Monday, March 28, 2011

when cars throw up it is messy

Today I do not have work.

Youngest gets to skip out on her before-care program when I do not have to go to the office.  We read books and play around a little and then go out to run (bike?) a few errands on the way in to school.  Since the weather has returned to California Fine As Our Red Wine we take my converted mountain bike - it's got an extension made by Extracycle and a custom made (all hail Contraption Captain) seat on the back with "footies" for Youngest's feet.

We get cucumber sushi for Older Kid and chocolate chips and ingredients for cheesecake.  Then we pedal off towards school.  I turn onto a relatively quiet road and then move over to the left side as I will need to take a left at the 4-way Stop at the bottom of the road.

I am considering my approach to the 4-way (good bicyclists are always thinking and planning especially when they are carrying someone behind them) when I hear the sound of a car alarm.  It is loud, insistent, and it seems to be getting closer.

I get to the 4-way and stop.  A car crosses in front of me.  The sound of the car alarm is now incredibly loud and insistent.  Youngest stares.  A minivan arrives at the intersection, it's alarm is sounding non-stop and all of it's lights are flashing.  It is behind a car that is waiting for me to go.  I have time to notice the expression on the face of the driver in front of the noisy minivan.  Her expression is pained.  She looks away from me.  When you are near someone who is naked, covered in paint, running in circles screaming and waving their arms in the air, which is what this minivan is doing, the polite thing is to avert your gaze.

I am not eager to cross in front of the car whose secret Indian Name is Vom-A-Lot even when I have another car to buffer me.  But I must.  I signal wanly and then start out into the road.

Vom-A-Lot is tired of waiting so it cut's out of line and around Embarrassed Car and I am briefly terrified that I will die to the sound of the hideous racket.  I halt.  Go first Vom-A-Lot.  For all that is holy, please the fuck go first.  Vom-A-Lot's driver gives me the evil look of someone who has been driving a vehicle that punctures eardrums and then she gestures (rudely) that she won't kill me if I want to continue on my way.

I (nervously) continue on my way and she continues on hers.  The deafening sound of her travelling car alarm slowly recedes into the distance.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

no more drive by shouters

Ever been riding along minding your own business when someone drives by and screams something outside the window at you?  Yeah me too.

me:  nice weather.  maybe I can go a little faster.  
car travelling by at high speed a hair too close:  GHghaaT!  HAYYYTRY! HAHAHAHAHA!
me:  ?

Sometimes the shouter is a bicyclist.

me and the kid:  two bicycles.  waiting at an intersection with the kid.  waiting for a break in the traffic.
them:  what the fuck is your problem!  that is so fucked up, people like you are really morons!!  HAHAHAHA!
me and the kid:  ?

This is a basic rule that many of us learned in kindergarten but a few of us apparently forgot.  If you don't have something nice to say, for crissakes stick your head in the toilet and flush.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

paper bag princess

"Ronald,” said Elizabeth, “your clothes are really pretty and your hair is all neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum.” They didn’t get married after all. 

The prettiest cars are just a signal that someone had coin to buy something expensive. Maybe they inherited money. Maybe the husband is a big hit in finance. In the end it's just a pretty car and if the person behind the wheel doesn't show any respect the car is less than worthless, it's a liability.

The prettiest bikes are about the same. If you don't ride it, it doesn't mean anything. The ugliest most slipshod bike is a beautiful star when it's handled by a fantastic bicyclist.

I got back into bicycling in California when the Contraption Captain loaned me an old Specialized mountain bike that someone had junked and then given to him. He fixed it up and before turning it over to me swapped out the knobby mountain bike tires for slicks, smooth hard[er] skinn[ier] tires small enough to fit a mountain bike. This thing was the shaggy dog of bicycles but I rode it until it fell apart. Contraption Captain restored it with new cranks and gears and chain and I rode it some more. Then I hitched a wagon to it and used it to take my kid home from preschool. I would do my laundry at the office (it's that kind of office) and bring the kid home in the wagon with my clean laundry in the wagon's trunk just behind her.

Despite riding a mountain bike with funny tires and pulling a five year old and a bunch of laundry I loved to try and get into it with the roadies. I was sitting at a red light when this flabby chick on a road bike shoaled me. Fine. Whatever. She turns and points at my wagon. "That must be a real wheel-suck." I stare at her. What had she just called my kid? A wheel-suck? I'll fucking wheel-suck you! She smiles at me in a patronizing way and pats her bicycle "carbon fiber" she murmurs, reverently.

Game on.

