Tuesday, August 26, 2008

the morning peloton

Every day, I bike across the Hawthorne bridge - arguably the most iconic of Portland's 12 river spans. It's certainly the most crowded, as literally thousands pedal over it every day; the bulk of these riders, like me, travel east to west to get downtown, to the med school, or to the West Hills. As such, depending on when I get my start in the morning, I tend to be in a crush of about thirty other cyclists. This peloton contains casual commuters like myself, bespandexed muscle-cases, scrawny bike messenger-types, middle-aged power-riders with bikes far more expensive than necessary, cruisers on cruisers, and so on. There's a bit of reshuffling, cries of "on your left!", before we all drop into the chute, the downslope that raises Madison street above the Southeast industrial district. Once we're speeding down that course, it's single file for a quarter mile because of heavy foot traffic. The pedestrians merge onto the bridge and skitter like mice while biker after biker zips by. Only assholes try to pass on the bridge itself during morning rush hour.

I used to bike into the heart of downtown (which admittedly is not at all far from the Hawthorne bridge), but now I turn off earlier and cruise down Naito parkway. Most bikers opt for riding along the waterfront, but I can't stand all the traffic (foot, bike, recumbent and rent-a-cop) and there's no easy way to get to my turn from that path. Natio has a straight-shot bike lane and very few northbound cars. I'm going half a mile to a mile further everyday now, but it doesn't take me any longer than it did to wend and wind between cars in the thick of downtown's morning riots used to.

The peloton will thin out when the rains begin. Don't think that I'm sad about it, either. The camaraderie of dozens of speeding bikers wears thin, just like a pack of Toyotas caught in the 7:45 jam. The wet makes it harder to stop quickly, and less experienced bikers will often eat shit because their brakes aren't reacting "normally" in a downpour. The rain itself is an obvious deterrent, too. The familiar faces in the pack are the folks I've seen day after day for months, folks I've commiserated with during storms and heat alike. Still, the crowd becomes more of a trickle. For the here and now, though, my morning peloton gives me such a fucking rush. It's my own personal Tour, contracted into a fifteen minute bridge sprint.

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