Monday, December 31, 2007

The cost of transportation

How much does your chosen mode of transportation cost?

I got the memo last Friday:

Effective January 1, 2008, the mileage reimbursement rate for the use of personal cars in conjunction with company business will be increased to 50.5¢ per mile, up from the current 48.5¢. The new rate is consistent with the maximum standard mileage rate currently authorized by the IRS.

Of course, the cost for using your car for personal business is about the same, but you don't get reimbursed. You just write out the checks... for gas, and for car payments, tires, repair expenses, parking, insurance, etc., etc.

DANG I'm glad I ride a bike!!! (No information from the IRS on bike expenses yet, for 2008. Must mean they are staying about the same.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bicycling 101 for Non-Cyclists

There's no denying it – a rift exists between motorists and cyclists. Motorists tend to see cyclists as obstacles and road hazards. Cyclists tend to view motor vehicles the same way.

Most cyclists – at least adult cyclists – know the motor vehicle traffic laws, because they have driver's licenses and drive cars. And that means at some point in time, they had to take the test.

But many motorists (and cyclists, too) seem to be ignorant of traffic laws as they pertain to bicycles and their riders. After all, many have either not ridden a bike since childhood, or they ride bikes recreationally, but steer clear of the roads. (Bicyclists who ride on the roads have no excuse for not knowing bicycle traffic laws!)

I've collected some driver statements and complaints about cyclists below. (Most were harvested from the local newspaper's forum-board; people commenting about bikes-in-the-news. Hopefully the anger and hostility on display isn't felt by the vast majority of road-going citizens.)

I've composed responses to many of them. Please note that I'm being very civil. And I hope common-sensical. (Traits that are absent in many online postings.) My only intention is to clear up misunderstandings about traffic laws, and hopefully help drivers understand the view of the world from the bike-saddle. I've also included some links to resources that might aid in shedding light.

Also note that my comments are based on Idaho's traffic laws. And laws tend to vary from place to place. (The laws of common sense are much more uniform than the statutory laws, however. If a behavior is totally stupid in Idaho, I bet it's equally stupid in Iowa, or New Jersey, or even Denmark.)

The statements and complaints of others are in yellow (copied exactly as posted); my responses are in white.

You might want to read it in its entirety, or you might just want to scroll down and look for the ones that you, too, may be confused on.

I would encourage feedback, particularly if you think I'm making mistakes. I would also be honored if you shared this with people you know, who might benefit.

Well… here we go.

It's a miracle that more bikers don't get killed, the way they ignore stop signs and blow through red lights.

If a cyclist "blows through" a stop sign or a red light and is involved in an accident, it will almost certainly be his fault.

In Idaho, a cyclist can "coast" through a stop sign, if it is safe to do so. He must yield to cross traffic. A cyclist is required to stop at a red light, but after coming to a complete stop, he may proceed cautiously after making sure the coast is clear.

"Why is it different for cyclists?" you ask.

There is some unusual common sense in play here. It's almost as though these variations were crafted by experienced bike riders!

In the case of stop signs… it is much easier to maintain momentum on a bicycle, than to build momentum from a complete stop. (It's easy in a car – you just step on the gas.)

In the case of traffic signals… many of them are triggered by a loop of metal embedded in the pavement – a low-tech metal detector. And often it isn't sensitive enough to detect a bicycle.

A conscientious cyclist will always wait for the light to turn, if there are also cars waiting. And will avoid "close call" intersection situations. (I don't want motorists, driving 4000-pound metal missiles, to resent my presence on the road!)

Link: Idaho State Code

IMPORTANT NOTE! Idaho's stoplight / stop sign rules are very unique; if you're elsewhere, please check your local rules. (And encourage your lawmakers to look at Idaho's rules… IMO, they are uncommonly sensible.)

It's hard to see these Bicycle riders when it's as dark as it is in the Morning. When a rider is dressed in dark clothes, makes them even harder to see.

I agree! A cyclist's survival depends on being seen.

A bicycle must legally have a headlight and a rear reflector, if it is operated in the dark. But common sense would dictate further precautions – several lights both front and rear, reflectors on all sides, light-colored and/or reflective apparel, etc.

When I'm riding, day or night, I always assume that if a motorist sees me, it's unlikely he'll run into me. If he doesn't see me… all bets are off.

Link: Idaho State Code

[This comment was posted in response to a story about a 14-year-old kid who got a ticket, after he got hit by a car while illegally crossing a street on his bike.] You have got to be kidding me!!! So being hit by a car isnt enough the police had to give him a ticket as well??

I was happy to see that the kid was ticketed. If you break the law, you should get a ticket. The prospect of getting a ticket should deter people from breaking the law.

Here in Boise, the police declare that bicycle violations "are not a priority enforcement issue." In other words, they tend to ignore bike violators, unless an accident is involved. Since there is little or no enforcement, there is rampant ignorance and violation of the laws. Which leads to resentment on the part of motorists.

Every morning, I see cyclists who think they own the road. That they are entitled to make me run someone-another car off the road because they want to ride in the street, though there is a sidewalk that is paved just for them!

The facts aren't on this commenter's side. Bicycles are legally entitled to use the road, not only in Idaho, but in all 50 states. Furthermore, sidewalk riding is either illegal or discouraged in most places, because of its inherent dangers.

Most states have a law that says something like this: A bicyclist "should ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when passing, or preparing for a left turn, or avoiding hazards."

Boise's law further clarifies that "Every person operating a bicycle upon a two-way roadway shall be entitled to use the right-hand lane and shall proceed in the same direction of travel as other vehicles in that lane. On one-way roadways a bicycle may be operated in any existing lane."

How about sidewalks? Aren't they safer than the roads?

In Idaho, cyclists by law must behave like pedestrians if they are on the sidewalk.

There is some danger of bike-pedestrian collisions – and non-cyclists tend to think such a danger is much more benign than the danger of a bike-car collision. And they are right.

The danger in sidewalk-riding is the increased likelihood of a bike-car collision. At every intersection, curb-cut into a parking lot, etc., etc., a sidewalk-rider is potentially conflicting with a motorist. Frequently neither the cyclist nor the motorist is anticipating a conflict, or watching for it. Pedestrians move substantially slower than cyclists, and are much less likely to move into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

(Riding a bicycle against traffic sets up similar conflicts; thus it is illegal. Sidewalk-riding is illegal in many places, but not anywhere in the Boise area, far as I know.)

Links: Idaho State Code; Re: Sidewalks

Yes, cyclists have a right to ride on the road. However, there are some cyclists who ride 2 or 3 abreast and invariably invade into the normal car's zone.

There is an amazing amount of hostility regarding 2-abreast riders. I rarely ride with other people, so I'm confident I'm not contributing to the hostility. And - I wish that whoever is would knock it off!

What does the law say about riding two abreast?

Actually, in Idaho it's legal. But not more than two abreast. And "shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic."

Some bike-snobs seem to interpret that differently than I do. If you're riding 2-up and holding up traffic, you are being very poor ambassadors for transportation cyclists, even if you're within the law. Knock it off, you jackasses! (Pardon my French…)

Link: Idaho State Code

I have no problem with cyclists sharing the road, as long as they follow the rules. Like, pull over when you back traffic up. If you are in a car, you can't hold up traffic (though, it seems to be rarely enforced).
I am a driver. I am not into riding bikes, but as a kid, I used to love it, so I understand the love of riding bikes. What I hate, are the morons that won't let cars pass. I KNOW technically, they have the same rights... but they can, and do hold up traffic. THANKFULLY those morons, are very few, and far between, but they REALLY give all other cyclists a REALLY bad name. (and there is nothing like going 50mph down a country road, and come up a rise, and find 3 bike riders abrest, all the sudden).

I liked that comment. It had a sympathetic tone to it, while simultaneously doing a good job of pointing out the frustrations many motorists feel.

I bet if he (she?) tried riding bikes as an adult, he would discover that it's just as fun as when he was a kid!

I hope that when he says "pull over when you back traffic up," he means "keep to the right." I'll stay as far to the right as I can, but I won't get off the road and stop and wait for the traffic to go by. (If I'm riding as far to the right as I safely can, it's rare to delay even one car for more than a few seconds.)

I sure would like to see the statistics that supposedly indicate that it is safer for a bike rider to be riding on the street rather then the sidewalk. I have yet to read a report of a bike rider dying as a result of a collision with a pedestrian. Perhaps if bike riders belong on the street they should be subject to the same laws vehicles must adhere to such as headlights,stop lights ,turn signal lights etc. Also they should be required to travel the speed limit within reason as any motor vehicle. Also they should contibute to the cost of roads by purchasing license plates and be required to obtain drivers licenses as well as liability insurance.

That comment was made by a poster with the handle "Dann."

I already commented on the sidewalk issue. (He's right – you rarely hear about bike/pedestrian fatal collisions. But there are plenty of fatal collisions between cars and bikes, in which they conflicted at a sidewalk or crosswalk. In such cases, it's usually the cyclist who is dead.)

