Six Pet Peeves of Pedalling in Palmdale and Other Antelope Valley Aggravations

June 2004, Valley Sports News & Review

Okay, the Antelope Valley is not Davis, the tiny college town just outside of Sacramento that boasts an almost mythical reputation of being the most bike-friendly burg in the country.

I know this, but it was really brought home to me the other day. There I was, cycling along 20th Street West, minding my own and keeping to the right, just the way I was supposed to, a glow to my cheeks and a song in my heart, when one of those SUVs on steroids came up right behind me, blasted its air horn and then roared past, only pausing long enough for the buzz cut passenger to flick his cigarette butt out the window at me.

Ah well, dunderheads like that are few and far between and heck, it was only a cigarette butt. In Texas, a biking friend told me, they throw beer cans.

Still, it got me to thinking (biking gives you plenty of time to do that) and so I submit my six least favorite things about biking in the AV.

6) Motorists Who Think They Own The Road
Sorry, Mr. Motorist, but unless specifically marked, cyclists do so have the right to be on the road. We even have the right to be in the left hand lane if we're making a left hand turn at an intersection. According to California Vehicle Code 21200: "Every person riding a bicycle upon a street or highway has all the rights and is subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application." So don't honk ­ we probably heard you coming. Oh, and when you see use waving our hands up and down? Chill -- they're hand signals, not some sort of obscene gestures.

5) Bicyclists Who Think They Own The Road (and the Sidewalks)
Unfortunately, some of the apparent hostility displayed towards bikers is our own fault. Any of you who think the rules don't apply to you should check out 21200 also ­ no matter what you may think, we're not supposed to ride on the sidewalk or against traffic. We do have to signal for lane changes and turns, we do have to obey all stop signs and traffic lights. Let's face it, any disagreement between you and a car is bound to end poorly for you (despite the apparent beliefs of some cyclists, Spandex does not make you invincible). And hey, if you're old enough to ride without training wheels, you're too darn old for the sidewalk.

4) Parents Who Teach Their Kids How To Bike Dangerously
Alas, many of the bad habits listed above are the fault of parents who mistakenly believe that somehow, the rules of the road only apply to other people, and not their offspring. What they're doing, however, is actually endangering their children by instilling habits that could kill them. I've actually seen well-meaning parents instructing their children to ride against traffic (!) or, more frightening, telling them that they don't have to stop at intersections because ­ get this! -- bicyclists always have the right of way! If you love your children and you're not sure of the rules of the road, please, for goodness sakes, go to Bike Link's California Bicycle Laws & Safety at

3) Paths That Go Nowhere
Each year over a hundred Californians are killed and thousands more injured in bicycle accidents, mostly with automobiles. So it would be nice if we had a few more bicycle paths in the AV. Oh, we have the Ritter Ranch trail for mountain bikers and the much ballyhooed Lancaster/Palmdale run along the Sierra Highway and a few other decent paths, but mostly we have tiny bits and pieces of half-hearted paths that meander through various residential areas, generally clustered around schools and parks that are seldom connected to each other, and seldom go anywhere. My current favorite is the one that suddenly stops dead on Elizabeth Lake Road. Was there some sort of plan here, or did city crews just run out of paint? While it's great to take a leisurely ride along some aimless circuitous route, it sure would be nice if there were a few more useful paths that actually went somewhere, connecting schools, libraries, parks, shopping areas and train and bus stations. Rancho Vista, for example, is certainly wide enough to sport a bike path, and Palmdale is claiming its new transportation center will be bike-accessible. But don't hold your breath ­ right now even getting a map of local bike paths is discouraging. I recently spent several hours journeying from one City Hall department to another, before finally (FINALLY!) scoring a black and white photocopy of a colored planning commission chart that displayed several paths that still apparently only exist on paper.

2) Nowhere To Park
Oh course, even without official bike paths, eventually you can get where you're going. Unfortunately, once you arrive, there's often nowhere to leave your bike and bike theft is a major problem (ask anyone at Highland High). Chaining a bike to a tree or a fence or a railing won't stop a determined bike thief. Besides, chaining a bicycle to such items, particularly if they're on public property, are often a fire hazard and downright illegal. There's no law or incentive, as far as I know, requiring businesses to install bike racks, so most of them don't. And when they do, they're few in number (twelve businesses, room for three bikes) or poorly installed (one much-heralded shiny new mall finally coughed up for a single rack and then installed it so close to the wall that it's essentially useless).

1) The Wind, The Wind
Is it only me, or does the wind always seem to be against me, no matter where I'm going?

TIP OF THE MONTH: Parents, I know you ensure your kids don't go out without their bike helmets on. But don't forget that we're in Southern California, and man, it's like a desert out there or something. Make sure the junior Lance Armstrong in your household wears sunscreen before he or she heads out this summer. Slap it on good, slap it on thick and slap it on often. You'll want a good waterproof, broad-spectrumsunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, with a SPF rating of, at the very least, 20. And if your child doesn't have a water bottle on his bike, get one, and keep it filled.

BOOK OF THE MONTH: Die-hard bike nuts and older readers wanting to hear some awesome (and occasionally peculiar) stories of devotion to cycling will want to scoot on over to their nearest bookstore and grab a copy of Bicycle Love: Stories of Passion, Joy and Sweat (Breakaway Books, ISBN: 1891369458), a collection of short and apparently true confessions of a wide variety of folks who may have grown a little too attached to their bicycles. Compiled by Garth Batista, these sixty-two tales make for ideal light reading, and feature a wide array of personal stories, from a Peace Corp doctor who used a battered trail bike to deliver polio vaccine to isolated villages in Africa to a New England woman who discovered a bike helped her bond with her aging border collie. In between there are dreamy recollections and even metaphysical and philosophical musings on childhood bikes, fantasy rides and the camaraderie of the road. Good stuff.

LETTERS, WE GET LETTERS Got a tale of bicycle love of your own to tell or a tip or favorite trip to pass on? Operators are standing by. E-mail me at or snail mail me at Kevin Burton Smith, 3053 Rancho Vista Blvd.,Apt. 116, Palmdale, California 93551.

Kevin Burton Smith's first excursion without training wheels landed him in a ditch on the side of the road, but he swears, after almost four decades of cycling, that he's starting to get the hang of it. A transplanted Montrealer, he now lives in the Antelope Valley with local author D.L. Browne. Comments and suggestions for this column are welcome at