Tuesday, January 31, 2012

'12 - off to a great start!

We were blessed with a mild and dry January. However, it's nice that in one four-day span our mountain snowpack went from about 50% of normal to 95%. Sweeeet! Despite that, there was only one day - the first of those four - on which I was dissuaded from bicycling to work... I took the bus. (That evening I braved the streets on my beater mountain bike and rode over to the library for awhile.)

Bus commuting - it was breathtakingly expensive! A dollar each way - imagine! But then I considered... lots of car commuter pay well over $2 for a parking space for the day. And at 60 cents per mile - a middle-of-the-road estimate of the total cost of operating a car - I'd be spending between $4 and $5, if I only drove between home and the office. Riding a bicycle really distorts one's perception of reality.

It's Leap Year - 29 days next month. Which begs the question... why does the 29th belong to my employer, rather than me? Seems to me that "Leap Day" should be a paid holiday. But I digress.

Happy and safe riding.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Daredevil freeway cyclist in Seattle

Seattle has a renegade bike rider who illegally operates on I-5, but disappears before he can be busted.

Story (and photo and video) HERE.

According to the story, bicycling on the freeway is a "jailable offense" up that way. And based on the video of this yokel, he'd be getting off lucky if all he got was some jail time! He's operating in a very narrow stretch of pavement, on the far left side of the traffic flow! It's amazing that somebody hasn't pasted him.

The Seattle area has become notorious for its rush-hour traffic jams. But even if the freeway is only going 11mph, it's still a dangerous place if your operational space and sight distance are compromised.

Many people don't know this, but it's legal to operate a bicycle on any freeway in Idaho.

Legal... but safe?

I've ridden on the Interstate around Boise. Eastbound out of town (toward Mountain Home) it's not too bad. I've ridden out to the Blacks Creek exit on several occasions. You can see for miles up the road, and the shoulder is as wide as a traffic lane. (The debris and junk is HUGE out there! Ya gotta watch out not to run into a chunk of tire tread or boulder or abandoned Geo Metro.) But I'd never dare to ride "the connecter" during rush hour... the equivalent to what this Bozo has been doing (and getting away with, at least so far).

On the other hand... it's unlikely he'll end up killing anybody but himself, and motorists are out there killing other people every day with their irresponsible and inattentive behavior.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lessons from great cycling cities

Christine Grant of Seattle has written an interesting article after observing some of the world's most bicycle-friendly cities. These are the lessons she learned, about what many of them share in common:

1. It's the infrastructure, stupid!
If the available roadways and pathways aren't perceived as safe, they'll never enjoy widespread use by casual cyclists.

2. Bike Share! Bike Share!
This is probably most applicable in large urban places...citizens are more likely to ride, if they don't have to commit to ownership (and maintenance, storage, etc.) of a bicycle.

3. It's safer than a soda.
Citizens need to buy into the health aspects of regular transportation cycling. (An education issue?)

4. Say "thank you."
Rather than viewing bicycle infrastructure as a huge financial burden, some cities "thank" transportation cyclists in a very public way. (After all, cycling is much cheaper than motor transportation, both for the cyclist and for those who furnish the infrastructure.)

5. Forget speed bumps... turn streets into backyards.
Motorists tend to ignore signs and traffic calming devices... it's harder to ignore benches, planters, and even a ping-pong table. (I had to "steal" this photo from the article. Who wouldn't love to live on a street like this?!!)

6. Let prices tell the truth.
There's no such thing as "free parking," for example. That huge parking lot surrounding your favorite mall? You pay for it when you spend money at the mall.

7. You don't need "bike clothes."
Yeah, you can ride a bike while wearing a necktie or suit, or a dress and high heels.

8. Electrify it.
In hilly places or for people with compromised health, motorized assistance can supplement pedal power. (But not those noisy little 2-stroke chainsaw engines, please!!!)

9. Admit it - it's emotional.
People who sit in traffic every day can't appreciate how satisfying the bike-transportation alternative is. Grant: "I spoke with dozens of urban cyclists who talked about the curious happiness derived from activating your senses and connecting with your city on a bicycle. One Amsterdam father’s voice actually cracked with emotion as he reflected on his morning and afternoon rides with his son. His toddler sat in a front-mounted childseat. The father talked about how nice it was to smell his son’s head during the commute to day care."

10. It's a virtuous circle - or cycle.
"Better infrastructure recruits more people onto bikes, which creates more advocates for better infrastructure, which recruits more people onto bikes, and so on."

(Photo snapped by Christine Grant)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Book: It's All About the Bike

"The pursuit of happiness on two wheels"

The title grabbed me; I grabbed the book.

