Saturday, February 26, 2011

Massachusetts Runner

Saturdays I go running while my daughter and her friend take in a gymnastics class.  I'd love to take a gymnastics class myself but they don't offer them (at this place anyways) for adults.  Why does the world assume that once you get past twenty-one years you don't want to do anything fun anymore?  Where's my rope ladder?  Where's my giant foam pit for jumpalacious awesomeness?  The rest of the parents sit in the bleachers and pick at their smart phones but I like to get out and run around.

I wait for the class to start and then I go running across the street where a large nature preserve that specializes in conserving water birds is threaded with multi-use trails.  The trails have a few bicyclists, mostly families with little kids who are learning and a lot of walkers and the occasional photographer complete with massive lens mounted to his face.

Today I decided to mix things up a little and run as if I were a Massachusetts driver with a SUV.

I cranked up the tunes and swung off along the trail at a good speed.  The first person I saw was a young woman with a long mane of tawny hair and an ipod clipped to her belt.  Her body was better than mine.  I decided that even from the back she looked very smug in her expensive outfit so I tripped her as I went by.

Next I saw a mother out walking with her little boy.  She was pointing out some shorebirds to him when I screamed:  "I think it's DANGEROUS what you are doing!  Taking that boy out here where someone like me could run him over and kill him!  It's abuse!"

I continued along, enjoying my speed and the sky and the sight of hundreds of birds taking wing at the same time.  A group of senior citizens were clumped across the trail making it impossible for me to continue on at the same speed and trajectory so I ran them all over.

I'm on the way back now and pretty close to finishing my run when I see two people walking hand in hand, periodically leaning towards each other to share a kiss or a fond exchange.  As I pass them way too close I lean over and knock the guy's hat off and then I shout "WALK SINGLE FILE, IT'S THE LAW" into their faces, making sure they get hit with a bunch of flying spit.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Peloton of 2

I was a bicyclist before arriving in the bay area.

I've biked from Boston to Cape Cod.  I've biked all over Washington DC and done that biking at all hours.  I've commuted from Washington DC to Bethesda, MD and  from Sunderland, MA to Northampton, MA.  I rode a very few suburban streets during the dark eighteen months I spent in Maine.  I had never biked with another bicyclist before California, though, that's new.  I didn't race outside of pedaling fast to try and get around the guy in front of me and I didn't have any fancy tricks.

My experiences bicycling with someone else may not exactly mimic the average as my riding partner is a Contraption Captain.  He's such a Contraption Captain that if you look the term up in the Bicyclist's Only Manual* you will find a picture of him next to the definition.  What I mean is that when the guy isn't welding foot pedals onto the back of his bike's frame for the kid's to stand on he's fitting nine foot wheels onto the giant dicycle in the backyard.

Captain C's current ride is a giant Tour Easy recumbent with a great big faring.  My ride is a pretty (I think) Trek 2.1 with a tasteful (imo) paint job.  It's a GIRL bike which I kindof loathe the idea of but what it amounts to is the frame and brakes and gears are sized for someone like me, which means it is big enough (I am 5'7") and fast enough (I like to kick roady ass as much as the next girl) and yet certain components (brakes) are better for someone who has smaller hands.

What it's like when we ride together:  he is very fast downhill and I am faster uphill.  He takes off like a goddamned bat out of hell when a red light turns green and I stay the course somewhat better.

What this comes out to on longer rides:  we don't see much of each other.  He's doing ninety mph and screaming with joy on the downhill while I cower along behind riding my brakes and on the uphill I'm growling at the heavens and beating along at a good clip while he appears to be in an armchair flipping through magazines at 4mph.

Still, we make it work.  For one thing the part of our commute that is shared is flat.  For another we like each other's company very much.  We are the two happy bicyclists.  Other things that make it work:  he no longer sidles up behind me and touches his front tire to my rear tire making me scream.  Stuff I no longer mind:  he can ride really close to me, my shy zone has gotten smaller.  We can really swing along almost on top of each other so that we can catch up on the days goings on.  Once or twice we even held hands a little.

It's good to be a bicyclist.

* you don't have a copy

are you worried that this gun I am holding will go off in your face? should you be?

The sky yesterday was pewter gray in places, lighter in others.  The roads were wet (which isn't a big deal for someone who has fenders) and it was raining lightly at times.  For someone who was born and bred in Massachusetts none of this is worth writing about.  The weather in Massachusetts is disgusting (cue people in denial from Massachusetts writing to say the weather is absolutely fucking wonderful they love humidity and sleet and how do I feel about dying in an earthquake anyway) so if you want to do anything outside you have to get good at dealing with a little rain or a little cold.  Here in California it is never very cold (cue the Californians claiming frostbite) and so biking in all weather is easy.