The light turns and I take off after her. No amount of carbon fiber will save your sorry ass when you don't train. She looks back. I'm drafting, my tiny mountain bike and wagon together, I'm barely pedaling. Every light we hit I am right there. She doesn't say anything. I don't either. She tries to pull ahead and I pace her exactly. When she finally turns off I fly by, wagon rolling along behind me, every bit as fast as an out-of-shape twenty something on an expensive bicycle.

my bicycle is a dirty bicycle

I keep my bicycle indoors at work, parked outside a cubicle that no one uses.  I like the idea that it can count on being dry for at least some part of the day and it is always a good day when your bicycle doesn't get stolen as you slave in the salt mines of technology.

Yesterday when I went to collect my bicycle to go home I noticed that there was a neat silhouette of dirt on the floor around the wheels and underneath the bars.  As the poor thing had dried clumps of plant matter had fallen off of it, kindof embarrassing.  At the bicycle safety volunteer event I was the one with the dirty chain.  On the other hand I was also the one who had actually ridden my bicycle to the event.

It's true that I don't invest a lot of time in cleaning the thing.  A big reason for this is that I am very busy riding the thing.  In a perfect world, my bicycle would be spotless and ridden a ton.  As it is I would much rather have a bicycle that is ridden hard and put away wet then a bicycle that sits in the garage:  spotless, virginal, and unloved.

If your bicycle is sitting in the garage try this:

1.  check the tires and fill them up with air
2.  dust off the saddle
3.  fuck the weather! get out there and ride your ass off!  come back hot and dirty and tired and feeling like a zillion bucks!

Friday, March 25, 2011

that guy who never gets any sex

I was pedaling home and I was way too dry.  Where was the rain?  Who knows.  Might be back tomorrow.  Might not.  It's Friday and I'm on a bicycle and life is Promising.  Ahead I saw that the light for crossing Charleston was green and I worked hard to get there although my chances were slim.  The light turned red and I landed in the middle lane behind a station wagon.

Why not get in the lane on the far right?

Because part way up the next block that lane becomes a right turn only lane and so I stay towards the middle.  A good thing about commuting is that you get to know your route really well, with practice you can always be in the right spot.  This is true for cars and bikes.  It is one of the reasons I like commuter traffic better than random-stay-at-home-mother-on-prescription-drugs-heading-out-to-Nordstrom's-because-she-needs-a-new-purse traffic.  That second kind of traffic really goes all over the place.  

The guy in the car on my right and to the front rolls down his window and says "hi!" and after a moment of cognitive dissonance I realize that it is Sequoia Guy (he saves these magnificent trees as his day job) and I say "you're in a car!" because I have never seen him when he is not on either his road bike or pedaling his pedicab.  He insists that he is pedaling the car.  

There's a loud honk and I flinch.  I look forward.  The light is red.  I look back.  A man is glowering at me and Sequoia Guy.  He honks again.  The light is still red.

Sequoia Guy rolls up his window and smiles and waves good-bye.  I glance back at the guy with the heavy hand on the horn.  I think it is incredibly sad that there are angry bitter people out there who have not had sex with a nice woman (or man?) for over a year.  And who are so desperate and unfulfilled that they honk at people exchanging greetings at a red light.  

Personally, if I had not had sex in over a year, I would not advertise it to the rest of the would no matter how frustrated I felt.

Hey guy who honked and glowered?  Get yourself a bicycle.  Get out of your car.  Meet someone nice and feel better about life.  You'll honk less and the world will like you a little better.   

stamp out dumb advice in 2011

This is a general call for ending the practice of giving dumb advice to bicyclists.  How can you tell if your advice is dumb?  Your advice is dumb if the person on the bicycle already knows about it.  When you tell someone something they already know you aren't being helpful, you are being boring at best and passive-aggressive at worst.  If you're upset about something, don't be a pansy and pretend to give advice when what you actually want to be saying is "fuck you!" just get out there and say "fuck you!" ... and then deal with the consequences. 

Examples of dumb advice: 
you do not have a light on your bicycle
the battery for your light is low
you do not have fenders
your back tire is wobbly
you shouldn't run stop signs
that light was red when you went through it

Examples of helpful advice:
your wallet just fell out of your pocket
I think the kid in the kid-seat by the side of the road a few blocks back is yours
I've called an ambulance, don't move.

I trust I've cleared this up for everyone.  You are welcome.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

two adventures a day

Sunny California is not entirely sunny at the moment which means my rides to and from work are damp or wet or soaking.  That's not a big deal.  The following isn't a big deal either but it does get annoying.  The endless "did you ride today, did you get wet, are you afraid of death" questions.  Yes I rode.  It was that or I just stuck my head under a faucet, right?  Yes it was wet.  Yes I am wet.  Yes my bike got water on it.  That's not even the annoying part.  The story is the annoying part.  The story is some version of "I knew someone who biked in the rain and both his/her arms got torn off.  Wow.  Do you worry about your arm getting torn off?"

