I was driving along the street near Tower Grove Park last week when I saw a cyclist nearly kill himself. His foot slipped off his pedal as he cranked down hard, trying to power through an intersection, and he nearly tumbled into oncoming traffic. He managed to recover, but I thought about how the Dutch Master twins would have shaken their heads sadly, hands on hips, muttering “That boy needs to learn the art of slow pedaling.”
The Dutch Master twins were a pair of characters that I got to know many years ago when C and I lived in The Big City. They were twin brothers who sported Van Dyke beards like the Dutch Masters of the old Flemish painting, and who rode their bicycles everywhere. Real bikes; not toy bikes. Their father was a Dutch immigrant from Copenhagen, so they came by their beards and bikes honestly, you might say.
They had this unique ability to ride their bikes so slowly that they looked like they barely moved. Think of the slo-mo replay we see on sports broadcasts, apply it to a pair of old retired guys on bikes, and you get the idea.
They were a chatty pair, and I struck up a conversation with them one day at the local Quik Trip, complimenting them on their ability to stay as upright as a stone statue while riding so slowly. They talked like I would expect a pair of twins to talk – finishing each other’s thoughts – and they explained the art of slow pedaling to me.
Brother #1: “Yeah! Slow pedaling! It’s for serious cyclists, y’see. If you go a bit slower, you can go a lot farther and not wear yourself out.”
Brother #2: “Yeah! And you don’t stink as much when you get there, too.”
Brother #1: “Yeah! And it’s safer. You don’t hit stuff and go over the bars, y’see. Or fall under a car.”
Brother #2: “Yeah! I don’t know why people try to ride through intersections, y’see. Just get off and walk through it.”
Brother #1: “Yeah! People don’t realize how ‘fast’ slow is, y’see. These spandex guys are always pedaling like they’re in the Tour Dee Force, and they don’t get anywhere much faster than us…”
So the conversation went. After that, I kept an eye out for them in the neighborhood and kept track of their pace down the street. I had to admit, they clipped along much faster than I thought – I’d spot them, blink, and they were already at the corner. So, I tried it myself. I drug out my bike, pumped up the tires, and pedaled around at half-speed.
A whole new world opened up to me. I saw things in the neighborhood at 8 mph that I never saw at 25 mph. I was no longer afraid of traffic, just respectful of it. I re-learned how to use my gears for steadiness, not speed. Cycling was fun again! For many years thereafter, I rode my bike as often as I drove my car, but much, much slower.
Since moving to Windy Hill, I have not ridden my bike in a couple of years. Our lane leads to a two-lane highway with a 55 mph speed limit and no shoulder. In order to bike, I have to load it into the pickup and take it to our little town of Fiddlestix (pop. 4756) about 8 miles away. It is not like the old days when I kept the bike on the back porch, where I could just hop on and pedal away.
But now I spend quite a bit of time at St. John’s in Tower Grove Park, which is an urban cyclist’s heaven. I need to bring my bike with me and start riding again. I suppose there is some sort of moral or lesson to this tale of slow pedaling, but I’m sure you can come up with a good one on your own. All I want to do is go for a ride!