Tuesday, January 31, 2012

the sun struggles up another beautiful day, and I feel glad in my own suspicious way

Saturday we loaded Rapunzel into a wagon behind my road bike and the Contraption Captain took his Tour Easy and we set out to run some errands, at least one of which was fulfilling Rapunzel's multi-month request to get her ears pierced.  Heading down the hill just outside our house I thought my steering felt off but I chalked that up to the wagon.  I turned onto the Alameda and asked Contraption if he'd adjusted my steering in any way.  He shook his head no.  I turned on to Avy and pulled over and eyed my bicycle gravely and then started feeling around.  The front tire was low and getting lower.  We moved the wagon to the recumbent and I biked home.  Because of the impending ear appointment time constraints we (somewhat glumly) got into the car and drove downtown.

Once home again Contraption Captain started pulling apart my bicycle.  He put on new brake pads and showed me how the existing ones were wore to the metal in one place.  He took tire and tube off the bicycle and set them to one side.  I studied my now ex-tire.  It was covered in small holes, the endless insults of over a year of riding on roads shared with broken glass and other tiny sharp objects.  New tire, new tube, new brakes, and I was back in action.  We talked a little about how crappy changing a tire is, Contraption thinks that tire manufacturers do not stick by the standards entirely well causing at least some of the headache.  The other part, he reminded me, is that a car doesn't mind carrying something huge and heavy but most bicyclists favor lighter transport.  

Today was a good ride in.  Most of them are good.  I looked at the grey sky with was pocked with areas of clear quiet blue as the clouds cleared to either side.  The cars did a certain amount of horsing around as they coped with the current construction on Sand Hill but it was nothing beyond the pale.  I got shoaled by two bicyclists, neither of whom were very good which was a shame as I was stuck behind them for awhile.  What is it about slow bicyclists that they always want to move their bicycles in front of you at a red light?  I can always tell when my ass is going to be handed to me speed wise because the roadie will pull up behind me, wait there, and then blow by me a few minutes later when there is a break in traffic.  

I witnessed a few funny instances of what I call The Fan Out Effect.  This is when a bicyclist is clumping along in a lane without a bike lane and a car is behind the bicyclist and so the car drives up the oncoming traffic lane to get around and in the space of a few seconds causes both the bicyclist coming in the other direction and a car coming in the other direction to lose control of their respective bladders.  The solution, dear cars, is not to try and pass (even if it's killing you) until no one is coming at you from the opposite direction.  

Back in awhile crocodiles.  Going to go get my bicycle and grab me some of that blue blue sky before my lunch break comes to an end.  

Monday, January 30, 2012

If I were a better person, I'd be sorrier.

A few mornings back the Contraption Captain snorted up some of  his morning coffee.  I looked up.  He informed me that a bicyclist had shot and killed someone.  I looked over and read the story which described a 65 year old bicyclist who gets pulled off his bicycle by three teens who proceed to assault him and then he takes out a handgun and shoots two of them killing one.  I laughed but then felt ashamed for laughing because one person was dead and another in the hospital but then I laughed again and then was sorry again lather rinse repeat.

Teenagers do a lot of stupid things, I know because I was a teenager and I did stupid things.  Decades later I still do stupid things whereas my understanding is that it's more typical to grow out of your stupid phase.  But here it is, even at the height of my stupid powers I never assaulted anyone of any age.  I think we'll credit my parents with raising me to be a non-assaulter of 65 year old humans and call me fortunate.  I assume my daughters will do stupid things as teenagers and like other parents I hope (desperately) that they won't do anything so stupid that it causes lasting harm.

Later that day at work, I showed the story to two friends, both of whom happen to be bicyclists and if it matters, both of whom happen to be better engineers.  One of them (the guy with the Trek Madone that I secretly covet but which I will not assault him to acquire thanks mom and dad) has done a bunch of work in Iraq so we'll work on the assumption that he knows about conflict.  Both were absolutely horrified by the story and entirely unsympathetic to the bicyclist.  They very much disapproved of the bicyclist shooting the teenagers and I was suitably chastened and informed by their higher ground.  The one (Trek Madone guy) said seriously "How can anyone learn anything from this?  He's dead.  No one will not assault a bicyclist because of this."  His words resonated and I really think he's right, there is no lesson for anyone else here, and someone quite young is dead and another badly injured.

I continued to be not entirely sorry despite my best efforts.  I thought about why the story resonated so much and why it was so meaningful to me that this guy, not much younger than my dad (and remember I am older than dirt) had turned the tables on these teenagers.

I liked it because bicyclists are bullied on a near daily basis.  Because as a bicyclist I am out there with my twenty-five or so pounds of bicycle and my ugly helmet and my tiny rear-view mirror and  nothing else.  Because if you want to grab us and pull us down you can and we fall and it hurts and then you can start kicking us.  Because when a car does not "see" us it makes it ok to hit us and kill us and then it's just an "unfortunate accident."  Because of all of this and more, when I heard that three teenagers had pulled a bicyclist down and assaulted him and the bicyclist had taken out a gun and shot two of them?

I wasn't as sorry as I should have been.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

let's not go to the dogs tonight

There was a mild flap recently about joggers running in the bicycle lane.  Runners in the bicycle lane!  O the horror!  As someone who both bicycles and (occasionally) runs I have an opinion on this and the name of my opinion is.... Really?

