Maine was again in the news last week as being among the top ten most bike-friendly states. Whenever I see these articles it always astounds me that there could be 40 or more states where roads are less safe for bike riders.
A friend of mine here in Farmington mentioned recently that he was considering a switch from road biking to mountain biking because of traffic and safety issues. This guy raced bicycles competitively in college and has logged years of training several days each week on local roads. He clearly did not vote in the latest survey touting the “bike-friendly” roads in Maine.
Close interactions with motorized vehicles are the most dangerous part of any self-propelled trip. When I talk about the August journey, friends sometimes ask me if I’m afraid of drowning, or falling, or bears or outlaws. A sizeable group has even suggested I carry a firearm.
Instead, what worries me are distracted drivers, drunken motor-boaters and ATV hot rods. This is a healthy fear that has evolved through long experience. I gained it by road biking, nordic skiing on snowmobile trails, swimming across boat-infested lakes, running on city streets, canoeing in the wake of speed boats and mountain biking on ATV trails.
These encounters are always where the narrow misses occur.
My goal in these situations is always to be the submissive, cowering , low-down dog in the pack. If I can pull completely off the road, or trail, or river I will do so in a heartbeat. And while I may mutter and swear under my breath as the motor-heads speed by in a cloud of exhaust– I always smile and wave.
I consider bicycling groups who intentionally challenge motorists by blocking public streets and demanding equal status with motorized users to be suicidal.
Motorized human beings, who are otherwise perfectly fine individuals, have a universal, thinly-disguised disdain for muscle-powered travelers. It happens to everyone who gets behind the wheel — even people who have previously experienced the other side of the encounter. Among a certain population, this low-grade contempt can erupt into road rage in a flash. Especially if the guy without the motor should have the audacity to even make eye contact.
A few years ago, I was riding in the American Lung Association’s Trek Across Maine. Fifteen hundred bike riders were on their way from Farmington to Waterville on a picture perfect summer day. There is safety in numbers and some of the bikers even dared to ride side-by-side in the paved break-down lane of the roadway.
Maybe it was this transgression that enraged the passing truck driver. Or maybe it was just the sheer number of smiling, helmeted, lycra-clad bike riders on his roadway. But for five miles the same dump-truck passed back and forth a half-dozen times. Honking his horn, screaming obscenities, the driver swerved menacingly toward bikers until he was pulled over by police escorting the ride.
I’ll take my chances with the bears any day.