“Can I help you, sir?”, the man behind the counter asked.
“Uhm, yes, so, I need a bike,” I uttered, “I guess I’ve come to the right place.”
He smiled and showed me around the huge three-storey bicycle shop. He was in his early thirties, had a ring beard, and was slightly taller than me. An engaging salesman, not pushy though, and willing to listen to my situation and offer good advice.
“I don’t have a lot of options in your price range, but I can show you some discounted bikes, and if you’d like to try one you can take it out for a spin.”
After some browsing I chose a nice black Cannondale bike, which seemed sturdy enough for the mountain work here in Pittsburgh.
“But, how does it work with biking? I mean: there are no bike lanes.”
He leaned in and gestured with his hands.
“You basically just act like you’re a car. Traffic lights, turns, right of way, it’s all the same as for the cars.”
I nodded in agreement.
Thirty minutes later I was walking through Squirrel Hill district, but now with a bike fitted with a kickstand and click-on lights. Perhaps it’s because I am Dutch, but I already missed biking after being in Pittsburgh for a couple of days. I am not the walking type of person, and I developed a severe disgust for buses. Why? I had to ride them to get to school for years: two hours, or more, a day. Missed connections, too hot or too cold inside, traffic jams, abrasive bus drivers: I’d seen it all and I didn’t want to go back there.
I mounted the bike, soaring down Squirrel Hill to Oakland. Oh my God, this was going pretty fast. What they call a `hill’ here is practically a mountain for Dutch standards. No wonder everyone’s wearing helmets here: I’d bought one even though I always thought these things look pretty uncool unless you were doing the Tour de France. I applied some pumping braking techniques and all was well. Or not? Suddenly the six-lane street narrowed into three one-way lanes: not in the direction I was going. I stopped near a junction and approached a middle-aged fellow biker standing near the traffic light.
“Sir, can you help me? I need to cross through Oakland for about a kilometer or so,” forgetting that he probably didn’t have the slightest clue what a kilometer was, “but this is a one way street, so how do I go from here?”
He looked at me intently.
“Well, you could take the pavement, but if you’d want to do it the official way you’d have to take a right here and turn left at the next intersection and continue on Fifth Ave.”
Alrighty, I thought, let’s not anger the abundant police around here. I took a right, then a left, turning onto the crowded three-lane Fifth Avenue. I cycled for a bit, keeping to the rightmost lane, but soon realized I had to take a left somewhere. Huge American cars were soaring by my left side, one just narrowly missed me. Hold steady, remember what he said: “act like a car”. I took a deep breath, extended my left arm, and: lo and behold, the car to my left made room for me so I could change lanes. After crossing one more lane, I turned left. Phew, after just a couple of blocks more I was back at the hotel.