Friday, May 31, 2013

Lawrence of Arabia - killed by bad cyclists!

I'm in the process of watching "Lawrence of Arabia." I saw it as a young child in the movie theater; this is the first time since. I got the Blu-Ray - it looks and sounds fantastic! (It goes almost 4 hours - I've made it to intermission. I don't get many 4-hour time slots.)

Lawrence of Arabia! Legendary British war hero, who thrived in forbidding circumstances, survived daunting desert treks, cemented alliances between Arabs and "westerners"!

At the very beginning of the movie, he dusts off his Brough Superior motorcycle, pulls on his goggles, and heads enthusiastically down the winding 2-lane road. (Riding on the left side of the center stripe - this is Great Britain, after all.) He comes over a hill and encounters 2 bike riders, meandering down the wrong side of the road, straight toward him! He skids and wobbles - and you hear the sickening sounds of crunching metal. The next scenes are of his funeral.

Apparently the movie portrayal is at least somewhat accurate. Wikipedia says, "At the age of 46, two months after leaving military service, Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle in Dorset, close to his cottage ... A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles; he swerved to avoid them, lost control and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later..."

Perhaps his death wasn't totally in vain; the Wikipedia continues: "One of the doctors attending him was the neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns who consequently began a long study of what he saw as the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries. His research led to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Piteous Contempt"

I'm in the process of reading a book, In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist, by Pete Jordan.

Jordan was pursuing an education in urban planning and transportation infrastructure and such, and wanted to do a year in Amsterdam, where he could observe their well-known devotion to bicycle transportation.  He ended up loving the place so much that he lives there now.

The book is quite interesting; I hope to share my opinion on the overall work when I finish.  In the meantime, I've been making note of some passages which capture my interest in particular.  The author has done considerable research, gathering historical documents about how Holland evolved over the course of the 20th Century, in such a different way than the United States did.

Going back about 90 years (1923)... the automobile was already ingrained in American culture.

[In America] after the populace had taken to cars, cycling was then confined to "telegraph messengers, schoolboys and eccentrics."  He quotes a Dutch reporter in 1923: "The average American feels complete for the first time when he's sitting behind a steering wheel" and such a driver "immediately assumes an air of piteous contempt" toward anyone who didn't drive.

American children could fool around with bikes, but as they aged, their bicycles were expected to be shed along with their dolls and their teddy bears as they matured into full-fledged motorists.

Dutch reporter in 1912, on car ownership in America:

"It's a question of uniformity, not liberty.  The principle of uniformity is stronger here than that of liberty.  Everyone is expected to do what everyone else does.  The smallest deviation from this law will be punished through the tacit disapproval by the combined humanity.  He who doesn't believe this should try wearing a straw hat or a high hat in the "off season," or go strolling in a green tie while knowing that purple is in vogue.

No doubt a lot of that dynamic has persisted ... and I s'pose turnabout is fair play.  I say that, because I assume an air of piteous contempt for anybody who does drive!!

Bike transportation vs. Car transportation

Peter Drew of Adelaide, Australia, prepared this enlightening stencil.

(Thanks, Ellen, for pointing this out to me on the Flickr.)

Monday, May 27, 2013


Our area is slow to adapt to new trends in traffic management.  Great Britain has had roundabouts for a few hundred years; we're just starting to get a few scattered here and there.  They certainly make sense as a substitute for intersections which would otherwise be a 4-way stop.  But we're resistant to change.

I've got a silly little route that I sometimes ride when I need 20 minutes to wind down... it's probably a 4-mile circle from my garage door... but it includes four roundabouts!  Two are on a public road, and the other two are in a private (hospital) drive. (You'd think one of the hospital roundabouts would feature a shelter, with a pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray!)  (Nod to Lennon & McCartney.)

That's probably half the roundabouts in the county.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Another one bites the dust

Since I have sung the praises of my Selle Anatomica saddle in the past, in the interest of "full disclosure" I must report another failure.  A month or so ago, I was riding along in my usual fashion, and suddenly I noticed considerably extra  flex, and then it was all over.  The rails broke, again right behind the seatpost clamp.  Since I was still 6 or 7 miles from home, I had to call in the Sag Wagon.  How mortifying!

