Monday, April 29, 2013

what is best in life, bicyclist?

Thursday was Take Your Child to Work Day at some companies and in some parts of the US.  As is now usual, Pele had too much of her own work to take time off and see her mother at work but Rapunzel starts looking forward to TYCTWD in, ummm, January.... so I knew she'd be going.

Rapunzel's mother (that would be me) commutes to work by bicycle, a trip of about nine miles through sometimes heavy traffic.  Rapunzel gets to work (okay school) by bicycle also, a trip of about one mile through sometimes heavy traffic.

Rapunzel announces her intention to bicycle to work with her mother.

I smile the smile of an animal that is dead by the side of the road, one of those smiles that is made less genuine by the way the lips are pulled back courtesy of rigor mortis and not happiness.

Ok not really as bad as all that.  I'm proud of Rapunzel's bicycling and I know she is getting stronger.  Last year she biked half the distance despite cold drizzly weather and then rode the rest of the way in our Burley wagon.  In years before this, both kids rode on the back of our Extracycle because I am a total work horse hear my roar!  Or neigh.  Bicycling is how our family likes to get around and the more I thought about Rapunzel (who makes the trip to the Farmer's Market without turning an eyelash) the more I was pretty sure Rapunzel could handle the trip.  I was less sure about whether the cars around us could handle Rapunzel with the respect she deserves.

After careful thought I beg Contraption Captain to ride with us even though I know it will make him a little late for his own job and he says "yes" and I am about a hundred times less worried.  I feel tons better when we "fly in formation" as I like to think of it.  Captain leads, scouting for people making unexpected right turns and car doors and utilizing his admirable rear-mirror-fu to watch for cars and trucks driving up the bicycle lane.  Rapunzel rides in the middle, paying attention to the leads of her more experienced parents which means she moves to whatever side Captain steers her towards, she's a good attentive bicyclist.  I ride in back, always somewhat to the left of Rapunzel so that the cars cannot pass her too close.  Also, in the manner of a mother, I like to be in back so that if someone plows into us I can break up some of the impact of the collision with my body and bicycle, possibly sparing Rapunzel.  Yes, I do think like that.  Aren't you ashamed, American drivers, that it's come to this?  That I ride hoping that my body will be a softening pillow between my daughter and your Ford Explorer?

...but all went well.  We had a safe and peaceful ride in to the office even if the sky was not it's usual cerulean blue.  Once at the office we went to focus groups on network and software engineering, had a nice lunch, and did some work together.  When asked what her mother did for a living Rapunzel said that I work with computers and "open bugs."  Hearing this a project manager said gloomily, "That's certainly true."

Mongol General:  Chafe!  What is best in life?
Chafe City:  To bicycle with the wind on your face, to ride un-trammelled in the company of your people, to hear the lamentations of the cars stuck in self-imposed traffic jams.
Mongol General:  That is good!  That is good.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

fun things you can do with stuff you probably have lying around your bicycle route

Party fun game the number one:

Equipment needed to play this game:

a bicycle, preferably not a stolen one.
a stretch of bicycle route with a bike lane, straight works best, the kind that runs on the side of the road not down the middle.
a rear view mirror mounted to your helmet or bicycle

Begin the game by pedaling in the bicycle lane on the side furthest away from the cars.   Get comfortable watching the cars coming up behind you and hopefully passing you and not running over you.  The majority of them should be driving in the car lane, with no tire rubber in the bicycle lane.  If the majority of the cars are in the bicycle lane abort game and save yourself.

You notice a car driving close to the bicycle lane.  Watch attentively.   Move over so you are bicycling on the side closest to the cars.  If the car corrects away from you, move back to the curb side.  Otherwise start bicycling on the white line and then abruptly correct back hard to the curb side.  Watch to see if the car moves away from you.  If you play this game carefully you can move the cars around the road at your leisure.

Variation on this game:  Stay perfectly and entirely in the bicycle lane but ride as if you were being chased by a swarm of hornets, weaving back and forth and madly swatting at yourself.  Watch in rear view mirror to see how far away from you the cars will move to avoid coming down with whatever contagion you contracted.

Party fun game the number two:

Equipment needed to play this game:


a bicycle, preferably not a stolen one.
a narrow quiet residential road lined with houses and parked cars on both sides.  road must be dotted with 4-way stops at each block for this game to be fun.
there should be no bicycle lane

