Weekday Morning Cult Service

By Michael Cain

Along Colorado’s Front Range, bicycling’s status falls somewhere between cult and minor religion. The Bicycle God is a demanding sort. Not only are adherents supposed to spend extravagantly on idols representing the unobtainable perfection of the ultimate bike — it’s not particularly unusual for the $500 car stopped at the traffic light next to you to have a $5,000 bicycle strapped to the roof — but hours spinning the “prayer wheels” are required. Here are snapshots from a recent Tuesday morning spent in service, with comments.

At the urging of the cultists, the western suburbs of Denver have built a very extensive network of bicycle lanes, paved trails, and unpaved trails. Some of that infrastructure is expensive. This 400-foot-long $5M suspension bridge crosses Clear Creek and joins two major pieces of the paved trail network. Historical note: the bridge is built at the confluence of Clear Creek and Ralston Creek, the site of the first gold strike in Colorado in 1850. Not that you could tell unless you already knew — all that’s there is a modest marker and a gravel parking lot, frequented only by bicyclists using it as a starting point.
Large stretches of the trail system are de facto wildlife preserves with deer, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, skunks, a wide variety of small rodents, and the occasional beaver, black bear, and mountain lion. Also the occasional fly fisherman: this stretch of Clear Creek supports a reasonable number of small trout if you know where to look for them. Most people passing over the bridges have no idea what’s underneath. I don’t know exactly how long the Clear Creek bicycle trail has been here — parts of it looked old when I moved to Colorado 27 years ago.
I’ve always been perplexed that so many of the bridge piers are covered in graffiti. Is there some unwritten rule that every vertical concrete surface must carry a message? Seriously, who’s going to wade through parts of an icy-cold stream — largely filtered snow melt except when it rains hard — in order to paint something that only the bicyclists see? While I was stopped to take this snapshot, I flipped the bike upside down to adjust a derailleur that had been giving me trouble. Two different cyclists stopped to ask if I had all the tools I needed to fix my problem. The bicycle cult looks after its own.
As I mentioned here (probably too) frequently, Denver’s suburbs are building a light rail public transit system. This is part of the line that will open in my suburb sometime next year. Every train is supposed to include space where cultists can stand with their bicycles (the RTD buses are all equipped with bike racks on the front). The two sets of rails to the left will carry passengers; they share right-of-way with the set to the right whose main purpose is to deliver grain and other materials to the Coors brewery several miles farther west. The Clear Creek trail passes that facility, still the largest single-site brewery in the world. I don’t bike out that far very often because, well, old knees and a 30-mile round trip.
The light rail system is causing substantial changes near the rail stations in the suburbs it reaches. These new luxury apartments are under construction about three blocks from what will be “my” train station. Another 700 or so apartments, condos, and townhouses are already loosely committed for the area within a half-mile of the station, and will displace mostly marginal retail locations. The bicycle cult will no doubt be well represented amongst the new people. I expect to see handlebars peeking over the balcony railings in two out of three of all the apartments once they’re filled.

Image credits, and explanations: All by the author, August 4, 2015, hereby placed in the public domain. You may have asked yourself, “Why is everything leaning to the left?” The view finder in the beat-up little digital camera I carry on the bike is improperly aligned, and I always forget that until I upload the pictures to my Mac. Posted as “private” for the first several hours, so visible only by the editors, while I learned what kinds of HTML the site’s post creation tools would break for some browsers.

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69 thoughts on “Weekday Morning Cult Service

  1. It’s not particularly unusual for the $500 car stopped at the traffic light next to you to have a $5,000 bicycle strapped to the roof.

    There’s an old joke about jazz musicians: they’ll put a $5,000 instrument in a $500 car and drive 50 miles for a $5 gig.

    We have a big controversy brewing here over mountain bike trails. It’s a long story, I’ll write about it someday. A recent salvo was a LTE by a trucker insinuating the bikers were a business using the roads for profit and threatening trucker safety.


    • In defense of the bike people and their spending, I managed to rationalize buying a bike that retails for $800 even though I don’t ride all that often. In my case, I started off considering a $300 bike, which is about the cheapest you can get from a real bike shop. But I wanted fenders, which are maybe $50. But that’s for the worst kind of fender that fell off the last time I added them to a bike. Also, I wanted an internal hub, which is at least a couple hundred dollars and requires installation that I wouldn’t find trivial. And I need a comfortable seat, which is another $80 upgrade. And a rear rack, which is at least $100 for something that won’t warp with more than 20 lbs.

