Gravel and Society’s Bad Choices

Cyclist dies after crash with vehicle on Creasy Lane” the headline read.  Seeing it was a little like getting hit in the face with a brick.  I’ve taught Bike League classes in Lafayette.  I know a lot of people in the cycling community there.  It’s a small, tight-knit community.  Oh God, no.  Was it one of my students or someone I’ve met?

It wasn’t, not that it makes any difference.  It was a 56 year old man named Donald Stair.  He was just a few years younger than me.   It could have been me.  I know Creasy Lane.  If you live in Lafayette and use your bike for transportation, you really have no choice but to ride on Creasy Lane.  I’ve never cycled it myself, but I’ve cycled a lot of streets just like it.  It’s one of those gawdawful four lane high speed strips that serve suburban big box heaven.  It’s a death trap, and yet nothing is done to make it safer…in Lafayette or anywhere else.  People who have the power to change things just wring their hands.

Creasy Lane.  The speed limit is ridiculous due to the number of driveways that slow traffic and a design that forces cyclists and even pedestrians into the traffic lane.  

It’s nonsense to think that nothing could have been done to prevent this. A lot could have been done.  It’s all about choices.  It was a bad choice to build a dangerous road like Creasy Lane in the first place.  It’s a bad choice to post it at 40 mph, especially since all the driveways and entryways keep average speed down.  It’s  a bad choice not to fix it now, especially since we know that the road’s design leads to carnage.   Come to think of it, all of Big Box Heaven is a bad choice.   Railroad trains full of containerized imported plastic trinkets that fill those big boxes are another bad choice.  Suburban communities that require 84 year olds to drive just to get groceries are a bad choice.   I could go on, but you get the idea.

These days.
Those days.  Gravel is a year-round thing.

Society has made a lot of bad choices and bicyclists pay disproportionately for them.  Those of us who have been on bikes for awhile realize that good choices aren’t going to be made often enough to matter, so increasingly, we are choosing to opt out.  For me, opting out meant moving to a small town in rural Iowa surrounded by 70,000 miles of gravel. People often ask me why I’m here.  This is why.  The paved trail to Des Moines is just the icing on the cake.

I get the feeling more will follow.   Gravel is anathema to the urban and suburban motorists who run down cyclists from behind.   It gets their cars and SUVs dusty.   It dings the high gloss paint.   That’s expensive to fix.  Better to stay on the potholed pavement.

And so gravel is the cyclist’s friend.  Though it is not perfect (what is?), gravel is safer.  Gravel is better.

I just received the most recent edition of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.  They asked shop owners which sales segment was growing fastest in their business.  The overwhelming winner, from coast to coast, was gravel.   Gravel is hot in Bend Oregon, where David Marchi, owner of Crow’s Feet Commons and the High Five Brews said that as the area urbanizes both MTB and roadies are heading for the rocks.  Gravel bikes are even popular in places without a lot of gravel…places like Berkeley California.  What was once a rural Midwestern craze has now gone national.

It’s not surprising.  Gravel is cycling heaven.   Out here, the only people in motor vehicles you’re likely to see are residents.  There’s this splendid isolation.  Your eyes don’t need to be constantly fixed on the rear view mirror.   Those motorists you do run across tend to be mostly  friendly and cautious.  That may change someday.  It probably will.  But right now this is as good as it gets for cyclists who want to crank out the miles.

I’ll be out on the frozen rocks today.  I’m almost certain that I’ll be thinking about Donald Stair and what was taken from him and those who love him.  I’ll ruminate about the inherent unfairness and fickleness of life and mourn the loss of another brother…one that hits a little too close to home.

Rest in peace, Donald Stair.  Via con Dios.  I hope that wherever you are this morning, you wake up to a titanium frameset, wide tires and a trail of rocks that leads to the horizon and beyond.





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