I actually posted a response to his other points, as follows:
- With a couple exceptions, bicycles are subject to the same laws as motor vehicles.
- Bicycles are (legally) required to have headlights if operated at night. And reflectors.
- Bicycles aren't required to have turn signal lights... but neither are cars. (Cyclists are required to signal with an arm gesture, unless they need both hands to safely operate.)
- Most roads don't have a minimum speed limit, only a maximum one.
- Regarding contributing to the cost of roads:
a) A meaningful percentage of road budgets comes out of the property tax, and most cyclists live in houses, apartments, etc.
b) Most cyclists also own motor vehicles. I know I have a couple. Since they are licensed but sitting in the garage when I'm riding my bicycle, I could argue that I'm paying more than my share, compared with somebody who's actually using his licensed vehicle on the road.
c) How much wear and tear will a bicycle cause to a roadway, compared with, say, a Ford Excursion? Or even a Geo Metro?
(Of course, as with all laws, bicycle laws are subject to change. If you feel strongly that bicyclists aren't paying their fair share, you should make your opinion known to the movers-and-shakers.)
- Liability insurance: If there were a meaningful number of accidents where the cyclist was found at fault, and the resulting property/medical expenses to the other party were substantial enough that the cyclist (or his estate) were unable to pay, there would probably be a requirement for liability insurance. But such a scenario is quite uncommon, thank goodness.

["Dann" made this separate comment later on. Sounds as though he's convinced that bicycles shouldn't be on the roads.] If bikes ride on street... Perhaps I should be able to ride my horse down the street. I could mount an LED light between his ears and a flashing light from his tail or reflectors and of course I should be intitled to a full lane also.

I assume he's being facetious. But I'd support his right to ride his horse down the street if he can do it cooperatively. (And who knows? In Idaho, I wouldn't be too surprised if indeed it is legal!) If he's concerned about cyclists not having liability coverage… think of the potential liability of riding a 2000-pound animal around on the streets!

People riding bicycles and not obeying the law is their own fault. Sure I ride a bike from time to time and yes I do know Idaho laws regarding this. Yet I do not follow the laws altogether as I follow my own law. Watch out for the cars as they do have the right away.

That comment speaks for itself. I resent people who ride bikes and disobey the laws because they are "following their own law." I see it all the time.

[This comment was posted as a response to the news that ground was broken for a new velodrome in the area.] Good, maybe it'll keep the spandex wearing retards off the streets!!!!

This is obviously somebody who thinks bikes are toys or hobbies – not transportation.

If I'm not wearing spandex, will he know I'm a retard anyway?

I live in Eagle and wish some of these bike nuts would obey the law and stop when there is a stop sign. It makes me wonder how many of these accidents reported in the paper were caused by poor biker judgment!

Yep – we all (motorists and cyclists) should know and understand the laws, and we need to watch out for each other. ("Stop sign" law previously commented on.)

It only takes getting hit by a car once and you realize the fight isn't fair. I've always wanted to just bump the rear tire of a cyclist who's in the left lane on state street. The speed limit is 45 mph and they do about 15 mph and they think they own the freakin road. I don't car that there isn't a bike lane. Get in the right lane and if you need to make a left turn go to the next intersection and walk you bike across the street.

I hope this poster can control his anger and hostility while on the road, for everyone's sake. (And if the offending cyclist is attempting to make a left-hand turn, this fella should be patient and wait for him, just like he would if the guy was in a Hummer.)

Last I checked, gas tax pays for roads and cars are big - There is no good reason to share the road with a bicyclist. It is too dangerous.

As previously commented, gas tax (and vehicle registration) is only a fraction of the road-construction-and-maintenance funding pie. My contention is that when you figure the amount of wear-and-tear on the infrastructure, and the tax burden, cyclists are paying their fair share or more.

"Cars are big." No, semi-trucks are big! Cars are puny! Should the "big" traffic get special dispensation on our roads? (Drivers of "big" vehicles sometimes seem to think so. Except for professional truck drivers – as a rule, they are the best, most courteous, law-abiding drivers on the road.)

I agree 100% besides all the money they put into makeing bike lanes is paid by automobile drivers. Alot of the bikers have no respect on the road anyway.Stay on the side walk.

I believe this poster is agreeing with the previous guy. And - deep down, I bet he thinks drivers are footing the bill for sidewalks, too!

Kids sure aren't learning spelling, punctuation, and grammar any more, are they?

(I'll give him a pass… he might be punching it in on a candy-bar-size keyboard, or typing while simultaneously playing World of Warcraft.)


Motorists say they see lots of idiots on bikes. But if they stop and think about it, I bet they'd admit they see lots of idiots in cars, SUVs and trucks, too.

I ride a bike, and see lots of idiots in cars. But I see plenty on bikes, too.

Idiots get around in or on every type of vehicle. Hopefully we can all understand and follow the rules, and watch out for each other… especially the idiots! (They need all the help they can get. After all, they're idiots!)

Additional links:
- Idaho Driver's Manual (PDF)
(Chapter 5 has stuff about bicycles. It's brief, but quite comprehensive.)
(The Idaho Driver's Manual is also available in "audio" version here – is that for the blind drivers?)
- Idaho Statutes regarding pedestrians and bicycles
- Boise City ordinances regarding bicycles (PDF)
- "Bicycling Street Smarts"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Transportation Energy

Way back in July, I posted some information on how much energy is generated by a cyclist.

(An anonymous commenter reminded me of it just recently, whe s/he questioned the numbers. Click here to link to the original post... it might be worthwhile just to see the awesome Tour de France photos that are attached.)

According to David Perry, author of a fantastic book, Bike Cult, an average person can produce 75 watts of power (0.1 horsepower) for several hours. A top-tier racing cyclist can produce 375 watts for several hours. It takes about 33 watts to putt along the Greenbelt at 7 mph (12 km/h).

Anyway, I got to thinkin'... and would like you to consider:

A normal car headlight burns 55 watts lo-beam, 60 watts hi-beam. Most cars have 2 of 'em. Sometimes 4. (The "dually-diesel J.C. Whitney macho monster truck crowd" likes to have 8, or 10, or 16.)

So... if you're driving with your headlights on (which many people do this time of year, what with the short days and long nights), your two headlights are burning more energy (110 watts) than a bicyclist is burning for propulsion (33-75 watts)! If you've got that heater/defrost going, you may be using 5 times more energy when you're sitting at that stoplight, than I do crankin' along.

(Sure, you don't notice it, because your engine is doing all the work. But when it has to spin the alternator, your fuel consumption will reflect the extra load.)

Think of the energy it takes to push that hulking hunk of metal and plastic down the road!

Speaking of sitting at stoplights... I sure see a lot of folks doing that. (It reminds me of one of the main reasons I gave up driving. I hate being stuck in traffic! And don't they have highly-paid traffic engineers who should be trying to minimize the amount of red-light waiting? Maybe those folks are taking too many donut breaks.)

When you're sitting at that stoplight, Mr. or Ms. Motorist, unless you shut your car off you are getting ZERO miles per gallon! OUCH! By contrast, when I'm sitting at that stoplight on my bicycle, I'm still getting 119,000 (so far) miles per gallon!

Yep... warm thoughts on a chilly day.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Out here in the vast WWW frontier, people sure aren't afraid to put their ignorance on prominent display. (Of course, I must realize there are probably folks who are thinking that same thing about my rants!)

Maybe it's the anonymity. Maybe it's clever parody - they're just pretending to be totally ignorant.

Case in point -

Last Friday (December 14), a teenage boy was cited by the local police after he ignored a traffic signal and rode his bike into a crosswalk, and into the path of an oncoming car. Fortunately, it sounds like the kid wasn't seriously injured.

As is the case when anything bicycle-related is in the news, the all-knowing yokels responded. (The local newspaper has a forum where readers can comment on stories.) Last I saw, there were 34 comments... along with numerous responses to the comments.

There was a sizable sidewalk-riding component this time around... comments on whether bicycles should be relegated to the sidewalks.

Here are some of my "favorites" (?):

Every morning, I see cyclists who think they own the road. That they are entitled to make me run someone-another car off the road because they want to ride in the street, though there is a sidewalk that is paved just for them!

Back in the good old days, I used to be able to drive on the streets without any fear. Thirty years later, it's a whole new world. Now there are cyclists everywhere.

Yes, cyclists have a right to ride on the road. However, there are some cyclists who ride 2 or 3 abreast and invariably invade into the normal car's zone.

If bikes ride on street, perhaps I should be able to ride my horse down the street. I could mount an LED light between his ears and a flashing light from his tail or reflectors and of course I should be intitled to a full lane also.

People riding bicycles and not obeying the law is their own fault. Sure I ride a bike from time to time and yes I do know Idaho laws regarding this. Yet I do not follow the laws altogether as I follow my own law. Watch out for the cars as they do have the right away.

