Thursday, March 29, 2012

Nice new place to ride!

I've got a brand new "scenic route" to take, if I get bored with my regular route. And in a way, by posting this I feel like the fisherman who blabs about his favorite fishin' hole... but I'm sure it will be on the local bike map soon enough, whether I make mention or not.

East of town, just as you get to the "Harris Ranch" area, there's a new city park under development. And based on what I'm seeing, it promises to have some awesome recreational riding paths - many paved and many unpaved, as well.

I believe it's called Williams Park. They are just taking down some of the barriers, and I'm often feeling compelled to go the ten or so miles out of my way, just to enjoy the new glass-smooth pathways and fantastic scenery. (As the vegetation comes in, it will only get better.)

Check out the eagle nests - and eagles! - in the third photo down.







Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cyclists... second-class citizens

On Friday afternoon, March 9, Lona Linzy Hymas Smith, age 50, was riding her bicycle eastbound on Highway 30 toward Burley. (For those not familiar, Burley is a quiet little farm town, and Highway 30 is a 2-lane, 55mph rural road that runs roughly parallel to the main thoroughfare, I-84.) She was approached from behind by Michael Lee Burt, who was in a truck.

According to the news report, "Burt told responding deputies that he was driving on Highway 30 heading eastbound into Burley around 6 p.m. Smith was riding her bike alongside the road, also heading eastbound. Burt told police he moved over to the left as far as he could to avoid the bicyclist, but there was a car coming westbound toward him. Burt said just as he went to pass the bicycle, the rider looked back at him over her left shoulder and "bolted" in front of him. Burt said he could not respond quickly enough and struck the bicycle with the front of his truck. He then stopped his truck and went back to check on the rider."

The rider was gravely injured, and died at the hospital.

Police officers say she was riding on, or just barely to the left of, the fog line. (Right where she should be, if there isn't a wide, smooth shoulder.) And the road was probably straight for miles in both directions.

But after reviewing the case, Cassia County Prosecutor Al Barrus has decided not to file any charges. "We just don’t see any way that we could prove he violated traffic laws, which is what we would have to prove in order to prosecute a manslaughter case.” (Story)

Um, how about illegal/unsafe passing?

"The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle." (Idaho Statute 49-632.)

How hard would it be to prove that there wasn't a "safe distance" when Burt attempted to pass?

What if it had been another car, or a tractor or piece of farm equipment (a common sight on Highway 30), rather than a bicycle, that Burt came up behind and tried - very irresponsibly - to pass?

Based on years of observation, I say that cyclists are assumed to be responsible for any accident they are involved in, unless the evidence otherwise is open-and-closed blatant. A certain percentage of motorists would dismiss the whole thing by saying, "If she was riding on a road that was made for cars, she had it comin' to her." If I'm wrong... prove it. Sounds like poor Ms. Smith was doing everything right... she just had the misfortune to be sharing the road with an impatient motorist who thought the 5 seconds he could save was more important than her safety. (If he had it to do over again, I bet he'd ease off a bit. But there's no do-over.)

I wish I'd met her... she was renowned for her talent at woodcarving, and was a beloved member of a family. (As are 'most all cyclists who are killed by an impatient motorist.) Read about her HERE. See her artistry HERE. (Fantastic!!)

A wood carving by the deceased:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Baylor Hi-Viz

I don't pay too much attention to college basketball... but I do enjoy tuning in for the playoffs. You can always expect some great games in March.

No "dog in the fight" this year... but Baylor has caught my eye. I'd love to see 'em take it all!

For one thing, Pierre Jackson played at College of Southern Idaho... and in fact led CSI to a NJCAA Divison 1 championship last season. Jackson, from Las Vegas, is an unlikely basketball star at 5'10" ... in a game dominated by guys who go from 6 1/2 feet on up.

For another thing... check out their safety uniforms! Apparently some people hate 'em... but that's my favorite color!!

UPDATE Monday, 3/26. By stating my support for Baylor, I jinxed 'em. And so therefore I extend my apologies. I still like the uniforms!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Transportation costs - up, up, up!

