Why Bicycling Can Be Hard

I’ll start off my apologizing for two things: First there are no pictures, and second this is basically a rant.

As many of my readers know, I love to bicycle. Last week I wrote about buying my new bike. The first few days I took it out for short rides, call them test rides. I have been slowing expanding the envelope of how comfortable I feel with the bike. For example its braking characteristics are a bit different so I’m learning how fast I can safely stop.

So that said, Sunday was the 2nd annual CASSUG BBQ. The location is about 10 miles from my house. I did this ride last year and figured a good 20 mile round trip was a good expansion of my test rides (more on that distance in a little bit). One nice thing about this particular ride is that a fair portion of it is on a bike trail. Despite a headwind from the north, I made it to the bike trail without much problem. Then about 1-2 miles in I approached one of the underpasses and started to note debris all over the trail. For the next 1/2 mile or so the trail varied from covered with sticks, sawdust and other debris to totally rutted. From what I could tell, some maintenance crew had been through clearing trees and replacing probably a water line or other underground line. It was quite clear there was little regard for keeping the trail passible while this was done. I preserved on, but was annoyed.

I was even more annoyed when I noticed at the north end of this area of work, there was an actual detour sign. There had been no such warning coming from the south. This got me thinking, you’d never see this on a road for cars. In such a case, even if the road were left open, there would at least be signs in BOTH directions warning drivers.

After the BBQ, because I was feeling good and because I have certain goals each month, and one of them is a long ride of a particular distance, decided to try for that goal on Sunday, in this case 40 miles. So I rode further along the trail before turning around. This was a nice pleasant ride and I got to see more than I had in the past. For those who are local, this included biking UNDER the Twin Bridges, which was sort of cool.

Once I turned around, I figured when I hit the detour, I’d follow the signs and end back up on the trail past the bad section. Sure enough I followed the first detour sign and then… nothing. There were no more signs showing how to get back on to the bike trail past the broken up section. Again, I can’t imagine road maintenance would be quite so blithe about such a thing (and in fact, right near my house there’s been a bridge under repair for 3-4 months now and all the detour signs are clearly posted).

Fortunately I had a good sense of where I was and a good sense of direction so I followed the city streets in the right general direction. Suddenly I came across another, different bike trail headed in the right direction. I figured this was great, I’d avoid traffic and enjoy the ride.

Sadly I was again mistaken. This bike trail varied from paved for about 100 yards to gravel for another 100 yards back to paved and then back to gravel. There seemed to be no rhyme no reason for these changes, it was almost like someone randomly decided to pave only sections of it. This trail eventually dumped me out on one of the most potholed roads I’ve ever been on.

Fortunately that was only about 3 blocks from the end of the original bike trail and from there I was back on track. I finally got back on course and headed south. Of course by now the headwind had done a 180 and was now coming from the south. (This seems to be a truism on bike rides!)

In any event, I decided to take a different route home in order to hit my 40 mile mark. It was bit slower than I would have liked, but I made it. So that goal for the month was complete.

But, I’ll admit, I’m still annoyed. Bike trails are often afterthoughts and even when they are built are often poorly maintained or when work is done, treated as the bicyclists aren’t important.

I love to bicycle and have for decades. I will bicycle for pleasure. I will bicycle to run errands. I will bicycle to save gas and cut down carbon emissions. I will bicycle on back roads, bike trails, or even busy streets. I’ll bike wherever it’s legal.

I’d love it for more folks to bicycle. But honestly, it’s hard to encourage others to bicycle when the routes dedicated to them are often poorly maintained or don’t go where folks need or want to go. I’m glad to see there’s a growing network of bike trails near me. I’m just hoping that they’re correctly maintained and when there are necessary closures and the like that we get proper signage and detours.

Anyway, this post is rambling, a bit like my ride, but I hope you get my point. Let’s not treat bike trails as an afterthought.

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