Saturday, April 30, 2011

No. We are not friends.

I've been trying to write something about motorcycles but it hasn't panned out.  It started when I saw this histrionic bumper sticker that said "Watch For Them.  PLEASE."  I think the Cadillac Escalade that sported this little missive might have been crying as it went by only barely concealed by a blue plume of exhaust.  My first thought (when I could breathe again) was, "yeah you better watch for those motorcycles.  They come hurtling up the dotted line between two columns of accelerating cars with more noise than three hundred thousand rampaging toddlers."

Why isn't anyone championing the cause of the bicyclist?  Oh sure there are a few weenie stickers out there saying "Share the Road" but we all know they use those "Share the Road" signs when the locals are too cheap to put in a bike lane.

Motorcyclists occasionally like to claim a certain kinship with bicyclists.  I'm always polite but it's the kind of watchful polite I get when I'm talking to a meth addict.  We are not alike.

1.  Motorcyclists kill car drivers.  Bicyclists do not.
2.  Motorcyclists are not some special win for the environment.  Once you notice that they only carry one (rarely two) people they have little to recommend themselves fuel wise.
3.  Motorcyclists kill bicyclists also.  Weird little shared data point for cars and bikes.

This one motorcyclist at work asks me every month or so "still biking?"  I admit it.  He chortles (heheheheheh) and says "Bicycles just aren't for me.  I have a neeeed for speeeeeed."

"Yeah well I have a need not to be a doughy ball of paste" I think to myself, but of course never say out loud.  Instead I smile.  The smile is admittedly getting a little frosty with the passage of time.

I have a need for speed also.  But the speed I generate is mine.  I made it.  I thrill to it.  It's fast and beautiful and un-marred by the rumble of an engine and the stink of petroleum.

Americans love motorcycles and do not love bicycles.  I've been working on why this would be the case.  My tentative theory is that straight (mostly straight?) Americans are insecure about their sexuality.  If they love on Harley Davidson they're confident no one will wonder if they are gay.  If they think roadies are cool they worry that people will think that they've been looking at those cute roadie bicyclist rumps perched on the tiny saddle with the awkward little bag dangling between their legs.

Really America?  What do you care what other people think!  Sure you're a relatively new country but who invented Freedom Fries, right?  Who?  It was you America!  Now get out there and get confident!  Gay or straight, it's ok to be a beautiful spectacular bicyclist.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I'm getting really burned out on confused past-their-prime nearsighted old ladies driving 4000 pounds of steel.

Today started out pleasantly enough.  Rapunzel climbed into the wagon with a stuffed mouse and I towed her to school.  Then the Contraption Captain and I turned around and headed to his place of employ.  In the last block before his workplace I turn the bike wagon over to his recumbent for him to keep at work and we make kissy-faces at each other and then I head off towards my own place of employment.

The first traffic light is Lytton.  There's been construction going on at this corner for...ummm...about forever.  It used to be on the left side of the street, now it's on the right side of the street.  Cause we've always been at war with Oceania.

I'm very friendly with the construction worker guy who directs the traffic at this corner.  Screw you.  Not friendly like that.  We're both pleasant middle-aged types who fear cars and trucks.  He's shown me pictures of his two Chihuahuas and I've sympathized regarding his Blackberry phone issues.

I'll let you in on a secret.  Construction workers dig bicyclists and it's not because of our fashionable attire or cute asses.  Sure they know we aren't very manly (or womanly) and we aren't very All-American but we do have this one thing going in our favor:  No bicyclist has ever run over and killed a construction worker.  Seriously.  Google it for yourself.  A construction worker who sees a bicyclist toddling up breathes a sigh of relief and whips out the pictures of the Chihuahuas.  He knows he is not about to die.

Road worker deaths by bicycle = 0
Road worker deaths by cars = lots and lots

Today when I get to the intersection the traffic light at Lytton is red.  So I wait (yes really) and as I wait a car pulls up behind me.  Then the light turns green.  I wait a moment longer confirm no car will hurt me and  I start through the intersection.  Car behind me waits a reasonable moment or two himself and then starts through the intersection after me.  We are both in the intersection when homicidal old lady behind the wheel approaches her red light from the other direction, never sees a reason to stop or yield or warn us with a hit to her horn and and continues straight on through.  I scream like a mountain lion with it's paw in a leg hold track.  Judging by the stricken look on the face of the driver behind me his response had been to pee all over the seat.

Homicidal lady's mouth curves into a moue of surprise.  "Who are these people and why are they in my intersection?" her face seems to say.  She doesn't stop.  Car behind me slams on the brakes and I slam forward on the pedals and Homicidal crosses the intersection, against the light, between us.

So I'm still alive and very very chafed and able to complain another day.

I have decided to start riding exclusively on the sidewalk going forward.  Not because I'm afraid of cars but because I want the opportunity to run over little old ladies.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

same thing we do every night, Pinky.

