Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bike to school - break the law!

Saratoga Springs is in upstate New York, a few miles north of Albany. Last spring, according to this story, it was decided that bicycling or walking to (elementary and middle) school would no longer be permitted in Saratoga Springs.

A few students (with the support of their civilly-disobedient parents) have defied the rules by continuing to ride their bikes and walk. REBELS!

Golly! Is it any wonder that this country has an obesity epidemic, and that kids are fatter every generation?

(I'd like to see the specific statute, that declares citizens can't use a public, taxpayer-funded road to get to selected destinations. I'm guessing that if someone were arrested, it would be pretty easy to get it thrown out.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Teddy Roosevelt and "The Strenuous Life"

The single reason I'm looking forward to the passing years is... at age 62, an American citizen can get a "Golden Age Passport" for free access to our National Parks, Monuments, etc. I LOVE the great and magnificent outdoor places! (Now if only I'm still healthy enough to be ambulatory... and if gas will stay below $10 per gallon... but I digress.)

And so I've been looking forward to watching Ken Burns' "The National Parks - America's Best Idea" on PBS.

Also, since I was a young kid, I've been a Teddy Roosevelt fan. For various reasons. Criminy! The dude is on Mount Rushmore! Isn't that enough??!? In addition, however, we share the same birthday. (I'm sure that's what first got my attention as a kid.)

Roosevelt was hugely instrumental in the early history of preserving our wild places as national parks and monuments.

He was sickly as a child growing up in the Big City. What originally brought him out west, as documented in "The National Parks," was his quest for "the strenuous life," as he called it. He got off a train in the badlands of North Dakota, hoping that huffing and puffing that clear western air, hunting buffalo and climbing mountains would improve his health. And apparently it did; he seemed to get more robust as he got older.

He once said, "If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world."

Don't we see a tendency in society-at-large to "seek swollen, slothful ease," and to "shrink from the hard contests"?

Most of us are bound by necessity to jobs and such, which prevent us from setting out for a life of exploring and buffalo hunting. Me included. (Although I spend 50 weeks every year, looking forward to those couple weeks when I can live the Teddy Roosevelt Lifestyle. NOT buffalo hunting!) But how grateful I am for bike transportation! For a few glorious moments every single day, no matter what else happens, I can get a reminder that there are finer things in life than ease and relaxation.

The Beater rolls again!

Way back in the 80s, when I decided to commit to bikes-as-transportation, I went into the bike store expecting to buy a road bike. I was intrigued by the notion of "mountain bikes," but they were still a relatively new thing, and nobody knew if they would catch on.

They didn't have the (road) bike I wanted in the size I wanted, and my eyes fell on a Peugeot Canyon Express. The top-of-the-line Peugeot mountain bike. I took the plunge.

I can still remember taking 5-mile rides on it, around the neighborhood. Then getting ambitious and going 10, then 15. (Of course, I was riding to and from the office, but that was only 2.5 miles or so.) I can remember my first 25-mile ride, on a Saturday morning. Coming in on Hill Road I passed a couple guys on road bikes. They mocked me... but then disappeared in my rearview. (I don't want to suggest they were making an effort to catch up.) It was my primary transportation for a couple years, until I saw a shiny red Bridgestone road bike hanging in the bike store, in just my size... and at end-of-season sale price. (Of course, by then, mountain bikes were jammed into the bike shops, and road bikes were something of a rarity.)

That's all ancient history.

The "Canyon Express" has been collecting dust in a lean-to shed for 18 months or so. This morning it saw the light of day. I dusted off the thickest layer of grime and cobwebs. I squirted air into the tires and put WD-40 on the rusty chain. Just enough to get 'er rolling. Brakes? Check. Let's roll.

Amazingly, the old Vetta bike computer came to life and is keeping track of my miles.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


This is too weird. My bike was stolen this morning!

I rode over to the church for meetings, like I've done week after week, year after year. I parked it in a hallway, just like always. (Unlocked... but inside the building!) When I got out of the first meeting, at 10:15am or so, there sat my helmet, on the floor right where I had left it next to my bike. But the bike was gone.

I assumed some rascal had moved it as a "practical joke." (Some joke! If that had been the case, I would definitely have explained that I didn't see the humor.) So I looked in the cloakroom, out back, in a few nearby classrooms. No sign.