Once at work after a pleasantly fast ride in I collect my nice hot delicious breakfast of steel cut oats (thanks work, I love you too) and am placidly trotting towards my desk when a woman stops me.  I don't even know her.

She asks:  "Did you bike today?"
I look down at my bike shoes and nod, "yes, I did."
"What do you do when it rains?"
"I get wet I guess."
"You bike even when it rains?"
"Aren't you afraid of someone skidding into you and killing you?"
What I think about saying: "If that "someone" is you, and you "skid" into me because the roads are damp and I am on my bike, I, or my heirs will sue you for every penny you have ever earned, or will ever earn.  And when we finish with that we'll sue all your relatives.  When we're done you'll be too poor to own a car."
What I actually say: "I am always mindful of dumbass drivers."
This doesn't shut her up.  In fact she looks happy.  "It's so very dangerous!" she offers joyfully with a thin skin of sympathy on top.
What I think about saying:  "Have you visited a cardiac ward?  Seen all the whales lying on their backs struggling to breathe through the agony of having had their chests cut open?  I'd rather be hit by a car."
What I say:  "Have a nice day."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

that guy the other day

My commute takes me along Middlefield as far as East Meadow where I need to get over to the far left lane so that I can take a left.  This means crossing two lanes of fairly fast moving traffic.  After considerable trial and error I concluded that it was better for everyone if I did this sooner rather than later so I consider the light ahead (green?  green arrow only for the left?  red arrow?  red for everyone) and then signal and then check my rear view mirror and then turn my head to actually peer over my shoulder and then if I think it's safe I cross the first lane and then the second and then work my way into the left turn only lane.

The cars may be surprised to hear that I try and time this so that they do not miss their "I'm going straight!" green light.  I do though.  Happy cars are cars who are good to bicyclists and I make a concerted effort not to get on their bad side.  

On this instance though, I hesitated too long as I tried to figure out of an approaching Jeep actually saw me and was actually yielding.  It was.  We both arrived at red lights.  His for going straight and mine for taking a left.  I felt bad about this.  

I glanced over my shoulder to see if the driver looked angry and I saw that the window of the Jeep was down and the driver was just kindof sitting there nodding along to the music.  On impulse I said "I'm sorry about your missing the light."

He looked over surprised and then laughed and said "No worries.  It's a beautiful day and I'm in no hurry."

Biking in the bay area can be Quite Nice.  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

the wet was super fucking wet

I was packing up to bike home from work today and this other guy was loading his hard shell pannier with $stuff and I made the mistake of saying:  "Have a nice ride."

He responded with:  "My wife saw you biking last week.  You were wearing shorts.  She thinks you're crazy."

I nodded.  Plenty of wives think I'm crazy.  I'm an engineer earning more coin than many of their husbands.  Although I care deeply about my kids I put them in school and pay a wage slave to look after them for a few hours afterward so that I can put in my full compliment of outrageously well paid hours and I don't like expensive clothes and I don't carry a purse but mostly what I do that is crazy is bike everywhere.

I love to bike.  I bike to work.  I bike home from work.  I bike to lunch.  Home from lunch.  After I go running I go for a little bike ride just because biking feels different and interesting after I run.  I bike with stuff like groceries.  I've biked carrying a bike, thankfully a folder.  I bike with my two kids on the seat of my custom extracycle.  I bike with my favorite Contraption Captain  (where do you think I got the custom extracycle) and I bike alone.

Also, I bike in the rain.

Overall I prefer biking in nice weather but I'll bike in the rain when it's rainy.  I prefer rain to wind but I'll bike on windy days also.  Worst is rainy windy days.  Last week there was a bunch of those.

When it is rainy I bike in shorts.  I know I'm going to get wet and wet shorts are less unpleasant than wet pants.  I know all about rain gear (actually I don't but I can't be bothered to be one of those loser bicyclists with an outfit for every degree on the thermometer) but outside of one (kindof smelly) flourescent jacket I just have regular clothes if by regular you mean "comfortable and soft and without sequins."

Now you're saying I must not be much of a rider.  Well fuck you too.  I bike plenty.  I'm just way more badass than you.

So last week I biked home in shorts while the wind drove at me and the rain made my socks slosh and that other bicyclist had to call his wife to come pick him up and she saw me riding in all that wind and wet and she thought "she's crazy" but I don't think I am because life is short.  Let me repeat that for you young idiots out there who get into it with the semi-trailers "Life is short."

