Sports

Most Motorists Courteous, Cautious, Helpful

The Charming Side of Cycling

My cycling buddies wanted me to write about what happened on this year’s GAG Ride, which stands for Geezers Around Glacier, but I had decided against it.

Until I read all the recent negative news about the escalating conflict between cyclists and motorists on our roadways, that is.

Everyday, it seems, I read a new horror story, such as:

• A driver crossing the centerline and smashing into the lead pack in a Texas road race with helmets, bicycles and bodies flying through the air.

• A road-raged motorist in California pulling in front of two cyclists on a 40 mph descent and slamming on his brakes, sending both into his back window and then to the hospital.

• A frontier throwback sheriff in Colorado telling cyclists to stay out his of county unless they want to spend a night in jail.

• A Portland motorist running down a cyclist and then driving around at high speed with him hanging on his hood for his life, all caught on a cell-phone video.

• A long article in the New York Times about conflicts breaking out from coast to coast as more cyclists hit the roads to save energy and get fit.

That’s not all – just all I can remember today and more than enough to prompt me to write this. The truth is, most motorists accept cyclists as legitimate users of our highways, but you’ll never see a headline like this on the front page: “Millions of Motorists and Cyclists Had No Conflicts Today.”

Which brings me back to the GAG Ride.

Every year we geezers try to convince ourselves we aren’t really old, so we take a little mission up to Glacier National Park for a long ride or two, one always being the route over Going-to-the-Sun Road from West Glacier to East Glacier.

This year, near the end of the ride as we approached East Glacier and I happened to be last in the paceline, I flatted. Being the veteran of hundreds of tire changes, it was a no-big-deal until I discovered I was indeed a geezer because I’d forgotten to pack my tire tools in my saddle pack and couldn’t change my tire. By the time I had that ugly moment of reality, my fellow geezers were long gone, down at the vehicle cracking a cold beer while I walked my bike down the road looking for a good place to wait for them to come looking for me. (No, cell phones don’t work in Glacier).

I’d walked less than a minute when a rental car pulled over and a guy asked me if I needed help, and I said, “yes, but I’d need a tire tool.”

“I have a tire tool,” the tourist from Memphis, Tenn., replied.

“No, I mean a bicycle tire tool,” I said, thinking he would be bringing out the one he uses to change car tires.

“No, I have one,” he insisted. After a quick change and a heartfelt thank you, I caught up with my group, feeling charmed.

The next day, I had another puncture on our trip around Lake Koocanusa. We hadn’t seen a car for two hours, but as we debated if I needed a new tire, a car came around the corner and stopped. A lady looked at us checking out my back tire and asked, “Do you need a new tire?”

We all had the same thought: does she mean bicycle tire? Until we looked in the backseat of her sedan where we saw two top-of-the-line bicycle tires. Turns out she was supporting her husband as he rode the northern route across America. How lucky can you get?

Later that day, four hours into our ride and out of water, we stopped at a campground at the south end of the reservoir where we’d been told was the only source of water on this route. But there was none.

As we cursed and tried to decide where to get water, along came two geezers driving a Forest Service pickup. We asked them about water, and they politely told us we were at the wrong campground and could find water two miles down the road.

Thanking them, we departed and as we rode into that campground, the same two guys, who called themselves “toilet rangers,” came up behind us to tell us they had forgotten (proving geezers are everywhere) to tell us they’d shut the water off, but they went out of their way to take us to a closed area with water, a place we never would have found on our own.

The point is, all three incidents prove people often go out to their way to help cyclists they’ve never met – instead of hazing or cursing them. Now there’s something you don’t see in the news very often, if ever, right?

Most of the time when I’m out on my bike, I have no conflicts with motorists, and I should force myself to think that instead of concentrating on the few conflicts I do have.

I’ve written extensively about how cyclists and motorists can peacefully coexist on our roadways, but obviously a few drivers will persist in doing what they can to intimidate bicyclists. I frankly don’t know what else can be written about this thoughtless, reckless, road-raged minority, but as our GAG ride proves, most of the time cyclists can enjoy riding without feeling the fear or scorn you see so often in the headlines.