Today is Take Your Child To Work Day.  Sparkle Pony went to school as usual, per her request.  She informed me (very politely) that although she would love to come in and join the festivities it's non-trivial for her to catch up missed work.  Rapunzel still feels that missing a day of school is within reach, however, and so I registered her with the event.

We had a thoughtful discussion about how we would get there.  It's about ten miles each way which is too far for her to bike on her own.  I don't like the trail-a-long wheel and actually gave ours away.  It always feels as if it is tipping to one side or the other.  This leaves us with the Burley wagon or the Extracycle.  Yes yes I have a car but we didn't even talk about that, who wants to take the car?  Ewww!

The wagon is a mellower trip for Rapunzel.  She can play with toys.  The Extracycle allows for more cameraderie and it is slightly faster.  She chose the Extracycle.

How was it?  It was great.  I love biking in with her and no one spoiled the day by running us over with their car which I totally appreciate.  Unlike the other hapless parents who had to drive around the block looking for a parking space we rode right up to the door and then found a shady spot under a tree to lock up.

Not that anyone would steal the Extracycle.  I'm not sure anyone could even ride my version of the Extracycle beside myself.  It's made from an old Specialized Rockhopper that had already seen a lot of hard use, the gears have gotten pretty funny.  I'm putting in an older picture of myself and Rapunzel going for a ride, to protect our privacy I've artfully concealed our identities.

Rapunzel's seat and handlebars are all the work of the Contraption Captain.  The basket was my idea but anyone paying attention probably figured that out already.  There's a drink holder in there but no place for Rapunzel to rest her dainty feet, that came a little later.
This thing is a Beast.

I had the Beast locked up outside a toy store one day when I was making an extreme Polly Pocket run and when I came out with Rapunzel there was this old grey totally local (aka super fucking rare) Palo Alto resident looking over my ride.

him:  "That yer bike?"
me:  "Yes, it is."
him:  with profound admiration "That thing is sooo ...gypsy."
me:  speechless with pride for a moment "thank-you so much!"

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hope for the flowers.

I was going to say that my relationship with the automobile is a complicated one but it's not complicated, it's absolutely straightforward.  I've never liked cars.  My friends clamored for a license but I stayed mum.  I didn't get a license until I was 21 and there is still no situation where I wouldn't  prefer walking, running, or bicycling.

Why?  Cars suck.

There are no good (real) car stories.  A co-worker of mine is out of town for a few weeks because his brother-in-law was killed in a car accident.  The guy wasn't wearing a seatbelt (the seatbelt is the bike helmet of auto accidents) and went through the windshield.  Four kids left behind and  the youngest is six years.    Cars are a thing that get you from one place to another the same way that Purina Human Chow can keep you alive on a desert island --- it works, kindof, but it's very ugly.

It took getting older to finally start separating the car from the person driving it.  To have a little compassion for the person who had made the dumb move that had caused me to nearly wet my bike shorts.  There was no single defining moment, there were several moments.  Here are two, for your edification.

1.  I was bicycling with the Contraption Captain.  We were waiting for a green light to cross Embarcadero.  It's a long red and a short green.  Finally it was our turn and a woman in an SUV did a three point turn in the middle of Embarcadero nearly hurting me and nearly making it impossible for me to make the light I had waited for.  I was mad.  I wanted to flip her off.  The Contraption Captain shook his head at her and then smiled and playfully stuck his tongue out.  She blushed and laughed and hid her face.  At that moment she stopped being an SUV and started being a person who got hung up and kindof screwed up in fixing their situation.  Haven't you ever been that person?

2.  I was riding alongside the Contraption Captain who was pulling my youngest in a bike wagon.  A driver cut across us to make a right hand turn.  He came dangerously close to my kid.  I took off after him in a white froth of rage and caught him and knocked on his car.  He rolled down his window.  I said "that was dangerous.  You could have killed my daughter."  He said slowly, "I'm sorry.  I won't do it again."  I could see that he was new in town.  He was sorry.  A crazy bicyclist had chased him down and he was upset and embarrassed.

Try this if you haven't already.  When you're stopped at a busy intersection because of a red light look at the cars around you.  Make contact with their drivers.  If you can find something nice to say or if you have a pleasant smile try it out.  How come?  The drivers will be a fraction more careful when the light turns green.  Not just towards you, but also towards (I think) the next bicyclist they see.

Finally.  The next time a car behaves in a lame and dangerous way towards you consider the lives they lead.  I had to drive my youngest to gymnastics last Thursday.  The cars herded along.  People looked bored and tired and worried.  They cut each other off.  The didn't allow the others to merge.  They pretended not to see each other.  It was unequivocally depressing to see this giant mass of humanity and metal all locked in this slow unhappy dance of traffic congestion.

