Friday, February 25, 2011

Unhappy? Take up bike commuting!

The headline intrigued me: Happiness = Work, sleep and bicycles.

Wasn't that a movie starring Julia Roberts?

The UK's Office for National Statistics is trying to assess the well-being of the nation. One of the questions they are asking citizens is, "Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?"

(I'm thinkin' maybe people would be better-off if they didn't have to fund an Office for National Statistics. But that's just the libertarian in me. And something like that could never happen here!!) (But I digress...)

In analyzing their poll results, they found that commuting has a significant impact on how happy people feel. Their conclusion: "A wealth of literature from researchers studying stress and related effects reveals 'persistent and significant costs associated with a long commute through heavy traffic'. By contrast, studies comparing the experiences of commuting by bicycle and car report that cyclists find their mode of transport at least as flexible and convenient as those who use cars, with lower stress and greater feelings of freedom, relaxation and excitement." I'm thinkin' it's not a whole lot different over on this side of the pond.

So - if you want to be happy, DON'T live an hour's drive from where you work, especially if you'll need to share the road with 10,000 other people in the same boat! Live where you can bicycle to work! (My face always hurts from smilin' so much!)

See? They don't need some fancy pencil-pushers to tell 'em that! I could've told 'em for free!

(Story HERE.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Car Hassles

Yesterday was the Day in Hell, in what so far has been the Month in Hell for me.

The Missus called around 9:30. "You better come home - we have a disaster. There's standing water in the furnace room." Turns out the tank on our aging gas-fired boiler had rusted through, and water was squirting out of some pin-prick size holes. DOH!! I haven't found anybody who knows my furnace, or seems very eager to work on it, so it's been "my baby" for 20 years. I ordered a replacement tank - from Boston. (Not many boilers, at least in houses, in these parts.)

Every time I start thinking I might see a big-screen TV on the horizon, the horizon gets pushed back a few months. I s'pose most TV watching is a waste of time, anyway. Sour grapes.

In between rounds with the boiler, I took a break and drove the Missus' car over to the emissions inspection guy. (When the car is broken, it's our car. When it's not broken, it's her car.)

Her car failed the test a number of months back; the mechanic put it on the scope, and diagnosed a bad catalytic converter. He said he could replace it with a factory original for right around $900.

By comparison... my bike doesn't have a catalytic converter (unless it's me, converting food into energy), I've NEVER hooked my bike to the scope, and $900 is more than I've spent on bike maintenance in 5 years, maybe 10.

Back to the car story... I opted for an aftermarket converter ($150) even though my mechanic said they don't last as long as the factory models... typically only 2 or 3 years. (The car is 11 years old; I don't know if we'll even have it for another 10 years, so I went cheap.) I installed it myself.

The light went off for a couple weeks... then came on again. (I didn't expect the converter to last for ten years... but expected it to last more than two weeks!)

I contacted the outfit I ordered it from; they said to send it in for a "warranty inspection." Which is bewildering; it looks beautiful! It just doesn't work. So I sent it in.

In the meantime... I put the original back on. Thank goodness I'd saved it, or the car would've been high and dry for the duration.

Now the story gets weird... the light went off!

I took the car over to the emissions guy, yesterday, and it passed the test! (I was all ready to tell him my sob story and show him the receipts for the work I'd had done, parts, etc., so I could get an exemption.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Video Detection Cameras

The intersection cameras that get all the attention are "red light cameras" - the ones that snap a photo of people who violate red lights, so a ticket can be issued. Personally, I'd have no objection to such cameras, and I can't imagine why anybody would oppose them... except people who violate red lights, of course.

But in these parts, another type of intersection camera is becoming more prominent - the "traffic detection camera."

In theory at least, the cameras are connected to a computer that controls the intersection traffic signals. By analyzing the image captured by the camera, the computer detects a vehicle waiting at a red light, and triggers the signal to change, letting that vehicle proceed.

They are replacing the old-school ground loop - essentially a low-tech metal detector.

