By Peter Burns
Riding as a Skill
I often see people riding in ways that are not efficient. I don't make comments to other riders, but sometimes I want to. When I am lifeguarding at the YMCA I see a lot of awkward swimming. Even though I teach swimming for the Y, I don't offer comments there either. Everyone is sensitive to what they perceive as criticism. I know that there are things I do inefficiently, but like most people I am reluctant to change.
Features that help make biking and walking safer have been installed across Burlington in many places this summer! And DPW isn't done yet, as several more safety features are being completed into this fall. These are all a part of the City's effort to create a network of connected streets where people of all ages and abilities can easily get around and feel safe doing so, as outlined in planBTV Walk Bike. Neighborhood Greenways are an important part of this--that is, streets with low vehicle volumes and speeds designed to prioritize bicycling and enhance conditions for walking. "The Wiggle" in the ONE is a great example of this, where folks of all ages and abilities can get from the NNE or Battery Park and the Waterfront to the top of the hill (UVM and UVMMC), downtown, or anywhere in between.
Below is a sample of the wonderful bike and walk infrastructure that the City of Burlington has or is in the process of completing this summer. Fear not, much more superb bike and walk infrastructure is planned for upcoming years to help complete a connected citywide network.
Every once in a while, during a ride, I interact with someone as I am passing by. Being on a bicycle means that the interactions are brief, I think of these little scenes as mini-plays with only one short act. Here are a few of them:
On Discovery Road in Colchester I passed a mom with her little girl. They were standing at the end of a driveway. The girl was about five years old. She was pushing a bike with training wheels. I said to her, "Do you want to race?" Her mom said, "Not yet, she is still in training. Come back in a couple of months."
On Old Stage Road in Essex, a Dad was pushing a little girl on a small bike. He said to her, "Are you sick of biking yet?" As I rode by I said, "How could anyone ever be sick of biking?"
On different day, on Old Stage Road, I saw a man at the Essex Country Club. He swung his club and hit the golf ball and then grimaced as he turned away. I said, "It wasn't that bad." He said, "It was that bad."
This interaction took a little longer --
In June, while taking a break from a ride, I was at the Maplefieds store in Georgia waiting to use the bathroom. I was behind two guys who had ridden in on Harley motorcycles. The bathrooms are single occupancy and the men's room was occupied. After a few minutes, the first guy in the line kind of shrugged and went into the women's room, which was empty. The other guy turned to me and said, "Both bathrooms are pretty much the same." I said, "Yes, they should be gender neutral." After the first guy left the woman's room, the guy I had been talking to used it and finally it was my turn. I wonder if I would have used the women's room if I had been the first in line.
What I hear
Most of my attention is focused on what I see and the physical sensations of riding but sound also plays a big part in the riding experience. I never listen to music or recorded books while I ride, I would find that too distracting. I also don't recite poetry or practice stories. I do those things when I am walking. In traffic I listen for the cars behind me, especially when I am getting into position to make a left turn. Cars are remarkably loud and when there is no traffic, other sounds emerge - birds, running water, the wind in the trees. Occasionally, when I stop for a break on the Burlington Bike Path, I can hear the sound of trains from the New York side of the lake. Once in a while, when there is an exceptionally warm day in December, I get to take a long ride through the countryside. I feel warm enough but the experience is always strange because the bird songs of summer and fall are missing. There is a kind of dissonance between the weather and the lack of birds.
After many years of riding a bike, my legs usually feel strong. At 62 I can do a six hour ride without too much trouble. By the middle of the summer, after many long rides, pedaling on level ground is almost effortless. This is a wonderful feeling. Because weight is so important when it comes to bike riding, I keep mine between 140 and 145. If I go over 145 I eat a little less the next week, if I am under 140 I eat a little more. Even with a lot of physical activity, I still have to watch what I eat.
On some rides old aches and pains present themselves. My back gets sore, my left knee aches, my left wrist hurts or I get twinges in my right ankle. Usually I can ride through the discomfort. I also have physical difficulties that are not related directly to riding a bike, but can affect the ride. I get headaches and feel dizzy. Sometimes I have diarrhea and have to take anti-diarrhea pills.
Just as we are different people in different social situations, we have many different bodies that manifest themselves as we begin an activity. This switching of bodies is largely automatic. My swimming body is not like my riding body. When I get ready to ride, my bike body starts to emerge and is fully present when I start to pedal. There are different kinds of bike bodies as well. I have one body that I use when riding around town, and another one for my road bike and a third one for long rides on dirt roads. I wear bike gloves even for riding around town, because putting them on helps me manifest my bike body.
Elements of Bike Riding
Time and Distance - Last year I downloaded Strava for tracking my speed and distance. I wanted to do a century, so I needed to have a way to see how far I was riding. After I did the 100 mile ride, I removed the app from my phone. I tend to be obsessive. I can easily see myself tracking every mile I ride, swim and walk. I want to be more relaxed about exercise. I am also a very slow rider, so knowing my average speed of travel is a little depressing.
