Monday, November 21, 2022

Miles per gallon

 As someone with a conflicted relationship with motor vehicles, I have tried to spend as little as possible to buy one. But I need one because of the distances I have to cover in challenging conditions, so they can't just be thrashed pieces of junk.

For the past several cars, I've picked up ones that various members of my family were discarding as they contributed to the used car market by buying new ones. It was an agreeable parade of small Ford station wagons, which mostly succumbed to the long months sitting in the dirt driveway while I'm using the bike for transportation, and the inexorable rust that consumes all New England vehicles that face the tide of brine flooding our roads every winter. The price tended to be pretty affordable, which suited my underlying reluctance to chip in much of anything to the moto-centric culture and polluting, speeding, jostling, sprawling environmental disaster that is transportation in America.

The latest -- and last -- of this line sits in the driveway now. It's far more car than I would ever buy, but the gas mileage is as good as the last Ford Focus that finally rotted out underneath the bodywork. Behold The Shuttlecraft:

"Nice car," a friend and colleague said as we headed out after the last zoning board meeting.

"Thanks. I had to kill my father to get it," I said. Dad was a Ford man. He died at the end of May. My mother is 93, and has decided to quit driving because, as she says, "I'm 93 years old. If anything happens, it will be my fault even if it isn't my fault." My sister is on hand to drive the two of them around. So this car, this space craft full of electronics and automated features, was available for ...really cheap... just as my mechanic was telling me that he couldn't sticker my old car anymore because the frame was almost gone.

There's a lot to get used to.  The speedo and tach are analog, but all other data comes at the driver through two screens. One is a small one centered above the steering wheel. The other is the now ubiquitous touch screen in the middle of the dash.

In the cellist's Honda CR-V, she can punch up a readout that tells her about fuel consumption: miles remaining at current rate, and miles per gallon. She has to ask for it. In The Shuttlecraft, that display is constant. I suppose I could turn it off, but I find it fascinating.

Miles per gallon tells you about the energy required to accelerate a mass against the force of gravity and the other factors that inhibit forward motion. As a cyclist, you have an intuitive -- and very tactile -- awareness of the toll that hills and headwinds demand. Through the readout in The Shuttlecraft, I can see the dramatic difference between uphill and down, and any acceleration. Going down a hill, the mpg readout will max out at 99.9. Woo hoo! Going up a hill it drops to lows like 11, 9, 7, or sometimes 3. It just drains. And any short hops or stop and go driving drops the total from a creditable 30-31 down into the "sorta might be okay" upper 20s. The Focus was surprisingly no better, especially with snow tires, but the Shuttlecraft is undeniably more of a bourgeois armored personnel carrier. It's really hard to find a nice small station wagon these days but I still wish Dad had had a bit more varied taste in cars. A nice Passat wagon logging 40 mpg, perhaps.

Well, po' folks can't be choosers. In an alternate timeline, I stayed in a more built-up area and never bought a car at all. But then I'd have to live in a more built up area. Nature called.

Around here, I've fallen in with the tree huggers to try to defend a natural environment where there still is one. When I moved here, it was the country. Now, 35 years later, it's more like heavily wooded suburbia. That makes our efforts all the more important, because the economy depends increasingly on subdividing large parcels of land and increasing population density. More roads aren't being built, but the ones we have are getting a lot busier all year. Residential development is piecemeal for the most part, a house here and a house there, but larger tracts are proposed as the state grapples with a lack of "workforce housing." Workforce housing is a nice way of saying shacks for the scantily paid grunts who perform the essential but disregarded tasks of actually making civilization and the economy run. If it had existed in Annapolis in the 1980s, I might never have moved away. But Annapolis was obliterated by explosive, poorly planned development. I saw it coming and ran for the hills, literally.

