Archive for category observations

You’re doing it wrong, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Hairy Legs

Growing up a good friend’s dad had a hairy back and chest. I don’t mean normal hairy. I mean, every summer when we all went to the lake he’d get ready to go for a swim and you’d want to shout, “don’t forget to take off your sweater!” My legs aren’t quite that hairy.

[photo omitted for your sake]

For a brief stint of my cycling career I started to shave my legs. It’s what you do. I was told. It’s better, they said, to be hairless in the event of a crash. It looks cool.

And it’s true, cyclists and swimmers are among the only male athletes that can claim leg shaving looks cool.

So, that was pretty much it. If you’re the kind of cyclist that wears lycra shorts, then you should shave your legs. It’s a rule, in fact.

But here’s the thing. I didn’t like shaving my legs. It took too long and any razor I used would be dull before I finished my first calve. Also, it turns out, when you have stick thin climbers legs, it doesn’t look as cool. On top of that, I didn’t race and the idea of planning my life around the rare crash – I’ve had one where shaved legs might have helped – just seemed silly.So I stopped with leg shaving.

Every now and again I get a little grief. Our friend Kurt has called me out for breaking rule #33 (last time I rode with him, I was able to put the hurt on Kurt, so he couldn’t talk too much, I’m not sure if that’s true anymore). And more than once a pedestrian has commented on my built-in leg warmers. Yes, even pedestrians know to make fun of my legs.

But I’m not worried because you’re doing something wrong too.

That’s right, you probably have the wrong shoes. Or wear a helmet. Don’t wear a helmet. Drops on your commuter. Flat bars. Platform pedals. Clipless. Freewheel. Foldie. Saddlebag. Camelbak. Bar tape is wrapped the wrong way. Wrong glasses. And so on.

The list of things you’re probably doing wrong is never ending. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Or, maybe you shouldn’t. At least you got the most important thing right:

You’re riding a bike.

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now you see me…

It’s dark at 6:00 am (and cold, but that’s a different story). The darkness (and the cold) has thinned out the already svelte bike commuting crowd. Of the bike commuters left, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who refuses to wear a neon yellow top. I have my reasons.

They’re ugly.

Random San Jose cyclist

And, I’m not even sure hi-vis jackets and vests work all that much better than other visibility solutions. There doesn’t seem to be much out on the interwebs linking blindingly yellow clothing to cycling safety, “there seems to be even less research on the effectiveness of high-visibility clothing for the bicyclist than for the motorcyclist.”

Much of the clothing I wear is black or gray but also has built in sections of reflecting fabric making me, at least somewhat, visible in the dark. But, more than that, the flashing white headlamp and the red taillight I ride with in low light should do more to make me visible than even the brightest yellow (and unlike reflective clothing, my lights don’t rely on others having their lights on).

Many cyclists out there probably look at my refusal to wear hi-vis clothing and think it’s foolish (much the same way I look at people who eschew helmets). In fact, one thing “research” turned up was a high number of websites suggesting, with no data to support the claim, that wearing hi-vis clothing is a must. Some may even feel that Hi-Vis clothing is the most stylish and fashionable trend in cycling since spider helmet covers. Which helps explain the guy I saw this morning in a bright yellow jacket without any lights on his bike.

I’m not convinced on either count.

Image by Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious

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By Bike | What’s in your bag?

At Levi’s Gran Fondo I saw more than one cyclist with bags just about everywhere you could imagine putting one – for example at least two bikes had the following set-up: a saddle bag, a bento box on the top tube, a triangular bag under the top tube, and a handle bar bag (the only thing missing was a fanny pack).

I could carry two of everything I’d stuffed in my pockets (which were full) and still not need <em>that many</em> bags. And, this was a fully supported ride with rest stops every 20 miles or so. I just didn’t get it.

Of course, it was a long a ride with changing weather conditions and I could see the need for adding a saddle bag so one might have room for some arm warmers and a gilet (the one I borrowed from Sera without her knowledge never left my back). So, I was willing to suspend strict enforcement of Rule #29. But I’m pretty sure some people brought every bicycle accessory they owned (this might also explain the handful of people I saw on the side of the road using floor pumps).

