Monday, 23 May 2011

Cycling 101

     I admit I was a bit apprehensive when cycling for the first time in rush hour traffic. Adjacent to wild taxi drivers, out-of-town visitors slowly searching for a specific tourist attraction and garbage trucks cutting me off, careening around corners and charging into an alleyway. Or how about that bus that is almost a block long and the driver doesn’t see me in his rear view mirror as he changes into my lane?
     I feel I have graduated with at least a passing mark from the Cycling 101 class on ‘How to Ride a Bicycle and Live for Another Day’ by taking the following foreign-based compulsory courses:

Course Name: ‘I Hear You.'
     I attended this course as I rode ahead of my cycling partner on our first day while cycle-camping on Oregon’s coastal highway. I wore ear plugs as I had a bit of an earache due to the noise of the cars and the strong wind coming off the water. A semi-trailer carrying a full load of logs hurtled inches beside me and I almost got sucked into the side of the truck. I started to lose my balance and nearly ended up in the ditch. I did not hear any warning sounds such as the truck’s horn or my cycling buddy yelling at me to slow down and move over to the right. After my heart stopped jumping and eventually catching my breath, I took out my earplugs and never wore them again. It took another day of riding but I eventually got used to keeping my balance and not losing control while large trucks and noisy motorcyclists screamed past.

Course Name: 'There Are No Rules in Greece!’
     Most of the rural roads in Greece were composed of two lanes with wide shoulders. A slower car would straddle the shoulder line so that a faster driver from behind could overtake the slow vehicle by straddling the centre line. Got that? And where does that leave the lowly cyclist? Why, hugging the edge of the pavement and trying to stay out of the deep ditches!
     Speed limits are posted at the entrance to the towns and are of a reasonable lower speed. The posted sign when exiting the towns is the same speed limit as entering but with a diagonal line through the number. In other words, there are no posted speed limits when leaving the town, i.e. “No Rules”.
     The drivers honk consistently at other cars, pedestrians, cattle crossing the road and of course, cyclists. What really scares you is when you don’t hear them coming up from behind and they honk loud and long when they are right beside you to either say: “Watch out – I’m coming” or, “Hi, Welcome to Greece.”
     I firmly believe the only qualification to get a driver’s license in Greece is to know how to honk one’s car horn. The citizens themselves know this as a Greek gentleman who rents Vespas on Santorini would not rent me a motorbike because as he said, “It’s raining, the drivers on Santorini are very aggressive and you won’t be safe.” Instead, I rented a car which worked out better as it was indeed raining quite hard.

Course Name: 'Road Kill’
     I also took this course in Greece as I had no choice - it was compulsory. Throughout Europe, I had not seen as such a substantial amount of road kill on the shoulders of the highways. A cyclist had no choice but to practice one’s ability to swerve around the poor, dead creatures and not to go too far into the traffic lane or the deep ditches. I got the hang of it and eventually passed this subject after I ran over the first three critters I came upon.
     I am making light of the Greek drivers but I must say that they and the residents of Greece were more than friendly. The people who did ask where we were from were genuinely interested in my cycling equipment and travelling plans – I plan on going back. 

Course Name: 'Dog Gone'
     This course was instructed throughout all of Europe. Dogs barking and trying to bite your feet while you cycle can kind of throw you off kilter. The best method that I used to stop these mangy mutts is to use a Dog Dazer. You point a hand-held ultrasonic device that produces a discomforting but not harmful high powered sound, audible to dogs but not to humans. It helps stop the approach of unwanted dogs at up to 20 feet – it works!

     Of course you don’t have to go out of the country to learn how to ride safely. After cycling in various cities and countries and of course in my own local neck of the woods, I find that instead of fearing the traffic, I use my cycling energy in concentrating on the road. I watch for vehicles, potholes, glass and angry dogs and I also take in the scenery.
     Happy and Safe Cycling!

No comments:

Post a Comment