No Ride Home 2/28

It didn't look severe to me. Regretful. Stupid tornado didn't materialize. Lame. What time I didn't spend muttering to myself about how I should have biked, I spent observing the general lawlessness that surrounded me. Driving and lawbreaking (and traffic violations do count as the breaking of laws) are basically one in the same. Speeding, failing to use turn signals, not yielding to pedestrians, rolling through stop signs, running reds, blocking the box, not fully establishing oneself in the lane, parking outside of the white lines, passing on the right, and turning from the wrong lane are all things that routinely happened on this one trip. The kicker is that these things are so banal that no one hardly notices, much less felt any sense of approbation, or exhibited any at least. To drivers, just like bicyclists and pedestrians, the following of the "law" is a distant second to following pre-established norms. So, can we all just get over it and stop writing about stopping at stop signs and whatever and just move on to the next phase of the discussion? I don't care about illegal driving; I care about bad driving- the kind that's dangerous and inconveniencing. I think that this is an important distinction and the sooner we can think of ways to tamp down on that (via better planning and awareness) the safer the roads will become for all users. It's time to start caring about outcomes.

No Ride In 2/28

This is getting depressing. Bands of severe weather and the bands of flourescent green, yellow and red associated with them on the weather report means that I'm leaving the bike at home today. I could probably ride this morning, get a ride to the Metro to the bus this afternoon and then, through a combination of bus and bikeshare, get back to work tomorrow with only a moderate degree of hassle. But, ultimately, the commuter calculus makes it such that I don't want to trade one ride today for two rides (on my bike, that is) tomorrow.
I've got some Tool Academy blogging to do and maybe I'll blog about my rides this weekend. Also, my bike has a bell now and I'm really happy about that.


No Ride Home 2/25

No ride in means no ride home. I made the right choice- it looked downright dastardly out there. Dangerous, too. I made the most of it by grabbing a beer with a colleague after work and then dropping him off at the Metro. I thought that I could really multi-task by picking up my wife from work in Arlington, but I couldn't quite coordinate it. Driving in Arlington isn't very fun, but in this case, it was probably better than trying to bike in this wind.

No Ride In 2/25

Maybe I'll regret it, but I'm not riding in today. Mostly on account of this:
Tony Perkins!

Maybe they won't come to fruition, but I really don't want to chance one of those gusts. It's also raining right now. In conclusion, The Decision: My Morning Ride has me taking my talents in a Prius.


Ride Home 2/24

I'm beat. Something's up with my right quadricep- it just feels more sore than it should.
I'm beyond desperation in my need of a bell. I just don't have the gumption to scream out "on your left" and instead I just wallow behind any ol' group of slow-moving pedestrians.
It wasn't as rainy as I thought it would be, so I was pretty happy about that. I'm not sure that it was raining at all- maybe misting, maybe it was just wet on the roads.
Some 38B bus driver decided that it would be fun to race me. That's what it seemed like at least. He won. Then he stopped to let some people off. Then he won again. Then he stopped. Then he won. Then we parted ways.

Ride In 2/24

I re-read my last night's ride home post and it sounded too whiny. I don't want my posts to devolve into woe-is-me-ism and just a litany of complaints against other road users. So for this morning, I figured I'd list some of the various winter wear trends I saw while on the road. Granted that this would be a lot better if I had taken pictures, but I'll try my best.

- Genghis Khan Hat/Long Leather Jacket. Pretty self-explanatory. If someone made dance movie about the Mongols and it was called "Steppe it Up," would you see it? On a related note, would you like to read my screenplay?

- Tombstone. Western wear is great and applicable in a lot of situations. Walking to the Clarendon Metro is not one of them. The Corner Bakery is not a saloon.

- Doctor Zhivago. In this case, it was Doctor Zhivago plus Holly Golightly sunglasses. Chic...ish.

- What I think was the same coat that Natalie Portman wore in Black Swan. It probably looked nothing like this at all, but that was definitely my impression.

- The "I'm not wearing a coat because I'm sporty and jogging for some reason or maybe on my way to yoga."

- The "Elementary School Teacher on Recess Duty" ski jacket over a semi-put-together, but still pretty unfashionable and unflattering, sweater/slacks combo.

I don't really have much more to offer. Fashion commentary is not my strong suit (pathetic pun intended). I know that there are whole blogs dedicated to street fashion and I know that there's considerable more variety of looks out there than those described (this was in now way meant to be an exhaustive list).

I carried my toolbox with me today (for the last time, unless they make me repeat the class. Can they even do that?) and the bike seemed to ride fine. The front brake is making some scratchy noises and I adjusted it before I left, but I think the combination of new rims and cheap pads has led to some galling. Maybe I'll replace the pads when I get my next commuter benefit.


Tales About Sharrows

From Flying Pigeon LA:
Bicycling to and from the Pigeon a few days ago, I rode a number of “facilities,” as bureaucrats like to call them: the marvelous new section of the Los Angeles River bikepath paralleling Riverside Drive from North Fig to Fletcher, the bike lanes on York, and the sharrows on Fountain in East Hollywood.
It was the sharrows that got me thinking more about connectivity. In part because they seem to be working: motorists leave more room when passing, and wait to pass without honking or shouting. But also because, like so much bicycle infrastrucutre in LA, they are just a fragment, not a network.
Now I know they are a “pilot project,” a test run. But there are plenty of other bits of long-extant bike lane, path, whatever all over the city that just start and stop without connecting to other “facilities.” It’s been a civic habit of ours.
If we were talking about separate bike paths or full-on bicycle boulevards (which we are talking about for certain streets), I could understand–but sharrows, lanes, and even road diets require nothing more than a few buckets of paint, a bit of courage, and the consideration to engage in a bit of outreach in the affected neighborhoods before you start.
The application of sharrows are really freaking easy. I genuinely wonder why more roads don't have them. If I were the czar of roads of Arlington County (not sure this is on the official org chart), I'd paint sharrows pretty much everywhere. (Not personally, of course. Czars don't do manual labor. Except maybe Peter the Great, but he was also interested in transportation). Aside from their efficacy, they would just serve as another reminder to drivers that cyclists use the roads also, even if you don't see one right now. By making sharrows a more common road feature, they'll start to blend into drivers' perceptions of the roadway and serve as a permanent low-level symbol of the "share the road" message advocates are always trying to get across. I wonder why this doesn't happen. Are there real civil engineering reasons why more places don't do this? Is it a political problem? Do those bike stencils cost a ton of money? Does someone have a trademark on the chevron? Municipalities somehow manage to find the time, will and money to paint indicator lines for motorists. Just saying...
My Sharrows on Basically Every Road (or SOBER) policy borrows much of its philosophical underpinnings from banal nationalism. For more information on banal nationalism, read this book. It's very good and if you buy it, I'll get the author to autograph it for you.