      Anyway, by the time I added up what it would cost to buy an inexpensive bike and add the things I felt I needed, I found it would be cheaper and easier to buy a bike that already had what I wanted out of the box. And the other parts were better too. For example, the grips on my bike are much more comfortable, and I got a built-in darkness-activated headlight powered by a recharging generator.

      And I don’t actually care about biking all that much. I could definitely imagine someone who does care spending a couple thousand and have it make sense.


      • Just making sure you got the irony of A recent salvo was a LTE by a trucker insinuating the bikers were a business using the roads for profit and threatening trucker safety, @vikram-bath; that was humor. I know, mine’s very dry to the point of brute.


        • It is awesome! I’m very happy with it. The Jamis Commuter series to me is the perfect bike to recommend to people who aren’t really that into biking just to bike around but instead just want transportation. It’s geometry is a bit more comfort-focused. They generally put the dollars toward making it a practical thing for carrying cargo comfortably rain or shine rather than on being the fastest bike out there. It works well for me because I almost never just go out for a bike ride. I’m going to the pharmacy or grocery store or bank or hardware store or library.

          I did manage to get it cheaper since it was the “last year’s model” when I bought it.


      • “When we were on acid, we would go into the woods… ’cause when you’re in the woods tripping, there’s less likely a chance you’ll run into an authority figure.”

        -Mitch Hedberg

        Seems just as applicable to out-of-the-way graffiti.


        • I may have mentioned that I used to have a friend that was trolling the real world by tagging things with a URL that did not exist.

          One of his favorite places to tag with a Sharpie, was the inside of the toilet-tank lid. If Doug was ever in your bathroom, look in there for a completely-useless piece of “information”.


          • One common place is the sides of overpasses where roads cross over freight rails. In order to tag in those spots, you have to climb over the side and stand or hang or otherwise risk your life to tag the side. And the only people who will ever see it are rail employees and people who hop the trains (with the taggers likely unauthorized riders as well).

            I went camping in the mountains in Tennessee, once, and my friends and I walked a train track for a few miles into the woods along the side of the moutain to spots where absolutely no one who wasn’t either driving or riding a freight train, maintaining the track, or dumb enough to walk that far on the tracks, would ever be, where we found everything covered in graffiti. It’s like people were jumping off in the middle of the woods just to tag that place.


        • It gets the art in front of people who will likely appreciate it more – having done the urban exploring required to see it, their eyes are more open to everything there. Also, it’s less likely to be buffed right away.


  2. As someone who has recently returned to the cult of the bicycle, I have to say that all of those pictures could be taken in Sacramento, as with the description of the bike trails. I no longer live in that great city, now in the bay area, but the bay coastal trail is quite similar.

    I am returning to cycling because I cannot ride motorcycles any longer due to massive damage to my back, but still want to enjoy the wind and exploration abilities of two wheels. It has been 30 years since I seriously rode, but that is OK, as it is just like riding a bike!

    I am not someone who would spend anywhere near that on a bike, mostly from cheapness, but also as I am someone who prefers the design elements of older bikes and I enjoy the challenge of taking an old $10 10speed or 3speed internal hub and bringing it back up to spec.


    • One of this winter’s projects is going to be modifying my handlebar/control layout. My neck is not as young as it once was and I’m going to have to make my posture a bit more upright to accommodate it. I’ve test-ridden a couple of recumbents; unfortunately, the one that I really like costs three times what I paid for my current road bike (although the quality of the build is really lovely).


    • I’m with Chris; cyclists are obnoxious. At least a car is going to get in trouble if they’re plowing down the sidewalk. Cyclists don’t- and they have the gall to be indignant at you if they plow into you because you didn’t hear them yelling for you to get out of their way because you had headphones on.

      Bicycles on sidewalks make me long for a stick for their tire spokes (rear wheel of course).


      • My youngest brother, who is an avid cyclist in avid cycling Eugene, suggests that so many cyclists are assholes because the world is harsh for them, and that may be true, but man, so many cyclists are assholes.


        • University towns/areas are absolutely the worse. Lots of cyclists. Lots of newbie cyclists. Lots of newbie, young, arrogant, preoccupied, easily-distracted cyclists. Combine that with streets laid out assuming a small number of cars (that would be parked in the alleys), which have become frighteningly narrow as on-street parking ate away at the width. It’s a perfect storm. Not that that’s an excuse.


