Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bags full of food, bags full of clothes

On early season commutes, most of my load going in is lunch. Most of it coming home is the layers I've shed because the weather warmed up.

Not complaining, just observing.

Maybe I'm faster in mid-season not because I'm in better shape but because I don't have all that laundry on the home-bound leg. That means less weight and less wind resistance.

My commute brackets the average work day, so at the requisite times of year I start around sunrise and finish at dusk. The morning is always chilly, except in the height of summer. The evening segment could be pleasantly tropical or bring on the sharp chill of a cold night ahead. Usually a chilly evening will still start out warmer than the morning preceding it.

A scheduled ride like a commute makes you deal with conditions as you find them, because you can't pick the best part of the day. It feels really good when the variations of weather fit neatly around ride time. It makes up a little for the times when challenging conditions line up to make things harder.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Splitting Hairs and Cleaving Flesh

A couple of decades ago I was in an accident: the passenger in a car stopped in traffic popped a door open just as I arrived beside the vehicle on my way by. The edge of the door was driven into my leg deeply enough to require stitches in the muscle as well as the skin.

The police arrived within minutes. The officer was sympathetic and provided a complete report that gave me solid footing with the car owner's insurance company. The claim was opened immediately. I got sewed up and used up more than my share of Novocaine (I'm a Novocaine hog, all right?). The bike got inspected and repaired (I had not yet been sucked back into the quicksand of the bike business). Eventually I wanted to settle the claim. I hate leaving loose ends dangling.

I had consulted an attorney who suggested a dollar figure going in. The actual settlement doesn't matter. Suffice to say it wasn't a lottery win by any means. What interests me even after all these years was the way the claim adjuster approached it.

"We've determined that we were about 75 percent responsible here, but that you were about 25 percent responsible," he said. "You stated you were in a marked bike lane, but it had actually ended before the point where you were struck." He added a few more items that The Company considered contributing factors I could have controlled. We went back and forth a bit. Short of getting into court with them, all I could do was hit a few volleys with him and take what I squeezed out of his employers. It paid for the emergency room, the bike repairs and a little extra. I wasn't really comfortable with the whole damages thing, so I didn't really go on the attack. I also hadn't thought a huge amount about a bicyclist's place on the road. I just rode, tried to stay out of the meat grinder and fought my skirmishes on the street.

The claim adjuster's gambit illustrates what happens when real life gets pushed through the square screen of legalities. Once you have a law you have specific wording that can usually be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the bias of the reader. You have unintended consequences, gray areas and forgotten circumstances that require amendment to the law.

Another time, a March afternoon rapidly turning to evening, I was stopped by an Anne Arundel County police officer as I hammered along General's Highway, riding a fine spring tailwind toward home. I was racing dusk on this early-season outing. I did not have time to argue with a misinformed police officer. But there he was.

"Hey! You can't be out here!" he said.

"I'm allowed on any road with a speed limit of 50 miles per hour or less," I said.

"Yeah, but not on a route," he said. By that I guessed he meant a numbered state highway. He was wrong, but we were burnin' daylight.

"What am I supposed to do?" I asked.

"Get over on the shoulder," he said.

"I'm not required to ride over there if it is of lower quality than the travel lane," I said. I indicated the loose gravel, potholes, broken glass and dropped mufflers we could see within the next hundred yards.

"You just get over there," he said.

"Okay," I said, with a grin I hoped wasn't overdone. I edged over to the debris field and wobbled along until he was a dot in the distance. Then I merged with traffic and resumed drafting it at a pleasant wind-assisted 25 the rest of the way back to town. After that I never rode without my copy of Maryland Highway Law as it Relates to Biking, and I never got stopped again.

For the most part I try to ride in a way that drivers don't remember. They need to notice me as they go by, but then I want them to forget me. It's too much to hope they'll be favorably impressed by my speed or skill.

No doubt some of them are annoyed when I need to cover the lane to keep someone from passing unsafely. When I do that I try to make big moves that make my purpose obvious. As soon as I can let them pass, I will. I never have the luxury of a four-lane road up here. If I tried any left-tire-track antics I would end up grated through the grille of a log truck. I have shut the gate firmly in the face of some very large vehicles and have dealt with long seconds of aching fear when I have failed to control one of them, but I don't stay out in their face as a mere power play.