Ride Home 2/23

Sometimes, I like to pretend that me and the pedestrians and drivers are all playing a big game. It's not a zero-sum one, where one of us wins at the cost of the others, but it's one of those games that you might have been forced to play in 5th grade gym class where "winning" requires each person to succeed and the failure of one person results in the failure of all. There might have also been some dingy gym mats involved and maybe a rope hanging from a ceiling. My memories of gym class have probably been superseded by those portrayed in tv shows and movies- I don't really know. This kind of conceptualization works a few different ways. It makes sense- we all benefit when we all get home safely. I benefit when drivers don't hit me, pedestrians benefit when I don't hit them, drivers benefit when more people choose to bike and walk. The fact of the matter is that a "commute" is the sum total of the intwined actions of individuals working towards their own self-interest. It's just a big system and it's best for each person when it's best for all people.
On a personal level, thinking about my ride this way prevents me from conceiving of fellow road users as adversaries, competing for a limited amount of space, (I think of traffic laws in terms of property rights, but that's for a different post, I guess) but instead as "teammates." Reading this back, it sounds tremendously hokey. Anyway. Just because someone is your teammate, though, doesn't mean you're going to get pissed at them for making poor choices and mucking up the larger system. So, that's one big preface to the following bullet-pointed diatribe/expurgation/friendly advice:

  • Left turns should be made, at let's say, something close to a 90 degree angle and not a 130 degree angle so you can beat the bike coming down the hill. If you have to drive 50 feet in the oncoming traffic lane prior to making your turn, I don't think you're doing it right. I was going downhill plenty fast and I would have been past you. I'm sorry for yelling "COME ON!" but that was exasperation and the realization that had you not completed the 130 degree turn at about 35 mph, I wouldn't have been able to brake in time and I would have flipped over your hood, if not the roof of your car. 
  • If you see me coming and we make eye contact and I'm only 15 feet away coming uphill, it confuses me when you decide to pull out and make your sharp left turn in your big beige SUV. It confuses me why you own a beige SUV. Beige is for carpets in rental apartments. Get a real color car. Why were you rushing? I know that there was "finally" no car coming in the other direction, but I saw you waiting and I'm pretty sure that you saw me. Did you know that I was thinking disparaging thoughts about your beige car? 
  • Jaywalking. I'm a fan, really. Pedestrians get the short end of the stick a lot and jaywalking is generally just the redressing of planning wrongs. But do it better! There's some some of nefarious bike blindness gripping jaywalkers in Rosslyn. I know that you're looking for cars, but I'm wearing a jacket with the brightness of a not-so-distant star. I have on a big white helmet. I might look a little like this. I'm also in the middle of the street- the same place you were just checking for cars. My recommendation- don't run across the street. That embarrasses us both. Instead, look for the bike guy. See the bike guy. See me. Wait til I go by. Then go. I promise that there's enough time. I'm not that slow. 
  • Turning right from the center lane is never ok. If you hit me doing that, I will be very sad. 
  • Not everyone might look at road signs as closely as I do. You see, I'm a bike blogger, so I try to be observant of the world around me for "fodder." Sometimes, signs say Right Turn Only Except for Bicycles. If I go straight in that lane, it's ok. You don't need to honk. You don't need to try to pass me thinking that I'm turning right. It's cool that your car gets really close, like 18 inches close, but I'm still gonna go straight and you shouldn't be so confused about it. I knew I was in for trouble when I saw your temporary Maryland tags. My head shaking was borne of my confusion about your confusion. There was a sign. 
Anyway, all of these things happened in the right home. They sucked, but it's fine. It's really not personal from them or from me. Life goes on. On the plus side, it's getting bright enough to have to wear sunglasses on the ride home. I'm ready for the end of winter and nicer rides. 

Ride In 2/23

Back on the bike after a day off and it was cold. I'm really ready to retire the winter riding gear, especially the heavy gloves. They keep my hands warm, but then they get wet and gross from sweat and stay that way so that when I have to put them back on at the end of the day I'm not very happy. There can't be that many Arctic cold days left, can there?
Fairfax Drive's bike lanes were only a little bad and only in patches. Some ice, but not like previous storms. Should hopefully be all gone tomorrow.
"On the Street Where You Live". I didn't realize how many show tunes I know, much less am willing to sing while riding my bike. Of course, I'm terrible with lyrics, so my renditions feature a lot of mumble-humming between the few lines I know. I just make it up as I go and that suits me just fine.
A lot more people on bikes than  I expected given the temperature. I think I saw maybe 8 or 10 people on the streets of Georgetown alone and they were the street clothes-wearing types. Some without helmets. I think Washington is getting to be the kind of place where people are willing to take bikes out so long as there's no precipitation. We're developing flinty toughness, or at least those of us inclined to bicycle.
In today's news (which I had a lot of time to read since it took my computer 2 hours to boot up and install new anti-virus software), "scientists" have published a paper on what it takes to convert leisure cyclists to bike commuters. This part is hilarious for its spot-on accuracy:
Conclusions from the findings suggest that:
3. white-collar married workers with mid- or low-level incomes, who live in high-rise apartments and started leisure-cycling at a late age, are a productive target on which to concentrate the promotion of commuter-cycling, and
The other conclusions are about things like mixed-land use and congestion taxes and infrastructure spending, so I guess they're more important or whatever. I agree that those are good things and we should push really hard for them, but they're hard- my idea of advocacy is mostly about testifying to the ease/joy of riding a bike to work, which is much easier.


No Ride Home 2/22

Regret, since the roads were dry. I compensated by dropping off a friend at the Metro and picking up a pizza to bring home for dinner.

No Ride In 2/22

Probably would have done it if we had a delay. Quite nice out now, though I'm sure the roads are still slushy and a little gross. I rationalized my decision by worrying about re-freezing tonight. I had the knobby tires that came with my bike removed and replaced with slicks at the time of purchase. Those tires are in the trunk of the car that I drove today.


Ride Home 2/21

I'm typing this out on my phone, since I lack a computer this evening. Please forgive typos and brevity. I know that many of you read this around the dinner table or in front of the hearth to entertain your loved ones after a long day of banal nothingness and rely on my achieving a certain output in order to make the evening more bearable, but I'm afraid that tonight the technological limitations of this typing mechanism will indeed foreshorten what would otherwise be a lengthy and action-packed post, though not by the nature of the deeds described therein, but rather thanks to the stylized prose phraseology needed to encapsulate them. Though I suppose if I managed to type out that explanation, there's mo reason I can't type out tonight's happenings.
Cold and wet, but the kind of rain that doesn't seem to get past your helmet or penetrate your sleeve. It seemed more wet than it felt. First time the new bike took on wet roads, but the tires and brakes both seemed up to it and that's all that matters. I stopped at the bottom of the New Mexico hill to put on my gloves and headband. Who doesn't like to shuffle through the exposed contents of your waterproof-when-closed pannier out in the rain on the sidewalk in front of an apartment building?
Guy in a Phillips Andover sweatshirt biking the wrong way down 34th street. That's a lot if private school tuition wasted.
Roads were pretty empty on account of the holiday, though it wasn't like no one was out. Apparently there were enough people forced not to celebrate James Garfield et al. though still ensure auto-domination of the local roadways. I chose Wilson over Fairfax, because it's a little bit closer to home and I think the weather mandated (too strong a word) it. Don't know what the snow/ice/frozen rain situation will amount to tomorrow, so I don't know if I'll ride in or not. If so, I'll blog it, but I won't blog any driving or bus riding.