      • I’m willing to let a lot of cyclist street-side lawbreaking slide (like running stop signs, assuming they did their due diligence and looked/listened); and I am also aware that they often ride on the sidewalks, because there are inadequate bikelanes or room to safely share the street with cars; but all that said, I agree, a cyclist should not be riding on the sidewalk if there are any pedestrians present, or likely to be present (like they might step unexpectedly out of a storefront door).

        While I am all for better bikelanes or wider streetlanes to accommodate bicyclists, bikes currently occupy a weird space in US transportion; almost everyone knows bikes are a very good, efficient transportation solution for a lot of everyday needs; yet they do not fit well into either the pedestrian or motor paradigms – too fast for one, too slow (especially to start up, which is why we don’t necessarily always want them stopping at red lights and stop signs) for the other.

        In what other arenas do “good” problem solutions exist; yet get squeezed hard on either side, by the needs of two in-many-ways-less-optimal ones?


        • The fact that the world has basically been built for cars pits pedestrians and cyclists against each other, unfortunately. A fact compounded, unfortunately, by the fact that cyclists are assholes (as I said).

          The obvious example is intersections. At an intersection, cyclists are loathe to stop unless there are cars coming, for safety and conservation of energy reasons, but intersections are also one of the most dangerous places for cyclists, as car drivers are not particularly diligent when turning, and therefore often fail to notice cyclists (especially coming from behind them and to the right). So cyclists will frequently do things at intersections that make them safer but put pedestrians in danger, like hop into crosswalks or turning on reds without stopping to look (and I don’t just mean turning right — I was almost hit by a cyclist yesterday who was going the wrong way on a one-way street, turning left on a red he couldn’t see, because he was going the wrong way! as I walked with the light in the crosswalk).

          Obviously, pedestrians are not perfect. I frequently see them hop into bike lanes when crossing the street, without even looking to see if there are bikes coming, but I’ve had countless run-ins with cyclists, including a handful of collisions, and in each case it has either been on a sidewalk (often right next to a bike lane!) or in a crosswalk while I was crossing with the light.


          • Experience is a funny thing.

            The only people who have ever come close to killing me were driving motor vehicles.

            Crossing the street in a bike lane that had the right of way (at a nice slow speed so no one would be surprised), I looked right into the eyes of a lady stopped at the stop sign. She looked right into mine. We had confirmed eye contact, it was great, I went into the intersection – and she pulled out and T-boned me. SMIDSY. She had been looking directly through my apparently fully transparent head, at a piece of road somewhere behind me.

            More drivers nearly right-hooking me than I can count. Hasn’t happened in a while because I’ve gotten pretty assertive about claiming my lane.

            Two people actively trying to run me off the road with their cars because they thought I should have made the molecules of my body and bicycle change phase and pass like so many neutrinos through the parked cars at the side of the road so as to let them pass.

            Blowing through a crosswalk at 10 or 20 km/h over the limit when the car in the lane to their right, that had stopped at the crosswalk for some probably personal reason that had no bearing on them, was blocking their view of me.

            I don’t count the guy on foot who punched me and knocked me off my bike when I was riding in the bike lane as “nearly killing me” – it hurt, but at worst I might have broken a rib or something.

            Ride a bike every day for a few years – you’ll conclude drivers are assholes.


            • Don’t get me wrong, I think simply by virtue of driving, people are assholes (and if they’re driving with no one else in the car, doubly so), and cars represent a much greater threat to my life than cyclists, but the number of run-ins I have with cyclists are much greater than with cars, despite the fact that there are many more cars. There are a couple reasons for this: 1.) I’m much more wary of cars than I am of bicycles, because cars are so much more deadly, and 2.) Cyclists are assholes. That is, cyclists generally have no problem moving into pedestrian spaces, or failing to yield right of way to pedestrians when they should, if it’s convenient for them to do so.

              I say this as someone who spent years riding a bike around town before Austin had any real interest in expanding its bike routes, and therefore spent a lot of time dodging car doors and cars turning right without looking for me passing them in a bike lane, or cars turning onto the street without seeing me in the bike lane, and so on. I understand what it’s like to be a cyclist, and I still think that a huge portion of them are assholes.


