In which our June columnist discusses cycling as (WHAT!?) everyday transportation — the thrills, perils, and honking. If you’d like to submit a Two Wheels Good column, send your idea and/or essay to firstname.lastname@example.org. Two Wheels Good appears every second Wednesday of the month.
My shoes don’t lock into my pedals. I don’t own any spandex clothing, and it’s unlikely that I ever will. I’m telling you up front — I’m not the guy you picture when someone says “cyclist.” But I just bought a new (used) bike, and I plan to eventually make it my primary means of navigating San Antonio.
I decide that my first test has to be the daily commute to my office next to the Witte on Broadway from my home near Blanco and Wurzbach Parkway. Google Maps gives me a 9.2-mile route that goes through neighborhoods and side streets to provide the shortest and, I assume, “safest” ride. This does not interest me. I want the ride I would take if driving.
A Friday off from work allows me to attempt this endeavor. I haven’t mentioned it, but my biking experience since 1999 consists of riding a few blocks around my neighborhood over the past few weeks. That’s it. Fortunately, I’m completely convinced of my own ability, and I now own an awesome Trek 930 (though it’s probably old enough to vote).
Yes, I fully expect honking.
A bike lane runs along the length of Blanco from just north of Loop 410 to somewhere near Camp Bullis. Bike Lane Negative: It gives drivers the impression that a bike doesn’t belong in traffic. For my stretch of Blanco to the highway, this causes problems in two places: the right-turn lane onto West, and the right-turn lane onto the 410 feeder. At the second, I get my first honk. I’m doing the right thing, I’m in the right place, and I’ve got the right of way. I don’t have four wheels and an engine, though, angering a right-turning driver.
Bike Lane Positive: They’re usually paved well. But there’s no more bike lane once you’re inside 410, and the road becomes smooth like chunky peanut butter. Fortune delivers a truck on my left and a telephone pole on my right just as I hit a cavernous, water-filled pothole. The splash hits my face and my rear tire is spattering muddy spots all over my back. C’est la vie. I’m having fun.
I cut across Oblate to San Pedro where the road really opens up. I’m riding at about 9:30 a.m., so rush-hour traffic is not an issue and the lanes are mostly vacant. It’s a pleasure to ride as fast as I can beside passing cars and feel the air whip past me as I pedal. A train bridge crosses over the road while the street takes a plunge below and then climbs back steeply to the Hildebrand intersection. There isn’t a lot of room under that bridge, and this is the first part of the trip that makes me wonder if that shorter, safer route might have been smarter.
The second part of the trip that causes me concern is Hildebrand itself. It’s an older street, and it’s narrow. Drivers change their minds daily about whether it is a one- or two-lane road. A lot of drivers don’t know it, but a cyclist has the right to utilize the lane: We don’t have to scrunch all the way over to the right to accommodate your suburban assault vehicle. I can tell that a lot of people don’t know this, because they’re all behind me on Hildebrand laying on their horns. The honking compliments my own aggravation, as the right leg of my jeans (clothing blasphemy confessed) keeps catching in my chain.
By the time I get to Stadium Drive, I’m tired from the hills and of the horns. I turn right, choosing life over death by the speeding motorists who will rocket past Incarnate Word. I gather momentum on the downhill, though, and coast past the zoo and into Brackenridge Park, aka the back yard of my office. The trip took 55 minutes, which is faster than I expected. Now I know it can be done!
I’m thirsty, tired, and could maybe use some food. However, I now smell like a sweaty onion and I don’t think I should expose my odor to anyone trying to eat. I get on my bike and start making my way home.
I’m just getting started. •
Jake Negovan is a new Current contributor. Please, don’t run over him. You can read more of his writing at redbrownandblue.com.