Thursday, January 31, 2013

January in review

January 2013 was the coldest we've had in quite some time. (And they talk about global warming like it's a bad thing!)  But on the bright side, we're ending up with more normal temperatures.  Amazing how warm 35 feels, after a few days of 5!

Commute Log... I ended up riding the bus in both directions on two days.  On another five, I rode the bus to work, then was able to bicycle home.

Much to my chagrin, I became reaquainted with the ground on two occasions, if ya know what I mean.  We had a freak rainstorm a week ago, which left a quarter-inch of ice glaze on everything.  I was wheeling my bike when my feet went right out from under me and I was on the ground immediately.  Ouch!  I was sore for a couple days after.  (My dear mother fared worse - she fell and broke her arm!  Adding insult to injury - she reports that three neighborhood dogs immediately ran over and started "slobbering" all over her!  I'm happy to report she's recovering nicely from both injury and insult!)  About the time I was feeling good again, I was bicycling to work - a dusting of snow hid an icy patch that caused the wheel to slide out, and I body-slammed that frozen ground yet again!  Other than a nice shiner on one knee, and the accompanying torn britches, I'm okay.  I mumbled, got up, and rode on.  But I'm getting too old for that kind of action.

I ended up riding more miles on the old "beater" than on the #1 bicycle.  The brick saddle was okay, except on the days when I took the scenic route home... after 45 minutes, it never failed to make me wonder how I enjoyed it for so many years.  (I've only ridden the An-Atomica one time in the interim... I barely even noticed it was there!  Looking forward to dry roads.)

Movie star busted for no bucket in Australia

Robert Pattinson, who's been in the "Twilight" movies, is in Australia on business. (I wouldn't know him from Adam.)  During his down time, he apparently went bicycling wearing a backwards baseball cap where a helmet should've been. A photograph showed up in the local paper, and the local authorities contacted him and warned him about the bike-helmet law.

Story HERE.

He wasn't fined (standard fine is $90 Australian), but if he doesn't heed the warning, next time they'll throw the book at him!

Interestingly, Australia also imposes a $60 "victims of crime levy" when you violate the law. Would that apply to not wearing a helmet? If you drive inattentively, you could obviously victimize somebody... but if you fail to don that bucket, who could possibly fall victim, other than yourself?

I'm pro-helmet! I always wear one. If I ever had the good fortune of going to bike-mecca Amsterdam, where nobody wears a helmet, I'd wear one, even if it stuck out like a sore thumb. (My philosophy, for both bicycles and motorcycles: "If you use your brain, wear a helmet. If you don't use your brain... well, it's probably not that important.")

But shouldn't grownups be free to weigh the pros and cons, and make that choice for themselves? Even if Pattinson is a movie star, he probably has some "smarts" - let him decide if he wants to accept the risk of riding with that fashionable backwards ballcap!

It's likely that more people would ride bikes, but don't on account of mandatory bike-helmet laws. Yeah, that's a silly reason to not ride. But mandatory bike-helmet laws are silly, too. Australia could take a lesson from Amsterdam.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gun Violence - Vehicle Violence

I don't know how you feel about guns... and I realize it's a very divisive issue.

I know how I feel about guns. I grew up in a gun-totin' household and was enjoying plinking with .22s while my age was still in the single digits. My dad wasn't much of a hunter, but he loved guns. He became a life member of the NRA. I'm not much of a hunter, but I love guns... I became a life member of the NRA.  (The proximity of guns also led to familiarity with guns... at an early age I was aware of their great potential for destruction, and the importance of handling them with respect and caution.)

I have no problem with stable-minded, law-abiding citizens owning and using guns. (I would support enhanced background checks, and I would welcome some way for private citizens to make sure they're selling a gun to a good guy; right now it's essentially impossible to do so, unless the buyer is already well-known to you.)

Much is made of the thousands of gun-related deaths. And indeed, it's a horrible tragedy when a criminal and/or deranged individual victimizes innocents, using a gun. (I cried for the first time in several years, the night after that punk shot a bunch of first-graders in Newtown. That hit very close to home for me, since I have a beloved granchild living under my roof. Mackie is that same age.)

But if we're interested in honesty and objectivity... maybe when we're looking at gun violence, we should consider separately:
- Suicide by gun
- Gun violence associated with other criminal activity
- Accidental shootings

Any untimely death of a human being is tragic... but in my mind, it's particularly tragic when the decedent is an innocent victim. (And that can't be said of adults who deliberately commit suicide, or "gang bangers" who succumb to violence wrought by their turf or drug wars.)

The vast majority of guns that are owned and secured by law-abiding citizens are never used in a crime. And in fact, it could be argued that they deter crime - ask any criminal if he would rather victimize somebody who's armed, or unarmed.

It would be interesting to objectively compare the number of innocent bystanders who fall victim to stranger gun violence, with innocent bystanders who fall victim to stranger inattentiveness behind the wheel.

Here is an interesting website about distracted driving.

According to their numbers, 416,000 people are injured annually in crashes involving distracted drivers. And 3092 people were killed in crashes involving distracted driving in 2010.