Ironically, the tree huggers do a lot of driving. It's the norm. In rural areas, the distances demand it. In winter country, however degraded the winter might be, the weather favors a heated, enclosed vehicle, too. Some of the environmental folk have electric or hybrid vehicles, but most of us drive used, internal combustion vehicles. Their designs reflect the American norm. Mine is hardly the largest. You can only be so much of the change you want to see before you are so far beyond the leading edge of societal evolution that you're just a freak out there, with no infrastructure and no momentum of social change behind you. So for now, the environmentalists drive to work and drive to public hearings and educational presentations and off to their environmentally appreciative recreational activities.

When I get out of the car every spring, I immediately have less time for other things. Commuting takes at least twice as long. It provides beneficial exercise, but cycling is not complete exercise. A bike rider needs to do weight bearing, stretching, and resistance exercise to preserve bone density and avoid muscle imbalance. And the route takes me longer and leaves me more tired than it did when I was in my 30s and 40s, or even early 50s. Freedom isn't free. It's an investment decision no matter what type of freedom you choose.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Cause of death: snake bite. Or was it?

 A regular customer brought his bike in to be checked after he’d had a flat tire out on the road. He’d put in his spare tube and pumped it up to full pressure at a nearby friend’s house before he made his way home, but wanted a professional eye to make sure that he hadn’t missed anything.

By his account, he’d done all the right things. But the holes in his punctured inner tube were a classic snake bite, when he is conscientious about proper tire pressure, and did not recall hitting anything like a stone or a pothole.

It was the rear tire, as usual. I pulled the wheel out and examined it carefully. He had not perfectly noted which way the tube was oriented, so I had to look in both directions from the valve stem. There was a faint scratch on one end of the arc and an almost imaginary ding at the other end, corroborating a snake bite either way.

No debris showed on the outside of the tire. The twin holes that we’d all seen would have needed a thin but long object, like a finishing nail, to have gone and and fallen out again before he stopped. Yep. This had to be the snake bite that it appeared to be.

A responsible mechanic always checks the casing, regardless of the cause of the flat. It takes maybe an extra minute. I was perfunctorily sweeping my fingers through the tire when I felt like telltale poke of sharp debris. Wire? Thorn? I had to pull it down through the casing because absolutely nothing stood up above the tread. It was pointy, dark, and ferrous. Not the usual skinny wire fragment, but possibly thicker wire in its youth.

Because the rider had traveled 13 miles home after fixing the flat, he could have picked up this little ninja on that part of his ride, and just been lucky that he didn’t flat again.

Feeling like a crime scene investigator, I clamped the snake bite holes in his old tube and pumped it up. After a careful search, feeling for the faintest breath of escaping air, I found the tiny pinhole of the initial puncture that started his misadventure. It was like one of those crime shows where the cops find a victim with obvious wounds and build a scenario based only on those and then the smarty pants detective finds the other thing that reveals the true perpetrator.

My theory is that the rider hit the poky debris without realizing it. Air very gradually escaped until pressure was low enough to get the obvious and faster-acting snake bite from a surface hazard that might not have imperiled a fully inflated tire.

It’s only trivial bullshit, but it provided a bit more entertainment than your average flat tire.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Don't confuse your shark

 A rider in traffic can use motor vehicles the way the pilot fish uses a shark. We can hover near the larger beast and let it make holes for us that we would have trouble making for ourselves. It's a way to improve our flow through the system, which helps everyone, whether they realize it or not.

Most of the time, the motorized shark doesn't notice the pedaled escort fish. It's vital to remember this. The big vehicle helps you the most when it maneuvers without worrying about you. As long as you remember this, the technique is as safe as any traffic riding, and actually safer than squeezing along in the door zone out of the way of the motorists.