This game is very easy, you have probably played it already if your route has a quiet residential street with many parked cars and travelling cars going in both directions.  Start by pedaling far enough away from the parked cars so that if one of them unexpectedly flings the door open you will not be killed.  Are you there?  Good.  You're probably about 25% of the way into the car lane.  Any car passing you is going to have to cross the center lane.  Bring up the speed until you are hauling along at a respectable 17mph or more.  Wait for a car.  Car will approach and want to pass you despite the fast approaching stop sign.  Car will step hard on the gas (for a residential neighborhood) and launch itself into the oncoming traffic lane to go around you.  Take your bicycling speed up a notch if you have it.  Now both of you come to the 4-way stop.  You will be there in the lane.  The car will be in the lane for opposing traffic.  Cars travelling in the opposite direction will honk in a frustrated way.   Smile benignly and come to a complete stop.  Un-clip if you ride with clips.  Then continue through the intersection with the confidence of the righteous.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

in which I discover the bicyclist version of navel gazing

Some months back the Contraption Captain won a prize at work (because he is the best engineer in the known universe) and the name of that prize was... a GoPro camera.  This weekend past he got around to mounting it to the front of my bicycle.  I know my chances of seeing another bicyclist stick his hand up a car's wheel well are slim, but I still feel like there is a lot of potential for fun in filming cars behave like cars meaning, film cars break every rule in the books and thumb their noses at the rest of the world.  Monday I took it out for it's first ride to the office.  Captain, Rapunzel, and I all bicycled to Rapunzel's school and then Contraption Captain and I bicycled to his work and then I continued on solo to my own place of earning the money to pay the bills.  

...and  Monday afternoon I had my first recorded freaking out at a car. I'd been doing pretty well at not frothing at the mouth at cars so I was mildly disappointed in myself but on the other hand it was (as is pretty usual) an undeniable good time.  The freaking out followed what I have come to see as a relatively common pattern that has well-defined stages of freakitude.

Stage 1.  

I see something that really pisses me off or I am threatened by a car but manage to keep a lid on things.  This time I was waiting at a left turn arrow, with one car in front of me and more behind.  To my left, waiting on the sidewalk for a walk signal, was a young boy with a bicycle.  The walk signal came on and he hesitantly walked into the street/crosswalk but was driven back almost immediately by a car turning right and ignoring him.  As I watched (and filmed it turns out) I saw car after car go by, not pausing to let him cross the street.  By the time he gets out to the road the walk signal is over and he retreats back onto the sidewalk and pushes the walk button again.  I am quite upset.  I want to help but I am in the middle of the road.  I should have probably found my way across the road to help him but when his light went red mine turned green and the cars wait for middle-aged moms even less commonly then little boys.  I pedal forward and we enter Stage 2.

Stage 2.  

I am threatened personally and scarily.  I am pedaling after car1 and a car from the opposing direction wants to turn right.  They elect to use the bicycle lane as a merge lane which is a shame as that is where I am heading.  Meanwhile behind me the car is facing this right turner and all of a sudden there is a huge honking as the two cars threaten and posture each other and now I am trying to get out of the car lane but the bicycle lane is full of car and I panic a little and scream my Conan the warrior scream and one car tears off and I can finally get into the bicycle lane.  I stop to collect myself.  

Stage 3.

The car2 stops also.  But it is not to apologize.  I'm in the bicycle lane, she's in the car lane.  She looks at me as if I were something she'd stepped in which in fact almost came true.  She says nothing.  I say something like "What the fuck is your problem, you drive like fuckall, get the fuck out of here, I want you in front where I can see what the fuck you're doing."  She blinks at me in a reptilian way.  I notice the white ear strings of her headphones.  One in each ear.  All of a sudden, I am incensed which means I am really really really mad.  I say "get those things out of your ears.  That's not legal in California."  She still hasn't driven off, maybe wondering what new tricks I have.  But she finally opens her mouth to say 

"These?  These have nothing to do with this."  

Stage 4.

I go from incensed to action.  I lunge through the open window of her car (yes, really) aiming for the headphones, I don't have the reach for it though and I connect with only air.  She is very very surprised and jerks back and I am happy to see that her "what me worry" expression has been erased.  She says "Don't you assault me! You're crazy" and I slap her car door really hard and say "You're a fuckup get out of here."

Stage 5.

She drives away.  I realize I filmed the entire thing.  I wonder if Contraption Captain will still love me if he sees me attempt to poach and stamp on someone else's iPod.  I turn off the camera. 

What happens much later?

I watch the video.  The first part I watch is the trip in to the office.  It is just me bicycling along but I have this weird experience, I adore it.  Look at that bicycle go!  Look at me pedal!  See that car cut into the bicycle lane?  I almost made that light!  It was probably the most boring movie ever and yet I loved it.  

And then we get to the trip home.  There is the traffic light. There is the boy trying to cross and then...  there is Alvin and the Chipmunks totally going nuts on someone.  It turns out that the GoPro doesn't have great sound pick-up and that goes extra when the camera is mounted on the bicycle handlebars.  So there is this very tiny high-pitched voice saying "fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooou......" 

Anyways.  If I can learn to edit a little, I will post short lovingly captioned video clips here for your edification.  But I'm going to spare you the 50 minute "day in the commuting life" complete with the long pause during which my bicycle sits around waiting for me to kiss Rapunzel good-bye and also the obscenity laden rant punctuated by my attempt to put my hand on someone else's headphones.  

