June has arrived, meaning road biking season has come and gone, with Ride for the Pass reliably marking the last major weather event of May. Dollars given to the Independence Pass Foundation via Ride or Ski for the Pass are some of the best investments of my life, certainly with the highest ROI. How fortunate are we to have not just access, but stewardship?
My love of Lycra and losing by a ratio that would make Fibonnaci smile — that is, the number of decades older than me another racer is equals the number of hours by which I will lose to her — will undoubtedly pull me into an Aspen Cycling Club (ACC) event or 50 before fall, but other than that, road biking season is dead. Long live road biking.
It’s not over because we don’t live in a perfect place to road bike, or because I won’t still be cycling on the roads whose names I won’t print in a weekly column to give folks reading this paper for the first time at Element 47 or Poppycocks bright ideas. No, road biking is dead because unaware motorists routinely kill cyclists. A recent fatality in May includes Gwen Inglis, a U.S. National Champion.
I met one of my best friends mere weeks after he was struck by a truck turning left on a country road and nearly bled out on the pavement in 2000. He has since set 1,200-kilometer randonee course records in Colorado (64 hours, 55 minutes) and finished the grueling Paris-Brest-Paris.
I know more cyclists who have been seriously injured road biking than all of the motocross, skiing, mountain biking and other proper “action sport” injuries combined in my crew, of which there are a few honorable mentions and one death. One incident in particular is seared into my memory.
Two summers ago, I spun up to the Bells. Beginning my descent, a teenager piloting a Honda Civic decided at the last minute possible that he could pull onto the road from the day park area before I reached him. I swerved, avoiding catastrophe. Minutes later, I was skidding sideways at 45 mph into a gray Ford 850 using the entire road to execute a precise 18-point turn about a mile before the ranger station.
The friend who almost died in a similar event in 2000 was by my side.
I lost my shit like it was New York City circa 1986 and Dan Rather was driving the pickup, suggesting to the driver that I have an eidetic memory for things like license plates, and if said vehicle was parked anywhere west of Topeka it might have more shredded rubber than I just lost trying to avoid impact.
Here’s the hypocritical thing, though: the speed limit is 35 mph on Maroon Creek Road. I just admitted I was airing out my Lycra at 45 mph, and we all know Garmins don’t lie on Strava segments. I don’t know why I believe that when I work hard enough “human powered” to have my heart rate in zone 5, the rules of the road no longer apply since I am such a specimen capable of defying speed “limits,” but I do. I’ve earned my downhill, dammit. If I was as good in reality as I am in imagination, however, I wouldn’t need spandex to go that fast — I’d just need an e-bike and jeans. There is a hierarchy to everything, even entitlement.
It goes without saying that after I passed the truck, it caught up to me around the Aspen Recreation Center, as motorized vehicles catch up to all cyclists who pass them on the downhill around this point. It’s a senseless game of double-yellow-line leapfrog we play, acting like our righteous indignation is tougher than literal steel, or that Texas open carry laws are no match for our witty verbal rejoinders.
I further grant that it’s hard to take threats seriously when the adult issuing such proclamations has $2,000 carbon wheels, form-fitting spandex, quads that would make an Olympic sprinter envious juxtaposed with spaghetti noodles for arms (here, obviously, I’m talking about “other” cyclists — you know, those to whom I routinely lose by hours).
The only thing I hate more than motorists when I’m cycling is cyclists when I’m motoring.
The driver slowed alongside me as we passed the ARC, his passenger apologizing profusely. The thing is, I believed him. I don’t think the incident was malicious, a calculated show of the supremacy of pickup trucks and camo to a tiny aluminum bicycle and WEDU jerseys. The look in the man’s eyes and panicked tone suggested he knew exactly how badly he messed up, at what potential cost to me and was genuinely sorry. I acknowledged this, and took a moment or 10 to breathe. My friend suggested the energy was wrong for the ride, from top to bottom, and that it was time to grab a tequila or 10.
After the Pass opens Memorial Day Weekend, drivers increasingly range in aptitude and temperament, from Kenneths* to Karens. When asked about the hit song, R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe said, “I wrote that protagonist as a guy who’s desperately trying to understand what motivates the younger generation, who has gone to great lengths to try and figure them out, and at the end of the song it’s completely f---ing bogus. He got nowhere.”
Sub “younger generation” for “unaware motorists,” and the sentiment holds.
“Unaware motorists” include those texting and driving while filming the moose at kilometer 4; it includes entitled spandex-clad pelotons; and it includes e-bikers riding six abreast against downhill traffic. With enough force, we all break upon impact. We can all do better, and we all need to do better.
Or to quote another R.E.M. hit, “Driver 8, take a break. We’ve been on this shift too long.”
*In 1986, Dan Rather was attacked in New York City by two unknown assailants who repeated, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” R.E.M. turned the line into the title of a hit song in 1994.