As the price of gas continues to increase at unprecedented levels and a summer of very expensive driving looms, it's got everybody's attention.

A recent article at the Tenneseean website laments that Nashville residents are currently paying almost 30% of their average income in transit costs.

According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology, transportation costs have risen 39% in the past decade. (Frankly, that seems low to me. General inflation in a decade is probably 30%, and I'd say transportation expense is rising meaningfully faster than general inflation, mostly because of fuel prices.)

Usually we think of housing expense when we're choosing where to live. This tendency is reflected in urban sprawl - people buy a house out in the suburbs someplace, because it's cheaper than a comparable close-in house. (And in many cases, once they have made the move, their only realistic transportation option is driving... because their destinations are too far to bicycle or walk to, and the area isn't served by public transportation.)

The CNT suggests that housing expense should ideally be less than 30% of your household income. But they go on to say that housing AND TRANSPORTATION expense combined, should ideally be less than 45% of that same income. In other words... it might make more economic sense to buy a more expensive house that's less expensive to get to, than a cheaper house that costs a lot to get to. They have a cool but somewhat unsettling website... it has two "zoomable" maps of populated areas. On the left is a map that highlights where housing expense is more than 30% of income. On the right is another map of the same area, that highlights where housing and transportation expense combined exceed 45% of income.

The Housing/Transportation expense website can be seen HERE.

When I go out bicycling or motorcycling in "the country," I frequently see a "little bit o' heaven" - you know, a pastoral piece of land far from the hustle and bustle of the Big City. And I momentarily ponder to myself, "Wow! What a nice place to live!" And it would be! But then another reality sets in. How expensive would it be - not only in money, but in time and the non-tangibles like stress and aggravation - to get from that heavenly place, to where I have to be five days a week? And suddenly I'm significantly more satisfied with my close-in suburban neighborhood, where my door-to-door bike commute is 15 minutes or less each way. Maybe someday when I only have to go to the Big City once a week instead of every day, Heaven's Half-Acre might be more practical.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shifting gears? There's an app for that...

If you're like me, you love riding your bike... except for all that rigmarole of shifting gears. What a pain, huh?

Well... that may be about to change.

Toyota (yeah, Toyota!) and Parlee Cycles are working on the new setup.

What you do is mount your iPhone on your handlebars. And shift gears using "buttons" on the phone. But that's just the beginning! If pushing the buttons on your iPhone is too much of a hassle... you put on your neuron helmet and think to yourself, "Boy, I'd sure like to shift gears!" And the helmet sends a signal to the phone, and the phone shifts gears for you!

And I guess that since you have your phone right there on your handlebars, between gear changes you can send out a few TEXT MESSAGES, huh? Or check your Facebook. Or maybe watch a movie. OMG! LOL!! ROFL!!

Before you know it, only luddites and losers will be shifting gears the old fashioned way. No more carpal tunnel syndrome from a lifetime of manually shifting gears... our nightmare may soon be over!

Story HERE.

But seriously... dreamers keep trying to devise a better way of delivering bike-power from the engine (us!) to the wheel. The index shift was a major milestone. (Remember the "analog" way, back in the dark ages?) And they've moved the levers around from place to place... now that I'm used to it, I kinda like the combo brake/gear levers. (But even the downtube-mounted levers were never a show stopper.) I believe they're refining an electronic paddle-operated gizmo for the pros. Now and then you see an "automatic transmission" of one flavor or another... but it never catches on. The ol' derailleur and manual shift is tried and true.

I'd like to see a constantly-variable setup, where you could dial in the cadence you want to maintain (or punch the button when you're spinning at that cadence), and it would adjust to maintain that cadence, or until you disengaged it. And while I'm making up my list of demands... belt drive would be pretty nice, too! (The maintenance-free belt is pretty sweet on my motorsickle. I'd grudgingly surrender oiling and cleaning my chain. There are some belt-drive bicycles out there, but mostly upscale comfort/urban -type bikes. I don't know if it's ready to get pounded on by the commoners.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Being green" isn't a motivator

Young people a generation or two ago were more likely to be environmentally-conscious than the youngstas today... or so says a story at

"I was shocked," said Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University. Shocked because all that propaganda about reduce-reuse-recycle doesn't seem to be hitting its mark, at least with a large part of the young population.