Friday, April 19, 2013

how do you sleep when your bed is burning?

A hearing has been scheduled for April 23, 2013 in the Assembly Judiciary Committee for Diane Harkey’s AB 738, which exempts public agencies and their employees of all liability if a cyclist is injured or killed on any street where a bike lane has been painted.

Ohmigosh, April Fools everyone!  I mean who would sponsor a bill which absolves people of responsibility when they kill or maim a bicyclist pedaling along in the bicycle lane.  

Not a joke it turns out.  Read for yourself.  They copied this one directly from the Dutch Highway Manual.  Now I really am kidding.  A bicycle friendly nation would never propose a law whose goal was to ensure that anyone killing or injuring a cyclist could be guaranteed a get out of jail free card.  So what's the deal with this?

Wait I have an idea.  It's the public agency part.  Road workers have a golden track record of not killing bicyclists.  Most public road work is done by people on bicycles and the equipment they operate is all light weight and pedal-powered.  Except that's not true either.  How about:  bicyclists have been assaulting public service workers from their place in the bicycle lane and public service workers encounter lawsuits if they try and retaliate?

You look skeptical.  

Maybe bicyclists have been using the bike lanes for armed robbery?  Drug running?  Those Surly long haul bicycles are just a cover for moving meth around the Bay Area?  No again.

So what's the deal.  We don't know, but we have a few guesses.  The name of guess number one is.....$49,000,000.00.  can you say forty-nine million dollars, friend bicyclists?  I thought you could.  Forty-nine million us dollars.  Most of us agree that that represents a decent chunk of change.  It happens to be the amount of money awarded to a bicyclist who was struck and paralyzed while bicycling in the bicycle lane.  HAHAHA.  JUST KIDDING.  Taking out a bicyclist has close to zero repercussions in this country.  

The 49 million dollars went to two deserving women who were jogging in a bicycle lane and were struck, and apralyzed, by a truck.  Pro-tip for bicyclists:  if you get struck and paralyzed while riding in the bicycle lane, it might be better to tell everyone that you were jogging. The two women, unhappy to no longer be able to move their legs (I know I'd be unhappy) sued.  You might think they sued because an asshat with a truck struck and badly injured them, but they discovered (as numerous bicyclists have discovered before them) that this is a dead-end.  No one cares.  So instead they sued the city because the bicycle lane was overly wide and lacked sufficient bicycle marking and so teh poor car was confused into driving up the bicycle lane and hitting them and can't really be held responsible.

And now the county is out a cool forty-nine million dollars.  It's definitely enough cash to make anyone a little gloomy, or if you are going to be confined to a bed for the rest of your life (both women are now quadrapelgics) it is almost enough to provide for the care you suddenly need and the help required to raise your children.  

What chafes me?

Was the answer to this lawsuit, build better routes for runners?

Was the answer to this lawsuit, mark existing bicycle lanes more carefully?
No again.

Ok was the answer (and I wouldn't like this one in case you wondered) to make bicycle lanes skinnier?

The answer was to suggest AB 738.  A law to prevent lawsuits.  I mean I appreciate that bicycle lawsuits against people who cream them don't generally go very far anyways but to outright ban them?  Really?  REALLY?


But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining and this instance is no different.  I've learned that you can actually write a bill forbidding one group of people from suing another, even if they get injured or killed.  No surprise, I have a few ideas for bills of my own!

1.  Exempt all bicyclists from liability or prosecution in instances where they let the air out of the tires of anything with a motor.
2.  Automatically indemnify anyone who exceeds the speed limit.
3.  Assert that passing cars must stop if they see a bicycle with a flat tire.  The driver then must get out of his car and carry the bicyclist home horsie-style.  

Don't worry.  Other ideas will come to me.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

le tire, she is la flat

So today the Contraption Captain and I are on our way into work and we are swoopity-swooping downhill and I hear this loud pop and Captain says something to the effect of "oh shit" and I scream "AHHH!" because I'm kindof paranoid about cars and the pop makes me think that one of them shot me.  We stop bicycling and I notice that stopping has a different feel than usual but I still am a little confused and that's why it's Contraption who has to point out the obvious.  My back tire is dead flat.

We begin the bicycle walk of shame.  It is the walk that says "yes, although I do a lot of bicycling, I don't generally bother with a pump and tube and tire."  It is a walk that says "When my tire goes flatter than old roadkill I must turn and walk back to my house or on to the nearest payphone."  The cars drive by and they all look very smug and self-contained because cars do not get flat tires.  Captain texts my boss to say why I will be delayed.  Boss (who understands these things and if you see this, boss, I love you man) writes back with a single sad emoticon.

