Be Here Now
By Maynard Hershon
I’m on 29th, headed west out of Denver toward Golden. I’m stopped, first in line, at the light at Federal. The light goes green, I start across the intersection and as I reach the other side of Federal, a city bus comes alongside me, evidently passing me.
He’s passing me and heading for the bus stop just a few car-lengths ahead. The bus already looks huge next to me but it gets bigger as the driver steers for the curb at the bus stop. I can hardly believe it but he’s squeezing me into the curb.
I come to a stop realizing that the driver has left me nowhere to go. He drops someone off via his front door and steers back into the traffic lane. He’s gone before I can ride alongside and look in at him, see if he’s got horns and a tail.
I make a mental note of the number on the back of the bus. I never have trouble with bus drivers, I think. I consider stopping and calling the bus company, complaining about the guy’s driving, not that I know it’s a guy. I’m feeling angry and disappointed by a so-called professional driver and wondering at the same time if a complaint will get the guy fired.
I ride another half-mile. There’s a bus company repair truck waiting at a stop sign. I ride up to the passenger door. The driver sees me and rolls down the window. It’s so high I reach up and open the door. I tell him about what happened, where and when. He says he’ll call it in. Done. I did it.
I ride another half-mile on the right of the lane-edge line. A white van passes me maybe a foot from my elbow. Empty road. Scares me. I see that the van gets stopped at the next light. I wonder if I’ll catch him or her, and will I say something?
I’m thinking about the bus and the van and discourteous drivers and the three-foot passing law and the number of cyclists on the streets and how usually when I do this ride nothing at all happens and how today I am seeing drivers at their worst.
And I realize I’ve ridden right past my Pierce Street turn.
I see that the two things that happened, that I’ve been upset and brooding about, are over. They’re old news. But I’m still focused on them — to the detriment of what’s happening now, meaning turning left onto Pierce. I’ve been a distracted rider.
My butt’s been on my bike but my mind has been elsewhere. If a third thing had happened I wouldn’t have been present and ready to deal with it.
The bus cutting me off was a close call. The van skimming by startled me. Either event could have had a new or nervous rider on the ground. But the bus and van were only briefly dangerous, threats for an instant each.
In my indignant preoccupation with two incidents that did not hurt me, I put myself in a position to hurt myself. The guy on the blue bike was a greater threat than the drivers of the huge bus or the white van.
I backtrack a few blocks to Pierce and get back on my ride route. I try to clear my mind, to think about my situation right now. I manage to find my way to Golden, to Starbucks at 13th and Washington. I lean my bike against a wall, get a cold green tea and sit at a table outside. Nice.
I’m looking at my bike against the wall and noticing how level the saddle looks against the top of the wall. I notice that the top of my saddle is only a little higher than my bars. Almost not higher at all...
I think: Could your seatpost have sunk into your frame? Damn seat looks awful low.
I look across the street and see a sign: Peak Cycles. I finish my tea and recycle the bottle. I ride across the intersection to the bike shop. I lean my bike against the front of their building and walk inside, asking the first guy I see if I can borrow a tape measure.
Sure enough, my seat is over a half-inch low. I’m embarrassed to say that I have no idea how long it’s been that way, how long I’ve been riding an ill-fitting bicycle. A lugged steel, Joe Bell-painted, handmade bicycle ... that didn’t fit.
I borrow a five-millimeter hex wrench from the same guy who loaned me the tape. I raise my saddle what seems like a mile and tighten the binder bolt. I thank the guy for the loan of the tools ... and tell him I feel like a fool.
I’ve been riding for 37 years, writing about cycling since ’83. I’ve raced and ridden centuries and a double century. I’ve been to Campagnolo and Colnago and Serotta Cycles. But I’ve been riding my bike with the saddle so low it’s a blessing I didn’t trash my knees.
I should know better, is what I’m saying.
I put my knees at risk and I missed my Pierce Street turn by riding while my mind was somewhere else. My focus was not where it should have been, on the act of riding. I wasn’t doing anything necessarily distracting, not texting or listening to music or talking with a riding buddy, but I wasn’t paying attention. I only thought I was.
As unable as we cyclists are to control our environments, I’m convinced that we have to control ourselves. We have to be aware, present in the moment, you could say. We have to be on top of our game, ready for the unpredictable thing to happen — as it surely will.