Yesterday I made the mistake of mentioning this annoying fact of being a bicyclist in rain, how every person wants to tell some story and I was immediately interrupted by This Guy and he said "oh, oh, I knew this woman---"
I interrupted This Guy and asked, patiently, "Death or Dismemberment?"
This Guy paused thoughtfully, "Neither really."
I smiled warmly, "Public humiliation?
This Guy looked annoyed.  Bike accident story-tellers don't appreciate feeling as if they are not first.  I think it harks back to a primitive guy thing where they want to pretend every girl they are interested in is a virgin but really, I digress.  This Guy continues "I saw this girl, on a bike?  And she crashed right into the back of a car!!"
The look on my face must have said "THAT'S IT?"
This Guy nods and says, a trifle defensively, "She was really embarrassed."
I nod.  "Neither death nor dismemberment.  Public humiliation."

The thing about bicycling to work and then bicycling home again is this:  two little adventures every day.  Maybe that doesn't sound like much to you.  Two adventures per day.  Relatively small adventures overall.  But how many adventures do the rest of you have?  Watching the Paris Hilton pr0n tape does not count.  Watching anything does not count.  Watching is to see someone else have the adventure.  Bicycle commuters have their own two little adventures every day.  Adventures are cool.  Doing instead of watching is cool.  Biking through sheets of rain that scare off other cool.  The best part is, anyone can be cool.  Get on your bike and ride to work.  Arrive spackled with mud and the slightly secret smile that comes from book-ending your day with an adventure on either side.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

you're a little salmon, short and stout

Bicycles are sensitive to the moods of the cars around them in the same manner as gazelles are sensitive to the mood of the cheetah.  Are they hungry?  Are they sleepy?  Are they likely to drift over into the bike lane? 

Yesterday I was bicycling with the Contraption Captain, towing my youngest behind me in a bike wagon.  I'm wider when I tow the wagon and my awareness is heightened by having my kid in close proximity.  So when I saw a large pick-up truck approach behind me I paid extra attention. 

At the time I was riding past a middle school and in a school zone.  Kids everywhere, crossing the street and being let out of cars but the truck was coming up behind me fast and now it was swinging out towards the yellow line because it wanted to get around me.  Oncoming traffic had a steady stream of parents leaving the area via car after dropping their kids off.  In front of me a series of parked cars narrowed the road.  Usually I would continue on and pass those parked cars but the truck made me nervous and instead I pulled over behind the parked cars and let the truck go by.  Then I went out and followed the truck up the road.  I was close behind because as I mentioned this was a highly trafficked area and despite the truck acting like a hummingbird on cocaine no one was getting anywhere quickly. 

We get to a stop sign.  At this stop the truck has only one choice.  Straight.  To the left is an illegal left, a one-way street marked with a huge sign that says "DO NOT ENTER."  The truck hesitates and then says "wtf!  i goferit!!" and then I see the back of the truck as he whales off the wrong way up a one way road.  I stop, amazed, and look after the truck for a moment thinking about the surprise a car will get heading up that road going in the correct direction.

Then I continue on.  Behind me the remaining cars seem...sobered.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

sharing the road for real, not pretend

My trip home takes me along Middlefield Road riding in a pretty reasonable bike lane.  Then I come to E. Long Meadow where I need to take a left.  The traffic goes relatively fast, say 35-40mph.  There are two car lanes to the left of my bike lane.  At the intersection itself there is a short thrid lane on the far left for cars (and a few bikes) who need to turn onto E. Long Meadow.  They (me) need to wait for a green arrow.

After much trial and error I have determined that the best time to signal and then cross those two lanes to get to the turn lane is early in the process.  Don't try and get the attention of a car that is close to a green light it is trying to make.  Signal early and watch carefully to be sure they will yield and then move into the lane to your left, signal more and move to the next lane over and then you're golden.

One thing I try and do is to not screw over the cars---maybe that surprises you non-existent reader.  A lot of cars where I ride, in fact most of the cars where I ride treat me nicely.  They peer into their rear view mirrors when they are going to take a right.  I signal and they don't try and force their way around me.  They wave me on and smile.  They (often) let me know, in small ways, that they understand that I am just like them, a person trying to get to work.  The end result is that I have a lot of sympathy for their trying to get where they need to go, they don't want to be stuck behind me and I don't want them to be stuck.

So each day when I approach this particular intersection and it has a green light for the people going straight and a red arrow for my left I eye the cars and wait before signalling so they can get through that green light.  Then their light is red and I signal and it's less of a big deal to them to yield to me so that I can get over to my lane on the far left.  Win-win.

