I used to jog a few times a week for cardio until I passed age sixty and my knees said no más. Since then I’ve switched to cycling instead, which doesn’t bother my knees in the least. Obviously there are cardio benefits to riding a bike, but less appreciated is how much riding does for your sense balance, coordination and agility, especially as we grow older.

I’ve owned the big steel-frame Schwinn bike in the photo since the 1980s and it’s still going strong. I use it to run errands within 3 or 4 miles of home base, which allows me to recon all of the back streets and trails inside that radius in a way that cannot be replicated in a car or on foot. I made the big rack so I can carry 30 pounds or so of cargo with no problem. In the front pouch I carry a cable lock, a basic tire repair kit, shock cords and so on. A pistol or other weapon can also be carried there.

Lately as it’s gotten warmer during the day I’ve been riding around my area at night, and it’s amazing how I frequently nearly run over cats, dogs and geese that are in the road, that are totally unaware of the silent but rapid approach of a man on a bike. Often I have to swerve to avoid them, catching them totally by surprise. By day or night, I also routinely pass within yards of people who have their backs turned to me who are totally unaware that a person is rolling right past them nearly in touching distance, such as when they are checking their mail box. As long as the pedal crank is kept moving, there isn’t even the quiet sound of clicking gear ratchets. The only sound is that of the tires rolling on pavement, and that’s not much.

For patrolling your neighborhood a bike fits an ideal mid-point niche between foot and automobile patrol. Here are the numbers: a brisk walking pace is 4 mph. The posted speed limit for cars in my neighborhood is 25 mph, but they often go faster. An easy cycling speed is about 12 mph. A car or truck obviously has the biggest visual signature, and its fast arrival speed once it’s spotted is expected. However, a person on a bike only has about the same visual signature as a pedestrian, yet he’s moving three times as fast. The relatively fast speed while retaining a small visual signature probably explains the remarkable stealth properties of the patrol bike.

Recently, the fire department was responding to a house fire in my neighborhood, and the police set up a perimeter with patrol cars to keep out the curious. I was able to slide past or around them and infiltrate their perimeter from every direction, usually by going up onto people’s front lawns. In fact, I’ve literally passed directly behind the back of a police officer standing outside his patrol car looking the other way, without him noticing me rolling right past him within a few feet.

Another stealth factor in favor of a bike is that even in the dead of night, there is no sound of an engine starting up to alert a light-sleeping neighbor. How you garage your bike also becomes an important element of its usefulness as a stealthy patrolling vehicle. Obviously you will lose your stealth factor if you need to open a motorized overhead garage door to get it out, for example. While you don’t want to leave your bike out in the elements, you can keep it under the eaves of your home’s roof. A shower curtain tacked to a fence or wall behind some bushes will keep the bike dry and hidden, and it can be quietly lifted out of the way.

A pistol can be carried and fired one-handed while riding, but in my opinion it will almost always make more tactical sense to use the bike to rapidly move to cover or to egress a danger area. During a time of collapsing civility a slung carbine can be carried on your back, but again, a rider will be better off using his bike to escape a danger area or get to cover. And of course a bike can rapidly squirt through a pedestrian gate or between bushes and trees where a car or truck cannot follow. Once the rider reaches cover or concealment the bike can be laid down, so both bike and rider will be invisible to observation. These “bikes-only” escape routes will be discovered during routine patrols and while running errands.While we’re on the topic of escape routes, consider bringing a compact set of wire cutters (“dykes”) along on your outings. They can be used to trim small branches or even clip out sections of old fencing to create new secret gates. Old chain link or wire fencing concealed behind brush is particularly good for making covert escape gates. Wire cutters make this an easy job.

For stealth carbine carry, wrap your long gun in a towel, (big rubber bands will work for this), and tie it just below the top frame bar with the barrel on one side of the handlebar fork, and the stock on the opposite side of your saddle post. This will keep it out of the way of your knees while you pedal. I carry a carbine to my local range this way, and nobody looks twice. (In fact, a boomer on an old bike is just about last on anybody’s list for looking twice. This includes the local sheriff’s deputies in their patrol cars.)

Aggressive dogs are another issue of concern. I know for a fact that I can outrun pit-bulls when I hit my sprint-speed unless they start with an angle to cut me off. In that case, you can protect yourself from attack from single dogs by hopping off the bike and using it as a moveable barrier to block their advances, while slowly moving away. So far, I have not been attacked by a pack of dogs while out riding, but in that case, I’d just try to outrun them with pure sprinting speed. Generally dogs will break off a pursuit after a block or so.

If the economy tanks or gasoline becomes hard to find or too expensive to buy, a bike will beat shoe leather three-to-one in terms of useful range. As long as it’s safe to do so, I’d consider commuting ten miles each way to work, which would take less than an hour. And while bikes need no gasoline, they do require a list of maintenance items that may not be available during hard times. If you lay in a few extra tires and at least a dozen tire tubes, and a pack of spare spokes, you will be good to go. Don’t count on tire tube repair glue to last long. Even unopened, it’s usually no good after a few years. Just buy lots of extra tubes, and know how to change them. Avoid cheap Chinese tubes, they often go flat the same day you install them due to defective manufacture. It goes without saying you’ll need an air pump. I keep a big one at home, and a thin portable pump on the bike. As mentioned, extra spokes are a requirement, along with a tiny “spoke key” wrench, and a removal tool for the back wheel’s gear cassette. You have to remove the back gear set to replace broken spokes on that side, and you can’t do it without the proper tool. This little item only costs a few bucks, but if you don’t have it, you just can’t replace those spokes.

As long as you buy a good quality bike and lay in the needed consumable repair items, you will be riding for many years to come. Your health will benefit, and you will come to understand the ins and outs of your local area of operation at a granular level that can’t be duplicated in any other way. And once you have mastered your terrain by day, at night you will become a stealthy recon ghost, moving in silence at a fast running speed, but with only a fraction of the effort. Day or night, I can complete a one-mile recon loop around my house in just five minutes. Through repetition, but at random times and by varying routes, I’ve learned who belongs and what is out of place within about a three mile radius of my house. As a result, my local situational awareness has increased by orders of magnitude.

Matthew Bracken was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1957, and attended the University of Virginia, where he received a BA in Russian Studies and was commissioned as a naval officer in 1979. Later in that year he graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, and in 1983 he led a Naval Special Warfare detachment to Beirut, Lebanon. Since then he’s been a welder, boat builder, charter captain, ocean sailor, essayist and novelist. He lives in North Florida.

 Links to many of Matt’s short stories and essays may be found at EnemiesForeignAndDomestic.comalong with excerpts from his five novels. All of his short stories and essays may be reproduced on the internet, in part or in whole, as long as proper attribution is given, and they are not sold for profit without the permission of the author.

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