Life is short.  Spend it out in weather, your hair curling wetly against your cheek, your bike flowing fast over the wet pavement and your rib cage expanding as your lungs and heart work like a team of beautiful horses to drive your legs fast and faster.  Spend it fighting the wind until you turn and get the wind pushing you faster and faster, right through that green light you can't usually make.

Or spend your life half-asleep.  Spend it "I woke up and was at home."  Spend it in your hermetically sealed car listening to the music you grooved on when you were in high school.  The music you listened to when you were truly alive as opposed to merely phoning it in.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

car salmon heads upstream to spawn

There are three critical 4-way stop signs on my commute.  The third of these is where my two-way road (Bryant Street, aka Bicycle Boulevard) crosses a street that is 1-way for cars.  Generally when I come to this stop I look towards ongoing traffic, in this case to my left.  There was a car approaching.  In fact the car would reach the intersection (and a stop sign) before I did.  Then, from habit, I glanced to the right.  Here was a surprise.  A car was heading up the street from this direction also, and of course that meant this car was driving up a one-way street in the wrong direction.

Salmoning!  It's not just for bikes, kids. 

I look back to car #1 who is at the stop sign staring into the surprising maw of oncoming traffic.  I regally indicate with my head that he may go first.  I shall wait.  

Car #1 doesn't look very excited at the idea of driving down the throat of an oncoming Toyota RAV.  

Meanwhile, Car #2, aforementioned Toyota RAV, has a vague sense that something is wrong and is now crawling up the road at slow speed.  He arrives at the intersection.  

We all contemplate each other for a moment.  This is what is referred to in novels as a "pregnant pause."

Car #2 painfully turns a U in the intersection and returns from whence he came.  Au revoir, monsieur!  A bien tot!

Car #1 eyes me.

I shrug.

Car #1 trails across the intersection following his developmentally challenged sibling at a safe distance.  

I continue on my way to work, an uneventful ride until my front fender explodes into my front wheel temporarily bricking my road bike at a dangerous intersection.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

what to do when there's nothing to do

I like bicyclists, I really do.  I even like the shitty bicyclists.  I like the ones who don't put any fucking lights on their bicycle and whip around dark corners so that I just about pee my pants.  The next time you see a bicyclist salmoning up the wrong side of the street with that big grin that says "would you believe it?  I'm on TWO WHEELS" take a moment to be glad that you weren't born brain damaged and so can tell your left from your right.

The thing is that the scarier the bicyclist, the more freaked out seizure-esque their progression up the road, the better a job they do of slowing down the more aggressive automobiles.  When that whizzed off Chevy Tundra shrieks past you doing ninety in a 15 mph school zone it's going to be the no-light cell-phone chatting salmon bicyclist it takes out, allowing you to continue safely on your way to work or home or perhaps an important errand.

Kidding kidding.  I don't want anyone getting whacked by a low-end recall plagued jalopy like the Chevy Tundra.  I don't have a lot of love for lame-ass seventeen year old no lights no brakes fixie riders but I'm a mother and there's another mother out there who loves that pimply kid in the overly tight pants with no room for the ass and I don't want to cause her any more pain than she's already been put through already.

Some people say that all bicyclists, no matter how outre their road behaviors help the rest of us out by raising awareness.  I like that.  It's probably even true.  And maybe one day Jerry Lewis will host a telethon to raise monies for clueless bicyclists.  I probably won't live that long but it's possible.

No the reason to give room to terrifying bicyclists who refuse to light their bikes who salmon up the busiest of one-way streets?  No wait, let me improve on that.  Don't just give these bicyclists room, praise them and encourage them.  Love them.  Blow a middle-aged kiss their way.  The bad bicyclist hasn't been born who can do more damage to the world on a bike than he can in a car.  Scary ass monster sized worthless bicyclists do not magically convert to wonderful thoughtful individuals when they get behind the wheel of a 2011 Chevy Tahoe.

I've got my helmet on...nothing can do me wrong...doo-wop-doo-wop-duh-doo...

I wear a bike helmet when I ride.  I do this for two reasons.

1.  It's a place to anchor my rear-view mirror.  Being able to see what is coming up behind me makes me safer. 

2.  If I am hit and killed, and I am not wearing a helmet, the press will inevitably say "Chafe City, who was not wearing her helmet at the time, was struck by a horde of angry cars driven by drunken frat boys.  Ms. City was cited for not wearing protective headgear."  I don't want to give them the satisfaction.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

something that is un-fun about being a bicyclist

Something that is un-fun about being a bicyclist is having your non bicyclist friends send you every article within a thousand mile radius (or more) about anything negative that is bicycle related.  This is so irritating I had to set up this anonymous blog to complain about it.  To the person who describes herself as "considering me a very close friend"  --- please stop sending me news articles about death and dismemberment via automobile.  Barring that please stop driving your car.