15 percent of "millennials" - that's apparently the nickname for Generation-X's kids - say they make no effort to save the environment. Compared with 8 percent of the next-older generation and 5 percent of those (us) idealistic baby-boomers. (Granted, that's just their own observation, and half the baby-boomers probably figure they're doing their part by recycling their aluminum cans or using those newfangled light bulbs.)

One possible explanation is that they've been saturated with the message to such a degree that they've just turned it off. Another is that they are confused by the ongoing debate... after all, many people say it's hardly settled. Another reasonable explanation is that more young folks sit inside at their screen and keyboard or whatever than previous generations, and they're just not that interested in outdoorsy stuff like "the environment." How pathetic would that be?!!

At Pennsylvania's Muhelnberg College, Richard Niesenbaum, a biology professor divides the student body up this way:
5-10% are committed environmentalists
5% are "anti-environment" (the punks who litter and don't recycle, etc.)
85-90% are willing to help, as long as they don't have to lead and it's not too inconvenient or expensive.

I imagine that's a pretty accurate reflection on the population as a whole.

I've shared my viewpoints about climate change before. And, a desire to be green is a motivating factor in my choice to ride a bike... just not too high on the list. I don't know if we are causing the earth to get warmer. I am confident that we're negatively affecting the environment with various forms of pollution... and by riding a bicycle I'm happy to be contributing a significantly lower share than most folks.

The "millennials" may not be very environmentally-conscious, but those in my circle of acquaintances are motivated by economic factors. (At least those who don't have Mommy and Daddy still pickin' up the tab.) Typically, they're trying to stretch a budget just like us old folks... perhaps more so in many cases. I suspect that $4 or $5 or $6 gas will be more of a motivator to get them out of their cars, than "being green" ever could be.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ridin' after dark - in style!

I've acquired the coolest bike-transportation visibility accessory I've seen in a long time - a set of Monkey Lights!

I chose the new M210 Mini Monkey Light, "lightweight, balanced, and has all new 8-bit graphics."

Why are they called Monkey Lights? Durned if I know! Maybe because monkeys like bright, shiny stuff? (Maybe some anthropologists can shed light on the topic.)

MonkeyLectric was founded by Dan Goldwater, a bay-area electrical engineer who expressed his artistic bent by building some neon-lit bicycles. Response was incredibly positive; he guessed there might be a market for bike lights that are both highly-visible and beautiful. The M210 is the idea in its current refined state.
It consists of 2 main pieces:
- a display assembly that's five multi-color LEDs on each side and some circuitry, all enclosed in clear waterproof plastic,
- a battery pack that holds 3 AA batteries (which supposedly will provide power for up to 40 hours of operation)
Both are connected to the bicycle wheel with zip-ties... the LED assembly out near the rim, and the battery pack directly on the hub. I'd guess the whole thing, including batteries, weighs 5 ounces or so. And - amazingly - it's MADE IN U.S.A.(!!), and has a 2-year warranty.

Price is about $50, plus a couple bucks for shipping. (Shipping was extremely prompt, but my timing was perfect... I ordered just as the new model became available. It looks like previous models were significantly bulkier.)

Three switches on the LED assembly provide power on/off and normal/extrabright, color selection, and "theme" selection. Themes vary - zig-zags, stripes, hearts, circles, lightning bolts, skulls (!), etc. By combining RGB (red/green/blue) colors, a wide variety of colors is also displayed... you can choose various combinations, or just go with the spectrum. (I'm still familiarizing myself with color and theme selections; I expect I'll be more of an authority on the subject in a month, than I am now.)

There are some some warnings:
- Don't exceed 40mph.
- Don't use in place of a headlight or taillight.
- Don't get distracted by the lights. (That's a tough one!)
- Be aware of local ordinances; some regions may not allow some colors of lights.

Below are a couple photos of the the whole shebang installed, the LED board and the battery pack. A wire runs between the two; it's all quite simple to install securely. So far everything seems good and weatherproof, but I haven't really given it a torture test. (Since the LED board is near the rim, it's very likely at some point it will be submerged in a puddle, so that's important.)




