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Opinion: Buffoons On The Bike Trail

Lynnfield Patch Editor William Laforme rails against bikers on the Minuteman Bike Trail.

If you’re a cycling enthusiast, there’s a good chance you’ve tried several of the area’s bike trails. My own personal favorite is the Danvers/Topsfield/Wenham one, which rolls through about 8.5 miles from Route 114 up past the Topsfield Fairgrounds. I was delighted when that trail opened because I grew up on Pine Street in Danvers and it’s tremendously nostalgic to ride my bike through areas I remember well since early childhood. If you do the whole thing back and forth, it’s 17 miles or so. And since I’m getting ready to do the 28 mile Reid’s Ride next month, I’m probably not too far away from doing just that some Saturday morning.

But with that, I feel a big fat tangent coming on that may come dangerously close to turning into a satirical humor column - which I actually wrote every week for 8 years back in the 1990s for a long-ago political news website. Another incarnation of these sets of wacky musings would run from time to time in Sunday editions of the Laconia Citizen to the occasional chagrin of my former general manager. So here goes.

One trail I won’t bother riding this year is the Minuteman Bike Trail, which runs from Bedford to Cambridge – even though the back-and-forth length of that trail is an invigorating 21 miles. Here’s why – I did the whole thing last year and the closer you get to Cambridge (and perhaps Arlington), the stronger your likelihood of physically assaulting some urban hipster on a bike becomes.

I’ve never seen a bike trail where so many guys blithely roll down the wrong side of the path right toward you. I think they're out there mostly just to try to seek attention. At least that would explain some of the bike outfits they choose to wear. These are the guys who almost definitely took a shower this morning but still somehow manage to look like they smell horrible. They seem to be attempting to be Everyman and Holier Than Thou all at once. In fact, I might have seen two or three of them in an American Apparel catalog once.

After a few annoyingly close calls on my ride on the Minuteman Bike Trail, I saw yet another one of these guys barreling toward me in my lane. Suddenly it dawned on me – maybe the latest hipster fad involves Renaissance Fairs (I swear to God, I actually walked into a bar/eatery in Salem one night this year and like 100 of them were walking around in fake mustaches). So, like any good Renaissance jouster, I reared up in my seat like the dark knight, extended my arm out in a clothesline position, and started riding more quickly toward the culprit. About 1.8 seconds later he was back in his own lane and passed me looking like I had just belched loudly at a funeral while threatening his puppy or something.  I mean, in all honesty a guy like that will give you an even worse look if he catches you eating a food he doesn't approve of or listening to a band he doesn't approve of, so I thought little of it.

Later that night after this random encounter I bet he complained dismissively about the Neanderthal from the North Shore on the bike trail who probably won't use the word "bro" and who definitely doesn't appreciate musicians who wear skinny pants or pork pie hats. (I could devote an entire separate posting to roasting the pork pie hat, shall we say).

Really, it’s too bad that anything called “Minuteman” has to endure folks like these. The differences couldn’t be starker. Most notably, Minutemen had courage, were individuals, and worked for a living. The closest some of these guys get to a hard days' work is trying to be "ironic" by drinking a blue collar beer like Pabst (often with a Parliament cigarette, which is my former coffin nail of choice too).

This nuisance only replays itself in various forms the closer you get to Cambridge - it's really not as common back toward the Bedford side. I suppose a more diplomatic way of clearing the lane of wrong-coming bike traffic out there would have simply been to yell, “Hey look! A food truck! And I think it has Pad Thai and cupcakes!”  If that combination is too unappetizing to think of, I suppose one could also shout, "Hey, buddy did you drop a pair of black '50s glasses over there?"

Seriously, there’s a certain element out there you meet that, shall we say, provides ample fodder for fun columns. You know what I mean. Some of these folks I write of seem to think that everyone else is just a corporate tool – while actually being the ones who stampede to sleep outside of a mall in order to get the latest piece of i-HooHa to hit the market. Good God, at least when previous generations did that sort of thing, they’d come out with Zeppelin or Beatles tickets, not some shiny toy that’s just like everything else they already use.

Having just done a little bit of freestyling up there, let me note that little, if any, of this element seems to haunt the Danvers trail. It's a pretty, open expanse running through some areas of beautiful wetlands - and even better, there's a semi-hidden trail (email me if you want to know where, I'll go off on yet another tangent if I try to explain now) that leads to a long, open canal with flat, grassy land that makes for a great side trek.

I still have yet to try the Peabody trail. Another favorite cycling option of mine is to ride late at night through the streets of Salem to places like the lighthouse at Pickering Wharf, the Salem Willows area, and this very old part of town back behind the Witch House. Riding in much of that city during the day feels about as safe as joining the French Foreign Legion - although for some reason the streets of nearby Danvers actually somehow manage to feel even less safe.

It hit me last night at the gym that I'm not working out as hard as I did last year for the ride, but I also at least know what I'm getting into this year, and I have been stepping it up a bit. Either way, this thing isn't some great feat of endurance, it's just a fun thing to do at your own pace and for a good cause. If biking is your thing, consider getting involved. There's even some nice free food at the finish line.

Jessie Hughes June 15, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Funny, I've ridden the Minuteman at least twice a week for the past five years and I've yet to meet up with hipsters in bikes. Two mothers walking abreast of one another taking up both lanes like they own the place-- definitely see them. I encourage the author to look up Paul Simon's explanation of his song "Call Me Al." if you try to live your life like the third guy in the song things won't bother you do much. I promise.
William Laforme (Editor) June 15, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Hello Jessie, it's just a humor column like 500 others that will run somewhere in the world today. And I'll have to pass on revisiting Paul Simon, thank you. I think I left his CDs under my pork pie hat.
Jeff M June 21, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Yes, it's a humor column, but it would be funnier if it rang true. Jessie is right: hipsters? No; Tour de France wannabes, clueless families with strollers, roller-skiers who kick out the full width of the path, and little kids barely in control of their bikes? Definitely yes. The problem is population density -- that's all that distinguishes the Minuteman from other rail trails. But it's a shared resource, so you make do. The writer also seems to have an issue with city culture in general. Can you imagine if she rode one of the (numerous! and good!) routes in NYC?
William Laforme (Editor) June 21, 2012 at 02:50 PM
I know I used the word "hipsters" twice in the column, but yes, there was something far beyond the common hipster that I was thinking of here, and Jeff kind of nailed a lot of it. I just got a little bit rolling on the hipster imagery because it's inherently funny without meaning to be. Let's just say I had another broader word in my mind the entire time but was simply not able to print it. Very good and astute post. I like Ethiopian food, museums and good concerts probably a bit more than the next guy but otherwise am very happy to leave the city scene behind afterward.

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