Gary Hubbell: The Redneck Tree Hugger
July 9, 2009
You folks in Aspen may not believe this, but there are still parts of Colorado where people get their daily exercise in a curious manner: through hard work. Where I live in Delta County, a good workout is getting up early and walking two miles of ditch to irrigate the fields, then loading 150 bales of hay on a trailer and stacking it in the barn. That’s just the way it is. No gym or StairMaster required.
My horseshoer commented to me once, as he was sweating under a horse, “You know what I saw the other day? People riding bicycles! For fun! Like they had nothing better to do. And they were adults!”
My sister stayed the night with us last month, as part of her Ride the Rockies tour through Colorado. She’s an endorphin junkie, the kind of person who will put in a 120-mile morning bike ride and then go for an eight-mile hike in the afternoon. She regaled us with stories of riding in a mini-peloton over the mountain passes, and how much fun the whole experience has been for her.
I’ve been up at the Maroon Bells at daybreak, and I’ve watched bike riders muscle their way up the hill and then zip back down as the sun crests Highlands Peak. It looks like fun.
So I see both sides of it – wearing neon Spandex isn’t exactly my style, but a nice invigorating bike ride looks like a fun way to blow off some steam and get in shape.
Recently Colorado legislators passed a new law that allows bicyclists to ride two abreast on Colorado highways, and mandates that vehicles give cyclists a three-foot margin when overtaking them. Cyclists can ride two abreast, but are supposed to merge into single-file and onto a paved shoulder when a vehicle is coming. On the face of it, that seems sensible.
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In practice, that’s not what is happening. Bicyclists – who do not pay any vehicle licenses or road taxes – routinely and regularly flaunt traffic laws without any consequences.
The worst offenders are these bicycle tours organized by for-profit companies. I remember one bike tour that went down Highway 133 between Redstone and Marble a couple of years ago. It was an absolute nightmare. I happened to be pulling a 7-foot-wide, 24-foot trailer with seven horses, and found myself stopping and starting, accelerating and braking, trying to avoid clusters of arrogant bike riders three and four wide, stretched out across the entire lane of traffic on a winding road with many blind corners and double-yellow lines. OK, you might think, a couple of bike riders were in your way and you had to slow down. No, I’m talking a couple of thousand cyclists stretched over 25 miles of winding road. There were multiple occasions where travel was extremely hazardous for all involved.
I try to be considerate of cyclists, because it’s got to be harrowing when you almost get clipped by the side mirror of some big fat RV. But imagine this scenario: On another occasion, I was driving down 133, pulling that same 24-foot trailer, this time loaded with a nervous 3-year-old colt. Right at the Meatgrinder rapids, a cyclist was three feet or so into the lane of traffic. Knowing that I would be well into the oncoming lane and that the cyclist might not be able to hear my vehicle over the thundering rapids, I tapped my horn for one brief moment to give the guy a heads-up that I was coming. He duly moved over to the white line.
Suddenly, as I was only 80 feet or so distant, he swerved directly into the middle of the lane, as if to assert, “I own this road, too!” I stomped on the brakes so hard that it left flat spots on my tires. I bet those skidmarks are still on the highway three years later. My bumper came within 6 inches of his rear tire, and seriously, he came within a millisecond of being a blood-and-neon grease spot. My 1,000-pound horse was slammed up against the front of the trailer. I was so angry that I was still shaking when I got to Carbondale 20 minutes later.
People in communities all over Colorado are reacting negatively to the newest bike race or tour that is supposed to come through town, whether protesting at their local town council meetings or taking matters into their own hands and splashing offal and sewage on the roads to greet the tours. We’ve all seen cyclists go zipping through red lights and stop signs without even thinking of stopping. We’ve seen miles and miles of bike paths built specifically for cyclists that sit empty, while bike riders clog up narrow highways a stone’s throw away. Boulder is famous for its packs of dozens of riders who blow through stoplights and take up an entire lane of travel, and to hell with anyone driving a car. You can wait.
The new bicycle traffic laws are reasonable and make sense – if bike riders will follow them, which doesn’t seem likely.