I've drawn the analogy to running with the bulls, lion taming and riding a criterium. But all the mechanics address the real-world, person to person physical and psychological interactions of the car-bike relationship. Legalities exist in the background. More and more drivers and cyclists are aware of laws that let cyclists take the lane or require drivers to leave a minimum passing clearance. These merely codify behaviors that traffic-herding cyclists have been trying to stimulate all along.

Infrastructure changes bring up more complex issues. Taxpayers who invest in lanes and side paths want cyclists to disappear into them. Legislators who fear the wrath of voters will at least consider sacrificing those pesky cyclists to keep the motorized majority checking off the right name on the ballot. Advocacy never ends.

Many people consider cyclists in the same category with whitewater paddlers, rock and ice climbers, skydivers and other fools who expose themselves to unnecessary risks for dubious gains. If we're too poor to have cars, it's because we're lazy sods who won't get better jobs. If we CAN afford cars, WHY AREN'T WE USING THEM?!?!

The owner of the local ambulance company told me years ago he didn't know why he hadn't had me as a customer yet. He said it was only a matter of time. He felt I had put myself at voluntary risk that must inevitably lead to injury. Cars are big and hard. Cyclists are small and squishy. If you choose the wrong side of that equation, don't be surprised by what you get. We have trouble being viewed as normal because we don't act normal. Whether what we do should become normal is another question entirely. Right now, as the laws are being framed and enforced we are still a minority and a factionalized one at that.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chipseal the self promoting charlatan?

Readers have placed these comments on my last post, portraying Texas cyclist "Chipseal" in a negative light.

Would anyone close to the case care to respond to their points? Silence would indicate their hostility is justified. However, this being teh internets, anyone could create a character to argue a point of view.

Meanwhile, the donation button is not a sinister automatic device that sucks money out of your bank account just because you look at it. Anyone has a right to examine whatever they can find about the case and then contribute or not. If I don't get satisfactory answers, the button goes.


How can you possibly put in a "donate" button for that criminally misguided jerk in Texas who went out of his way to make a bad name for cyclists everywhere? I'm not being provocative, I'm truly mystified how rational cyclists can support him. You're just making a knee-jerk reaction to assume that because he rides a bike he must of necessity be right.

There are plenty of cases where cyclists have been harassed, threatened, injured, and killed by motorists. But "Chipseal" is a very skilled self-promoter, and he's done a great job of getting naive people to send him money. Tell me... when's the movie?

Anonymous Ed Sailland said...

"Controversial"? Nah. Just daft as a brush. A "bold stand" for what, exactly? Folly? Or simply the right to cycle without a rearview mirror? (A particular point of pride with ole Chip, apparently. Something to do with him not wanting to know if anything is gaining on him, I suppose.)

I will say this, cafiend, old son -- you may be getting on in years and feeling a little stiff in the joints these days, but you can still stretch a point like nobody's business. Let's see… Patrick Henry, Rosa Parks, and now…wait for it…Chipseal.

Chipseal?! Some folks will following anything that moves, however doolally the destination. I wouldn't have put you in that class, I admit, but it seems I was mistaken. Still, it's good you've at last found a man with the mettle to carry your flag. So why not go the whole hog? Why stop at emptying your pockets of spare change? Why not put ole Chip's name in the hat for the next Nobel Peace Prize draw? It's no less than his due. After all, he's fighting for the Freedom of the Lane.

Semper Fi, guy! Keep that flag raised high. And always check commentators' credentials. Someone might be trying to put one over on you. Not ole Chip, of course. He's a Man of Principle. With some three thousand bucks of others' principal in his purse to show for it. So Let Him Ride!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Get Ready for Distracted Driving Month

April has been designated Distracted Driving Awareness Month. According to what I've seen the past couple of days, people think it's a competition and are already practicing.

After nearly sharing my sliver of shoulder with a small white sedan out on Route 28 I had this sudden flash of the driver's next text message:

"Jst klld bker! LOL! Meet 4 cofee?"