As in:

Really?  We're complaining about the safety hazard posed by people running up the street??

I'll take questions now.

Q:  Do you run in the bicycle lane?
A:  No.  I mostly destroyed my ITB by running on hard surfaces.  I run on trails these days.

Q:  Would you run in a bicycle lane if you had not wrecked your ITB?
A:  No.  Being run over by a bicyclist would be unpleasant.  Not fatal (statistically speaking) but nevertheless unpleasant.

Q:  As a bicyclist, do you care if people run in bicycle lanes?
A:  Not really.

Wait, I don't care about runners in bicycle lanes?  Someone who can spend an entire post complaining about people who are still surprised that I bicycle in the rain is not upset about a handful of shlumps staggering up the bicycle lane?  Why do I not care?  How can I not care.

I do not care because smart bicyclists (also bicyclists like myself who are of middling intelligence) keep their eye on the real danger out there and it turns out that the real danger for a bicyclist is not colliding with a runner.  The real danger is being turned into a slab of red, grey and white paste by a city bus.

I care a little about turtles in the bicycle lane because I have to go around them.  I care a little about kids who run into the bicycle lane after evading their parents because I have to swerve around them.  I sometimes have to wend my way around people running and other times I have to wait until I can pass a slow bicyclist.  All of that is just life as we know it as far as I'm concerned.

The day we wipe out the risk of being killed by cars is the day we can turn our complaining little hearts to the non-risks of the bicycling world:  dogs on long leashes, kids biking erratically, and yeah, runners destroying their knees hips and ankles in the bicycle lane.

Until then, if you find yourself with the energy to whine about someone running in the bicycle lane, congratulate yourself and then dial 1-800-DALLAS where they do not even have bicycle lanes.  Yet.

Friday, January 27, 2012

what you see on the way to work

I take a basically identical route every day.  It's selected for safety and attractiveness and not so much for distance - I think I could cut some of the mileage but why would I want to do that cause hey, bicycling!  I check out the houses that line the streets as I pedal along with the kind of mild interest sheep reserve for movement of the clouds.

There's this one pretty house which has hands sculptures visibel through a window.  At first I thought it was a Halloween display that no one had taken down but there they were day after day, about five hands reaching up with veins exposed on some, bones on others.  I finally stopped one day when I saw a guy outside the house.  I asked about the hands in the window.  Initially suspicious, he immediately brightened when I did not ask for money or attempt to rob him.  It turns out that he was (is now retired) a hand surgeon and those were his collection of surgical hand models that he still likes to look at and display.

Then there's the house with the big picture window out front.  The window is unusual in that it is floor to nearly ceiling, huge.  The owners have a sofa with it's back to the window and this provides some privacy.  One day I glanced over as I rode past and saw this fabulous tableau vivant - there was a little girl, perhaps three years old crouched down behind the sofa with both hands covering her mouth and her shoulders hunched up as she tried not to laugh.   Visible beyond the sofa was an adult walking back and forth calling and peering around.  I told this story to an acquantance-mother:

some-mom:  Oh my.  You didn't stop and tell them?
me:  What?
some-mom:  Did you stop to let the parent know where the child was hiding?
me:  Ummm, no!  I mean, that would be telling, right?
some-mom:  What if she didn't know where the child was?
me:  [patiently] Well then she'd have to ask for a hint I guess.

You do all see, I hope, that a bicyclist pulling up to a door in the midst of a game of hide and seek you were playing with your kid to tell you that the kid was behind the sofa, would be outrageously creepy?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

get a nice bicycle

Sometimes (not often) a person will ask me about what they can do to get into bicycling, or they'll put out a few feelers about getting started  bicycle commuting and do I have any advice?  I start out with "what kind of bicycle do you have" and inevitably it's old and heavy and does not fit.  Then I hand over my very technical and specific advice:  "Get a nice bicycle."  I smile hopefully.  The person shuffles their feet.

They tell me that before they spend any money they want to first see if they'll do any bicycling and this is when my heart breaks a little.  Bicycling is not a lot of fun on an old poorly tuned vehicle that does not fit.  The gears don't work.  It's heavy.  It's slow.  I appreciate the sense of not spending money on something you will not use but you have to appreciate that if you had to push your car to work each day you might not want to drive anywhere either.

So then they ask me what kind of bicycle to get as if I knew shit from shinola on the topic, which I do not.  But I still have an answer and the name of that answer is "get a bicycle that you like."  The bicycle that you like is the one that you ride.  And while we're on the topic, to any engineers out there still fighting the text editing wars?  Vi or emacs?  Same goes for you.  The right tool for the job is the one that works for you.

How do you figure out which is a bicycle that you like?  Go to a bicycle store.  Figure out what size of bicycle is correct for you.  Try a lot of different bicycles.  You can take the bicycle outside after completing some paperwork showing you are not a car thief and then you can really ride.  Definitely do not just sit on the bike in some department store.   Come in your bike outfit and ride and keep riding until you meet the bicycle that feels great.   The brakes will be in some place that makes sense for your hands.  Your back won't hurt.  The gears feel just right.  Now go home.  Come back a few days later and ride the bicycle you liked all over again.  Do you still love it?  Are you muttering endearments under your breath?  That's the one.  Buy it.

Also for the sake of your romantic life, spring for a decent bicycle seat.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

where else?