We get home and Captain takes the wheel off and then takes the tire off and hands it to me.  I love this part!  I feel along the inside and the outside.  I find a big wound in the tire itself and a smaller mouth like wound in the tube.  While the Captain checks the rim and installs a new tube and a new tire I have a little silent conversation with the hole in the old tube.  I make a frowny face.  "You made me get a flat tire" I then pinch the tube so that the hole in it makes a smiley face.   The tube says "You will be sooooo late."

The tube is right.  I pull into the office at 10:30am.  Boo.  

What was good.  I did get a lot of work done and ended up having a nice day even though I had to make up lost time by skipping lunch.  What was also good.  The area bicyclists came by to commiserate and talk about flat tires.  The one of them got a fork stuck in his tire.  The other couldn't get his wheel off his bicycle at a critical juncture and was mocked when he got into the bicycle repair store.  These are the war stories of the 2-pedaled kind.

In totally other news, the weather has been mostly lovely.  Last night on the way home from work I saw this very cute pair on their way somewhere and asked if I could have a picture.  The friendly lady tells me that the dog is her training partner.  Nice, yes?

By the way, do you see all the cars in the background?  These are some of the most disgustingly behaved cars on my route.  They squabble for space like meth addicts for a hit.  They block the entire intersection and stare stonily ahead when the cars coming from the other direction start honking.


Further along the road we met this nice gentle man or gentle lady.  He stood quite motionless in his grey morning coat and allowed us a picture before we continued on to hearth and home.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

in times of trouble

A few weeks back the Contraption Captain and I are bicycling home and considering the evening ahead. It involves transporting Pele to soccer practice which is not our total favorite job. “Well” I said  of soccer practice, after we worked out the logistics, “it’s cheaper than therapy.” I had never put it that way before but I knew all of a sudden and absolutely that they were true. Pele’s therapy, for much of what ails her, is playing soccer. She loves the discipline.  She loves toying with the ball and faking out her opponent.  When she’s frustrated she likes to boot the ball as hard as she can over and over until she feels better. In some broad general way, practicing soccer and playing in soccer games makes her truly happy and contented. It doesn't solve problems specifically but a good practice puts her world and it's trials and triumphs into a useful perspective.

Fast forward to yesterday. I had a good day at work, I felt very productive. I solved a few problems. I met with someone who intimidates me and the meeting was productive and I’m looking forward to the work we will do together. And in a small corner of my mind, and my screen, I watched the drama unfold at the Boston marathon. I watched but mostly I worked and did not think too much about the city whose streets I had haunted as an unhappy kid.

At the end of the day I put on my helmet and my bright yellow jacket and got my bicycle and headed outside. The weather was cold and bright and sunny and very very windy. Windy enough that I struggled at times to keep my bicycle in the bike lane. Windy enough that I had extra anxiety when I was taking the lane because my bicycle was weaving more than usual and I was afraid some desperate car would pass too close and hit me.

I bicycle along, fighting the wind, and I’m somewhat under-dressed because it’s cold and all of this occupies most of my cpu cycles. But there are always a few left over. These few cycles slowly start to spin up and in this somehow safe and quiet place of bicycling home I think about being a runner, I think about bombs and Syria and mailboxes. I think about races I’ve run and the time Pele and Rapunzel were waiting for me at the finish line, how good it was to see them smiling and proud of me.

I meet up with my husband and we pedal on together and finally I see what has been there all day. I am deeply saddened by the events in Boston. If you had asked me earlier what I thought I would have said “so sad” or “so terrible” but it is only after I’ve ridden for awhile that I feel the sorrow in a real way. I guess this is because while Pele’s therapy is soccer, mine happens to be bicycling.

So to people in different states and different countries, runners or pedestrians or bicyclists. I hope you find something that brings you peace when you find yourself in times of trouble.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

here's the tiniest violin in the world

Sent to a group of road bicyclists of which I am one.  I'll wait while you pull yourself together after that fit of hysterical laughter.

"Pretty, pretty, pretty please, don't ride three abreast (as best I could count) south down [redacted-road] in the morning. I just got threatened by another driver because I wouldn't hit you. Seriously."

The reply I thought about writing but did not send because although it came right to the point it didn't seem to add much to the conversation:

"Counting to three is a stretch goal for you?  Really?"

The (entirely ignored) reply that I actually did send:

Hey everyone, I'm sure [redacted-person] sent a second also polite email to the Road Car list asking them to "pretty, pretty, pretty please not resort to threatening and road rage when they are slowed down.  Seriously."

What happened next?  The predictable squabbling among the bicyclists.  Here are the camps they fall into, you may have seen this argument play out in your own home town flame wars if you do any semi-urban or urban cycling:

1.  Bicyclists should share the road and follow all rules, damnit! 
2.  Cars should not threaten to kill bicyclists, the fuck?!? 