The other day I didn't time it so well.  I signaled, the light turned green, the car waited, I went across, and by the time he got to the light it was red.  He missed it because of me.  I sat at my red arrow and he sat at his red light.

I was sorry.

His window was down.  On impulse I said "I'm sorry you missed the light because of me.  I usually time that better."  He gave me this huge sunny smile and said "Who is in such a hurry?  Not me.  Beautiful day!!!"

And it was.  A beautiful day.

Thanks guy in the jeep who let me get over to the left hand turn lane.  Hope you had a fantastic evening.

Friday, March 18, 2011

"We're standing in the place That you have left us And it's freezing"

Bicyclists don't get allocated a lot of road.

Sometimes we have a narrow bike lane.  Sometimes we have a path that we share with dogs, toddlers, and the occasional homeless person pushing a shopping cart overloaded with cans and old blankets.  Sometimes we have a sign that says "Share The Road" which is almost a guarantee that no one will do that.  Share.  The.  Road.  Often there is nothing at all.  We ride in the places that are left to us.

Wednesday I was privileged to meet M, a bicycle safety advocate.  M was run over a few years past shortly before Christmas.  Her injuries were huge, suffice to say that the surgeons who worked to save her had to re-attach her foot.  M was biking up the bike lane, during the day, in a bike lane.  She was hit by a person driving a pick-up truck who was drunk.

At her earliest opportunity, still covered in bandages, she was in a bike shop looking for a bicycle to replace her destroyed road bike.  Now, a few years later, she is again a person who races her bicycle.  Maybe you think that's crazy.  I'll come back to that.

For our bike safety meeting a few of us demo'd to kindergarteners and 1st graders how to ride in a straight line, signal, why it's good to stop at stop signs and red lights, and please wear a helmet.  Yes I know some people doubt that a helmet is much help but when you're hanging around with a bicyclist whose jaw was nearly torn off by an accident and who believes that her helmet kept her brain from being torn off, well, you may find your position shifting to the "helmet is good idea" spot.

Two best parts.

1.  The people who volunteered were all bicyclists of different stripes.  It was a gathering of our tribe and I like our tribe.  Moms who bike to the library.  Older women on high end road bikes tricked out in their racing kit.  Commuters like me.  And yes, the Contraption Captain came and the kids all sucked in their breath and then ooo'd and clapped when they saw his huge red recumbent roll out.

2.  M herself.  M is who people threaten me with.  M who was terribly hurt.  But the real M is beautiful and bouncy and very athletic and the real M loves to bicycle.  I said "what made you go back to it?" even though I know everyone asks this.  She said, and I am crying as I write this:

I love to bicycle.  I couldn't let someone rob me of something that makes me so happy.

M's bike safety work is much wider than "wear a helmet" She is working to improve bike routes and bike lanes.

Thanks for everything M.  We appreciate you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The color of the sky as far as I can see is coal grey.

Today's trip home was what I have heard the Irish refer to as a "fine soft day."  It was raining gently.  It made me think of a mildly out of body experience I had a few years back when I was still towing my youngest home from her preschool using a bike wagon.  At the time, in the purest denial, I told myself that the trip was "maybe ten miles" and that the reason I was getting home an hour later and falling over sound asleep with food still hanging out of my mouth was that "I was tired."

I now know that I was bicycling close to three miles to acquire said child and then easily another ten with a fully loaded double-wide Burley.

So possibly I hallucinated the encounter I am about to describe.

I had made it to Bryant Street where I could stop worrying that anyone would yell "fucking child abuser" at me from out their car window.  Win.

A gentleman (a term I use rarely) rode up next to me to admire my child and my wagon and my bicycling prowess.  In the manner of bicycle commuters we began to converse.  He was riding a bicycle with classic lines.  He was slim and well maintained.  He was en route to a nearby cafe and bookstore ready for a pleasant evening out.  He was retired.

We talked about the pleasures of bicycling and it says much about how deep those pleasures are that a person who got up that morning, biked ten miles, worked nine hours, and then had biked another seven with five still to go while pulling a gigantic kite weighted with lead --- still saw bicycling as a pleasure.

We both noticed the trees of Palo Alto which were just coming into their most delicate bloom.  He said to me "People who say that the seasons here do not change are not bicyclists."


I never to my knowledge saw him again but I think of those words frequently.  The changes in the weather are the more profound for their subtlety.  The rain is light, almost mist, and warm.  The sun is hot and the air is heavy.  The sky is bright and clear and the wind whuffles around your ears.  The rain is cold and driving.  The air is warm and dry.  No day is exactly like another when you are outside experiencing it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japan on my mind.