Yesterday evening I got on my bicycle and turned towards home.  The weather was beautiful for a ride, cool and clear but not too dry and I trembled all over with a kind of subdued pleasure as I turned on to Charleston because I was sure it was going to be a deliciously fast ride.  At the Charleston and Rengstorff intersection I settled in behind the handful of cars waiting for a green arrow.  I knew from experience that there would be enough time for me to clear the intersection when the light changed and I find it exceptionally exhilarating at this spot to race right in line with the cars, accelerating as they accelerate until the bike lane re-appears and I peel off to the side.

A bicyclist comes up beside me and then rides up on the line in the narrow space between the two rows of waiting cars and my mood dampens very slightly.  If the bicyclist wanders around when the light turns green, he's going to slow all of us down and I probably won't get through the intersection.  I'm annoyed and I resolve the catch and pass the bicyclist if I can, demonstrate that you can wait your turn and still be fast.  Faster.

The light turns green and the cars start forward and I begin pedaling, click in, begin to accelerate.  I've lost interest in the bicyclist now, I'm entirely focused on maintaining the perfect distance behind the car in front of me, watching that no one tries to cut across from my left to the 101on-ramp, bicyclists watch almost everything around themselves when they are in traffic.

I clear the intersection at wonderful speed and am heading towards the next light which is about to turn green and as I fall back into the bicycle lane I see the other bicyclist on the far side of the road.  His earlier excursion had led him up on the side of the road where he is now stranded, cut off from the straight-away by the cars who are getting on the 101.

That's why I wait where I do and bike that spot as I do.  If you're off to the side you strand yourself.  I wave a little as I pass and he gives me some slight grim acknowledgement.  Within minutes I see him cut across and continue on behind me and I smile like the nutcase I am and pour on speed earned towing wagons of children around as I head over the 101 and down the other side.  I bear to the right and he goes straight.

We effectively take two different sides of a similar box which means that when I turn right onto Middlefield he re-appears behind me and then we are both waiting for the light at East Meadow.  Mmmm!  Game on!  Did I mention that its a beautiful night?  The light turns green and I spring forward and he's right behind me, drafting.  My tongue lolls out of my mouth as if I were an over-heated Labrador retriever as I pound down E. Meadow and then make my turn onto Bryant.  He turns also.  I sprint as hard as I can but can't quite lose him.  We continue in this manner until we get to a 4-way stop with waiting cars.  I stop and wait and he heads through.

Now I'm behind.  He must be tiring or maybe I'm just getting a win from drafting but it's easy to pace him exactly and maybe my distance runner genes are kicking in because I'm not working that hard.  Two other bicyclists fall in behind me.  And then another.  The five of us fly up darkening Bryant like this, never saying anything, sometimes trading places but never separating very much.  We flow around slower bicyclists just as the evening air flows around our bicycles.  When we get to downtown Palo Alto we start breaking off in different directions and by El Camino I am alone again.

Each commute is filled with chances to race, opportunities to join a pack and split away from it, each commute is filled with wins and losses and moment of incredible excitement.  What I'm saying is, where else can a middle-aged woman of middling athletic skills have such a fabulous time just heading home from a day at the office?  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

the elephant in my bicycling room

Changing a flat tire on a bicycle is worse than being a turkey on Thanksgiving.  There.  Done.  Now we can talk about this painful experience that we suffer through silently at unpredictable intervals.  Changing out a flat on a bicycle sucks monkey tits.  Although I can change a bike tire if my life depends on it (so please to not be shooting) my life does not usually depend on bicycle tire swappage so mostly I strike out.

Before you jump to conclusions about my inadequacies, I raise you whatever bicycle tire you have changed out successfully and see you an ancient butterscotch-colored fifteen passenger van loaded with (mostly) medicated schizophrenics.  Now that was a tire change, my friends!  Stuck by the side of the road, agency too cheap to pay for Triple AAA and me on tire swap duty while also well being the only one playing with a full deck.  As I jacked that baby up I did a mental finger crossing and and hoped that none of the mentally challenged would wander into traffic.

Q:  What's the secret to an easy car tire swap?
A:  Always loosen the lug nuts before jacking up the tire.

Back to bicycles.  I have a long un-proud history of striking out at bicycle tire change.  My failures (and the failures I just stood around for) in no particular order:
  1. break tire levers without getting tire off wheel.  
  2. not finding the puncture at all.  stand around looking confused.
  3. put the mysteriously flat tire with no puncture back on and pump it up and whoa, still flat!
  4. patching a tire and having the puncture open up again.  twice.
  5. pinching the tube in such a way that the tire goes flat all over again
  6. not being able to get the tire back on with the tube inside
  7. no pump. lost it somewhere.
  8. got the pump but do not have the right attachment for my tire type
  9. got pump and attachment but pump got broken somewhere along the way
  10. got a better pump but it was heavy so left it at home and now, yeah, no pump again..
  11. no patch kit.  lost it somewhere.
  12. have patch kit but no glue and these are the patches that need glue
Fast Forward and I meet that Man of Bicycling Mystery, that recumbent rider, the Contraption Captain.  I was sure all this tube-changing angst was finally going to change and the secrets of a happy tube swap would finally be mine to lord over the area lesser bicyclists.  This is, after all, the guy who took apart our broken piece of shit plastic ice-maker and made it over again but this time with metal parts that he had machined himself with stuff he found lying around his garage-shop.  True story!  This must be a guy who can both change a bicycle tire and teach me how to do it for myself?