What did I do next?  I really did wonder if Ms Pretty Please had sent an email to the car people asking them not to threaten her when her way was slowed by thoughtless inconsiderate bicyclists who rode together, possibly talking to each other.  Answer:  No, she did not.  Of course she didn't.  Who asks the cars for anything?  The cars are like the weather.  Immutable and unchanging.  You don't ask the cars to slow down for the same reasons you don't ask the wind to stop blowing or the granite to be a little bit softer.

....but I owe Ms Pretty a giant thank-you because lurking the car-people list has provided me with hours of entertainment.  I had no idea!

Stuff Chafed Guessed Cars Talk About Among Themselves Without Actually Knowing:

1.  What are nice tires for my car?  I am going to guess this one because on the bicycle list we obsess endlessly about which tires are fast but not likely to go flat.  We have a long painful discussion about our bicycle tires about once a week or whenever anyone gets a flat tire, which ever comes first.
2.  They talk about who has the nicest car.  The bicyclists love to gossip about their bicycles.  It just makes sense that the car people like to talk about who spent the most amount of money on their car.
3.  Where to go to get their car repaired when it breaks down.  Bicyclists talk bike shop and making their own repairs, car people probably talk car garages and making their own repairs.

Personally I think these are all very good guesses.

Stuff Bicyclists Talk About Incessantly that you will notice is not on the above List of Stuff Chafed Thinks Cars Discuss:

1.  Is it ever ok to ride two or even three abreast?
2.  How wrong of us it it to slow down but not un-clip at a 4-way stop?
3.  How can we avoid being run over by a Hummer?  What about an Odyssey?
4.  If there is a bicycle lane but we are afraid of the parked cars dooring us, can we ride outside the bicycle lane?

And now.  What do the car people actually talk about???

1.  Be careful, there are "tons of cops" along $road.  They must be trying to increase revenue again at our expense.
2.  Don't you hate the way pedestrians will sometimes have not finished crossing the street when the light turns green?  I think it's illegal of them, has anyone checked?
3.  Since everyone speeds, it is totally unfair that I was the one who got pulled over.

Do I have a point with any of this other than pointless whining?  Not really I guess.  I accept the reality which is that the cars have taken over most of the road and that most of the laws are in their favor, at least in this country.  I accept (but do not like) that in a collision the bicycle will always get the short end of the stick.  What I object to is how the cars are just there, doing their car thing, threatening someone who slows down and that the answer to the car asshattery is to tell the bicyclists to be more careful and less annoying, and that the bicyclists totally accept this answer without question.  And finally what I am surprised about is that from their place as kings of the road, lords of all they survey the cars can make so much time to complain about having to wait for pedestrians (wtf, pedestrians???) in crosswalks.  

Final tangential point.  It's a known fact that I get mad and make insulting and personal remarks at drivers who scare me.  So do cars ever get mad and act out?  I did some very easy research and it turns out the answer is yes

My personal favourite:  "I went for all 4 tires and so should you.  That was the best dollar I ever spent."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

and last Friday I fell off my bicycle which was about as much fun as you might expect

Friday I am bicycling to work and coming up on the second to final stretch which is pretty straight, half up hill and half downhill, has a bicycle lane, and features the following hazards:

1.  several (five or so) opportunities to be right-hooked by cars turning in to parking lots
2.  at the end you need to cross two lanes to get to the left hand turn lane

There I am, pedaling along as fast as I can heading up hill towards a green light and feeling mildly protected by my skinny little bicycle lane which has only the usual amount of trash and broken glass.  The cars are to my left and they are also excited by the green light, accelerating past their usual 15 - 20mph over the speed limit to just a bit more although they are of course constrained by the bumper of the car in front of them.  Such is the life of the car.  All that engine coupled with all those other cars.

One car does not seem to be stomping the gas quite as aggressively as the other and I survey it warily, wondering if it means to take a sharp right into the driveway of a parking lot.  I survey and pedal.  It drives and does not signal a right turn.  Now the driveway opening is immediately in front of me and my heart has time to beat twice and my bicycle and I are at the start of the opening to the parking lot - it's just wide enough for cars to go in and other cars heading towards the road to head out.  No cars are exiting.

I have time to feel rather than see the white car that is to my left suddenly accelerate (because they can't just turn, there is a fucking bicycle in the way) and then I have time to think "it's happening" and then instead of seeing open bicycle lane in front of me I see the passenger side door of a white sedan and I am screaming loudly in a very shouty kind of way and braking and twisting my bicycle to the side and getting tangled up with myself and hitting the curb and falling down in a heavy awkward middle-aged way.

I am not happy about this development.

The car completes its turn but they've seen me fall and have not gone into the parking garage.  I kindof stagger up pulling my bicycle with me and the car prepares to continue on it's way because hey, she can still stand up, right?  Everything is aok!  Time to bake the donuts!

No.  Things are not ok.  I yell "Stop."  The car stops.  My bicycle and I gracelessly walk stumble to the driver side door.  Nothing happens.  I knock on the window.  It is not a friendly knock.  The window rolls down.  My jaw drops.