In faster traffic, in high density and moderately high speed flow, pilot fish technique is no longer reliable. One recently reported accident involved a cyclist maintaining traffic speed in the lane who was right-hooked catastrophically by a vehicle that passed anyway. You must use your judgement at all times. I almost had a bad encounter this summer when I was rolling in on Center Street at traffic speed, and laid into the corner onto Lehner Street just as a local tourist trolley decided to push out into the lane from the gas station on the corner to force an entry into a line of stopped traffic at the stop sign on Lehner to enter Center Street. I had the right of way, and momentum, but the driver still yelled that I was a "fuckin' idiot," because I was on a bike and should have been able to stop in an instant to let his barge pull out and cut me off. We are the lowest on the traffic totem pole.

Downtown Wolfeboro in the summer is mostly perfect for pilot fish technique. But sometimes the sharks are too aware. Last week, for example, I was coming down into the area near the train station building that marks the start of the Bridge-Falls Path/Cotton Valley Trail, as a huge, shiny, black Suburban came around the end of the block from Railroad Avenue to loop around and head out the short but grandly named Central Avenue past the Post Office to Main Street. Whenever a motor vehicle comes through there as I am coming down to make my left, I maintain speed, but swing right to get them to complete their turn, so I can then loop back to the left to settle in behind them. Whether I wait behind them or filter through to get onto Main Street ahead of them depends on how choked up the intersection is at Main Street.

The driver of the SUV did not look over at me as she came around and into Central Avenue. But I had a front blinky light still operating from the trip down Center Street. Also, as I assessed the clot at the intersection ahead, I slid up on the right before drifting back to let her take the lead onto Main Street. Main Street was backed up, and drivers there were not consistent about letting side traffic join them.

Once on Main Street, we accelerated nicely to a quick but accessible pace. We slowed at the crosswalks, but did not have to stop. Approaching Mill Street, the shark put on its right turn signal. No problem, I was turning right, too. But the confused shark, aware of my presence but oblivious to my hand signal for the right turn, stopped short and offered me the Death Hole on the right. All she had to do was drive up to the corner and turn it, and whether I was going straight or right it was up to me to keep myself out from under her wheels. But she might have thought that I had been trying to get past her, rather than scavenge a bit of draft. With the best of intentions, she was trying to avoid hooking me. I stopped short in a track stand until she made the turn and I could follow her. She went on down Mill Street while I kept swinging right to enter the parking lot behind the shop.

Sometimes a shark will be vindictive, brake checking or making other moves to kill the pilot fish in its buffer zone. You have to learn to read the body language of the vehicle. For most drivers, the vehicle is an extension of their body and personal space. This ability is what allows us safely to pilot our large machines, but it also extends the area of sensitivity for operators who are protective of their personal bubble. Remember that the vast majority of drivers don't want to hurt you, even though absolutely none of them would be sorry to see cyclists banished completely from the public roads. This doesn't protect you from the careless or distracted driver, but it's some tiny consolation.

Meanwhile, in the "I mountain bike because it's safer" crowd, the casualty list includes one separated shoulder, one busted collarbone, and one rider who fractured two vertebrae and busted the top off of his femur.  And the Cotton Valley Trail continues to claim numerous victims with its numerous rail crossings. Wherever you ride, your own judgement is always your most important defense.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Corporate greed further impacts the freedom of bicycling

 As the big two companies, Specialized and Trek, continue to pull in large independents and chain shops in major market areas, the black hole of corporate accounting continues to pull away chunks of what had been a workable system of distribution at all levels of population density. The latest casualty is Quality Bicycle Products, which recently announced layoffs even as it expanded its warehouse locations, and has now begun to offer some of its house brand products direct to consumer.

Currently, the QBP plan will share profits with dealers enrolled in their Dealer's Choice program, but it indicates that QBP's status as the top distributor of parts and accessories has suffered inroads from the vertical integration pursued by Spec and Trek, pushing their own lines of parts and accessories through their controlled network to consumers with less and less choice.

You don't have to build a better mousetrap. You just have to market yours more effectively, or otherwise gain control of the market so that no other mousetrap gets enough visibility to compete. Consumers can only vote with their wallets a limited number of times. Usually, once we own a product, we have to put up with it because that portion of our budget has been expended.