This was such a contrast to how it is to ride a bicycle.  On a bicycle I always arrive at about the same time, as there is no traffic congestion.  The bicycle makes me feel slim and fast and strong.  Cars just make people feel as if they are trapped in yet another box, no matter how posh the interior.  We bicyclists are so fortunate.  For whatever reason we found the courage to get out into the world on two wheels.  I'm no Danny MacAskill but when I clear a green light at speed or make a difficult turn I think I feel every bit as alive.

Get out there and ride.  Live each day as if you're ready for the funeral.  Show compassion to the people in the metal boxes.  You're big enough to do that because you know how lucky you are to be a bicyclist.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pony, what is best in life?"

"To play nicely with your friends, see sprinkles scattered on cupcakes
before you (which you will share nicely), and hear the joyous giggling
of their women."

The Contraption Captain and I both had to go to work today (Wednesday) but we wanted to eat dinner out with the kids afterwards at our favorite Palo Alto restaurant.  To accommodate this a little planning was involved.  In the morning we rode in with the kid-wagon and dropped it at Contraption Captain's work so I wouldn't have to pull that anvil all the way to Mountain View.

4:30pm and I flew out of work thirty minutes early.  A sleek bird (in my imagination) who pedaled along wonderfully fast, merging elegantly with traffic and making turns with the expertise of a cheetah.  Also I cleared both the Oregon Expressway light and the even more elusive Embarcadero light and every day that I make those two lights goes pretty well.  

The kids were dropped off at Captain C's place of work at 5pm.  I arrived at 5:03.  We loaded Rapunzel into the wagon and older daughter (also known as Sparkle Pony) climbed onto a pillow on the back of the big recumbent and we pedaled off to dinner in Palo Alto pausing for a pit stop at a toy store.

After a lovely dinner, and after polishing off the part of Rapunzel's creme brulee that she couldn't finish, we re-assembled ourselves onto our bikes and pedaled home which is about four miles.  Don't sniff at a mere four mile bicycle ride until you have to do it uphill in a high wind carrying Rapunzel and an anvil.  

Why is this so much better than driving?  

1.  There is Rapunzel's voice emanating faintly from the wagon as she sings to pass the time.
2.  There is Sparkle Pony riding on the back of the recumbent with a red flashing light clipped to her hood.  She rubs the Captain's shoulders as he pedals.  
3.  There is the soft evening air all around us and the sky turning to night.  There is being out in the world instead of confining yourself in a box that turns the world into a framed picture.

It was so good I made them pause so I could snap their picture.

automobiles and autism

The ant knows the anteater.  The rabbit knows the wolf.  Bicyclists know cars.

When I am bicycling I pay a huge amount of attention to the behavior of the cars around me.  I can tell when they are consider a turn before they begin to signal.  I can tell when they aren't sure of where they are going, if they are looking at their GPS instead of the road and hey did I just miss my turn?  I can tell when something is Not Right meaning, they're driving drunk or driving without their prescription glasses or crying really hard because their girlfriend just threw them over for someone else.  I can accurately judge whether they have time to cross in front of me and whether they'll go for it anyways.  I watch their wheels when they are at a stop sign and I notice if they are rolling gently forward and if they come to a complete halt.  I study cars.

I have an advantage over the average car on the road.  That advantage is that I am also a licensed car driver and I drive a car about two times per week.  I understand them although they often do not understand (or even notice) me.

I bat both ends, in the parlance of my youth.

Temple Grandin, for those not in the know, is autistic and also very verbal, very articulate.  She also could be said to bat both ends, she's studied the behavior of neuro-typicals and experienced life as someone who is autistic.  She parlayed her twin set of skills into successful career in animal husbandry.  Specifically, she is famous for working a redesign of the slaughterhouse.  It was her discovery that all the corners and sharp turns of the slaughterhouse were upsetting for the animals.  She designed chutes with gentle curves that the cows felt comfortable traversing.

Which brings me back to my observations of automobiles and my experiences as a driver.

There is an intersection I encounter every day on the way to work, the intersection of Charleston and Middlefield.  I am in a bike lane on the far right but I need to signal left and then cross two lanes of traffic going straight before I land myself in the third lane on the far left where I wait for a green arrow and then take my left turn.

Every day.  Hundreds of commutes.  Every day I stick my arm out and point where I want to go and the first or sometimes the second car to my left yields and I move in front of that car and continue pointing and the next car in the next lane waits and I move in front of that car next and then I make the final transition to the left hand turn lane.  I think I can count on one hand the times that no one has yielded to me and that I've struggled to cross. I ask myself, why are the cars so well behaved at this intersection?

I think that as Temple Grandin found that curved chutes calmed nervous animals, certain roads calm cars and others make them angry and defensive.  I thought about driving and how it is when there is a green light and how a person's gaze can narrow on that green light and how frustrating it is to have something slow in between you and the green light.  In this case "something" is that poor bastard on the bicycle.  But at this intersection the cars are (mostly) calm.

