Driving down Powers Avenue Tuesday just before dusk, I spotted two bicyclists a block ahead pedaling across the intersection at Marin Street.
Both then headed south with one on the sidewalk and another in the bike lane heading the wrong direction. They were riding the fairly inexpensive colored fat tire bikes popular with tweens and teens. Neither had helmets nor did they have lights on their bicycles.
As the kid in the bike lane drew nearer, he popped a wheelie and looked right at me. It was clear he wanted the attention. The kid may have been 12 years of age, if that.
Three things ran through my mind. The first was to make sure I was ready if anything went wrong such as him losing control of the wheelie and ending up in the road way. Second, was the fact he really should be heading the right direction. And thirdly, it was cool that they were out and about.
I know that sounds strange but hear me out.
Boys need to be burn off energy just like we all do.
That coming from me may make some people who’ve ridden with me reread the previous line. They know that I can be a bit hardcore on following the law when bicycling. It’s not because I’m a Boy Scout. It has to do with my respect for 4,000-pounds and up vehicles whizzing by at 55 miles per hour plus after years of cycling along narrow highway shoulders in the valley, hills and mountains of California and Nevada.
I understand the importance of helmets given four of them gave their all to keep me alive or at least not sustain head injuries although some may argue they didn’t prevent the latter.
None of those involved vehicles. One was hitting a loose dog that darted out in the roadway as I was going downhill at 45 mph. One was hitting a bicyclist who had abruptly stopped in the middle of the road to get off his bicycle in the middle of a pack of riders. Another happened when my tire got caught in railroad tracks crossing French Camp Road at an angle that caused me to hit the pavement like a sack of potatoes. The other was losing the balance stopped at a traffic light and being unable to get my cleat out of the binding before unceremoniously hitting the pavement. That’s the day I learned the magic of adjusting tension and decided to switch from Sampson to Shimano cleats.
I was so good at being a real life test dummy for helmets that back in the early 1990s then Manteca Police community service officer Rex Osborn recruited me — along with my broken helmets and racing bicycles — to address bicycle safety assemblies at all of the public elementary schools in Manteca.
Add to that my pet peeve are serious bicyclists who will do squirrelly things in town on their way out or back in as part of a long ride. The way I figure it, my luck is when some motorist is irked by such behavior and decides he has it in for bicyclists he might take his frustration out on the next bicyclist he sees which could be me by driving too close or cutting me off.
I also do not ride in the middle of the travel lane and stay to the right as safely as it is possible — if you think the middle of streets are bad in Manteca check on some of the haphazard utility work near curbside on major streets — unless I’m moving over to make a left turn or I am moving at the posted speed limit.
So why am I not calling for rounding up the wheelie outlaws and throwing the book at them?
For starters I’d be much happier if there were more people bicycling around town period instead of in cars. And from that perspective, so would everyone else that thinks Manteca has deteriorated into traffic hell.
It is also good for anyone including young people to get hooked on — dare I say the word — exercise.
That said Councilman Jose Nuño and his colleagues are right. The real issue is safety and not treating boys bicycling in groups as if they are a bunch of wild hoodlums. I believe Manteca Police will be stepping up their efforts in that area, squeezing it in between “educating” speeders, red light runners, and people who mistake sitting behind the driver’s wheel as a 21st century version of the phone booth.
But before we classify boys doing wheelies and other squirrelly things riding in packs large enough that you’d have to be texting not to see them as Public Enemy No. 1 when it comes to terrorizing our streets, let’s clamp down on much more dangerous classes of offenders as well.
You can start with the real two-wheeled outlaws of Manteca —meth heads, homeless with an attitude, or just adult jerks — who blow through red lights, dart across traffic solo or ride down sidewalks forcing pedestrians to get out of the way.
The worst are those on motorized bicycles. Nothing against people getting around with the help of an inefficient one-stroke gas engine that would give the environmental oracle of the under 18 set herself Greta Thunberg a massive coronary. I’m OK with that.
What I’m not OK with are self-centered, spaced out idiots on bicycles powered with an engine who zip down sidewalks at 20 mph or run red lights. The fact they are moving faster doing illegal stunts makes it more difficult for drivers to react.
Back to the boys on bicycles who are clearly inspired by YouTube postings from across the nation.
I’ve encountered probably almost several hundred of them in the past several months with most of that being when I’m jogging.
They’ve stopped at red lights I’ve stopped at. They have a clearer grasp of staying to the right side of a walking/bicycle trail than most adults. I’ve never seen them texting and bicycling. I can’t say that for some of the young “adults” I’ve seen bicycling and probably 10 percent of the drivers I encounter jogging.
Yes, some of them are doing wheelies. It is clear it’s kind of a macho thing for them to show off their athleticism and/or coordination. They have never been rude.
I get that streets are not meant to play in.
But perhaps the biggest thing we all should worry about — including myself — is how we drive, bicycle, or walk around town.
Is it any more squirrelly for several boys riding in “bicycle gangs” to break away and dart across mid-block on Van Ryn Avenue when there is a gap in traffic than for arguably 20 percent of the westbound drivers on Van Ryn to make barely a pretense of slowing down for the stop sign at Industrial Park Drive?
By all means Manteca Police should do what they can to educate bicyclists on laws including gangs of tween and teen boys.
They might even offer them a quick lesson on why you need to travel in the direction of traffic and not against it. They could even toss in a physics lesson or two about how there is less energy transfer between two moving objects when they collide going the same direction than if they hit head-on. When something goes wrong the outcome tends to be a lot better.
All of us, however, need to step up our game.
And quite frankly, the boys are onto something.
Our goal should be encouraging them to continue doing it — in a safer fashion of course — and perhaps joining them instead of slamming them.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com