The bike industry faces a peculiar challenge because of the strange niche bikes occupy. From their first emergence they have been controversial. Their haters hate them and their lovers love them passionately. The great neutral middle blobs toward use and neglect in response to forces as hard to calculate as the actual parameters that make bikes work at all. So when money started pouring in during the mountain bike boom of the 1990s, no one in the business knew how to keep it going. The power players only knew that they were finally earning like real capitalists, so they'd better start acting like it. Partly due to their own technological and financial decisions, and partly due to the inevitable public swing away from any boom activity, the wave broke by the turn of the century, leaving the industry leaders trying to figure out how to hold onto what they'd gained.

Small brands have vanished, folded outright, or folded into a larger consolidation, and perhaps sold online, "ready to ride out of the box." Small shops have gone under. And now, the major supplier to the independents dips a toe into direct consumer sales. They're strong enough to become a dominant force in direct consumer sales. One hopes that they will continue to supply the kind of durable, simple stuff that allows a truly independent rider-mechanic to build and maintain the kind of bikes we used to have in the second half of the last century. In any case, it's always a good idea to stockpile parts if you can. I'd rather be on foot than ride some gimcrack marvel of flashy technofashion.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

A bike on demand

This was a test of the Emergency Beater Bike System.

The cellist wanted me to have a bike in Delaware, so that we could ride when I visit her during the school year. Each of the bikes I already built has a specific profile. Even if I haven’t used a particular one in a while, I might. And the least used is the hardest to replace. I needed another bike, and quickly. We were heading south in about a week.

Any good bike mechanic has a bike’s worth of pieces around. This is true whether you’re a professional or just an enthusiast. If you’ve gotten very far into doing your own work, you’ve collected parts, and perhaps frames, and wheels.

The first frame I pulled out was a sporty little Univega road bike from the early 1980s. I’d used it in 1994-‘95 when my primary road frame needed repairs. I inventoried parts on hand and brought home the ones I needed. But at the beginning of assembly I discovered that the 700x28 tires would never fit. The 28s were barely wide enough for an urban exploration bike. I needed a different frame.

Fortunately, someone had abandoned an intact Raleigh Grand Prix from about 1972 and I’d brought it home as a fixed gear prospect. Between what it already had and my archive of parts dating back to the mid 1970s, it should go together as fast as I could slap the parts on. Right?

Of course not. Maybe building a complete gruppo on a perfect new frame designed for it, but not in the gritty world of junk-box custom. 

The frame was designed for 27-inch wheels. I had a set left over from a touring build in 1980, complete with 6-speed 13-28 freewheel. The drop bars were coming off, in favor of flat bars. Drop bars are better for longer distance, but then I’d need primary and interrupter brake levers, and lots of other refinements that would take too much time. I was retaining a lot of things on the bike that I would have discarded for a fixed gear build. A fixed gear conversion is more of an unbuild.

Accepting the 42-52 steel cottered crank, the low gear is 42-28. Delaware is flat, right? I should be able to run those chainrings with a 13-18 corncob. But that’s poor gearing for leisurely exploring.

Wilmington is in the mountains of northern Delaware. That 42-28 is none too low.

Thinking I was home free, I put 1 1/8 tires on the wheels and slapped them in. That’s when I discovered that the fork was a little bent, and the front brake for some reason didn’t quite reach the rim. I was out of time, so I needed to solve this with parts on hand.

I had a long reach side pull brake, but it had a rear center bolt. However, center bolts are easy to swap on center pull brakes, so I moved the original rear center pull to the front and put the side pull on the rear. I’d straightened the fork ends adequately, so the wheel sat straight. The bike was ready to ride with 18 hours before we hit the road.

This Simplex front derailleur was one of the first upgrades I ever bought for my first road bike in 1975.

This slightly worn and probably slightly bent 1990s derailleur is totally fine to shift in friction.
The whole mess is controlled from this circa 1991 mountain bike dashboard.

