Tuesday, September 20, 2005

It's Like Riding a Bike...

My provisional driver's license arrived in the mail on Friday. Now I can finally drive again, even though I am required to have a licensed driver in the car with me. I have to get my procrastinating butt moving and sign up for my driving test and then get a few lessons.

Yeah, that sounds like it's out of order, doesn't it? But with the waiting lists the way they are, you really do have to sign up for the test and then learn how to drive. Our friend is taking his test in October, after waiting 56 weeks.

The license arrived just in time since, in my desperation, I'd started to do something scary just to get places. No, I wasn't hitchhiking. I was....riding my bike.

There are two problems with that. One - the inherent problems of me and bicycles and two - the problem of bicycles in Dublin.

My cycling history is irreparably tarnished by one accident. About 2 years ago, I was riding my bike to the gym and I thought a car was going to pull out of a church parking lot right in front of me. So I slammed on the brakes, went flying over the handlebars and landed with my left arm trapped under me.

I knew my arm was broken right away. It's a peculiar sort of pain, like a current of electricity is grinding between the broken ends of bone. The break turned out to be fairly minor, as these things go, and since the bone was in a stabilised position, I didn't even need a cast.

I know what you're thinking: "you fell off your bike and went boom, big deal, where's the trauma." In the emergency room, Peter asked me which brake I'd used to stop the bike - the front or the rear. I told him I'd just slammed on both brakes and then said, "Do you mean there's a difference?"

With that one sentence, I completely undermined my biking authority. Peter lost all confidence in my ability to ride a bike safely. If I'd had a bike license, he probably would have taken it away. Instead, he revoked my biking privileges until I completed a safety class.

The upshot of all this is that I am a nervous biker now because I am always aware of how fragile my bones are and how strong my front brake is. (Yes, I did learn something in Safety Town.) I tend to avoid riding my bike now, if I can help it. But with my current transport situation, I finally broke down and tried out the bike.

It was a beautiful day, so I decided to ride my bike to Phoenix Park, which is about 9 miles from where we're staying. The first part of the ride was fine - I got to zoom along a nicely paved cycle lane that runs parallel to a dual carriageway. The only hiccup was the construction work on the pedestrian crossing bridges meant that I had a choice of walking my bike on the sidewalk or riding in the bus lane. Yes, my pansy ass went sidewalk all the way.

In Donnybrook, about 2 miles outside the city centre, the cycle lane entered an unholy alliance with the bus lane. Instead of having a nice little cycle lane all to myself, I had to share a big bus lane with, well, big busses and something even worse than that - taxi cabs. Yep, the taxis in Dublin are permitted to use the bus lane and they have a bad tendency of acting like no one else should be able to use the bus lane. Not busses and certainly not bicycles.

I was motoring along, a little intimidated by the evil eye I was getting from taxi drivers, when the bus in front of me stopped to pick up passengers. I watched as the cyclist in front of me made a snappy little hand signal that looked like he wanted someone to give him five, down low, on the right side, and then he swung into the adjacent lane, right in front of a car. He was fine though because he was able to use the tiny clearance between the bus and the car to scoot around the bus.

I looked at him, looked at the steady line of traffic in the adjacent lane and stopped behind the bus. Maybe I'm a wuss or maybe I just like sucking diesel fumes. Judge not, OK?

Over the course of the next two miles, the cycle lane would appear on its own, then it would merge with the bus lane, all without any rhyme or reason. I doggedly pedaled along but I was so not enjoying this little excursion. My knees felt like someone was tightening the tendons in them until they wanted to snap like rubber bands. I couldn't go fast, no matter which gear I tried or how furiously I pumped my chubby legs. And every 5 minutes or so, I got another infusion of fresh, yummy diesel fumes.

Then I hit the city centre, where the cycle lane would just disappear without even the pretense of merging with the bus lane. More cars than I want to count, the vast majority of them taxis, nearly hit me. I tried to follow the cycle lane, to guess where it would occur next but it really did make no sense. For example, nearly Dublin Castle, there's a cycle lane for about 20 yards. It just appears, runs for 20 yards, and then disappears.

I admitted some measure of defeat during this portion of the outing and spent a fair amount of time walking my bike on the sidewalk. I don't care if I looked like a loser, I know for a fact that the taxi drivers had a laser sighting with the outline of my bicycle on it.

When I finally got to Phoenix Park, 2 hours after I left the house, I pulled over on the wonderful, clearly delineated, separated from traffic cycle lane and sent Peter a text. (A quite whingy text about how I hated cycling and wanted a motor scooter.) As I was texting, I realized that my seat didn't seem quite right. I got off the bike and examined it more closely. The seat was all the way down - that's why I felt like a bear on a circus bike. I adjusted the seat until it was nearly at the end of its post. What a difference 8 inches of height makes.

Unfortunately, 8 inches of height doesn't make cycle lanes appear in the city. After my tour of the park, I still had to do battle with traffic. I took a more direct route through the city centre, even though it meant riding on the quays along the river. In addition to taxi cabs and city busses, add a stupid number of tour busses and huge trucks - like 18-wheeler trucks. Let me tell you, nothing makes your bones scream, "Careful crazy lady, we're breakable" like having a two ton truck barrel past you.

At least with my adjusted seat, the time I spent exposed to bone-crushing traffic was greatly reduced. I got home in nearly half the time. It was a great relief to stuff my bike into the wood shed. The next morning, my tailbone and knees complained that next time we should just take the damn bus. I am inclined to agree.


At 20 September 2005 at 15:53, Blogger Lyss said...

Wow. Sounds like a long ride.

You now spell things in a more European/Canadian way (ex: centre).

I also did not there was a difference in the brakes.

At 24 September 2005 at 02:00, Blogger Career Guy said...

A bear on a circus bike--great image! Did people point at you as you rode by them?

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