Obviously many of those distracted drivers become victims themselves... but far too many of the victims are innocents, who just had the misfortune of being in the path of destruction.

Would you somehow feel better if your child was killed by somebody who's texting-while-driving, instead of a crazy/criminal with a gun? Perhaps we've become more comfortable than we should be, surrounded by irresponsible motorists.

(This is an ongoing pet peeve of mine. Probably because I regularly see people endangering others with their distracted driving! Someday if I'm killed or maimed by a distracted driver, this will be evidence that I was concerned about the problem, but felt powerless to stem the tide.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cold & Icky!

Boy howdy!  I'm getting weary of the winter.  (People talk about Global Warming like it's a bad
thing!)  (I jest.)

Yesterday they said it was -3 at morning commute time; it was the first day that I really felt my bicycle commute was unhealthful.  The hairs in my nose were icing up... my fingers and thumbs were tingly-cold... and if you took a deep breath it stung, due to combined cold and pollution.

130122 cold smoggy 1

130122 cold smoggy 2

(Boise is situated at the base of a mountain range; in certain conditions the air tends to stagnate for days at a time.  I've commented about it before.  The air in the valley is cold and polluted, but if you climb the mountain, you break free.  I just checked the Bogus conditions - Bogus Basin being our nearby ski area - it's currently sunny and 46 degrees.  Sigh...)

Well... it'll eventually break.  Maybe by this weekend, they're saying.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mid-winter bicycling report

Here's at my end... I hope things are suitable for you, wherever you may happen to be...


I was riding the "skinny tire" bike up through January 12. It was traumatic at times. On that day I did what I should've done a couple weeks earlier... put the treaded tires on my "beater" mountain bike, and did a quick check of cables, brakes, etc. (I probably hadn't ridden it since last winter, so the inspection was merited. Everything looked OK.)

The beater - with it's 2+ inch semi-knobby tires - has been much better on the slushy and icy stuff, where those skinny tires got unstable and unpredictable.

The downside - obviously there's more rolling resistance. Of course, rolling resistance is a non-factor when you're bouncing around on frozen slush-piles

And - the beater has my old saddle on it. Despite the fact that I've probably accumulated 50,000 miles or more on that saddle, it feels so uncomfortable and hard, after enjoying my leather Selle An-Atomica saddle for a few years. The An-Atomica feels like I'm sitting on a customized hammock; the "traditional" saddle feels like I'm sitting on the "2-by" side of a 2-by-4. (It's most noticeable when I first get on the thing... after I've ridden for 5 minutes it doesn't feel as much like a torture device.) I bought a second An-Atomica saddle, but it's so shiny and new I'm hesitant to start using it! It's my "reserve" saddle! And I'd never feel right about leaving it in the weather... the beater bike lives outdoors under a carport-like thing. I s'pose I could pull the seatpost out every night and bring it inside... If our sub-freezing inversion looks like it will be prolonged, I may do some saddle-switching.

When I get to the office, I'm occasionally filled with black envy and covetousness... somebody parks a bike in there that looks like it was built for riding on snow and sand, with super-wide floatation-type tires. I believe the tires are made by Surly, and are called "Moon Lander" or something like that - they must be 4 inches wide! They look like motocross tires! (Since we normally have maybe 10-14 days a year when snow is a factor, it would be impractical from a financial standpoint. But if I win the PowerBall, my priorities will include one of those things.)

I have 3 or 4 colleagues who have been faithful bike commuters. (Compared with ten times that many in the warm months.)


("Software" being the stuff I wear when I'm riding.)

A colleague asked me how many layers I wear on the cold days.

I've been wearing a fleece sweater-type thing with zip-up high collar. My Gore-tex wind and waterproof jacket over that. I have a medium-weight balaclava - warm enough to be effective, but thin enough to fit under my brain bucket. When it's dark I wear some amber-tinted glasses; regular sunglasses in the day. Gloves. I routinely put some blistex-type stuff on my lips before venturing out, so they won't crack.

Other than that, it's business as usual.

If I were to ride all day, I'd need to use glove liners and some improved foot insulation... and even my lower half gets a little "tingly" after being out there for awhile, when it's below 20 or so. (Does anybody make a down-filled jock strap? haha!)


My mileage is down considerably... I'm trying to ride at least 10 miles a day, but I've missed that mark several times. If I get 250 miles for the month, I'll feel pretty good about it.

I've been "taking the lane" frequently, when the tire paths are clear but the edge of the road is gnarly. As long as it's not on major arterials, it's worked out well. Most motorists are cooperative and empathetic. (Many probably question my overall sanity, since my perspective is so different from their own... but they don't endanger me needlessly by tailgating, etc.)

I'm thinkin' the worst may be behind us, in another week or so. In these parts.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sissy Society!

I awoke this morning to the man on the radio announcing school closures, due to the horrible blizzard. At first it was just a few charter schools and small districts at the west end of the valley, where weather is often worse out there on the prairie. But by 7am, every school in the area had announced a "Snow Day."

Expecting grim road conditions, I decided to "chicken out" and ride the bus today.