The bike will return to the lab in the winter for refinements and upgrades, but nothing too fancy. Meanwhile, it met the urgent need.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Wood and oil: Things you purchase, just to burn

The first installment of firewood arrived at the end of May. My fun day off activities centered around getting it stacked in shelter so that I can call for the next load as soon as possible, before the price goes up again. It's a tedious chore, but it's part of the price of freedom from fossil fuel dependency.

This year, the direct link between fossil fuel prices and firewood prices has been highlighted. My wood supplier called to say that she had some stuff I could get now that was already expensive, but that any later loads would be subject to price increases because of the soaring cost of the petroleum distillates used in the trucks, heavy equipment, and chainsaws of the cutters and transporters of the "renewable resource" from the forest. This first batch reflected a 20 percent jump in the per-cord price over what I'd been paying for the past three years. The greener wood to follow will be worse.

This house started out as something not as rustic as a cabin, as quaint as a cottage, or as rudimentary as a hut. It was a square little box with walls a little too thin for the climate, but an interior volume about like a large packing crate, so it heated readily from a wood stove plunked in the center of its large open space that was kitchen at one end and living room at the other. We later moved the hot iron box to the basement, after we added a proper chimney and cut a hatch to make a ladder to that lower level.

The basic shelter evolved into something much larger. The newer parts are better insulated, but taller, so they're nowhere near as easy to heat. I spend a lot of time colder, wearing more layers indoors, than I did when I lived in the little box. The little old place didn't have enough room for studio space and an occasional guest. The bigger house evolved to make room for a cohabitant and a music school.

Way back in the mid 1970s I looked to a future of scarce and expensive petroleum and decided to limit my dependence as much as I could. I believed -- and still do -- that we can find a balance between the convenience and economic advantages of some degree of mass production and a cooperative energy grid, and a well-protected environment doing its job to support all life. So I didn't become a full homesteading hermit.

Back when gasoline and heating oil seemed like the primary expenses and pollutants that consumers had any choice about, riding a bike and heating with wood seemed like good strategies. And the bike remains unassailably virtuous. Any number really can play, and the world only gets better as the number of riders -- particularly transportational riders -- increases. The wood stove not so much. This adds to the toil of stacking the expensive chunks of tree, as I think about the evils of my carbon emissions and contributions to atmospheric particulates. I'll have to be even colder and wear more layers through the long gray months.

The design of the house lends itself to a seasonal division. I could shut off the tall back part, and barely heat it, only enough to keep the plumbing from freezing, or even drain that section, and live only in the low part. The tall part is actually helpful in the summer, because I can send heat up and out through the upper windows, drawing in cool air when it's available through the lower ones. It justifies its continued existence.

I'd go solar if I could, but I can't afford the initial investment. So I have to rely on small fires and heavy sweaters. I've been incredibly and undeservedly lucky in sidestepping some expenses for a number of years, but now some older bits of infrastructure look like they're crumbling. And the car is succumbing to its 19 years of New England road salt. So now I have to find something less decrepit, when we should all be weaning ourselves off of our default vehicles. It's hard to get enthused about going into debt for the rest of my life to pay for a vehicle that should have been phased out decades ago. Everyone has been focused on the price of gasoline and paid no attention to the cost of it.

Faced with winters that could bring only cold darkness or could bury us in feet of snow, I can't live without a motor vehicle as long as I live here. I'd be willing to try, but my winter job depends on our mobile society as it exists. I need other people to be able to drive to get here. Without winter tourism, I don't know what would keep the economy going until spring. Locals have a long history of catering to visitors and travelers to bring in extra cash. By the late 20th Century it was a primary source of income for a lot of them.

Loggers do a lot of work in winter, when wet areas are frozen solid, but there's only so many trees at any given time. Cut 'em all down now and you have to find something else to do for 30-50 years while you build up a new crop.

