May 1, 2009

Bicycle Battlefield

Category: News — Ira @ 6:48 pm


Get a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.

—Mark Twain

He was gliding along, between the cars parked along the street and the traffic in the downtown metropolis of New Holland. Hunched over the handle bars of his speedster bike. Dressed in some sort of flashy striped outfit, aerodynamic helmet firmly strapped to his chin. Moving along at a good clip.

I was about the third vehicle back. The lead car had to swing just over the center line to pass him, and with the opposing traffic, it was a bit of a problem. At last the lead car inched by, then the next one. Then it was my turn. I poked along behind him, waiting for an opening. Then slid by him. At last. Now to move.

But no. Just ahead, the light turned red. The two cars ahead of me dutifully stopped. As did I. In the rear view mirror, I saw the Lance Armstrong wannabe sliding smoothly in the two-foot space between the stopped traffic and the sidewalk. Right past me he slid, and lined up with the lead car, waiting for the light to turn green. When it did, he bolted out like a startled jack rabbit, leaving all of us behind. For about two hundred feet. Then we all had to fight our way past him. Again.

The traffic light gods were aligned against us that evening. And there was nothing to be done about it. As we approached the next light, it turned red as well. The town council should hear of this. How uncoordinated the lights are in New Holland. Once again, the bicyclist snuck up silently and passed us, lining up with the lead car. Again, he bolted out ahead of the pack. His personal Tour de France. This was getting old.

For the third time, we all had to creep around, careful not to hit him. By now, I was silently fuming. If another red light stopped us, I would block his path with Big Blue, I decided. Fortunately, for the health of all drivers involved, we left the cyclist behind for good. Still hunched over, still pedaling furiously, oblivious to all the world but himself.

I don’t know who they are, where they come from, or where they are going. But with spring and warm weather, they appear suddenly, randomly and mysteriously, darting dangerously in and out of the heave maze of traffic along Rt. 23. Once in awhile, they assemble in great packs, clogging Lancaster’s back roads like so many gaudy peacocks. Multicolored. But the outfits greatly resemble some unknown (to me, at least) prototype. Underlooping handle bars. A tortuous looking little narrow sliver of a seat, actually mounted higher than the handle bars. Butts higher than hands. Wow. Somewhere, the ubiquitous water bottle strapped to the frame. And that’s just the bike.

The riders without fail are lean mean human machines. In spiffy tight suits and goggles and flashy helmets. Muscular, and fit beyond belief, pedaling furiously and grimly to get to who knows where.

The unfortunate motorist who gets stuck behind a pack of bicycles has limited options. He must stay alert, because individual bikes tend to dart and veer from the pack for no discernable reason. Lancaster’s back roads curve and meander up and down many hills. So all one can do is creep along behind and pray that the pack leader might arbitrarily decide to swerve off onto an even narrower side road. Which is exactly what happened one night last week after I followed a vast pack for more than a mile. Grumbling all the while, of course. Bike packs, I decided, are a greater irritant than even Lancaster County’s famous Putzers that consistently clog the roads in summer.

I’ve briefly considered nudging Big Blue into a pack, just to see what might happen. Would the pack scatter, collapse, or turn on us and beat Big Blue to a pulp? I’ve never found out, because something has always told me such an act, however tempting, would probably not be very wise.

It’s not that I have anything in particular against bicycles. Really. One of my fondest childhood daydreams revolved around the very simple concept of just owning a bike. In Aylmer, we couldn’t have them. Weren’t allowed to ride them, even.

Of course, we did have a pony. A fat, waddling utterly safe little nag, named Cricket. And while Cricket could move at a decent clip when he had a mind to, he couldn’t outrun a bike. In adulthood, I’ve discovered most children would rather have a pony than a bicycle. Which to me seems very odd. Guess we didn’t realize how good we had it back then.

Our English neighbor kids, the Lauer boys, sure had bikes. This was back in the early 1970s. Big balloon-tired heavy things. Banana seats. High rise handle bars. They tooled down the gravel road and hung out at our farm once in awhile. My brothers and I stood there and practically drooled. And when Dad wasn’t around, we learned how to ride them. Dreamed of a day when we might actually have one of our own.

Unfortunately, when that day finally arrived many years later, I didn’t want one any-more. Too busy keeping my flivver supplied with gas and oil, which it consumed in roughly equal quantities.

But I don’t have anything against a bicycle or a person riding a bicycle. The Old Order Mennonites (OOMs) traverse every road in Lancaster County on their bikes. Even the busiest highways. Sometimes their youth ride in great packs as well. The guys in their spitzy little hats, the girls in flowing checkered dresses.

But they ride for the most basic of reasons: to get somewhere. Not to show off the latest gadgets. Or for exercise. Or to develop muscles. They tend to ride plain but sturdy bikes, the ever present cardboard box strapped on the rack behind them, loaded with groceries or hardware. They pedal along sedately, sitting bolt upright. No butts higher than head or hands with these folks. Most importantly, they seem to realize that roads are primarily for cars and trucks, and stay out of the way. Show some respect. Warms the heart of any motorist, to share the road with such thoughtful cyclists.

The OOMs have even designed and manufactured little two wheeled tow carts, which are attached to the back of the bike. Cute little things, with a bubble plastic cover from which their small and infant children stare serenely as they glide by.

The OOMs do have a dangerous habit of biking on the road after dark. With no head-light and only a small blinking red rear light. A few weeks ago, as I was leaving a friend’s house one evening, I came within a hair’s breadth of creaming a young OOM as he swooshed by. Some instinct, or perhaps a prompting from above, made me stop at the end of the drive before pulling out onto the road. Had I not, someone would have landed up in the hospital. It freaked me out pretty badly.

