Look around, leaves are brown

I am done with winter. Winter, however, is not quite done with us. It's been cold and it's been snowy and now the ice lingers. I'd tell you how disappointed I am in DC's feeble (nonexistent?) plan to clear the bike lanes, but expressing my disappointment would merely serve to blunt my anger. It's embarrassing, lazy and wrong. This sums it up.

Many sturdier souls have kept about their bike routines for the past few days, but I've cut back. I took Bikeshare back and forth from the Metro for the past two days and might do so again tomorrow. It's funny how "not biking" doesn't really mean "not biking."

The trips have varied in their level of harrowingness. Probably the worst was riding along Massachusetts Avenue last night from Stanton Park to Lincoln Park. A Bikeshare bike can handle about an inch of slush and while the tires are wide and the bike is slow and cumbersome, it still proved fishy on the icy bits. I'm by no means the most agile or balance-y person in the world, but I'm also not a stranger to my bike wheels finding themselves askance either. I didn't fall down. I did have to drop my foot a time or two and at one intersection, where the snow and ice formed a little mound, I stopped entirely and waited for the green light to elapse and for the car traffic to get through and I pushed myself across the intersection as the yellow light turned to red. Scofflaw.

You face three options vis-a-vis bike lanes after you've made the decision to ride in the crummy weather aftermath. You can ride entirely within them, snow and ice be damned, and hope that in so doing, you don't fall. You can ride entirely outside of them, taking the lane and telling drivers to sod off. Or you can weave in and out, using them when you can and abandoning them when you must. I didn't much feel like attempting either of the first two approaches (yes, I know I'm perfectly well within my rights to take the lane, But in order to do so, you really need to commit and I am just not that committed)  and while I wanted to try the third, I wasn't traveling nearly fast enough relative to the speed of the cars next to me, to effectively weave in and out. I rode and then when I had to leave the bike lane, I would stop, wait for drivers to pass, then ride behind them until the next place I could re-enter the bike lane. It was a compromise.

Compromise. Remove 37 parking spaces to add a bike lane? How about a compromise? How about removing 10?  How about sharrows? What if, instead of sharrows, we compromise and just add a sign that says "Bike Route." Ok, what about a compromise where we put up one of those bike route signs on some side streets? How about, really, on those side streets we don't actually put up the bike route signs, but we just put some different colored lines on the local bike map. Actually, wouldn't it be better if bicyclists just stuck to the trails anyway? Well, I mean, unless people are walking on them and then a good compromise might be for cyclists to ride on a different trail. And that trail, it's not plowed, so maybe a good compromise would be for bicyclists to wait for spring, when it's nicer. You know, for their own safety. It's really about their safety. And if you're not willing to compromise for your own safety, well, you're being unreasonable.

I fell off my bike last week and I've still got some soreness on my left side. It's nothing dire, but it's probably for the best that the cold and ice are proving effective deterrents to my riding my regular route to work. I think I'll be back in action at the beginning of next week. Hooray action. Be safe in the snow.


A quick post on the tires I previously disparaged

I apologize to you, Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. I formerly claimed that you were terrible at rolling and since that's one of your raisons d'ĂȘtre, it's pretty much tantamount to saying that you're terrible at life, and one oughtn't tell anything, much less anything inanimate, that it's terrible at life. Since so doing (and really, I regret it, I swear!), I've put in another bunch of commutes and a really long ride and the tires have performed valiantly. Wonderfully even. It has helped that I have kept them inflated, kept the chain properly lubed and have more consistently been riding clipped in. But, these thugs are all important and the tires have worked great.  So maybe it's not the tires. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was the whole damn system that was wrong. [ATTICA! ATTICA! {I never got why Al Pacino was so mad about the Peloponnese, but the 70s were a confusing time. Maybe something about the junta?}] Anyway. And  since the tires promise no flats ever, even when riding through a sea of porcupines amidst an ocean of broken glass at a thumbtack factory that was purpose built in a cave full of stalactites (and stalagmites?) that is also underwater and serves as the mating habitat of swordfish, well, that they sort of roll nicely too (after you get used to them) is quite the bonus. So, sorry tires. I misjudged you.


Four Days in January

Once a year, I like to ride my bike outside of the District of Columbia and for purposes that aren't going to work or the grocery store. Also, once a year I like to ride my bike "a long distance." So, I glommed on to a ride with Ed, Mary, Alex, Ryan and Kevin and we rode to Leesburg and then took a boat trip and then rode back in Maryland and all the while I had a great time and it was a good route and ride, though one in which I had to make greater haste than I would've normally because I had some weekend errands that I needed to accomplish before the weekend went errant. My errands involved a certain big box wholesale retailer where I bought conspicuously large sizes of items including chocolate cake, tequila, coffee and canola oil. You might not want to go shopping at a place that sells giant chocolate cakes immediately after an 80 mile, or conversely, you might really want to do exactly that. Anyway, to sum up and reiterate, it was a really fun and I'd certainly go bicycling with that lot again some time.

