Published July 2010
My wife is a low-key, sensible woman. The color range in her closet includes varying shades of gray, black, and dark blue. Her most indulgent personal extravagance is a 3-mile drive—every morning without fail—to the nearest Starbucks for a doppio macchiato. I was pretty sure she was having a midlife crisis two years ago when she splurged on a snazzy Mini Cooper, but when she insisted on a black one with no chrome accents—the dealer had to custom order what looks like a little hearse—I thought, “That’s my girl.”
But one thing can send that otherwise dispassionate woman into a passionate harangue: bicyclists.
We live along a coastal road that, like the hills of Newport Coast, attracts hundreds of cyclists every day. The pavement is narrow and winding in places, which means riders and drivers compete for asphalt. If a rider blocks her lane, or the predictable passage of a hundred-rider peloton delays her exit from the driveway during her Sunday morning jitter run, I’m sure to hear about it and other bike-related grievances: They arrogantly ride in the middle of the road. They blow through stop signs. Do they have any idea how absurd they look in those goofy space alien outfits?
All of which makes things a bit awkward, given my passion for cycling.
But it also means I see both sides of the ongoing war of words between Orange County bike riders who annoy and the motorists who loathe them. That’s why I asked writer and cyclist Nan Kappeler to report the story you’ll find on Page 84 of this issue. “The Last Ride of Darryl Benefiel” is about something that happened on an ordinary day, at an ordinary Newport Coast intersection, one year ago this month. It was a tragic accident, nothing more, but one that reminds us all, in the most vivid possible way, who loses when car and bike collide.
So, to all you frustrated drivers, please think of Benefiel before you honk, pass, or turn across a bike lane. And to my fellow cyclists, be humble, careful, and considerate. Ride like you’re always vulnerable. Because you are.
Martin J. Smith
Illustration by John Ueland