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Bikexchange logo, link to Home       Don't Take Your Shoulders For Granted        Bikexchange logo, link to Home

  Image of stopsign By Alan Ira Fleischmann

(Editor's note: For those of you tristaters who reside in regions where y'unz or y'all are spoken, Alan is talking about the beloved road "berm.")

The dictionary defines the word "shoulder" (the paved, not the anatomical) as a "protruding support, ledge, verge, collar, or border." The shoulder is where we love to ride (debris permitting). Lately, I have formulated my own definition for "shoulder": Connecticut has 'em, and West Virginia doesn't! I miss those shoulders.

In 1994 I relocated, from Connecticut to West Virginia. My own shoulder (the anatomical, not the paved one) had healed from its fracture that occurred during a club ride the previous month. Since then, I have been exploring the highways and byways of West Virginia in search of the perfect road (and off-road) bicycle routes.

West Virginia, contrary to popular belief, is NOT predominated by Jed Clampit hillbilly shacks, outhouses, or gun racks. The people are the warmest, friendliest people I've ever met. The towns have descriptive names like Tornado, Elkview, Fort Hill, Nitro, and Hurricane (that's where I live). Everyone has computers, cable TV, central air conditioning, and a bicycle. West Virginia has as many fast food joints, K-marts and malls anywhere else. Grunge wear, earrings and Nike are "in." Pickup trucks abound, albeit without the gun racks, and this ain't called the Mountain State for nothin'. These are real mountains, not like Connecticut's hills and valleys or occasional steep grades. Ninety-eight percent of West Virginia is covered with awesome, imposing, protruding-rock, mostly-tree-covered, granny-low-gear, one-after-the-other, makes-your-clutch-leg-tired-just-drivin'-up-'em mountains!

I have found lots of great riding, with one caveat: with all West Virginia has to offer, THE ROADS HAVE NO SHOULDERS! I miss those shoulders. The edge of the pavement is usually three inches beyond the line at the edge of the traffic lane. Gravel or dirt then drops off into a drainage ditch beside the road. This puts riding in populous areas somewhere between impossible and suicidal.

I usually ride on rural and secondary roads, where vehicular traffic is rare. Some of these roads go for twenty or thirty miles without ever intersecting major roads. They're smooth, but narrow (sometimes less than 15 feet wide), sparsely travelled by anyone other than by the people living on them, and have twists and turns, climbs and descents that would make a world-class roller coaster jealous! Many serious road bikers I've met here have triple chainrings (or sore knees). Most wear helmets.

West Virginia has the best state parks east of the Mississippi. There are miles and miles of off-road biking and hiking opportunities, from paved trails, to hard-pack singletrack, to wilderness trails.

I'm learning more and more about West Virginia with the Mountain State Wheelers Bike Club, which I recently joined. I've participated in four West Virginia bikathons, two each in Charleston and Huntington, and an MS 150 in Lewisburg. There are three or four club rides each week. But there are NO SHOULDERS! I miss those shoulders.

The next time you catch yourself complaining about narrow or debris-strewn shoulders in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Ohio, remind yourself not to take those shoulders for granted! At least you have 'em. I miss those shoulders.

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