Ride In 2/21

I had to bring back my 12 lbs piece of junk Dell laptop back to work today. I took it home this weekend because my wife brought our computer to Florida and I couldn't have survived without a computer for two days, even if my phone is basically a computer and has all the functionality of one. Anyway, I picked it up on Saturday before we went to the airport (I couldn't bring it home on Friday because our IT guy was installing some new drivers and it needed to be connected to the network) and I probably would have forgotten it, if not for my wife's reminder last night. I think in the same conversation we both agreed that it would make sense to drive in today, but this morning I decided I would just throw the sucker in the bag and lug it into work. I don't necessarily mind carrying a bag that's heavier than just a change of clothes, but it does make me go moderately slower or at least feel like I'm straining a little more than usual. I also had my first group ride yesterday and while it was only 20 miles (which I don't think is a lot for these sort of gallivants), it's more than I usually ride on the weekend, so I didn't know what ill effects I might suffer from that.
All good through Arlington, unless of course, you consider having Rihanna's latest stuck in your head a bad thing, which, in fact, I do. I consider this karmic retribution for watching the NBA All-Star game, during the half-time of which she "performed." Rihanna is a national treasure (though not our's) and I wish she would stop singing songs from the perspective of a lust object.
Almost bit it in Georgetown. Going up the sidewalk, rather than the wrong-way up the cobbled 35th street, my hands were too close together on the bars and the front of my bike started to wobble like a flopping fish. I was pushing down pretty hard on the pedals and moving really slowly, so I had very little forward momentum and this did not help. I tried to adjust my right hand out towards the end of the bar, but this caused my front wheel to turn sharply to the right and the weight of the pannier on the non-drive (left for non-experts like me, starboard port for any yachtsmen perusing this) side caused my bike to start tipping over. In the course of this, I also somehow tried to bike over someone's flowerless flowerbed thinking that might help things, but to no avail. I managed to unclip and decided to walk the rest of the way up the one-block hill because I was confident I would have fallen if I tried to start pedaling again while still on the incline. I slipped a few times, but didn't fall.
I'd like to dedicate this post to Mr. Brett Hack, who has been a constant inspiration to us all, though I just learned about him today. He proves to us all that if self-righteousness doesn't motivate you, spite certainly can.


Tool Academy, Parts II and III

I've been derelict in my blogging responsibilities (contradiction in terms?) with regard to reporting my triumphs and tragedies in learning basic bike maintenance (Part I here) I've had two more two hour sessions since I last wrote and for the sake of brevity and with full-awareness that maybe I don't remember every little thing that happened, I'm going to combine my scattershot memories into one post. I don't take notes or anything (this might be a problem if I try to actually do any bike repair at some point, but I guess why they give us a book. And that book sure looks authoritative. The author has a mustache and history's proven that you can always trust a guy with a mustache. I mean, outside of Germany. And Russia. And Canada.), but I'll try to do my best to recall what we covered and how I managed to either mislearn it, misapply it or otherwise break my bike in the course of "fixing" it.
Session 2, I arrived late and I might have missed how to true your tires. So, that sucks. What didn't suck, however, is that we didn't do anything with our tools at all for the entire class. Instead, we watched the instructor (instructor is the jargon we use at work when we don't know the exact or preferred title of the person teaching something. It gets you around the "professor" and "doctor" politics of the ivory tower), take apart some cranksets and look at some bottom brackets. We learned about taking off pedals (use a big wrench and torque) and we talked about threading- for some reason I either didn't get or can't recall, some parts on or around the bottom bracket have reverse-threading and you might strip them if you assume that everything just goes the normal way. I'm sure that's a specific enough recollection to help me). We (and by we, I mean he) then removed the crankset and, I don't know, did something with a spindle and got to the bottom bracket itself, with has ball bearings inside. Why would you have to do this? I don't really know. I remember that you can replace the bottom bracket (which has ball bearings inside) and that might be useful in the guise of having your pedals go...? If bicycle maintenance were a turducken, this level of involvement would be the chicken level. I content myself with turkey. Turkey skin, even.
What else did we talk about? Um, losing fingers definitely came up. I believe that if you're trying to fix your rotor on disk brakes you should be careful because you could lose a finger or two in so doing. I learned that the slope of the threading on pedals can be used to determine whether your holding a right or left pedal. Sometimes, the L or R etched into the pedal will also help that determination, but this is like Boy Scouts learning how to make fire from sticks (that description should clearly indicate that I was never a Boy Scout) rather than using a lighter or matches. Probably making that fire to cook a turducken. Aside alert: Yesterday, outside of the Giant on Washington Boulevard, I saw three definitely-not-Girl-Scouts-unless-they've-considerably-redefined-the-word-girl peddling cookies. There was nary a cherubic youngster in sight. How are they supposed to learn their lessons about cartelism if they're not even selling their own damn cookies? Another thing- I might be willing to shell out for cash for some Thin Mints from a 9 year old, but I can buy cookies from dowdy old ladies in the store- I don't need to do it on the sidewalk.
So, that was Week II. Week III was just this past Thursday and I probably remember it a little better. I got to this class not on time, but before it really started. This was the first class with the Surly and not that this really affected me or my attitude towards bike repair in any significant way, it did feel slightly different since I was no longer playing with the house money of a bike that you're about to sell and instead have some real skin in the game (when it comes to poker metaphors, I'm all in!) since this is a brand new bike, just assembled and tuned by the shop, and one that I'd rather not break so early in its tenure. So, this week was cables (brake and derailer- they're different!) and then futzing with the derailers themselves. With this lesson, as with most things we talk about in class, I had not only mechanical and dexterity issues, but also epistemic ones- in what circumstances would one replace a cable? In the circumstance that you remove it and see that it's broken. And why would you remove a cable? Because you're checking if it's broken. And what if you never check? Then, I guess, you never know that it's broken and then you'd never remove it to replace it. I don't know. I lack the full understanding of the "why" that underpins the majority of the reasons we would repair the bike. I suppose it's either because we know through feel or through sight that something isn't working correctly, but I'm not totally convinced that I yet have the ability to diagnose the patient, much less treat him. I am not Bicycle House, M.D.
At some point during the class, I think I regressed back to a fifth grade version of myself, a really dorky kid who couldn't help but shout out the answers that everyone else knows (and you know that everyone else knows but isn't saying) driven forward in the quest a small scrap of adulation or acknowledgement that I was both paying attention and capable of making small deductive leaps. In this form, it was with the limit screws, which I think I kept calling the delimiters, incorrectly. There are two limit screws on the derailer. You tighten or loosen them to adjust how far out or in the derailer cage sits with regard to the chain. The cage pushes the chain from one sprocket to the other when you shift. Your cage can be screwed up a few ways- if it lets your chain go outside of the biggest sprocket, it's too loose and that's bad. If your cage is too tight, it won't let your chain move from small ring to big one and that's bad. If your cage allows you to shift too much on the inside-side (technical terms), then your chain could fall off the smaller ring and that would be bad. Essentially, the limit screws let you determine how far your cage will move. One screw deals with outer limits and one with inner limits. So, when asked, "which one would you tighten if you wanted to make sure the outer limit isn't too far out?" I said the outer limit screw, or perhaps more accurately, the "outer delimiter". It showed that I was learn-ding.
I started messing around with my own limit screws, because it looked like maybe they needed adjustment. I turned some screws, because it was obvious I had the conceptual framework necessary to make prudent decisions. I turned my pedal and the chain came completely off the outer front chainring. Fail.
I sought help, as I normally do, and the instructor looked over my shoulder as I fixed my own self-made problem. I was really paranoid that I didn't fix my own problem and that I maybe only temporarily forestalled disaster, but he seemed relatively content that I managed to adjust the screws correctly to ensure that no further SNAFUs would befall me.
Later in the class, we learned about brakes and brake replacement. There is real value in this and I feel confident enough that I will attempt to replace my own brake pads next time. I will do this outside of a bike shop, so when I screw it up, I won't have far to go for remediation.
Though I once again suffered the indignity of bike maintenance failure, I had a tiny revelation about bicycles that I feel is generally instructive. Every little thing on your bike, each screw, spring and rivet, is purpose-built and has some assigned function. No matter how inconsequential it looks, it's probably there for a reason and you probably should fuck around it with it if you don't know what it does. Now, admittedly, there's a big difference between knowing what something does and what it's ideal function is and having the wherewithal to actually adjust it for your bike's betterment. But, if nothing else, this revelation was a nice reminder that machines are useful to people because people have thought things through, and deeply, to make them that way. And those very same people have passed down this knowledge and expertise to others and those others have achieved gainful employment in bicycle repair shops to guarantee that those of us who lack both mechanical aptitude and the good sense to leave well enough along will always have a place to bring the machines that we've broken through our ignorance and over-valued sense of self. And that's what America is all about. I will now chant USA over and over by myself and expect you to do the same.


