Fellow Commuter

Dave Bates is a friend of mine at my workplace who also commutes by bike.  We had lunch the other day and just talked.

RH:  Where are you from, Dave?

DB:  Detroit.  Well, for two months and then we moved to the suburbs.

RH:  Is your old neighborhood now totally empty?  From what I hear, Detroit is getting sparse in places.

DB:  It’s been a while since we’ve been through there.  That particular section may still be good.  It had a lot of commercial property.

RH:  I grew up here in southwest Springfield. I rode my bike to school and around, but to me riding was just something you did as a way to get someplace.  After I started working here, I think it was in the mid-1980s, I got a bike and started riding to work.  But I had no idea that there was anything like a professional bike racing world.  No idea.  I live in the Ozarks, how would I know?

DB:  Right

RH:  So I rode to work one day, had forgotten the lock and came out at the end of the day and the bike was gone.  Had to call Jan to come and get me.

DB:  Here in Springfield??  Wow!

RH:  Yeah, and that was pretty much the end of it.  I didn’t get another bike right after that.

DB:  Ha!  You were like, “Forget this!”  I guess coming from a place like Detroit I tend to let my guard way down here in Springfield and I think, “Who’s going to steal a bike in Springfield?”  Or I’ll ride through a neighborhood and a cop friend tells me, “You ride through that neighborhood?  Do you know how many calls we get from that place?” And I say, “What??”  I mean, nothing looks like Detroit here.  I think, “How bad can that be?”  I’ll probably get hurt because I let my guard down.

RH:  Yeah, you will say something ‘wrong’ to a guy as you ride by.

DB:  When I used to live in Republic [a community west of Springfield], I would ride to work through the west side of Springfield and I never thought anything of it.  Our church did outreach in that area and I knew some of the families there.

But it was funny, I had a kid on a BMX bike looking at me and he asked, “How much does a bike like that cost?”  Mine’s an entry level bike, but a road bike, if you don’t know it, looks good.  So I said, “Oh, I dunno, maybe $700.”  And his eyes got real big.  Since I’ve been in cycling a long time, I am willing to spring for a higher dollar bike, not remembering that at one time in my life anything more that $100 is like really expensive.

RH:  I am more willing to get new tires or something like that while another purchase makes me hesitate for a while.

DB:  Part of me can say that because I’m saving a ton of money by commuting.  I don’t have a car payment.  I don’t some monthly expenses.  But that all works theoretically because all that money I am saving gets spent immediately!

RH:  Yes, other ways!

DB:  It’s not like I have this deep reservoir.  Whatever I’m saving on gas, maintenance, car payments, is spent immediately by the kids!

RH:  While growing up, did you do racing or just riding and enjoying it?

DB:  I’ve always biked.  When I was a kid I biked everywhere, like you were talking about, in my suburban town like a lot of kids when we were that age.  We could ride all over the place and not worry about things that seem to worry parents these days.  I got out of it in college, I picked up other sports in high school and college, and after I got out of college I realize you need to lose all this weight you gained in college; the thirties are approaching and you have to take care of yourself.  But I got into mountain biking a lot.  I loved riding the dirt trails and stuff, but after I got married and we started having kids, my wife and I find it a lot harder to carve out the time needed to ride the trails.  Mountain biking involves getting your gear together, going to the trail head, doing your ride, then getting back in.

RH:  Maybe cleaning up the bike…?

DB:  Yeah!  Exactly, you have to get the bike and hose it if you’re covered in mud.

RH:  I’ve heard that you and your wife early on did a ride in Texas?

DB:  We did the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred down in Texas.  That ride usually lives up to its name.  It can get up to 115° on the asphalt.  She had been training for the MS that year and was ready to go.  She is athletic and had been a college ball player and is a good strong rider.  But on that ride down there she was really slow, by her standards.  I thought at first that it was because we did not get a good night’s sleep.  We had tried camping out in the 100° Texas heat and that was just not good.  Her energy level was terrible.  She managed to get through the ride, but she had all kinds of weird things happen.  In addition to being slow she developed a heat rash.  Any exposed skin had a horrible red rash that kept getting worse and worse as the day went on.  I got her drafting and that got her through the last half of the ride.