Last I checked, Gas tax pays for roads and cars are big - There is no good reason to share the road with a bicyclist. It is too dangerous.

I agree - besides all the money they put into makeing bike lanes is paid by automobile drivers. Alot of the bikers have no respect on the road anyway.Stay on the side walk.

I sure would like to see the statistics that supposedly indicate that it is safer for a bike rider to be riding on the street rather then the sidewalk. I have yet to read a report of a bike rider dying as a result of a collision with a pedestrian.

"I do not follow the laws altogether as I follow my own law." AMAZING!!

(Idaho Statesman article, and comments, can be found here.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007


As of today, I've accumulated 6000 bicycle miles in 2007. (Woo-hoo!)

It's my 6th 6000+ mile calendar year. Most recent was 2004. My best ever was 1996 - 6589 miles.

By contrast, I've maybe driven 1000 miles in the Missus' car this year, including a Boise to Stanley to Ketchum to Fairfield to Boise loop (400 or so miles).

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bike Christmas Lights - Part II

I rearranged the lights a bit, and snapped a photo. It came out... okay, I s'pose. Snapping photos in the dark is somewhat hit-and-miss, and this was as close to a "hit" as I could come up with. At least you can get the idea.


Click HERE to see a larger rendition, along with the house in all its glory. (My wife and daughters took over the house decorations a few years back, after my feeble efforts over the years were no longer adequate. I'm rather half-hearted about Christmas decorating, I admit.)

Worth noting are the yellow reflective stickers I've put on my bicycle, on the rear fender and front fork. They increase nighttime visibility tremendously.

Another side note: As I pulled into my driveway yesterday evening, my neighbor asked me, "Are you the bike nazi?" I confessed that I was, and asked him, "How did you know?" He said the bike Christmas lights gave me away. DOH! (I swore him to secrecy, but I'm afraid if Cheney and Rummy were water-boarding him, he'd sing like a bird!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Holiday Bicycling Tip

Well... I finally did it.

Yesterday I went out, despite the 20-degree temperature, and installed my Christmas lights.

On my bicycle.

(NOTES: Substitute "holiday lights" if "Christmas lights" is offensive. Ha! And it's silly to mention the 20-degree temperature as an obstacle, since I managed to ride 22+ miles yesterday. The high was 27 degrees.)

Yep. Last year I got a string of LED Christmas lights. 20 or 25 lights, in red, yellow, and green. They run off a 4-AA battery pack, and either blink or stay on solid. I got 'em at the Walgreens; I think they cost $4 or so. I don't think they're waterproof, but I stowed the battery pack under the saddle... and since the risk is $4, I can risk it.

This morning on the ride to work, I put 'em on blinky mode.

The response was overwhelmingly positive. Several people tapped their horns, gave me the thumbs-up, smiled happily, etc. A school bus driver even slowed down, opened his door, and said, "I like your Christmas lights!"

They aid in visibility... they add to holiday cheer (for myself and others)... what's not good about this idea? I'll probably leave 'em on 'til December 26th - no point in overdoing it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Look at that idiot on the bike!

I'm sure if I had been a fly on the inside-window of a car, I would've heard that a time or two this morning. (As I rode past motorists... them being hampered by traffic jams and such.)

It snowed a half-inch or so in these parts this morning, just as drive-time was starting.

That, of course, caused a couple of inevitable side effects:
- A good percentage of the area's motorists went into panic mode.
- Another meaningful percentage of 'em huffed and puffed confidently, because they have macho SUVs, and are "prepared." (These are the ones who aren't paying attention, and haven't noticed that when it snows, a large majority of vehicles-involved-in-accidents are macho SUVs, pickups, etc.)
- Our road surfaces quickly deteriorated, because snow events are infrequent enough that the road maintenance agency is ill prepared to quickly handle it. Especially when it comes right as drive-time is getting started.

One of my fellow workers was lamenting that it took her 55 minutes to go 10 miles. Another told me he saw 6 accidents on the inbound I-84. He drives about that same distance, and it took him an hour and 15 minutes.

I rode my bike. It took me 15 minutes instead of the usual 13, for my 3.5 mile commute.

Designated bike lanes become meaningless when the roads (and lane stripes) are covered with snow. Typically the car-lane moves to the right and occupies part or all of the bike lane.

My strategy is to stay far-to-the-right and try not to put myself in harm's way. (For example, where there's a curve in the road or a downward slope, it's more likely that motorists will have problems, than along a straight, flat stretch of roadway.) More detailed winter riding strategy here.

One of the numerous differences between riding a bike and driving a car is - you get much more "road feel" on a bike. If it's slippery, and you're paying attention and have the experience to know what you're feeling, there's a different feel at the slightest hint of your tires losing traction. It's just a matter of tuning in those feelings, and knowing how to react (also a matter of experience)... and hoping and expecting that other roadway users will be responsible enough not to plow into you!

(When I hear my fellow workers' tales-of-woe about their hour-long commutes because they live so far from work, it's difficult not to think to myself, "Look at those idiots in their cars!")

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Boise Choo-Choo Update

There's a lot of local train news lately.

Mayor Bieter seems the believe that light rail will go a long way to solving our local transportation / pollution issues.

There's a movement afoot to bring Amtrak back to Boise. (The Portland - Boise - Salt Lake City route was abandoned several years back, due to light ridership and the hugely-subsidized expense of operating passenger trains.)

More immediately, "Big Mike," a 1920-era steam locomotive, is being moved from its long-time residence in Julia Davis Park, to a new "Big Mike Plaza" at the Boise (railroad) Depot.

Your taxpayer dollars at work. (Around 322,500 of 'em, if you're counting.)

IMO, the Big Mike Move is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.

But more significantly, it's a colossal waste of dollars that could, and should be used for improved bike and pedestrian facilities. Let me explain.

According to Boise City's website, "The Idaho Transportation Department awarded $309,000 in federal funds for the entire project, which includes moving the historic locomotive, preservation efforts, construction of the new plaza and interpretive signage. The funds are designated for non-roadway improvements."

Almost certainly, those funds were awarded as part of the Federal "Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act" (ISTEA), intended for stuff like better bike and pedestrian facilities, "Safe Routes to School," etc. My understanding is that the state receives the funds from the feds, and then cities apply to the state for the projects they designate.

Apparently our City Fathers felt that moving "Big Mike" was the best use of the funds - better than installing sidewalks where there are none, or fixing busted-up greenbelt, or improving routes to school.

They should install a little plaque in the Big Mike Plaza that says something like:

"Paid for by the sacrifice of pedestrian and bicycle facilities."

(Lest you think the entire project is being funded using federal bike/pedestrian funds, let me clarify that $14,000 came from private donations - mostly local railroading fans.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Air Quality Summit

The local movers-and-shakers conducted an "Air Quality Summit" at City Hall, a week or so ago.

There's a good reason - our days with poor air quality are WAY up this year. Close to half the days have been "yellow" air quality or worse. (Using the Homeland Security Color Code, apparently. But coincidentally, on many of those days, the air has been yellow, or brown.)

Dave over at the Boise Guardian boldly predicted how the meeting would go:

"Experts from all the local planning, air quality, and highway agencies will each give presentations. If they follow the usual protocol, the politicos and bureaucrats will spew their wisdom and then offer citizens a mere three minutes to respond or offer their own ideas and assessments."

Wow! Uncanny clairvoyance! (Or is it that he's attended so many of these bureaucratic gab-fests that he's detected a pattern...?)

Our mayor is on the choo-choo bandwagon. He seems convinced that a commuter train will solve all our problems. Others call for expanded transit service. (The local public transportation is on life-support; the routes are very limited and they only run every half hour, even at peak times. And even at peak times, most buses are running mostly-empty.) Meanwhile, like 'most every place else in this great land, well over 90% of citizens drive - ALONE - to all of their destinations.

All those drivers like to blame agricultural burning, wood stoves, and forest fires for the bad air. And that is the problem, my friends. So many people blame somebody else. They think, "I care about the problem. But I'm doing everything I can, and it's somebody else's fault."

I'm guessing all the bureaucratic experts are just the same. Here's a photo from the Summit; look how many experts were gathered, sitting in their lofty perches! But... how many of these yokels carpooled to the meeting? Or took the bus? Most likely every one of 'em arrived in a single-occupant vehicle.

Until there is a big change-of-attitude among the majority of the public, nothing will change, except the air and traffic will keep getting worse.

The "Guardian" says, "... making it painful helps no one."

I'll have to differ. As long as driving a car is the most comfortable option, plenty of folks won't even consider something else. Maybe as gas prices continue to spiral upward, and traffic gets worse, and the air is more befouled than ever before... it will get painful and more people will be willing to get out of their comfort zones.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another black eye for cyclists

Kyle Eidson has a letter in today's Idaho Statesman that's typical of many letters written by frustrated motorists, as they observe bicyclists who seem to not be obeying the law.