About a mile up from the intersection where the cars do not seem to mind yielding there is a second smaller intersection where the cars refuse to yield under any circumstances.  The light will be red, they're going a mere 10mph but they'd still rather yank off their steering wheel and eat it then let a bicyclist cross over to the turn lane.

My theory is that there are concrete reasons why cars feel fine about me at some intersections and want to drive right over me at others.  I think that good intersection has a few things working in it's favor.

1.  It has big wide lanes.  The cars don't feel cramped.
2.  The bike lane means they have not been stuck behind me and so they're already in a better mood.
3.  The green light is long and the red light is short.  They're commuters.  They know this.
4.  Visibility is good, the road is straight.
5.  The drivers making a left hand turn who are stuck behind me know that the moment I cross the road I will be back in my bike lane.  They'll be able to charge ahead.

I then proceeded to run a few experiments on the traffic.  I picked various points to signal that I wanted to go left.  The closer I got to the intersection, the more excited the cars were about getting through it and the more unhappy they became about yielding to me.  This is bad because bicyclists have an instinct to wait until at least the point where a car would move over and preferably wait for a point after that.  Bicyclists feel unhappy in the middle of the road and would prefer to stay in the bike lane as long as possible.  Now I get over to the left (when I need to) well in advance of what seems needed.  The cars have responded by being very likely to yield.

Those of us who both bike and drive, we are the Temple Grandins, we can unlock car behavior (which I suspect is a mystery to the cars themselves) and be safer as a result.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

in other workplace news

Late in the day a friend stopped by my desk to catch up.  We were having an engaging conversation during which we agreed that we liked to keep some portion of our on-line lives private.

He likes guns.

I like bikes.

He said "Well what do you write about?"

I said that my friends didn't ride bicycles and didn't appreciate hearing me rant.

He said "Well what do you rant about?"

I took a deep breath.  "Guys take those tiny little bags and buckle them under the bike seats of their bicycles and ride along all bent over like that wearing too-tight pants.  I do NOT need to see that every goddamned day on the way to work and then on the way home.  Tiny creepy little bag hanging underneath someone's overly tight spandex.  FUCK."

My co-worker considered.  "I hate that too" he said finally.

He's such a good guy.

the parking place, it burns!

I pulled into the parking lot today alongside a Civic in a big hurry.  I watched with mild interest as the driver slid their car into a parking place clearly marked "Expecting Mother."

I've been an expecting mother (twice) and I personally don't think of an unborn baby as a medical condition except for those unfortunate people who experience complications and do end up with a medical condition.... at which point I think the handicapped spots are more appropriate.

Still I was a little surprised to see a large man with the shoulders of a football player get out of the car.  I said softly "You don't look pregnant.."

He turned to me.  What had I said?

I repeated "you don't look like you're expecting..."  Then I indicated the parking place.

He laughed.  "Oh.  Oh that!"

Yes, that.

The guy was in a big hurry, was in fact "already six minutes late for a very important meeting" he explained apologetically and then added meaningfully,  "You know how it is."

Actually I don't know how it is.  I wheel my bicycle through the lobby and drop it off in an empty worker bee cube.  I'm late plenty often but I never have trouble parking my ride.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


A week or so back I saw this guy biking on Bryant and only pedaling with one foot.  The other foot kindof hung limply to one side.  I thought he had broken a pedal or a crank or...?  Maybe some crazy injury?

Well I just saw him again.  Still one foot pedaling and one not.  I'd ask him what he was doing but he is traveling in the opposite direction from me. 

So is bicycling with one foot on the pedal and one foot trailing along to one side the hot new training thing?  Or is this guy just weird?  Or both?

morality play

Most bicyclists who ride a lot will witness a car accident.  Or two.  Or three.  Or more than they can easily count.  I've seen a few and it's always exciting.  There was the time I was waiting at a red light (yes, really) and I heard this terrible shrieking noise.  As I watched a car hurtled through the intersection and hung a hard right.  The car bounced up onto the traffic island and then went right over a small tree (that was completely demolished) before disappearing from view.  Then there was a loud crash.  I waited for the light to turn green (yes, really) and followed along (as that's how I get home) and I could see the big black marks the tires had left on the road.  Also there was a disgusting smell: burned rubber.  A little further up the road the car was squished up against a larger tree (it hadn't yielded the way the smaller tree had) and there were a group of people standing around.  No people were injured but both trees died from their injuries.  Later I would remember the effortless way the car had gone over the tree and realize that it would look pretty similar to see a car go over a bicycle.


The other interesting accident peripherally involved me.  I was approaching the intersection of Charleston and San Antonio.  The light was red red red.  There was a car waiting at the red light, a car that happened to be a shiny new Mustang.  I like horses so I notice things like this.  Since the light was red, I was not in a huge hurry to get to the intersection but I was still making a good faith attempt to reach the light in a timely manner despite my riding my giant heavy cargo bike at the time.  I am about to fall in behind the waiting car when a second car goes past me on the left and then cuts in front of me. 

