Friday, February 3, 2012

Riding the Center Line in Sint Maarten

Bench on Philipsburg Pier
“On my way from Philipsburg, I saw a cyclist riding down the right side of the road in heavy traffic and thought, ‘what are they, stupid?’” said the woman at Tri-Sport bike shop, a surprisingly well outfitted race/rental shop that would rival most local bike shops in the states.  “Bikes and mopeds have the right of way and should pass on the left in heavy traffic.”  We were returning our Trek hybrid rentals from two days of riding and remarked how cool it was once we figured out that on the Dutch/French Island you’re supposed to ride down the center of a two-lane road when traffic is heavy.     

The Car of Choice in Sint Maarten
It’s a world where cars pull to the right to let cyclists have the right of way through heavy traffic.  Essentially bikes get a free pass on the left along the center line of the road.  It’s a beautiful thing, if you can wrap your American brain around it.  It’s actually safer, especially when you realize that many islanders pull to the right of the road to drop off passengers to walk the rest of the way.  Cars expect to be passed on the left and cyclists have full view of on coming traffic.  There’s also plenty of room to ride the centerline since most cars on the island are smaller than a Toyota Yaris.  We rented a Hyundai i10, 5.2 feet wide and 11.6 feet long.  Seriously, a Camry in a St. Maarten parking lot sticks out like a 1970’s Cadillac in the states.
Philipsburg Boardwalk

Before we figured it out the center line thing, we were pissed.  “Why do the cars keep pulling out in front of us?”  Unknowingly, we may have been the stupid people the woman at the bike shop lovingly referred to.  We were returning from Phillipsburg, the main town with the cruise ship dock and boardwalk, discount jewelry stores, the Blue Bitch Bar, a petite French cafe and an incredible Belgian chocolate shop. 

The Other French Colombier Climb
To get back to Simpson Bay was 7 miles and three of the tiniest “mountain” passes I’ve ever ridden over.  The largest mountain on the island, Peak Paradise, is about 1400 feet.  The Colombier with its name taken from the famous climb in the tour, also on the French side, is the 2nd tallest.  The rest of them average maybe 800-1000 feet above the beach.  Needless to say, the climbs, while steep, lasted no more than 5-10 minutes.  We took the long way less-traveled route with incredible vistas of Simpson Bay.  At the last roundabout, we made the turn back into town and traffic was bumper to bumper.  Aside from the occasional truck, more like teeny bumper to tiny bumper.  We started to descend.

View of Simpson Bay
Then the cars started veering to the shoulder in our path.  “What the hell!”  “Dammit!”  Then a moped zipped down the centerline followed by a cyclist headed up the hill in the opposite direction.  The light bulb lit above our helmets.  Alas, we were the stupid Americans.  We dodged to the left of the cars and bombed the hill to the next roundabout, zipped through it and big ringed it down the center of the road back to Simpson Bay Resort.  It was thrilling. 

1 comment:

Red Premed said...


I am moving to the island at the end of April and was glad to see your post on biking around the island. I have heard from many people that the road is in serious disrepair, and because of traffic and the width of most roads, unfit for biking. I would however love to bring my road bike (or mountain bike or both) for transportation and fun. If you wouldn't mind letting me know your thoughts that would be fantastic. You can email me at knhcat (at) comcast (dot) net.

Thank you!