Saturday, January 23, 2010

Encounters with Freds (Rant)

Today, I took Carter out to get him used to riding his new mountain bike. This is first ride without coaster brakes and with gears, so I wanted a nice easy place to help him acclimate. I decided on the Mt Vernon trail south of Old Town.

I ride the Mt Vernon almost every day north of Old Town on my 7 am and 5pm, all I ever really encounter are other commuters, a few runners and the occasional tourists cruising up to DC. Something I must've forgot in my years away from DC is that on nice weekend, the path becomes the Fred Superhighway. You can't go 30 seconds without seeing a faux-Lance in a USPS or Discovery Channel jersey. (No one would be caught dead in an Astana jersey, as it is basically a Kazakh national team, and Lance wasn't the real team leader anyway. No self-respecting cyclist or posing hipster will wear a color representing another country, unless of course that country is Italy.) You also got quite a few folks doing their Fred intervals on the trail, hauling ass getting frustrated when there's anyone in their way, and too busy to indicate to anyone that they're passing. These are the Freds I had a problem with today.

Before we started the ride, I briefed Carter on the basics of trail's pretty simple at his level, stay on the right and say "on your left" before you pass anyone. Of course, a 5 year old's mind (thus his wheel) often wanders, and it takes some reminding to keep him on course. For that reason, I'd hoped the Freds would follow trail etiquette.

Within a minute of starting our ride, the first Fred passes us, not a word. As he passes, I tell him he should announce his presence. On the work end of his Fred interval, he doesn't hear me. Within the next 3 minutes, 3 more pass...same thing. When the 5th Fred passes me, he hears me say, "could you please say 'on your left'...I'm trying to teach my 5 year old how to ride this bike, and he may veer over into the left lane"...he screams "I DID"...I told him that I didn't hear anything, he should be louder. He immediately stops his bike, jumps off and yells "LISTEN PRICK!". I told him to calm down and ride safe, and ask him if he thinks it's appropriate to use that language in front of a 5 year old. (I'm extremely proud of myself at this point, exercising some restraint in front of Carter, speaking in a calm voice...I did immediately size the Fred up before he even got the word "Prick" out...I could take him.) He yells more and more, then calls me a "piece of work"...then I laughed, telling him that he's the one that needs to do something about his anger management issues.

So, we continue to ride. Carter asks me what happened, and what was wrong with the guy. Countless Freds pass us without as much as a "on your left", many of them were wearing earphones, presumably because they saw Lance warming up on his trainer with an iPod, or maybe they're having imaginary conversations with a mythical Johan Bruyneel in their Fred teamcar. Who knows.

This brings me to the age old philosophical question: If a Fred yells 'on your left' on the bike path and no one hears him, is he still a d-bag? The guys claim that he said it is worthless...the point is we didn't hear him, so he was as good as silent.

My view of a bike path is that it has its place, and "serious training" is not one of them. Here are the uses of a bike path:

1) Commuting...keeps the cyclists out of the main thoroughfares, makes the cars happy and the commute stress free for everyone.
2) Recreational "cruising"...this is for the folks that don't normally ride a bike that may not be comfortable on the road to get a chance to ride. On the Mt Vernon Trail, this amounts to a lot of tourist riding.
3) Family paths should be a good place to teach kids how to ride in a non-threatening environment, especially when you live in the city. You shouldn't have to worry about a Fred doing intervals on the path that's too much into his ride to wait for a slow kid that is not keeping a straight line
4) Getting from point A to point B...if you're trying to get to a ride on the road, and the path is a good way to get there, by all means take it. But, you shouldn't plan on doing the main part of your workout on the path. The speed limit is 15 mph.

The bottom line is that the speed limit is only 15 mph for a reason. Timetrialing Freds and other bike path heros should take the time to say "on your left" or not pass when there are riders/walkers/runners passing each other in opposite directions. We had another run in as we passed a walker in the opposite direction, and a Fred tried to pass between us...why did he feel the need to 'thread the needle'? We don't know each other, and I don't trust your bike handling skills. There's no reason for you to come within 6 inches of hitting me. What's so important that you couldn't wait until the congestion passed?

So, I can't wait for the mountain bike trails to thaw out and dry. There are less Freds out there, and I've yet to have a problem taking Carter out on the trail. In my experience, most mountain bikers think it's pretty cool to see kids out on the trails and go out of their way to leave you plenty of room or even talk to you out on the trail. Freds on the paved trail are too busy playing Lance to show any politeness.

Ahhh...glad to get that all out.

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