Now new car is 2nd in line to go through the light and I am third in line.  Whatever.  Impatient guy is impatient.  Film at 11.

So it's a long light and a little boring and this gives me time to notice the drama being enacted in the car in front of me.  The guy is gesturing quite eloquently with his hands.  He points.  He directs.  He waves his hands around.  At first I think he is on his cell phone but he's giving meaningful glances into his rear view mirror.  I try and figure out what he wants to communicate a la Charades.  Sounds like...mane....Lane?  I should be in a bike lane?  Yeah I agree with that idea, I do.  Unfortunately there isn't one here.  Oh.  Clock.  Walk.  Sidewalk.  I should be on the sidewalk?  No.  No that would be a mistake.  But thanks.

The light turns green.  Car guy doesn't notice.  Now I'm a little stuck and a little frustrated. 

NOW car guy notices the green light.  He steps on the gas and rear-ends the shiny red Mustang. 


I slow down to see if they want a witness but they wave me away.

Moral:  Fix your own driving first.

Monday, April 18, 2011

you smell. you smell worse.

Growing up I was never the kid that was desperate to get a driver's license.  Cars were smelly and unpredictable.  Our family car smelled of fumes and wet dog.  There was dried dog spit along the window (we had a Golden Retriever who loooved cars!) and if I crossed over this one particular line in the vinyl seating my brother pushed me back to my side and/or complained to my mother.  I liked horses.  I would have preferred to own a few and ride everywhere but it wasn't practical.  Instead I had my bicycle and I pretended it was a horse.  It didn't nicker when it saw me coming but it was cheaper to feed. 

Ok, that was almost 100% off track.  Woop.

What I want to say is that I never paid attention to cars with quite the attention to detail that I have shown since I became a frequent bicyclist.  Now I know the makes, the models, the habits.  I give BMW drivers extra room.  I worry a little less about Mercedes drivers who seem somewhat more easy-going.  The little SMART cars will drive up the bike lane.  The Prius is of course very quiet at traffic lights.  But a big part of what I notice is who smells bad and who does not. 

A late model Suburban doesn't smell a lot at all.  Yes I know it has all new materials and yes it takes a huge amount of fuel to run.  I'm not calling the thing a saint.  But it doesn't smell all that much.

Contrast with the Karmann Ghia.  The Karmann Ghia is tiny and cute.  I assume it uses less fuel to run than does the Suburban.  But GOD it smells SO BAD!  I thought I would DIE that time I was stuck behind one at a red light.  The exhaust fumes poured out to me and I started to hallucinate.  I was seeing rows of city buses (a personal bugbear) hurtle towards me and then veer off to left or right by the time the light finally changed.  My head started to clear as the Karmann Ghia put distance between itself and me but the headache behind my eyes would last for the next several miles.  Crazily enough I could follow the trail of the Karmann Ghia like a bloodhound.  Long after it had disappeared I knew where it had turned and what lane it had been in. 

Because it smelled AWFUL.

I know what you're thinking.  You say "bicycles smell too.  I remember this one bicyclist that smelled SO BAD that, he was all covered in dirty rags and pulling this huge trailer piled high with wet blankets.."

Yeah well that guy was homeless.  The smell was totally unrelated to the bicycle.

very very controversial

Q: What makes cars everywhere really really angry?
A:  Two bicyclists riding side by side. 

Two bicyclists get together and decide to go for a ride.  Or perhaps two bicyclists that know each other meet up while out riding and decide to continue on together.  Sometimes a mated pair of bicyclists will ride to work together.  In all of these instances the bicyclists are eager to ride side by side so they can talk to each other and enjoy the company of the other.

It really makes cars nuts to see this and I've wondered about it for awhile.

The car will tell you (I know because it's been shouted out the window at me) that they object to this behavior because it is against the law.   Because cars are so incredibly law abiding.  Not.  The driver of a car has not been made who can go twenty minutes without breaking the law.  As noted they speed, they roll gently though stop signs, they run yellow lights, they run red lights.  They aren't law abiding and they only read the rule book when it comes to bicycles.

So what is it?

Newsflash:  drivers do not want to "share the road."  Ask a car person to draw a picture of sharing the road and they will sketch a big wide road with a car speeding along (and no traffic lights, hooray!) and a tiny bicyclist crawling along close to the gutter.  Or possibly the bicyclist is safely on the sidewalk.  Cars don't want to be slowed down by a bicyclist even for a fraction of a second.  Sharing means "sometimes your turn and sometimes my turn" but cars see sharing as "I'm huge and fast and if you're smart you won't get in my way."

The next time you are leaning on your car horn and shouting obscenities out the window because two skinny little bicyclists are riding along together consider the following.