Lesson was with with my old Specialized Rockhopper bicycle.  I appreciate that it wasn't the youngest horse in the barn but it's not like this thing was built by labor busting monkeys at Wal-Mart either.  He gets out tire levers, shows me where to put them (ha) and then demonstrates how to break the seal and then invites me to try.  I can't get the tire off.  He tries.  And tries.  The veins stand out on his neck and his face shows mild annoyance.  "Some are harder than others" he says as he pries and yanks.  The tire comes off.  I look doubtful.

The in between parts are not that bad.  Blow up the tube and stick it in water or eyeball or feel along the rubber as you look for the leak.  Patch the leak.  That's all ok.  Checking the inside of your tire for more bullshit dropped by automobiles is ok also although I advise not using your finger for this if what you are checking for is broken glass.

Now it's time to put the tube in the tire and put tire and tube back on the naked wheel.  The entire struggle of getting the tire off has to happen in reverse with the added caveat that you now need to be careful not to pinch your tube or damage it in some fresh way.  So it's a miserable struggle and it's also stressful.

Why is this all so awful?  Car people refer to a "spare tire" but what they have is a "spare wheel."  We are not all that comfortable carrying a spare wheel around because unlike the petroleum people we have no giant trunk.

I guess I'm just saying, couldn't this be any better?  Please?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

bad tempered bicyclist is still bad tempered...

…but she's working on it.

I made an important discovery yesterday as I pedaled home from work.  I was churning through a busy intersection and accelerating (with the usual adrenaline surge) towards a just turned green light when I saw a bicyclist up ahead of me.  He was just getting underway and I complained (in my head, where it is safe to complain) that I would have to get around this (gasp) slower bicyclist.  I saw a break in the car traffic and passed him and then I had an epiphany.   My epiphany was to realize that I get annoyed with bicyclists who are slower than I am because then I have to get around them before I can resume usual speed.  Also, I get annoyed with bicyclists who are faster than I am because I want to be fastest.  Attentive people will notice that this only leaves room for bicyclists who are exactly the same speed as I am and it turns out I don't like that either (gets crowded) unless I happen to be married to the bicyclist.  Extra attentive people will notice that is bears a more than passing resemblance to the behavior of automobiles (must win!  must get around!)

This series of realizations does not represent a very proud moment for me.

I was thinking about all of this dislike as I waited at a traffic light and the bicyclist I had passed pulled up beside me.  He at least had no hard feelings.  He said "hello!" and correctly guessed where I worked.  Since most of my bad temper happens inside of my head I was able to be pleasant and I asked where he was biking from.  Turned out to be up by NASA which means he'd probably been on his bicycle for three or four miles already.  I said something like "you've already put a few miles on" and he offered with shy pleasure "I've been bicycling since '74."  

Damn.  The guy has been bicycling since…before I could bicycle.  I looked at him with fresh respect.  I had guessed him to be maybe ten years my senior but now I saw that it was closer to 20 years, he was just in a supremely healthy condition.  I said "This is a nice area to ride" and he nodded his head happily and then we went through the light and pedaled along until we were stopped at the next red outside the Mountain View REI.  We both took the opportunity to admire the evening sky which was a wide pool of indigo water that had been swirled with flamingo pinks.  "It's a beautiful night" Bicycling-Since-74 offered and I agreed.  He was going to Palo Alto and I was going to Menlo Park. The light turned green and we took off again.  

This time I just barely missed clearing the light at San Antonio and Charleston.  74 arrived a few moments later.  He wondered politely if I had considered the Bay Road route, "no lights" he explained.  I said that I had tried it a few times but that my route picked up Bryant (Bicycle Boulevard) which I loved so I went with Charleston-Bryant combination.  Bicycling-Since-74 started nodding as soon as I said Bryant and he again wished me a great ride and this time we went our separate directions under the always unfolding evening sky.

Why does any of this matter?  A few things come to mind, and the first is selfish.  That guy has been bicycling to work and then home again for over thirty years.  He was strong, fit, and endlessly cheerful.  Assuming we bicyclists can avoid being run over by cars we have a long good life ahead.  What else?  Bad tempered alone in your car never really changes.  Bad tempered on a bicycle brings you out into the world where you may find yourself changed.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

well, that was unpleasant

It's the last leg to home and it happens to be a pretty steep hill with a hugely busy intersection at the halfway point.  The bike lane is decent but not spectacular, the main issue being that bicyclists going straight see a certain amount of risk from frantic cars cutting across the bike lane to take a right.  We did not make the light and stopped and waited for the green.  It came and we trundled forward along with the surge of desperate and unhappy automobiles.  

We are almost to the far side and I've passed Contraption Captain on the inside when I hear the loud crack of splintering plastic and the chunk of a bricked bicycle.  I know he has not been hit, it's not an impact kindof noise it's a bicycle failure noise.  I stop and turn and C is peering at his bicycle and then we get out of the road and I get a sinking feeling in my stomach because C has to drag his bicycle to the sidewalk -- the back wheel won't turn.