As an engineer I salute all of the preparation Japan did to secure themselves against casualties in the event of a major earthquake.  Hope was not their strategy.  Excellent engineering was their strategy as shown by the buildings of Tokyo that shifted but did not collapse.  So many lives were saved in those eight minutes.

Japan has a superior Tsunami warning system but the quake hit so close to shore that there were only minutes of notice to the people.  Not enough.  It feels incredibly unfair to me.

Monday a return to bicycle rants and raves.

The Bike Lanes of New York City (not to be confused with the Bridges of Madison County)

I've caught some of the kerfluffle about New York City getting bike lanes.  Couple of things I want to address on the topic:

1.  We have these bike lanes but there are no bicyclists in them.  That makes me angry.

Think of it as penance for years of treating bicyclists as something to be exterminated.  Your bike population is now an endangered species.  It will take some time before you again have a breeding population.

2.  I'm stuck in traffic.  Next to me is a bike lane.  That makes me angry.

If you were honest with yourself you'd know that you have been stuck in traffic for years.  NYC is synonymous with stuck in traffic.  What got you bike couriers in the first place?  NYC car-jams.  Your bike lanes did not all of a sudden create this problem.

3.  I don't like my city's bicyclists.  They ride bikes with no brakes and single gears, they dress like idiots and they run red lights.  That makes me angry.

You reap what you sow, baby.  In places where it takes a mindless crackhead to brave the streets on a bicycle that's pretty well what you get.  How to gauge your city's bike friendliness:  look to see who is biking.  If you see gentle grandmas out there with flowers in their panniers you live in a bike friendly city.  If you only see bare knuckle twenty somethings with clenched jaws your city is not bike friendly.

4.   The bicyclists in my city do not wear bike helmets.  I think it's dangerous.  That makes me angry.

If you weren't angry I'd say you were living in Amsterdam or Denmark where the bicyclists do not wear helmets and manage very nicely.  Since you are angry I can tell you live in NYC or possibly Boston.  This one is a corollary  to 3.  People in safe cities wear helmets because they expect the worst that will befall them is a bad turn and an awkward tumble.  A helmet might be useful in this situation.  People in places like NYC and Boston know that a bike helmet is as useful as pissing in the wind.

Thanks for playing.


Friday, March 11, 2011

I love an early morning ride. It gives me time to think.

Today was another early (04:30am) ride to work.  I saw one pedestrian, two other bicyclists, and one jogger.  I saw a handful of cars.  What I thought about:

1.  The visor of my bike helmet blocks my view of the stars.  Disappointing.
2.  The light mounted to my helmet (thanks Contraption C) is great for when I am going through intersections.  I look to either direction and people approaching know I am there.  Since I live in the bay area and not NYC that means they slow down as opposed to aiming for me. 
3.  I really need to get something down concerning the myth of the law-abiding automobile.

Car people love to expound on bicyclists who do not obey the law, leaving us to assume that they are paragons of virtue themselves.

Cars do not obey the laws of the road. 

I bike past numerous displays that provide the speed of the approaching car and then flash if the car is speeding.  I have never once ridden past one of these displays, when cars were around, that did not flash urgently.  In a 35 mph zone the cars do 40.  In  a 25 mph zone they do 35.  On the highway where the speed limit is 65 they do 70 or 75.  We're not talking rockstars here either, we're talking ordinary housewives and househusbands and shmoes on the way to work.  Cars. Speed.  All.  The.  Time. 

NEWSFLASH:  Those posted speed limits are not just suggestions.  They are The Law.

So you ask a driver, "hey, that's breaking the law, how come you're speeding?"  They'll give varied answers.  "It's not really speeding, just 5mph or so over" or "I am in a hurry" or "Everyone does it" or "I have a fast car*" or "I'm an excellent driver" or even "The limit is too low here, so I just do what makes sense."

See?  We're more alike than you thought, bicyclists and car-drivers.  Very similar.  We do what seems correct in a situation.  Here's where we are different:  if a bicyclist makes a bad call on what is going to work they get themselves killed.  If a car makes a similar bad call they kill someone else.  Guess who has more invested in the outcome?  Ding.  That would be the bicyclist.  Guess how many automobile drivers are killed each year by speeding bicyclists?  That would be zero, actually.  True story. 

Ok we'll say you don't speed when you drive your car, although I know you do.  Everyone does with the exception of people in witness protection programs and on the 10 Most Wanted list.  If that's you go ahead and turn yourself in, I'll wait.  So you don't speed (but you do) yet you commit endless other traffic violations.  Here are a handful of what they are:

1.  Despite bitching endlessly about bicycles who slow down at 4-way stops without halting and putting a foot on the ground, when YOU approach a 4-way stop you (funny how this works, really) slow down and if you think you will get their first continue on without stopping.  This even has a name.  It is a Cincinatti stop, a Boston stop, an LA stop, a New York stop..  That's right.  Any city in the world cars don't actually stop at 4-ways.  They slow down and stop if someone else is coming. If the driver doesn't see anyone coming from the other direction they may or may not give a nod to the stop sign by slowing down.  Many will just continue through.