1.  People who shout out windows suck.
2.  Cars are big and fat.  The people in them always have the option of sitting across from each other and talking over their day.  Even side by side we take up less room than you do.
3.  We can't hear each other when we ride single file because the noise from traffic is fucking godawful.

Those signs that say "Share the Road."  What that means (and it is pathetic that I have to explain this to anyone) is that sometimes it is your turn and sometimes it is our turn.  So share the goddamned fucking road already.  Thank-you. And please don't say "well you should share too" because that is such a crock.  Bicyclists have no choice but to share.  We're skinny and vulnerable.  We're almost always on the side of the road.  YOU share.  It's your turn to do right. 


Sunday, April 17, 2011


I complain sometimes (ok I complain a lot) but the background noise is that I am surprised almost every day by how nicely the drivers in my part of California behave.  Why are they so nice?  I've worked up a few theories.  I think the answer is that it is a combination of the following.

1.  The weather is nice here almost every single day.  The sun shines the sky is a brilliant blue and people feel happy and are inclined to show generosity to that hapless bicyclist creeping along in the bike lane.  In Massachusetts and New York, where the weather is shitty almost every single day (freezing rain, snow, or disgustingly humid --- take your choice) people are in a bad mood all the time.  Happy people = nice thoughtful drivers.  Mad people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder are angry and medicated = horrible nasty drivers.

2.  People here are wicked fucking rich.  They drip money.  Houses in this neighborhood start at 1.2.  Rich people are happy people.  Also rich people have really nice cars and they don't want to get them all smeared up with a wet and sticky bicyclist.

3.  Wide roads with generously sized bicycle lanes.  Cars (outside of NYC, a city that is second only in disgusting mean smug nastiness to Boston, MA) like to have bicyclists in lanes.  They like knowing where we are and they like having an area that we don't invade.  It makes all of us a little calmer.  When I exit the bike lane to make a left hand turn the cars (or at least the local cars) are calm because they know that in mere seconds I will have slid back into my bike area and they can continue unimpeded in their car area.  The skinny roads in older cities (suited to people traveling on horseback who are about as wide as ...people on bicycles...) are a tough squeeze for todays SUV.  Add in a few roadies and everything gets exponentially worse.

So if you are some unfortunate living in one of those cities where the cops shoot bicyclists in the head you may not have any sense for how things can work, or even how they should work.  Here it is in a nutshell.

Pleasant communications.

1.  I signal that I am turning right.  The car approaching slows and then waves me on.  I continue right and the car goes on their way.

2.  I am bicycling up the bike lane.  A giant SUV has pulled over and parked in the bike lane because they want to talk on their phone and they knew it's illegal to do so while driving in traffic.  I signal that I need to enter traffic to get around the SUV.  The car approaching slows down and waves at me.  I go around the SUV and return to the lane.

3.  I am approaching an intersection with a green light.  A car in front of me wants to turn right but they don't want to cream me so they are looking to see if I am going to ride up on their side.  I wave them on.  They wave back and make their turn.

Yes.  It really is like this some places.  Peace among nations.  It begins with you.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

That wasn't cool. That was moronic. Now you know the difference.

I go over railroad tracks on my way to and from work.  The tracks are for commuter trains, Caltrain.  My co-worker who used to rely on Caltrain called it Failtrain because of it being late or slow or defective.  I don't have much of an opinion one way or the other excepting that I think when those funny striped rails come down and the lights turn on and you hear a loud dingdingding noise it's a good idea to stop and wait.

That's because trains are huge and fast and being turned into a mile long greasy stain is not my idea of a pleasant start to the day.  Others disagree.

A few days back, the Contraption Captain and I were on our way home from work together.  We turn onto Alma and the lights come on and the guard rails come down and we hear that distinctive dingdingding noise and we do this boring crazy middle-aged thing called stop-and-not-be-killed-by-express-train.

Even when a train is not coming a bicyclist needs to be careful crossing the tracks because you hit the embedded rails at an angle, they have deep grooves and a slim bicycle tire can get caught and throw you.

The angle you hit the rails at changes sharply when you need to weave through the crossing rails which is what this one bicyclist did in the incident I am describing.  Contraption Captain and I sortof gaped while the guy hit the brakes, wove through one side of the rails and then the other and arrived on our side maybe three seconds before the train.  Got to say, the look on the guys face suggested he'd cut it a little closer than he intended.

1.  Mr Bianchi, you get idiot prize for the quarter.  Congratulations.  We hope you enjoy your turd shaped award.

2.  If I see you again (and the image of your dumb face is seared across my retinas)  I'm suing you for loss of brain cells due to PTSD.

lame blue Prius is lame

My daily commute takes me through the intersection of Middlefield and Charleston.  Here I have to exit the bike lane and move to the left across three lanes of traffic so that I can get into the left turn only lane.  Seeing as I am, you know, taking a left...  I've found it best to give the cars plenty of warning (by signalling well in advance) and watching to see if they are yielding to let me cross in front of them (thank-you rear mirror) and also I try and time my trip to coincide with the light being red for them (don't get in between a snake and a mouse, don't get between an SUV and a green light) so that they are calmer.