My only thought for a long minute is "I was attacked by a Tusken Sand Raider."

You say "no way."  I say "WAY!"  The driver was wearing a thing on it's head that entirely covered the head and mouth and nose with a long column of snaps holding it in place.  Also, the driver was wearing bug-eyed black sunglasses.  My shock must have shown because the driver put up a hand and started un-snapping itself until the face was revealed.  Then the sunglasses came off.  I collected myself.

What I said:

"You could have killed me."
"I had the right of way."
"You were driving too fast."
and then, a little sadly, "I have children."

What I did not say:  anything with bad language.  Go me.  You all have been a good or bad influence depending on your perspective.

What she said:

"Are you hurt?"

What she added:

"My sunglasses get in the way of my seeing."

What I added:

"Maybe you shouldn't be wearing sunglasses!"

When she said "Are you hurt" I paused, unsure how to respond.  I was pretty confident nothing was broken.  I thought my bicycle was probably ok and the Contraption Captain would fix any broken bits.  But I felt hurt.  Being scared had hurt me.  Falling had hurt even if nothing was broken.  My right knee felt stiff and...older. My wrist which I had stuck out to break my fall now hurt.  I knew I had been injured and some part of me wanted to injure her back but I was collected enough to stop and shake my head and walk back to the road.  I got on my bicycle, and I continued on to work.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wow I'm so sorry about that. I can't imagine what I was thinking.

Yesterday evening the Contraption Captain and I are at the long light whose name is El Camino and Sand Hill.  If you're thinking that all of my bicycle stories are on the way to work or the way home you'd be right.  I'm basically a commuter type of bicyclist.  For special hundred mile tour accounts through Big Sur you are going to need to go elsewhere, at least until I hit the lottery or similar.

At the traffic light is one of my favorite pedestrians, also on the way home from work.  He's this classic old-skool Palo Alto type.  Older guy.  Tall.  Slim. Intelligent.  Fit.  He works at USGS and commutes by foot.  We greeted each other and he said that we had just missed one of those fairly typical rush hour interactions where as he put it "two over-entitled cars fought it out."  So we joke about cars which is pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel.

Then he told us of the following encounter.

He was in an underground parking garage, with his car.  He was waiting for a second car to pull out of a parking space so that he could park.  A big shiny black Mercedes pulled up behind him and became obviously agitated at having their way (briefly) blocked.  The parked car left and he parked his car and the woman in the black Mercedes rolled down her window and said...

"You inconvenienced me."

I don't know about the rest of you but I thought this explained so much about how people drive their cars and generally behave towards anything that slows them down.  I tried to think of a good response. Contraption Captain said that he applauded her honesty.

My supposed responses:

"Want me to come over there and inconvenience both headlights?"
"You've obviously mistaken me for one of your serfs."

Friday, April 5, 2013

the diversity is the message

Something I like about bicyclists is tat they come in lots of different flavors which means if you encounter a bicyclist you do not like, say a fashionista riding up the wrong side of the road or a roadie bullying pedestrians well..go ahead and pick another one off the bicycle tree.

just a few types of bicyclists:

mommy bicyclists on their way to yoga class with baby in a wee-rider
daddy bicyclists herding their children to softball games on the weekends
athlete bicyclists training for triathlons and road races
just you and me bicyclists on their way to work
college student hipster bicyclists who are totally self-conscious
migrant workers riding beat up bicycles into town
little kid bicyclists, totally unpredictable but also very cute
high school bicyclists more looking at each other than the road
unicyclists doing it with one wheel
tandem bicyclists, couples riding together
retired person cyclists on their way to the bookstore or out to visit friends
recumbists who have back problems and can't ride a diamond frame
Contraption Captains who can't figure out why anyone would voluntarily ride a diamond frame
people who build their own bicycles from spare parts
people who spend more on their bicycles than the sum national debt of Guatemala

So yesterday I bicycle home and meet up with the Contraption Captain and after successfully crossing El Camino Real (go us) we see this guy up ahead and since he is conveniently walking his bicycle we pull over to talk and check out his ride.  I asked if I could take his picture and he kindly said yes.  Nice guy, if you see this and want the picture removed, just email me.

Ever seen a cat take notice of a bird or mouse?  The cat doesn't immediately move but it's entire body becomes silently taut with focus and attention.  The ears shift fractionally forward.  The cat pours all of it's attention into looking at the bird.  That's the way the Contraption Captain looked at the wheels on this bicycle.

The tire were almost as big as car tires.  The bicycle itself set the guy back ~200 usd at WalMart although he's made a few upgrades since then.  Unfortunately he had a flat, but not caused by any special design issue, he had a screw embedded in the poor thing and was walking home for a repair.

Who needs a fun bicycle?

Everyone needs a fun bicycle.

The fun bicycle is the one you ride.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

guess who we (kindof sorta) saw on the way in to work|school today. no really, guess. did you guess President Barack Obama?