I went outside, where a couple friends park their bikes (also unlocked... I guess we incorrectly assumed that God would watch over and protect our bikes). There was an unfamiliar fellow with Brent's mountain bike. I asked him what he was doing with it; he said, "Oh, I was just looking at it. I like bikes." I told him my bike was missing; he said, "Why would I steal a bike? I go to church here." I followed 20 or 30 feet behind as he walked around the corner, hopped in a dark red 4-door midsize sedan without a plate on the back, and went zooming away. I'm pretty sure I spoke with my thief. (I never saw my bike... but that's not a coincidence, is it?)

I've filed a police report; not optimistic, but maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Thief: 35-45 years old, white, short brown hair (or "salt and pepper"), receding hairline. He was probably 5'10", 180lbs. He was dressed in a light brown long-sleeve shirt, buttoned all the way up. Dark brown slacks. (Looked to be "posing" as somebody going to church, I figure, so as to not arouse undue suspicion.) I'd love to see him again, in a police lineup.

The car: Dark read 4-door midsize sedan. I can't be sure, but I'd guess early 2000s General Motors. No license plate.

The location: 3200 Cassia Street, in Boise. (Across from South Jr. High.) Car was parked on Michael Street, just around the corner from Cassia.

My bike: 2000 Cannondale T2000. 58.4cm (I believe). Drop bars with yellow and black "leopard spot" tape, bar-end shifters. Planet bike fenders. (I'm pretty confident if you lined up every bike on the planet, I could pick mine out of the bunch, based just on appearance. I can tell you the make/model of pretty much every component on the bike.) Serial number 1C50197S2267T5U23. (Or that's how I'm guessing it reads... photo of the s/n below.) The rear tire has a slow leak; I pumped it up before leaving this morning, and figured I'd fix it this afternoon.

Could I be Christlike and forgive the guy? Probably. But I'd still like to have my bike back, and to see the criminal justice system run its course. And I'd like the guy to have "Bike Thief" tattooed on his forehead in great big letters... know what I mean?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Road Rage directed at cyclists

Bill Schneider writes some good stuff about cycling on the New West website.

His current column is titled, Road Rage for Cyclists Embarrassing, Dangerous, Un-American.

Bill: "The vast majority of motorists courteously and safely share roadways with cyclists, but a very small minority not only aren’t courteous, but for some unexplainable reason fill up with rage whenever they see cyclists on the road ahead. Anybody who regularly rides bicycles on paved roadways knows about this minority. They not only think cyclists have no right to use public roadways but also show their anger by shouting obscenities and giving out the universal salute and even do all sorts of outright dangerous things like coming up behind cyclists blaring their horns, purposely passing inches from handlebars at high speed, or throwing beer cans and other objects, which become lethal missiles for somebody on a bicycle."

A kindred spirit! (Thankfully, the throwing-of-stuff has been so rare for me, that I can count 'em on one hand.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Safety Vest Photos

A few days ago I mentioned the new Safety Vest. By popular demand, here are some photos to illustrate its value.

These photos were taken maybe 2 minutes apart, and late in the afternoon, when visibility starts becoming a major factor. I rode half a block up the road, and my wife snapped away.

In the first one, I'm wearing a black T-shirt. In the second one, I've thrown on the vest. Judge for yourself how much, if any, difference it makes. (Click on photos for a larger view, should you feel so inclined.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Intersection accident - what can we learn?

The local TV website reports, "Car hits cyclist in busy intersection."

The mishap took place at about 9:30am, on busy State Street. Cyclist was westbound. Driver was eastbound, and crossed into the cyclist's path. She said "the sun was in her eyes and she could not see the cyclist."

Another obvious piece of the puzzle is a big coffee mug, near the downed bicycle.

"The sun was in my eyes."

Is that a valid excuse for running into somebody else?

I would suggest if you're driving but can't see where you're going, it's a lot like a hunter who sees something moving in the bushes and blasts away, hoping it's a valid target he's shooting at. (And later lamenting, "I thought it was a deer," after he kills somebody.)

But there are definitely some things the cyclist could have done to improve his chances.

First... if you're riding your bike while drinking or even balancing a big ol' coffee mug, your attention is going to be considerably distracted.

Second... if the sun is directly at your back, realize that the people coming straight toward you are headed directly into the sun. Have an escape route! (Or, if you are riding directly into the sun, realize that people approaching from behind are likewise being impacted in some way by that big ol' ball of burning hydrogen.) They might be at fault if they smash into you - technically - but if you're dead, does it matter?

One other observation... at 9:30am, this time of year, the sun is fairly high in the sky. That "blinded by the sun" sounds pretty feeble to me. But I'm admittedly biased.

(Photo lifted from story.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lighting up the day

Well, I finally did it. I followed the inspiration of cyclist and BikeNazi reader/correspondent Bob T, and got myself a high-visibility safety vest.