After the ride was over, I had bounced back and the body had recovered, but she was not recovering as fast.  She was still run down, exhausted, and she wondered, “What is this?  I have no energy!  The ride took it all out of me.”  I told her, “I don’t know.  That’s really weird.”  But there were other signs and the ride had nothing to do with that!  Ha!  We found out she was pregnant during the ride.  The rash was a symptom of being pregnant and so was the fatigue, obviously.

It’s kind of funny, people ask me all the time (they hear I did that ride which is a tough ride–it’s a flat ride, it’s tough because of the heat).  They will ask me, “Do you think I could do that ride?”  And I say, “Sure, my wife did it pregnant!”  But she could not do the MS that year being much more along in her pregnancy.

RH:  My wife got me back into cycling.  She had been out riding a lot alone on her day off when she had an accident back in ’04.  But after rehab (she broke her arm) she started spinning classes, gradually got back on her bike, and ended up getting a new hybrid.  I took her old bike and that’s how she helped me come back to the sport.  It’s been wonderful, especially when the two of us can get out on the road together.

DB:  My wife is not as adventurous as yours.  She does not like to go riding alone, but she loves to ride with the family or in a group.  Because she is an athlete she craves that kind of activity.  The more exhausted she is the better.  She loves it and gets a thrill out of it.  I’m kind of like that too, so we are a good match.

RH:  When did you start commuting by bike?

DB:  Since around the time our first child was born, that would be April, 2004.  Right after he was born that Spring I started riding.  We lived in Republic and that was about eighteen miles each way.  I did it three days a week.  I first started in the fall of ’03.  She was working here and sometimes I would bring the bike and ride it home.  Particularly after the MS, I had built up all this fitness and I wanted to keep.  But then winter came and I stopped and then we had the baby and I started riding to work at that point, just a couple of times a week to get some exercise.  I was still taking the winter off and then about ’06, I really started it.  During the summer of ’05 I would do three times a week; I would bring clothes in on Monday and then take them home on Friday.  That was great.  That gave me all the training I needed for the MS or for charity rides and it saved us a ton of money on gas which at that time was only about $1.30/gal. in 2004. I remember conversations, “They’re jacking it up to $1.80 so $1.50 will be more palatable.”

RH: Yeah, there are a lot of ‘experts’ out there who know exactly why things happen and they will tell you about it also!

Have you had a Memorable Ride that sticks in your memory?

DB:  Getting hit sticks out.  I had taken a half-day from work and went with the guys to a movie on the south side of town.  I’m the bike guy so I rode there, saw the film and had to ride back here at work to get the garage door opener.  On the way back to work, it was about 3:00 p.m., and I am coming north on Boonville off the Square toward the train tracks.  As I approach Water St., there is some sort of festival going on so cars are parked all along the street.  I saw a car going opposite my direction that was going to turn left in front of me.  He had come to a stop, so I thought he had seen me.  I was in the middle of the lane, going about 20 down the hill.  I could see he had stopped so I thought he could see me and wait until I could get through the intersection as I had the right of way.  But on the cross street there was another car that had stopped so my attention was on her to make sure that she sees me and doesn’t pull out.  So I can tell that she sees me as I approach the intersection, but just then the other car turns right in front of me.  But then he sees me and panics and hits the brakes, which makes sure that I smash into him.

I dented up his car really good.  I didn’t break anything though, I was surprised.  I stood up at the last second which helped my head go over rather than hit the side, but my handlebars and chest plowed into the side of his car.  It was a glancing blow as I slide down the side and flopped on the pavement behind him in the middle of the intersection.

Fortunately, no other cars were coming so nobody had to stop, but people immediately jumped out of their cars and people on the street were there to help me out.  I stood up, but I couldn’t believe I didn’t break anything.  I thought, “This is going to hurt!  I’m going to break something for sure.”  I felt cracking in my chest, I didn’t crack, bruise or break anything.  I chewed him out pretty good there on the street!

