Toward a Ghoul Bike Movement

I finally dusted off the recumbent I bought last spring with wellness intentions, and am now shooting for dropping the 35 pounds I’ve gained from five years of solar cooking.  Yeah, yeah, I blame it on the butter-laden recipes in “Joy of Cooking,” not on my obvious inability to control the size of my bites and portions.

But at least I aim to correct the other cause of my washtub abs — an all-too-sedentary lifestyle for those same five years.

So now that I’m easing my way into a pedal commute, the joys and hazards of biking are all coming back to me — and I’m hearing more stories from bikers not about the deaths of others on two wheels, but about their own scars, broken bones and torn ligaments from collisions with cars or the lesser of two evils, slamming into something stationary to avoid a petrolmobile.  

And in the four round trips I’ve made thus far I am reverting to cautious habits from my U of M days — taking back streets, retreating to the sidewalk when traffic is just too heavy and just plain pulling all the way over at intersections.

A couple months ago in this column I mentioned the Jimmy Nisser Ghost Bike Jo and I passed each day we do the car pool half commute. Now that I’m back on the bike I’m looking for more of them around Minneapolis — but I’m not seeing them. And I wonder if they are broadcasting their statement wide enough.

Fortunately one benefit of the bike ride is that the senses are heightened at the same time the brain is engaged. Thinking in a car at 35–70 mph just isn’t as deep as when the blood’s pumping faster than the pedals. So while sharing the road with cars, and wondering how to improve my odds of surviving on a 20-pound trapezoid of metal with 24-inch tires, I’ve come up with a modest proposal to really publicize the issue of bike safety in a traffic grid out of balance in favor of cars.

It’s simple — we ride Ghoul Bikes. You know, paint our bikes the color of the Undead, or at least fly some putrid green flags atop the PVC pipes some of us add for more visibility.

So those of us who haven’t been maimed yet could stand in for those who have. The Ghost Bike on Excelsior represents the spirit of Jimmy Nisser; maybe our flags or “slow moving vehicle” triangles could spell out the name of a friend who’s still picking chrome bumper flecks out of their shoulder blades? Maybe some bruise-colored polyvinyl baseball cards in our spokes would make an audible statement at the same time — perhaps those cards could be tuned to sound like the first breath a thrown bicyclist takes after coming to a full stop in a skid of road grit?

I do remember one hellacious bike accident when I was 14 years old, but it was my own durn fault: Just outside of Bowling Green, Ohio, there was a muddy bike trail through some woods, which began and ended with a huge mound of packed, dried earth. My mistake was trying to imitate Evel Knievel on a three-speed Raleigh touring bike. Fortunately the speed of Luther was far less than the speed of the Gremlins, Pintos and Vegas racing by on the highway just outside the woods, and all I got was a scrape on my left arm to match the birth mark on my right. But for a fraction of a second I was sure I’d decapitate myself in the spokes.

We need to unearth that kind of memory that is buried in car drivers’ heads the same way advertisers do, through repetition. I would hope that if enough cars see and hear the Ghoul Bikes every time they abandon 35W to redouble their speed on Park or Portland, or race to beat the yellow light at 35th & Stevens, or low-ride their way down Interstate Blaisdell, maybe they’d get the picture and start seeing bicyclists before it’s too late and they see them on the hood of the car.

Or, as one bicycle commuter and car-bike collision told me the other day, in the passenger seat of the car they crumpled in to, in a truly ghoulish state.    

Luther Krueger is a crime prevention analyst for the Minneapolis Police Department. He lives in the Lyndale Neighborhood.