Tom Vanderbilt's Long and Good Piece on Bike Commuting

If you've got some time (like being up early on Saturday morning), I highly recommend this somewhat sprawling, but very comprehensive piece on bike commuting and bike-car conflicts built around the story of a guy who bikes 67 miles into work from Westchester County to Manhattan. I thought this bit was interesting:
In one sense, the so-called bikelash has little to do with transportation modes. In the late 1960s, a pair of British psychologists set out to understand the ways in which we humans tend to split ourselves into opposing factions. They divided a group of teenage schoolboys, who all knew each other, into two groups and asked them to perform a number of "trivial tasks." The boys were then asked to give money to fellow subjects, who were anonymous save for their group affiliation. As it turned out, the schoolboys consistently gave more money to members of their own group, even though these groups had just formed and were essentially meaningless.
"The mere division into groups," wrote the psychologists, Henri Tajfel and Michael Billig, of the University of Bristol, "might have been sufficient to have produced discriminatory behavior." Though not exactly Lord of the Flies, the experiment was a demonstration of the power of what's called "social categorization"—and the penalties inflicted on the "out-group."
This dynamic appears on the road in all kinds of ways. "We know that merely perceiving someone as an outsider is enough to provoke a whole range of things," says Ian Walker, a researcher at the University of Bath who specializes in traffic psychology. "All the time, you hear drivers saying things like 'Cyclists, they're all running red lights, they're all riding on sidewalks,' while completely overlooking the fact that the group they identify with regularly engages in a whole host of negative behaviors as well." This social categorization is subtle but dominant, he points out. When people are given a piece of paper and asked to describe themselves, "men never write, 'I'm a man.' Whereas women will write 'woman' because being male is the 'default' status in society."
And so it is with cyclists. In a country like the Netherlands, which has more bikes than people and where virtually the entire population cycles at one time or another, the word cyclist isn't meaningful. But in the U.S., the term often implies something more, in both a good and a bad sense.
On the one hand, cyclists have a strong group affiliation, with clubs, group rides, and a flourishing network of bike blogs. And yet the oft-invoked idea of "bike culture" itself betrays cycling's marginal status in America, observes Eben Weiss, creator of the blog Bike Snob NYC, in his book Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling. "The truth is," he writes, "real cultures rarely call themselves cultures, just like famous things rarely call themselves famous."
The dark side of the "cyclist" label is that it becomes a shortcut to social categorization. Suddenly, that messenger who cut in front of you becomes the face of an entire population. And the next time you have an unpleasant encounter with a cyclist, it isn't just a matter of his (or your) carelessness: it seems intentional. Simonetti sees this type of reaction all the time, on the road and in his practice.
"As a couples therapist, I tell people that we take things so personally," he says as we near the Whitestone Bridge, on the first dedicated bike path we've seen in more than two hours. It's easy, when a car edges too close or cuts him off, to "go to that paranoid place where they're just trying to fuck with me. We're so worried that someone else can steal our sense of self that we fight for it at every turn." But it could have been just that the driver didn't see him. Under the spell of what's called "inattentional blindness," people have been known to miss obvious things simply because they're not looking for them. Either that or what seems inconsequential in a car—passing by within a foot or two—can be terrifying to someone on a bike.
Don't be paranoid, when driving or biking. No one is out to get you. Remember that and be quick to forgive and you'll have a much better commute.


Ride Home 2/18

Great, great, great, great, great, great, great. You don't get better days than today and I decided to take advantage of it by taking the long way home (about five more miles than usual). Some happenings:

  • Along the CCT, somewhere between the Arizona bridge and Fletcher's boathouse, I passed a fellow biker. I said "on your left" but maybe she didn't hear me. She yelled something out at me like "hand signal" or something similar. If she said hand signal, I don't know what that means or why it would help. If she said something else, I'm sorry for not hearing correctly. In any case, I apologize if I committed some kind of slight. I even thought about turning around and inquiring as to my "bike foul," but that didn't seem the right thing to do. Anyway, my bad?
  • How does one get through the Washington Harbour (with a u, seriously)/Georgetown waterfront area? I don't think that it's really set up for biking through. It might even be illegal to bike there. There was construction, so that might have had some impact, but I ended up biking along a sidewalk behind the House of Sweden. This was definitely not a trail and when a pedestrian in front of me hopped over onto some dirt because he saw that I was behind him, I felt extra-dumb. After I got back near the Rock Creek trail, I passed an NPS Ranger- you know, with the hat and brown shirt and everything and I thought WWYD (What would Yogi do?), so I decided that I would ask him. I mean, it's his job, right? (Though he might have been leaving his shift and, come to think of it, I don't even know what National Park is around there...)
    • ME: So, I was biking on the Capital Crescent and I never know how to connect to the Rock Creek. What's the best way to do it?
    • HIM: Ok, so what you do is, you come out of the trail along K street and then you ride along K Street until you get almost to the very end and then you'll see a part of the road that veers off to the right-
    • ME: I saw that, but there was a sign there that said NO ENTRY
    • HIM: Well, yeah, but that's not for bikes. You can go that way. You take that and that'll put you on the path over here.
    • ME: Oh, ok. I was just worried that I'd go down that NO ENTRY way and I know that at this time of the day, cars are going the opposite way on the Rock Creek Parkway, so I didn't want to make that mistake.
    • HIM: Yeah, no. That's not where that goes. 
    • ME: Ok. 
    • HIM: Really nice day out.
    • ME: Yeah, you should go for a bike ride. 
    • HIM: I was thinking about it.
  • Stuck behind some joggers (joggers!) near where the Rock Creek trail goes under the TR bridge. I was just dawdling, because really, where did I have to go?, but the biker behind me was all "on your LEFT," then to me, " You go first, kid," so I did. I pedaled a little longer, but when I looked back to see who this guy was, he wasn't there. Polter-cyclist? 
  • Went up past Iwo Jima and Fort Meade. Wished this was done instead of not even started yet. But then, this would also need to be done. And then, these, too. So, yeah, not so much. 
Just a nice trip all around. Very excited about the spring and summer. Also, would be excited if we got to leave an hour early every day. 