It’s not the bike as such that I resent (as the Amish say, it’s not the car that’s evil, it’s what you do with it.). It’s how it’s used. And a light two wheeled contraption muscling for road space against vastly heavier motor vehicles is simply suicidal. That’s all there is to it.

So in the obstacle course that is good old Lancaster County, we have it all. Buggies. Putzers. Cyclists. And packs of cyclists. All running amok through the peaceful land.

Anyone whose head hasn’t been buried in the sand has heard the latest Great Freakout Panic. Swine flu. Oh, boy, it’s a wonder we aren’t all dead, by the breathless reporting. I’m not saying it’s not serious. And I’m not saying it couldn’t develop into a pandemic. But it seems to me the noise is a bit overloud. In my paranoid opinion, the politicians will hype this into a national emergency to implement universal health care, or some sort of other equally evil mischief.

And speaking of politicians, this week that weasel of a rat of a slime ball, PA Senator Arlen Specter, finally admitted his true colors and switched over to the vile Democrats. (And no, I’m not being disrespectful toward those in power over us, I’m calling a spade a spade.) No surprise, really, he’s always been a wacko liberal. Along with the equally vile Al Franken, he will give the Dems a veto-proof majority in the Senate. I can say with pride that I NEVER voted for the man. He is an abomination (or Obamanation), and I hope he gets his butt kicked in next year’s election. Raw power is all he craves, and it would be sweet to see him lose it.

All of a sudden, the heat wave hits, and it feels like summer. Not that I’m complaining. Temps were in the 90s for a few days this week. And I’ve got an urge to go on my first hike of the season. If the weather holds, I may head to my favorite Tucquan Glen trail this Sunday.

The Tucquan Trail



  1. On the so called pandemic, my grandfather used to say “before we have a black president pigs will fly.” Well, Obama is in office a hundred days and guess what: “swine flu”!!

    Comment by VB — May 1, 2009 @ 7:38 pm

  2. Oh my gosh, that first comment – HILARIOUS!

    I’m about tired of kids (mostly teens) walking in the middle of the street and then turning and looking at me like, ‘Yeah, go around me’. Then the bikers that ride against the traffic – fugettaboutit! I don’t get it. All I know is I loved my bike as a kid with my banana seat and tassles on the handles. I always wanted a basket on front though and never got one – those darn rich kids! ha ha Enjoy the weather and have a great weekend ~

    Comment by Bethrusso — May 1, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  3. During the winter months here in Pinecraft the bikers and others on foot own the streets and cars get run over. People are very slow to make way for a car and feel just like you do with those cyclists.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — May 1, 2009 @ 9:40 pm

  4. Ah, Ira, so you don’t care for your local Senator Arlen Specter? Well, there’s nothing like being on the winning side, and he seems to be on it now. Don’t forget that he was the Carefull wordcrafting Republican Senator that pulled Clarence Thomas’s Supreme court nomination off the trash heap, and got him confirmed. So he did some ‘Republican good.’

    Comment by Jess — May 1, 2009 @ 11:03 pm

  5. Funny, I had both a bike and, for a little while, a pony. I loved the pony, but the bike, Oh the BIKE! It ruled!

    Comment by Monica — May 2, 2009 @ 10:41 am

  6. I was disappointed that Arlen Spectacle only got one paragraph. I know of the long standing critic you have been of him and I was hoping to see you dangle him by his feet………or something like that. (chuckle chuckle)

    Comment by Ed Yoder — May 2, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

  7. Probably the biggest problem with nudging Big Blue into a pack of bikes would be the legal side of ‘what if they got hurt/scared/freaked’… yuck. But if they’re on the roads with cars they should obey the same traffic laws… I can’t say I have any love whatsoever for bikes… none at all…zip. Nasty things.

    Comment by Ann — May 3, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

  8. Specter might think he’s on the winning side, but come election day everyone will remember him as the double crossing prostitute that he is!

    Comment by Rudy Yutzy — May 3, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

  9. I have fond memories of riding “out the back road” (past some Amish farms) as a child in Christiana. There were few cars then. Now I’d probably get side-swiped, or my parents would make me stay home (or wear a helmet!). Those were the days. The cars were the bad guys.

    Specter’s spectre. Humpf. Knowing he could not win the R primary, Specter defected to his true D home. (He was a member of radical Students for Democratic Society in his student days; changed to GOP to get elected by the party-line herd. The fact he was so elected all these decades shows how asleep that electorate is.)

    Good analysis at (as usual).

    I’ll give you a story of my journey with these “conservative Republicans.” I tried to help boot him out in R primary in the 80s. The Pennsylvania Pro-life Committee (or whatever) said, No, he is “more likely to win” than the true pro-life challenger they refused to support against him in the primary. Well, Specter won, both primary and general. He was put on the committee examining pro-Constitution Bork. (Biden was chairman, if I remember rightly.) The 8 “undecided” Senate votes announced they would await Specter’s objective assessment (ha!) and vote with him, since he was on the committee.

    So electing Specter kept Bork from helping overrule Roe.

    That was the end of my giving to “pro-life” PACs, and, with seeing the way our justice system really works via arrests in pro-life Rescue, the end of trusting said systems. (For an update of “where we are” read _The Reformation Manifesto_ by Cindy Jacobs [2008: Bethany House])

    So much for politics. Principle’s the thing, win or lose. Otherwise, it’s win AND lose.

    That aside, I still like bikes. But not those flaming pants and uncomfortable racing bars that wrench my back. So I can’t ride on either coast!

    Comment by LeRoy — May 3, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

  10. You should spend $2000 on a bike and some good gear, ride it HARD at least twice a weak just for exercise (not to get somewhere) for about 3 months. If at the end of the 3 months you still don’t understand, I will personally buy back your bike at a premium. ;-)

    Comment by Nic — May 14, 2009 @ 6:51 pm

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