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Passing thoughts on riding fast

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

[Editor’s note: This is the first contribution from John “Dabby” Campbell. Dabby is a veteran Portland bike messenger, bike polo player, and a prolific commenter on this site.]

[John “Dabby” Campbell]

If there is one thing that cycling allows, it is freedom. The ability to choose your path, to clear your head, enjoy the fresh air, and to get where you need to, in the time frame you so choose.

Some people ride at a leisurely pace, having either left early to get where they have to go, or having nowhere at all to get to. This is nice; rolling around, watching the birds, the changing colors of trees, taking big, deep breaths of air. Maybe even taking a longer route into town before work.

It’s great to have that luxury.

“I am a victim of this volatile mixture. A tiny Italian seat, mounted on fine Italian steel, makes me feel like Micheal Schumacher at the start of the F-1 season. The light goes green and I am gone.”
–Dabby

Few are the times that I ride like this, but when I do, I enjoy it. A slow stroll through Oaks Bottom is one of the better things in life. So many blue herons, so little time.

A smaller percentage of riders are blessed with something more powerful than time, or patience. It is generally a combination of things such as endorphines, a higher metabolism, and a lust for life.

I am a victim of this volatile mixture. A tiny Italian seat, mounted on fine Italian steel, makes me feel like Micheal Schumacher at the start of the F-1 season; the light goes green and I am gone.

Whether used out of necessity, or for the love of it, speed is your friend. It can be turned up to beat your boss to the time clock, to go beyond the pain and win that big race, or it can be used to simply clear your mind, body, and soul.

It’s common in many parts of town, when pulling away from a light, to roll faster than the cars. And, when riding on certain roads, to be forced out of the bike lane due to slower bicycle traffic.

A quicker moving cyclist is more prepared to leave the bike lane than a slower one and it’s safer for the faster rider to do so. In fact, I consider it their responsibility.

Riding fast improves your tracking skills, the most useful cycling skill there is. Tracking is the ability to ride straight. At a slow rate of speed, the tendency to swerve is much greater (as is the tendency to look where you are not riding).

This is greatly understood by the fast rider, and misunderstood by most slow ones. This is most apparent when riding on or near a structure like our crowded bridges.

Our town is divided by a river and we all need to cross it at one point or another. Whether late for work or early for a coffee date, our lives are often on the other side.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that bicycle use is drastically increasing, the city has spent a lot of our money on river crossings that are too narrow. Yes, narrow is the path the city has laid for us.

This puts us all in the same place, at a different pace.

[Riding slow and enjoying the view from the Broadway Bridge, 8/6/2006.]

In order for this to work, we need to work together. They are not going to change the paths they have spent so much money on. We need to change how we deal with them.

Here are my simple rules:

[Sharing a crowded
Esplanade, 4/15/06]

We have the opportunity to take bicycling in Portland to a new level. But if we remain divided by simple issues such as crowded, multi-use paths, and varying speeds, we are doing ourselves and our city an injustice and we’re detracting from the common goal.

There is no need to be irritated by someone passing you. If you’re a slow rider, it’s a matter of if, not when when, not if.

If this year is anything like the last, more Portlandian’s than ever will discover a love for cycling. And as winter releases it’s cold, wet grip, we will surely see more congestion on the paths we share.

Just remember, when you do get passed, don’t be mad, be glad that you just saw one more bike.