It was raining this morning, a soft misty rain that might have been a feathery snowfall but everything outside was green and it never snows in our part of the bay area.  At the ordained time Contraption Captain, Rapunzel, and I rolled out down the driveway, turned right onto our street and then left onto the main drag that takes us to her school.

We could see something going on up ahead, a big array of police cars with whirling lights, some fire engines, and a group of people.  We got closer and could see that the people were shaking signs up and down.  Someone yelled "better hurry up or you'll miss it" but we rolled on at our usual pace until our progress was stopped by a police barricade.

As we waited a long row of giant black SUVs with lit headlights and black tinted windows rolled through the intersection escorted by police on motorcycles and in cars.  It was President Obama on his way to a fundraiser being held in the uber-wealthy town of Atherton.  The signs were anti Keystone XL pipeline and the people chanted "Hey, Barack, you talked the talk now walk the walk."

I think they also said that the oil should stay in the ground.  I felt the faint embarrassment that an introvert experiences when a group of people do a lot of shouting.  It was early morning and I wondered what it would be like to go to a boring fundraiser event and be screamed at from street corners.   By everyone everywhere all the time.  That's a lot of screaming, I guess it comes with the presidential territory.

I asked the Contraption Captain, of the protesters, "how did they get here?"  He wasn't sure what I meant so I clarified.  "Did they bike here?"  I don't think they rode their bicycles out this morning with their signs.  I think some walked maybe and some biked but most drove their cars.  Why it matters.  If we do not want pipelines in our backyards, we have to look attentively at why the demand for the pipeline is there at all.  It's there because this country has an incredible appetite for petroleum products and a sad reluctance to slow down conveniences.

We were the only three bicyclists waiting in the soft rain for the President to pass so we could continue on to work and school.  We didn't say anything at all, we just stood there, but I found myself recalling the sign that Ellen Fletcher had mounted to her bicycle:  Bicycling.  A Quiet Statement Against Oil Wars.

I'm not smug and I don't have a high horse to get on, I drive to way too many sports events to start copping an attitude.  But I also don't think it's enough to shake a sign and then get in your car and drive away.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

get yer war on

If you are older than dirt (I am older than dirt) you may remember the most fantastic on-line comic ever, Get Yer War On.  It's over now and I still miss it's awesomeness.  Reading it was like discovering that you had four more eyes on your head that worked but whose data you had been ignoring since you were three years old.  Go get some war on and then come right back because I want to talk about patriotism and how we wankers have let our respective countries (except Holland apparently) be overrun by baboons.  

Back?  Great.  I'm subscribed to a number of mailing lists and one of these is for area parents.  Fine.  Good.  Parents trade suggestions on where to find a nice ballet class, what summer camps do not suck blah blah blah.  And.  Certain totally favorite topics come up on a regular basis.  For example:

1.  What is the best preschool for a future Nobel winner?
2.  My kids spend all their time playing Cut The Rope on my iPad.  Is that ok?
3.  My child is a prodigy.  Should I apply to Stanford now or wait a year?
4.  My wife is pregnant and I have too much money.  What car should I buy?
5.  My kid can't walk and chew gum.  Is it too late to trade him in for a newer model?

Ok.  I made 2 up.  No one worries about iPad usage. 

Anyways the stars aligned and the timing was correct and the parents decided to have their bi-mobnthly discussion whose name is "What Car Do I Buy."  I know you guys are totally desperate for the answer so I'm going to tl;dr the experience since the parents can jaw about their favorite cars for hours, nay days, nay months.  And it is really boring to listen to them natter on about three rows of seats.

The results of which car do I get now that I have a baby fall into two groups:
Camp #1 says "get a minivan, the sliding doors are so fucking awesome you will cry with joy on rainy days although admittedly it rarely rains here."

Camp #2 says "only pussies drive minivans, get the biggest SUV you can afford.  That's the only way the world will know that your woman is getting satisfed every night by a [redacted] that is bigger than a baseball bat.    

Blah blah blah.  

I can't call it camp #3 (to be a camp you need to be more than one person) but on this occasion there was one dissenting opinion and his answer went like this:

" advice (as a parent) would be to get a Prius or an electric car, because you want your kids to grow up with a healthy planet."

Cue laughter from everyone else.

After the helpless mirth died down there was a short silence followed by a single response before the parents returned to "tastes great/less filling" aka SUV/minivan.  

Here's that one response:

"That's sooo UnAmerican.  You need a Suburban!!!  :)"

Yeah well fuck you.  Fuck you and the Suburban you rode in on.  Fuck your over-sized cars and your making fun of the one poor bastard who at least showed some vague cognition that taking a giant fuel dump and setting it on fire was a little sick.  And a special fuck you for calling the guy unAmerican.  How the fuck did we get to the point where being an American meant buying the biggest fattest oiliest car we could fucking afford?  I call bullshit on your so-called Americanism.  