Yesterday I had a very slow ride to work. The morning was chilly but manageable. I didn't feel sore and tired, but I had no inclination to push the pace. I really need to get more than six hours of sleep a night.

The day looked rather pleasant for several hours. The temperature went up to around 60. But stratus clouds drifted stealthily across the sky, first filtering, then blocking the sun. By mid afternoon, out of the corner of my eye the view looked ominously moist. Each time I looked carefully at the clouds, though, I saw that the deck was still high and dry.

With a few minutes to go, I went out to bring in some display items from the front of the store. The wind had come up sharply. Curtains of virga hung from the approaching storm front. This looked like it would hit any minute.

I checked the National Weather Service for conditions at Laconia Airport. Winds were southwest, 18-30. If I could get to Route 28 without getting soaked I could sit up and let it blow me home.

My route out of town zigzags a bit. On a lot of it I already had the advantage of the tailwind. When I pulled out onto 28 I was right behind a stinky diesel pickup that had to pass me before the stop sign because motor vehicles always have to be in front of bicycles. With the tailwind behind me, he couldn't drop me as we both accelerated onto the highway. I really wished he could pull away, because I was choking in the cloud of exhaust fumes. The wind and the truck's draft kept me close while I tried not to breathe.

Once the truck pulled away the air cleared. The wind blew me right out from under the leading edge of the storm. I'd gotten home, split some firewood, cleaned the cat box, fed the furballs and stretched before the rain caught up to me.

This morning the cold front brought freezing temperatures. Tomorrow we're looking at dawn temperatures around 9 degrees F. I'm glad that stuff doesn't hang around more than a day or two this time of year.

It still beats driving. Oh my, how it beats driving.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ah, Spring! Love is in the Air!

First let me say that I hope Tony Kornheiser crashes his car as he unsuccessfully swerves toward a cyclist he's trying to run off the road. Then I hope he's arrested for assault.

Has human willingness to use force on each other really made us a better species, or just the biggest assholes on the planet?

If the ability to hurt someone is the sole qualification for taking a place on the road, every cyclist should carry a sledgehammer and a gun. There! Now you qualify. It doesn't have to be a big hammer. A four-pound, short handled hammer will do. And handgun choices abound.

You do not have to use these items any more than every driver of a potentially lethal weapon ever actually uses it. All you need to earn respect is the POTENTIAL to end someone's life abruptly. What you lack in acceleration you make up for in muzzle velocity. I can't sprint you down, but my bullet can!

This is absurd. But then humans invented absurdity. If a paradox exists, but no living species has the ability to perceive it, does it really exist? We think the so-called lower animals are oblivious to the irony of human arrogance, but maybe they're constantly rolling their eyes when we're not looking. Let's face it, for millennia we've taken our satisfaction in killing them and each other as a poor substitute for really understanding what's going on. And we're still doing it. If someone pisses you off, threaten them with violence. Kill them if you think you can get away with it. Take pride in something you had nothing to do with, like your skin pigment or the arbitrary political region in which you were born.

I believe the tide of history trends a different way, but it moves slowly. I can't tell you if things will get worse before they get better. I just have a sense that people are slowly coming to realize that getting along is more efficient than constant confrontation. I hope that full acceptance of that does not lie on the other side of a global orgy of violence as the last of the confrontationists go after the nearest target in an outburst of uncontainable frustration. We think of war as a conflict between defined large entities, but it could as easily be a broad conflagration of simultaneous small fires.

It probably won't happen today. The weather is supposed to be beautiful. Time to ride to work.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cafiend, International Bicycle Consultant

A brother in law living in Europe (neighborhood of Switzerland or Austria, he gets around) has been tapping me for advice on a bike purchase.

This morning, looking at links sent by Euro Bro (in law), I noticed how the mushroom cloud of "innovation" from the mountain bike boom has actually led to some meaningful design improvements as the better ideas have clawed their way to the surface of the avalanche of mixed blessings generically referred to as progress.