RH:  I’ve heard about it!

DB:  He started in with the nonsense of “Oh, I didn’t even see you!”  And I said, “Really??  Middle of the lane?  Bright yellow vest?  I’m right in front of you and you don’t see me?  And with the madder I got, he said, “Come on, man!  You act like I did this on purpose!  It was just an accident!”  And that’s where I got really ticked, because accidents and negligence are not the same thing.  Just because you didn’t intend to hit somebody doesn’t mean that it was an accident.  I told him, “Thankfully, you did not intend to hurt me, but the fact is that you did things, such as not checking to make sure the roadway was clear, that put my life in danger.”  That’s negligence.

RH:  I’ve never had that happen to me, but I find myself more willing (my daughter uses the term, The Filter Is Gone) to just yell at drivers who get too close to me.

DB:  I had one lady out in Republic who got real close to me while we were going over a RR track crossover.  You can’t see anyone coming over from the other side and this was when I used to hug the right side, thinking I was safe that way.

So I’m going up the rise over the tracks and a lady tries to squeeze by me and there is no room in the lane.  Of course, she does not want to get into the other lane, but just wants to get past me.  I was so close that I could have touched her son’s head in the passenger seat.  She had the sun roof open and I said, “Lady, if you’re trying to kill me you’re going to need to get a lot closer than that!”  She looked at me with big eyes and immediately backed off.

You have to know that you are doing something incredibly stupid.  You have to know that this is not a good thing to do, even if I might be doing something stupid.  You have to know that you are making matters worse by trying to squeeze through.

RH:  I have found that since I started riding, I feel I am a better driver.

DB:  Yeah.

RH:  I am more aware of what’s around me, ahead of me, is anybody getting close?  And when I come up on a cyclist, he or she shouldn’t have anything to fear from me.  I take the other lane and give an example to anyone behind me.

DB:  I am shocked and pleased that when you behave like a car while on a bike, most drivers treat you like a car.  If you take up that lane when you are allowed to, cars are content to wait until it is a safe time to pass.  You might get a few that blow the horn and are mad at you for being there, but they are not going to run you down and commit murder.

But when I was hugging that right side of the lane, they were more often than not, willing to take a chance and get past.  So, to me there are more or less dumb people out there, but not many maniacal killers out there, not many who want to kill people.  But there are plenty who are so dumb as to not be able to judge a separation distance and put your life in danger, not meaning to necessarily.

RH:  It is better to take the lane and help them to make the right decision.

DB:  I ended up doing that automatically.  I was sick of getting buzzed.  I’m going to take this lane and force people around me.  It was only later that I learned, “Oh, that’s Missouri law.  I am allowed to do that.”

RH:  I suspect some drivers would prefer us to be on the sidewalk, but nope, I’m sticking to the streets.  They are smoother and safer.

DB:  My commute is my exercise, so on the flats I am trying to keep my speed up as much as I can, around eighteen or twenty mph.  That’s too bad for the streets.  If I really want to push it, I’ll get to twenty-five.  I usually can’t sustain that for long.

RH:  I can do that downhill!

DB:  But fifteen or twenty mph is too fast for a sidewalk, particularly when you have driveways and cars backing out looking at the street instead of the sidewalk.  They’re not going to be looking for a cyclist going fifteen or twenty mph.  Drivers are only looking for cars on the street.  So they won’t see you flop over the hood of their car.  Hopefully they’re insured and you can get a new bike out of it!

RH:  Quite a risk…. Thanks for the time, Dave.

DB:  Yeah, it’s always fun to talk bikes.

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About rlhoover

A perspective on life and cycling in the Ozarks. I started serious cycling in 2008, after seeing my wife be on the bike for a few years. We have biked many places and hope to continue. I am no where near being a real good cyclist, but I have fun trying to improve. Who am I kidding? Me? Improve??
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