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, concieved in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."  

Equal, my friends.  Not Equality for those with the largest automobiles.  Equality for all of us.  

What tenets define your country?  How does your country imagine itself?  Americans may speak of their proud individualism.  They like to toss the word "freedom" around quite a lot.  They like to point to the American Revolution and say that they will not be ruled by a king, they will be ruled by someone they elect.  Americans like to say that anyone who works hard can come to this country and be a success.  

What do Americans NOT say when they lovingly define themeselves, possibly jerking off as they do so if they are in the privacy of their own homes.  They do not say "Being American is to be dependent on foreign oil.  I proudly encourage that dependency by buying the biggest most inefficient car I can find."  They do not say it because it is lame and embarrassing and the soul of un-American.

There is nothing more individual, more "take responsibility" more indepedent or more free than choosing a bicycle.  Screw the middle-east with it's absolutely disgusting and un-democratic politics and it's "we hate our women so much that we insist they go around wearing giant black bags despute the temperature being 110 degrees in the shade."  Screw them.  Screw the way they throw acid on the faces of women who turn down their puny sexual advances.  Screw their oil.  Definitely screw their oil.  Let them keep it and roll around in it.

What's your country made of?  What makes you proud about being Scottish, Australian, British, Ethiopian?  Is it your ability to make rainbows from shoe strings?  Is it your friendliness?  Is it your calm in the face of danger?  Whatever your particular flavor of patriotism, it probably does not include "we are so lazy that we drive to the corner liquor store preferably in the biggest fattest car available."  

So take it back.  Ride your bicycle.      

Monday, April 1, 2013

bicycle spring

Every spring the household bicycles begin sounding like arthritic Golden Retrievers.  They shuffle when they change gears.  They stumble at the starting line when the traffic light turns green.  They squeak like unenthusiastic field mice when called upon to corner.  Winters here are so mild as to barely earn the moniker winter but it does rain and we do ride a lot and by spring, just when the bicyclists begin to feel their oats the bicycles are feeling their age.  

A month or so back the Contraption Captain decided to investigate why his bicycle was softly saying "wibble-wibble-wibble-wibble."  Turns out the rear wheel was missing two spokes.  Fortunately the average bicycle has many many spokes, n +a_bunch and so for awhile he did nothing at all, a situation sure to cue horror from more attentive bicyclists.  I know people who spend time cleaning their bicycle after every ride and I totally salute those people in the same way I salute people who can fold their towels so that they line up perfectly in the linen closet and then they bundle each set of towels with an organic ribbon so it's ready to set out on a perfectly made guest room bed when company arrives.  Go those people!

But I am not one of them and neither is the Contraption Captain.  My bicycle gets ridden (mostly back and forth to work, but other errands as well) about four thousand miles each year.  I wear a chain out something like once every eighteen months.  My brakes wear down and need replacing and sometimes a cable gets used up.  Some of the wear could be minimized but not a lot and the happy news is that bicycles just don't need a lot of attention and most of the attention they do need can wait until the problems reach such a point that they are totally driving you up the wall with their wailings and grindings of gears and you break (brake) down and do some repairing or if you are me you look soulful until Contraption Captain does the repairing.  

The spokes and the wibbling and more worrying, the something Not Quite Right with the rear brakes worked on Contraption Captain until he took his bicycle out of commission a week back and Rapunzel, Pele and I crowded into the shop (technically a garage but we call it the shop because our car hasn't been indoors since...well...ever..) to stare at the Tour Easy which he had tied to the ceiling. 

What happened next:
  1. replace 2 broken spokes, including trimming length and re-threading replacements
  2. re-true the wheel
  3. repack the wheel bearings
  4. replace worn bearing surfaces on axle

Notably, what did not happen?  Correct.  The rear brake is still not totally okay where by "not okay" I mean "the brake does not stop the bike."  Fortunately the front brake works.  For now.  

How'd we manage while down a bicycle?  Mostly ok.  Pele had soccer training on Saturday and Sunday and I bicycled out to drop her off and collect her.  She's a not so little anymore workhorse who is happy to pedal to a practice because of the chance to get some additional cardio done.  Her bicycle is just visible to the left in this picture just as the front wheel of my bicycle is just visible to the right.

What is not visible?  The orange flag on a stick that I made Contraption Captain buy and mount to the back of Pele's bicycle.  The flag was the newest manifestation of my compulsive need to barricade my family from cars.  Pele now has two (two!  wtf, two?) rear view mirrors and one orange flag and a bicycle helmet.  I haven't started pricing out Kevlar vests just yet but I suppose it's on the horizon somewhere.  

Anyways.  Stay tuned to find out the answers to burning questions like:  Does Contraption Captain fix his rear brake?  Do I find a way to install a cow-catcher to the front of Pele's bicycle?  Do I surreptitiously add a klaxon to Rapunzel's bicycle?