Emotions - When I jump on my bike, I don't leave my feelings behind. If I am sad, anxious or angry, those feelings can stay with me as I ride. If I am feeling anxious about say my health, or a mistake I made at work, that anxiety can shift to anxiety about flat tires, the weather or getting lost. Emotions flow and change, so sometimes I am anxious when I leave my house and feel better after twenty minutes of riding. Once in a while, I feel a transcendent happiness. This does not happen often, but it is always a possibility. The last time it happened was when I rode on Boro Hill Road near East Moncton. It is a dirt road with a steep hill. Behind me was a stiff breeze and I rode slowly up the hill, with almost no effort at all. It felt as if I was levitating. Pedaling with the exact force needed to keep on going kept me focused in the moment. But riding is not always joyful. On May 21st I rode from Winooski up Riverside Avenue then through the Intervale to the 127 bike path, along the Burlington bike path over the Winooski River to Airport Park and then back to Winooski by way of Mallets Bay Avenue. It was sunny and in the 70's. A beautiful evening for a ride. I took my time, and felt strong through the whole ride. I was grateful to be out on the bike on such a fine evening. Rather than joy or anxiety, I felt a quiet contentment.
Traffic -- Traffic makes a difference in how I ride. I would prefer to avoid heavy traffic but in Chittenden County that is impossible. Riding around I am amazed at how many new houses are being built. Traffic is not going to get any better unless a lot more of us ride bicycles. I prefer steady traffic with room to ride on the side of the road to intermittent traffic on roads with very little room. Time of day also makes a big difference. In late June I headed south on Route 116 in South Burlington at 3:45. Rush hour traffic had already started. It took 40 minutes to escape traffic. I finally found some peaceful riding on a back road in Williston. Dirt roads are a gift to the traffic averse. Within half an hour ride of my house in Winooski, there are plenty of dirt roads that have very few cars, even at rush hour. What a blessing! Sometimes, unreasonably, I get annoyed with traffic. Last year I was riding on East Road in Colchester on a Saturday afternoon. It is a narrow road, with little room for bikes. The traffic was heavy and fast. I thought to myself, "This is not rush hour, there should not be so many cars on the road."
What I See - Seeing is both practical and aesthetic. I keep alert for traffic, cars, and pedestrians. I observe the sky for signs that the weather is about to change. Every type of road user perceives the environment in a different way. The moment I get on my bike I start viewing the world as a bike rider rather than as pedestrian or a car driver. I actually perceive the world differently. I notice the road surface, especially potholes and grates. I also visually calculate the steepness of hills and I am constantly aware of the speed and trajectory of other moving things in the environment. I can give more attention to the countryside when I don't have to focus on traffic. In a couple of places in Chittenden County there are unexpectedly spectacular views of Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains. The top of Riverside Avenue in Burlington is a great place to view Mount Mansfield. In the afternoon, on a clear winter day, the sun in the west illuminates the snow on the mountain. The snow glows with a celestial light. It looks as if you could reach out and touch the mountain. On Duffy road in Milton there is a fine view of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. Last month I wrote about my wild flower project, and that project has continued. I post the Wildflowers on Facebook. I find that I am not willing to stop every time I see a new wildflowers, once or twice a ride is enough. I know that most flowers will be blooming for a while, so if I do not catch them on one ride, I am sure to see them on the next. Because of my interest I notice wild flowers rather than trees or birds or insects. I also document each long ride with a photo I post on Instagram. My inspiration is the artist Richard Long, who walks all over the world and takes one photograph to commemorate each walk. Last year I upgraded my iPhone, mostly because I wanted a better camera. Now, when I ride, I look for potential photographs and that changes the way I see the world.
Local Motion will reinstate the Island Line Bike Ferry service for the 2018 season. The Vermont Agency of Transportation announced a joint effort today with, the Town of Colchester and Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department to rebuild the Colchester Causeway, targeting early July for reopening.
I am beginning a series about the complexity of riding a bike. I am interested in the many elements that go into a bike ride, and as I use a bike as my primary form of transportation, I've given these elements a lot of thought.
Vermont is home to "one of the country's most spectacular bike trails," according to a recent Washington Post travel piece, and we couldn't agree more! Local Motion owns and operates a bike ferry on a section of the trail, the Colchester Causeway, ferrying cyclists and their bikes from one side of the 200 ft "cut" to the other. Last year, more than 16,000 cyclists rode our ferry enjoying views of the Adirondack mountains to the west and the Green mountains to the east - at the same time! It truly is a spectacular ride and beloved by locals and visitors alike.
Many years ago I bought Kate Carter's 'Wildflowers of Vermont.' I learned about the most common Vermont wildflowers. This year I decided to photograph flowers as they appeared and post the pictures on Facebook. The first flower of the season was Coltsfoot, which I found by the side of the road in Essex. This was during my first long ride of the the spring. I had seen some cultivated flowers in bloom, but that was my first wild flower. A week later I found a blue flower next to the Burlington bike path, but I was not able to identify it.
Burlington Electronic Launches Electric Bike Rebate Program and Test Ride Lending Library - partners with Local Motion and Burlington Shops to Promote E-bikes as Tools for reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Transportation Sector