He studies the bicycle and I wait hopefully.  C is a fantastic repair-person so I have reason to be confident.  C shakes his head.  I go to his bicycle and consider the wire that has wrapped around the wheel and forced the fender around an through for good measure.  Imagine a wheel with a fender on top.  Now imagine that same wheel with the fender mostly underneath.  Now imagine a fender through the brakes and down the wrong side of the wheel and bolted into place.  I try and budge the wire but it's actually doubled.  

We walk home.

Un-fun at any time, walking home with a large Tour Easy recumbent whose back wheel can not turn is exceptionally un-fun.  In the end Contraption Captain uses his belt to hoist the thing onto his shoulder and we stagger the last mile home.  It was a pretty impressive sight, that big bike up on the shoulder but certain situations are not Kodak moments, kwim?  

Once home, we went to work on the wire and between his hardware and my smaller fingers we got the huge double length of wire that some douche had dropped in the road out of the wheel.  Then he re-trued the wheel because he's awesome.  The fender is a loss so hope for no rain for us until a new one arrives in the mail.

What else.  You know, it may be an exceptionally large heavy bicycle but can you think of a small lightweight automobile that a single person could carry home on their shoulder?  Me neither.

What else more.  This is our second wire in the road encounter in six months.  Don't you wish cars were not such incredible litter-monsters?  Me too.    

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Cursing Man

Years back, when living in Massachusetts, I was bicycling to Northampton from Sunderland for work.  I just now checked (map below) and it was about 11 miles each way.  The job had awful hours and awful pay and although it did not require me to have a car if I drove my car to work I would end up having to use it which I hated.  I remember thinking, "I bet I could bike in.  Then there would be no way to make me use my car and besides....bicycling!" 

My ride was an old Trek hybrid purchased for cheap not beauty but it was entirely serviceable.  This was before bicycle lanes but the roads were pretty quiet and despite having only the money (or the brains) for a tail light I had no serious accidents...River Drive where there were lots of farms was exceptionally pretty.  In Sunderland my usual companions in bicycling would be the very poor seasonal farm workers who were imported in to pick the tobacco crop and then exported at the end of the season but closer in to town the level of traffic picked up adding in college students and some fellow bicycle commuters and hobbyists.  The most memorable of these bicyclists was The Cursing Man.

The Cursing Man was always on his bicycle and usually clutching a small brown cigar between his teeth.  He was always cursing, a long steady stream of bad language, and not the casual bad language stuff like "damn" or "bitch" either.  As he pedaled up the side of the road he let loose with a string of incredible profanity with the speed of machine gun fire:  "you filthy shit-eating motherfucking cocksucking asshole piece of shit you're going to get your ass kicked reamed torn apart you fucking.."

You get the idea or I hope you do as I can't really do it justice. 

Also, the bad language was delivered at high volume.  If you were bicycling along from far away you'd hear "stupid bitch suck my dick you disgusting dog-fucker" and the volume would grow and grow until this blast of profanity flew by you on your left.  Did I mention that The Cursing Man was very fast?  He was.  He could simultaneously curse and pedal an easy 28mph on the flat. 

What else?  The Cursing Man was very tall, with long legs, and his chosen steed was a big road bike with thin steel tubing.  He wore only tennis shoes and shorts, nothing else.  He was incredibly fit and powerful.  His every muscle stood out and he had the legs of a three time Tour winner.  Always he was on that bicycle, riding down route 9, up through Florcence and back into Northampton and always the ceaseless shouting. 

After the initial surprise he became part of the landscape for me, just another person.  I never heard of anyone being attacked or hurt by The Cursing Man and although he frequently flew by me it was always at a safe distance and his words never felt as if they were directed against me personally.  I started to kindof like the guy.  The word on the street was that he'd been a high-powered lawyer and that he'd been in a car accident and then in a coma and when he came out of it...voila.  The Cursing Man. 

This story has a sad end.  After being away in Washington DC for several years I returned to the area.  I didn't see The Cursing Man for weeks and when I did he was sitting on a bench.  The bicycle was gone and he was wearing a shirt.  He no longer looked angry, he looked dazed and subdued.  His buff body had been replaced by a wide soft heavily medicated body and he had the characteristic Thorazine slump.  With birds they clip the wings, with bicyclists they take away your wheels.

I like best to remember him as I first knew him.  His strong legs churning the pedals up route 9 at high speed, cigarillo between his teeth like a horse who has taken the bit, and always delivering that steady paean of invective. 

View Larger Map

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Change is not just coming, change is here. (but people will probably continue to suck for awhile.)

Adventure 1.  Nice.

Today I counted twenty-seven bicyclists waiting for the light at the intersection of Oregon and Bryant. 


That's not the total for the duration of the commute, that's just bicyclists at this one light.  It was cold out (positively Arctic by California standards) but there they were, a metric ton of students of all ages, bicycling.  It started at Embarcadero when I was behind three ~14 year old females who nearly got t-boned by two ~14 year old males when the light turned green.  Much shrieking ensued.  From there to Charleston my route was dotted with students.  Some were bicycling with their hands in their pockets to keep warm.  One had a cello on his back.  Many were in little social groups of three or four, talking and laughing as they made their way to class.  All of them had helmets on (if you care about that kind of thing) and they all looked absolutely content to be pedaling in to school as opposed to being chauffeured by a surly parent.  I tried to count the total number of these student bicyclists but lost track at eighty-three. 