(It's a matter of survival - the stakes are too high. Yesterday I bicycled to work; I was occupying the right-hand "tire lane" where the pavement could be seen. Totally legal, and I do fine there... except when an impatient motorist is tailgating me, five feet behind my back wheel. If I were to slip and fall, could the guy stop in time to avoid running over me? The law states that if he can't, he's following too close. But laws seem to go by the wayside when the snow falls.)

Imagine my surprise when I walked outside, and discovered that the snow is maybe two inches deep! WHAT?!!!? Not even enough to cover my low-top shoes!

Let me switch to Nostalgic Surly Old Man now...

Back when I was a kid, most of the kids walked or rode a bike to school... I did, most days. (No, I didn't walk uphill both ways!) I can remember shin-high rubber boots with little metal buckles, and the excitement of wearing those boots to walk through shin-deep snow! Stopping to "ice skate" on the frozen ditch, a couple blocks from the school. I can remember playing in that snow on the school playground. Nowadays most kids ride the bus or get dropped off by Mom at the front door... unless the snow is more than 2 inches deep. Sigh...

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Winter glove bargain

My old winter gloves are getting long in the tooth... they ain't what they used to be.  (I've got a newer pair... well, I've got a newer glove.  One of the two gloves has gone into seclusion somewhere - I'll probably find it in June.  I've got a couple other pairs of heavy winter gloves, but I hesitate to use 'em when bicycling because thinner gloves give me better tactile feel on the controls, turning my headlight on, etc.)

I did some casual shopping at bike stores... but heck, the gloves I liked were all $30, $40, $50!  Ouch!

Today I picked up a pair of gloves for 8 bucks!  If you have a Harbor Freight in your area, they are the "Cold Weather Work Gloves," regularly $14.99, on sale for $7.99 thru the end of January.  They've got grippy palms, Thinsulate, velcro wrist closures.  They're supposedly waterproof... I'd say water-resistant is more accurate.  (L-SKU#96606, XL-SKU#96612)

Safest bike on the road

Josh Zisson, attorney and cycling safety advocate, assembled "the safest bike on the road."  It has a "city bike" style frame with upright riding position.  Other features - enclosed drum brakes, internal-gear hub, puncture-resistant tires, chain guard, fenders.  (I don't see those features as contributing significantly to safety, but they're rider-friendly.)

The bike also has some visibility features that do set it apart safety-wise.  (Maybe I have too much faith in the goodness of humanity, but I believe essentially nobody will deliberately run into a bicyclist.  If they don't see you, however, all bets are off.)  LED headlight and daytime running lights powered by dynamo hub, a taillight that "gets brighter when the bike slows down" (interesting!).  And my favorite feature - the Halo Coating reflective paint job.  Good gracious, that's awesome!  The whole bike glows in the light of somebody's headlamps!  I'd definitely choose that paint if I had the option.  (It looks sorta primer-gray in the daylight, so it might not appeal to image-conscious hipsters.  But in any situation where the lighting is less than ideal, it seems to me it would greatly enhance visibility.)

More info and photos HERE.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cost of driving, 2013

How much does it cost to operate a private motor vehicle in 2013?

The IRS says 56.5 cents per mile.  That's the reimbursement rate if you use your car for company business, up one cent from 2012.

The cost of riding a bike is probably up, too!  Let's just say it went from 2 cents/mile, to 3 cents/mile.

Actually, that may be fairly accurate... I rode 6096 miles last year, and at 3 cents/mile, it would've cost $182.88.  If I'd driven a car that same number of miles, using the 56.5 cents... $3444.24.

I can't afford to drive.  Looks like another year on the bike... sigh...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Kid cyclists - too safety-conscious?

You've heard of flight simulators and even car simulators. The University of Iowa has a bike simulator! It "immerses bicycle riders in a city-scape" - three large projector screens at right angles, and the rider seems to be moving down the street as he pedals.

Yeah, I'd like to try that! I've heard of the little bike-race or scenery videos that you can put on your TV and pretend you're ridin' the Tour de France to enhance your indoor exercise-bike experience... that has no appeal to me, but the widescreen simulator would be cool!

They are using the bike simulator to study the behavior of bike-riding kids, to determine if accidents could be reduced among that vulnerable group.

What kids kids tend to do is... they ride up to the intersection and conscientiously look both ways, but when they see an opening that adult cyclists breeze right through, the kids hesitate momentarily. And a half-second delay can mean the difference between making it through the intersection or not.

The simulator guy: “One thing we’ve been able to pinpoint is that kids, even at these older ages [10-14], when you put them in a fairly challenging traffic situation, are not coordinating their movements with the traffic as well as the adults are.”

When I ride with my granddaughter, she puts her total confidence in me. The standard procedure when we stop at an intersection is... when I make the determination that it's safe, I say "Go!" and she goes! It's a huge responsibility, and we've never had a problem. The brain is far more sophisticated than any man-made computer, and it probably helps to have 50 years' worth of data stored in there somehow, rather than 6 months' worth that you are weighing along with parents' stern admoniitions to "be careful."

Article HERE.