THE DUKE OF HAZARDS

THINK BUSY ROADS ARE SCARY? TRY BIKE – SAFETY CLASS.
our or five times a week, I ride through the Place Where I Feel Like Im Eventually Gonna Get Hit.
Do you have one of those? The place doesnt necessarily look any different from other roads, but it just feels ominous. Mine is North Main Street. My goal when I turn onto it is to get off again fast, because its filled with distracted commuters, the bike lane sucks, theres a zombie crossing ahead… You get the idea. Plus, I have to turn left, which means entering traffic.

One day I managed to get into the turn lane early. Just as I was congratulating myself, I heard the roar of a tractor – trailer that, as I glanced back, seemed to stretch from my Connecticut town up into southern Massachusetts. As it lumbered toward me, I tried to give careful thought to the aerodynamics of what was about to happen, but all that came was the word suction, I wasnt sure how that would work, exactly, but I didnt want to find out. So I turned left immediately. Into some guys yard.

And I thought, / cannot go on like this. Now that Im riding more than ever, Im correspondingly aware that staying alive depends on a complex web of silent cyclist – driver negotiations, most of which go surprisingly well but some of which scare the living crap out of me.

Thats why, on a recent Saturday, I took a bike – safety course offered by Bike Walk Connecticut. The instructors, Chris, Rick, and Mary Ellen, had planned some class work, followed by parking – lot drills, followed by an afternoon city ride that contained, Rick promised, “just about every hazard you could possibly encounter.”

We talked about “taking the lane.” This maybe old hat to you, but I learned that I shouldnt ride wedged over on the right but rather out in the road – far enough out to be readily visible. The drills were challenging, mostly due to my unpolished cyclingskills. We learned to use a “power stroke” to get a fast start from a stop. Unfortunately, my left – footed power stroke was often followed by a right – footed power outage while I haplessly kicked at the air, trying to clip in.

Soon we headed out for the 7 – mile ride. We began in Parkville, a neighborhood that boasts of incredible multinational diversity, which results in great, affordable dining experiences and the opportunity to share your grasp of American road rules with a future citizen who has done most of his driving in Sao Paulo or Saigon.

Among many other things, I learned to try not to drift left when looking back and to communicate with drivers. At a difficult left turn, Mary Ellen was able to find the cyclists grail – eye contact – with a driver who stopped to let us by. At a stop sign, we encountered a van sitting, motor idling. I edged to its left. “Four more bikes coming behind me,” I said through the open window, but the driver appeared to have come gently detached from the retina of reality. At the end, the course went through an intersection that looks like a trig problem. Three lanes run north, an island divides lanes to the west, a highway dumps in from the right. As we angled into it, there was a man who…well, its hard to say what he was doing. He was backing his car across several lanes and running a football buttonhook toward the lobby of a nearby hotel. I wondered if the teachers had hired him as a kind of final exam. Still, weall somehow ended up in the correct lane.

The course was worth a few hours of my life, which Im hoping will run a little longer because of the new strategies Im adopting. Sure enough, the other day I was back on North Main. Traffic was bad, but I took the lane, got all the way left, and turned. Now I own that sucker. Suction permitting.