Thursday, February 8, 2007

Save Gas - Don't Brake!!

I'm posting this hint for my car-driving friends.

Back when I was a punk teenager with a shiny new driver's license, I loved acceleration as much as the next guy. Maybe it's that sensation of power, as the G-forces push you back into the upholstery. Maybe it's testosterone. (But that seems unlikely – women seem to love the acceleration, too.)

The ultimate expression was if you could "spin rubber" and wear your (dad's) tires out faster than you would otherwise. (Looking back, it seems pretty stupid.)

Some people get over it. Others don't. When I'm bicycling and the light turns green, I'll frequently hear the "whoooooosh" as some old-enough-to-know-better clown punches the gas pedal, sucking the gas into his carburetor or fuel injector or whatever… and jack-rabbits to the next red light, where he slams on the brakes.

The sad part is – almost always, he's overtaken not only by the slower drivers, but also by the fat middle-age guy on his bicycle! How pathetic is that?!!

I know this 60-something woman who has a reputation. If you ride in her car – buckle up! When the light turns green, she punches it! And then she brakes – hard – waiting 'til the last minute, when she has to stop. (And she wonders why she has to replace her brake pads a couple times a year!)

A few years ago, I had a job driving a paratransit van for Boise Urban Stages.

If you drive paratransit, your passengers are frequently folks with serious disabilities, who live their lives in pain. I drove people with multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy. Quadriplegics who couldn't move from the neck down. People with spina bifida. An emergency maneuver – or even a sudden stop – can be very painful for them.

I was trained to drive paratransit by the best driver I've known, before or since.

Steve "Ski" Kurkowski – the Polish Hawaiian. (He looked Hawaiian; he grew up in Hawaii; his dad was Polish.) He was a driver in the Army for years – driving everything from huge transport trucks to M-1 Abrams tanks. When he retired, he took up paratransit driving.

"Ski" taught me how it's done.

Always look WAY up the road – as far as you can see – and anticipate the smoothest route. Look for bad pavement. Look for traffic backing up. Observe the next traffic signal – if you can time your progress so you get there while it's green, you can coast right through. Brake and accelerate very gradually and gently, rather than suddenly. With a bit of practice, you can come to an awesomely gentle stop, without that "jerk" at the end.

After a month of Ski's tutelage, I was a much better driver. (By the way, I LOVED that job! The passengers were fantastic; I became friends with many of them. I'd still be doing it, but I needed work that paid a little better… bus drivers are underappreciated.)

Motorcycle safety training reinforced the notion of "scanning" way up ahead – paying attention to anything that's moving, anticipating traffic-light changes, watching for bad pavement and other hazards – as a matter of survival.

Twenty-plus years of bicycling has also reinforced the lessons I learned from "Ski."

Any moron can accelerate in a car… just tromp the gas pedal. You could train an orangutan to do it.

It takes more work on a bike…it's muscle-power that provides acceleration.

As a transportation cyclist, I've learned to try to avoid braking wherever possible.


Braking is easy… but when you paid a price to get to the speed you are going, you hate to scrub off some of that speed (which you will have to pay the price to resume). It's way easier to maintain a steady speed, than to constantly be accelerating. So – I try to look way up the road. If I can hit every light when it's green, every now and then I can ride all the way to work, or home from work, without putting on the brakes even once. (So that's where I get my satisfaction nowadays, rather than the G-forces.)

I can guarantee that it's more economical to maintain a steady speed in any vehicle, regardless of the propulsion method, than to be constantly accelerating and decelerating. So – save gas – don't brake! (Try to hit the lights when they're green – not always easy. Take a straight route wherever possible, rather than zig-zagging intersections, which requires you to brake and accelerate, each time you change directions. Anticipate stops and watch for traffic patterns way up ahead.)

Or, just keep on driving like a stupid redneck or testosterone-charged teenager. After all, it's a free country.


Anonymous said...

I have been trying tell my wife this for a while now. She doesnt suck gas or jackrabbit, she leaves her foot on the gas too long. I try to tell her to look ahead and judge when to coast.

The irony is she use to be a Driver's Ed instructor.

Bikeboy said...

If we're going across town (in the car), rather than take two straight shots down, say Emerald and then Curtis, my wife will zig-zag through neighborhoods on 20mph roads, braking at each corner and then accelerating out of the turn. If I say anything, it's not a helpful hint, it's a personal attack. So I try to bite my tongue and go with the flow. (Of course, I'm the guy buying the gas and replacing the brake pads, too.)