Sunday, March 21, 2010

Icy roads ride report

I have belly ached and moaned this winter whenever road conditions got icy or slippery enough to prevent me from riding. That's because until about a month ago, I didn't have any tires available to me other than skinny road ones. And so I fell down a lot on the ice.

But, about a month ago, I adopted an abandoned mountain bike. It had been left unchained behind my place of employment, by the dumpsters. We brought it in and waited for about three weeks for somebody to come inquire about it, but nobody did, and now it's mine.

I got to take it out on the ice yesterday after it snowed the whole previous day long.

I had made it several blocks and was in a neighboring residential area when I had an encounter of the up-close and vehicular kind. Recapping it to a coworker in an email:

The car was some yellow thing. Maybe a Volkswagon? It was parked parallel to the street on my right, and the windows were COMPLETELY iced over. Hardly a peep hole to see through. So as I got close to it, it backed up suddenly, SLAMMING into the car behind it. Nothing shattered but there was a loud thunk. And then it pulled out into the street when I was right next to it. I had to swerve out of the way and almost wiped out in the process. I yelled at them to stop, but they sped off.

The car had Florida tags, so maybe they don't know much about things like Ice or Snow. Or Driving. Or Not Being A Miserable Human Being. While it may not be fair, I'm harboring some ill will towards all things Floridian today.

I have since let Florida off the hook.

I yelled at the driver to stop because I intended to instruct them to scrape the ice off their windows before continuing. In the moment, latching on to the fact that they had Florida tags, I really did think they might not know about ice scraping. I was prepared to show them how to do it with a credit card if they didn't have a scraper.

That all passed through my head in a split-second while the car spun its wheels and sped away.

A few houses further along, an older gentleman stood in his driveway where he had seen the whole thing. He look bewildered.

A quick thinking bystander was able to photograph the incident:

My ride continued towards, and into, Wash Park. The roads in Wash Park had not been cleared and it was just covered with ice. I got a bad case of the wobbles and nearly fell over. So I dismounted, portaged my bike through the ankle deep snow, and got back on the main road. As I was pedaling off again, a jogger acknowledged the fact that I was riding in the cold and slippery by hollering at me, "You're a brave man!" To which I assured him it was safer for me on the dry street than in the icy, more slippery, park.

I did not stop to show him the print-out of the photograph of my previous encounter with the yellow car.

I made it the rest of the way to work after stopping once to warm my hands.

Safe and sound, at my place of employment, I unclipped my helmet, swung my leg over the back of my bike to dismount, and tore my pants.

Between the new tear and the skunk stripe that comes from riding through wet stuff without fenders, these pants were trashed!

My boss looked concerned upon my arrival, and then looked visibly relieved when I emerged from the bathroom in a fresh, crisp change of clothes.

Eight hours of work ensued, and when it was time to return home, the sun had been out all day and the roads were completely clear. I wore just two t-shirts under my jacket instead of the two long-sleeve shirts from that morning. What a difference!

Between my weather gear and my work clothes, here is a list of all the clothing I carried with me.

  • Buff. Worn like a balaclava in the morning and a head scarf in the afternoon. (My buff is my favorite piece of cycling gear. I use it all year long.)

  • Two long-sleeve t-shirts. For the morning ride.

  • T-shirt and button down shirt. For work.

  • Another, heavy long sleeve shirt. For work.

  • Tights and (currently trashed) khakis. For morning ride.

  • Blue jeans. For work.

  • One pair of wool socks, one pair of wool gloves.

  • My reflective cycling jacket.

Shirt total: 5
Pants total: 3

That's roughly the amount of clothing I pack for a long weekend vacation!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Two steps forward, one step back

The beginning of March was an excellent time for cyclists everywhere. The Bike League's National Bike Summit was held in DC, and there was some serious advocating and politicking done:

  • Google maps unveiled it's "bike there" layer.

  • Bikes Belong launched it's People For Bikes campaign.

  • It was announced that bike lanes will be installed on Pennsylvania Avenue. (Some really cool looking ones, at that!)

  • Ray LaHood, your Secretary of Transportation, crashed the conference, jumped atop a table, and shouted down a sea change policy revision meant to be the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.

    It was exciting stuff, yall. It was enough to make me feel optimistic and hopeful about the future of our streets and transportation and access.

    But then right at the same time—on the last day of the Bike Summit, actually—Tony Kornheiser, host of ESPN's Pardon The Interuption, goes on a good six minute rant about bicyclists. (For the time being, it can be heard on YouTube.) Here are a couple of selected highlights from the transcript posted at washcycle.

  • I don't mind those one lanes, but you get in Rock Creek Park and 3 or 4 of these people start riding abreast, and I swear to you it's all you can do to not RUN THEM DOWN, like Wile Coyote's, run them over.

