Monday, December 17, 2007

Beaten to death with a vibraphone

With no time to go outside, despite the sunny day and fresh powder snow, I cut 40 minutes into the schedule to ride the rollers again.

Balancing as if magically, a ride on rollers has the element of the unexpected to help defeat the monotony of mere trainer riding. While it would not have been my first choice for a day like today, it was better than nothing to try to stimulate blood flow to the brain.

My cassette collection dwindles as the dried-out tapes disintegrate in various ways, so I have fewer options to stick in the old Walkman hanging above the rollers in the basement. I chose a selection from Tim Weisberg.

Scornfully dismissed as "dentist office music" by one young listener, this album does sound light, fluffy and unchallenging. However, when you try to pedal at its speed you find that the heartless bastards are affably dragging you up to 150 rpm or more with their mellow jazz combo.

Judging by the photos on the jacket and liner of "Night Rider" and "Listen to the City," Weisberg was a cyclist in the 1970s. Wasn't everyone?

Time to dredge out some old vinyl and remake my best riding tapes, as well as collecting good cadences from all eras in whatever media I find them. I'd rather play outside, but it's nice to have options for when I can't.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Call me Crazy

I actually enjoy riding rollers. With familiar music piped directly into my brain I can ride the tempos it provides to get a well-planned workout. With less familiar music I can feel around for the right cadence. All the while the precarious balance forces me to spin smoothly.

Today I used the rollers to loosen up my legs after the first two days of Nordic skiing. Whatever you do to train before snow arrives, real skiing is different. Even on roller skis you don't steer your feet and balance quite the same way. Wheels on pavement track like wheels on pavement, without the constant minor (and sometimes major) wiggles and wobbles made by two sticks sliding over snow.

Steering and balancing muscles burn out quickly. My legs were thrashed after the first day and worse after the second. But nothing compares to the peace that saturates me after cross-country skiing. Every system of the body has had a beneficial workout. The specialized muscles will remember their roles soon enough. Meanwhile, the stiffness gives me a good reason to hop on the rollers.

The best roller music offers layered tempos in which a good riding cadence may not immediately be obvious. Heavily accented beats aren't good, because you want to pedal evenly. Flowing tunes make it easier to keep time only from the hips down. You don't want to be throwing your head and shoulders around or shaking your booty, unless you want to waggle and get launched (" 'scuse me while I kiss the wall...").

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Update: Another Casualty (from November 27)

On Tuesday, November 27, I reported sketchy details of a cyclist-motorist collision which left the cyclist with unknown injuries. I finally had a chance to talk to him and find out how it all went down.

Peter was riding down a hill with traffic when a gold Lexus SUV tried to yank a left in a small gap between the oncoming cars, ignoring the cyclist. Peter T-boned the SUV. His bike was destroyed, but he got away with a broken collarbone.

Yes, this was in eastern Massachusetts.

"I scratched the SUV," he said. He also wrenched some muscles around his rib cage on the left side. The collarbone is broken at the medial end, not out nearer the shoulder. As often happens with sudden impact crashes, he had almost no road rash.

"At least I was on my city bike, not my Litespeed," he said.

I did not ask him whether he knows and practices Pilot Fish Technique, by any name or no name at all.

Pilot Fish Technique borrows an idea from the fish of the same name, widely known for consorting with sharks. The stripy little guys ride the pressure waves around the big predator, in effect drafting it. As other fish give the shark a wide berth, they create a safety zone for the little pilot fish. Within a certain speed range, cyclists can use the same methods to gain safety from large, dangerous motor vehicles. It requires absolutely no cooperation from the motorist, just as the pilot fish demands no special accommodation from the shark. The rider just has to stay within the area around the motor vehicle, so that when other motor vehicles avoid it, they accidentally avoid the cyclist as well.

Like drafting, it has its hazards. You can't space out and daydream the way motorists do when you're manipulating them for your own gain. It is your responsibility to avoid getting killed by your protector. You are more agile and have better contact with the surrounding environment. The motorist is half blind and almost entirely deaf to the outside world. It's kind of like following a near-sighted elephant.

Sometimes you find yourself in danger and can't do much except hope or pray. That may have happened to Peter. I didn't have time to get into that much depth. At certain speeds, the motor vehicles are moving too fast for a cyclist to stay close, but the cyclist is moving too fast to stop or swerve quickly to avoid collisions with oblivious bison who blunder into their path. At that point it takes more wisdom and self control than many of us possess to slow down more than the terrain demands, for the sake of preserving maneuverability in case an inconsiderate or unobservant driver shoots for an empty space that actually contains us. You just have to try to develop a fine-tuned paranoia that alerts you to situations like that. Or you can go for it and take your chances.

With snow here for a while I will be posting on Explore Cross-Country. Check it out.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Among the Motorists

Motorists prefer not to have cyclists on the road with them, because cyclists interrupt the vegetative state in which so many people drive.

Passing a cyclist demands too much attention. It interrupts the uniform flow of uniformly-sized objects in fluid motion like mindless particles in a scientific demonstration.

