Friday, December 1, 2017

Invasion of the E-bikes

So... what's your feeling about electric-assist bicycles using dedicated bicycle facilities, and non-motorized pathways, etc.?

I've got mixed feelings.

One the one hand... if people are getting out of their single-occupant cars as a result of riding an E-bike, it's hard to find fault with that.  But on the other hand... if you have a motor pushing you along so you don't have to pedal, you're missing out on the health benefits that riding a bicycle can provide.  (I keep hearing that we have an obesity epidemic going on in this country.  Could it be that too many folks don't do anything more strenuous than pushing buttons or turning a steering wheel?)

The Boise City Council is planning on taking testimony on how to deal with the E-bike issue this next Tuesday, December 5th.  I hope I can attend the meeting and testify... but in the meantime I composed a message to various city leaders, part of which is below:

... I probably use the Greenbelt, bike lanes, bike routes, etc., as much as anybody in town... so, I'm quite interested in the news that the City will consider how to deal with "E-bikes" and bicycle-specific infrastructure. ...

Apparently there is a proposal to drop various types of E-bikes into classifications based on their performance - Class 1, 2, and 3, with 3 being the "high performance" E-bikes.  And then SOME E-bikes will be allowed and others won't.

To me, that sounds like a mass of confusion, and an enforcement nightmare.

I would strongly recommend an alternative...

If I understand correctly, in order to be an "E-bike," it has to be a bicycle that can be pedaled by the rider, in addition to a motor that can provide optional "pedal power."

Wouldn't it be much easier to just declare that "human pedal power" is the only acceptable energy, for bicycles of all stripes, when using bicycle and non-motorized facilities?  In other words, you need to keep your E-bike motor turned off, if you're using bike lanes, Greenbelt, etc.  (An exception could be made for people with a disability.  And "Pedaling is HARD!" should not be considered a disability!)

Based on my casual observation, I'd say it's fairly obvious if somebody is cruising down a bicycle facility at 15 or 20mph, and barely pedaling.  I'm already seeing it... and apparently I'm not the only one.  To me, it seems like it would be much more difficult to determine whether that cruising is being done on a "class 1, 2, or 3" E-bike.

As anybody who regularly uses the Greenbelt can attest to, the wide variety of users already poses challenges when you get the mix of pedestrians, cyclists, pedestrians with dogs on 20-foot leashes, skaters, cross-country-ski-rollers, smart-phone zombies, clumps of chatty Cathys, etc.  I see nothing but trouble if you have a new group of people zooming along nonchalantly on their MOTORIZED bicycles.

No matter what you decide, I hope you can also make a strong declaration, backed up with vigorous enforcement, that those stinky/raucous/annoying GAS-powered bicycles have no place on ANY bicycle infrastructure!  PLEASE!  (I've encountered people riding them on the Greenbelt... in bike lanes... on sidewalks!)

Thanks for your attention.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hydrocarbon fury

There's no denying that image is a huge factor in vehicle selection. We fork over big bucks for a ride that will not only get us and our stuff from Point A to Point B, but will also make a statement about the person behind the wheel.

Take this pickup, for example. Shiny red paint! Overt display of patriotism! Oversized rubber! And... check out that exhaust pipe! It's so big that you could store your CD collection in there! It must take quite the man, to even handle all that barely-contained raging fury when the gas pedal is punched!




Hey! Wait just one minute!

Upon closer inspection... that huge exhaust pipe is just pretend! It's just bolted on the end of a much more conventional-sized exhaust pipe.


I'm no internal-combustion engineer... but it seems to me that this giant chrome exhaust tip wouldn't add even a single horse power! Am I wrong? I invite expert opinions that might clarify my misunderstanding, if there is one.

Is this exhaust tip the vehicular equivalent of sticking a cucumber down your tight britches?


(nudge-nudge... wink-wink)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Don't be a victim of the dark!

This morning as I left for the office, it was as dark as a total solar eclipse! I was glad to have an extra measure of visibility, in the form of headlight, taillight, and high-viz/reflective vest.