He says:

Memo to bicyclists, traffic laws pertain to you, too.

My heart goes out to the family that lost their family member. However, the majority of bicyclists that think traffic laws don't apply - think again. We're North Enders, and it's common that bicyclists don't signal, pull out in front of traffic, ride through the crosswalk.

Also, stop signs/lights do apply to you. Scenario, car stops, car goes, bicyclist passes by at 20 mph in front of you then turns around and gives a death glare like "how dare you, didn't you see me?" No we didn't, because you didn't stop. The same can be said at Downtown signals at any various State and (fill-in-the blank) streets.

One last request from Mr. Disrespectful Car Driver Guy, get out of the middle of the road. There are no bike lanes in the North End housing community, and there are a lot of cars parked on the street, understood. This doesn't give you the right to ride down the middle of the street. We would go around you, but you take your half out of the middle.

(He refers to the recent fatal accident where a cyclist was standing still in a bike lane, waiting for a green light, when she was plowed into by an H3 Hummer from behind. The driver of the Hummer has been charged with vehicular manslaughter.)

While I can't envision the scenario he paints, I appreciate his frustration with cyclists who think laws (of the land, and of physics) somehow don't apply to them. In fact, I bet I resent such cyclists more than he does, because they cause motorists to harbor a general feeling of resentment toward all cyclists. (The same way a few rednecks in pickups make me believe that all pickup drivers are idiots, even though a few smart guys drive pickups.)

I hope Mr. Eidson (and all Idaho motorists) understand that by law, cyclists are not required to stop at a stop sign. Although they are required to yield. That seems to be a matter of great confusion and misunderstanding. (Cyclists also have different rules at a red light. They must come to a full stop, but then they can proceed cautiously, once it is safe.)

Also, he should be careful when criticizing a cyclist for riding too far out in the traffic lane. Especially if that cyclist is trying to negotiate narrow residential streets with "a lot of cars parked."

I know people who have spent days in the hospital after being "doored" by somebody getting out of a parked car. I keep a respectful distance from parked cars for that very reason, and because a car could suddenly pull out of a parking space into my path. And the law is on my side. I, as a cyclist, have a legal right to the entire lane width if I need it for safe passage.

The law: "Every person operating a bicycle upon a two-way roadway shall be entitled to use the right-hand lane and shall proceed in the same direction of travel as other vehicles in that lane." It goes on to say that the cyclist should ride as far to the right "as is safe under the conditions then existing," but I reserve the right to make that judgment, since it's my safety or lack thereof. (Boise City Code 10-14-06; I'm pretty sure the law in all 50 states will be similar.)

When Mr. Eidson and other motorists see law-breaking cyclists, I sincerely wish they would call the police and complain. Only when there is a public outcry, will bicycle traffic laws be enforced. As I observed just a few days ago (here), the riding-against-traffic law has been enforced five times in five years!! Yet I see that law being broken every flippin' day! Like 'most everybody else, cops tend to think of bicycles as toys, not transportation, and cyclists do not get the attention (both positive and negative) that they so richly deserve.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

There oughtta be a law!

Actually, there is a law. (But there might as well not be.)

Here's how it reads:

A. No person shall operate a bicycle on a roadway against the flow of motorized traffic, except where permitted by official signs or pavement markings.
B. Every person operating a bicycle upon a two-way roadway shall be entitled to use the right-hand lane and shall proceed in the same direction of travel as other vehicles in that lane. On one-way roadways a bicycle may be operated in any existing lane.
C. The operator of a bicycle traveling at a rate of speed which delays a vehicle or vehicles following in the same lane shall be required, when it is unlawful or unsafe for the following vehicle to pass, to move as far to the right of the traveled roadway, or to the left where the bicycle is in the left lane of a one-way roadway, as is safe under the conditions then existing; provided, however, that when the bicyclist is within fifty feet (50') of an intersection, he shall not be required to move to the right or left until he has moved through the intersection.

(From the Boise City Code, Section 10-14-06. "It's in the book!" I'm sure most jurisdictions have a very similar law.)

One of my ongoing pet peeves is that bicycle laws are not enforced. In fact, they are routinely ignored by many totally-irresponsible cyclists, and by many totally-irresponsible law enforcement officers, unless an accident is involved.

(Now... you read some laws, and you wonder what the lawmakers were thinking. But Section 10-14-06 makes perfect sense - it is a VERY well-crafted law!)

I've even called and complained about against-traffic cyclists (because they routinely place me in very hazardous situations!) - I've been told, very matter-of-factly, "That isn't a priority violation for us."

Well, folks... I decided to do some research.

I submitted an official request... asking the folks at the Boise Police Department to tell me how many times "Section 10-14-06" has been enforced over the last five years.

I got the response in the mail yesterday.

Five tickets (!!) have been issued in the City of Boise since November 2002. Three in 2003, one in 2005, and one in 2006. (And just one of 'em was for the "riding against traffic" part.)

That does a lot to explain why I see so many doofuses on bikes, riding against traffic. The Police Department should be ashamed of their totally lax enforcement. I'm betting if the police chief rode a bike for transportation, against-traffic bike riding would get higher-priority attention.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Winter Bicycling Challenges: Slippery

Winter Bicycling Challenges: Cold
Winter Bicycling Challenges: Dark

Some laws can be changed.

Others can't. Like gravity. And inertia. And the one that says when it drops to 32 degrees (F; 0 degrees C), water turns to ice. All of those laws must be reckoned with, when the weather turns cold and wet.

It's somewhat of a tradition in these parts. On the first day of the "slippery season" - when below-freezing temperatures combine with moisture to put that shiny, slippery sheen on the roads - the TV people find a state cop to interview, out on I-84. He'll stand in the blowing snow and warn people about fast driving... while standing in front of a shiny but upside-down squashed Hummer or Suburban.

Some motorists - usually in their big ol' SUVs and 4x4 pick 'em up trucks - are under the delusion that if they have snow tires, they can safely navigate on slippery roads, in heavy traffic, at the posted speed limit (or higher).

The biggest true danger us cyclists face on slippery days is... clueless motorists. (I s'pose clueless motorists are the biggest danger, every day of the year, no matter the weather.) In other words... I can survive a bike crash. In fact, if I crash my bike, there's a very good chance I can get up, dust myself off, and ride on to my destination. But if some out-of-control clown in a 2-ton steel missile rolls over me, it could really spoil my day!

How to cope?

[FIRST - be aware of your risk-tolerance level. No matter what you do, and what measures you take, there is always the chance that things can go badly. (Observe that poor lady who was stopped in the bike lane a few weeks back, and never knew what hit her. It was a Hummer H3.) If the potential reward isn't worth the risk, hang it up for the day. ]

When it's slippery for me, it's slippery for everybody else. If I'm riding down a straight thoroughfare, free of intersections, I figure cars will also be traveling straight, and will be less likely to go sliding out-of-control. As I approach intersections, I watch for ANY approaching traffic from ANY direction... intersections are where things happen on slippery days.

Snowy days are the one time I ride as far to the right on the pavement as I can (rather than hugging up close to the traffic lane). I go much more slowly than when the road is dry, with right-hand poised over the (rear) brake lever. (If you lock up the rear wheel by braking too hard, you might be able to correct the problem. If you lock up your front wheel, it's usually all over.) I'm not hesitant to get on the sidewalk on a slippery, snowy day, if one is available. (If a vehicle slides out-of-control, I'd rather he bounce off the curb, than off of me!) If you're lucky enough to have a dedicated bike-pedestrian path, a slippery day is a great day to put it to use.

Of course, there are other hazards besides motor vehicles. (Although none as potentially life-threatening.) If the snow doesn't melt on the first day - and it usually does in these parts - often there's "frozen slush" to deal with the next day. That can be some nasty stuff, causing you to involuntarily and suddenly change course, bounce off your saddle, etc. Depending on how deep the snow is, other hazards - even curbs, etc. - can be hidden under the white blanket. And, of course there is ICE.

Ice must be anticipated. If the temperature is 35 or lower, expect ice. The roadway can be slippery with "black ice," even if it isn't easily visible. I usually take a few steps down my driveway on an "iffy" day, just to determine the slippery-factor, before pedaling away.

The best strategy for staying upright on ice is... absolutely no sudden moves. Slow and steady is the way to arrive at your destination. If you find yourself unexpectedly on ice... go straight if at all possible, and "ride it out."

How about hardware?

The main limitation is traction. If Hummers, with their four 20-inch-high, 12-inch-wide tires are skidding out-of-control, consider those thumbprint-size contact patches that you, as a cyclist, are dealing with! And deal with it!

I'm fortunate to have a "touring" bicycle. And around this time of year I remove the skinny, smooth-tread tires and put on some slightly wider, treaded, comfort/touring/cyclocross -type tires.