The saddles come with a 1-year warranty.  The first one - that came as standard equipment on my Cannondale T1 bicycle - lasted 14 months, and to their credit, they replaced it even though it was slightly out of warranty.  At the time, their conclusion was, "Maybe we got a bad batch of rail wire."  The replacement saddle lasted about twice as long.

I didn't expect them to replace it this time, but just the same, I sent an email to them, expressing two things: 1) how much I like their saddles, and 2) how disappointed I am that they don't last longer.

From my letter to them:

I'm both broken-hearted and broken-saddled... because you are right - it is the most comfortable saddle.  However, the disappointment and expense of replacing saddles every couple years is not something I'm prepared to deal with, even if I have to settle for a less-comfortable saddle.

I'm probably at the edge of your demographics - I'm bigger than the average cyclist - 6'2" and 240 pounds give or take, and I'm currently averaging 6000 bicycle miles per year.  (I am NOT hard on my equipment - my riding is essentially all on pavement on a touring-type bicycle, and I do my very best to avoid bumps, etc.  My gear is not misused... unless it's just in the sense that I'm a pretty big guy.)

They sent me a reply.  In fact, I got a message from Carol Milton Hosmer, who is identified as the president of the company on their website.  She gave an interesting explanation:

"... our saddle is like a pair of shoes.  It will take you only so far and then something is going to give out.  You cannot buy one pair of leather shoes and expect to wear them for an entire lifetime.  As with everything in life, there are trade offs.  In our case, the saddle is supremely comfortable, but not perhaps as durable as you would like.  We are striving to strengthen our saddle, but not at the expense of comfort – a difficult trade off indeed. ... We want you to be a satisfied customer, but 11K miles may be the limit of our saddle, given your size and riding style."

I'd agree with her assessment... if it were the leather part of the saddle that was failing.  Indeed, no two pieces of leather would be the same, and leather is subject to stretching and fatigue.  So is steel, or any material, but not to the point where failure is an inevitable event!  If every saddle I've used over the years ended up breaking, I'd probably feel different... but in my 27+ years of transportation cycling, I've broken TWO saddles - both Anatomicas.  And some have gone considerably farther than 2 years and the corresponding miles... albeit less comfortably.

Furthermore, I don't think the frame material is a major factor in the "comfort" of the Anatomica saddle - if they made the frame stronger (and perhaps a bit stiffer), the negative impact on comfort would be negligible.  Or so it seems to me.

What do you think?  Are my expectations too lofty?  Am I being unrealistic?

Over the winter, I'd purchased yet another Anatomica saddle on sale; it's installed and we'll see how it works out.  If it fails after a year or two, as much as it hurts (literally!), I will not replace it with yet another.  (Supposedly they've recently switched to a more robust cr-mo steel for the frames.  I'm hoping I get lucky this time, and that it lasts so long I forget all about the woes of the past.)

Last weekend I rode 17 or so miles (Pedal Power Parade, and trip to and from) on a more conventional saddle - different bicycle - and my tailbone was both numb and sore at the end of the ride.  I've not tried a Brooks saddle, but they're supposed to be pretty sweet after the break-in period, and I've not heard of their rails routinely breaking.  If the 3rd Anatomica fails, I'll probably give the B-17 a try.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

NYC Bike Share not embraced by everybody

On most days, I search the web for news about "bike" and "bicycle." The search almost always gives me 2 or 3 tragic stories of bike/car accident fatalities, some stories about bicycle racing (which I'm only marginally interested in), a new bike-related invention or two, and a mishmash of various other bike news.

Lately there have been a lot of stories about the impending Bike Sharing program, about to debut in New York City. (I've commented about it before, HERE and HERE.) And with good reason; it will be the world's largest bike sharing program despite it's relatively late arrival. (And I'm also favorably impressed that it will be subsidized by CORPORATE sponsors, rather than taxpayers. The way it oughtta be!)

Not all NYC citizens are enamored with the bike share. As the parking stations have gone in, there have been numerous complaints by residents who see their scarce parking spaces, or sidewalks out front of their apartments, or vendor stations, being gobbled up by bike parking. And I've even seen complaints from the emergency service providers - paramedics, firefighters, etc. - who are complaining that in some cases, the parking racks are hindering their ability to do their work.

