lantern run along side. Heaven knows he won't have to run very fast, with all those lights you're carrying along.

You might want to get fenders, too. When I was a kid, fenders were standard equipment on bikes, but, like everything else, today they are optional, along with the wheels, the pedals, the gears, the handlebars, the frame, and the seat. Bikers know that the less a bike weighs, the better it is, so the perfect bike would be a bike that consists of nothing at all. You ride it by running, slightly hunched forward, with your arms stiffly extended. It looks crazy, but you'll be the envy of the other bikers. Of course, the less a bike weighs the more it costs, which means that you'll spend the national budget of a midsized European nation (not one of the bankrupt ones, of course) on a bicycle like that.

But, as we bikers say, nothing is too much to spend on nothing!

Anyway, fenders. A proper biker likes that stylish stripe of mud up his backside, but, as I was saying, I ride a wussy bike. It has fenders.

In addition to fenders I recommend a back rack. A well designed back rack will allow you to have your wife or girlfriend come along for a ride. It's very romantic, particularly while you're brushing and rubbing the dirt and oil out of her white skirt, and assuring her that her foot probably isn't broken where she caught it in the spokes. But you did warn her, right?

Eventually I also bought me a set of pannier bags. They strap to the back rack via a few hooks and clips, which you don't want to lose, because you can be crawling around for a good hour with your thousand dollar head lamp, looking for a hook that is missing and you just haven't noticed yet that it's caught up on your bike's fender. Bonus: they help keep your wife's foot out of the spokes!

Actually, one of the very first accessories I bought (after the helmet) was a new bicycle inner tube. I try to always have a spare one in my pack, along with the tools to change the tire. Something bicycle novices may not know is that the smaller the tire, the tougher it is to change. My 2" wussy tire changes bare handed. In fact, I'm surprised that it doesn't just come off in a sharp turn. Seventy PSI tire pressure FTW! But then you have your 1 1/2", your 3/4", all the way down to a tire so tiny it makes you look as if you're riding around on a pair of giant pizza cutters with rubber painted on the edge. For those you need heavy machinery and nerves of steel, because that tire will take your fingers right off. On the plus side, there's less surface area for the screws and nails some maniac is scattering on SLC roads to hit. Maybe it all comes out even.

After a year I have become fairly acquainted with the bicycle accommodations SLC offers. You can always spot the bike lane, because that's where cars park. We've got lots of those, which is good because people are always complaining that SLC doesn't have enough road side parking. And then there are our "share the road arrows" (sharrows), which most people think are left over from the Saint Patrick's Day parade, because they're green. If you're an old guy like me people normally think you're dealing with dementia, and, aside from honking a lot, normally don't try to run you off the shared lane. They're nice that way.

By the way, if you live in SLC and are looking for a bike, you have a number of options. I cannot say that any of the others are definitely worse, but Guthry Bicycle on 21st South seem to know what they are doing, even if I don't. Don't tell them I sent you, because they don't know me from Adam. Whoever that is.