When it gets really bad, I give the touring bike the day off, and hop on my old beater "mountain" bike, with its 2 1/4 -inch, aggressively-treaded tires. You can let some air out of the tires for a larger contact patch. If you're really serious, you can even get studded snow tires (in mountain bike sizes). That would probably make a difference on ice... but I'd still ride gingerly.

One note about new-fallen snow... it is a truly pleasurable experience to be the first one to make tracks in newly fallen snow. For you skiers, it's akin to being the first one down the mountain in the powder! Obviously you go more slowly than on a dry surface, and there's some effort in pushing the snow out of the way. But it's so quiet and serene... like riding on the clouds. It is SO worth it! (Just don't fail to recognize the potential hazards.)

"Slippery" can be dealt with on a bike. In fact, up in the north country, they even have ice-bike races! (In between seal hunts and igloo-building contests, I s'pose.)

A friend of mine described a harrowing winter near-disaster. Indiana Jones stuff. He was riding in downtown Boise, on either Bannock or Idaho near the Capitol building. He hit a patch of ice and went down... with a car coming up behind him. Thinking quickly (and with the adrenaline pumping, I'm sure), he stiffened out his arms and pushed against the front bumper of the car with everything he had. The car pushed him - and his bike - 20 or 30 feet down the road before it was able to come to a complete stop. I do not need that kind of excitement!


Monday, November 19, 2007

Lacy Little Nothing

This might be just the ticket for a bike-riding Victoria's Secret supermodel. The Arantix mountain bike; built in Payson, Utah. (A few miles south of Provo.)

If you've got $12K burning a hole in your britches, it can be yours!

The frame is obviously the unique feature; it's built of "lattice tubes" using what the builders call an IsoTruss design, of carbon fiber and Kevlar. (Click the photo for a larger size; a couple additional photos are available at the linked article, below.)

It's beautiful, but I'm not convinced it's very practical.
- How do you keep water from collecting in the ends of the tubes? (Not that the tubes would rust, but water would add unwanted weight, and would also potentially rust components - like bottom brackets and such.)
- Is it aerodynamic? The article claims the lattice "reduces drag and cross wind resistance." I'm not convinced. (The article also claims that the fully-assembled bike weighs 2.7 pounds and I know that's not true. The fork alone weighs more than 2.7 pounds!)

Currently it's built by hand; the geeks who build 'em (at Advanced Composite Solutions) hope to automate the process for cost savings within a couple years.

More info can be found by clicking here (Deseret News article).

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Morning Breaks

It was a sweet ride in this morning. The forecast was/is for scattered showers, and the pavement was wet. But no rain. Off to my right was a beautiful sunrise; off to my left was a Judy Garland -quality rainbow.

Here's the sunrise from the Americana Bridge, over the Boise River.

Dawn Fishermen - Americana

Click on the photo for a larger view. (In the larger size, a half-dozen or so fishermen are clearly visible. The Fish and Game dumped a big load of big steelhead into the river a couple days ago, and the fishermen and wannabe-fishermen are out in droves.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Roadways to Bikeways"

The ACHD had another public forum on their Roadways to Bikeways project yesterday (Nov. 14).

ACHD - is Ada County Highway District. It is the public agency in charge of building and maintaining most of the roads and other public thoroughfares in Idaho's most populous county.
Roadways to Bikeways - is a project aimed at making our community more bike-friendly. It seems to mostly be focused on the infrastructure, and specifically adding more connections between multi-use roadways and the limited network of dedicated bike/pedestrian facilities.

I didn't attend "Open House #2" (yesterday's meeting), but links to the information that was presented can be found here. (Click on any of the "Open House #2" documents.)

I attended "Open House #1" a couple months back, carefully reviewed the presentations, filled out the questionnaires, etc.

While I think it's laudable that ACHD is sincerely trying to improve connectivity to the dedicated bikeways, and I support their efforts (and I use those bikeways whenever it's practical), the reality is...

According to their website, ACHD is responsible for some 1800 miles of roads and streets in the county, and 120 miles of "bike lanes, recreational pathways and wide road lanes for motor vehicle and bicycle use." Transportation cyclists have destinations that don't happen to lie along those 120 miles of bike-oriented corridors. ACHD's focus and goal must be on making all 1800 miles of roads as bike-friendly as they can possibly be.

While it's impractial to envision all 1800 miles of roads with bike lanes (contrary to what some so-called "bike advocates" advocate), I believe these actions would be a good start:

- Making intersections bike-friendly. Many of our intersections are controlled by what's called a "ground induction loop" - a low-tech metal detector. When a big chunk of metal hovers above the loop, it asks for a green light. But bicycles frequently don't get noticed by the loop. ACHD makes an effort to mark intersections when people call and complain (with a yellow paint-stripe directly above the loop). But ALL of those intersections should be inventoried and regularly marked, just as a matter of procedure.

- Educating both motorists and potential cyclists that BIKES BELONG! Not only on the 120 miles of dedicated pathways and lanes, but on all 1800 miles of roads in the county.

- Combining the education with an enforcement effort. Bike traffic laws need to be vigorously enforced before bikes will ever be perceived as a legitimate form of transportation. (Currently, most bike-infractions are ignored, unless an accident is involved. And there is a lot of pent-up resentment among motorists, when they deal with cyclists running red lights, riding against traffic, weaving from lane to lane, etc.) And motorists who act aggressively toward cyclists, are unwilling to yield lawful right-of-way, etc., also need to be educated through enforcement. (Rednecks in pickup trucks and Rice-burner punks don't give me much respect when I try to explain... but they might listen to the Man in Blue.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Autumn in Boise

I'd invite you to check out my current "Boise Bikescapes" photo collection; I've recently added some nice autumn pics. Click here to link.

3-Ann Morrison overlook 2

3-bike and red tree

God is the ultimate artist; I'm just happy to be there to enjoy some of His work.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Winter Bicycling Challenges: Dark

Related: Winter Bicycling Challenges: Cold
Coming soon: Winter Bicycling Challenges: Slippery

(This is a LONG one... but hopefully worth reading.)

Appropriately, we just switched from Daylight Saving Time back to Standard Time.

(It's obvious that our friends in Congress are not tech-savvy, or they'd realize that their arbitrary change of the DST rules has a profound impact on computers, VCRs, TV sets - pretty much anything that has a built-in electronic clock. But that's a different topic.)

Which means it's dark at go-home time, rather than at leave-home time. For a month or so - at which point it will be dark at both times, for 3 months or so.

And I'll get "SAD." You know - that "Seasonal Affective Disorder" stuff.

Isn't it amazing that the illness-abbreviation would spell out "SAD"? Because when you think about it, it makes you feel kinda sad. I'm glad it's "Seasonal," and not "Midwinter Affective Disorder." Or worse yet, "Brightness Affective Disorder."

Oh - I'm digressing again. Sorry.


It poses particular challenges to cyclists. To see... and to be seen.

Every so often, you hear about a night-time accident involving a motor vehicle and a bicyclist - the cyclist ends up mashed, squirrel-like, on the road. More often than not, the bicycle has no reflectors (or mud-covered reflectors), no lights, and the rider is dressed in dark clothes. And
frequently riding in the wrong direction. It's hard to fault the car driver in such situations. (Maybe Darwin was right, huh? About that "natural selection" thing.)

Here's what is required in this jurisdiction (Boise City - Code Section 10-14-03):

When in use at nighttime, a red reflector on the rear visible from a distance of three hundred feet (300') when directly in front of lawful upper beams of a motor vehicle, and a forward-facing white light attached either to the bicycle or the bicyclist which is visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet (500') in front of the bicycle. A bicycle shall be equipped with a front-facing white or yellow reflector when the bicyclist uses a generator powered light which is unlit when the bicycle is stopped.

I imagine most places have similar rules. If they don't they should.

Let's start with that headlight (or "forward facing white light").

Headlights can be anything from a tiny LED "micro light" clamped on your handlebars or even handheld in a pinch, to a $500 HID light with an external battery pack.

The smallest lights are likely visible from 500 feet - if the other guy is paying attention. On the upside - they are better than nothing, if you get stuck out after dark. (And I'm sure most of us dedicated cyclists have had a change in plans, and found ourselves in the dark unexpectedly.) On the downside - they provide little, if any, assistance in lighting your way. Something as insignificant as a pothole, or even a manhole cover, could cause you a major problem if you don't see it.

At the other end - those HID lights are so bright they'll peel paint at 100 yards! Well, not really, but they will have other roadway users flashing their brights in your direction, if you don't have them properly aimed. The downside? Who's got 500 bucks for a flippin' headlight?!!

There are a myriad of choices in between... from downright-bright LED lights powered by throwaway batteries, to rechargeable handlebar lights, to generator-powered lights, to helmet-lights, to multiple-beam high-powered incandescent lights with an external "bottle battery."