Etymologically, the word "spirit" is derived (probably) from the Latin spiritus meaning "breath" and breaths mean inhalation and exhalation. Bicycling to work is, for me, a source of exultation and that's why these nothing more dispiriting than finding one's tire flat after returning from walking the dogs after having inflated that tire. This was the Brompton and I daren't'd ride the Surly as I discovered along the ride the day before (or maybe Ed discovered. It's like a Leif Ericson/Christopher Columbus situation) that one of my brake pads had nearly worn away to nothingness. I took Bikeshare to the Metro and then found a way to break my light in a closing train door. I decided to also take the train home and I don't remember that as being terrible, but it was slow. I like that DC is taking steps to facilitate bicycle use, but if it aspires to be a much better city, it needs more frequent (and faster) public transportation.

I fixed the Brompton Tuesday morning. I saw in addressing the flat (hello, flat) that the tube had been previously patched and in seeing this, I then agreed that, yes, I had previously patched this tube. The tube, apparently, could not abide one more inflation and so died. That tube was a total drama queen. The new tube, itself intact, seems more comfortable holding onto air than its predecessor. I think it rained in the morning. At some point, the bike stopped being able to shift gears. It only has two gears. If shifting were a yes/no question, my bike's answer was to go "uhh" and look down at its sneakers.

On the way home is when the fun happened and by fun, I mean my falling down. There's recently been some utility work on Pennsylvania Avenue where it intersects 3rd Street and as part of the utility work there's a gash in the pavement. I tried to jump over this gash, but maybe a little too late and with far too little finesse. My left hand, right knee, left thigh and left pectoral muscle all the hit ground at around the same time as my overturned bike. It was peachy that the assembled mass of motorists at the intersection had the chance to rate my tumble. On technique, I would score low, but the artistry was fairly impressive. I ripped one of my gloves and also destroyed one of my cork grips. For awhile, I was having a problem extricating my chain from some other part of the mostly folded bike. I eventually sorted it out and the bike is fine and I'm fine. It was very silly.

I put new brake pads on the Surly and on that bike found my way to work this morning. So far, I've yet to fall down or break anything. I took Q Street and drank some free-for-bike-commuters coffee outside of The Bike Rack and that was nice. I rode R Street and it's been maybe a month or two since I've last taken that route and while there is putatively a bike lane on that street, it seemed more harrowing that I remembered it. Also, Massachusetts Avenue seemed longer than I remembered it. I guess in my memories, all roads are sedate and all hills are short. My memory is applying to be a Bicycle Friendly Community.


Ride In 1/3: A little snow

DC doesn't get snow much and much of the time we get it, it isn't much snow. Nonetheless, my employer granted us a late start this morning and I hit the road around 10 minutes after 10. The roads were for the most part clear, though the bike lanes and cycletracks were not. I didn't bother riding in the bike lane on East Capitol (thanks for that really close pass, MD driver!), though I did ride in the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack for 12 blocks and it was a mix of icy mess, bike tire tracks through the icy messy, slushy mess and icy slushy mess with a side order of frozen slush, mostly unfrozen ice, but no sign of frozen yogurt or slushie, which would require DDOT to cover the roads in a sugar solution and red dye no.5 instead of salt. My bike remained upright and I remained not injured, though I can't say I'm excited about riding this route home later. [I just remembered that I will be taking a different way home because I need to stop to buy dog food. Perhaps I will seed the street in front of me with kibble to provide traction, though the pups would vociferously object were they to find out about this plan. Good thing they don't read the blog. They only read good bike blogs.]

 A dusting

I rode Pennsylvania Avenue on the other side of the White House as well. It's a main road and I always try to stick to main roads on snowy days. They tend to be treated better and there was no snow anywhere on the street from 17th to M and then no snow on the street from M to Wisconsin and no snow on the street from Wisconsin to Massachusetts and very little snow on the street from Massachusetts to Ward Circle.

You ever notice how the drivers who don't brush the snow off their cars are the same ones who tend to pass cyclists too closely? I believe the taxonomic classification of this cohort is "assholes."

Today I wore a wool hat with earflaps, two coats, a fleece, a long sleeve shirt, wool tights, bike shorts (which have a hole in them and I need to replace), wool socks and boots. I looked something (ok, exactly) like this. I rode the Surly, which now is equipped with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, about which this the manufacturer has to say:
Punctures become obsolete with the MARATHON PLUS! The SmartGuard layer made from a flexible, special rubber offers particular resistance to shards of glass and flints. Even a thumbtack cannot penetrate this protective layer. The SmartGuard belt does not increase rolling resistance.
The MARATHON PLUS rolls as easily as a tire without protection.
I have yet to try to ride through a field of thumbtacks, but I could imagine a scenario whereby my bicycle and I need to flee an office supply store and this feature comes in handy. The movie about this would be called "Sharrows and the Staples of Doom." The sequel would be "2 Sharrows, 2 Many Unboxed Thumbtacks" and the trilogy would remain incomplete because while two movies about a bike commuter riding around and through dangerously sharp office supplies seem totally feasible, what would be left for a third one to say? 

