How and where to bicycle in Dallas.

I STILL remember my first love, a jet-black Raleigh hand-me-down from my father. 1 took possession as soon as my feet could touch the pedals, which by happy coincidence was shortly after Dad had taken my baby sister Frances for a ride and mangled her ankle in the spokes of his front wheel.

Frances recovered, but Dad was traumatized. He decided that bicycles were not for adults, and I, as the eldest son, inherited the Raleigh. It was a single-speed, upright “English Racer” and not at all modern. But it was sturdy enough to ferry my books to school along the flats of the Florida coastline and fast enough to outrun the golfers outraged at my daily shortcut through their fairways.

My family moved to Atlanta, and the Raleigh and I had a falling out – we just couldn’t make it up the hills. In the 9th grade I pleaded and promised until my parents bought me a genuine 10-speed Vainquer for my 15th birthday. It was not an expensive bike, and in retrospect it was about as finely wrought as a water main. But riding it was like flying, and I rode the heck out of it for exactly one year.

Then I discovered girls, cars and several delightful combinations of the two. One couldn’t date a girl on a bicycle, which is to say that if one did, the date was doomed to be what my mother called “wholesome.” And in those days of fire-breathing Trans-Ams and Camaros, riding a bicycle was about as uncool as wearing knickers.

The Vainquer languished in the basement, its tires rotting and its bearings growing scarred and pitted. Mine was a world of Buicks, Chryslers and Fiats. By the time I went to college, I wasn’t interested in anything on two wheels.

But then 1 started working and discovered the pain of automobile commuting: the $30 monthly parking fees, the fumes, the heat and frustration. 1 crept down to the basement to examine my neglected 10-speed. Beyond salvation, it was caked in rust and spider webs. It was off to the store, where I saved $40 by getting a “bargain” $180 10-speed of unpronounceable Japanese extraction.

Bicycle commuting was infinitely superior to driving: I arrived at work alert and returned home relaxed. But on the Japanese bone crusher it was not exactly like flying. The bike was made mostly of steel and weighed 33 pounds. It handled with the brute solidity of an armored personnel carrier. Our relationship never really jelled, though it might have endured had I not let my eyes wander. Human nature being what it is, I snuck back to the bike shop and rode the exotic little number owned by a friend who worked as a mechanic.

Nirvana! I couldn’t help myself. I read a few bicycling books and magazines, 1 tested half a dozen bikes, 1 picked my favorite, and one Saturday I drove 385 miles to buy it.

It is a hybrid, its frame a gleaming black creation of the Trek company of Wisconsin; its wheels, drive train and brakes a collection of Italian and Japanese lightweight wizardry. Stripped, it weighs less than 23 pounds. But install its heavy-duty wheels, and it can handle a touring load well enough to be ridden across the country.

We go out every afternoon, my Trek and I, and we particularly enjoy breezing past joggers along White Rock Lake, watching their grimaces and muscle spasms as we, smiling serenely, clip away at 90-pedal revolutions per minute. We could do this all day. There is no rattling or shaking, just the purr of the chain and the whisper of knife-straight wheels on asphalt. Perfection.

I don’t think I love my bike more than my wife, but 1 know that my wife has had the good sense not to force the issue. She has taken up with a taut little Miyata touring bike. Together, we plan a two-wheeled tour of France next summer, then maybe the 4,000-mile Trans-America trail in ’84. But that sounds snobby, and the pleasant truth is that you don’t have to leave Dallas to enjoy world-class bicycling.

I’m biased, of course, but I think that only a fool would pass up the pleasures of cycling. It is the world’s most efficient form of transportation, a perfect match of man and machine. It is at least as good as jogging for heart, lungs and waistline, but is far easier on one’s muscles and joints. It produces a 12-mile per hour breeze that makes it possibly the only enjoyable outside sport for a Dallas summer’s evening.

Like so many of life’s pleasures, however, bicycling has to be done right – with the right equipment, in the right manner and in the right places.

If you have a working bicycle, it is the right equipment, at least for now. Stick with it until you’re sure you’re interested enough in riding to warrant laying out a pile of your hard-earned money. But if you need to buy a shiny new cycle, it needn’t cost you a month’s rent. The Japanese, bless their profit-minded hearts, have figured out ways to mass-produce lightweight bike frames made of the delicate metals that used to require careful manual work. You can find good 10-speed bicycles for less than $300.