2.  You drive in the bike lane.  Hey your turn-off is only a half mile up the road and traffic is really backed up man...

3.  You park in the bike lane.  "I'm just running in for a second."

4.  You run red lights.  No.  Really?  A car?  Running a red light?  Never happens.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  Meet me at El Camino and Sandhill during rush hour.  Two to six cars run that light every cycle. 

I could go on but I don't want to get tedious.  Suffice to say, you cars can kill people at a mere 15mph.  And you only obey the laws that suit you.  So get off your high horses already. 

*What?  Really?  Yeah, really.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

the roads are lovely, dark and deep but I have promises to keep*

I left the house at 4:30am this morning.  I don't love getting up at a this miserable hour but I do love the bike ride.  I sweep down the hill outside my house and and the bike seems to pedal itself.

There are no cars and I experiment with riding in the auto lane because the grass is always greener.  Turns out the grass is smoother, better maintained, and has less glass over on their side of the fence. 

Every light shines on me with favor or triggers for me at the first blush of my approach.  Alongside the meadows of Stanford the air is cool and damp on my face, way better and fancier than any spa steam treatment you can buy.

It is quiet.  The sound of engines do not disturb the calm.  There is just the steady ruffling noise of the wind getting jostled to the side as I make my quiet way along the dark streets.

* apologies to Robert Frost

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

thanks but please don't do that

I'm biking along a relatively straight road, no bike lane but enough room, close to work and considering the day ahead when I notice that the car who has just passed me is contemplating a right hand turn.  They signal and then slow down and come to a stop.  But they don't turn.  They realize they've passed a bicycle and they see me in their side mirror and they know intuitively that I might at any moment accelerate up to 40mph (I'm badass like that) and commit suicide against their passenger door as they execute a right hand turn.

So they wait.

I do not accelerate to 40mph and I do not commit suicide against their door.  However two other cars who entirely expected the first car to complete a right hand turn are stuck behind car 1 waiting for that turn and wondering if it would slow them down a lot to ride over me to get past car 1.

There are lots of nice drivers in this area, and I appreciate you looking out for me, I really do.  After a lifetime skirting the rages of Massachusetts drivers it sometimes just about makes me cry to see a Californian looking in their rear view mirror so that they can be sure I am not killed when they make their right hand turn.

But it's ok to do your thing also.  Be confident, be thoughtful, above all be predictable.  Signal.  Check for my location in your mirrors.  Make your turn gracefully on a normal schedule. 

In return I promise not to commit suicide against the passenger side door of your car.


Before the Contraption Captain was my boyfriend he was my friend.  He loved bicycling and had no car.  I worked from 2pm to midnight and drove my father's Lexus ES300, he gave it to me when I moved to California.  Great guy, my dad. 

Contraption Captain worked his way around to asking me if I biked.  I blinked at him from the depths of my single mother financial suffering and said "I used to be a bicyclist" hearing in my voice how lame that sounded even as I spoke the words.  He asked if I wanted to go for a bike ride.  I said that I had a 9 year old at home with a bike with flat tires.  My four year old had no bike at all.  And my bike had been sold by my ex to fund his drug addictions.  Yeah, that kind of ex. 

It was the first time I saw Contraption Captain angry.  He's just about never mad.  He doesn't really get mad, just goes into the shop and builds a new vehicle if he's feeling confused about something.  "HE SOLD YOUR BIKE?"

I blinked again.  I was so accustomed to the crazy ex I had forgotten that taking a valued possession belonging to someone else and selling it for Vicodin is actually kindof un-cool. 

C. Captain: Well if I bring a bike for you, fix the 9 year old's bike, and bring a bike wagon for your youngest, would you want to go for a bike ride?

me:  umm, yes?

That weekend he showed up riding his huge recumbent, pulling a bike wagon which he'd put another bicycle on top of, I think.  He pumped up the 9 year old's bike tires and checked the thing over and then we all went for a ride.  That was when I started to love California.  Maybe also when I started to love my Contraption Captain. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

game theory and the bicycle commuter

My route to work takes me along roads limned with bike lanes, through traffic lights, through intersections where I have the right of way and through 4-way stops where the vehicle who reaches the line first wins!  huzzah!

One of the stranger intersections I encounter is on E. Long Meadow.  It is a four way red traffic light.  It defaults to red when there are no vehicles nearby.

