WHAT THIS COUNTRY needs are wider shoulders. . . .
. . . . on its highways.
I was bicycling on a road in Colorado recently when this thought hit me rather abruptly. One minute I was riding along on a shoulder at least three feet wide. The next, there was no discernible space between the white line and the countryside. The shoulder had disappeared faster than FEMA in an emergency.
The town I was riding toward, Oak Creek, was 12 miles away; the town I'd come from, Steamboat Springs, was nine miles in the other direction.
I wanted to get in a ride so I kept going, feeling like a deer in the headlights whenever any motorized vehicle larger than a Mini came around the bend.
Utah has many similar situations. You can be riding on a road with plenty of room, then turn a corner and you're crawling along a shoulder spine no wider than the final ridge to Everest.
This is not conducive to enjoyable riding, to compatibility with anyone driving a Peterbilt, or to longevity of life.
This is the point where a lot of people are saying, Benson, you moron, the solution is simple: Don't ride your bike on roads with narrow shoulders.
But what I'm saying is that all paved roads should have wide shoulders. The asphalt in this country should be bicycle-friendly. The road less traveled should beg to be bicycled. Every road paved by the taxpayers of America should have an unwritten sign: ride a bike on me, please.
This isn't because bicycles can solve all of mankind's ills; it's because bicycles can solve some of them.
It was none other than John Kennedy who said, "There is nothing in life more pleasurable than a simple bike ride."
It was none other than Albert Einstein who, in reminiscing about how he came up with the theory of relativity, said, "I thought about it while riding my bike."
It was none other than Lance Armstrong who said, "I'll always ride my bike. I can't imagine any better therapy."
In 21st century America, bicycling can be the great escape. Want to get away from obesity? Want to improve your health? Want to have time to think?
Also: Want to spend ridiculous amounts of money on a machine that doesn't even have a motor?
But I digress. Whatever the cost, bicycling is worth it. Not because it saves lives but because it lengthens and improves them.
And not just road biking. Mountain biking is just as valuable and enjoyable as biking on the roads, and it doesn't need shoulders. But mountain biking is much more limited by the weather and the seasons, and when riding trails you have to concentrate so much more. For year-round convenience, there is nothing like the roads.
It hasn't always been like this. Americans used to have a farm to go home to, cows to milk, fences to mend, ditches to dig.
This was before drive-through lanes and the supersize option.
Back in the agri era, highways were for cars, tractors and horses, which actually preferred dirt shoulders.
Now, the more roads that are widened for safe bicycling, the more Americans will be enticed to ride them.
Health costs will plummet. Waistlines will shrink. And somewhere, someday, someone will be riding along on his or her bike and come up with the next theory of relativity.
All because of wider shoulders.
Write your congressman.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and faxes to 801-237-2527.