If you know you will be taking only short rides (10 miles, say) in relatively flat areas, you can get by for even less by selecting a one-speed or three-speed bicycle. There is nothing sacred about 10- or 15-speed machines, and the more gears you have, as a rule, the harder the bicycle is to operate and maintain. Keep that in mind when buying for a child. Indeed, there is a whole school of thought saying that if you are interested solely in an around-town shopping and commuting (“utility”) bike, you should get the sturdiest, cheapest, ugliest machine you can stand. It won’t break or be stolen, and even if tragedy strikes, you haven’t lost much.

If you’re looking for a “joy-of-cycling” machine – something you’ll ride for sport – don’t be stingy. There is a big difference between a $150 bike and a $350 bike. Save your money for a few more weeks and buy something you’ll want to ride for the rest of your life.

Rather than worrying about brand names, look for bikes with chrome-molybdenum or manganese-molybdenum frames, aluminum-alloy wheels, alloy derailleurs (the things that make the chain shift gears), forged cotterless cranksets (the things the pedals are connected to) and other lightweight components. They should cut the weight of the bike to 27 pounds or less, on bikes in the $300 to $350 range.

If you are willing to pay $450 or so, you can get a more refined machine, one with better components and a “double-butted” frame in which the main tubes have been thinned where they are not under heavy stress, thereby shaving some weight and perhaps slightly improving the ride. Bikes in this class tend to weigh less than 25 pounds.

If you pay more than $550 (and you can pay a lot more; Schwinn’s top-of-the-line Paramount runs $2,500) you are buying as a connoisseur, for name brands or extra-fine details that make the bike a work of art but probably do not significantly affect its performance. Some of the “status” items can disappoint you. Campagnolo, for instance, is the name in bicycling components, and its Italian-made racing equipment is superb. But touring derail-leurs by Shimano or Sun-Tour of Japan shift better and cost half as much.

If you are laying out a decent week’s pay for your new machine, you’ll want to be sure it’s the bike for you. Don’t blindly rush for the lightest, most expensive, narrowest-tired bicycle in the shop, unless your burning desire is to be a racer. Buy a bike that suits your type of riding.

A race-bred bike will have a short wheelbase (approximately 40 inches), tight frame angles (74 degrees or so), and short chain-stays (less than 16.5 inches, usually). This produces a very agile, lightweight bicycle, usually with closely spaced gears so that you can always pedal at your most efficient rpm. But such bikes can have jackhammerish rides, and their narrow 1-inch tires are less sure-footed and more susceptible to punctures than are their chubby brothers. And it can be very difficult to control a “racing” bicycle laden with 30 pounds of touring gear, even if the racing gears run low enough for you to set that weight in motion.

A “touring” frame, with a wheelbase approaching 42 inches, chain-stays of about 17.5 inches and frame angles closer to 71 degrees, is stable under a load, has a softer ride and can be used for everything from continental crossings to short pleasure rides. It should have wide-range gearing to give you hill-climbing power. But it is not quick enough for serious racing and is not likely to be an especially zippy bike.

If you think you’ll do a little bit of everything, you may want a frame between the sports car and station wagon models. You won’t have to look hard. Most people feel that way, so most frames are somewhere in between. But beware of bikes with racing frames thinly disguised by 18-speed gearing. If you need touring gears, you probably need a touring frame.

No matter what type of bike you get, you’ll want to add a few accessories. If you’ve ever had to walk home from a long ride, you’ll understand the need for a tire pump and a spare inner tube or patch kit. Equally common-sensical is a comfortable saddle, as important to you as good shoes are to a runner. If you’re planning some long rides, try to avoid vinyl saddles; they are hotter than their leather counterparts. Avocet, Ideale and Brooks make good saddles. If your bike doesn’t have one you like, ask the dealer to give you a trade-in allowance on a new one.

One accessory that may seem unnecessary is a pair of toe clips and straps to hold your feet to the pedals. The contraptions may seem like dangerous foot traps, but they will let you pedal a lot faster, a lot farther and for a lot longer.

If you can’t tell toe clips from paper clips, ask the salesperson. If he can’t answer your questions, he probably doesn’t know much about bikes. Do not buy from him, even if his bike is $25 cheaper than his competitor’s. Leave the store double-quick if he tries to sell you a bicycle you can’t comfortably straddle in your stocking feet, or one on which you can barely reach the brake levers. He should be willing to adjust your bike to fit you and to give the bike a free tune-up within 30 days of purchase.