I chose the Dickies model, in hi-viz green with red & reflective stripes. It's a little more expensive than many of the offerings online (there are bunches!), but it's ANSI compliant (Class 1) as Bob recommended, and the reflective stripes are 3M Scotchlite, rather than some Chinese knockoff. And, I purchased it from a local merchant. Maybe it'll keep me alive one more day... and perhaps D&B will stay in business one more day.

I wore it out of the store. Obviously it's not a silver bullet or a Force Field, but if it causes just one distracted driver to notice me who otherwise wouldn't have, surely it's worth the $ as well as any slight inconvenience or discomfort. (It's poly mesh, and if it prevented some cooling power, I didn't notice.)

Ironically, as I rode away from the store on Glenwood (a busy 5-lane arterial), I observed a new twist on against-traffic riding.

A kid who looked to be high school age came riding up the street toward me, and against traffic. Not so uncommon. But... this kid was sitting backwards on his 20-inch sting-ray style bike, riding looking over his shoulder, and with a big ol' Alfred E. Neumann grin on his silly face! So was he really riding against traffic? It might take a judge (or St. Peter) to sort THAT one out!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It's different in Garden City

Garden City... Boise's puny red-headed step brother... is notorious among cyclists in these parts for having closed off a section of the multi-modal Greenbelt. In a nutshell... when a developer (who now just happens to be Garden City's mayor, John Evans) put together an exclusive riverside subdivision, the state deeded the river-front property to Garden City, with the stipulation that it would be maintained as a "public path." Since bicycles weren't specifically mentioned in the legal agreement, and since the homeowners in the exclusive subdivision didn't want bicycles (for whatever reason), the city maintained the pathway unpaved and off-limits to cyclists.

So - the "vision" of a 40-plus mile, river's edge multi-use non-motorized paved path has a roadblock, near dead center.

(I was disappointed to read that Mayor Evans, and two of his Council toadies, are running for reelection unopposed this November. Are they that popular?)

Strangely, however, the Garden City stretch of the Greenbelt is NOT off-limits to automobiles.

This afternoon I was bicycling on the south side, when suddenly there are two cop cars driving toward me. (On pavement that is barely wide enough to accommodate a cop car.) One cop in each car.

I pulled off the pavement and threw my hands up in dismay. Cop number 1 rolled down his window and asked, "What's the problem?"

I explained I was disappointed to see POLICE CARS on a path that is clearly marked NO MOTOR VEHICLES. (How can they expect the common folk to obey rules that they don't obey?)

Of course, the police (and all "public servants") are above the law. He said matter-of-factly, "These are official emergency vehicles and we are serving a warrant have a nice day." Which certainly didn't include any explanation as to why they were driving on the Greenbelt.

As a rule, I try to respect law enforcement officers. They have a tough job, and I'm sure they are involved in a lot of adversarial situations. But I sincerely believe they would command more respect from us commoners, if they did their level best to NOT put themselves "above the law" unless absolutely necessary. Nobody respects aristocrats who have one set of rules for themselves, and another for the common folk, whether they be in Garden City or Washington, D.C.

Oh - one more thing. Do they learn in Cop School that Rule Number 1 is "Never Smile"? Cops who seem empathetic and compassionate make a much more positive impression, at least on this commoner.

Study - Distracted Driving

KidSafe USA, whose mission is "to empower children and parents with personal safety skills to stay safe and think safe," just published a report about "Distracted Drivers in School Zones."

From the KSUSA report: "... research demonstrates that the brain’s ability to perform two or more tasks at the same time generally results in a decreased performance of each task depending on the complexity of the task and how the brain allocates priorities to each task. During every moment of the "Driving Task," vehicle operators are constantly being challenged by a changing environment and road conditions; by the actions of other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians; and by the actions and behavior of passengers and objects in the car. Many drivers also operate their vehicles under less than ideal conditions such as being tired or being physically/emotionally stressed. The sum effect of all these factors makes driving an extremely complex task even under the best of conditions."

Disturbing details:

"... they documented an almost six times greater risk when dialing a phone and 23 times greater risk when texting. Similarly, other studies show that automobile drivers using a phone are four times more likely to crash than drivers not using a phone. This is comparable to drivers with blood-alcohol content of 0.08, the legal definition for drunken driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that in 2003, 240,000 car crashes and 955 deaths occurred due to cell phone use. This may be an underestimation of the true number..."

It goes on to report that distractions aren't caused just by cell-phone use. Other common distractions:
- active conversations with passengers
- preparing, eating, and spilling food
- reaching or leaning
- smoking
- adjusting music device controls
- grooming

KidSafe USA uses the report to emphasize how important it is for drivers to not be distracted while in school zones. I can't help but wonder... why is it okay to drive distracted anywhere else?