It was fabulous.  Before today I had always been before or after the elementary and high school inbound commuters for Palo Alto.  The number of bicyclists really knocked me over and I saw hope for a future where a default would be getting on a bicycle, not getting into a car.

Adventure 2.  Not So Nice

San Antonio and Charleston is not my favorite intersection.  The bicycle lane vanishes and the cars are fractious.  It's not my least favorite either --- the cars are bunched up like cattle so they move slowly which makes them easier to avoid. 

You deserve a picture but I don't have one, sorry.  Imagine two lanes for going straight and one very short lane (maybe four cars can fit) for taking a left.  Cars hate this!!  If they are not in the lucky group close to the front, they're screwed.   They see the green arrow for their turn but they're stuck behind a bunch of people who have a red light and are waiting to go straight. 

I got zero sympathy.  They make the choice to get into those damn vehicles every morning, they can deal with the fallout. 

Which brings me to the morning commute.  I am trundling along in the far right lane and planning to go straight.  A ginormous SUV gives me a scare by passing me too close and jamming themselves into place in front of me.  The same ginormous SUV abruptly switches from the right lane in to the left lane causing a small and terrified Hybrid Civic to beep in helpless annoyance.  See ginormous SUV?  Even the other cars do not like you!

Ginormous saved the best for last.  She (it was a she) saw the green arrow.  Was not in the turn lane.  Without hesitation she crosses the double yellow line and starts driving up the other side of the street.  Personally I think this would have given anyone coming around the corner quite a surprise.  She still does not get to the front in time and so she runs the red light.  More honking.

So to that lady?  I hope you got to the hospital on time before your loved one expired, I really do.  I know you drove that way and endangered everyone else because you had a really good reason.  Going forward please remember that having a loved one in the hospital does not give you the right to put someone else's loved one in traction.  Or worse.

Monday, January 9, 2012

just turn the key

Today I am back at work.  I put away my bicycle and collect my breakfast and head up the stairs.  En route I am joined by someone I know only a little.  I nod.  She nods.  Personally I think that's enough socializing for one day but apparently not.

distant co-worker three times removed:  [cheerily] "still bicycling in 2012?" 
Chafe City:  [I admit it] "Yes."
distant co-worker [with wonder] "How do you do it?"
Chafe City:  "umm."  [I mean what.  How to bicycle?  How to pedal?  Where to get a bicycle?  Where to get a pedal?]
distant co-worker: "I get up in the morning and just head right to my car."
Chafe City: [uncomfortably] "I do basically the same thing.  Except it's a bicycle."
distant co-worker:  "But how do you ...you know...get yourself to do it?"
Chafe City: [we are now stalled on a stairwell.  I fight off despair] "Do you ever have a tough time getting pysched to go to work in the morning?"
distant co-worker "Well, sure."
Chafe City [briskly] "But you go anyway, right?" 
distant co-worker "Well sure."
Chafe City "Same thing.  Except I bicycle.  You could too."
distant co-worker [earnestly] "It's different.  I just get in my car and turn the key in the ignition."
Chafe City "It's the same.  I just get on my bicycle.  And I pedal."

Friday, January 6, 2012

well now I'm not sure anymore. is this a trick or can I actually pass you?

Bicycling with children is a horse I continue to get back on despite the anxiety and occasional falls.

Time for Q&A.

Q:  Is it because you had too many kids and are hoping for fewer?
A:  Fuck you.  No.  My kids are wonderful and I adore them.

Q:  Is it because you are too dumb to have noticed that the roads are dotted with giant metal machines driven by people who may be doing their nails and texting their ex while making an appointment with their therapist after drinking a vodka tonic?
A:  I am not too dumb.  I've noticed.  Are you Amish or have you noticed that their Tahoe XL can take down your Lexus ES300?  Yeah so.  Get on the same hope machine as the rest of us bicyclists.  At least we don't have to share a lane (usually) with those dangerous nincompoops.

So, why bicycle with your kids?

1.  It's fun.
2.  It's good exercise.  Exercise is good for the mind and body.  Just because kids don't have rent to pay doesn't mean that they do not have stress of their own.  Bicycling is calming.
3.  No more parking hassles.
4.  No fights about who sits next to the dog.
5.  I want them to learn some good bicycling habits because it may protect them later on when they are bicycling with friends.
6.  Other stuff I'm probably forgetting.

So on this, the last day of winter vacation Rapunzel, Sparkle Pony and I bicycled out to meet the Contraption Captain.  We had a pleasant dinner and then turned towards home.  Nothing bad or scary happened.  Yay.  I don't think Sparkle Pony saw me flip off the person who wouldn't let us cross from the bike lane on the right of the road to the bike lane in the middle forgoing straight.

We're trundling along and this car shoots past us on the left going too fast to a red light.  Whatever.  They put their turn signal on.  We're going straight.  Because we value our brain cells we do not attempt to pass on the right.  But the car's wheels are turning very s l o w l y.  The wheels say ........ bicycles ..... something .... about .......bicycles.

Instead of making that right hand turn the car stops.  It shivers gently in it's lane as we approach it with the caution of gazelles being offered creamsicles by a skinny cheetah.  The car makes no move to turn.  Contraption Captain slinks by on the right.  Then Sparkle Pony.  Car #2 (Texas plates, please learn manners or go home btw) pulls up behind Car #1 and leans on his horn.