Back when New England was nearly deforested, more people farmed, but the soil was full of rocks, and the growing season was short. The soil is still full of rocks, and the growing season is still short. The air may warm, but the sun only shines for the same length of time that it always did. In mountainous terrain, cold dark hollows are cold dark hollows. Removal of trees only mildly enhances the exposure to sunlight. And the soil will still be uncooperative.

In my own little clearing, the sandy soil makes its way to the top, displacing organic matter. Some areas seem to grow grass and plants better than others, but those are mostly places I would prefer less lush, like the driveway. We've experimented with gardens a few times, but we'd need to push the trees back much further, and work constantly to maintain a good growing medium. It's made more sense to support local farms than to try to establish our own.

When the propane company finally sent out its budget plan for the coming season, the price of that had jumped 50 percent. Fifty percent. Half again as much every month to fill the tank. I've tended to reduce my usage year by year, but the cobbled-together heating system in the house depends on the propane heater to maintain a baseline. That baseline just dropped by about eight degrees. It's going to be a cold, dark winter.

What the hey. I moved here because I liked winter camping. Then I hardly camped because I didn't really have to, once I lived within easy day-trip range of all the fun stuff. And that's when I thought I could afford to do things for fun. Looks like I'll be living in a winter hut by default. On the plus side, the cellist will be safely lodged at her school-year job well south of here, except for her brief visits home.

The wood dealer hasn't come through with a price for the second installment of firewood. If the price stays high, I may be back to scavenging dead stuff from the forest and picking up scraps that fall along the roads. That was the basis for the humorous name for "the estate" when it was a tiny box in a patch of forest: Scavengewood. Now it's more like the drafty castle of broke nobility once the sun slides southward and leaves the northern hemisphere to pay is orbital dues to the implacable cold of the universe.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The weather was all somewhere else

With summer-like weather predicted, this was a good week to live without the car while it got some long-overdue service. As of last Tuesday, the days looked increasingly warm, and free of rain, through Saturday.

Naturally this didn't hold up.

I never know for sure how long it will take my mechanic to finish servicing the car. Sometimes he turns it right around within a day or two. Other times I have to get along for close to a week, depending on how busy he is with other jobs, and what complications he finds with mine. I am unusually well situated to live without a motor vehicle in the milder seasons with longer daylight, because I have been stubbornly focused on it at the expense of some other things. Most people order their lives differently.

On Tuesday I made the long ride home from Gilford after dropping the car at his shop. The least worst bike route goes through Wolfeboro, so I often split the trip around a work day on one end or the other. This works best for the pickup after it's fixed, although it means the longer segment with almost 1,000 feet of climbing after a full day at work. There are also unavoidable narrow sections of road. These include the two worst climbs. The 1,000 feet is distributed over quite a few hills, but the one out of South Wolfeboro is the longest and steepest, with basically no shoulder. On the other side of the lake, in the section I call "White-knuckle Shores," Route 11 runs right along the edge of the lake. After Ames Farm, the road climbs one last grunter.

Wednesday was warm and dry. I felt pretty good after the 43 miles on Tuesday. I carried everything I might need in case I got the call to head over to Gilford after work, but the call never came. Same for Thursday, only even warmer and nicer. By Friday, the commutes were starting to wear me down a bit on their own, without the extra distance and hills. Later on Friday evening he called. So Saturday was the day.

Saturday shop hours start an hour earlier, but end a half-hour earlier right now. So add short sleep to the challenges facing an aging idiot flogging himself across miles of New Hampshire hills. And the forecast had gotten interesting: 20-30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Thunderstorms could produce gusty winds and small hail. The high temperature had been at or near 90 F by mid afternoon, and hadn't dropped much by the time I set out with complex cloud formations arranging themselves around the sky.

The route out of town starts with a long grind up South Main Street, on a narrow, busy road. Traffic speeds aren't too bad, since the road goes right past the police station, but drivers are getting impatient because they've already had to endure the congestion of the town center, no matter where they entered it. By the time they're heading out South Main Street they've had all they can take.

