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This Bicycle Life

It took some doing, but I finally found a way to exercise: A two-mile walk through the back roads – or as back road as a road can get out in the boonies, anyway. It twists along the cliffs of Cazenovia Creek and eventually takes me to Seneca Street. The downside is that is really beats up my feet.

I’m missing my bike. Not only would I be able to exercise with it, but having learned of my easy access to Seneca Street, I finally have a direct route into the city. Also, it would save me the blisters that are sprouting up. But bicycle season is finally upon the city – not that it ever actually ends for people like me – and so I look forward to gliding in and out of Buffalo on two wheels.

From my location, the best way in and out of Buffalo is by bicycle. It is, in fact, pretty much the only way since the public transit in Buffalo might as well not be there at all. The one problem that give me pause for thought, though, is the distance. Riding down Seneca Street provides a direct link to downtown Buffalo, but I have to get there through West Seneca and South Buffalo. Basically, I’ll probably be on my bicycle for an hour before I get anywhere which is worth getting off my bike for. Getting to a place in North Buffalo would take some time.

It not that I’m not used to riding such long distances on my bicycle. I did work as a messenger for awhile, after all. But my normal bicycle exercise route in Chicago was up and down the Near North and West Sides. North on Damen or Western Avenue, east on Addison, south on Clark, back west on Chicago. To Wrigley Field and back. It covered probably some five or six miles and it took a little over an hour. I usually rode this route when I had nothing else to do that day.

My way in and out of Buffalo will probably end up taking me the same amount of time it took me to ride from my West Town neighborhood in Chicago to Wrigleyville and back. This means any participation in Critical Mass is going to have to wait until I’m more centrally located.

My greatest concern is that Buffalo is simply not a bicycling city. Cycling is starting to show up in Buffalo in small pockets, and there are now public bike racks. But there are very few bicycle lanes, and the culture here is virtually nonexistent. This is a far cry from Chicago, in which a few thousand people would show up colorfully dressed for Critical Mass – a large bike ride that covered around 20 miles or so on the last Friday of every month.

The people in Chicago weren’t the most receptive to cycling, but most of them at least acknowledged the existence of cyclists and drove accordingly. In more conservative Buffalo, the people are still adjusting to the fact that someone would prefer a bicycle to a car. One of the mental adjustments that goes with the appearance of a bicycle culture, to a motorist, is that his vehicle is literally capable of killing a cyclist and crushing his vehicle completely by accident.

People defensive of motorists will point out that bicycle safety goes two ways, and this is absolutely true. Bicyclists always have to be on the lookout, and certainly there are times when an accident is completely due to the fact that the cyclist got stupid. This argument, however, usually doesn’t take into account the fact that cars are a lot bigger and heavier than bicycles, and so many of those who make it come off as trying to completely deflect blame for accidents. In Chicago, I got into accidents, and one person tried to accuse me of purposely moving in front of her car. This, of course, would raise the question of just why I would try such a thing.

In many ways, though, I feel lucky to have begun cycling in Buffalo before moving to Chicago, because in Buffalo the responsibility of safety is more on the cyclist than it is in Chicago. Motorists aren’t trained to keep an eye out for cyclists because there are fewer of us around, and so the cyclists always have to be on edge, riding like every motorist is an idiot who isn’t concerned with our safety. Which, since so few of them are trained to keep an eye out for those goofballs on the bikes, they’re really not. They’re trained mainly to look out for the other cars on the road.

Hopefully, this will change more in a few more years. With the high gas and insurance prices, more people in Buffalo are beginning to consider cycling as an alternative form of transportation. But with a notoriously stubborn and conservative old guard, Buffalo cyclists are going to have to put up a hell of a fight.


About Nicholas Croston

I like to think. A lot. I like to question, challenge, and totally shock and unnerve people. I am a contrarian - whatever you stand for, I'm against.

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