For the first few years I rode, I used a saddle bag (a small one that barely fit a tube, a CO2 canister, levers, & a mini-tool). It was terrified of forgetting something when I went out for a ride and the bag, which never left my saddle, was an easy way to ensure everything was always there. Now, the only bag I ride with is the Chrome Citizen I wear on my back when I commute. There have been times, particularly when I’m hauling my coffee press home for a ride in the dishwasher, when the bag has seemed to gather more than I need and I’m forced to parse some of the items I’m carrying, but mostly, it only contains what I absolutely need for the day.

So, I was a little shocked with I saw this:

Now, I don’t want to pick on Ted – I very much enjoy Commute By Bike – but that photo came after he’d written this:

I’m also not getting enough exercise from my puny bike commute — less than two miles when I take the shortcuts. I never even work up enough sweat to worry about changing clothes. I just commute in the same clothes that I will wear all day.

I just can’t help thinking, If he’s wearing the clothes he plans to wear all day, what’s in all those bags?

I ask, not because I find Ted’s style particularly offensive or because I think The Rules should be seriously enforced. I ask because, like my opting to wear Lycra to work, I wonder if commuters who need to carry 3 bags to work daily, might make commuting look difficult and out of reach for the general public. There are plenty of things that bug me about the cycle chic movement (women pedaling in high-heels, for instance) but at least those people look like they woke up, got dressed (picked out something they felt was stylish even) and got on a bike. Photos like this (image from Sac Cycle Chic):

make cycling look accessible and fun.

I wouldn’t say the same thing about a photo of me in the drops with a 17 pound bag on my back or the photo of Ted’s seemingly overloaded commute bike.

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Culture of biking

Two pieces popped through my Google Reader Feed yesterday. Both of them got me thinking along the same lines.

So here’s my important memo to bike advocates, lobbyists, and politcial types, you did a great job getting us to this point. Now you’ve got an PR problem that you’re ill-equipped to handle. You figured out how to get sharrows and lanes painted on roads, but traffic engineers, are not media specialists. The bike backlash, a general dislike of cyclists, is real and manifests in $42.00 tickets for a traffic-related death. Cyclists are cute on the fashion runway and they make a good joke when buying shitty fixes from Urban Outfitters. It gets real quick when they’re negotiating traffic with cars.

And

The SUV of the bicycle world is the cargo bike and I have no complaints that cargo bikes exist. I have many friends who own and sell cargo bikes, who live happy, car-free lives thanks to cargo bikes and that’s all well and good. But when those same well-meaning friends insist that my life would be so much better if I had a cargo bike and that then I could do those Costo runs and haul 150 pounds of dog food home, I think that maybe one size doesn’t fit all. I’m still pretty happy not going to Costco and sticking with bikes that I can haul up the stairs to my second floor walk-up apartment.

I often find myself thinking that the biggest obstacles for cyclists (apart from distracted SUV drivers) is “bike culture.” It might sound odd coming from a guy who spends a few hours every day reading about bike culture and sharing the things I find interesting here, but the reality is that “bike culture” often alienates.

We’re all guilty of it. I’ve noticed the blank looks as I talk to an acquaintance about gear ratios and cassette size…it’s the same look I used to get when I toyed with the idea of learning to play bass guitar and my friend talked about pickups and strings and gain before I’d even learned to play a note. It wasn’t his fault. He was an enthusiast. He loved music and wanted to share he love. But it was a turn off. He made the world of music feel overwhelming and impossible to learn so late in life.

It wasn’t all bad. I sold that bass guitar and used the cash to buy my first road bike.

I’m sure plenty of would-be-cyclists are turned off by the fact that I roll into work Lycra clad – “I’d ride my bike more, but I don’t want to dress like that.” And I know, as Byron points out, almost everyone is turned off by critical mass. Tweed rides, fixed gear freestyle, cycle chic, fixies, foldies, roadies, CX, MTB, BMX…all of these things appeal to a specific demographic and do very little to advocate for cycling in general.

