In the suburbs around Boston, one frequently runs across strange symbols painted on the road. Most of these are geometric shapes, arrows, directions and short descriptions to guide those responsible for fixing, destroying, burying or replacing parts of the local infrastructure. Some of the road graffiti has a more subtle meaning, though – gently acting as a guiding hand for cyclists.
While these navigational beacons are hardly unique to the Boston area, we have more than our fair share of them around here. They’re placed here by the boatload of cycling clubs in the area to mark predefined routes, race courses and cycling events. Big rides, like the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, even have permanent signs posted and maintained by the state.
Each club has their own symbol, which is rotated when painted on the road so that it’s pointy side faces the direction that should be followed (check out the picture). Usually, there is a symbol painted before the turn, one right at the turn and then another after the turn to confirm that the rider didn’t screw it up. Since it’s often the only guidance that a rider will get, missing one of these signs can be costly, at best adding miles to the ride and, at worst, getting the rider hopelessly lost.
These signs are more than just a convenience. You can imagine that it’s fairly difficult and dangerous to read a map while moving at 25mph and, since the roads around here meander without sense or purpose, stopping to figure out where you are every few miles, which exit you should take from a rotary or which direction you should go at the 12-way intersection gets a bit impractical and, obviously, takes a lot of fun out of the riding.
So, if you find yourself tooling along some back road in your Chevy Suburban some day and see some alien looking symbols spray painted on the road, keep an eye out for the cyclists that are likely ahead. You may also want to cut them a little slack since they may have just discovered they were following the symbol for the Department of Transportation instead of the one for their bike club.