Ride In (With Special Guest) 2/18

Last night, I suggested to my wife that it would be a nice day and it would be fun to ride into work together. She's working in Rosslyn today (not downtown), so she obliged. We've done the ride together a few times previously (on Bike to Work day- which I remember as not being very fun) and I was glad to do it again. She asked me if she was going to have to say something funny for the blog. I told her that she didn't have to, but that I was going to write that she said that. She said that that was very meta. I told her that this is the Community of local bike commuter blogs.
We take a pretty circuitous route to get to her office, which is on Wilson Boulevard near Oak Street. We bike from our place across Glebe Road and then rather down Quincy to Fairfax (the way I normally go and the way I first took her when she first got her bike. I'm still so, so sorry about that. Not a good choice for a new rider!Don't be dumb like me when trying evangelize bike commuting!), we go down 5th Street, which runs roughly parallel. 5th street is exclusively residential and while there's no bike infrastructure, there also isn't much more than intermittent car traffic either. We turned down Irving and then did a multiple crosswalk sort of diagonal crossing of the Washington/Wilson/Clarendon nexus and then down Irving to 13th. 13th runs past I dog park and I though seeing dogs playing might be some nice positive reinforcement. Bike commuting = happy puppies! It's true! There were no dogs out.
We worked our way over to Key Boulevard, which is also residential and has some nice downhill bits, then a left on Rhodes to the sidewalk next to Lee Highway. The sidewalk was surprisingly wide enough to comfortably ride on and since Lee Highway lives up the highway part of its name along that stretch, the sidewalk was appreciated. As we passed Colony House, a store in a high modernist building that seems to sell anything but modernist furniture, I turned around and said "You might want to get into your lowest gear right now." I try not to talk too much to my wife when we're riding together. Mainly because she can't hear me that well, since I tend to mumble, but also because I don't say very much of consequence and I think, much like when we're driving together, she likes to quietly look at the things around her and not be bothered with my asinine observations of new road signs or "I learned at my bike meeting that they're re-striping this street some time in 2013"  or "I read on this local blog that this restaurant is gonna open here, but their liquor license is temporarily delayed."
There's a nasty little hill on Quinn Street. We both made it up in I think relatively good spirits, though we got stuck on opposites sides of the stop light. From there, it was just another left turn and then to the back door of her office. I went in with her because her boss not-really boss is a big bike guy (He's buying Andy Schleck's bike or something. Not the actual one, but the same kind). He appreciated the Cross Check and especially the Brooks saddle. The conversation was only a little awkward, or maybe I'll just say that it was only a little awkward and just leave it at that.


Now, entirely independent of my writing the above, my wife asked if she could write up a guest post describing her trip. As a fan of gimmicks, I totally encouraged it. Below, presented without comment, is what she wrote up. It's strikingly similar, so I guess that means that mine was an accurate re-telling...?

I’m working from our Arlington office today, so Brian suggested that we bike to work since the weather is so unseasonably warm.  I agreed – extra endorphins never hurt anybody, and it’s casual Friday, so this makes the prospect of biking considerably easier.  I don’t need to bring an entire change of clothes and shoes, and combating helmet hair with a ponytail is an acceptable option. Also, my legs are feeling stiff from taking a dance class for the first time in almost a decade this week, so I hoped the biking would possibly help loosen them up (don’t we sound like quite the Washington ‘do-er’ couple? I assure you, that’s not the case).
It felt slightly cool today, but it is February, so I don’t really feel like I can complain.  I’m equally petrified of riding on streets with traffic and on the bike commuter superhighway that is the trail (bike to work day was a little harrowing - no one liked me; not bikers, not cars, not anyone), so we went a longer, more circuitous baby-biker route.  When I first got my bike, Brian thought it would be a good idea to ride home from the bike store on major streets with bike lanes.  Having not been on a bike since I was 10 years old, this may have done some psychological damage.  Anyway, while I’m still not comfortable with cars, there weren’t that many out on the road this morning, and I’m happy to report I didn’t lose what little comfort I achieved biking over the summer and fall, so maybe there’s hope for me yet.  I tried to get into the smug biker mindset by thinking self righteous and judgmental things about how the various pedestrians I saw walking to work should just get bikes, but that’s just not really my style.  Who am I to judge other peoples commuting choices? Not a biker, obviously.
At one point, crossing over Wilson/Clarendon near NorthSide Social to take the residential back streets, I glanced wistfully at the bike lane going down Clarendon.  ‘It would be so direct,’ I thought to myself. But I know Brian doesn’t even usually take that route, and the bike lane is still blocked from construction, so I didn’t even really entertain the idea.  The only other remarkable part of the trip was the Big Hill at Quinn St.  Brian helpfully warned me to get into my lowest gear before we rounded the corner.  I remembered that on my first trip biking into work, I spent all my energy on the first hill, and didn’t have enough steam to make it up the next couple, and had to shamefully walk my bike up the final col de Rosslyn.  This time, I decided that slow and steady wins the race.  Two excuses, I haven’t biked in months, and my bike in constructed in such a way that it at least seems very front heavy.  I always feel like I ride way faster than Brian going downhill, but he definitely beat me up the hill…by a lot.  He made the light, I did not.  I got stuck at the intersection, and when the light turned green, I didn’t quite know how to proceed.  Should I go like I would if I were in a car?  What about the car waiting to turn left? How will he know what I’m going to do? Should I move to the crosswalk and cross like a pedestrian? Should I get off my bike so as to signal to other cars that I’m know that I’m going to stay out of their way and cross like a pedestrian? I got a little bit overwhelmed, and kind of wanted to get off my bike and cry, but I didn’t.  And then we were right at my office (what happened to the other hills?) so everything was okay.
So, yeah, that's the story of our ride in today.


Ride Home 2/17

Two things for drivers. Please use turn signals.They really help me figure out your intentions and that makes my life on a bike much easier. And for the love of God, please don't use cell phones while driving. I do this too sometimes and I really, really, desperately need to stop. I try not to be a mean bike jerk or take things personally, but I actually yelled today "Get off your fucking cell phone" at someone after they passed. Really yelled, too, though I don't think she heard me. There's some margin of error when you drive, in that if you're not paying attention, you probably won't drift off the road. However, your drifting a little can have a lot of impact on me, the guy on the bike who's trying to stay between your car and the parked ones on my right.
Two part trip today on account of tool school. Really nice night, weather-wise. Every time I leave bike maintenance class, I have nothing but dread that the seemingly minor adjustments I've made to various widgets and doodads on my bike will result in some horrendous mishap like a wheel falling off or the chain flying through the air. Luckily, no such misfortune, or at least not tonight.

Ride In 2/17

Pop quiz hot shot. It's the most beautiful day since the fall. The weather is as nice for biking as it gets in Washington. Do you a) bask (Basque?) in all of nature's glories as you enjoy your ride in or b) sing "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" (wtf, right?) loud enough so that the crossing guard by Key School gives you a dirty look? Guess which one I did.
It's another Tool School tonight. I never wrote up week 2 and I'll try to do it today, but I'm not entirely sure that I'll have time. In case I don't do a fuller write-up, one of the highlights was discussing whether your finger would definitely or only probably get chopped off if it got caught in the rotor for disc brakes. I think the conclusion was definitely and the kid in the class who looks 17 said "cool beans." I had to bring my tools with me today and that meant jamming my toolbox in my pannier. I thought about taking the tools out and putting them in a plastic bag from Safeway because they would be slightly easier to transport that way (the toolbox barely fits in the pannier), but then I realized that doing that would make me look like a crazy bike hobo. I might as well eat cold beans right out of a can during class while I play a banjo and sing songs about riding the rails.
I was going to take my normal route, but I decided that I should mix it up at least a little in honor of the nice day. Rather than the more pastoral (?) Tunlaw, I cut over at 34th to Wisconsin and took that up to Massacusetts and then down to school. The intersection of Mass and Wisconsin is a cluster, but I think I've figured out how to get through it in the least potentially detrimental way- if there's a red on Wisconsin, just go up the right side all the way to the crosswalk. Cross the street. Cross again. That's some great (and totally obvious) advice. You can't turn left onto Massachusetts at that time of day, so there's no sense getting over to the left because it will probably result in you jumping the line in front of a bunch of cars and that's not polite or something. Turns out going this way takes about the same amount of time and it almost the same distance as going my normal way, but it might be less hilly. So, that's good.