I continue to be totally convinced that NO motorist will consciously and deliberately involve himself in an accident. And that the vast majority of vehicle accidents are caused by drivers who are either impaired or distracted.

The KidSafe study can be seen HERE (15 page, 1+ mb PDF document.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Common Sense from Clancy

My bike-nut friend and frequent correspondent Clancy shares some common-sense suggestions on how motor traffic and bicycle traffic can peacefully coexist, over at the Boise Guardian. Click HERE to read.

He gives very specific suggestions on what every "interest group" can do, to make our community safer and friendlier for cyclists (and in turn, all those other interest groups).

Lonely streets

So far, it seems we are having an extended summer in these parts. Afternoon highs are consistently getting up into the 90s.

While that's less-than-ideal weather for cycling, it does have the positive effect of keeping the streets fairly empty of casual and fair-weather bike riders. Why, it's probably been at least two days since some bonehead was riding against traffic and directly toward me! Sweeeeet!

Any day now, we'll return to perfect cycling weather, and bike space will become more crowded. And remain that way for a month or so, until the weather becomes less-than-perfect again... those part-time bikes will get hung in the garage for another year.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

That's gotta hurt!

I was doing a bit of surfing and happened across some information about the recent "Bomber Downhill" ride from Bogus Basin.

Fun! I've ridden down from Bogus twice in my lifetime. The second time, I had paid my dues by riding UP to Bogus.

(For those not familiar, "Bogus" is our local ski area. It sits about a mile above Boise, altitude-wise, and is at the end of a 16-mile twisty paved road. The first 8 miles are a fairly brutal climb... I found out... but if you make it halfway, the second half levels out nicely by comparison.)

I also happened across a photo of one of the participants... who apparently did a face-plant. Ouch! And... that participant looks suspiciously like frequent BikeNazi correspondent "Clancy."

Clancy... if it's you... I hope you're okay, man! And that your bike survived!

School days!

Yep - that three-month-long party is over, and kids have returned to readin' and writin' and 'rithmetic. And the news outlets are reminding the grownups to be careful, to avoid hitting the kids in the streets.

When I was in school, way back when, there used to be rows and rows of bicycles parked out back, in September. (Not so much in January, but every kid who lived more than 2 blocks from the school, and less than a mile from the school, rode a bike on the nice days. Or so it seemed.) All through elementary and junior high.

Once I arrived at high school, there was a certain prestige and status attached to driving to school, even back then. There were bike racks at Boise High, but they weren't nearly as well-populated as the racks at Roosevelt Elementary and East Junior. I didn't have a car at my disposal, but usually got dropped off, and then either walked or caught a ride to my after-school job. (If I'd known then what I know now, I would've used bike transportation a LOT more! At the time, of course, I thought I knew everything! Some things never change.)

As we jump ahead 35 or 45 years... some things have changed.

Nowadays, riding a bike, or walking to school seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Most of the little dumplings get dropped off at the front door. Moms and dads are too worried about all the crazy drivers, and how dangerous they perceive walking or cycling to be... and they don't want their kids exposed to the dangers of speeding, drunken, phone-calling, text-messaging motorists, kid-snatching perverts, roaming packs of vicious pit-bulls, and all the other stuff we hear about on the news every day.

(By comparison, the dangers of a totally-sedentary lifestyle seem benign. For many kids, the only muscles that get exercised regularly are the videogame muscles and the Cheeto-chewing muscles. Many adults, too.)

We all have a responsibility for doing what we can to keep streets safe for kids. Adults who speed and violate other traffic laws, and who drive while impaired or distracted, are part of the problem. NO - they're not part of the problem; they are the problem! Kids can safely navigate the streets and sidewalks, if they are properly taught by people who know what they're talking about... and if they are mature enough to understand the enormity of the potential consequences of a mistake.

Boise's Dr. Steve Smith offers some advice on how to keep street-going kids safe. His Idaho Statesman piece can be seen HERE.

Another very interesting website for parents is the "Free-Range Kids" blog, HERE. It purports a desire to "give our kids the freedom we had without going nuts with worry." The moderator, Lenore Skenazy, asks, "Do you ever... let your kid ride a bike to the library? Walk alone to school? Take a bus, solo? Or are you thinking about it? If so, you are raising a Free Range Kid! At Free Range, we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school age children go outside, they need a security detail. Most of us grew up Free Range and lived to tell the tale." Uncommon (in 2009) common sense!