Thursday, March 31, 2011

Car-free? Not quite.

It would be difficult, particularly out here in our geographic area with sprawl and wide-open spaces, to live life completely independent of a car. If you have stuff or occasionally get stuff, you'll invariably need to move that stuff from time to time. (I move small stuff with my bike and BOB trailer all the time, but not the big stuff.) ALso, occasionally a group of people is riding to a common destination. If some of them haven't "seen the light" about bicycle transportation, it's probably most economical to pool it. And, I've got to confess that for most mortals, the weather sometimes plays into such decisions.

Nonetheless, I make an ongoing effort to keep my car trips to a minimum.

Just for kicks, I've been keeping a journal of my car trips for several months.

Let's take the last 6 months. October 1 thru March 31; arguably the time of year when car trips are most rational. That's 182 days.

Over the course of those 182 days, we went out of town by car on 6 days; 5 to the Oregon coast and 1 to Winter Carnival in McCall.

Of the remaining 176 days, I was the driver in a motor vehicle on 19 days/trips, all but 3 with one or more passengers. And I rode passenger on 8 days/trips. So I traveled by car 27 times. Grand total miles; approx. 201.

(For the record, of those 182 days, I bicycled on 179; grand total miles, 2973. Oh - and I rode 337 miles on the motorcycle. Pretty lame... the motorcycle part.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cards in the spokes

When I was a kid, I used to take great delight in occasionally hooking a playing card or two to the seatstays of my 20" red cruiser-bike with Mom's clothes pins, so it would make an awesome "motorcycle" rumble as I rode along.

Nowadays I see older "kids" with larger cards (?) inserted in the spokes, not so they'll make noise, but so they spin 'round and 'round with the wheel.

Can somebody explain those to me?

(More often than not, they seem to be on the bikes that seem to be more "fashion accessory" than transportation. You know, single-speeds, vintage cruiser bikes with the cast-iron frame, no brakes, etc., etc. So they must be something fashionable or "trendy," is all I can figure. Oh, and I've got nothing against a single-speed bike, for casual local transportation over relatively flat terrain. Talk about the ultimate in simplicity! I do have issues when they remove the brakes, because then it becomes a legal issue, and more importantly a safety issue.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cars and bikes and what-have-you...

I sent this letter to Boise's city fathers today:

Dear Boise Police and City Council:

A couple weeks ago, I was riding my (human-powered) bicycle on a public street here in Boise. At an intersection, the light turned green and I proceeded, after looking for potential conflicts. (Being legal isn't the same as being safe!) Lo and behold - despite looking where I expected conflicting traffic, I almost collided with a guy on a gas-powered bicycle, who was riding down the sidewalk and who crossed the street against the light. The most surprising thing for me was that I didn't hear him - those droning 2-stroke engines make a lot of noise. I certainly heard him as he buzzed along on his merry way, down the sidewalk at 20mph or so.

So, why do I bring this up?

The days are getting longer and warmer. By a month from now, "normal" citizens will be riding their bicycles and bicycle-derivatives.

On top of that, gas prices may hit an all-time high this summer. People who normally drive cars will be looking for less-expensive alternatives.

If you look on the craigslist today, or any day, you will find ads for gas- and electric-powered bicycles, conversion kits, "pocket bike" motorcycles, stand-up-on-it gas-powered skateboards (!), and the list goes on.

I believe it would be in the public interest for you to publicize the seldom-publicized rules about what is and isn't legal on city streets, the greenbelt, bike paths, sidewalks, etc. Because in my opinion, some of those contraptions really don't belong anywhere.

Particularly those little gas-powered bicycles. They're too wimpy to reach many of the speed limits in the traffic lanes, but they're faster than most traffic in the bike lanes. Often they will be seen veering back and forth from bike lane to traffic lane depending on the situation. On top of the immediate safety issues they create, despite their diminutive size, they spew out much more noise, and more pollution than most EPA-compliant multi-passenger vehicles.

Electric-powered bicycles aren't nearly as obnoxious, but they tend to create similar safety issues, in this observer's opinion. Where do they belong?