Regarding the last statement in their blurb, it is a complete lie. These tires do not roll as easily as a tire without protection. But given the number of flats I historically earn, it's a compromise I'm willing to make. The tires handled the snow and ice fine. Probably because the roll as slow as all get out. They're heavy too. It'll take some getting used to, but I'm overall happy with them. Here's to no flats in '14.


A New Year

It's 2014 and it's January and it's cold and the festive period is mostly behind us and it's still almost 6 weeks until Presidents Day and its many sales on mattresses so we must trundle on and make of mid winter what we can and make in mid winter what for which we have the ingredients. For example, I have egg noodles and bacon and cabbage and that makes a delightful meal for a cold evening and a perfectly adequate meal to be reheated as the next day's lunch. But enough about winter and cabbage and lunches- let us talk about winter and bicycles and the new year and the old year and goals and resolutions and the HMS Resolute, which itself and its crew knew of cold and winter and sails, but maybe not of bicycles and perhaps only had a passing acquaintance with lunch- I'm not an expert at 19th century nautical meal patterns. Anyway.

I don't count my miles. As someone whose main use of bicycle is in repeating the same route five times weekly and repeating in reverse the same route five times weekly, any miles I gain in the morning, I wipe out in the evening. It's like the lunar tides. Does the moon count how far it moved the oceans each day? Nope. It just does it and it probably doesn't think too much about it because, frankly, the moon is just a giant spherical space rock and it most likely lacks powers of cognition and meta-cognition ("Remix to Metacognition" is easily one of my favorite completely fictitious R Kelly parody songs of the last decade). Tides aren't measured cumulatively (I don't think at least) and any case, the moon, along with not knowing or caring about what it's doing, is very far away and cold and couldn't not pull the tides even if it wanted to stop. I could stop bicycling to work, but that would be lunacy. 

I remember when I took art history in high school and towards the beginning of the fall semester, we talked about traditional African tribal masks and we were shown slides of two masks. One of the masks was elaborately done with tremendous detail and intricacy and the other was carved less ornately and far more simply. It looked barely carved at all and seemed crudely done.We were asked to identify which was done first chronologically and like a good positivist, it seemed obvious to me that the progression went from simple to ornate. Over time, the mask carvers got better and were able to carve with greater detail and skill. Things go, as they go, from simple to complex. 

I was wrong.

The more ornate mask came first and the simpler mask was carved much later. Rather than learning to carve with ever greater detail, the artists learned to eschew the ornate and to carve just what was absolutely essential to convey the essence of the mask's "maskness." Things went, as they went, from complex to simple. 

I tend not to set goals or have resolutions. I thought that I had an ok 2013 and I think I'll probably have an ok 2014. One thing that I don't plan to do in 2014 is write about bike commuting and "safety" because I find that topic boring and I don't think I have much to add to it. Can bicycling be dangerous? Yes. Should places try to make it safer? Sure. Are perceptions of safety a big inhibitor to more people cycling? I guess. Do I add anything to the conversation by writing OMFG UNSAFE BIKING GAHHHH? I'm doubtful. Others do it with much greater pathos and reasonableness and I will leave it to them. I will also continue to avoid writing about bikes and traffic laws. Also, about bikes and sea monsters because that would be weird. It's not like I live along the ocean, much less bike in it and the likelihood of my chancing upon a sea monster, however wayward, this far inland are minuscule and my commitment to verisimilitude far outweighs any extra page hits shanties on sea monsters might bring. Plus, I gotta keep a gimmick for 2015. Argh. 

There are lots of other things that I think I can write about in 2014, but we'll have to let circumstances decide. It's good to be proactive, but I don't really have any off-hand axes that I wish to grind, mostly because I got a great ax grinding gift certificate for Christmas, so I'll instead decide to be reactive, though hopefully, never reactionary. I tend to believe that change itself, for better or worse, is good and things change even if you do the same thing every day and I'm generally content to look upon change (but not nickels or pennies- they are the worst) and marvel and smirk and resignedly sigh and laugh and frown and smile and react to it and maybe sometimes I'll write things down about it and maybe sometimes those things will be interesting to you or me or both of us. As far as bicycling in DC is concerned, I'd say that generally we're changing in the right direction, but for the most part, the thing that is changing isn't so much the direction but the "we." It's a bigger we than it was when I joined and I hope that this year, the we continues to grow less wee. No one wants a wee we. 

I wish you all the best in the new year. Have a lovely time with it. As always, thank you for reading.