It usually goes ok.

Yesterday I had made it safely to the far left, the lights ahead were all red, and then in the last yard a blue Prius pulled immediately in front of me.  This left part of their car in the "I go straight" lane and the other part of the car in the "I go left" lane.  It also meant that they nearly clipped me as up until that moment I had been in that particular spot of the "I go left" lane.  OK fine.  You can be first.  Whatever.

Sometimes cars decide at the last minute that they want to go left.  I get that.  I don't do it myself of course because bicycles don't have the luxury of making sudden unpredictable movements.  But heavy cars can and will change their minds like two ton butterflies seeking a better meadow.

This was not about changing her mind.  She was mad about me being there at all.  The driver I mean.  She glared at me and said something to her companion and then glared some more.  She made a rude gesture.  I returned her stare evenly.  I was not at fault.  Because California has attempted to civilize the Massachusetts out of me I did not say "learn to drive you fat ugly cow."

The light turns green and she goes through the intersection and assumes she is done with me.  She is mistaken.  Cars vastly over-estimate their speed and performance.  Her lane was busy and my bike lane was pretty well empty and I am a snappy bicyclist, not an ugly old ho driving a blue Prius. (That just slipped through the filter, sorry.  A little sorry.)

We are at the next light and we are side by side.  I stare.  She looks uneasy.  She says something to her companion.  They sortof look at me and then sortof look away.  The Blue Cow (I just think it) points at me and I stare at her as if she had bugs dripping off her head.

Next light and there I am.  Go me!  The Blue Cow and Friend look at me and one of them says something but it sounds pretty weak.

Next light and ta-da.  I'm still there.  Yes, that person you treat badly may show up again and even again after that.  We are now about to go our separate ways, her onto the maelstrom of traffic that is the 101 and me peacefully on a bike lane the rest of the way to work.  She looks over at me.  I abruptly roll out my (kindof long) tongue and cross my eyes and shake my head from side to side.  She kindof shrieks.

Immature, yes.  But pretty satisfying overall.

don't shoal the cars

Lame bicyclist practice number #783

Ahead there is a traffic light.  It's red.  A long line of cars has formed waiting for this light to turn green.  If there is a bike lane, your course is clear.  You line up with the other bicyclists.  If there is no bike lane your course is also clear (really) you line up with cars.

Bicyclists are all about "taking a lane" when it suits them.  When there is no bike lane and they don't want to be too near parked cars with surprising car doors.  However when "taking a lane" means waiting with the rest of the cars for the light to turn green they suddenly find the confidence to ride up on the side, car doors be damned.

Why this is lame.

You shoal the cars (cut off every car that is waiting and move your skinny bike ass in front of whomever was first in line) and then the light turns green and you fiddle with your clip and then slowly start turning the pedals because you came to a stop in high gear.  Meanwhile all the cars (and maybe the more reasonable bicyclists) are waiting for you to get the fuck under way.

Contraption Captain says, gently: You have to wait your turn.  Would you run up to the front of the check-out line in the grocery store?  Didn't you learn this in kindergarten?

What I say less gently.  A good bicyclist doesn't twist the rules to suit their every situation.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

It is SUCH a lie that old people are scared of bicycles

Old people may say they are scared of bicycles but their actions demonstrate otherwise.  In defense of old people I have yet to actually hear a senior citizen say "those bicycles scare me!"  It's always some relative of said senior citizen.  Some guy (usually 30 something, maybe younger) talking about how Grandma is terrified to walk to the store because those mean bicyclists ride on the sidewalk and they knock Grandma over and break her hip.  She's been to the store two times and both hips have been broken.  Fucking bicyclists.

I call bullshit.

As a friend of mine who is an Emergency Medicine Doctor kindly told me;  "We don't have a bike on person problem.  We have a car on bike problem."  I pressed him for details but he just looked pained and suggested I be sure to wear my helmet.  Also a full suit of armor.

I don't spend a lot of time riding on the sidewalk.  The sidewalks have pedestrians and sometimes the pedestrians have strollers.  The sidewalks have all these scary little driveway things cutting through them and cars back out suddenly and not unsurprisingly they don't expect a bicyclist to show up behind them at the rate of 18mph.  So no sidewalks.  Also I'm scared of old people and old people like sidewalks.

This brings me (and hopefully you over an admittedly circuitous route) to Thursday of last week.  I was on my way home from work and I had reached downtown Palo Alto where I navigate the Trifecta of traffic lights that are University, Lytton, and umm, that other cross street by Town Hall and the laundromat.  I'd cleared the first and was hurtling towards the 2nd, University.  The road was clear and I was staring at a green light accompanied by the White Man of Safety.  Immediately behind me was a car.  Both of us were 100% excited about getting through the intersection of University and Bryant in one piece.  When it comes to clearing green lights, bicycles and cars have a ton in common.