I also tried - without much success - to get some in-motion video. The official promo video is linked at the bottom... it's much better than my feeble results.

So far, I'm very enthusiastic! I'm confident that besides looking cool, they provide a meaningful enhancement to after-dark riding safety... they'd be almost impossible to miss!

I imagine if somebody does a lot of after-dark bicycle pageantry, he could install three sets on the front wheel and three more on the back... and could probably be seen from the next county over!

If the past is any indicator, over the 5 or 6 long-day months of the year, I do very little after-dark riding. And although these lights aren't difficult to install, it does take 15 or 20 minutes... not something you'd want to do before an hour-long night ride. I might leave them installed year-round... or I might take them off in April and put 'em back on in October. We'll see.

I hope to do a follow-up report on my MonkeyLights after a few months.

The "official" video...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bicycle Romance!

Here's a lovely story about bicycles and love.

Ted Jenkins was bicycling through Cripplegate Park in Worcester, UK, with his buddy.

They happened to cross paths with a pretty gal named Jessie, who was bicycling with her friend.

The two struck up a conversation. He offered to accompany her on the bike ride home... turned out she lived nine miles away! But away they went. By the time they got there, it was getting pretty late - she agreed to loan him her bike lights for his trip home... if he'd agree to meet and return them the next day.

The rest is history. Sixty years of history! That meeting took place in 1950; they were married on March 8, 1952 - sixty years ago yesterday. (The story doesn't say, unfortunately, whether they're still bicycling together or not. But I bet they accumulated a few miles, at least during those lean Newlywed Years.)

[Mrs. BikeNazi wishes I was a little more romantic. And perhaps she's a bit envious of my "mistress"... the bicycle!! I hope not!]

The most- and least-expensive cars

I consider Consumer Reports to be pretty impartial and objective, when it comes to product testing and reporting. And they just published their annual "Auto Issue." IMO, it's a great source of info for would-be car buyers.

If I were shopping for a car, I'd want something that performs the task I need it to perform, with a maximum level of reliability and safety, and with the least financial outlay.

The reality is... a car can be much more than utility transportation for a lot of motorists. And perhaps if you spend hours every day in your car, that's understandable. However, I think it's silly to choose a car based on the "image" it will project to other people... but there's no denying that some people shell out thousands of dollars for that very reason. (You're still stuck in the same traffic, and you still have the same speed limits.)

Consumer Reports factors in depreciation, fuel economy, insurance, interest on financing, maintenance and repair, and sales tax in figuring out the cost of operating for five years (and assuming the vehicle will be traded in at the end of the period). Seems to me they should also factor in storage/parking - that's not an expense to be sneezed at, particularly in the Big City! (Maybe I'm still just smarting from paying $32/day in Boston, a few months back.)

The least-expensive?

Small car - Honda Fit - $26,500
Family sedan - Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE - $31,500
Luxury sedan - Hyundai Genesis 4.6 - $54,250
Upscale sedan - Buick Regal CXL - $39,250
Sporty car - Mini Cooper - $28,250
Small SUV - Toyota RAV4 - $34,500
Midsize SUV - Hyundai Santa Fe GLS - $38,500
Luxury SUV - BMW X3 xDrive28i - $50,000
Large SUV - Ford Flex SEL - $50,500

The most-expensive? Aw, heck! What's the point? The people who drive a BMW 750Li ($106,750) or Corvette ($70,750) or Escalade ($84,750) probably aren't really into penny-pinching.

The cheapest car costs $5300/year. I could ride my bicycle for ten years and then pitch it and buy a replacement, and probably wouldn't exceed that one-year car cost.

I firmly believe that if car expenses weren't accrued in "nickel and dime" bites - if motorists had to write out a check at the beginning of the year for $5300, or $21,350 (the BMW), for that year's transportation, they'd give it a lot more thought, and perhaps explore alternatives. I know I'm happy to have that extra jingle in my pocket, from choosing a cheaper way.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bike article follow-up

Last month, the Boise Weekly published a story about the "3 feet to pass" law. I commented HERE.