  • They don't share the road. They dominate the road. They dare you to run them down. And then when you do, they get angry.

  • TK: And so you tap them. I'm not saying you kill them. I'm saying you tap them. Tap them once.
    Other Dude: Just a spill, not a fatal spill, but a little spill.
    TK: If you're not rubbing, you're not racing right? So you pop them a little bit and see what happens.

  • The rant was immediately picked up and commented on by Lance Armstrong who, with a few mere flicks of his thumbs, was able to mobilize the entirety of the interwebs. This lead to a slew of complaints, a guest spot for Armstrong on the show, and an apology from Kornheiser.

    Which is good. Because it was a horrible thing to have said. Cyclists are attacked by motorists. That happens. For instance, the recent Dr. Thompson trial just got a ton of media attention. Those victims happened to survive the encounter. Plenty more cyclists don't survive theirs. There's a ghost bike memorial near my house in testament to that fact.

    And while I am plenty angry at Kornheiser, I don't think he's the guiltiest party. Pardon The Interruption is a comedy/sports show, and the host was putting on a show. He's a shock-jock and a loud-mouth. It's part of his "crotchety old man" shtick. He's an entertainer and he's doing exactly what he is paid to do. He drummed up some controversy, got a lot of attention and a big reaction, and got one of the world's top celebrity-athletes to appear on his show. He was doing his job, and he was doing it well.

    ESPN, however, I can fault. They're paying the man to say that kind of stuff. They're the man behind the curtain. So I'll be writing them a good break-up letter. (Radio station management can be reached here.) But I don't consume any of ESPN's products so I don't feel very empowered by doing that. (ESPN is 80% owned by Disney. What hope is there in affecting any kind of change when you're dealing with so large a beast?) According to the wiki, the program is sponsored by Diageo, a beverage company with a lot of products I can choose to not consume out of protest. I can definitely feel good about efforts to get them to pull sponsorship.

    Once I'm on this path of escalating blame, though, I realize that ESPN wouldn't air that kind of drivel if it wasn't profitable. It's the consumers who are entertained by violence and bigotry who are creating a market in which Kornheiser is employable.

    Which is why I'm encouraged by the outcry and the backlash. Perhaps ESPN will begin to suspect that Kornheiser isn't employable.

    Kornheiser, incidentally, was given a two-week suspension earlier this year after making fun of ESPN television personality Hannah Storm's attire. So if endorsing vehicular manslaughter is worse by several degrees than criticizing a woman's wardrobe, then there must be an equally harsher suspension to follow. Possibly a termination!


    Fat chance.

    It's so discouraging because there great things happening right now for pedestrians and bicyclists and skateboarders and rollerbladers and public transit-ers and anybody else who may not always rely on a car for transportation. Great things. The US Secretary of Friggin Transportion jumped up on a table and said so himself! Streets are being built, and are being retro-fitted, in such a way that safely promotes all modes of transportation.

    But there are still ignorant, or vicious, groups of individuals who actually believe in—and act on!—the kinds of things that Kornheiser said on air. So to give Kornheiser leeway to encourage and incite such behavior is reckless, dangerous, irresponsible, and stupid.

    But I continue feel that, in a way, getting mad at Kornheiser is like getting mad at a dog's teeth if it bites you. The teeth are certainly the offensive part, but they are also implements of a larger entity.
  • Thursday, March 18, 2010

    Freebie Bottles and Lanes on 16th Ave

    I got a new water bottle from the Census Bureau!

    It doesn't look nearly as good as the blue on blue, but that old bottle is ... old. And getting kinda beat up. I might go back to carrying it just for aesthetics, but for now I'm glad to add a little more political content to my bike.

    "I ride a bike and I count."

    Plus, this continues my life long streak of having never bought a (bicycle) water bottle.

    I got the bottle at a meeting in downtown Denver, a meeting after which I had to ride back to where I work. So I hopped on the E/W leg of the Teenybopper Mallrat Route, and soon fell in alongside this other biker. We started chatting, and as we approached an intersection a car pulled up to the stop sign at our left and came to a full stop. The driver looked at us, and then started to proceed through the intersection while we were in the middle of it.

    I hollered and the car stopped, while my new cycling partner pointed angrily to the driver's stop sign.

    That gave us plenty to talk about until we parted ways a few blocks later.

    "What a bozo!"

    "I thought he saw us, but I guess he didn't!"

    "It's like, I'm amazed I haven't been hit yet, you know?"

    I recall several friends of mine saying they've almost been hit along that same stretch of 16th Avenue. It may have something to do with the fact that the bike lane there doesn't resemble a bike lane as much as it does a shoulder in need of some patching over.

    click through for street view

    It just doesn't look like a bike lane. It looks like a wide shoulder, or like street parking. I'm not surprised that a lot of cars don't think to look for cyclists.