The light is almost upon me when it starts to tick down.  The Red Hand of Danger blinks menacingly but I know I'm safe.  22mph (not bad for a headwind) and the countdown has just started.  10...9..  A herd of pedestrians looks and says "hey, just a bicyclist" and they head out into the street.  They look again and consider the car behind me and they back up, opting to wait for the light to turn in their favor.

Except for one tall old lady with a dandelion head of white fluffy hair.  She looks right at me and continues on.  She looks again and laughs (laughs!) and speeds up.  Now I can't calculate her trajectory.  I zig and she zags. The car behind me is too close for me to hit the brakes in the middle of the intersection.  I pass Old Lady with an arms length between us as she rushes across the street against the light.  She kindof giggles.  As I go by I say, "Please.  Don't do that."

Friday, April 8, 2011

actually, that's not true and I won't thank you for playing

A few days back I noticed that my bicycle was making a fan-fucking-tastically egregious squeaking as I rode it home from work.  This is expected behavior from bicycles that get ridden hard and put away (literally) wet.  At home I have chain lubricants, it's the work of three minutes to spin the wheel and fix yourself up.  Unfortunately my behavior when I get home is to throw off my backpack, close the garage door, and run up the stairs.  The next morning I'm in a hurry, of course so nothing happens then...

That's how it came to be a blazing hot day and I'm at work getting ready to leave when I remember that my bicycle sounds like a choir of a thousand mice being tortured to death.  Damn.  In this heat and with this headache it is going to sound exceptionally disgusting.

I get this idea.  My idea is that I'll stop at the REI on the way home and see if their bike shop would put some lubricant on my chain.  I don't want to buy more (I have plenty at home as this forgetful scenario is not a fresh one) and the tech may charge me a few bucks but might also float me a freebie.  I've been to the place before to pick up some lights and tubes on occasion, so it's not total freeloading (I reason) and I'm a member...

I walk my shrieking bicycle in and to the back.  A skinny bicycle technician grins and takes my bicycle and says it is no trouble and he proceeds to do a very thorough job on the chain.  But I can immediately tell that there will be a bill at the end and I regret that it won't be anything a VISA card can handle.

The other guy working (on a land cruiser, ewww) is familiar to me.  I had brought my bicycle in one disgusting wet day with a flat tire.  I was cold and wet and late for work.  It was my second flat in two days.  I wanted to fork over my money and ride out with a fixed bike.  I got that but I also got a lecture.  The lecture went along the lines of  "people who have road bikes should be able to fix their flat tires in any weather and if they can't they shouldn't be on road bikes.  Maybe they shouldn't be bicycling at all."

Well fuck you too.  Yes it is better to be a person who fixes their own flat tires and does all their own work.  But how many working people fix their own cars these days?  Who punishes a car owner for bringing their car into the shop?  Fuck you.  If I'm cold and wet and late for work and I want to shell out $15 I'll pay to have someone fix my flat tire.

Back to the squeaky chain day.  There's that guy.  And he can't help himself.  He starts right in.  When did I last bring the bicycle in for maintenance?  Well I ride every day, it's not easy to make the time.  There should be loaner bikes right?  Haha.

No Haha.

him:  "Are you an REI member?"
me:  "Yes."
him:  "Well you know that we offer bicycle maintenance classes.  You should sign up."
me:  [appreciates that this is the emotional bill, and I need to pay]  "Great idea."
him:  "The road bike is a sensitive instrument.  It needs a lot of attention."
me:  "Actually I have lubricant at home, but I forgot this morning..."
him [continues as if I said zero, tone snarky and critical]  "The bicycle is a finely tuned instrument."
me:  "yeah, yeah it is."


Then the guy who ACTUALLY HELPED ME as opposed to the guy who lectured me handed my bicycle back and I thanked him over and over and we chatted a little about Trek.  I tried to tip him but he laughed and shook his head.

So, to the other guy, who will hitherto be referred to as "The Swine"  here's what I didn't say because I was paying the bill by letting you be a jerk.

Fuck you.  Anyone gets to have a road bike.  It is such a crock that these bicycles are little Thoroughbreds that can't be taken out on a wet day or a dry day or an uneven day.  Bicycles need next to zero.  It's one of their beauties.  When the gears get used up they get replaced.  When the chain gets used up, replace that too. Most of it lasts for at least a year (even with the heavy use my bike gets) before it needs to be replaced.  We all deserve nice fast bicycles.  Anyone who actually rides (as opposed to storing their bike) deserves something they love that feels wonderful and free.   And thankfully the mechanism of the bicycle hasn't changed a lot.  You can maintain it (easily and occasionally) or fork over for someone else to do it.  So get off your high horse already.  It's lame.