Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Expensive Gas and Bla Bla Bla

With the industrialized world disappearing in its own fat rolls and gas prices in this country skyrocketing to half of what other developed nations have been paying for years (heaven forbid!), the US Department of Transportation's Two Mile Challenge is promoting the use of your own two feet, public transportation or bicycles for trips less than two miles. The DOT cites the benefits for your wallet, the environment and your health if you leave the car parked and find one of the better ways to get around on short errands.

It all sounds great, but no one wants to be this kid:


His miraculous escape from death has been featured on Good Morning America and other news outlets. So maybe you DO want to be that kid, since he came out with a few bumps and scrapes instead of being completely mashed and scrambled by his impact with a speeding car. However, the dramatic crash reinforces what's in many people's minds when they think of going onto the street in anything less than a Humvee.

The lad in Colorado made the classic little kid move, dashing headlong into the path of a moving car. As a kid I was told to avoid that very mistake. Later, as a young driver I was told to look out for kids making exactly that mistake. The driver who was clearly going sociopathically fast on a residential street should have been going more slowly and certainly should have stopped after peening the kid. But then, if you're someone who drives selfishly, self preservation is your first reflex. Get the hell out of sight and hope to avoid the consequences. Maybe guilt will inspire later good works. We may never know.

Even in the cute little town of Wolfeboro there are streets I prefer not to ride. People under the influence of horsepower have such a sense of entitlement that they feel they're doing you a favor if they miss you at all, let alone slow down and give you a reasonable amount of space. There is no worst class of offender. Drivers of large commercial vehicles are scarier when they get aggressive, but they seem no more prone to aggression than drivers in pickup trucks, sporty sports in sporty cars, texting teens, busy entrepreneurs driving their offices and the host of other scurrying hardshell crabs one might encounter as a soft shrimp sharing the rushing current with them.

The fact remains that high(ish) gas prices will have a little influence on a few people, but most drivers will simply bitch and pay. They might look upon the cyclists with a little more understanding for a while, but the ranks of cyclists will shrink back as the newcomers have to deal with the harsh realities of a life unshelled. I wish it would work out differently. All we can do is keep talking it up and keep setting the example. But just as few people actually volunteer for hazardous but commendable duties while praising those who do, so do they perhaps admire our pluck and appreciate the parking spaces we leave for them, while most of them view cycling as unacceptably dangerous and inconvenient.

Maybe the many arguments in favor of expanded use of human-powered transportation will actually prevail before civilization collapses under its own unsupportable weight. History shows no example of any culture in our species that did avoid galloping into a disaster, but past performance does not guarantee future results. It only provides strong indicators. Throughout the millennia, it's been the pushy bastards who dominate the gene pool for better or for worse. The grabby, greedy, guzzling, short-sighted hordes of thugs whose might makes right force the course of events into a series of crash landings. These have steadily led to increasing standards of living in some parts of the world, so the method is viewed as prevailing wisdom. It's really just making the best of things as we blunder into them.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Expensive Slapstick Moment

A local rider took offense at an illegal advertising sign placed on his residential street near his house, so he snatched it up as he rode by at the end of his morning training ride. The sign was one of those temporary ones used by politicians and other questionable enterprises, cardboard over a wire frame. The wind caught the sign and blew it into his front wheel. He crashed immediately.

The wire sign frame bent one spoke in his Shimano Dura Ace front wheel. That had to be ordered. Only later did he notice that the end of the wire had punched a hole in his carbon fiber fork.

Hole is marked with an arrow

Here is a closeup of the damage.

A steel fork might have bent when the sign stopped the front wheel. An aluminum one might have bent or cracked depending on the forces involved. Anyway, it was an expensive morning for the guy.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Spring Retraining

Life is war. Despite all protestations of peace and love, nothing reminds you that humans really don't like each other more than a simple bike ride during the early season.

After months of having the road to themselves, drivers have to get used to seeing cyclists again. We the cyclists have to reestablish our claim by using the road, while a certain number of the motorists try to discourage us from doing so.

This year, drivers of large pickup trucks seem to be trying to see how close they can brush a cyclist regardless of the rider's lane position. Few of them honk. No one has yelled. The offenders have passed with inches to spare when they had ample room to shift over, or have blasted through dangerous gaps at the risk of collision not only with the cyclist but with the oncoming motorists they have forced to the curb. It's not just me. Most of the cyclists I know have reported that behavior.

Every morning news broadcast brings reports of motor vehicle accidents causing injury or death to the motorists. Motorists are not a unified bloc set against cyclists. Driving behavior simply points out the pervasive selfishness of people that finds its expression on the road.

Not enough people want to ride bikes for transportation to make high-quality infrastructure engineering worth the money. If people felt safer from traffic, more of them would ride, but probably not in impressive numbers. I wish that was not true. I doubt the theory will ever be tested, because I doubt that this country or any significant portions thereof will ever make the investment to find out. So we're left with our imperfect system. Cyclists stitch together what routes they can and endure continuous harassment.

Most drivers pass a cyclist at what they think is the safest distance they can manage without slowing down. A traffic herding cyclist can force them to slow down and plan a little better, but most of them will still take chances around a cyclist that they would not take around a slow-moving motorized vehicle. Size matters. So does the perception of speed. A motorist knows that a cyclist probably will never catch them to retaliate for any aggression on the open road or a fairly fast-flowing street.

Whenever possible I release the following vehicles if they have not already pushed past. Unfortunately, certain sections of road do not offer this opportunity soon enough to satisfy an aggressive driver. Most drivers don't appreciate that a cyclist is working hard to get them through a bottleneck at 20 miles per hour when 30 miles per hour already feels creepingly slow to them.

One stressful section of my morning route runs parallel to the notorious rail trail in Wolfe City. Unfortunately, that trail is clotted with pedestrians and cyclists at almost any daylight hour during the milder seasons. The clumps of strolling humanity can bring a rider nearly to a stop. Riders meeting from opposite directions have to fit past each other with inches of clearance between their handlebars. Overtaking a slower cyclist is similarly tricky. Then when a rider wants to rejoin the street flow it means ratcheting up to full combat readiness instantly. The sight of cyclists in the cross walk also reinforces the stereotype in motorists' minds that cyclists belong on a segregated play path.

My evening route winds out through a different set of streets and roads to avoid the uphill grind through the stressful, curb-lined canyon of Center Street. That does not mean it's vastly better, only somewhat better. The route still grinds up a grade, slowing my speed relative to traffic. The road is narrow enough to require gate-keeping. Impatient drivers get pushy. Some display obvious anger with horn or words while others satisfy themselves by passing with a noisy downshift and abrupt swerves.

As I age, regular exercise is more and more vital to maintain vitality. As I negotiate the shaky economy and my own questionable life choices, I can really use the money I save by riding instead of driving most of the time. However, the human race being what it is, I have to fight just as hard as ever for benefits I thought anyone would be glad to join me in claiming. Most people don't see the sense of it. They just see an obstinate jerk who could drive like a normal person if he wanted to. Who would want to be that guy?