Designated bike lanes should be reserved for non-motorized traffic - it's just common sense. If you want to permit them in the traffic lanes, despite the obvious hazards they create for both riders and other infrastructure users, I suppose you know better than me... but you should at least publicize where they belong. (NOT in bike lanes, the greenbelt, etc.)

Thanks for your attention in this matter.

Can a cyclist be too visible?

A friend recently pointed me at this article about "blinkie" vs. "solid" night lighting for cyclists. Author Mia Birk says a woman from the Netherlands recently confronted her to complain about state-side cyclists and their dazzling, blinky lights.

Ms. Birk asks, "You can never be too visible, right?"

While I admit I'd never given it much thought, after reading the arguments I remain convinced that you cannot be too visible, at least when you're sharing public roadways with motor vehicles. (I feel less of a need to "shout out" my presence when I'm on a dedicated bike/pedestrian path, as I'm sure I would in the Netherlands, with its famous bike-friendly infrastructure and culture.)
One guy who commented on Ms. Birk's blog, Todd Edelman, writes about "hyper-illumination" HERE. He describes "MonkeyLectric Bike Wheel Lights" that look like a rolling fireworks display. He argues that over-illuminating creates an unfair disadvantage for "vulnerable road users," both pedestrians and cyclists, who are legally-but-barely illuminated.

He says reflective vests "should only be worn by emergency or construction workers or related." And criticizes users of "an excessive number of normal lights or reflectors" and even "bright clothing at night." His worry is that if people in cars grow accustomed to seeing "hyper-illuminated" cyclists, they will no longer watch for "normally-illuminated" cyclists and pedestrians.

While his concerns are the ultimate in altruism ("selfless concern for the welfare of others"), maybe I'm too self-centered. Because I reserve and will exercise the right to use whatever means I can, to be seen by motorists at night. The stakes are high.

(Thankfully, I don't do a lot of night riding. But all cyclists and pedestrians should understand the additional vulnerability they face when using public roadways at night, and take the precautions they can to be safe... even if they exceed the absolute minimum. Legally, I don't believe pedestrians have to do anything to aid in visibility. Cyclists, at least in this jurisdiction, need a reflector on the back and a light on the front. If you feel that's adequate, ride on and good luck.)

[Bob T - I particularly hope to hear your viewpoint on this topic, because you further "enlightened" me. Enlightened... get it?]

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I've been moved, as I'm sure you have, by the unfolding disaster in Japan. First, they have a 9.0 Earthquake, which triggers a tsunami, followed by massive power outages and an ongoing nuclear disaster at several of their power-generating reactors. As one who has only seen Japan from a distance, and on TV and in the movies... I can't help but wonder, what's keeping Godzilla at bay?!!

Those people amaze me. First of all, I'm amazed that so few buildings toppled in such a huge quake. Their strict earthquake-resistant building codes are obviously very effective. I believe much more damage was done by the water, than by the quake. Second, I'm amazed at how downright civilized they seem to be! If such a disaster hit Los Angeles, lawlessness would reign supreme, and it would be "survival of the fittest." (Or maybe not. Maybe I judge my fellow citizens too harshly. I hope we never have to find out!)

I happened to see and grab this amazing photo of a cyclist amid the ruins. His bicycle is still providing mobility.

I'm a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or "Mormons." We are strongly encouraged to be prepared for disaster. Our leaders advise us to maintain a store of food, water and other essentials. At the very least, we should have a "72-Hour Kit" containing food and water, first aid, medications, some cash - everything we would need to maintain life and health for 3 days. (You would do good to heed that same advice, no matter your religious persuasion!)

Perhaps it's because transportation isn't vital to staying alive, at least in the short term, but very little is said about "disaster mobility." That bothers me a bit. We should think about it. Could we still get around if the roads were buckled and crumbled? How about if the fuel supply were cut off? I take some comfort in being confident I could still get around following almost any type of disaster, at least in the short term. I could forage for provisions, or get to the river for water.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Winter's last gasp

One of my favorite things about Boise is the climate. We usually get four distinct seasons, and rarely get extreme weather. (It gets above 100 maybe a half-dozen times in a typical summer, and doesn't go into single-digits very often in winter.) Just the same, I wouldn't complain if winter were a month shorter, and either spring or autumn were a month longer. (Yeah, I know... some people are NEVER happy!)