I don’t know the answer. We’re all here because we’re enthusiasts. Because we are a part of the bike culture we’d love to share with the word, if only they’d stop trying to kill us with their cars.

Which is the other thing. In America you don’t hear people talking about “car culture” (with the exception of people who attend auto-shows or think that driving around in a circle is a sport). Very few people I talk to find out I cycle and say anything negative about it – they don’t ask me to get off the road or stop running lights or stay out of the way. Instead they ask how far I ride, how long does it take, do I shower when I get to work. Most people don’t know there’s a “culture war” between cyclists and motorists. That’s because there isn’t a car culture.

People don’t drive to work in rush hour traffic because they love it. They don’t wake up in the morning looking forward to another 40 minute commute. No, people drive to work because, while there isn’t really a car culture, there’s a culture of driving. Americans drive because it is the way.

So, I guess, my suggestion is that instead of working to create a bike culture in America, bicycle advocates work to create a culture of biking.

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What about the brake pedal?

I’ve not been following the story very closesly, but on Sunday a cyclist was killed in Dixon when he was rear-ended by an Hyundai Tiburon. According to the Solano Times-Harold:

Hekker said Boe told investigating officers that a southbound vehicle prohibited him from moving to the left to pass White, who authorities said was riding on the fog line at the right of the lane. However, authorities initially said witnesses saw nothing preventing Boe from driving around the bicyclist or anything that would have caused White to swerve in front of Boe.

Now, I’m not a professional driver or anything, but usually when I’m driving and there’s an obstruction in the road in front of me and something preventing me from moving left to move around it safely, I use the brake pedal. Let’s say, instead of a cyclist, a slow moving Prius was in the road in front of Taylor Boe, whould he have rear-ended that too?

No word on if the driver will face criminal charges but this is one circumstance where I think they should be seriously considered.

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Fix one Get one

Sometimes it’s easy for us roadies and bike commuters to forget about what a bike can mean to a kid. In many cases a bike can give a teenager freedom – at 15 my bike gave me the ability to get to and from work – and, let’s face it, bikes are just plain fun, no matter how old you are. The Latin American Youth Center in D.C. is harnessing that appeal to get kids into the center.

Nicholas, 13, is among more than a dozen middle and high school-age youths who participate in the center’s bike shop program each year, through which they repair and restore donated bikes and ride and keep the bikes they have fixed, said Luisa Montero, director of the Maryland branch of LAYC, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit youth development agency.

Its focus is on bicycle repairs, but the program is more specifically aimed at reaching and assisting youth, Montero said.

In the short term these kids end up with a safe after school activity and a bike to ride around. In the long term kids are learning valuable skills (this coming from the guy that screws up just about every bike repair he attempts) and getting experience working toward a goal.

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When you know a trend is on its way out…

Riding home yesterday I pulled up to a stoplight and noticed on the opposite corner a young man with black pants, white shirt, tie, pocket protector, helmet and backpack on a standard issue mountain bike.  I thought it was odd he was by himself and then guess who rolls up?  None other than another young man with tie, pocket protecter, etc. but what is he riding…  a slate blue fixie with bright yellow deep dish rims!  No brakes, yellow grips on a tiny flat handlebar.  Wish I had pulled out my phone in time for a picture…

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Ibis prototype?

20110916-103150.jpg

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Craigslist Reading: Beer run bike

Not much needs to be said about this… Click the pic to read.

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(less than) half the battle

This morning I was chatting with Sam about the proposed 3-feet-to-pass law in California and how it always feels like the onus of road safety for cylsits is almost always on the cyclist (the 3-feet-to-pass law address this to some extent) and almost seconds later I read the following:

In 2007, the state Department of Transportation teamed up with Sussex Cyclists and police agencies to set up bike checkpoints to inform cyclists about laws, safety and make sure the bike is in working order. This year, DelDOT has planned about 15 bicycle checkpoints.

Now, I’m all for educating cyclists on how to ride safely – especially if many of the cyclists are minors and, perhaps, just need a nudge in the right direction – but when was the last time you saw a check point for drivers educating them about how to drive safely?

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