“Pardon me, sir, and beware, for I am on your left.”
“What is this? Oh, I see. You are riding your bicycle past me on my left side. Thank you for your timely and mild warning. Now I may continue my walk in peace and safety, and we all may enjoy the beauty of the world together.”
“You, sir, are entirely welcome. And rest assured, I feel strongly that every user of the Loop Trail should do their best to contribute to an atmosphere of mutual support and accommodation, that lets everyone enjoy nature’s beauty and our trail in comfort. We are the same, you and I, with the same right to be here, only I am astride a $5,000 carbon-fiber bicycle and clad in tight shorts, a helmet and a colorful nylon jersey festooned with advertising.”
“You cut a dashing figure, to be sure. I am comforted by your gracious attitude, young man. Be on your way, and go with my blessing.”
I just made all of that up. It never happened. I realize it’s hard to believe, but such an atmosphere does not exist on the Loop Trail. Instead, the anecdotal evidence tells me that conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians are on the upswing. As much as I hate to say it, I suspect the fault lies mostly with the cyclists, who have the speed and weight advantage and the ability to provide walkers an unpleasant surprise.
I had a reader call recently to recount this conversation:
“Hey, how about an ‘on your left,’ buddy?”
The cyclist – “not an ounce of fat on him,” said the reader – zoomed past this man afoot without a word of warning. He heard the comment, stopped and turned for a confrontation.
“You heard me,” the cyclist said in a belligerent manner.
“No, I didn’t. All I wanted was an ‘on your left.’ ”
The conversation that followed was too unpleasant to relate. Needless to say, this was not good community relations on the part of the cyclist. The caller was an older man, until a recent knee replacement a regular runner, in good shape, always ready to engage in conversation. Perhaps he can survive people whizzing past his elbow unannounced at 15 mph, but he finds it discomforting. Worse, he thinks it’s dangerous. Someone is going to get hurt, and in close encounters between cyclists and pedestrians, cyclists usually win.
He’s right. In this case the burden of courtesy falls on the cyclist. I have been using the trail on my own bicycle since they were first seeding the lawn at Walla Walla Point, and I know that pedestrians can get in the way, can be annoying and unpredictable, can block the trail needlessly and otherwise take a little chunk out of your workout. That doesn’t really matter. Cyclists should remember they are usually sneaking up from behind. They are quiet and have the power to intimidate with their speed and kinetic energy. It should be incumbent on the cyclists to accommodate the pedestrians. Pedestrians can do simple things, like keep to the right and pay attention, but beyond that they are fairly helpless.
Judging from the amount of Lycra and carbon fiber racing past my office window every day, I know that high-performance road cycling is increasing in popularity in this region. I give thanks for that. But cyclists, consider how you want others to treat you before you decide how to treat others. We rightly fear automobiles and their drivers, because they can hurt us badly and they are frequently inconsiderate and care little how vulnerable a cyclist can feel when they face the fast and wild. Well, pedestrians feel the same way about cyclists.
If you want to ride fast, don’t ride on the trail. If you are on the trail, say “on your left” to anyone you approach from behind. Slow down. Stop if need be. Don’t intimidate, lest ye be intimidated. Ride clean, ride safe.