The examples are far from isolated. Most of the niche bikes of today owe something to the discoveries and even more numerous rediscoveries of the mountain bike boom. Some of the progress, in internally-geared hubs, for instance, was tangential to the direct thrust of mountain bike development, but some interest came from the desire to have multiple speeds without vulnerable derailleurs. What does not work for a mountain bike ridden hard in rough terrain still does excellently for a transportation bike in a more refined urban environment. Yes, I know cities have some hideously rough streets, but no one is clawing up a rough singletrack or hucking a huge drop. Not often, anyway.

Many bikes fly the "retro" banner. They work because that outmoded concept was never wrong, it was merely set aside for something that was either more fashionable or suited to a niche that was currently more popular. Many of the retro offerings hearken back to what made the mountain bike so appealing: it was a general purpose bike. People like a general purpose bike. They want it strong, durable, light enough, as simple as possible and with both a long shelf life and a long usable life.

Racers and performance riders of any sort have always been willing to sacrifice longevity for various other important qualities that enhance performance. The sporty enthusiast has tried to mix some performance with the practicality. The well funded enthusiast might even have a finicky greyhound or two in the lineup. But the foundation of a durable cycling culture has to be a durable cycle. Cycling should be a long term relationship.

Now I just have to figure out how to turn some income on free advice.

Hopefully only a temporary feature

Citizen Rider has joined the other cycling bloggers providing a link for interested parties to Chip In for ChipSeal, as Rantwick has said. The link goes to a PayPal account set up to collect funds for the legal defense expenses of Reed Bates, a cyclist in Texas being singled out for extraordinary enforcement attention because he is exercising his right to take the lane to enhance his safety while cycling on the public roadway we all pay for with our taxes.

I hope this feature will only have to be up a short while. I hope such efforts will not be needed again. I don't like to link any monetary appeal to this blog because I want it to be about ideas, free and clear. But sometimes you have to pledge at least some portion of your life, your fortune and your sacred honor in support of the cause of freedom.

Quite simply (and completely unfortunately),the debate over cycling on the roadway will determine how this nation defines that roadway. Is it a speedway? A race track for survival of the swiftest? Or is it the descendant of aboriginal paths, the link by which everyone gets from place to place by the means they deem appropriate?

I believe some Americans are afraid of cycling. Not only are they themselves afraid to ride, they are afraid to see a lot of other people ride, because they fear it will make us a backward nation. What has happened in other nations as soon as their economic status rises? They quit pedaling and get something motorized.

Cycling carries various stigmas, of backwardness, poverty or incurable quaintness. It's all very well for Denmark or the Netherlands to promote cycling. They're cute little countries, not backward, but not to be taken seriously in a world of Superpowers, past and present.

Cycling is fine for Europe. Let them put up with riding clubs and stage races that choke the roads. Whoever gives a crap in America can watch video of that BS on the Internet or some obscure cable channel. Just don't go turning Anytown, USA in Bay-Jing, buddy. Or try to make us like some cuckoo-clock little toy country in Yoo-rup. We drive CARS. BIG CARS with BIG ENGINES for a BIG COUNTRY.

The patriots of motorization are right about one thing. Transportation cycling can really help someone of lesser means enjoy a higher standard of living because they are not enslaved by the expenses of a motor vehicle. So maybe if you let the lowlife ride bikes everywhere, everyone will lose their ambition. We will become a nation of pedaling slackers and fall even further behind the rest of the world we claim still to dominate.

In truth, many transportation cyclists also keep motor vehicles around for the times when they are more appropriate. I don't mind having and using a car. It is more convenient than sharing one. I get to maintain it as I see fit. It's there when I need it. But, by using a bicycle a great deal for transportation I save buckets of money on motor vehicle expenses. As fuel prices inevitably climb, I am grateful to be able to use less of it. As the auto industry and the motoring mindset continue to pump more vehicles onto the road, they and I are both glad that I am saving them one more parking space. That should be another motto of the cycling revolution, alongside One Less Car: One More Parking Space.

Motorists should be strewing rose petals in our path. One More Parking Space. 1500 More Gallons of Gasoline for You to Waste. By reducing petroleum demand, we force the oil companies to LOWER PRICES.