Far too often, when a motorcyclist or bicyclist is involved in a collision with a motorist, the car driver laments, "I just didn't see him!" Let's face it - our smaller vehicles are harder to see than that F350 pickup truck, or Wagon Queen Family Truckster. The problem is exacerbated by the dark. Don't be a victim!

Here's what I use - because it's cheap and apparently effective.

On the front, I have a single-AA battery LED flashlight. (I think mine cost about 8 bucks, 2 or 3 years ago. But they are very common nowadays, boasting lumen outputs from about 200 on up.) My model has a clicky-button on the back, that turns it off and on, and selects one of three modes - bright, dim, or strobe. I generally use the "strobe" setting when I'm riding down a familiar road and am mostly concerned about being seen by other roadway users. And when I'm on a less-familiar road, I choose bright, to light up my path. I use a rechargeable battery, and carry a spare battery with me. I attach the light to the handlebars with a little rubber-and-velcro doodad that I ordered with the light. (Both ordered from dx.com) (I've got a bigger and far brighter light that I'll be trying out soon. Amazon made me an offer I couldn't refuse.)

On the back, I use a bright flashing red LED taillight. Mine is a Planet Bike Superflash. It was expensive by my standards - more than 20 bucks! But it's given me faithful service for 3 or 4 years, so it's money well spent. There are other cheaper-but-effective alternatives nowadays... we live during an LED Renaissance! The taillight uses two AAA batteries - I use rechargeables.

In addition, I like to wear a hi-viz reflective safety vest. In fact, I wear it year round, day and night, and no matter what kind of riding I'm doing. For a few years, I wore a nice brand-name (Dickies) model. Pretty expensive ($20+), and they would last for a couple years before they started getting pretty gnarly-looking. I decided to give a much-cheaper Harbor Freight model a try - and that's my current choice of hi-viz fashion. Six bucks, and they last about as long as the brand-name. They're made of a mesh material that seems to make very little difference on hot-or-cold, and they just go on over whatever-else you've chosen for attire. Not very fashionable, but who cares? You can quickly take it off, once you arrive at your fashionable destination.  You know, like James Bond.

Stay safe, mis amigos.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Innocent victims

Ten days or so ago, the nation recoiled in horror.  A monster/madman rained terror down on country music fans in Las Vegas, murdering 58 innocent people and injuring hundreds in a matter of minutes.  Before the victims had even been accounted for, there were impassioned demands for action!

We need new laws!  Implements of death and destruction - in this case guns - MUST be kept away from criminals and incompetents, and maybe everybody!  What kind of irresponsible people could possibly be against further action to prevent such incidents?!!

Mostly I think we feel helpless.  As of this writing, the motive of the killer is still a mystery.  And when there's not a discernible motive or some sort of attention-getting activity prior to the mayhem... how do you prevent it?  Are we all going to go through metal detectors and intense scrutiny now, when we check into a hotel?  Is that a price we're willing to pay, to mitigate the one-in-ten-million madman?

But - at the same time - every week, we seem mostly willing to look the other way when more people are victimized by distracted drivers.

In 2015, according to the NHTSA, 3477 people were killed in fatal distracted-driving mishaps.  That's about 67 per week - almost 10 every day.  Furthermore, it's estimated that 391,000 people were injured by distracted drivers (about 7500 per week - more than 1000 per day).

WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?!!?

Many of the perps were distracted by their so-called "smart phones."  I believe you see more people driving nowadays with phone in hand, than those who have both hands on the wheel.  Remember?  The way you learned in driver-ed?

But apparently that's not enough.  The auto industry is attracting buyers with shiny-bright touch-sensitive console-mounted "infotainment systems" in new cars!  You've seen 'em in the commercials - they give you directions... tell you which track is playing on the 18 650-watt speaker system... control the climate... maybe even let you watch a movie or hilarious YouTube cat videos.

What could go wrong?

