01 April 2011

Addition to Dayton Daily News article

In the middle of March, Robin McMacken of the Dayton Daily News asked me to answer several questions. The answers became the basis of an article that appears today in the Life section. There were other questions too, and here are my answers.

How long have you been riding?
I've been riding a bicycle ever since my mom & dad refused to drive me to school, when we moved to town for me to attend fourth grade—my first nine years were as a farmboy. So since I'm 59 now, this year is the golden anniversary of bicycling for me! Thanks for that revelation.

What have been the advantages and challenges to commuting via bike?
My use of a bike for commuting really started with my daily bicycling to elementary school, and when I had part-time jobs in junior high and senior high, I got there by bike and then biked to school. Then in college and in my jobs to support my college education, I used a bicycle to get around.

When I was without a car, I did everything by bike. I went to the grocery store more often, but I would have my large leather backpack filled as much as possible. The biggest challenge is the city itself, especially a city that is not cognizant of alternate modes of transportation. I lived in Houston a short time, on special duty in the Air Force and also for a short-term assignment to write for a Lockheed proposal for NASA. I tried cycling there for a week, but it was too dangerous because of the traffic.

The biggest challenge for centering your transportation around the bike is following the arts venues. I’ve always been interested in the arts and I like going to a concert, movie, or an art gallery or studio. But if I were to have only a bicycle to attend such events, it would be a challenge to balance such a sweaty mode of transportation with that part of my life. After all, that milieau expects attendance by a leisured person, or at least someone who doesn’t have the “aura of exertion” about him. So enjoying a broad cultural experience is almost anathema to the active life of a devotee of cycling.

What impresses you most about our area bike paths?
I love how interconnected our communities are by the bikeways. Of course, the connections aren't always direct, and some important paths are yet to be developed, but I can take bikeway to almost every part of the metro area—the greatest exceptions are Centerville, Oakwood, much of Kettering, and the mall shopping areas. The Five Rivers Metro Parks staff take great care of the paths and keep them clear of overgrowth, and the paths are safer than the roads and streets, both for cyclists and pedestrians.

I lived in Los Angeles for a couple years from about 1985 to 1987 and I used what they called bikeways, which were actually paved access roads to the concreted river system in the city. Believe me, the Dayton system, even then, was more extensive, a better transportation mode, and safer. I have never seen scores of homeless living near the bikeways here, nor neighborhood gangs. But in L.A., they were common.

What are you favorite trails in the area?
I enjoy the MOMBA trails. They are well cared for, compact, and they have a nice mixture of ease and challenge. Usually I bike there the same day that I help maintain the trails, which is the 3rd Saturday afternoon each month. I have a special place in my heart for the loop from Wegerzyn Gardens to the Green Bridge at Deeds Point. That's actually my partner Chuck's favorite area, and I have special memories because of times there with him. I really love all the trails, but I enjoy them mostly because there are enough to ride a lot and yet not repeat the same experience. —My commuting is the exception, though. Twice a day I take the same route, unless the river is flooded or a bridge is being reconstructed, and I always see some new detail, some change, some fresh indicator that Spring has come.

What kind of bike do you ride?
I have several bikes. I have a Serotta Colorado road bike that I bought for racing, with thin tires and a touchy shifter set, that I actually seldom ride now. I have an old, old Trek mountain bike, very basic, very durable, that I ride early in the year, before the streets and bikeways have been cleared of the Winter detritus. I have a bright yellow mountain bike with suspension, knobby tires, and heavy-duty gears and chain that I ride in MOMBA, near Huffman Reserve. I have a converted Lotus fixed-gear bike that has been with me a long time, at least since 1975, and I love it most. It has seen a lot of good times, and it's been with me in bad times too. I have what I call my "Beater Bike," that I have on vacations to ride off-road in rocky single-track.

Any safety tips you can give our readers to ensure their safety?
Always follow the laws for vehicles, and always ride defensively! Expect the worst from auto drivers, and you'll never be disappointed. Never leave home without a cell phone, some ID, preferably something like RoadID, which has medical emergency information and a website for detailed medical and contact data. And if you're a gay man or lesbian, carry the medical power of attorney you've worked out with your partner and lawyer. Accidents, real accidents, can happen anytime, anywhere. Be ready to help yourself and the emergency crews when you can't answer a simple question.

What health benefits have you enjoyed during your riding history?
Hmmm. My partner Chuck would ask what health hazards have I met head on: a car hit me in 1994 and nearly killed me—that's no exaggeration. In 2009, I slipped on a gravelly corner on the bikeway and found that I had osteopinea (a "mild" form of osteoporosis) because of the broken hip that occurred. And an inattentive driver hit me on a downtown street during a commute last September.

But I am an optimist, cock-eyed perhaps. My fitness and general level of health are greater than most people my age.

How many miles do you log weekly?
I commute from March to November, and I commute an average of four days a week. That's 100 miles almost exactly. Then I'll take a light ride with Chuck and maybe a longer solo ride too on the weekend. So perhaps my average is 150. That's pretty low compared to some cyclists I know, but I have a life off the bike too. Almost all of that milage is on the bikeways. My commute starts with 2 miles of quiet residential streets, then 10 miles of the bikeways before I have a quarter mile on Research Park streets.

Do you enter any races? If so, which ones are they?
I raced as a "kid" in my 40s. I wasn't any strong contender for a road racing title. Far from it; there wasn't a criterium that I wasn't pulled out of before being lapped by the advancing pack of younger riders. I started racing because I wanted to compete in cycling events in the 1990 Gay Games in Vancouver BC. I double-silver-medalled there, though the divisions by age were so narrow that I seldom had more than 5 competitors. Then after another four years of racing, when I was a week away from competing in the 1994 Gay Games in New York City, a car hit me in a training race held on open, rural roads under the auspices of the Dayton Cycling Club, but not authorized by any of the local sheriffs or other authorities. That put an end to cycling for me for several years, out of respect for all the concern and heartache that the surgeries and recuperation cost Chuck, and me too, of course.

Since that collision 17 years ago, I’ve become more cautious, and I ride when it's wet only if I’ve biked to work and rain comes before I can leave for home. I do ride on city streets occasionally, because the bikeways near the rivers may be flooded or bridge and road construction projects over the bikeways don’t typically provide an off-road bypass for cyclists. I try to choose those alternate streets as carefully as possible—Is there little or no traffic? Is there adequate lane width to separate cars from me? Is the distance short to another part of the bikeway?

My friends have asked why I continue cycling. I love the sense of freedom and independence, the multi-modal aspect of exercise and commuting, the beauty of enjoying and sensing every moment. And there are other, important things, like the low impact on the environment, the savings on car maintenance and fuel, and the certainty that this avocation is a healthy and fulfilling one.

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