A great bike shop is a joy forever, and there are too many good ones in Dallas to settle for mediocrity. My personal favorite is University Cycle on Hillcrest near Lovers Lane. Owner Bud Melton has perhaps the city’s best selection of “super-bikes,” along with the necessary accessories and spare parts. He’s also got some of the best mechanics in town. The World Cycle chain carries such popular brands as Fuji and Trek. And many of my friends in the far north swear by the Richardson Bike Mart at DalRich Shopping Center, where Jimmy Hoyt has an extensive selection of Schwinn bicycles and a golden reputation with the families who patronize his shop.

HAVING PURCHASED your shiny new machine or renewed your relationship with Old Faithful, you will want to ride safely.

About 75 percent of all bicycle fatalities are caused by head injuries. Buy yourself a helmet ($35 or so). And not one of those chic little leather jobs, but a helmet that will save your skull, even if you hit a fire hydrant. Bell, MSR and Skid Lid are all good brands. Pro Tec even makes a helmet that glows in the dark.

Some Dallas drivers act like all bicyclists come with bull’s-eyes on their backs, but most will treat you better if they can see you. Help them out. Wear brightly colored clothes and use reflectors plus at least two lights when riding at night – a white one in front of you and a red one behind you. I carry a flashing yellow light called a “Belt Beacon” whenever 1 ride after dusk. It weighs almost nothing but flashes like a barricade marker. Drivers avoid me, thinking I’m an open manhole cover.

Nighttime riding causes about 25 percent of all fatal bike accidents. Don’t let a child ride after dark, ever.

As for daytime riding, following a few simple rules could greatly increase your lifespan.

– Always ride on the right, with the traffic flow. Riding against the traffic, as many of us were taught to do, causes 23 percent of all car-bike collisions. Bicycles are considered vehicles in the United States and are entitled to use the roads just as cars do. Riding against the traffic increases the speed differential between your bike and oncoming cars, complicates your behavior at intersections and makes about as much sense as driving the wrong way on a one-way street. If you’re worried about knowing whether cars are around you, don’t be; you can hear them from a hundred yards away.

– Be predictable. Use hand signalsbefore turning. If you are moving fast andthe traffic allows, ride about 3 feet fromthe curb, so you won’t constantly be weaving in and out to avoid sewer drains, broken glass and abandoned mufflers.

– Obey all traffic laws, especially stopsigns and traffic signals. Like the driversof all vehicles, bicyclists have to obey therules of the road. This goes back to beingpredictable. It is a pain in the neck to stopat every marked intersection, but it’s lesspainful than becoming a temporary hoodornament.

– Pretend you’re invisible. Many motorists don’t expect anything as small and quiet as a bicycle to be moving so fast. Learn to listen for engine noises and to watch for drivers opening their doors in your path. Figure on someone pulling into an intersection just as you’re screaming downhill with a green light. You may have the right-of-way in such situations, but only your next of kin will care. I stood up for my rights as a teen-age cyclist, and a fat woman in a white whale of a Cadillac knocked me into some roadside shrubbery. She hit the gas before I could educate her on the fine points of traffic law.

– Don’t ride in the rain. Dallas’ streets are uncommonly slippery even when they’re dry, thanks to the heat and the engine oil from a million leaky vehicles. For the first half hour of a rainstorm, that oil and water mixture is more slippery than ice. Avoid it! I ignored this bit of advice last fall and wound up eating a lot of asphalt, plus a $360 dental bill.

– Take care of yourself. If you are over 35 and sedentary, you might consult your doctor before starting any form of strenuous exercise. Even the healthiest cyclists should not let the heat of a Dallas afternoon catch them unaware. While that 12 mph breeze cools you, you can become very dehydrated. Carry a water bottle or two if you’ll be riding for more than 20 minutes at a time, and drink before you feel thirsty.

That’s a depressing list of warnings, but fear not. They amount, really, to an admonition not to do anything dumb.

WHERE TO ride? Again, use common sense. A good bicycling road has lots of interesting scenery, few cars, a low speed limit, wide lanes and smooth pavement. Streets where curbside parking is allowed often have enough room for cyclists and motorists to share the right lane. Good bicycling roads often parallel busier highways, as in the case of Thackery and Preston roads, or Northaven Road and Forest Lane. Buy yourself a map and explore some likely routes.