Apparently, a lot.  University of Utah researchers studied the infotainment in 2017 automobiles, and concluded that "most... distract drivers too long to be safely operated while the vehicles are in motion."  Programming your navigation takes about 40 seconds to complete, for example.  Yet, "the risk of a crash doubles when a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for two seconds."  Story HERE.

Far, far more innocents are killed by distracted drivers, than by crazed killers with bump-stock-equipped semi-automatic assault rifles.  Both are tragic, and are blights on our society... but honestly, which is the more serious and pervasive problem?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

20 years of car-free commuting


In 1986, I started riding a bike to and from my job. By 1997, I’d been mostly commuting to work by bicycle for 11 years.  But then I got a shiny new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.  (Purchased with money saved by bicycling.)  It was a compelling mode of transportation, and I started riding it to the office, once or twice a week.  Now and then, I still drove the family car, as well.  Just for kicks, that year I decided to keep running track of my transportation choices.

As our family started planning for another school year, once again as always I encouraged my kids to ride their bikes.  (Our schools are less than a mile away, over terrain as flat as plywood.)  They would probably say I’m too enthusiastic about preaching the Gospel of Bike Transportation.

There was much opposition, from kids and their mom.  “We’ll get all sweaty!”  “We’ll look like nerds!”  “We’ll have helmet hair!”  Mom, of course, was sure they’d be abducted en route, or get flattened by a runaway dump truck.  She also said, somewhat accusingly, “You don’t ride a bike everywhere.”  Pretty lame argument… but the gauntlet had been thrown down.  I decided I’d show her!

The last time I drove a car to work, was sometime in September 1997 – 20 years ago this month.  (I keep track month-by-month, so I don’t know the exact day.)

Ever since then, it’s been the bicycle to and from work, on all but a handful of days each year.  Whether it’s 105, or 5 below zero, or anywhere in between.  If it’s snowy, I try to stick to the lesser-traveled side roads.  If it’s treacherously slippery, I’ve been known to trudge to the nearest bus stop and take public transportation… but almost always with the bike on the front rack, in the hopes I’ll be able to ride home in the afternoon.

Gas and insurance expenses?  Nope.  Repair expenses?  Minimal.

Traffic jams?  No problemo!

Parking?  Free – everywhere!

I’ve learned to live with nerdy helmet-hair, etc.

In addition, I get some “cardio” exercise every weekday.  (I’m lucky – my commute is about 3.5 miles each way.  Far enough to get a little “burn,” but short enough that I can commute in my work attire.)  My work commute is often my favorite part of the day.  I would never voluntarily go back to a car.  (Although I might re-think that, if somebody wants to offer me free use of a Porsche Carrera, or something similar.)

(Photo snapped by granddaughter Mackenzie)

Monday, July 31, 2017

'17 isn't looking like a banner year

Unless something totally unexpected happens, 2017 will be the first year for me since 2002, in which I don't surpass 5000 bicycle miles for the calendar year.

I've lost a bit of velocity in the past 15 years... but not enthusiasm.  The problem this year is - too many days away from the bicycle.

In late May / early June, we spent 10 days in Providence, RI, with the daughter and son-in-law and grandbabies.  Time well spent... albeit 2000 miles away from my bicycle.

And just this past Saturday, I got back from 10 days on the motorcycle road.  Had a fantastic trip - rode to the Bay Area through Reno (Boise to Reno is to be tolerated, not enjoyed), and then took a leisurely putt up the west coast, from Santa Cruz CA to Ocean Park WA (just north of Astoria).  Then back home again.  Time well spent... albeit away from the bicycle.

And... in September we're traveling up to BC Canada on a family adventure.  Another 10 days or so away from the bike.

I've turned over 2500 miles for the year - but I should've hit that milestone at the end of June instead of the end of July, to maintain a 5000-mile yearly pace.

Oh well.

(I s'pose I could try for 1000-mile August and October totals.  Yeah - but that's not gonna happen any more.  Too many other irons in the fire.)

