Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Pinch me, is this for REAL?
For those of you reading this who already know me, it is no surprise to read about my love of the bicycle. I have spent countless hours riding for sport, hobby, transportation, physical and emotional empowerment, as well as just plain FUN! Through bicycling, I have met so many fantastic people, made best friends, and even met my soon to be husband. Who would have thought this 2 wheeled contraption would have such a significant impact in my life?
Oh, it's not just me. Ask anyone who is truly PASSIONATE about cycling in ANY capacity, and they will have some significant moments shared with others (or themselves) on the bike. From toiling 100+ miles day after day in the mountains to tooling through the park on a sunny day, the stories are plentiful.
However, in the USA, we are a minority. It IS a growing subculture with lots of bicycle advocacy groups and it seems to be moving in a positive direction. But still there is a long way to go!
When I lived in San Francisco, I CHOSE to bike commute. Why not? I had no reason not to. Yes, I was fortunate to have showers at work and it was actually quicker than taking public transportation. Certainly cheaper than driving, non polluting, as well as burned a few extra calories and got my blood flowing even when I felt tired. A "no brainer". However, it came with some risks. I was "car doored" a handful of times, escaped numerous driver not looking maneuvers, and even hit by a taxi. I quickly became a "road warrior". I learned to always anticipate the worst. Never assume. Be ready for that pedestrian to dart out across the street, the car to last minute decide to turn and of course, red lights are meant to be driven through!!
Then I moved here...The land where bikes are a normal part of life. It is commonplace to see women in dresses with panniers on their "everyday" bikes, groups of retired folks going for social rides, kids commuting from school, as well as racers training all in a radius of 5km. What's most impressive is that everyone KNOWS their bike etiquette. There is no jousting for position, no screaming on your left, no snide comments such as "why do they have to ride so fast?". If you have a bell, you ring it and if not a simple "yo or halo" will suffice. It's AMAZING! I once encountered a group of 30+ retirees meandering on the bike path and as I came up, they methodically pulled to the right and let me by. How civilized!
And for those of us, who follow bike racing, here it is a RESPECTABLE sport. It ranks right up there with other professional sports. Pro racing is always broadcast on TV and every newscast will mention results of most big races. No more do I have to search for cryptic internet feed broadcasts in the middle of the night! In addition, many of the classic races take place here and can easily be driven to to by bike or car. There is never a lack of live entertainment.
Beside the pro level, amateur racing offers numerous categories and I am amazed on how well organized and attended these races are. Race promoters set up fully equipped with PA systems, motos, and immediate race results. The local police and townsfolk man the traffic control and somehow it all seems to run smoothly. The inscription is usually at a local bar or sporthall, so no porta potties are needed. Usually there are local businesses open for libations but it's not unusual to have additional Frittes/Beer stands for the fans. Families come out to support their racers as well as the locals, who set up chairs outside of their homes. Once again, it's just a normal part of life here.
Kids are encouraged early and there are plenty of programs to facilitate them. At the Zolder race circuit, they just built a BMX course and have training programs for the kids. Parents/families routinely take their kids out on bikes and they learn the rules of the road ASAP. In Limburg, most roads have bike lanes and busy streets usually will have some sort of designated crossing areas which cars abide to. Roundabouts also include the bike lane and bikes roll in with the cars. It all seems so naturally smooth. Why then is it so difficult for cars and bikes and pedestrians in America to be "friends"?
I ascertain the cultural history of biking plays a major role here but wonder why the folks in the USA can't learn from it. What better ammunition against the war on obesity as well as being a bit greener....Hmmmmm makes sense to me.
Oh well, I got to go now. Time to get the bikes ready and take the kids to their Mom's house. "come on, put on your helmets!"