My experience with the ground loops has been mixed. At some intersections, they are a beautiful thing! If I know the exact placement, I can roll over it and trigger a green light at just the perfect time. At other intersections, you can park right on top of it, and it'll never notice you're there in 100 years.

So far, my experience with the cameras has been mixed, as well. They seem to be subject to the same issues that photographers deal with - size of "target," light conditions, etc. Particularly when there isn't much light, they often fail to detect a relatively small bike/rider, or at least that's my impression. On such occasions, I'm grateful for the statute that allows cyclists to proceed cautiously through the intersection, after coming to a full stop. (Of course, if cars are also waiting, the likelihood of the light turning green goes way up.)

Ya know what would be really nice? If both the detection cameras and ground loops triggered some subtle signal - a small yellow light, or a beep, or whatever - to acknowledge to the driver, "I'm aware you are there. Sit tight - I'll let you through." That would let us know whether we should wait, or start looking for an opening in traffic.

An interesting video clip, featuring ACHD traffic engineer Terry Little explaining the cameras, can be viewed by clicking HERE.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Oh, sure! Watson is obviously a master at playing a TV game show!

But can he ride a bike? I think not!

When he can, I will be afraid. Very afraid.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Never throw your bike at a car

Story at

Charge filed in local bike rage incident

A Redmond cyclist is facing a felony charge following allegations that he smashed the window of a car that honked at him.

The driver told police he honked his horn after the cyclist "cut (him) off" by swerving into the roadway from the bicycle lane, a Redmond officer told the court.

[The cyclist] then chased after the car, pulling up beside the driver-side door when the car stopped for a red light, the officer continued. ... then spit on the car window, struck the side mirror and circled around the car.

As the driver attempted to pull away, the cyclist threw his bicycle at the side of the car, the officer told the court.

The cyclist later went to the police station to report road rage on the part of the driver, and claimed that he acted in self-defense. However, the damage to the vehicle indicated that the bicycle was "elevated" at the point where it hit the car, substantiating the driver's version of what went down.

Chill, dude! Yeah, we all feel like reacting when some bonehead honks for no apparent reason, but unhinged violence is never the answer.

(Story HERE.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The cost of flats

Many people tell you what kind of fancy car they'd buy, if they won the Powerball. Mercedes-Benz? Ferrari? Lamborghini? Bugatti?

If I won the Powerball, I'd hire a "pit stop guy" to be on call for immediate response when my bike needs some attention. You know - like in the Tour de France. Flat tire? My team van comes zooming up, and a guy hops out and puts a new, perfect, pre-inflated wheel on... and I'm on my way again.

(I'd likely get the fancy car, too, for "Sunday drivin'.")

I've suffered my first 2 flats of the year. One goathead, one piece of "unidentified shrapnel" on the roadway. Most likely dumped with the traction sand.

Apparently the monetary cost of flats is going up substantially. Inflation? I got a promo email from; one of their offerings was for the old-school Park flat kit.

Six bucks seems a little expensive to me. (A tube is cheaper.) But check it out - you're saving $53.99 from the sixty dollar regular price. Ouch! Ten bucks a patch!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Performance Bicycle coming to Boise

I've ordered stuff from Performance Bicycle, out of North Carolina, for many years. I used to order stuff out of their mail-order catalogs before there was a WWW. And I've been aware that they had retail stores in faraway places, but I've never stepped foot in one.

That might change in April. On 4/8, they are opening a store here in Boise, in the Franklin Towne Plaza (near Cabela's).

According to them, "Every Performance store is designed as a friendly, one-stop resource where avid and beginning riders alike can easily find the bikes, equipment and gear they are looking for. Every Performance store stocks a full assortment of road bikes, mountain bikes, path and pavement bikes, women's bikes and kid's bikes."

Is that all? There are several brick and mortar "LBS" stores that already do that. I buy from Performance and Nashbar because their sale prices on tires, tubes, etc., are very good. Everything else being equal, I'll choose the LBS every time. And I'll probably remain loyal to the local stores I've patronized for years.

How am I driving?