Journalist and cyclist Robert Penn set out to acquire the ultimate bicycle, piece by piece. He started at Brian Rourke Cycles in Stoke-on-Trent, England. (Coincidentally, my great-great grandfather emigrated from Stoke-on-Trent to the USA, 150-odd years ago.) Mr. Rourke builds custom frames, and he built one just for Mr. Penn. From there he traveled the world... to Oregon for the ultimate hubs, to Italy to pick up his gruppo, to Germany for his tires, to the Bay Area to have his wheels handbuilt, back to England for his Brooks saddle.

Wherever he is allowed, he watches his stuff being manufactured. (Campagnolo wouldn't let him in... they have a strict policy against journalist tours. They're apparently afraid of competitors stealing their innovations that are still on the drawing board.)

The story of the bike-being-built is interspersed with observations about bicycling, history, etc. (On not-so-custom bikes, Penn has ridden pretty much around the world.)

A snippet from the book:

"The one dramatic blow-out I had that still gives me flashbacks was in the Fergana Mountains in Kyrgyzstan. I was coming down from a pass on a gravel road, on a loaded touring bike. When the hairpins finished, and the road opened out before me, I let the brakes go. At full tilt, the front tyre - a cheap Chinese-made tyre I'd bought in the market in Kashgar - blew. The bike slid briefly, then the handlebar jack-knifed and I was off. Somehow, the bike was propelled into the air. As it came down on top of me, the teeth of the chainrings scalped the side of my head.

"A few hours later, I reached a farm on the road - the first settlement I'd seen all day. Blood congealed with dust covered the side of my face. My shirt was shredded. Looking like a cross between a cage-fighter and a Sadhu, I leant my bike against the gate and walked up the path. Children and women scattered, shrieking. The farmer, a barrel-chested Kyrgyz man with taut, mongoloid features, appeared from the shadows with a pistol at the end of his stiff arm. I tried a few words of Russian. No reply. Then his eyes flicked past me to the gate, and my bicycle. The pistol arm fell limp. The leathery brown skin on his face was re-set to a broad grin. Ten minutes later I was eating kebabs and yoghurt as his wife sponged blood from my head. I had the bicycle to thank for my salvation: it was the last time I would ever grace it with a cheap tyre."

Penn's final thought, as he takes his first ride: "At Gospel Pass, we [he and his bicycle?] slipped through the notch in the rock and the landscape fell away. We began freewheeling slowly downhill. The views into mid-Wales were magnificent. The world lay beyond the handlebars. I was in the best seat in the house: a seat that had cost over $5,000. That's a lot of money for a bicycle, I thought. Then again, it's not a lot of money for the loveliest thing I've ever owned."

(The title of the book is a light-hearted response to a book by Lance Armstrong: It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.) It's a quick read, at less than 200 pages. I'd recommend it to anybody who regularly feels "happiness on two wheels."

More death by distraction

(Sorry to keep beating this dead horse... it's only because cyclists are particularly vulnerable in a traffic accident. We totally depend on other roadway users being responsible.)

A sad update on a tragic story...

A few nights ago, an 18-year-old college freshman, Taylor Sauer, was killed in a collision on the Interstate an hour or so southeast of Boise. It happened at night, and the evidence suggested she plowed into the back of a slow-moving truck on an upgrade... and then was subsequently hit by another truck. Very weird. When I read about it, I assumed either she was drowsy (which happens out there on the superslab), or somebody wasn't paying attention.

A story on the Deseret News website sheds additional light.

"The one-time high school salutatorian apparently passed the time on the long drive by communicating with others on Facebook."

Moments before the fatal accident, she posted this message: "I can't discuss this matter now. Driving and facebooking is not safe! Haha."

A life wasted. Several other individuals with damaged property and horrible memories to last a lifetime. Thank goodness nobody else was (apparently) injured or killed!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Death by distraction

Remember back in the good old days, when people paid attention to their surroundings when driving, walking, cycling, etc.? And maybe even drove (or strolled) "defensively"?

That seems to be the exception rather than the rule any more.

Here is a story at USA Today, about "earplug oblivion." Pedestrians - predominantly males under 30 - put on their headphones or jam in their earplugs, and saunter into the path of a car, truck, OR TRAIN! Who's at fault when you're groovin' to your righteous tunes, and a train with horn blasting turns you into hamburger?!!

I saw a "hipster" on a bicycle just yesterday. He had on the Hipster beanie and the Hipster earbuds and the Hipster fashion attire. He was riding on his single-speed Hipster bike... I didn't notice whether it had brakes, but it had the big Hipster rims. He was nonchalantly riding through red lights; in fact he passed me when I was stopped at a red light. He seemed oblivious to his surroundings. (And I can't help but feel that such individuals foster resentment among motorists.)

Meanwhile, behind the wheel...

The Idaho AAA is reporting that according to a survey of 400 Idaho voters, 87% are in favor of a law prohibiting texting while driving. 59% favor "prohibiting cell phones for any purpose while driving."