The Park Cities have some wonderful bicycling streets – my favorite is Lakeside Drive – but so do many other neighborhoods. There’s Swiss Avenue in East Dallas, Golfing Green Drive in Farmer’s Branch and, of course, the White Rock Lake bike path, 9 miles of ideal cycling that can be pedaled to by practically any Dallasite north of the Trinity.

By the time this article is published, the city should have printed its new bicycle route map, which color-codes streets on the basis of their speed, safety and desirability for cycling. Call bookstores and bike shops to ask for copies; the price should be about a dollar.

There probably is no one “best” bicycle route in Dallas, but Bud Melton and Cathy Burket of the Greater Dallas Blcy-clists have contributed some of their favorites. Some of their suggestions are included in a series of three simplified maps accompanying this article (see page 148). If you’re interested in some country riding, Burket suggests a few proven Sunday-morning routes. Get out your Mapsco and follow along.

– From the DalRich Shopping Center parking lot at Coit and Belt Line roads, travel east on Belt Line, then north on Waterview through the UTD campus. Then east on Lookout Drive, north on Prairie Creek, north on Collins to Renner, east on Renner, under Central Expressway, past Greenville, Jupiter and Shiloh, south on North Star, east on Blackburn past Murphy Road, all the way to Highway 78 and the community of Sachse, where you take a well-deserved break and find something to drink. Return the way you came. The total distance is about 39 miles.

– From DalRich to Piano, head north on Waterview, west on Melrose (which becomes La Manga across Coit), cross Hill-crest and then jog right on Shadybrook, left on Bentfield, straight (west) on Davenport, then north on Preston’s wide shoulder to Campbell Road, where you turn north (left) and wind through a new development, turning east on Brushy Creek, then south on Bentwood which curves back to Preston. On Preston, ride north (left) to either Highway 544 (where you stop for a ham sandwich at the northwest corner) or turn east on Piano Parkway at the traffic light, cross Coit and then turn north at another light for Independence Parkway in Piano. At the intersection of Independence and Hwy. 544 in Piano there is a Braum’s Ice Cream store where Burket and her fellow travelers consume limeade in the summer and hot chocolate or coffee in the winter.

Return to the DalRich Shopping Center by heading south on Independence, east on Piano Parkway to the Central Expressway service road, south on the service road, west on Renner, south on Canyon Creek, west on Lookout through the UTD campus, south on Waterview to Belt Line and west on Belt Line to Coit. The total distance is about 25 miles.

Cathy Burket and her husband, Ray (who between them have ridden for more than 28 years), urge long-distance cyclists to carry plenty of water, a few tools and money for food and drink. They also recommend choosing routes that put the wind at vour back for the later portion of the ride, when riders may be tired, hurried and desperate for a psychological lift.

If you want to ride with friends, consider joining the Greater Dallas Bicyclists, which sponsors several rides each week, varying from 5 to 50 miles. You can participate in those rides merely by showing up for them; they are announced in the activities sections of the Dallas newspapers. The club’s rides vary in difficulty from the 115-mile annual spring ride to Tyler to a weekly languorous tour of the Park Cities. Up to 50 people at a time have enjoyed the club’s Park Cities tour. The Sunday brunch rides from Richardson to downtown Dallas also draw big crowds. Steve Nichols (235-0550) is president of the club; Barbara Boyden (278-0111) is in charge of membership.

Other clubs include the Grand Prairie Bicycling Association (Joan Longorio, 264-7229, president); Denton County Ped-alers (Floyd Shafer, (817) 382-7983, president); Fort Worth Bicycling Association (Ron Henrikson, (817) 244-4418, president) and the Dallas Bicycling Racing Club (Bill Wymond, 348-0314, president).

If you ride as much as you should, your bike is bound to have mechanical problems. Sadly, bikes break down more often than cars. Happily, most repairs are 10-minute affairs that, with a little study, you can handle on your own. The best beginner’s guide to bicycle maintenance and operation is Tom Cuthbertson’s Anybody’s Bike Book, published in Berkeley by Ten Speed Press. A more detailed and expensive guide is Eugene A. Sloane’s The New Complete Book of Bicycling.

Both books are available at better bikeand book stores and are worthwhile investments if you are considering a love affair with a bicycle.


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