A bicyclist approaching this red light can check their speed, hesitate in their progress fractionally, and then continue on with the sure knowledge that the light will turn green before they are actually in the danger zone of the intersection.

The cars know this too.

The vehicle to reach the intersection first will claim the green light.

Better yet is to be the vehicle to reach the intersection second, in the direction of the winner.  That means you do not need to check your speed.

Worst is to have someone travelling in the other direction first get to the light and trigger it green for themselves leaving you to wait out the red.

The weird result is a kind of hurry up and wait.  If no one is coming from the other direction the cars and bikes heading in the same direction fight to be in the coveted second place where they won't need to slow their ascension towards the holy awesome of high speed and can just hurtle through the intersection confidently.

You don't want to be too far back in the pack though because as soon as no one is going through the light it reverts to red and you have to wait for it to trigger green.  You definitely don't want to be so far back that a car coming from the other direction sneaks up and claims green for itself.

Did I mention this is a weird light?  It is.  And not really a very good one.  It trains everyone who approaches it to speed to be first and it also trains them that it will turn green as they go through it.  If this thing ever turns into an actual normal behaving light there is going to be a spectacular accident.

Monday, March 7, 2011

today wasn't a good day to die. tomorrow doesn't look good either.

"With great mass comes great responsibility." - C. Captain

I was almost at work.  I came up Charleston on the far right side, a quiet part of the road although no bike lane.  Traffic on the left gets on the 101 without pausing.  Traffic on the right bears to the right and meanders past a Costco and then up to a traffic light. 

I came around the corner and a car was driving up the wrong side of the street.  It was almost on top of me and I only had time to scream, a deep rage of a scream at the indignity of being killed by a middle-aged woman in a shiny red car with license plate JPN151 who gaped stupidly at me but continued her course up the wrong side of the road.  She was to my left and to my right there was only curb and no sidewalk.  I didn't have time for anything anyways but I tried to get as far to the right as I could.  She swerved away from me and we cleared each other and I was still alive.  I stopped because I was too afraid to pedal at that moment and I saw her cross back over the double yellow line and stop at the stop sign.  I wrote down her license plate.  I noted that her car was a Ford but I couldn't figure the model.

I wonder if she was scared at how she had almost destroyed a harmless person riding their bike to work.  For whatever reason she stayed at the stop sign for quite awhile although there was no cross traffic.  I thought about riding to her but I did not.  I didn't even have a curse.  I watched her drive away and then continued on to work where I messaged my C. Captain and then called the Mountain View police.

My non-readers out there in non-reader land are maybe smug to think someone nearly cashed my check.  Or maybe they are bicyclists who have been there also, who each day have to weigh the pleasure that bicycling brings them with the fear of having their tendons torn from their bodies. 

I say to the people that rail about bicyclists who run red lights, who gloat when a bicyclist is killed, to these people I say: this driver on the wrong side of the road, her mouth slack, her eyes glazed, this driver is out there and may one day meet them on the highway at high speed as easily as she can meet me on my bicycle at the 16mph I was taking the turn. 

I say to my non-readers in non-reader land that their silence will not protect them.  Dangerous drivers hurt all of us.  They hurt you in your car.  They hurt me on my bike.  They kill infants strapped into car seats.  They destroy your inexperienced teenager.

If you are taking strong prescription medecine, if you have a drinking problem, stay at home.  Call a cab.  Call a friend.  Never forget that your car is huge and heavy and full of dark possibility. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

that little dial I obsess about (although now not so much)

I never was one to worry about how fast I was going or what the distance was like.  For one thing I was pretty poverty-stricken and spending money on my bike that wasn't going towards fixing tires or new cranks or whatever had broken off the cheap thing (this is awhile ago) was more my priority.  Fast was whether I could catch and pass the person in front of me.

Now I am not so much destitute anymore but I still didn't worry much about the how fast how hard thing.  Wow, reading back that sounds obscene.  What I mean is that I cared what I felt like and didn't need a dial to tell me anything.

Go forward to this guy I  periodically ride with on my commute.  We are evenly matched in a lot of ways.  He's younger and a touch faster but the bike he rides for commuting is pretty heavy and stodgy so we end up riding together and talking.  Have you noticed that this never happens to you in a car?  No one ever sees the same car every day and strikes up a conversation and meets someone interesting.  The only time a person who drives meets someone in another car is when they collide with them, and having witnessed this a bunch the results are never pretty.  Occasionally civil but more usually frosty or even vicious.

I digress.

This guy I see periodically has a little computer mounted onto the front of his bicycle.  Guy-I-Ride-With-Sometimes would tell me how fast we were going and I got Interested.  I started wanting to know how fast I was going even when that Guy-I-Ride-With-Sometimes was not around.