My practice (and advice) would be to ALWAYS carry an "emergency" headlight, that will at least alert other roadway users of your presence. (I carry a little "keychain light" in my flat-tire kit. I've also been known to carry a small 2-AA flashlight, when I've been pretty sure I'd end up after dark, but had not yet installed the "real" headlight.) During the "dark" season (typically mid-October to mid-March??) I install my "real" headlight. Currently, and for the past 6 or 7 years, it's a 10-watt incandescent handlebar-mounted light, with an external rechargeable battery. (For comparison purposes, a car's low beam is supposedly 55 watts... but those 10 watts are plenty bright for 20-mph travel.) It's supposed to be good for 2 hours or so of continuous lighting; when I'm just using it for the evening commute, a couple weeks can go by in between charges. (And it's just a matter of plugging it in overnight, to charge it back up. You know it's time when it starts losing some of its luster.)

(I've got friends who are seriously into the mountain biking. But they hate crowds, so during the summer months they use similar lights, and head for the hills just as the sun is going down. Their lights throw plenty of brightness to navigate the single-track... so you know they'll be quite adequate for rolling down the pavement.)

I'd say expect to spend $60-130 for such a setup (depending on features, and how bargain conscious you happen to be).

A note about generator lights. When I was a kid, I had one on my "lightweight English 3-speed" bike. I never cared for it. It was one of those that has a gnarly little wheel that rolls against the sidewall of the tire. I didn't like that it went off when I was stopped, and it whined, and it seemed to effect rolling resistance more than you'd think.

Nowadays, some commuter/touring -oriented bicycles have some kind of hub-mounted generator, and possibly even a battery or capacitor for energy storage, so the light doesn't go off when you stop. I have not had experience with such a setup. It looks rather complicated and expensive. If somebody reads this and has had experience, either good or bad, please post your thoughts.

Taillights. A reflector is all that's required, but I'd never venture out in the dark without a taillight.

There aren't quite as many varieties. Most are the blinky-LED types. And I believe they are quite effective... at least I know I can see a bicycle rider from blocks away, if he's got such a taillight, and the lens is clean, and the batteries are fresh. (I don't do a lot of night riding, but in blinky-mode, one set of AAA batteries lasts for a season.) I leave my taillight mounted on the bike all year 'round. It's tiny and lightweight, and better safe than sorry.

Such a taillight will cost $5-30, depending on how fancy-schmancy (and shopping the sales).

Beyond lighting, what can you do to improve safety while riding in the dark?

- Wear bright/light clothing. A white jacket can be seen WAY farther away at night, than a black one. Better yet - wear clothes with reflective material. That reflector stuff can be seen from blocks and blocks away, when headlights are aimed in your direction.
- Reflectors! You can get a sheet of peel-off sticky reflectors in various shapes and sizes for 4 bucks. Put 'em all the way around on your bike, helmet, etc.
- Multiple headlights and/or taillights, if you really want to get serious.

A few months back, I was driving the wife's minivan one night. I saw something coming up the road toward me. Frankly, it looked like those UFOs in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." I bet it was a mile away, when I first spotted it! As it got closer, I was able to identify it. It was a guy riding his bike (on the sidewalk!). He must've had 4 headlights, and twice as many blinkie-LED lights in both red and amber. His bike was totally covered by those little reflector-stickers... he had 'em twisted around all the tubes like a barber pole! He had some white saddlebags covered with reflectors and lights. He was wearing white clothes and a highway-worker reflective orange safety vest.

That might be overkill - but that guy taught me a lesson. You CAN be totally visible at night! (I bet that guy does not get smashed like a squirrel, even if he's riding up the road in the wrong direction or whatever!)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Seattle - ponying up the $ for bikes

An article on today's Seattle Times web edition: Seattle's big bike plan gets a green light. (Link to article here.)

Seattle - already one of the bike-friendliest big cities you'll find anywhere - has approved (and funded!) a plan to "raise the popularity of bicycles."

They plan to spend $27 million (of a $365 million transportation levy) for bike facilities, including 118 miles of new bike lanes and 19 miles of trails.

There will obviously be naysayers. In fact, I found a link to the article on a website that was criticizing such wasteful spending. (The thinking man obviously knows that all $365 million should be spent on more pavement for single-occupant motor vehicles, right?)

Would $365 million build 137 miles of new roads? I'm guessing the answer is no.

It is estimated that 2.5% of Seattle residents use bicycles for transportation (up from 2% in 2000).

My favorite part of the plan: "... a $300,000 safety-education program will begin, combined with tighter enforcement on motorists and cyclists ... The outreach may include posters, classroom materials and neighborhood meetings. Direction signs will be installed along bike routes, pointing the way to neighborhood shopping districts, trails and parks."

I wish our local leaders (and law-enforcers) would realize the importance of bicycle education and enforcement... my consistent opinion is that we are much more lacking in that, than in bike-friendly infrastructure.

In my opinion, Seattle's elected officials are showing leadership, boldness and vision. Perhaps in 5 years, when gas is $5 or $6 a gallon, and the roads are more crowded than ever, and bike ridership has crept up to maybe 5%, it will seem like they made a good move to start their project with 2007 dollars.

There is absolutely NO reason why Boise shouldn't be better-known as a "bike city" than Seattle. We have the geography. We have the infrastructure, and far fewer obstacles that are already built in. We have a better climate! Do we have the will?

I'll support politicians who are outspoken in their bike-friendliness. I voted today - and my "I voted" sticker is now proudly displayed on my bike helmet. I ride and I vote!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Winter Bicycling Challenges: Cold

When the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, the year-round cyclist is presented with some unique and potentially deadly challenges. I'd classify them into three groups:
- the "cold" challenge
- the "dark" challenge
- the "slippery" challenge

(Here in Boise, we are typically blessed to have short winters, where the cold and slippery factors are relegated to just a few days each season. But on those days, they must be recognized, respected, and dealt with.)

"Cold" might be the easiest of the three to mitigate.

I jokingly tell people that when I'm bicycling in the cold, I "resist the urge to lay down under a tree and rest for awhile." To somebody who has survived an ordeal-by-cold, that wouldn't be so funny; one of the symptoms of true hypothermia is lethargy, and I'm sure many a victim has intended to "just get a little rest" and then move on.

In urban or suburban surroundings, however, where assistance is generally nearby, cold is rarely deadly.

There is fantastic "active wear" available these days - designed for vigorous activity in cold conditions. Unlike the old days when you had to bundle up in your Eddie Bauer goose-down Mount Everest parka. (When I was a kid, I used to devour my dad's Eddie Bauer catalogs... nowadays I don't know if they even sell an expedition parka or sleeping bag. I think they're all shopping-mall yuppie-wear nowadays. Pathetic!)

A key to staying warm (or at least "not cold") is staying dry.

I've got a sweet bright yellow Gore-Tex jacket. (And matching pants, when conditions warrant.) It keeps me dry even in a downpour. Anything that's waterproof is also, by nature, wind-resistant. The jacket, and a layer of insulating material (thermal, fleece, etc.) are all I need for temperatures down to the teens.

(If you're not familiar with Gore-Tex, which seems unlikely, it has the unique advantage of being completely waterproof, while allowing water vapor to escape. It keeps the rain and snow out... while letting the sweat evaporate. So the wearer doesn't get clammy.)

Of course, my fingers and toes and ears get uncomfortably cold first, if not protected. (Your experience may vary.)

I keep my ears warm with a stretch-poly balaclava "ski mask." It covers my entire head and neck, except for my face, and the fabric is thin enough to fit (snugly) under my helmet. It keeps my ears out of the wind, and snugged-up against my head. When it gets around zero degrees, I sometimes get an "ice cream headache" as my sinuses get chilled... but I'm typically trying to get indoors ASAP when it's that cold. (I save the long bike rides for warmer days.)

I've got some Neoprene shoe covers to keep my toes warm. (Neoprene is the rubbery stuff they make skin diver suits out of. It's stretchy and rubbery, even in very cold conditions, and completely waterproof.) At one time in the past, I had some Neoprene full shoe covers. They stretched over my shoes, up to above the ankles, with a zipper in the back. For me, they were too warm... my feet felt like they were roasting unless it was really REALLY cold out. The shoe covers work great for me - they stretch over the front of my shoes and are held on just with a snug fit. They keep my shoes dry, even when water is splashing up from the road. (They would not be suitable for riding all day in the wet, but they work fine for my commuting-type trips, where I'm only exposed for a half hour or less.)

There are a hundred different varieties of gloves, to keep those fingers toasty. I wear a cheap ($10-15) pair of cold-weather bicycling gloves with grippy palms. (Ski gloves or mittens would probably work fine, too.) If you want to get fancier, you can get gloves with Gore-tex membranes for waterproofness, upgraded insulation, reflective material, little squeegee-things to wipe your glasses, etc.