Ride Home 2/16

Some days of work are just so awful that a general agreement is reached that everyone will go home a half hour early because staying until five will be counterproductive at best and completely destructive at worst. I thought about using the extra time to take a more leisurely (read longer) route- I even floated the idea of maybe going all the way down the CCT and then onto the Memorial Bridge. I didn't though- I just went the normal way home through Glover Park and Georgetown. My bike commute home is kind of like tag- I just want to get to home base. Maybe it's because I have to take care of this thing:
Poodle in her natural habitat
I guess I let the bad day at work get to me, because I couldn't really shake the overall crumminess I felt. Normally, getting on the bike helps evaporate all the nonsense, but today it just led to me thinking about a lot of odd things. For example, what does sol glissant mean? Why is Chinese food in DC so bad? Could something like this happen to me? Why isn't ESPN showing Champion's League? Do they sell pterodactyl decals for bikes? Why am I so infatuated with the Marxist notion of wage labor?
I don't know why pedestrians have such a hard time estimating the speed of oncoming bicycles. For the third time in the past two days, I've had jaywalkers just totally screw up their timing and end up in the middle of the street just around the time that I get there. I'm all for jaywalking (and opportunism in general. I think our transportation system would be better if it were more based on opportunism than laws, but that's probably insane and I should think that through some more before wholeheartedly endorsing it), but you gotta go it better, people. I think that more bicycles on the road would give pedestrians more opportunities to gauge the speed of approaching bicyclists. So, get out there on bikes everyone. Don't do it for yourself. Do it for better jaywalking.
I love hearing the far-too-loud music emanating from cars that I pull up next to. Especially when it's pop music, or at least music that they play on Top 40 radio. It wasn't Katy Perry. Pop music rules. I have zero indie (indy?) credibility and I never will due to my averring that pop music is the best of music. I'm totally serious. In any case, from when I heard the music to home, I was in a much better mood.

Sharing Roads with Human Beings

Mark Blacknell has a good article in the Clarendon Patch about cyclists and drivers and pedestrians sharing limited space on the roads. You should read the whole thing. Key paragraphs:
Sure, outlining the way in which the object of your immediate annoyance is wrong feels good at the time. And it may even be true in the long run (though really, it’s not the cyclists that are slowing you down). But that sort of aggressive back and forth doesn’t really accomplish anything. In the same way that the idiot in front of your car is always the person who doesn’t know how to drive, and the guy behind your car is always a tailgater, it’s often too easy to dehumanize other people who are sharing the street with you. And that's where we go so very wrong.
You know that’s who’s in the car behind you, the bike next to you, or crossing the street in front of you, right? A human being. It could be your neighbor, your lawyer, or the guy that makes your sandwiches at lunch. I don’t know anyone – motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian - who heads out into Arlington’s streets with the purpose of inconveniencing others. But I do know a lot of people – family, friends, and acquaintances – that are just trying to go about their daily lives on them, and experience an incredible amount of frustration and danger in doing so. If we’d all treat the people we encounter on the streets as we would our family, friends, and acquaintances, I think it would be a far less stressful – and far safer – experience for everyone.
I agree completely with the sentiment, but a "human being"? Really? Not person? I just quibbling, of course. I mean, it is possible that aliens are reading the Patch (be careful about their recipes, E.T!) , but I sorta doubt it. "Klaatu, should we drive our spaceship so aggressively?" "No, Nikto, there are human beings there and we should be careful." "Beep Boop Boop Beep," says Gort, the giant robot. End scene.

Ride In 2/16

Never know how to dress on days like this- cold in the morning, warmer in the afternoon. I like layering, but I also like not having too many superfluous items in my bag on the way home. I probably underdressed today, but I was fine. I spite of myself, I didn't swear off Wilson like I intended to. I took it all the way down through Rosslyn and over the grates on Oak Street, where last August on a rainy day I went down hard and busted my chin. That was my first trip to the emergency room ever (Georgetown Hospital, Hoya Saxa) and I only went because my coworkers saw how bad my chin was and that it was not the case that just a bandaid would be take care of it. This story has becoming something legendary in my wife's office because she agreed with me that a bandaid would be sufficient (and not the six stitches that they actually used) and sent me off to work (via Metro- I left my bike in her office, which is right near the scene of the accident). I'm sure that I'm not explaining this correctly, so I'll update once I hear why this story has become so legendary. In any case, it really wasn't her fault that I didn't go right to the hospital (how was she supposed to know?) and, in retrospect, I find the whole thing more dully amusing than anything else.
I had my eyes peeled for the same jogger that I saw last night who was either on a phone call or just saying affirmations because he was shouting something like "Every good leader is..." or "A very good leader is..." In either case, it's a very DC thing to be shouting while jogging.
I still can't get used to the manifold hand positions available to me. I'm changing grips more than Charlie Sheen changes pornstar mistresses. Hey, o! That's some topical humor right there. I apologize and will never do it again.
I think that I'm consistently getting to work faster on the new bike. I don't know if it's because of the bike or me or I'm just making it up. I felt especially fast when I rode parallel to some dude driving a Porsche today. That is of course until the congestion cleared and he was able to go more than 10 mph and the hill that I was coasting on ran out. Badass.


Ride Home 2/15

Trying to keep this short, or at least type fast, because I unfairly wrested the computer away from my very patient wife with the half-coherent explanation of "need to do blogging." So, here goes:
I learned this morning that one of my coworkers saw me last night when I was biking home. She didn't come to work on account of an intense migraine, but when she was going to Whole Foods in the evening (because her mother visiting from Morocco needed milk and it had to be Lactate and they don't sell it at Trader Joe's), she passed me when I was crossing Wilson on Quincy. This story was told to me mostly in French (which I don't speak, but no matter how many times I say this, it just isn't making a difference) with only sometimes English explanations, which were kind of incomplete. Anyway, the gist was that her mom pointed out to her that there was some bicyclist out on a very windy day and that Americans are very athletic and also that this one was very "white." So, yeah, that's me.
I've had the bad luck for two days now to get stuck at multiple red lights on my way down New Mexico Ave. Going down this hill should be the highlight of my ride home and the stop lights really screw up my "descent." It's probably for the best. No need to rush.
My hands really hurt today. I guess I've been pressing my wrists and palms too hard into the handlebars. Again, this is something I'll probably get used to.
Joggers are out. It only takes one warm day to wake them from their hibernation (like bears, maybe?), then regardless of how cold or rainy or windy or generally inclement the weather is, they're out for good. I can't say that I wholeheartedly endorse the joggers and jogging (why are you running? unhibernating bear?), but to each his/her own. I recommend reflective clothing because it's still dark and it's better to be seen than not, even if you're only jogging on sidewalks (which tend to be interrupted by streets). If you're running for some reason, at least be safe about it.
Had a lot of weird songs stuck in my head today, including "Trouble" from The Music Man. Iowa's messed up and there's no way I believe the Marian didn't have some sex thing with the old dude who left her the books, but the town the library. If you need a Music Man synopsis, here it is, philistine. I couldn't remember what the con was initially, though I eventually remembered about the band and the far, far too many trombones, but I was for a little only able to think about the monorail episode from The Simpsons, which in turn made me want to watch Conan on-demand tonight. I also home some Supremes and some weird Hungarian stuff, which I whistled. Something about riding a bike puts your head in a weird place, I guess.

