Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Well this is annoying

After denying us our livelihood for December, January and February, winter prepares to tighten its grip as March moves in. Blizzards of snow now would not make up for the loss of merely adequate snow at critical times. Heavy snow late would simply bring the winter's total up to "average," burying the economic horror and mood-destroying lack of exercise under a mask of statistical normality.

Last winter we had deep snow on the ground until late February. An early thaw wiped it out completely. One never knows. By mid-March the finish line is in sight. With clear roads we can ride across it. After a winter that seemed designed to inhibit every imaginable form of self-propelled travel, can we expect things to go our way now?

This winter all people have been able to do is hang out indoors and give each other diseases. I'm ready for some fresh air and sunshine.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jogging in place

The three phases of winter in New England are The Holidays, Ski Season and Let's Get This Over With.

This winter skipped over the second phase, at least for skiers who depend on natural snow. Even if we get snow now, most people have moved on to Phase Three. Even I, who used to love cross-country skiing as a great winter break and alternative conditioning method, have moved on to Phase Three, possibly permanently. Winter is too unreliable.

In Boston yesterday with the cellist it felt like spring. The temperature was supposed to hit the 50s. It felt more like the 60s in the sun. I saw one guy walking down Tremont Street dressed in tee shirt, jeans and flip flops. Others wore full-on winter parkas. The sunshine in the middle of the day drew attention away from the bare trees.

Cyclists were less numerous than in the officially warm months, but still numerous. Their garb ranged from optimistically light to absurdly heavy, the same as the pedestrians.

By 4 p.m. the illusion of spring cooled and dimmed. It's late February. Nothing changes that except the steady progress of one day after another.

We had left home on snowy roads. An inch of snow had fallen during the night. Temperatures here were forecast to rise to around 50. We arrived home to find the roads clear and all the new snow gone. The ice sheet on part of the driveway still hangs on, but the soft new flakes dissolved in twelve hours.

March could be snowy, for what that's worth. As a cross-country skier I never felt ready to take full advantage of a late bounty of snow after a winter of improvised training, even when I was younger and more obsessed. Skiing was never the religious observance with me that it is with some people. It's truly a fantastic activity, but if it does not fit into a practical schedule it becomes a luxury. That puts it up against any other luxuries I might try to afford.

Bike commuting is a necessity. It has supported my economy and general well-being for decades. I'm sure most people consider biking to be a luxury and driving to be a necessity. That explains a lot about the average state of mind and body. It is certainly a more normal point of view. It's just one of many norms that need to be questioned.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I bumbled into the bike industry because I did not want to take part in the destructive economy. I wanted to support games any number of people could play. I wanted to sell and service something I did not need to be ashamed of in any way.

The bike industry in the 1990s proceeded to act pretty shamefully, but they seem to be getting their scruples back now. Some of them, anyway. It's still one of the best games in town. Alternative energy is another one, but it threatens the establishment even more than the idea of a bunch of people happily using bikes for transportation, so it has attracted more sabotage from the established energy economy. Beside that, bicycling offers benefits right now to anyone who will take it up. Those benefits only increase as social and political forces begin to support it rather than neglect or oppose it. It's cheap to start and rewarding to continue.

The work itself does not always tax my ingenuity, so it's a good place to think the kind of big thoughts I've always enjoyed. The money's not great and I will certainly die an agonizing death if I get any kind of serious illness, even a treatable one, but it's a bit of a war effort. I hate that it has to be that way, but humans always test each other's commitment by seeing how willing the other side is to face death and destruction for what they believe.

War is the wrong metaphor. It's a long non-violent life by example in a world where coercion has been the norm for centuries. "Do it or I'll hurt you. Do it or I'll kill you," have been accepted arguments throughout human existence. How often has someone advised you to stop doing something if you know what's good for you? Yet you still see recruiting ads for the armed forces. Talk about something that might not be good for you!

"That's different," the argument goes. "You're serving a higher purpose." So trying to make the world a better place to ride a bike isn't a higher purpose? You're more likely to do that by promoting the idea that niceness is better than fierceness and by working on fun, durable equipment and holistic traffic planning than by saber rattling and cranking up the paranoia. Not to say that we don't, regrettably, still need sabers and people to carry them, for the moment. But view that as a small (and hopefully shrinking) aspect of the whole equation.

I wanted to live in a world where every traveler was a good guest who found a warm welcome. I still do.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

To Those Who Wait

Things come to those who wait. In a world frequently reminded of unintended consequences I hesitate to say good things, but some things about these things could be construed as good. For instance, up here in "snow country" we have just enough crap on the sides and encroaching into the roads to make riding hazardous along my commuting route. My alternative route, along the rail trail, is covered with frozen inconveniences. That being said, if the conditions haven't become significantly wintery or more like spring when Daylight Relocating Time hits I can ride the mountain bike commuter on the trail without the need for lights. I will need the base mileage to prepare for the full commute after a hideously sedentary winter.

When I first considered the fat-tire commuter late last fall, the sun set before 5 p.m. I would need my powerful lights for commuting. I wanted them, anyway. Now, with Daylight Relocating Time only about a month away, commute times will line up with daylight. If I had managed to stay in any kind of shape I could jump right into the whole routine whenever weather permitted it. With the fat-tire alternative I can ride the path in conditions that would eliminate the road route: accumulating snow in the morning giving way to a warmer afternoon, icy roadsides forcing me into the lane on a highway locally famous for impatient drivers. Those drivers eventually treat me surprisingly well on my bike, but every spring I have to retrain them. I don't need to be dealing with slithery conditions, uncomfortable cold and humidity and aggressive drivers who haven't remembered how to cooperate with me yet.

All of this depends on having a job, of course. If I have no reason to go to Wolfe City the discussion is merely theoretical. This winter has not been kind to the cross-country ski business. What seemed like a good combination in the 1970s now suffers from unreliable snow in the winters and the many challenges of the bike business in the summers. It's never been easy money. When the mountain bike boom attracted lots of consumer dollars the money also attracted many other predators and scavengers to battle each other for it. In the quiet aftermath the money has drained off to things like electric bikes or even further away to consumer electronics, Power Chairs, or student loan payments.

If the ruling class in this country really wants everyone below them to get by on less and less you'd think they would see the wisdom of better bicycle accommodation on our streets and highways. Those of us who don't actually live in the servants' quarters of the manor house will be able to get to our low-paying jobs quietly and efficiently by bicycle, leaving the roads actually clearer for the luxury cars of the elite. Bicycle hobbyists among the upper crust will benefit as well. It's a total winner, whether we establish a worker's paradise or a new Gilded Age of concentrated wealth.