              • Yeah, asshole drivers are at least vaguely cognizant that their asses will go to jail if they are up on the sidewalk (watch out at the crosswalks though), but asshole bikers are right in those spaces with pedestrians.


              • I feel motorists are assholes also, but think I’m wrong.

                I’m pretty sure I feel that way because I don’t drive, so cyclists are “like me” while motorists are “the other”. That feeling is biased by fundamental attribution error on my part.

                Some motorists are assholes because they’re all humans; some cyclists are assholes because they’re all humans. I just generalize my encounters with asshole motorists in a way that I don’t generalize my encounters with asshole cyclists. I suspect that may you do the opposite to some extent.

                You’re right cyclist assholery tends to involve entering pedestrian spaces without enough consideration while motorist assholery tends to take other forms (except insofar as you consider residential streets, with or without without sidewalks, “pedestrian spaces”).


                • What I mean by saying motorists are assholes by virtue of driving is that driving is, in and of itself, an asshole thing to do. Granted, some people don’t have a choice where they live, but for everyone else? It’s an asshole thing to do.

                  But I recognize that I’m somewhat extreme in that regard.


                  • There’s nothing extreme at all about it. Spend some time on the Garden State Parkway. Us humble folks in New Jersey agree that driving is an asshole thing to do, so much so that we make sure that we’re at maximum asshole level when driving at high speeds.



                    • I’ve never driven in New Jersey, but I’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago. I used to joke that on the interstate in Chicago there are three speeds: suicidal (105), speed of traffic (85), and scared shitless (45).


              • I am blessed by living in a large suburb with a long history of accommodating cyclists: trails, bicycle lanes, wide sidewalks separated from the biggest arterials where the speed differences are especially dangerous. Yes, there are asshole cyclists. But for every asshole cyclist I see, I see two drivers who insist that the bike lane is a right-hand turn lane whether cyclists are present or not, or who stop at the traffic light completely blocking the crosswalk the pedestrians and cyclists need to cross safely. Last week I was stopped at the light in the clearly marked bike lane, and some idiot came up behind me with their right turn blinker on and honked because I was in their way.


                • I know a guy here in town who frequently takes and posts pictures of cars, delivery trucks, food trucks, etc., parked in bike lanes, with captions like “Bike and Delivery Lane.” There’s one street in downtown that has a full-lane bike lane that is separated from traffic by a median, is painted a different color, and has painted bicycles on it, and he’s posted several of photos of cars driving in it (here’s the lane).


            • Where I live, bikes are considered motor vehicles and MUST conform just like drivers of autos do.

              So sayeth the law: “bicycles are considered vehicles, and as such, cyclists must devote as much attention to riding a bike as they do to driving an automobile.”

              So, cyclist, if you ain’t operating like a driver, you be the one that’s the ass.


      • “I’m with Chris; cyclists are obnoxious. At least a car is going to get in trouble if they’re plowing down the sidewalk.

        At least pedestrians don’t step in the street in front of motor vehicles because they know that’s hazardous to their health. But they’ll walk against and the light and completely ignore a bicycle transiting with the light.

        And motor vehicles don’t give a flying fig about stopping at a red light before making a right turn on red.


        • My cynical old Dad, when he handed me the keys to the beat up ol’ K-car he’d bought for me to shuttle my siblings and I back and forth from school, informed me that drivers are crazy and pedestrians are blind so I should drive accordingly. He also stated that I should try my damnest not to hit a cyclist or a pedestrian but he added “Son, if you do hit one, make sure you kill them.”

          Cyclists occupy a funny space. They move at the speed and with a level of maneuverability roughly of a slow car but have virtually none of the killing power so pedestrians generally ignore them. But cyclists have none of the survival oomph of an automobile in a crash so they cannot ignore cars. It’s not a good space to be in I admit.


      • Fundamental attribution error – you has it, I think.

        I don’t like cycling on sidewalks either, but when I do it’s because my choice of “which of these two very unsuitable options shall I consider the bike lane?” has forced me there. My comfort with on-street cycling, while greater than most people’s, is not infinite. I try to be considerate that I’m a guest on the sidewalk, but it seems there are always going to be a few people for whom my very presence is an unbearable imposition.

        Next time you encounter someone riding a bike on the sidewalk, instead of going “they’re doing that because because of what is inside them – cyclists are assholes,” try looking around – where are they coming from, where are they going to, and is the sidewalk the least bad way to do that?