Pound that message in the media. It will get through eventually.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Early Season Head Start

Racers in my area used to go south late in the winter to get a jump on training for early season races. Riders who lived in those warm climates never stopped training.

Transportation cyclists who live in places where they never have to stop cycling get the jump on motorist harassment and legal hassles ahead of those of us who take some time off in the winter.

ChipSeal is still embroiled in his battle with the authorities and some anti-cycling motorists in Ennis, Texas. His latest report is here. You can donate to his legal defense at Rantwick or DFW Point-to-Point. The donation button is at the top of the sidebar.

Every time Chip gets seen in the traffic lane, motorists phone 911 to report him to the cops. The gendarmes duly arrest him and take him to jail. The charges don't appear to stand up to the letter of Texas traffic law, but judges and juries will no doubt be offered other interpretations by the prosecutor.

Meanwhile, here in the formerly frozen north, cyclists are bursting out of their cocoons and comparing coping strategies. One unlikely fellow traveler told me about an encounter with a driver from out of state, during summer tourist season, pulling over to cuss him out for "slowing down traffic" at a time when the motoring public is doing a bang-up job of slowing itself down with no assistance at all from the two-wheeled community. The cyclist this driver chose to confront is peculiarly well suited for such an encounter, because he is as regular a guy as you will find.

Aaron runs a very popular lunch spot. He's the kind of person who can talk to anybody. He didn't turn the motorist into a friend and advocate, but he held his ground on behalf of all street-clothes cyclists who choose to ride to work. I feel really good knowing people like him are part of the equation. In the final analysis, a bunch of riders like Aaron do more than most professional cycling teams to make the point that bike riding is for everyone, the more the better.

"It's tough at the beginning of the season," Aaron said Saturday as we discussed our respective commuting routes. "Drivers aren't used to seeing us."

As I watched a driver weaving all over the road on Saturday, probably texting, I wondered if they see anything. On the plus side, the weaving wordsmith was at least driving slowly as he fumbled with the keypad. It might give him an outside chance of spotting a cyclist in his peripheral vision in time to swerve into oncoming traffic instead.

Daylight Relocating Time signals the beginning of my commute, so I guess it's on. I'm glad to be able to get out of the car. I do wish it could be nonstop fun with no a**holes, but we are still dealing with the human race here.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Winter's Toll

The creatures that die from winter's assault often do it at the threshold of spring. The weather may have become milder, but food is still hard to find. Each day closer to easier conditions still makes the animal a day weaker.

Cyclists who get fat and slow over the winter continue to get fatter and slower until the very day they begin riding again.

This has been my worst winter for physical conditioning in 30 years. My training regimen has consisted of one-handed curls with too many mugs of coffee, staring moodily out the window, and bad fiddle playing. Really bad fiddle playing, in case you think I'm just being modest. Somehow, the idea of learning to play the damn thing from a very late start in life has seized my interest. Many things encroach easily on the time once set aside for the weight bench, indoor ski machine and rollers.

We've shortened Sunday hours at the shop so I can fit a commute into daylight. Because so much of my route is on dark, hilly, rural highways I have not bothered to challenge the concerns of my loved ones by riding the commute in the dark too often. However, this schedule change will help me get several more rides before Daylight Relocating Time starts next Sunday. At that point only ice and snow will stop the commute. Those are hardly unlikely, even in a shabby winter like this one. We shall see.

I always have to retrain the motoring public to watch out for smaller road users during this part of the season. I'm considering getting a jersey that says, "honk if you love my middle finger." At least that way they've been warned.

I do try to restrain the digital reflex, since it doesn't really help. I'll really have made it to a higher plane when I no longer get pissed off at all. I can't imagine that happening very soon, but maybe if I cut back severely on the caffeine...

It's really weird to have early March look this much like early April. I've ridden in the snow in late May, so winter could draw a bead on us at any time. Meanwhile it's time to crawl out of the den as much as possible.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Composite Education Continues

Steve A is really gittin' down with the carbon info at DFW Point-to-Point. The blog is now linked in the sidebar. Keep checking it for updates as he goes forward with his carbon series.

Here is his outline for the series he promises us. But since we're all riders here, we won't demand it be completed any faster than the riding schedule allows.