On Your Left.

I am sneezy, coughing, eye watering mess. Complete with fatigue, snot, and sinus pressure. In short? I have a cold.

It’s an interesting thing to be sick right now. No one ever wants to be near a person who coughs or sneezes. But with fears of COVID-19 high, I’m absolutely a persona non grata in public spaces. I am not self quarantining as I have neither risk factors nor symptoms of COVID-19 (no fever, period, and a productive cough over a dry one). But I am carrying around hand sanitizer to protect the rest of the world from my germs, not touching things, and limiting my time with other humans. Aside from Paul. He’s just screwed.

BUT, I have still been heading outside. The fresh air and sunshine the past few days have been a huge difference for my mental state. I may have pushed too hard on a bike ride on Sunday, but other than that I’ve actively been limiting my workouts to easy zone 2 paces and nothing more than a couple hours.

And that brings me around to Saturday’s bike ride. I opted to take my snotty self on an easy ride out to Lyons and back. Small, rolling hills. Sunshine. Wide shoulder. And temps hitting 70. Perfection. I promised myself I’d keep my heart rate under 150, ideally under 140. Super casual I told myself. And I stuck by that.

Which made for a perfect study in the art of being passed on a bicycle, because I was going sloooooow.

That ride is popular for elite athletes heading out on longer training rides, casual cyclists out for a long ride, and everyone in between. I was passed by single riders, old riders, young riders, club riders, couples, trios, groups in matching spandex.. you get the idea. I didn’t pass a single person the whole 30mi round trip.

And this is where it gets interesting. About 2/3 of the riders said something to me as they passed. Often just “on your left”, sometimes spoken in a breathless, halting tone. Sometimes a friendly, “good morning!”, or “hey there!”, or “have a good ride”. Either way, these cyclists made some acknowledgement they were there, coming up behind me, and going faster than me. And it was a mix of folks that did it. That mix even included a large group of fast moving club riders, where about half of them said something friendly as they came up alongside me. It was actually really nice and a little surprising, especially given the pace they were rocking.

Now the shoulder varies on the ride, but it’s wide enough for two bikes to ride comfortably for much of the way. That being said, it is still a shoulder with no protection from the highway it runs along, where the speed limit is 60 mph.

This is where we get to the other 1/3 of the group. Of these rides, about 50% passed without saying anything BUT they passed wide. They crossed over the white line so even if I had some play in my line we weren’t going to collide. That’s totally cool with me. It skips them having to waste breath, it’s not startling to me, and we can still give casual head nods or waves to each other if we want.

But the other 50% of this group, and I’ll not these were exclusively dudes in spandex (usually in groups of 2-4), passed like we were riding in a pace line together. DUDE. I’m not in your damn pace line. You have no idea if I even know what a pace line is. You have no clue if I know how to ride in a group, or if I’m daydreaming, or if I’m about to swerve around some random thing I see in the road. Why don’t you know? Why would I swerve? Because we’re not riding together! What if you startle me? Did I mention we’re going alongside a highway!? It’s not the interstate, but it’s not exactly a quiet country road. I can’t hear you and your silently spinning six thousand dollar bike zooming up behind me at 30mph. And I’m not expecting you to pass so close that if I extend my elbow we’re both going down hard. To be clear, I don’t have headphones in. I’m paying attention. But I’m also alone and riding casually. I’m not worried about moving my tire around a bump in the road because no one is on my wheel.

I know. I know. I’ve said “on your left” thousands of times. You’d think three little words would be no big deal, but on a long ride you get SO tired of saying them. I get it. Once, when I was a new cyclist, I actually collided with a pedestrian when I didn’t call and she made an abrupt turn. We both went down on a paved path, though everyone was completely fine. That’s another story, but the point is PEOPLE ARE UNPREDICTABLE.

So please. For the love of everything. Call when you pass another cyclist. Or give enough clearance that even if you startle someone they aren’t going to swerve into you, into traffic, or into a ditch. You don’t need to slow down, and you don’t even have to be nice (though, if we’re talking about you riding on a multi-use path this is a WHOLE different conversation). Honestly, I’ve nothing against a cyclist riding 30mph, wearing spandex, and riding in a pace line – especially on a wide shoulder. That’s the perfect place to do it! I’ve done it too! None of that is bad. Just please, look out for your fellow riders (and yourself). Call, not only when you’re navigating through more public spaces, but also when your passing your fellow humans out for a ride. Drivers are already taking out cyclists left and right, let’s not give them any help.

Author: cartwheelsandcake

Cyclist, climber, hiker, trail runner, back country skier, dabbling mountaineer Lover of cake, chocolate, brownies, and sweets. Excellent napper.

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