Will this result in any legislation? Based on past history, it seems unlikely. As a particularly vulnerable roadway user, even though I favor small government, I'd like specific laws. (Some citizens obviously feel that anything that isn't illegal, must be okay.) I'd settle for a clarification in the Inattentive Driving law. Something like, "Inattentive driving includes, but is not limited to, operating electronic communication devices while driving."

Full disclosure: I very occasionally use some music earplugs when I'm riding - both bicycle and motorcycle. But on the bicycle I do so at volume levels that won't drown out at least some of the ambient noise. I'd hear a 100-deciebel train horn blast, I'm thinkin'. And - I never listen to music while navigating heavy traffic or sharing a traffic lane. And I pay extra attention to my rearview mirror, and constantly scan for potential hazards. (I realize the stakes are high! Some people seem not to.)

(Back in October, I observed that while a vast majority of motorists believe that texting while driving is dangerous, 35% of them confess that they do it. So in essence, what they are saying is that unless it's against the law, they'll do it. Safety alone isn't a compelling enough reason to stop. That would reinforce the notion that a law needs to be passed.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Celebrity bicycle carnage

Actor Gene Hackman is recovering after being hit by a pickup truck while bicycling in the Florida Keys. He was airlifted to the hospital, tested, and released... with a few bumps and bruises to show for the adventure. He was not wearing a brain bucket. Story HERE.

I'm impressed! The guy is 81 years old... out there on his velocipede. It gives me hope.

I've been enjoying his work since "Bonnie and Clyde," which was probably the first R-rated movie I ever saw. (Dad took me to it when I still needed "a parent or guardian.") But I digress.

Here's wishing Mr. Hackman a speedy recovery!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Icicles on da whiskers!

This winter has been extraordinary so far... even in a place that's "the banana belt of Idaho" for our mild winters.

We've had a dusting of snow one morning... that's it! Even the temperatures have rarely dropped below 20. It's been great - from the viewpoint of the bike saddle...

Today it was just below 20. The pavement was frosty enough that I was paying attention, but not hazardous by any means. I accumulated some moustache-cicles on the way to the office. Was glad for the balaclava and the gloves. (The gloves aren't heavy enough for an all-day ride at such a temperature, but are fine for the few-minute commute.)

The winter sports enthusiasts are chompin' at the bit. The summer sports enthusiasts - you know, water skiiers, rafters, and the like - are getting a little anxious. I'm a bit unsettled when I see the mountains surrounding town without any snow in January. BUT - the precipitation year is still young and I expect things will turn around. (Word is that the reservoirs have enough water in 'em for the farmers, who have "first dibs." And I expect water to come out of the faucet when I twist it.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

$5 gas in 2012

Between the normal supply/demand cycle that peaks in the summer, and the unrest in the middle east, some experts are predicting that gas will top $5/gallon this summer. (Story HERE.)

Ouch! Expensive gas always has a negative impact on the economy. When people are pouring their money into the gas tank, they're not buying filet mignon and speedboats and junkets to Vegas. Since it's an election year, I expect the incumbents to do everything they can to keep prices down. They don't want their supporters to stay home on account of not being able to afford the trip to the voting booth.

If past history is any indicator, commuter habits seem to be impacted by a run-up in gas prices, more than pretty much anything. Our office bike-parking facility bulges when the weather is nice and gas is expensive.

Naturally, those who will be impacted the most are those who choose to live long distances from their daily destinations. And particularly those who live far away, and who drive Hummers, super-duty pickups, etc., for their daily transportation.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"Idaho stop law" - not just Idaho

Idaho's bicycle stop law is the envy of cyclists pretty much everywhere else.

In essence, the Idaho law requires cyclists to treat a stop sign like a yield sign, and to treat a stop light like a stop sign. From the saddle of a bicycle, the law seems common-sense. Gaining velocity requires a lot more energy than maintaining velocity. (The same is true for a 4000-pound vehicle... but not on the part of the operator, who just has to stomp on the gas.) And who hasn't been victimized by a non-responsive traffic signal?!

(NOTE! The law doesn't require a cyclist to roll cautiously through a stop sign, or to proceed while the light is red. And I'd never suggest to casual/novice riders that they take advantage of the relaxed restrictions. But an experienced, responsible cyclist can do so safely, and also without alienating motorists.)

Well... Idaho is no longer alone. As of 2012, cyclists and motorcyclists in Illinois can proceed through a red light, after waiting a "reasonable" amount of time for it to change.

What's reasonable?

That has yet to be determined, or written into the law. As of now, two minutes is what they're using. If you roll up to a red light, and it hasn't changed for you in two minutes, you can start watching for an opening.

(In real life, I'd start watching for an opening after 15 or 20 seconds, in which I could make a quick right-turn, then a quick U-turn, then another quick right-turn, all legal. But again, I'd not recommend that procedure to an inexperienced cyclist... ya gotta be on your toes. The stakes are high!)

Story HERE.