        – On the “Argh scofflaw cyclists blow off stop signs” front – the only actual study I’m aware of found that the reason people on bikes blow through stop signs is mostly about the “people” part, not the “on bikes” part: while 95% of people on bikes didn’t stop at stop signs, also 85% of people in cars didn’t.


            • It was literal.

              I, seriously, have never heard a complaint about a bicyclist slowing down, looking both ways, then speeding up again.

              I, seriously, have never felt like complaining about a bicyclist doing such.

              It’s the blowing through them that has me yelling at the steering wheel.


        • The street I live on has a magnificent bike lane dragonfrog. In some parts it even has those steel dividers to prevent cars from driving on it even if there’s no bikes in the lane. But I still have had bicyclists collide with me from behind because I had the audacity to walk in their bike lane (aka the sidewalk). In my cosmology while the devil may drive a Prius his son drives a bike.


        • I’ll grant that 85% of cars don’t completely stop at a stop sign, but at least they slow down and make a show of looking for cross traffic. The 95% of cyclists? Not so much.


          • Your experience differs from mine. From what I’ve seen, people on bicycles know they’ve vulnerable. They understand physics and don’t want to be hit.

            Also, looking for cross traffic can look a lot like “not looking for cross traffic”
            – they can hear better. Even with earbuds in and music playing, they can hear their surroundings better than a driver with the windows up but no music playing.
            – they’re already going much closer to the speed of a “rolling stop” in a car – so to slow down to the same speed doesn’t look like much to an outside observer
            – when their eyes are at the same point as the driver of a truck with its front bumper at the stop line, they’ve still got six or eight feet of stopping room. The truck driver commits to entering the intersection with a less clear view of cross traffic than the bike rider who still has time to decide whether to stop.

            As I’ve suggested all over this thread, some of that may come down to differences in what we’ve each seen, but a lot probably comes down to differences in which of the things we’ve seen, we’ve remembered.


    • Along the northern Front Range, there are several tributaries that form the South Platte River that are all about the same size, named “creek” or “river” rather arbitrarily. All of them are roughly comparable in length and natural drainage to the Los Angeles River. More water volume over the course of the year because of (a) actual snow pack, (b) diversions from the west side of the Continental Divide and (c) downstream water delivery obligations.


  3. The view finder in the beat-up little digital camera I carry on the bike is improperly aligned, and I always forget that until I upload the pictures to my Mac.

    Surprising that as sophisticated and pertickler a user as the author of the post hasn’t availed himself of widely available image-editing tools to straighten his tipsy pics… (No big – I’m sure there are readers who like em just fine that way.)


    • Guilty, on several charges.

      Yes, I have software to straighten my pictures. Same open-source command-line software package I’ve used to manipulate images for 20 or so years. Why command line? Because it works exactly the same way on Unix, Linux, Mac OSX, Windows, OS-9, and every other operating system I’ve had to deal with. Because it’s trivially scriptable — work out the details, then do exactly the same thing on the other 47 files. Because I know what algorithms are being applied. Because it lets me control exactly how many lossy serial encodings get done. So, why didn’t I make use of it?

      Frustration. This was the first post where I was allowed to use the WordPress post creation tool the editors use. I apologize, deeply and sincerely, to all of the editors over the years who have forced my hand-crafted HTML guest posts into the creation tool. I promise to figure out why the initial published version of my HTML rendered properly on Firefox but reduced the images to roughly 2×2 pixel dots in Safari, and not to repeat that particular mistake (no promises about different mistakes).

      Impatience. After two weeks, first at a niece’s wedding and then at a granddaughter’s birthday, I wanted the post up now (see first count about access to the creation tool). Placeholder images leaning to the left remained in, with an “explanation”. Alternatively, call this one laziness.

      Pettiness. Would anyone call me on the failure to tidy up the images? Would they be polite? (Yes.)


        • Netpbm. Converts pretty much any image format you can think of into anything else. Dozens of manipulation tools. Unlike ImageMagick, which is a swiss army knife, Netpbm is a zillion individual programs that each do one thing and use UNIX-style pipelines to combine things together. Back in the day the pipeline approach was valuable to me because I could quickly write a one-time special-purpose image manipulation routine and combine it with all the others.


  4. I sent this post to a friend (a cycling enthusiast) who lives in Denver and he told me “hey, those trails are half a mile from my house”.

    Which tells me that you’ve probably ridden past him (or vice versa) from time to time.


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