I s'pose there's always a tradeoff with any new venture. Especially when the venture takes up space... and especially in a place like Manhattan Island, where space is limited and they ain't making any more.

I believe the official kickoff date for the NYC program is Memorial Day... which is nigh upon us. I hope it's a smashing success, and that even the doubters and complainers come to acknowledge the sacrifice is worth the reward.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pedal Power Parade, 2013 edition

Boise Bike Week comes at an unfortunate time for me. It always conflicts with a family birthday, garden planting and other springtime chores, etc. But I always try to squeeze in some participation with the group. (And EVERY week, pretty much, is "Boise Bike Week" as far as my transportation choice goes.)

Mackie said they should have BBW coincide with Earth Day. That's a good thought... but there's no denying the chances of good weather are better in May than they are in April. And I'm sure weather is a major consideration. (The weather was picture perfect Saturday!)  Besides... it's pretty well-established now.

We rode in the Pedal Power Parade Saturday afternoon. Expecting it to start at 5pm, we arrived at 4:45 or so... just as the tail end headed away from the park and up the street.

New this year were the "conference bike" and the "pub bike," which apparently are regular attractions in downtown Boise, at least during the warm months. I was quite surprised at how low-geared they were; the "riders" were probably spinning the pedals at 100rpm, to generate 5mph of forward speed.

Below are some photos I snapped. (Most while underway, holding camera up high.)













Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Traffic Jams

According to this KBOI2 article, Boise commuters spend 16 hours a year stuck in traffic.

It's probably safe to assume that about 15 minutes per week is the time directly attributable to traffic delays - you know, sitting there and looking at somebody's bumper.  On top of the amount of time it would take to drive from Point A to Point B, assuming a free flow of traffic.

And Boise's traffic is merciful, compared with Los Angeles (61 hours) or Washington, DC (67 hours). The national average is 38 hours.

On those rare occasions when I have to drive a car in town, I find that sitting in traffic is one of the most stress-inducing things about driving. I just sit there and stew about the time and gas I'm wasting, and find myself longing to be on my trusty velocipede. In fact, if I can tell I'm going to be sitting for awhile, I'll turn the motor off. At least I'm not wasting gas for those seconds.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Boise Bike Week 2013

BBW, 2013 edition, is upon us!

I did what seemed proper for the occasion... I rode my bike to work.

The harsh reality... "bike week" can be mostly a non-event for a person who rides a bike almost every day. (When is "Boise Car Week?" Now that would be special!) So I decided I should try to do something to make a difference... to share the "gospel of bicycling" with the unwashed masses.

But what?

I have to remind myself that there's both a down-side and an up-side to more people riding bikes. I'm sometimes victimized by the down-side - for example, on a few lovely days the bike parking spots become rather scarce at the office. And more bike riders means more brain-dead bike riders. In fact, the percentage probably goes up... those who ride year-round seem more inclined to understand how it's done, follow the rules, refrain from bovine-like blocking of corridors, etc., than those who just get their bikes out on those perfect spring and autumn days.

But on the up-side, there is much evidence to suggest that as the number of cyclists increases, their safety actually goes up. And it makes sense: when the bike-riding population is dense, it compels motorists to pay more attention than when you just see one every now and then.

So... what to do, to share my enthusiasm?

I came up with a rather novel idea... I got my vintage Craigslist folding bike out of the garage, aired up the tires, dusted it off, and made sure everything still (kinda) works on it. And yesterday I loaded it on the BOB trailer and hauled it to the office. Unless somebody in a high place puts a foot down, I hope to ride it about as I take care of my in-house tech-support duties.




Our building occupies a full city block, and the farthest-away people that I support are about a block distant. I can cover the distance - safely - in half the time on the bike!

It got peoples' attention this morning, when John called because he couldn't get logged on. I almost remote-connected to his workstation... but then I said, "Wait a second - I'll be right over." 30 seconds later I pulled up in front of his cube and worked some magic, and then rode away.