Ride In 2/15

Spring temperatures only lasted a day and it was back to the full winter ensemble today. But it was sunny, though windy, and since I stay late at work on Tuesdays, I tend to take a longer ride to work because I try to work only the number of hours mandated by my employer and no more. Today I decided that I would head down Wilson/Clarendon and then down 15th to Fairfax and then up Lynn through Rosslyn. I don't think I'm going to do that again, at least not any time soon, because I find riding down Clarendon to be kind of depressing. Sure there's a bike lane, but there's also a lot of stop lights and turning cars and I think I spend more time with my feet dropped than actually pedaling. I have a similar problem on Fairfax, but I think that my timing of the lights is better and I'm rewarded at the end by biking through a sedate residential neighborhood rather than a stretch where someone might at the last second decide to make a sharp right across a bike lane into a Starbucks. One with inadequate (but free) parking no less. (Why does that Starbucks even need a lot anyway? It's like, what, two spaces? Just park on the street! Somebody tell Shoup.)

Almost got hit by a truck on Lynn Street past 19th (where they're putting the CaBi station!). The bike lane is between the right turn lane and another traffic lane. Truck was trying to pull out from in front of the building where I just learned Rosetta Stone is headquartered (to the best of my knowledge, it was not ex-Mayor Fenty driving) to get into the travel lane. Just didn't see me coming and I didn't see him start to pull out. I think I said, meekly "Please don't hit me. Don't hit me" as I unclipped my left foot and swerved left. Since the cars in the travel lane weren't moving on account of the stop light, I wasn't too concerned abut crossing into another car's path. It wasn't the closest call I've ever had, but it's something worth acknowledging.
Lynn Street around the 66 entrances is a weird place for cyclists, since the bike lane extends to Lee Highway and then stops, at which point you have to get on the sidewalk and around the lamppost (take the inside). Then it's more sidewalk riding, crossing the 66 offramp and then past the bike/ped intersection of doom where the Custis meets Mount Vernon meets Key Bridge meets giant lamppost meets uneven sidewalk meets not enough space for any user. Once you get past that, you then get to cross the GW Parkway traffic coming onto the Key Bridge. Today, a woman driving a Mercedes was more interested in her cell phone than yielding to pedestrians and cyclists. I sarcastically waved, which I regret because it made me look as petty as I actually am. She didn't see me. I think that bicyclists will start stopping fully at stop signs around the same time that motorists always yield at crosswalks. That's not meant to be a quid pro quo or a statement on the relatively legality or safety of those practices, but just an observation.
I biked over the bridge and down M to Wisconsin and then underneath the horrible Whitehurst Expressway (I disagree with this guy) and then onto the Capital Crescent Trail.
Even though riding the CCT adds about three miles to my trip, it's pretty fun. I like to count the number of cyclists I pass coming in the opposite direction (I'm doing what could be referred to as a reverse commute, since I'm heading up from downtown). Today, I counted 33 between the entrance and where I go up the stairs around Manning Pl, NW, which isn't bad for February. In the summer, at the peak of bicycle commuting "season", I've counted more than 100. Using this scientific methodology, I conclude that cycling is about a third as popular in the winter (Who needs fancy counters?). Even though the trail is a "mixed use" trail, it's pretty much just a bike highway, at least during the morning and evening rush hours. As an aside, I think it'd be cool if the local tv morning news covered bike traffic the same way they did car traffic, but there wouldn't be as much to say. I guess they could report ice patches and downed trees or something. The helicopter might make more problems than it's worth, though.
I counted 11 BMWs from Manning Place to work. I think if I expanded my count to all finely made German-engineered luxury sedans on the same stretch, it would have been more than the total number of cyclists I saw on my whole trip. Relatedly, I surmise that this area might have more Saabs per square mile than people. Who knows?


Ride Home 2/14

Two "milestones" today-

  1. First ride home where I didn't need lights. Spring is coming and that means warmer weather, but to my mind, it's the darkness that's the worst part about riding home in the winter. I like being visible and I prefer sunlight to intermittently blinking LED lights. Plus, when you get home, you feel like you've actually got some evening left. 
  2. Got stuck on the wrong side of the barrier on Key Bridge. That's right, biked along with the cars. Not totally sure how it happened. I came down 34th towards M and thought I was in the turn lane that would allow me to cut across to the sidewalk while not getting in front of any cars. Instead, I was in the left-most lane getting onto the bridge and would have had to ride diagonally through a lane of fast approaching cars to get to the side-path. I've seen other bikers in the car lane before, so it's not like it's 395 or anything. It's been done. But, really, I'm not that kind of bike commuter. The only thing I'm trying to do is get to and from work with as little hassle as possible and in a way that makes me feel good. Being stuck in that lane did neither of those things. I tried to get my bike into the most aggressive gear ratio possible and go as fast as possible, but I'm still not used to how the bar end shifters work. I ended up pedaling as fast as I could, but I was on the smaller front chain ring. I guess it was fast enough and the cars just passed (they actually moved entirely out of the lane to get around me, which I consider a big, lucky victory for local bicycle awareness maybe?). The light at the end of the bridge was red and I was behind four or so cars when I came to a stop. I thought about hopping over the barrier, but it's maybe 3-3 1/2 feet high and there's no way I was going to get over it without either falling flat on my face and scraping the paint off my brand new bike. I even imagined a worst-care scenario in which I tripped and my bike flew out of my hands and over the side of the bridge, plummeting into the Potomac with a pathetic little splash. Or it could have landed on a barge to South America. I just rode to the end of the bridge and got back on the sidewalk after the entrance to the GW Parkway.

I rode on the Custis to Veitch, then up Key to Fairfax. Fairfax is a wind tunnel and today was especially bad. I don't understand how wind seems to blow against me regardless of what direction I'm riding. That's kinda bullshit and I don't appreciate it, but there's some cliche about complaining about the weather, so I won't engage in that (too much). I might have overexerted myself on the dramatic Escape from DC via bike (Kurt Russell- if you're reading this, call me.), but there was at least two times where the wind pretty much slowed me to barely a crawl or whatever the bike equivalent of a crawl is. But that's life and it was just nice getting home.

"Michael Hurley" Conspiracy Theories?

The current leader of the Capital Bikeshare Winter Weather Warrior contest is named Michael Hurley and TBD did (a sort of) story of him, or at least his prolificness. He's taken almost 130 trips than his closest rival (as of February 6.) I don't mean to impugn Mr. Hurley (I'm doing the same thing as the WSJ, where I say the whole name than use Mr. thereafter. Its use in this story made me laugh) and the serious amount of biking he does, but there has to be at least some strategy in play here, right? Let's review the rules: 

Rule 1:  Must be an annual or monthly Capital Bikeshare member in good standing.
Rule 2:  Participants must opt in to the contest in order to be eligible for prizes.  Contestants can opt in at anytime during the contest, but keep in mind that your standings will be calculated from your opt-in date.
Rule 3: Trips of less than five minutes do not count.
Rule 4: Any trip on a bad weather day counts as double.  Since weather conditions and reports vary, determination of which are bad weather days ultimately falls with Capital Bikeshare staff. Bad weather days are defined as the following:

  • any day with a high temperature below freezing
  • any day with frozen precipitation
  • any day with rain and a high below 50 degrees
Note: In case of severe weather, Capital Bikeshare may close down service temporarily until conditions improve. Any day that includes a Capital Bikeshare closure is not counted in the "perfect attendance" category. Any ride taken on a day affected by closure when the system is still open DOES count towards the overall Winter Weather Warrior, Long Haul Rider and Saddle Time contests.
Rule 5:  Participants must play fair.  We’ll be able to tell if you are “gaming” the system.  Unfair players will be immediately disqualified. Gaming the system includes the following:

  • Dummy trips - undocking a bike, standing still and then redocking with no purpose other than just recording a trip.
  • Key sharing - recruiting friends to use your key and make trips.
Rule 6:  By opting in to the contest, participants are agreeing to have their name released on the contest leader board and in promotional messages.
Rule 7: The “Long Haul Rider” competition will be calculated by the distance between stations, not distance ridden.
Rule 8:  Have fun.  This contest is designed to encourage more usage of Capital Bikeshare and reward those that use it often.  It is meant to be fun, so please play nicely.

