Here in Providence, we’re lucky to have 3 paths that start nearby and allow for an approximately 30 mile round trip (as measured from my house, and that’s all that really matters). The East Bay Bike path will get you to Bristol, The Blackstone River Bike Path will get you to Woonsocket, and the Washington Secondary Bike Path will get you to Coventry. I’ve been enjoying all three paths more and more, taking any excuse to take a ride on one. “What’s that, Spouse? The birds are low on food? Well, why don’t I just take a ride to the bird store and pick up some things for them” (it’s right off of the Blackstone Path). “We’re low on nuts and dried fruit? Why don’t I head down to Trader Joes and pick some up.” (It’s off of the Washington Secondary).
The bike paths do have their advantages. The lack of cars is nice – no need to worry about getting run off the road. The paths around here follow either an old railroad right of way or a canal towpath, both of which make for a very flat path. The pavement is usually pretty smooth – there are some frost heaves and tree roots have put the occasional ripple in the pavement, but compared to the roads, they are free of major bumps and potholes. However, the paths are not perfect. In nicer weather, they can be quite crowded with every sort of user. People walking, slow cyclists, packs of teenagers taking up the entire path. For the bike path, I’m relatively fast (in comparison to most path riders), so in the warmer months, I’m often speeding up and slowing down to go around the slower groups on the path, or negotiate between a group of walkers and oncoming bike traffic. Some people consider Multi-Use Paths to be more dangerous than riding on the roads. They certainly have a point. Cyclists ride towards each other with an approach speed between 30 and 40 MPH, and not much room between them. Pedestrians may stay on the side of the path, then again, they may wander into the middle without bothering to look behind them. I’ve seen this happen many times – should I ring my bell as I approach – or does that just make me a jerk? I like to ride at about 18 MPH when I can, but I won’t go that fast when there is traffic on the path. One time on the East Bay Bike Path, I had a Very Serious Bicyclist drafting me for a while. He passed and encouraged me to draft off of him. We were tooling along at about 20-22 MPH, even through traffic. He passed an oncoming cyclist within a foot, causing the cyclist to yell out. At that point, I slowed down and let the guy drop me, it just seemed silly and reckless to ride like that in so much traffic.
Occasionally, I take my bike out on the open road. I have to worry about cars, broken glass, potholes and hills. However, I don’t have to worry about slowpokes and pedestrians (for the most part), and I get to climb hills – which many cyclists find rewarding. It’s nice to be more out in the open – exploring different parts of the state. I think the thing I dislike about riding on the road is that I have to worry about where I’m going. I have to consult a map or my phones map app every once in a while so I don’t get lost. On the path, I can just crank away, my only worry being the occasional slow poke, pedestrian or squirrel.
Shortly after buying my road bike this summer, I had the opportunity to take a ride out on the road with a couple of other cyclists, Matt from Bikes Can Work and Sandy Zipp. Because my bike was so new, I was perhaps a little overprotective:
The three of our bikes on the back of Matt’s car made for an interesting combination. They both started riding many years before me and both have lugged steel road bikes as opposed to my carbon & aluminum bike.
It was a fun ride, and really the first time I’d taken a ride on the road with a group of people. We used one of the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen‘s arrowed routes, which took out much of the guesswork of when to turn where. It also helped that Matt kept track of the map and called out all of the turns (which are also indicated by arrows painted on the road).
In a moment of distraction, Matt wandered off the road to the right, then abruptly hopped back onto the road over the bump at the edge. He lost his balance and had a nasty fall onto his shoulder. I was right behind him and went into a panic stop. I stopped so quickly that I forgot to unclip – thus I also ended up on the pavement. Luckily it was a no-speed fall for me, so I just bruised my hip a little and bent one of my brake levers. Matt fared a little worse: his shoulder was sore for a few days and he even cracked his helmet. We were able to finish the ride, but we kept the speed down.
Aside from the crash, the ride was very enjoyable. We left around 9AM on a Sunday and kept mostly to back roads in the exurbs to the northeast of Providence. There were very few cars that we had to worry about, and much of the time we were able to ride two or three abreast – something you can’t really do on the bike path.
The Narragansett Bay Wheelmen Bicycle Club (of which I am now a member) has rides every Sunday starting at various places around the region. Unfortunately, I just haven’t been able to make it for one yet. I was all set to join a ride this past Sunday, when I caught a cold and barely left the house. That ride started about 10 miles away, which of course, adds 20 miles to the length of any ride that I join. Unfortunately, many of their rides start much further than 10 miles away, adding a significant distance for me. Still, they have many ride maps available, and I should be able to find some that work for me.
So, I have a new cycling goal: more miles on the road, fewer miles on the paths. I ride on city streets every day without fear, I shouldn’t be afraid of riding on country roads.