The current game plan is to be able to retire in the spring of 2019 - then maybe I can ride another 6000-mile year.  Work a longer weekly ride into the routine.  Yeah - that's the ticket.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Greenbelt choke point (congestion)

This is a message I sent to the Boise City Council, Parks Department, and Police.

I’m writing to express concern about the summertime “descent of humanity” that has hit the area near Quinn’s Pond, and Esther Simplot Park the past several years, and the resulting deterioration of Greenbelt transportation access.

The best word to describe it is ANARCHY.

There are herds of pedestrians who are meandering, bovine-like, IN THE TRANSPORTATION CORRIDORS, as if they were the only people on the planet.  There are people swinging paddleboards, paddles, etc. around like ninja-sticks, seemingly oblivious to other people on the pathways.  There are people who park their bikes, or flip them upside-down to do some mechanical work, right in the pathway.

I s’pose there are folks who arrive in their cars, and perhaps are unaware that for 12 months of the year (unless interrupted by occasional flooding) the Greenbelt is a transportation corridor for some of their fellow citizens.

Today (for example), I ventured thru.  (It’s nice that the closed stretches of Greenbelt are starting to open again!)  In the concrete “roundabout” circle adjacent to the little surfer-wave dam, two gals were laying on the concrete, working on their tans, as other pathway users milled all about them.

I was headed toward town, zig-zagging between the pedestrians and stander-arounders who don’t understand the concept of a transportation corridor or the “keep right” markings.  As I rode along, next to Quinn’s pond, there were a couple teenage kids directly in front of me, who were dodging back and forth like kickoff return specialists.  Puzzling.  Suddenly, one of them hollered “Look out!” – apparently for my benefit – and a football came crashing down directly in my path (!!), not 3 feet in front of me.  Surely there are better places for a football game, than on the Greenbelt!

I’ve voiced my concerns in the past… and I believe a couple of small signs have been put up, that say “Don’t block pathway,” or something like that.  Obviously the response is inadequate, because the problems persist… and get dangerous (in my opinion) on the really hot, crowded summer days.

So – what can be done?

Increased bike-cop patrols, and an education/enforcement campaign, might be somewhat effective.  But that solution seems pretty labor-intensive.

I’d suggest maybe painting the corridor (“Greenbelt” pathway) a solid bright color – yellow? – with big black letters, “TWO WAY TRAFFIC – PLEASE KEEP MOVING” or something to that effect.  (And occasional enforcement, to keep people honest.  I try to have faith in humanity… surely most of those people aren’t intentionally blocking the pathway… right?)

You might also take a look at the treatment they’ve recently put in across the river, at the Riverside Hotel.  They’ve done some landscaping improvements, patio expansion, etc. – and, they also have installed some fences along either side of the Greenbelt corridor, turning it into a “controlled access highway.”  There are openings every now and then, so people can enter or cross the pathway… but they aren’t able to just meander onto the pathway at any location they please.  It seems to be quite effective, even for the occasional slightly-intoxicated patron.  (It is WAY more relaxing to ride through on the south side of the river, at least this time of year.)  If similar fencing could be installed on the publicly-owned stretches where congestion becomes problematic, it would be fantastic!

Since I ride year ‘round (bicycle and motorcycle), I’ve come to realize that the key to survival is to be prepared to compensate for any stupid thing another roadway user might do.  It’s called defensive riding.  So, I’m often annoyed, but rarely placed in harm’s way myself… with the occasional exception of a football dropping out of the sky, etc.  However… a sizeable percentage of Greenbelt traffic is made up of more casual riders, pedestrians, roller-bladers, dog-walkers, etc. … who aren’t as expert at defensive techniques, and who may not realize how important it is to “share the pathway.”  I’m hoping “the authorities” can do more to be proactive about preventing conflicts, mishaps and injuries, and also educating the population.

Thanks for your attention.  Please let me know if there’s anything more I could or should do, to alleviate the problems I’ve mentioned.