First off, let's assume that "Michael Hurley" is just one guy named Michael Hurley and not a group of people using the same key. If that were true, it would be a "say it ain't so, michael hurley" moment and Bikeshare would forever lose its innocence. Let's also discount rule 8- there's no room to both have fun and bicycle. It's scientifically proven
In order to maximize your trips, the trick seems to be taken as many just barely 5 minute long trips as possible and as many of these trips on bad weather days as possible. CaBi makes sure that you can't just stand with a bike for 5 minutes and re-dock, so it's clear that he's actually moving from station to station. I surmise that Hurley is, unlike most CaBi users, docking multiple times between his two destinations (home and work, or wherever) rather than just biking straight through. He averages, according to the story, around 13 trips a day. If we assume that he just goes from home to work and back (though I think he might also do an evening trip or one at lunch time), he'd have to have 6 or 7 dockings on the way for an overall 30 to 40 minute commute. (This doesn't even include any bonuses he gets from bad weather days- I don't know how many there have been and I'm loath to check old weather reports to hazard a guess).  Is this the most direct way to get anywhere? Nope. But, based on the relatively density of downtown stations (which are close, but not too close), I could easily see this happening. Here's a crazy (but not too crazy) route that he could take from Dupont Circle to 10th and Constitution: 

Sample Route
This route does require a little meandering (and might even require some wrong ways down one ways, so sorry), but with stop lights and traffic, I think you could probably take 5 minutes between each stop. Or, Michael Hurley could do 3 or 4 rides in Crystal City, get on the Metro and then do another 3 or 4 in the District. In any case, it's not hard to imagine how to use opportunistic docking in an area relatively dense with stations to build up a substantial number of trips, even when all you're doing is going back and forth to work. The rules don't say that something like this is "gaming" the system, so as far as I can tell, it's all inbounds and totally legal. 
So, to all aspiring Michael Hurleys out there, here's how you can do it. If you want to take an extra hour coming home from work, or maybe stay up all night, fearlessly and manically riding CaBis from downtown station to downtown station, wearing down the plastic on your bike key and alienating yourself from loved ones, you can follow these steps and catch up Michael Hurley and win a three year extension of your membership. You could even give one of the two other annual memberships to Michael Hurley, because if he's putting this much effort into this contest, he really deserves it. 

Ride In 2/14

The Weather Channel had the following to say about today's conditions:
So, if you're riding a bike today, don't worry about it. Winds this strong only make driving difficult, so you've got nothing to be afraid of this afternoon. Especially since all drivers will be using extra caution!
I didn't notice the wind too much this morning, but maybe because I was too focused on riding the new bike. While this wasn't my first ride, it was my first commute and really wanted to focus on how the bike felt and handled. I was slightly nervous because the position of the brakes is different and I didn't want to relax too much because I couldn't really rely on muscle memory for quick braking decisions. Luckily, I didn't have to, since I left a little earlier than usual and the drivers I encountered were pleasantly predictable and law-abiding. Being Arlingtonians, I'm sure they were also civic-minded, well-heeled and polite, with only the slightest hint of liberal guilt. Stereotypes!
I'm not really used to riding with drop bars, so my back and shoulders stretched out a little bit differently from my previous riding position. I'm sure I'll get used to it soon enough.  A little harder to get used to is the idea of being at the side-mirror height rather than rear-view mirror height, especially when sneaking past cars on the right. Being upright has its advantages for street riding (street riding sounds so much more hardcore than the lazy dawdling I do) and I'm even starting to consider biking more on trails where I can pedal unimpeded and less worried- which is also more fun. Again, I'm sure I'll get used to it.
Going uphill on my new bike was awesome. It was like being on a ski lift. Or what I presume a ski lift to be like, since I've never been skiing. Actually, I think I went on a ski lift once because I think we were in Vermont, when I was like 7 or 8, and we took these cool rolling car/bobsled things down a concrete path down the side of a mountain. Of course, being 7 or 8, I can't verify that I'd still think these are cool or that the experience was as fun as I'm remembering, but through the gauzy haze of nostalgia, I wholeheartedly endorse the rolling car/bobsled things from somewhere in Vermont when I was 7 or 8. This is why I don't write on Yelp.
I lot of bikes out today, which is a good thing. I think it's getting close enough to spring that the fair weather cyclists are coming back out. Optimistically, I'm hoping that 2011 (with the now well-established [though still under six month old!] and soon -to-be expanded CaBi) is going to be a big year for biking in DC.

Another Grocery Store Trip by Bike 2/13

I went to the store to get sour cream and tonic water. It was a quick in-and-out trip and I was happy to avoid another terrible parking lot. Nothing profound to say about the trip, except that the store is about 3/4 of a mile away and it would be a rightly classified a ridiculous car trip. And even still, I drive there sometimes- mostly from laziness, because from stop lights and left turns, I'm not sure it saves me any time. A trip like this is the low-hanging fruit of biking.


Sunday Errand Ride 2/13

Took the Haul out of Whole Foods for no other real reason than to get a growler of beer. I also got half and half (for baking scones, not putting in coffee) and some mixed greens. I've blogged about this before, so I won't go into great detail about the process by which I transport beer. I made it back without spilling anything and I consider this a victory. I'd love to teach a couse about transporting beer by bike or maybe just attend one. It could end with a trip to the liquor store to bring various vessels (bottles, cans, growler, keg [advanced class]) of beer back. We could also make certificates in Print Shop that have a border composed of beer bottles and mugs. Or whatever that modern day equivalent of Print Shop is.
Whole Foods in Clarendon is a mess and you'd have to hold a gun to my head to make me drive there on a weekend. I'm thinking about starting a business where I just go to Whole Foods for people and buy them their organic eggplant or whatever and just bike it to their house. I think that it would only take one time in the parking lot  (or backed up on Clarendon Blvd) before someone would consider paying a premium for a service like that.
It's not really winter today, but it's not spring yet either. It certainly didn't get to be 50 degrees.
The Haul has almost been completely modified to my liking, except that I really want to add a Brooks B67 in place of the weird, too narrow saddle that came stock with the bike. But, after coming home yesterday, I boldly announced that I wouldn't be spending any of my money on bike stuff for "like a year or six months." I plan to stick to that pledge, but at the same time, to think creatively about circumventing it. For example, I get $20 a month from my employer for biking to work. It's not a pre-tax deduction, so it's not even my money. So, if I save that for 6 months, I can get the Brooks. That's my plan for now, but I'll need a find a bike shop that stocks them and also accepts the bike commuter benefits. The benefits come in check form made out to "participating bicycle shop or storage facility" so I can't spent it on drugs or candy or something. I think that if the benefits people really knew me, they'd recognize that most of my cash flows towards bike stuff anyway and a $20 bill would be sufficient to relay the same benefit. In any case, I've got a few months before my cache of checks builds to the point that I'll need to worry about exchanging it for something extravagant, so I hope by then to have moved this plan from its inchoate stages to something that actually has a chance to work.