The motorist trance happens by itself as a result of the repetitive, boring nature of the activity and the system set up to direct it. It is not a character flaw. In fact, it is a major contributing factor in collisions between motor vehicles. Drivers are simply "in the zone" and space out because that's what curious creatures like humans do when faced with a stressful but tedious environment. Driving, even without cyclists on the road, demands attention, but it demands the same attention over and over. It presents multiple variables, but repeats so many of them from a limited list that the driver is ill-prepared for ones that come up less frequently, like emergency vehicles or accidents. A visual target as small as a cyclist really gets lost in that mental clutter.

Small wonder that motorists seek distractions, such as a telephone conversation with a friend or business associate. Or maybe they're looking a a map or GPS readout, listening to talk radio or drifting off into a pleasant memory. What if the driver suddenly wonders whether that thing they definitely need today is not in that pile of stuff they dumped in the passengers' seat first thing this morning? What if the kids start acting up?

Those who like pat answers will now start to snap them out, if they haven't already.

"Bike paths!"

"Bright clothing"

"Get off the road!"

"Death to motorists!"

Most motorists are aware of cyclists in a general sense. The problem is keeping cyclists in each driver's mind, minute by minute, mile by mile. In a good way.

If you want to make headway with the motoring public, you have to show them what's in it for them. Your own rights as a two-wheeled weirdo come a distant second. It isn't right, but it's how the human mind works. Most of them don't want to commit vehicular manslaughter (though some undeniably do) but many of them wonder why they have to slow down to wait behind us or deviate from their path. How do we fit into the whole ecosystem? Why do we merit protection as an endangered species?

We have to sell ourselves.

Two arguments carry some weight: 1) A cyclist does not tie up traffic as much as another car in an overloaded system. 2) A cyclist does not take up a parking space some desperate motorist needs in order to ditch the barge and proceed on foot. In an area where space can be wasted, such as a big box store or a sprawling shopping mall complex in what used to be food-producing agricultural land or pleasant countryside, parking lots can be vast, only filling up (or nearly so) during the Christmas consuming frenzy. But in an urban setting the parking argument has some real weight, as does the one about congestion. But motorists need to be reminded. Here is a good topic for targeted generic advertising.

On the flip side, bicyclists could use secure, covered parking. That takes up space, but not as much as a parking garage for cars and SUVs.

In suburbia, small towns and more dispersed developed areas, both the congestion and parking angles fall far short. But in those areas there is often enough elbow room in the public right-of-way to allow for some infrastructure tweaks to reduce friction between user groups.

It's true, motorists should respect the rights of all travelers, be they cyclists in the lane with them or pedestrians on the sidewalks and in the crosswalks. But first you have to break their trance.

Monday, December 03, 2007

CWX + 3SP = 4M

As the weather grew colder, my CW-X Pro Tights weren't warm enough. I'd grown quite fond of the support they provide, especially on the fixed gear, so I added some Sport Hill tights over them as the mercury dropped through the 30s.

At 29 F I had reached the lower limit with the average polyester tight as the outer layer. I didn't know this until I rode at 21 degrees and felt the chill bite through. So the next day, at 16 degrees, I put my Sport Hill 3SP XC Pants over the CW-X inner layer.

The 3SP fabric is a woven polypropylene. The tight weave of the outer surface deflects a surprising amount of wind. The inside is brushed to a fleecy nap that makes them a good single-layer choice for Nordic skiing down to the low 20s, or even colder on days without too much wind. Polypropylene rejects water, making the fabric more moisture resistant than a fleecier fabric would be.

Cyclists generate their own wind chill, so the cold cuts through at a higher ambient temperature for them than for skiers and runners. But for winter adventurers who might be out on snowshoes, skis or wheels, the XC pants are a convenient, versatile item.

On cold rides, CW-X plus 3SP equals mmmm....warmth.

Today we got a dump of snow, maybe as much as eight inches in my neighborhood, with snow showers and cold temperatures to follow, so I won't be out on the bike for a while. Between the schedule, short daylight and rapidly changing conditions, December is always a tough month for outdoor activity.

Come January we'll get into some sort of rhythm.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Typical Bike Industry

Skimming through the November 1 issue of Bicycle Retailer, I saw a picture of the Specialized entourage riding to Interbike from their corporate headquarters. The caption said that, as a statement about global warming and cycling, they decided to travel that way, taking five days.

Not one bike had panniers. All their gear was carried in an SUV driving sag behind them.

Come on.

When I pointed this out to a friend of mine, he said, "all those guys wouldn't have fit in that one SUV, so they saved something."

True, but they also took five days to make a trip that by commercial carriers would have taken a matter of hours.

Cycling isn't the most practical mode for most long hauls. Yet people trying to "make a statement" make their play for attention by taking long trips. The act draws publicity, but the excuse not to emulate it is built into it by its own grandiose nature. Most people can't break away for five days to ride a trip that would take hours by commonly accessible means. And most people don't have a vehicle and driver available to carry all their crap for them.

"Sorry," says the observing public. "Keep up the good work, but cycling just won't work for me."

No big deal. Just another meaningless gesture. But at least they got a ride out of it.