From the crest of South Main Street by the high school, you lose almost all of what you laboriously gained, on a slightly shorter, slightly steeper descent to the corner of Middleton Road, and the fun 90-degree bend into more descending to the bottom of the wall I call Alpe de Suez, for the restaurant East of Suez near the top of it.

The route goes southeast, then southwest, then south, before heading generally northwest along the lake for about 15 miles. As my direction changed, the aspect of the sky also changed. Hills and tree cover also limit the sky view. One window might show a dark mass of slaty gray, followed minutes later by a light overcast. Once over the Alpe de Suez, the road widens to a 55-mph highway with full-width shoulders. While the elbow room is nice, it can be more of a grind to do your best next to motor vehicles effortlessly ripping by at 60. It's a relief to exit onto Chestnut Cove Road for a few minutes respite from the stress of passing motorists.

The weather radar had showed blobs of convective action blossoming all around the area, rather than a well-defined front. I hadn't had time to study it for long enough to discern an overall direction to the storm cells. I had no choice in any case. I'd brought an extra vest in case the rain found me. I hoped not to need it.

Once the route turns the bottom of Alton Bay and heads up along the southern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, long views are more frequent. And at that point the wind was mostly in my favor. But would it push the storms out of my way? At each overlook I could see the deep blue-gray clouds trailing curtains of rain, occasionally lit by pink-white flashes of lightning. Beneath them, the mountains showed as dark silhouettes, Thunder followed across miles of open space. Was it from the distant storms, or from one closer, and threatening, obscured by the overhanging trees and rising hills on my left? The air was still comfortably warm, and the sky above me only cloudy. All the drama and discomfort was far away, happening to someone else, like a war in another country, or oppression of a minority that you're not part of. Those storms seem to be someone else's problem, too, until you realize that the winds can change and put you in the path of trouble.

My mileage for the week is laughable: 174 miles over five days. The longest was 43 miles, followed by three days of 30-mile commuting days, ending with 41 miles to fetch the car. Setting aside that I'm 65 years old, with multiple stressors in my life, I wonder if the rides would take less out of me if the routes themselves were more serene. They're not as bad as in really built-up urban and suburban hells, but traffic is traffic. It always carries emotional weight. However, bike-only routes are almost never designed to support the full speed potential of habitual cyclists trying to cover distance on a schedule. If the choice is a 12 mph plod on a path versus a higher average on a shared route with motor vehicles, I still tend to take the road that allows me to push it where I can. Coming down the Alpe de Suez northbound into Wolfeboro, I routinely hit 40-45 mph on the descent. I exceed 35 mph on the descents on every commute.

Full-size streets let me come off of a motor vehicle draft at 25 mph and lay into a corner to carry momentum into a side street that climbs slightly. Toddling into an intersection like that at 12 mph would give me nothing going into the grade. But would I miss it if I wasn't also having to manage motorists? Every ride is a race in places where a rider needs a bit of snap to hold a place where oblivious or malevolent drivers might clot things up by pushing past when they should wait.

I have no idea why I can still chase cars as strongly as I do. It's certainly not as strongly as I used to. But in my weakened state it's even more important to be able to take advantage of every benefit that gravity and wind will bestow. These are benefits that every rider should have access to. A path built for the maximum possible number of riders will be the size of a real road, to accommodate the potential numbers of riders and their full range of potential speeds. Or we figure out how to accommodate pedalers on the transportation routes we already have in place, while minimizing the conflicts with motorized users to increase cyclist safety.

Almost no one passed me in a very unsafe or threatening manner on my ride. Incidents have become quite rare in what most people think of as bike season. The problem for sensitive riders is that a bad crash can come at any moment when motor vehicles are around. Decades of trouble-free riding count for nothing at the moment of impact. This knowledge rides along with everyone who still pedals on the road we all own. It adds at least an extra gear's worth of fatigue in upper body tension, and heightened vigilance.