Car #1:  Bicycles!  Possibly little kids on bicycles!
Car #2:  HOOOONK!  Wtf is your problem Car #1!  Pull up your big car pants and turn!!
Car #2:  ....bicycles?
Bicycles:  Should we go?  Or will Car #1 abruptly change it's mind and smash us into the pavement?


Car #1 holds it's ground.  Sparkle Pony and I hurry past.  In part because I know that Car #2 will see this and seethe...I wave a cheerful "thank-you!" to Car #1.

Car #2 was held up maybe fifteen seconds, most of which they spent honking their horn.

ps. JRA: I love my new badge!!!  Thank-you!  I've actually biked with one of those one-wheelies (memorably doing 30 mph with little Rapunzel at age 4 riding behind.  Mine was kindof tippy at slow speeds.

pps.  cycler:  Yes.  Exactly.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

where's my skill badge?!?!?

Today both kids had dentist appointments at 8:30am.  The dentist's office is relatively close, maybe four miles?  Five?  It's a decent dentist but part of the allure was that the guy was within bicycle range.  So this morning Contraption Captain and I roll out with Rapunzel in a wagon and Sparkle Pony on her own bicycle.  The cars don't display any more idiocy than usual and the route is pretty sane, a decent bicycle lane the entire way.

I don't unbend even fractionally.  Any car approaching the line, any truck flowing too far to the right, the slightest indication of inattention and the hairs rise on my neck.  From the outside it's hard to tell that I really enjoy bicycling but I do, and I'd never bike with kids if I did not love to bicycle myself and if I did not want to model safe habits.  "Bicycling makes you strong" I tell them "Bicycling makes me happy."

I found myself thinking of the Adafruit skill badges.  Contraption Captain has effortlessly earned nearly all of these, and I bought him a handful.  For the girls I purchased skill badges for Dumpster Diving, an activity at which they excel and now you know what stocking stuffers look like in our household.

I want a skill badge for bicycling with children.  Even in good areas it is a little scary to be out with these giant heavy rolling machines that can be driven by anyone, drunk or sober, who has reached sixteen years.  Despite having to watch giant garbage trucks roll by a little too close or having to see huge SUVs pass by driving in the lane for oncoming traffic, when you are out with your kids you can't curse.  In fact, you need to smile.  You need to project "bicycling is fan-fucking-tastic" with every turn of your cranks.  I do a mediocre job of this probably because while attempting to project how wonderful it is to bicycle I am also projecting a low level menace for all automobiles.

Today went pretty well.  The ride itself was indeed beautiful, the sky a deep and endless blue.  The ride back from the dentist was quiet.  All was calm and we were heading up Sand Hill Road.  The left arrow was green, I knew the green for straight would follow.  Sparkle Pony pushed hard past me and towards the intersection.  I watched her align herself perfectly with the bike lane.  As she approached, the light for straight turned to green, yay!  Great timing Sparkle!  You go girlfriend!

Then she stopped.  I did not collide with her.  Which is good.  I called "keep going!  keep going!"  Looking at me with the eyes of a startled fawn she started forward again.  We both went through the green light.  Yay.  I asked her why she stopped.  She said (not unreasonably) that she wanted to wait for me.  

None of this would matter at all except that the constant presence of cars flowing past us (on both sides at this spot) means that I never really unwind.  I wish it were different.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

the memory of bicycling

I like to read and I like to run and I like to bicycle and at a certain point in time my life was totally on the rocks.  It was around this time that I picked up a novel called The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty.  It's not a fantastic amazing life-changing book and I'm not saying you should go read it but I did often find myself thinking that a better title of the book would be The Memory of Bicycling and I think maybe that was the working title for the book except it lacked the ring of "Running" or maybe bicyclists don't read as many books as runners.  Most people in this country (and maybe other countries) have a bicycle somewhere in their childhood experience.  A bicycle they rode everywhere, through every neighborhood, to school and to the store and to a friend's house.  It's a bicycle before it's a car and when you are an adult and you think back to what you once were, when you try and remember yourself, it's a bicycle that can carry you.

The protagonist of The Memory of Bicycling Running is a guy named Smitty and in the first fifty pages of the book both of his parents die from injuries sustained in a car accident.  We learn that his schizophrenic sister who suffered immeasurably throughout his childhood has been missing for years.  We learn that Smitty is a Vietnam vet who used to run everywhere (but mostly we hear about his bicycling) but now is a 287 pound alcoholic who chain-smokes and has a wage slave job.  

It is after the funeral(s) and after the wake when he walks into his parent's garage and sees his bicycle.  This begins a trip that continues until he has bicycled across the country, from Massachusetts to California where he arrives in different shape (literally and figuratively) from the shape he left in.

Above the small window in the back, hanging over Pop's long workbench, was my Raleigh.  My Raleigh.  I never saw it there.
I was drunk, but that was my Raleigh.  I stood on Mom's blue hood and pulled it away from the hooks.

We both crashed onto the roof of the car, me and my Raleigh.  The bike pitched again, over me and out the garage door.  I lay in the dent of the car roof for a few minutes, then rolled off and walked to the bike.  

My Raleigh.  My maroon three-speed.  I set it on its wheels and popped the kickstand.  It still had the light on the front, but there were no batteries inside.  It still had my small leather pack hooked onto the back of the seat.  I unzipped it.

"The zipper works good," I said out loud.