My legs are usually the last part of me that gets cold when bicycling. Maybe (likely) it's the fact that they are working, and thus circulating the blood. Or maybe it's just that there's a lot of meat on them bones. I actually wear shorts comfortably down to the mid-to-upper-40s. (After a long winter, a sunny, mid-40s day seems FANTASTIC in the early springtime!) When the temperature drops below my "shorts range," I'll switch over to the classic bicyclist tights. (Available in a vast array of quality and price ranges, from $15 to $150... I generally can be found at the "cheap" end.) And if it's wet, the Gore-Tex over the top and I'm ready for whatever.

I'd love to hear how you deal with winter cold... unless you deal with it by wintering in Costa Rica. (Jealousy is not a good thing!)

Coming soon:
- the "dark" challenge
- the "slippery" challenge

October Riding Report

In October, I rode the bicycle on 31 days, and accumulated 638 miles. (The best month of the year, mileage-wise.)

Which puts me at 5252 miles for 2007. 6000 miles for the year is a possibility. (If the weather remains moderate - and thanks to Global Warming, there's a pretty good chance of that, huh?)

The last few weeks have been glorious. I feel a twinge of pity for the "fair-weather" riders who hang up their bicycles after Labor Day (at the same time they put away their white clothes - hahaha). Some of the best riding in these parts can be encountered in October... and so far, November is "bonus"!!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Motorist sets Danielo straight

On October 7, a letter written by Danielo appeared in the local newspaper. Since it was about bicycling, I noticed... and commented here. (Danielo's letter can be read there, too.)

Danielo was pointing out that if we all - cyclists and motorists alike - behave predictably when we're using the roadway, we'll all be better off.

Well, motorist and newspaper reader/writer Marsha Bowe sets Danielo straight in today's edition. (Click here for the online version; look for "Bicyclists.")

Here's what she says:

Riders' carelessness frustrating to drivers

To Daniel Foster (letter, Oct. 7): I commend you for being so environmentally and health-conscious but I also feel the frustration of those you directed your ire to. Countless times while driving in my car, I have encountered bicyclists who seem to have no regard for anyone's safety let alone their own.

This is to all bicyclists: Idaho has no law requiring bicyclists to come to a complete stop at intersections with traffic signals or stop signs, so feel free to just zip through those intersections without looking for a vehicle that out-weighs you and could smash you like a bug.

Riding the fog line between the road-way intended for cars and the bike lane does not seem real smart to me. And riding three abreast outside the bike lane on narrow winding roads and bringing traffic to a standstill because they cannot safely pass is insane from a motorist's point of view.

While driving a motor vehicle it is difficult to judge what someone on a bike will do because most of them are not as attentive as you claim to be, Mr. Foster. Not all motorists are as kind as the one you encountered.

Marsha Bowe, Boise

Ms. Bowe has some interesting (and not always correct) observations. Here's what I disagree with:

First, Idaho law does require cyclists to stop at a (red) traffic signal. And cyclists must yield at stop signs. If they're breaking the rules, they deserve a ticket - and arguably to get smashed like a bug.

Second, "riding the fog line" is frequently a very smart practice, IMO.* As a cyclist, my belief is that I'm much more likely to get hit by a motorist who doesn't notice me, than by a motorist who does. So, I try to dress in bright colors and ride close to the edge of the traffic lane (fog line), to increase the likelihood of being noticed. Besides... the closer you are to the physical edge of the pavement, the more debris, goat heads, gravel and sand, etc., you will encounter.

I agree 100% with Ms. Bowe when she complains about inattentive and rude cyclists. (The boneheads who ride against traffic, and at night without lights, and "blowing through red lights," and 2 or 3 abreast in the traffic lane, seemingly oblivious to the disruption they are causing.) They are no friends of mine, and I resent their presence on the road at least as much as she, and probably more. Because they give motorists plenty of reason to resent people on bicycles.

* More about where cyclists belong on the roadway:

We're all familiar with "Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway ... shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway..."

That's the law in all 50 states, worded almost exactly the same.

But... what's the "roadway"?

I've always just assumed it to be the full width of the pavement... and cyclists belong close to the right-hand edge. But that ain't so!

An attorney friend, who's also an avid cyclist, pointed this definition out to me. It's right in the Idaho Code:

Idaho State Code, Title 49 (Motor Vehicles), Chapter 1 (Definitions - R)
(19) "Roadway" means that portion of a highway improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of sidewalks, shoulders, berms and rights-of-way.

So, technically, the "roadway" is the part to the left of the fog line, where vehicles typically travel. If you want to obey "the letter of the law" when bicycling, you ride your bike in the right-most traffic lane, as far to the right as you can get, but without using the shoulder or crossing over that fog line. And I'm confident it would stand up in any court in Idaho. (I'm more a "spirit of the law" guy; I'll always gladly use the shoulder, if it's safe to do so.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Should Cyclists Run Red Lights?

That is the question posed on, of all places, the Wall Street Journal "informed reader" blog.

It has the two seemingly-contradictory presumptions:
- cyclists need a "separate system of traffic laws" and should treat intersection signals as "advisories."
- cyclists should act like motorists.

We've got a rather unique (and good, IMO) law here in Idaho. Cyclists must slow and yield at a STOP SIGN before proceeding, but a full stop is not necessary. They must stop at a solid red TRAFFIC SIGNAL, but after stopping and yielding, they may proceed cautiously.

John S. Allen, in his awesome booklet, "Bicycling Street Smarts," makes a good point. Many traffic signals are tripped by an underground sensor, and a bicycle is frequently not substantial enough to be detected. Allen says, "If your bicycle doesn't trip the detector... going through the red light isn't against the law, because the light is defective." If bikes are legitimate vehicles, I believe it's hard to argue with his logic.

Click here to link to the WSJ blog. The responses/comments are predictable, but quite civil (as would be expected with Wall Street Journal readers, huh?).


Some thoughts in the aftermath of the "accident" that claimed the life of cyclist Sarah Howard.*

Public roads are called that for a reason. They are transportation corridors, available to all, and maintained with revenues collected from the taxpaying public.

There is a set of rules for the road. Without rules, the ensuing anarchy would render the roadways useless. There are speed limits and intersection traffic controls. There are stripes to mark traffic lanes. People who choose to use the public road are expected to abide by the rules.

People who operate motor vehicles on the roads are expected to be competent to do so. At some point, they have taken a test and demonstrated their ability to safely operate a vehicle within the confines of the rules, and without endangering other roadway users. If they become incompetent, it is expected that they would give up their driving privileges.

Oddly, anybody can operate a bicycle on the public roadways. Perhaps there should be a skills and knowledge exam. But on the other hand, the stakes seem to be much higher for a bicycle operator - his life literally depends on his safely and legally operating his vehicle. (And his life literally depends on the ability of other roadway users to safely operate their vehicles, as well.)

Vehicles that are operated on public roadways are expected to be safe, and able to be controlled by the person behind the wheel, so as to be legal and not endanger other roadway users. (If the vehicle operator isn't responsible for assuring that the vehicle is safe... then who?)

When I'm riding my bicycle in a striped, dedicated bike lane, I have the expectation that I won't have to deal with motorists encroaching into that lane.

Unfortunately, expectations aren't always met.

Sarah Howard has now been laid to rest.

There was a nice memorial "ride of silence" in her memory and honor, by some 200 of her sister and brother cyclists. It got some nice publicity on the local media. Did it "raise awareness," as intended? I sure hope so.

We anxiously await the findings of the Meridian Police Department. My expectation is that the driver of the vehicle that killed her will be held accountable.

Laws without penalties for violating them are meaningless.

To not hold Ms. Janzen accountable for killing another human being - a wife, mother, daughter, friend - would devalue Sarah Howard's life, and send an ominous message that we don't really expect you to be accountable for the safe operation of your vehicle, because "accidents happen."

* On Friday, October 19, cyclist Sarah Howard was stopped at a traffic signal, in the striped bike lane. Driver Erika E. Janzen was approaching from behind in her Hummer, when for some yet-unexplained reason, she "lost control" of her vehicle. It reportedly hopped the curb with the right-side tires and continued forward, out of control, striking Sarah and likely killing her instantly. The police are continuing their investigation; as of October 25, no charges have been filed.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bike / Hummer Fatality

Evidently a woman was killed while riding her bicycle earlier today, west of Boise.

The details are still drifting in, but the latest intelligence indicates a woman in a Hummer "lost control" of her vehicle near the intersection of Overland / Eagle Roads, and ran into the cyclist from behind, as her Hummer straddled the road and the sidewalk.

The victim was a nurse at the Tumor Institute. Sounds like she was doing everything right, and was wearing a helmet. (A helmet is a great safety resource... but if you get plowed into by somebody in a Hummer, it is of limited value.)

I will reserve judgment until more of the facts are available. I certainly hope that the responsible party - whoever it turns out to be - is held accountable.

