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A Weak Defense of Cycling

The rains have come and I've been driven back to the barn to clock my miles spinning on a trainer as sheets of rain blow by the barn door.  It's been two weeks since Carin left us. It still hurts.

Last Saturday was her memorial at the Silverton High School. It was a singular testament to what a remarkable woman she was that the 700 seat auditorium was filled nearly to capacity. Family spoke. Carin's sister created a movie that was alternately hilarious and heartbreaking. She is a talented filmmaker and she had a lot of material to work with. It occurs to me that video is as common an artifact of this generation's lives as printed photos were to mine.

The event was described as a celebration of Carin's life and indeed it was. There was nothing black about her and everything we saw and heard described a person who was always moving, always alive. But there are things that need to happen at these events, no matter what you call them, or how they appear. There are tears. There are hands to be held and hugs to give. There are sincere offers of support given with the knowledge that there's not much support one can give that's going to make the immediate future any easier. There are often bursts of laughter. That's important. Without laughter there is no life and it's terribly important to remember that there is life at times like these.

And there are the conversations. They have to happen too.  We need to seek reasons why these tragedies happen. As people talked at Carin's memorial, some of the whispered conversations were about the fact that Carin died while riding a bicycle.  "...maybe now someone will do something about bicycles on..." was something I overheard.  At first I was mad. It seemed terrible to me that someone might leverage Carin's death to reinforce their opinion. As an avid cyclist, I felt I should try to counter this in some way. I should defend my sport.

But the truth is, I can sympathize. And they have a point.  After all, Carin would still be alive if she wasn't riding her bike that terrible day. It's hard to muster much of a defense of cycling in the face of such an unnecessary, tragic loss. I know too, some people have very good reasons for disliking bicycles on the road. If you have lost a loved one, have witnessed a fatal bike crash, have been involved in one through no fault of your own, you have earned your view the hard way and my trying to change your mind would be about as tactless as the NRA asking William Brady to take his name off gun control legislation or asking a member of MADD if they'd like one more drink for the road.

Most people who dislike cyclists on the road, mercifully, haven't earned that point of view.  They have a variety of reasons for their dislike. Cyclists are unpredictable. They are in the way. They don't obey traffic laws. They make driving in cities even more confusing than it already is. One could certainly act on those dislikes and encourage laws to restrict bicycles from the road. One could make a case that such laws would save lives. If bikes were banned from the road, or saddled with enough regulatory burden to discourage people from riding, Carin and others might still be alive.

I can argue all those points except the last one. I'm not going to. And as to the last one, yes, you are right. All I can offer is this: wishing that laws were in place that would have kept Carin off the road might have saved her life. But that's a Faustian bargain Carin never would have made. She loved to ride - so do I.  Why we love to ride has a different answer for each cyclist you ask. I can tell you my reasons. Carin had her reasons too. Keeping bikes off the road would certainly save some lives in the long run - maybe my own. But I won't make that bargain either.


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