(I'll have to exercise some discretion. There are some people in the workplace who have no sense of humor, and feel if you're having fun, you can't be working. And most of all, I'll have to RIDE SAFE! At my first stop, I got chastised by a fellow motorcycle buddy for not wearing my helmet.)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Seattle "business cyclists" sound off

Some things are mystifying. Like - Seattle is "bike friendlier" than Boise. (I appreciate the tolerant attitude among the residents, and perhaps they have more bike lanes ... but they have 300 cloudy days per year, and Boise has 300 sunny days per year! Go figure.)

I happened across an article in which bike-commuting business executives share their motivation for cycling as well as safety tips.

Here are some good quotes that capture their motives:

"Riding in in the morning is a great way to wake up and plan your day. Riding home is a chance to decompress." (That's from a guy who rides a 48-mile round trip, three days a week.)

"Riding your bike makes you feel like a 12-year-old... It freshens your mind."

Safety tips?

Ride more "aggressively" ... be prepared to take the lane ... be visible ... "Eyes up!"

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Scenic Route

We are solidly into the "salad days" of the bicycle year in these parts, when the weather is glorious and conditions are pretty much ideal for bike transportation. (Or bike-anything.)

Due to some crazy schedule conflicts, I've been missing my cherished afternoon rides, so I get in a few miles when I can. This morning I left home early so I could take the scenic route to the office.

My ride took me over the Curtis Road overpass. (For those not familiar, underneath is I-184, a major corridor for traffic from the west, headed into downtown Boise. It serves the majority of our "bedroom communities.") Underneath me were hundreds if not thousands of cars, sparkling in the morning sun, at a complete stop in their four or five traffic lanes. Ah, the freedom that a motorcar provides!  (... NOT!)

I rode on. The cars and trucks on Curtis Road would surge ahead, and then I'd catch 'em at the next traffic signal. It must be really frustrating for drivers, when signals are timed so poorly, and traffic is so heavy, that a fat guy on a bike is not only keeping up, but getting ahead of 'em! Of course, it's a tradeoff because for the fat guy, the situation is a source of inner satisfaction!

After 10 minutes or so on Curtis, I reached my desired route - the greenbelt along the Boise River. As I left the noise of the traffic behind and rode up the winding ribbon of asphalt, sunlight sparkled on the river through the trees. It made me think of the sunlight sparkling on all those cars, a few minutes earlier. And made me glad for my choice of transportation.

The greenbelt was relatively empty. Despite temperatures in the mid-50s which is at the lower end of my "shirt-sleeve range," most of my fellow cyclists were wearing a jacket... and a few were downright bundled up! Heavy gloves, earmuffs, scarves. Wow! Must be California transplants... or they're just getting back into their cycling groove, perhaps.

It's great to be in a cycling groove.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Boise Bike Week - May 13-18

Just a heads-up - if you live in the Boise area, I hope you'll take a look at the schedule of events, and choose a few to participate in. Recommendations: I've participated in the Ride of Silence in the past, and have ridden in the Pedal Power Parade on the final day, numerous times. It looks like there are several informative presentations on "street smart cycling," bicycle maintenance, etc., that may be of value. And quite a few "social" events like picnics, group rides, etc. (A confession - I'm not really very sociable in a group, so the events that invite people to "come hang out and talk about bicycling" aren't particularly attractive to me.)

One rather novel thing I hope to do, to celebrate Boise Bike Week... a few years ago I purchased a small fold-up bicycle on the Craigslist - I hope to wipe the dust off of it, air up the tires, make sure all the critical functions are functioning... and take it to the office, to ride up and down the corridors on. If I'm extremely cautious and avoid "Bigwig Corner," maybe I can pull it off for a couple days, before getting sent to the re-education camp.

I'm also a motorcycle rider, and I noticed an oddity. The annual motorcycle "awareness ride" is this Saturday, and is sponsored by the ICMS, Idaho Coalition for Motorcycle Safety. It's supposedly to make roadway users more attentive to motorcyclists and promote safety. But strangely, helmets are optional, and are hardly even mentioned. By contrast, most of the BBW events state that a helmet is REQUIRED. (Helmets are a touchy subject in Motorcycle World. Although they are proven lifesavers in many types of mishaps, many riders feel that safety is secondary to the "freedom" of feeling the wind in your hair, those loud pipes in your eardrums, blah-blah... the only reference the ICMS website has, far as I can tell, is a recommendation that you "choose appropriate riding gear.")