Many people are not reserving judgment. The local daily newspaper recently made it easier for readers to post comments on current events, and people have flocked to take advantage. There are definitely some strong feelings about motor-vehicle and bicycle interaction on the roads.

If you're interested, the comments can be read here.
Be forewarned:
- There are a lot of clueless "authorities" who have posted misinformation.
- There are some truly disturbing comments, like the one from somebody who's lamenting about the traffic hold-up caused by the accident. People ended up late to work!, etc.
- There are a lot of emotion-driven comments, particularly comments aimed at the Hummer. (An inanimate object. Sure - Hummers are big and wasteful and ostentatious. And they may be so wide they have trouble fitting into a normal traffic lane. But it's the Hummer operator who ultimately is responsible for its safe operation. Same with the bike.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Morning Commute

How was that drive in from south Nampa or Middleton this morning? Excellent, I hope.

My 12-minute bicycle commute stretched to 15 minutes today, because I stopped to snap a couple of photos of an excellent sunrise, at Ann Morrison Park.

(Click on either photo for a larger version. If you look closely, my bicycle is stopped at the top of the little arched bridge.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Kid-Bike Crisis

There was an attention-grabbing headline on the Fox News website this morning:

Children and Bikes: $200 Million National Health Crisis, Researchers Say

Yep. 10,700 kids are hospitalized every year for bicycle-related injuries, with an average 3-day stay.

(Article HERE.)

The Center for Injury Research and Policy (?) apparently classifies bicycling as a "recreational sport." (Kinda like the vast majority of the citizenry, huh?) And they are concerned about so many "recreational sports injuries."

(Barely mentioned is the observation that "bicycles are associated with more childhood injuries than any other consumer product except the automobile.")

Other tidbits:
- Motor vehicles were involved in approximately 30% of bike-related hospitalizations. (That's lower than I would've guessed.)
- One-third of bike-related kid hospitalizations were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. (And they estimated 85% of those injuries would be prevented through helmet usage.)

Some folks will see this, and conclude that we need to get kids off those dangerous bicycles!

Some will probably advocate air bags or seat belts for bicycles. (Go ahead and laugh. But did you know that the 2007 Honda Gold Wing motorcycle has an air bag? It's just a matter of time 'til it trickles down. Yeah, I was just funnin' about the seat belt.)

Some will want to mandate bicycle helmet usage.

I've got mixed feelings about that. Like I do about motorcycle helmets. I'm a staunch advocate of helmet-wearing, and NEVER ride my bicycle or motorcycle without one. But it's rather depressing to think people are so stupid they won't wear one unless it's mandated. And if a brain is so defective that it won't voluntarily protect itself... do we want to mandate protecting it?

(Of course, it's a bit different with kids. You expect (hope?) that adults will have good judgment. But sometimes kids have to be compelled to do something "because I said so." I believe some of our neighboring states mandate bike-helmet usage for riders under 18; perhaps that would be a reasonable compromise. "Because Butch said so.")

The best possible outcome - if this report changes anything - is that there would be an increased awareness that kids need some type of formal training in safe bicycling... from an instructor who knows the material. When you see unhelmeted adults riding down the street at dusk, without a light, against traffic, no hands on the bars, and with their iPod earplugs firmly implanted... you can't expect them to be very good safe-cycling teachers. But that's all a lot of kids have got.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

MORE Bicycling with Boy Scouts

I mentioned a few days back that I'm working with some Scouts (age range 11-15) on the Cycling Merit Badge.

As much as I love cycling... riding with these kids has had its share of frustrations. As I told one of the other adult leaders, "I've always been impatient, so this is a good exercise for me." (We've completed two 25-mile rides now; the grand finale 50-mile ride looms, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, October 27.)

What's frustrating?

We schedule a ride for 8:30 Saturday morning. The participants arrive STARTING at 8:30, and going out to 8:50 or so. (And some NEVER arrive; we end up riding past their houses and rousting 'em.) Their bicycles are in various stages of readiness. We end up being "on the road" by maybe 9:15.

Once we're underway... they don't seem to understand the concept of pacing themselves. One minute they're hammering at 18mph; the next minute (literally) they're plodding along at 7 or 8mph. And of course, the "weakest link concept" is in effect - we end up going the pace of the slowest kid. (There doesn't seem to be one overall-slowest kid, however. They take turns at it.)

Both of our 25-milers have been out the "greenbelt" toward Lucky Peak. With occasional road/traffic exposure. They actually seem to be OK on the road; at least so far I haven't had a heart-attack moment due to a close call. (We've discussed the concepts of safe cycling at length... ya just can never know for sure when they're paying attention.)

One poor kid seems to be gravity-challenged. He's had crashes on both of our 25-mile rides. The first time, "horseplay" was involved. The second, he'd barely started pedaling (still in the parking lot) and I guess he hit some slippery leaves. Fortunately, neither crash was serious.

It's taken us 2 1/2 - 3 hours to finish each of the 25-milers. We need to finish our 50-miler in 8 hours or less. (Oh, what a day that promises to be.) I'm not sure we can all make it. (I'm not sure I can make it, if it ends up taking 8 hours. I could ride 50 miles in 3 hours; I'm not sure whether I can do it in 8 hours; my tailbone will be complaining bitterly!)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Rainy-day Riding

When the weather turns rainy, as it surely will, resist the urge to ride with an umbrella in one hand. You can dry off when you get to your destination, and it's just not worth it!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Bicyclist / Motorist Interaction

There was an interesting letter in yesterday's Idaho Statesman.

(Click here to link to the web version.)

It says:


Dear driver: Don't do us any favors

Dear driver, I'm that cyclist you hate. Do you think you might consider obeying traffic laws once in awhile? When it's your right-of-way, but you stop in the middle of the road and motion for me to go, you're not doing me a favor. You're putting me at risk and ticking off the drivers behind you. Predictable road behavior — i.e. obeying the proper flow of traffic — protects both of us. You can rest assured that I'm paying far more attention on the road than you are — that's how I survive daily, year-round cycling. If you're going to second-guess someone, make it the idiot behind you that's thinking more about whether he should have gotten soy milk in his mocha than what's happening outside his metal cage.

Daniel Foster, Boise

Mr. Foster makes a good point... and does a good job of explaining one of my pet peeves.

I know the "helpful" motorist is only trying to be helpful, so I'll usually wave politely when one of 'em treats me like a pathetic incompetent... who depends on the kindness of strangers-in-cars. But as I wave, I'm almost always mumbling to myself.

Most likely, the "helpful" motorist has had close encounters with clueless idiots on bikes - riding against traffic, zig-zagging, ignoring not only traffic laws, but the laws of physics and common sense. So I don't feel like I should be too harsh on 'em.

Ideally, bicycling on the roadway is a well-choreographed ballet. I like to watch up the road as far as I can, so as to be aware of potential hazards and plan my adjustments in direction and velocity. Like Mr. Foster says... "predictable" road behavior from all parties is key, and if those friendly motorists are aware of my presence, and obey the traffic laws and drive predictably... that's all I ask.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bike / TRAIN accidents?

How many times have you had a near-miss with a train? Whoa... that's scary, huh?!?

Amazingly, there are a couple stories in the news about such accidents.

In Stuart, Florida, a 53-year-old man was apparently walking his bike across the tracks when he got clipped by a passing train. He wasn't seriously injured, but was cited for not obeying a traffic device.

Meanwhile, across the pond, a guy carried his bike across the (750-volt) tracks, then hopped back on. He was riding along the platform at the Catford Bridge station when he lost his balance and fell back onto the tracks. He hopped out of the way of the oncoming train; his bike was mashed (and the train disabled). A police spokesman described him as "extremely foolhardy."

ANYBODY who has a close call with a train is "extremely foolhardy," no?

News story links: here and here

Monday, October 1, 2007

It's raining, it's pouring...

Today I'm grateful for:

GORE-TEX... I just wore the jacket, but I've got matching pants for the REALLY rainy days. (I've tried "Gore-Tex replica," but it just doesn't quite have that awesome "breathable" quality of the real deal. Most rain jackets leave you feeling "clammy" even if they're waterproof, because they don't allow the sweat to evaporate.)

FENDERS... my "old man bike" isn't too stylin' with those fenders, but they're sure practical on days when the roads are wet.

I have another theory about my old-man bike. I'm pretty sure if it and a $89 Wal-Mart "full suspension mountain bike" were both left unlocked in a public place, the Wal-Mart Special would be the first one stolen. The assumption being that bike thieves probably aren't bike experts, and my black, dirty, unfashionable bike isn't nearly as attractive as a shiny bike with shock absorbers.

Danielo found a guy who took it a step further, and created some "rusty" decals for his bike. (Click HERE to link to his blog.) With those decals in place, your shiny frame takes on the appearance of a rusted-out hunk of junk. (At least, if you let it get dirty and grungy, like I do. I wash my bike every 2 years, whether it needs it or not!)