I threw a leg over, and the bar sat way below my crotch.  Had I grown that much?  I sat on the seat, keeping balance with my left leg.  It was a tight fit, like the blue suit I had on, when I sat down I couldn't keep it buttoned.  The tires had no air, so they groaned under the beer and pickled eggs, and the tire rims crunched on the pavement.  I lit a cigarette and sat on my bike.  

I sat smoking until the cigarette was gone.  Then I put up the kickstand with my heel and walked with the bike between my legs, to the end of the driveway.  It must have been around eight, because I remember a full moon.  

Now I don't understand this, except I knew there was a Sunoco station at the bottom of our street, and it probably had an air pump, but, as I said, this is a gray area because all of a sudden I gave the Raleigh a few steps, sat ridiculously on the seat, and began to coast on the flat tire rims of my bike, down our little hill.

So here it is 2012 and I guess what I am saying is, do you have a memory of bicycling?  Isn't it maybe time you went out to the garage and got down your bicycle and remembered who you are or who you were meant to become?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

effortlessly cool in the desert

I am just back from four days in New Mexico where I was visiting family.

Q:  Do you feel guilty about petroleum consumption when you ride an airplane?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Would you like to bicycle to New Mexico?
A:  Yes.

Q:  So, why didn't you?
A:  In the time it would take the four of us to bicycle to New Mexico and back, two of us would be out of jobs and the other two would have been sent to the truant officer =(

This is my second trip to New Mexico.  I stay in a tiny town about an hour from Albuquerque.  I visit family in a few locations in New Mexico so I get the chance to look around.  What I noticed in Tiny_Town that was different from my trip two years ago:  bicycle lanes.

On my last visit, counting bicycles in Tiny_Town, NM was easy.  I saw zero.  This time I lost track on day three when we drove (slowly) by a small group of roadies pedaling up a grubby (much sand from the recent snow they got) but recently painted bicycle lane.  In addition to the roadies I saw a very cool guy wearing a ratty cowboy hat and riding a junker mountain bike.

In addition to visiting we were also visited.  The Contraption Captain and I were married by a college friend, B. who lives in Socorro, NM.  He came to dinner with his wife and we ate and talked bicycling.  B. lives out in the desert where there are not a lot of people and so not a lot of cars.  He does a lot of mountain bicycling and bouldering and tells good stories about snakes and hawks.  He just got himself an Extracycle kit which I think is pretty well the perfect vehicle for him.

Spending time with B. made me think about how much easier bicycling is when there are few cars.  In 2012 I'd like to make a few bike trips on car-free or nearly car-free routes.  Does such a thing even exist?  Maybe I'll go to the desert.

And by the way.  Here is a picture of B's tee-shirt from that evening.

yes, as a matter of fact we do.

I am back from New Mexico and still thinking over what I observed.  In the mean time I give you a teeny tiny cycling adventure.  One of the things I like best about bicycling is that even a middle-aged shmoe like myself can enjoy daily adventures if she has a bicycle.

Monday the Contraption Captain and I are both off from work.  Rapunzel is over at a friend's house.  Sparkle Pony is visiting a friend of her own.  I think about a few things I want to do (get new chairs for the dining room, bicycle) and put them together "let's get some new chairs and bring them home on our bicycles."

Contraption Captain loves the idea.

We go to the garage and consider our options.  The Extracycle has potent carrier capacity but it's panniers are more in line with a trip to the grocery store.  We have an uber-cheap flimsy but actually pretty useful utility wagon and we put that on my road bike.  Then we put the Burley wagon on Contraption Captain's Tour Easy (recumbent.)  Then we bicycle out to the furniture store.

At the furniture store we sit in a lot of different chairs.  We settle on a particular variety that comes in green, cream, brown, or red.  The sales person refers to these chairs as coming in lemongrass, eggshell, mahogany, and russet.   I tell Contraption Captain (and anyone else that will listen over the course of the day) that no one ever calls the green they are selling "mucus" as in "we have this chair in mucus."  I think it would be kind of punk if someone just went for it and sold chairs in "mucus, grubby, catbox brown, and...period."

In the end they found two more chairs in "Indigo" and we bought those.

"Bread mold" I think to myself.  "Bread mold blue."
"This is why Chafed can't have nice things" you think to yourself.  You are probably right.

So we pay and exit the store and get our bicycles and ride them around to where you pick up the furniture you have just paid for.  It is a big loading dock area.  We pedal in and park, our bicycles dwarfed by the huge space.  Contraption rings a bell and after a moment The Guy comes out.  He surveys our bicycles impassively.  Meanwhile a minivan arrives and starts to pull into the loading dock, sees us, considers, and backs out again.  We consider some ourselves and move our bicycles onto the sidewalk.  Minivan pulls back in.

The chairs are in giant boxes.  Awkward.  Contraption signs a waiver and then The Guy unboxes the chairs.  We put one and then the other into our two wagons and then The Guy brings over twine to secure them as we forgot bungee cords.

The Guy:  "You have a vision."
Contraption Captain:  "Yes, we do."

We pedal home with our two new chairs.  It's fabulous.  How come?  I don't know.  I don't know.  Being able to carry things with your bicycle is just fantastic though.  Fun.  Satisfying.  And when you get home and park your bicycles you have two nice new comfortable chairs and you can sit down and put up your feet and rest.