But I missed a follow-up letter to the editor from Judy Taylor of Boise.

Ms. Taylor apparently thought the time was right to vent her frustrations about cyclist behavior. They don't stop at signs and signals. They don't stay in "their" lane, but straddle the stripe. They don't ride single file. Families with a child in one of those "carts or whatever they are called" are occupying the space she wants to occupy, etc.

Taylor: "Bikers want to share the road but not the rules of the road. I don't think it should be entirely up to the motorist to look out for bikers. They should also look out for themselves and obey the same rules. There is no difference between them and us except they are the ones that will be the fatality in an accident."

Another way of looking at that... even if a "biker" does something really, really, really stupid, it's unlikely he'll end up killing anybody but himself. Motorists kill innocent bystanders all the time! (I agree with her that cyclist should know and follow the laws... just as motorists should. She obviously is unaware of Idaho's famous bicycle stop law.)

I only became aware of Ms. Taylor's letter when I read a response from Jimmy Hallyburton, in a follow-up letter. (For those not aware, Jimmy is the dynamo of positive energy beind the Boise Bicycle Project. I sat right up when I saw his name in print.)

Hallyburton points out that according to law (in Idaho and most states), "Every person operating a vehicle propelled by human power or riding a bicycle shall have all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle." He took her to task for propagating the "them and us" mentality, that so frequently puts motorists and cyclists at odds with each other. (And he also observes that she accurately voices "the thoughts of a lot of drivers and point[s] out some real flaws with cyclists.) And he stresses that the main thing we lack is education. "Currently, half of the states in our country have standard Safe Routes to School curriculum in schools that make bicycle education mandatory, but not Idaho. In fact, Idaho's SRTS program, that teaches thousands of kids about bicycle transportation with practically no budget, is about to be axed so we can repave another mile of the interstate."

Great letter!

(There essentially is no formal rider education. And that seems unlikely to change. And... I always cringe when I see a well-meaning parent or adult riding bicycles slowly up the street with a helmeted child... ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! Very unfortunate.)


For a few glorious months, back in an earlier life, I was a professional driver. I drove an "Access" (paratransit) van around town, delivering the most precious of cargoes - people - to their destinations. I loved the job! The only reason I left it is because I was having trouble paying the bills on the wage I was earning.

Before I was turned loose with passengers, I got some training under the tutelage of a lifelong professional driver. "Ski" (he's Hawaiian, but of Polish descent) was (and is, I imagine) an awesome man; he'd driven trucks for the Army for a career - moving stuff like helicopters and M1 tanks. When he retired in Boise, he took up the paratransit driving.

I came to see driving in a whole different light.

He taught me to drive "gently." If you are transporting a passenger with a painful physical condition - like spina bifida, for example - you try to drive smoothly... no sudden movements. "Ski" (he's Hawaiian, but of Polish descent) even stressed avoiding that little "bump" when you come to a complete stop... by managing the slowdown to the very end, you can make your stop totally smoooooth.

He also taught me to look up the road as far as I could see - to be aware of which lane would be best for smooth uninterrupted travel. That's called "anticipation." If you're paying attention, you're rarely surprised. You can anticipate where stopping will be inevitable, and maybe see an alternate path to avoid stopping. You can anticipate when the light will turn green. You can choose the best time to change lanes. You can definitely avoid being in the turn-only lane, if you want to proceed straight.

Rolling along slowly is superior to having to stop and restart, if you want to be smooooth.

(That style of driving requires full attention - you can't drive that way while yappin' on your phone or texting or eating your lunch, for example.)

That knowledge carried over nicely to passenger-car driving. (Although I must admit it made me much more "judgmental" when observing the driving of other people. People who often weren't willing students, like I was for those 30 days or so.)

That knowledge also translated nicely to cycling. Rolling along smoothly is economical! It is far superior to stopping and starting. And looking way up the road is far superior to staring at that bumper right in front of you, and reacting only to it.

(I continue to maintain a Commercial Driver's License... probably rather ironic since I only drive about 20 or 30 times in a typical year.)