    I found myself riding outside the bike lane and in the traffic lane during the remainder of my time on this street.

    Compare that to the bike lane on Montview, which I got to ride on during another leg of my ride.

    click through for street view

    That looks like a bike lane. At least, it's recognizable to motorists, and doesn't look simply like a wide shoulder.

    16th Avenue probably needs a bit of a touch up to its lane markers. As it is, bicyclists aren't as visible as they could be. Until then, I'll probably just continue to eschew the bike lane and utilize the traffic lane.



    Consider further the new DC bike lanes! Holy cow!

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    Springtime and Plunder

    In regards to Daylight Saving Time having done happened, I dig the extra light in the evenings, but am not sure I like the drastic difference in temperature between my morning commute and my evening one. It means having to layer very intelligently. In the mornings I still need layers over my ears and fingers. In the evenings, I can wear nothing but a t-shirt.

    This morning though was nice! It's only March though and Spring is a fickle tease. There will be snow storms between now and then.

    I was able to pillage some road side finds during my commute!

    I plundered this little one-armed snowman.

    There was also a large extension cord that I did not stop for.

    Read what you will into the fact that I stopped for the toy and not for the object of actual utility.

    I've got priorities! Not sure what they are!

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Bike Friendly Businesses, Winter 2010

    So the LAB has announced its Bike Friendly Business award winners for winter, 2010. Like it has done in the past, it released the data as a PDF document, rendering it pretty impossible to analyze.

    So, like I have done in the past, I copied it into vim and regexp'd it into a CSV file so I could sort it and take a look at it.

    So here's the breakdown.

    Number of new awards by type, and Percent increase by award type

    Bronze: 25
    Silver : 17
    Honorable Mention: 12
    Gold: 9
    Platinum: 0

    Gold: 75%
    Honorable Mention: 70%
    Silver: 68%
    Bronze: 61%
    Platinum: 0%

    Number of new awards by state, and Percent increase in number of Bike Friendly Businesses by state

    1. Wisconsin - 12
    2. Minnesota - 8
    3. Nebraska - 7
    4. California - 6
    5. Utah - 3
    5. Virginia - 3
    5. Illinois - 3
    6. Tennessee - 2
    6. Michigan- 2
    6. New Hampshire - 2
    6. Ohio - 2
    7. Arkansas - 1
    7. Arizona - 1
    7. Florida - 1
    7. Iowa - 1
    7. Maryland - 1
    7. Montana - 1
    7. Oregon - 1
    7. Pennsylvania - 1
    7. South Carolina - 1
    7. Texas - 1
    7. Washington - 1
    7. West Virgina - 1
    7. District of Columbia - 1

    1. New Hampshire - Infinitely more BFB. (Debut state)
    1. Ohio - Infinitely more BFB. (Debut state)
    1. Arizona - Infinitely more BFB. (Debut state)
    1. Montana - Infinitely more BFB. (Debut state)
    2. Nebraska - 350%
    3. Utah - 300%
    3. Wisconsin - 300%
    3. Virginia - 300%
    4. Minnesota - 114%
    5. Tennessee - 100%
    5. West Virgina - 100%
    6. Illinois - 75%
    7. California - 50%
    7. Florida - 50%
    7. Maryland - 50%
    8. Michigan: 33%
    8. Arkansas - 33%
    8. Texas - 33%
    8. Pennsylvania - 33%
    8. Iowa - 33%
    9. South Carolina - 25%
    9. District of Columbia - 25%
    10. Oregon - 12.5%
    11. Washington - 9%

    Number of new awards by region, and Percent Increase by Region, and new totals by region

    1. Great Lakes/Midwest - 35
    2. The South - 10
    3. Coastal Pacific - 8
    4. Northeast/Mid-Atlantic - 5
    4. Mountains and the West - 5

    1. Great Lakes/Midwest - 152%
    2. The South - 62.5%
    3. Mountains and the West - 50%
    4. Northeast/Mid-Atlantic - 35.7%
    5. Coastal Pacific - 25%

    1. Great Lakes/Midwest - 58
    2. Pacific Coastal - 39
    3. The South - 26
    4. Northeast/Mid-Atlantic - 19
    5. Mountains and the West - 15


    I read an article yesterday about biking in Beijing. As car ownership has surged over recent years, the population went from 4 out of 5 Beijingers commuting by bicycle to just 1 out of 5. Automobile traffic and congestion have consequently become a problem, and so there is now a counter surge in the popularity of electric bicycles.

    At a certain point, these bikes simply become motorcycles, and so Beijingers are debating how to regulate these speedy and silent bikes—or if they should at all.

    I don't think I've ever seen an electric bike, but I did see this homebrew moped parked outside the library one day.