I'm looking forward to springtime. The longer, warmer, drier days that are on the way.

Wednesday was a surprise - mid afternoon, folks in the office crowded to the windows to check out the heavy snowfall - big beautiful fat snowflakes! It was beautiful - like a Christmas snow-globe! It melted off quickly. Thursday morning a powdered-sugar coating remained on the foothills northeast of town... but it will quickly recede, as well.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I'm blessed to have generally-excellent health. I get a nasty sinus/cold thing once or twice a year (I'm just getting over such a bout), but I can't remember the last "sick day" I stayed home from work. It's been years.

Yesterday I went for my annual physical exam.

Weight? On the high side. (Which it's been since I was in junior high. I must be "big boned." haha)
Pulse? Check.
Blood pressure? Check.
Cholesterol? Not checked. It's so steady that my doctor only wants to check every 3 years.
She's always impressed by my bicycling addiction.
At the end of the exam, she said, "Just keep doing what you're doing."
The only way it could've been better is if she'd told me, "You need to eat more donuts, French fries, and red meat."

What makes a person healthy or unhealthy?

Part of it is genetics. If your mom and dad, and grandmama and grandpappy were/are all healthy, there's an increased likelihood you'll be healthy.

My father, and his father, both passed away in their late 70s, but my other grandparents lived healthily into their 80s and 90s, and my mom is still living the good life. So I've got pretty good genes.

But surely another huge part of it is "environment." Where you live, what kind of food you eat and how much, your activities or lack thereof, whether you are exposed to toxins, etc.

I feel confident in making this generalization: No matter your level of health, you will be healthier if you get some daily aerobic exercise, than if you're totally sedentary. If your heart and lungs are challenged, for an hour or even 20 minutes a day, they won't freak out when you push 'em a little bit, because they're used to it.

For many people in 2011 America, it's not very easy to get aerobic exercise. Many get in their car to go everywhere. (I once heard a guy say his driveway is too long, so he drives to his mailbox instead of walking.) Those cars have power steering, so you don't have to work too hard to point it in the direction you want to go. They have power brakes, so you don't have to push on the pedal too hard. On and on. Automatic transmission. Power windows. Power seats, for cryin' out loud! At home, we have a food processor so we don't have to chop. Dishwasher. Clothes washer and dryer. Remote everything - Heaven forbid we should have to stand up and walk across the room! At the office we have escalators and elevators and electric pencil sharpeners.

For 25+ years, bicycling has been my way of getting some non-strenuous daily exercise. One of the many rewards is hearing my doctor, once a year, tell me "Keep doing what you're doing."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tale of the Saddle

When I got my new Cannondale T1 bicycle in November 2009, it had a very unusual saddle. I'd not seen another exactly like it before, nor have I seen one since.

It's a Selle An-Atomica Clydesdale. I gave it a favorable "200-mile report" here. I've really not mentioned it much since, but I've very much enjoyed it. It is, without any doubt, the most comfortable saddle I've ever ridden on.

I recently had occasion to appreciate the comfort level.

For you see - my An-Atomica saddle broke! (Doh!) In mid-February, in the middle of a ride, I noticed it seemed to have considerable extra flex. I rode on home, and discovered that both rails were broken, right behind the seatpost clamp.

I contacted the company, and after the exchange of some information, they agreed to repair it. (Officially it had/has a 1-year warranty, and mine was slightly outside of the warranty period. But we all agreed that a $150 saddle really should last longer than a year.) They told me to send it in. Surprisingly, I just received a replacement brand-new saddle; I expected a new frame, but the same leather (which was still in excellent shape).

During the 3 weeks or so my An-Atomica was "offline," I rode on a more conventional saddle. It's one that I've logged thousands of miles on. And my first impression was, "Hey! This is like sitting on a post!" It was not uncomfortable on the sub-25-mile rides I mostly go on... but there's no doubt in my mind that the "butt hammock" provided by the An-Atomica would be way nicer on a 50-miler, or a multi-day bicycle tour.