We're all familiar with it - the yellow sticker on the back of commercial vehicles. If the driver isn't driving very safely or responsibly, you can call a toll-free number and report that driver. It's probably safe to assume that the driver would be briefed on any complaints. And if a driver gets an inordinate number of complaints, he might even put his career in jeopardy.

Every now and then, I have been known to call and complain about a driver - when the name of the driver's employer is plastered on the side of the vehicle in big letters. It doesn't happen often. As a matter of fact, I'd say professional drivers are typically some of the most courteous and safe on the roads. When I do call, I'll usually ask to talk to whoever supervises the drivers. I always try to have as many details as possible - time, location, description of both vehicle and driver if possible. And I usually ask, "Should I be calling you, or would it be better to call the police?" They are invariably glad that I'm calling them, and not the police.

It would be NICE if there were a universal "how am I driving" line. Or maybe even a website. When you see somebody driving in a risky or irresponsible way, you could furnish that same info, and easily report the incident. One or two offenses probably wouldn't result in any action... but if the same vehicle is being complained about routinely by other roadway users, perhaps some attention would be merited. (Gallagher - the comedian with the watermelon Sledge-O-Matic - had a similar notion. Motorists should be equipped with guns that fire those suction-cup darts. When you see some really bad driving, you fire a dart that sticks on the offender's car. If a cop sees a car with 10 or 20 darts... that guy is off the road!)

OH - and I'd be totally in favor of a similar program for cyclists! I see as many bike riders - as a percentage of the total - whom I'd just as soon not share roadway space with. That is one of the few reasons I'd entertain the notion of some sort of bicycle licensing program, if it would help to identify the scofflaw cyclists.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Charge your cell phone while cycling!

Might this be incentive for teenagers who have their phone plastered to their ear, or fingers clickety-clicking text messages on a tiny keyboard, for 18 hours a day?

Nokia is introducing a cell-phone charger that's driven off the front wheel. (It uses the well-established technology of a dynamo in contact with the front tire, like generator-lights.) Ten minutes of cycling is supposed to be good for 28 minutes of yakkin'.

It's being introduced next month in India. One reviewer observes that the cost is "a good chunk of what an average bicycle costs here," so it might not catch on.

I had a couple generator-lights as a kid, and never cared much for them. For one thing, I didn't like the noise and resistance of the thing rubbing against the tire. And at least back in those days, if you stopped, so did your light. If they had a capacitor or a battery in the circuit, maybe that problem could be overcome, particularly in this day and age of low-power LEDs.

Also, I'm not very comfortable with the little look-down-at-it phone bracket. Another distraction.

A detailed spec sheet (PDF) fpr the phone charger can be seen HERE, should you be interested. From the text (English from some other language?): "Fun to Use - Blaster music from the mobile phone while bicycling and charging."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Red light cameras" save lives

Fellow surviving cyclists will back me up on this... you never roll out into an intersection just because your traffic light has turned green. For some drivers, a red light seems to mean "Punch it, because you've only got another 3 seconds to clear the intersection!!"

Debate has raged for several years among motorists and citizens in general, over the practice of installing "red light cameras" - devices that photograph the car, license plate, and driver when a vehicle goes through a red light. A citation is issued and fine collected, based on that photographic evidence.

Detractors (those who go through red lights?) mostly seem to question the motive. They say that the motivator is the revenue generated by tickets, not safety.

However, that argument has apparently grown weaker. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety just issued a report that says intersection fatalities are down by 24%, in 14 large cities that have installed the intersection cameras. It's hard to argue with such positive results. (And what city, struggling to make ends meet during these tough economic times, couldn't use some extra revenue? I've got NO PROBLEM with the notion of red-light runners picking up part of the tab!)

Gary Biller of the "National Motorists Association" (?) argues that longer-lasting yellow lights would be better for reducing intersection collisions. I'm not so sure. That might make some motorists hit the intersection even faster than they do now, as they "punch it" from even farther back, to make it through! (You'd think a "Motorists' Association" would have motorist safety as their first and foremost priority.)

More info HERE.