    I'm not sure what kind of motor he had rigged to that rack, but it looked like one off a dirty old weedwacker. Something where you have to mix the gas and the oil together. The engine spins the cam that rests atop the wheel, propelling the vehicle forward.

    It didn't go too fast. But there was sure no danger of the rider ever sneaking up on anybody. You could hear him coming from around the block!

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Fix a flat: leave the wheel on!

    It never occurred to me that you might leave the wheel on while changing a flat. Game changer! I may never take off a wheel again!

    (via clevercycles)

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    Wash Park

    I get to ride through Washington Park during my commute if I want to. After work on a recent Tuesday, I wanted to, so I did. And as I approached the park, my progress was obstructed by a hundred or so joggers jogging around the perimeter.

    Turns out the Wash Park Running Club meets every Tuesday at 6:00 PM to pound pavement.

    Their facebook page looks marginally active, and their website sucks, so I guess that's all I have to say about that. They look comparatively inferior, based solely on web presence, to the Snug Runners, who operate out of an Irish bar and claim the turf around Cheesman Park.

    This morning's ride through Wash Park revealed a few gems, including the Wash Park Gondolier.

    Dude was in hiking boots and a helmet, paddling his skateboard through the park. The paddle had what looked like two large rubber balls attached to the end.

    It felt significant to have happened upon this gentleman shortly after having first stumbled upon and "long distance pumping." This guy was not pumping, but he was making good, creative use of his longboard, and I salute him for that.

    At the southern end of the park, I came across a closed and boarded up public restroom. It's apparently being renovated as part of the Better Denver Bond Project.

    One social critic voiced his displeasure about suddenly being denied access to the restroom.


    Upon a closer look, and actually riding the route, The Google did in fact suggest that I ride through the alley for four blocks.

    The street view of the alley shows what I saw first-hand this morning: it's a wide, clean alley. Nice enough as alleys go.

    But bikes don't go in alleys. They go on roads.

    I submitted a problem report under the "Directions suggest a route that is difficult or restricted" category, because there wasn't an explicit "Directions suggest a route that is unsafe" category.

    Bicycles should not be directed through alleys. It is safer for the cyclist, fir [sic] pedestrians on the sidewalks, and for motorists on the streets if the cyclist behaves as much like a car as possible. They should stay on the streets, proper.

    You wouldn't randomly or spontaneously drive your car through the alley for several blocks. It wouldn't be safe!

    And if you wouldn't drive that way in your car, you shouldn't drive that way on your bike.

    Bike directions on Google maps

    With the advent of the iPhone, it is possible to wake up only to find oneself adrift in the tubes before getting out of bed. And so I woke up this morning to find one email from the bike league, and a plethora of twooshes, all excitedly and twitchily informing me that Google Maps has added a bicycling option to its directions-finder.

    I shuffled from the bed to the office, fired up the laptop, and had a gander for myself. I asked for The Google to plot my commute and to optimize the route for a bicyclist, and it proceeded to do its damnedest.

    Critique of its optimized route

    +1 for existing. For showing up. For bike directions even being an option. Thank you The Google for offering this service so that the people doing their living might realize the possibility of doing it by bike, alleviating wear on the roads and instead putting a healthy amount of it on their bodies.

    +1 right off the bat for designated bike routes and trails being visible (highlighted in green) and for using them where possible.

    -1 for making heavy use of traffic-heavy Downing Street! Granted, there are a number of blocks on which I'll ride Downing, but it's primarily not very ... Whoa, hold on a tic. What's this? The route here suddenly jumps between northbound Downing and southbound Corona. As though indicating there's a bike path in the median?

    No, as though directing bike traffic through the alley! What kind of shenanigans is this? This shall not go uninvestigated!

    +1 for inciting investigatory adventurism, with the possibility of later docking points for directing bike traffic off of roads and into alleys.

    -1 for utilizing a bike route two blocks west of beautiful Cheesman Park instead of routing through the park. Optimizing directions for a cyclist should account for scenery-beauty. When will the Google learn to appreciate beauty?

    -1 for routing the ride down 1st Ave, in front of the Denver Country Club, which is a dangerous sidewalk in winter because they don't shovel their walk. On the other hand, this option is fine in warmer weather, and whether or not to take it is a personal preference, but this is my list, so I'm docking a point.

    +1 for making good use of the Cherry Creek Trail. The Google has accounted well for scenery-beauty!

    Tallying up the score, it appears we are left with a total of one Arbitrary Unit of Judginess.

    I am happy to have the "bike it" option on Google maps. It pleases me. Using it will be quicker than looking at driving directions and then overlaying my own map of bike routes. But it's definitely in Beta, and I'll be handling its suggestions in the meanwhile as though they are likely to be buggy. Because they are.