I only wish I were kidding.  There was the article from about how racing bicyclists have fragile bones and are prone to broken collar bones.  I mean I only wish I weighed 70 pounds and was a Tour De France contender - and those are the people that the article concerned.

THEN there was the article about area woman (and a mother, like you!) how she was "just your age" and it was "so, so tragic!" that she was killed by a 16 wheeler near the on-ramp to the 280 in Portola Valley.  Didn't I think this was "very scary?"

It's bad enough that every time I talk to my dad he says "Still riding your bicycle?" and then I admit it and he says "well, ride safely."  I don't actually need my best friends discreetly inquiring if I haven't died yet?

Yes.  I will ride safely.  Unlike those days where I ride as if I am a crack whore looking for her next trick.

So, non-bicyclists out there?  Please do not send your bicycling friends your special RSS feed of cyclists horribly maimed by semis, okay?  In return we promise not to tell you "hey, you look fat in that outfit because, you know, you ARE fat... and hey, have you seen these stats on car accidents on the interstate?  Looking grim, and do you....well...worry about being crushed against your steering wheel on the way to work...?"

The Track Stand

A beautiful track stand is a butterfly balancing on the edge of a flower.  It is a Luna moth hovering in the twilight's gloaming.  The bicyclist hovers silently, paused in mid-flight as he or she waits for a pedestrian, a red light, or a Hummer III so wide as to be encompassing the entire bike lane.

I can't do it myself, damnit.  When the light turns red I unclip and put one foot on the ground and wait until I am again cleared for take-off.

Such is life.

The best track stand ever took place early one cold morning at the third traffic light of the Palo Alto trifecta.  This roadie-commmuter balanced on two wheels, frozen, poised, motionless, giant swirls of steam from a neighboring car rising around his pedals and eddying around his top bar.  Cue the power chords.  When the light turned green flights of angels swirled around his head and crowned him with laurel leaves.

Best track stands are not the norm.  Craptastic track stands are the norm.

Case in point would be the intersection by the Mountain View REI with Charleston running alongside.  Light turns red.  The pseudo-roadie wearing his spandex like a sausage wears an intestine sidles up.  A steady stream of cars who have, you know, a green light, are driving into the shopping center to his right.  He sortof gets into his track stand position but his bicycle creeps forward.  He wiggles like a three year old with crossed legs.  He oozes a little into the intersection.  The cars check their progress like nervous sheep being approached by an electric fence.  He staggers forward by inches until he is about 40% of the way into the intersection and the cars have to swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid him.

I see one of these drivers.  He looks pissed.

The light changes.  Pseudo-roadie's ears go forward like an intelligent Golden Retriever dog.  Unfortunately, if he biked by here more than once every three years he'd know that the next light is a green arrow for the other direction.  It's still red for him.  He's now progressed well into the middle of the road but lacks the cojones to actually go for it.  The cars drag their way around him as if he were a large rotting log caught in mid-stream.

At long last the light turns green and I exact my revenge.  I sweep by him, safely, on his left.  Dusted by a middle-aged mom on an off-rack bicycle.  Oh the humanity.

Friday, February 11, 2011

in praise of roadies

Everyone likes to kick the roadies around.  They wear dorky clothes.  They're covered in advertisements.  They have outrageously fucking beautiful bicycles we can't afford that weigh less than our first born.  They're fast.  You think you're kicking their ass and then you realize they were adjusting their $70 bicycle socks and they put their hands back on their drop bars and smoke you without breaking a sweat.  They have teeny tiny asses but they never moon the cars no matter how hard you wish.

So why love a roady?

Each roady comes with a portable spare bicycle and this is useful.

Try this:  don't fuss with a patch kit the next time you get a flat, pull over to the side of the road, lie your bike on it's side and wait.  Within three minutes a roadie will arrive with a tiny titanium pump, compressed air, a spare tube, a spare tire, a spare wheel, a spare saddle, a new chain, and new cranks.  How can you resist?  Swill down some water and watch as they take off your wheel, use their platinum levers to get the tire off, check the tire for glass with their tongue and then replace your tube.  Gratis.

Don't worry about taking advantage of them.  They have powerful fantasies about this exact scenario every night of the week.  You, on the ride with the off-rack aluminum bicycle.  Them on their carbon fiber one-off that they privately refer to as "Stormy, Misty's Foal."  You by the side of the road and desperate.  Them, wise and powerful.

It's a match made in heaven.  Throw away your crappy portable pump and go with it.