I'm optimistic the replacement saddle will last much longer. It has to - no matter how comfortable, I can't justify $150/year saddle expense! (The only other saddle I've broken in 25+ years of riding was a $14.98 "Nashbar special.")

More detailed/technical info about the An-Atomica, and "saddle science," can be found on their website.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


What would you buy with $3235?

That is what the Department of Energy estimates the average American household will spend on gas in 2011, up 28% from 2010. Story HERE.

"Higher gasoline prices will give consumers less money to spend on other goods and services, which many economists fear could slow the U.S. economy."

Gas is typically portrayed as an absolutely necessary expense - like the cost of food or shelter. I know better... as do probably 80% of the world's inhabitants. Being "over that oil barrel" is a voluntary choice. (Granted, our society shapes that choice. But many citizens have chosen to live far from their destinations.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gridlock, cont.

As I advocate for bikes-as-transportation, it's only fair to compare my preferred mode with other modes. Ya never know - other modes of transportation might be improving in an ever-changing marketplace.

Yesterday I commented on the resurgence of gas prices, just as the economy seems to be picking up a little traction. NOT good for the lowly single-occupant-vehicle driver.

And today comes more SOV bad news - "expect to spend more time in traffic this year."

According to a survey by INRIX (?), traffic congestion was up 11% in 2010. The situation will continue to deteriorate "as the economy improves and more people get behind the wheel to get to work."

According to the story in USA Today, traffic congestion peaked in 2007, after miles-driven rose 21% from 1995 to 2007. But now it's once again approaching those 2007 levels. In some places - small metro areas (like Boise?) - it's already the highest it's ever been.

On those rare occasions when I find myself behind the wheel and in traffic, my frustration at the situation is tempered by my relief that I don't deal with it very often. Seriously, I don't know how they do it - those people who live out in the suburbs and drive in to work in a moving parking lot, 5 days a week. That would drive me nuts! I love my bicycle!

You know what they say about sled dogs... "Unless you're the lead dog, the view never changes."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gas price rising again?

I keep hearing people rumble about the high price of gas.

Is that so? Has it gone up a lot?

I bought $20 worth of gas in January, to take my family to the Winter Carnival in McCall. Seems that it was $2-something at the time. That's the only gas I've purchased since, oh, probably last November. I don't buy a lot of gas. I may need to gas up the motorsickle before the end of March, if we have some decent weekend weather.

This may seem cruelly ironic, but the higher gas gets, the smarter us transportation cyclists look. Dang, we look like regular geniuses right now. (Maybe not so much if we're riding in pouring rain.)

Of course, fuel prices affect all of us, at least indirectly, by causing the cost of pretty much everything to go up correspondingly.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

1K for '11

Back in March, 2009, I observed that I almost always seem to hit that 1000-mile mark for the year, the second week of March.

I'm premature this year... today I watched the odometer click over 4 digits, to 1000. To the best of my knowledge, March 2 is the earliest ever for that particular milestone. It doesn't really mean anything; it just gives me something to observe and compare. In fact, maybe it's a bit pathetic to be so motivated by my tiny bike computer.

Distracted Driver Danger

Yet more disturbing news about the habits of motorists.

State Farm Insurance did a survey of 912 licensed drivers, and got these responses:
- 74% make or receive phone calls at least once weekly while driving
- 35% send or receive text messages weekly while driving
- 19% surf the web (!!) weekly while driving

So... is that a problem?

In 2009, distracted driving accidents resulted in 5,474 deaths and 448,000 injuries.

Yeah, I'd say it's a problem.

Politically, I'm libertarian/conservative, and resent government meddling in people's lives. HOWEVER... since the government provides roads, and since people apparently won't voluntarily refrain from endangering other citizens while using those roads, I think it's up to the government to mandate some responsible behavior. If those 5,474 deaths and 448,000 injuries were only the folks who engaged in grossly irresponsible behavior, then I'd be fully in favor of letting people surf/text/yack away, and deal with the consequences.

(People who have read the BikeNazi for awhile probably think I harp on this too much. May be. But my biggest concern, when I take to the streets on my bicycle, is that I will become a statistic - a victim of some clown who's not paying attention to his/her driving, and plows into me.)

More info about the State Farm survey HERE. (Previous Commentary)