My Contraption Captain went on to surprise me with a little computer all my own.  It would tell me how fast and how far.  I was pretty excited.  He got me the wired kind because they are more reliable he says.  And then he wired it to my bike very carefully and elegantly.  And then he rode my bike around the block to make sure it worked.  I wasn't there but he probably bunny-hopped all over the road on my (I like to pretend) finely tuned piece of road-bicycle-machinery.

Now I too had a cute dial.  I had to subtract the .22 of a mile he had bunny hopped onto it but for the most part the thing was clean and fresh.  I discovered that my top speed was around 30mph, w00t!  I discovered that my commute sans kid drop-off was ten miles and with kid drop-off more like 12.  I discovered that in the average five work days I put over a hundred miles onto my bike.  I was very happy!

I did not immediately discover the little arrow.  I was busy watching the numbers on the odometer go up.  It was my Contraption Captain who pointed out that the arrow pointed up when I was biking at above my average speed and that it pointed down when I was biking below my average speed.  I became frantic to keep the dial in the up position.  I stared so hard at the dial that on the way home that day it had a big E for ERROR and I had to reset the thing causing me to lose a very nice top speed of 32mph.

I watched the miles rack up.  I liked it when it rolled over to 1,000 miles.  Go me.  Then it was at 1500 miles.  GO ME!  Sometime between 1500 miles and 2000 miles I had to drop something off at a friend's house.  It was raining hard but as already observed rain is no reason not to put some miles on a bike.  I rode over and rode back and sometime after that noticed that most of my little computer was no longer readable.

The Contraption Captain took it off the bike for closer inspection.  I was unhappy.  Now my bike had a blank ugly spot where the tiny computer used to sit and here I was biking every day and my odometer was not incrementing.  Damnit!!

The Contraption Captain replaced the battery.  No joy.  I sulked.

I want to take this opportunity to say that a bicycle component that dies because it gets wet makes about as much sense as a diaper with a big hole in it.

Contraption Captain returned to the bike store from whence the now broken dial had come and they swapped it for another which turned out to be wireless aka wrong.  The (long-suffering) Contraption Captain returned again to the store and came home with a replacement for the replacement.

me:  but all my miles are gone, damn.
captain c: well we could put something together that spins the wheel for you non-stop until the miles are back where they used to be.

That's life with a Contraption Captain for you.

yoda:  full of interesting solutions they are.
me:  not all of which are helpful it turns out.

Anyways.  New dial is just about to roll over to a fresh 1000 miles.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

ob. safety

1.  Do not wear dark sunglasses.  No one can see your eyes which means no one can see what you have failed to notice.
2.  Your bicycle should have working brakes.
3.  A rear view mirror is really helpful if you ride in traffic.
4.  Don't wear headphones.  It tunes you out.
5.  Make eye contact.  Then you can be sure the cars (and bikes) see you.
6.  Communicate.  If it is their turn to go and they are hesitating, gesture nicely that they may go, that you will not commit suicide against their passenger door.
7.  Do not lose your temper.  It makes them angry and they take it out on the next bicyclist they see.  Your beautiful body is revenge enough.
8.  Do not lose your temper.  There is direct correlation between people who beat their wives and people who are road ragers.  That means if you flip them off they see red like a Brahmin bull and they turn around and hit you repeatedly until you are just bloody pulp.  It's not worth it.  I mean it.
9.  Use good lights at night.  White goes on front and red goes on back.  PLEASE.
10.  Don't be a statistic.  It gives the cars way too much satisfaction.  Do what you need to get out there, have fun, and be alive.

what it's like, what it's like

I've discovered drafting in a big way.  It used to be that when someone passed me I fought my way to the front and battled for first place (in my mind) for the duration we were on the same road.  I'd arrive at work (or at home) feeling like I was going to have a heart attack but damnit I won, right?  Right?  I mean I'm lying on my side in my own driveway, feet still clipped into pedals, hyperventilating like a whale in heat (do whales come into heat?) but I got to the turn-off FIRST and I WON.


Now I get passed by these ten years younger guys and I settle comfortably into place immediately behind them.  My Contraption Captain has hinted that this may actually be un-cool of me but I pointed out that if they don't want me following them I am definitely within earshot and they can use their words and tell me.  "Use your words" I tell my kids, that means "don't hit the brakes and finish off that poor commuter chick."

Drafting is wonderful!

All of a sudden I am doing 22mph and I don't have a hair out of place.  If they pick it up a little I just pick it up right after them.  The wind that was wicked until Nice Roady arrived on the scene is now tame as a lamb.  And who wants to give it up to some middle-aged female engineer?  No one.  If they start to slow down I lean on them just a little and they fall right back into line.

It's lovely.