Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Xavier's response

Xavier of the Hip Suburban White Guy blog wrote the following in comments. I’ve posted it here because not everyone reads comments and his are certainly worth reading.

Xavier wrote to say:

Ahem. Let me clear up a few misconceptions.

1. Not "hairy chested" at all. Smooth as a baby.

2. Smoke filtered cigarettes, nut unfiltered (and have finally decided to quit. Soon. I swear!)

3. Not married but treat women like the goddesses they are.

4. Better cook than any of the women I have dated. My Steak Gorgonzola Alfredo is to die for.

However, you were absolutely right about me not letting facts get in the way of a good rant.

Loved the quote from the Journal of Lazarus Long, btw.

Ride in peace. Just not around me. LOL!


Good to hear from you!

First, it's tough to quit the cigarettes. I saw my Dad struggle with it after being diagnosed with emphysema. He quit, but in doing so he had to change in other ways. He didn't go to bars much after that, because having a beer at the bar brought the craving back.

I tried a couple of cigarettes when I was a teen. They made me ill, and I wasn't tempted to try them again. I found other things - booze, mainly. If I'd remained a factory worker, I'd likely be an alcoholic by now.

I always liked those Lazarus Long stories. Heinlein's theme seemed to be self-reliance throughout all his books.

Now to business. I didn't feel your post was mean-spirited since you're candid enough to poke fun at yourself. But it was a good rant.

I'm a bicycling instructor with the League of American Bicyclists. One of the goals of cycling education is to make bicycle travel commonplace and unremarkable. But education doesn't extend to cyclists alone. It encompasses motorists, elected officials, law enforcement, and
bureaucrats. We want to get everyone on the same page, so to speak, by developing a common understanding of the rights & responsibilities of cyclists.

I'm not going to lecture here, and I'll try not to climb up on my soapbox! Let's just say that like motorcyclists, bicyclists need to know the rules of the road just like any motorist, but they need
additional skills and another level of awareness in order to use our roadways safely. The hazards we face are often unknown to the motoring public, mainly because cars seldom topple over.

So, with that in mind, I'll make you an offer. If you're ever in Tulsa, I'd be happy to ride with you. I'd be wearing spandex, of course, because I sweat like a pig and I want to avoid saddle sores! (In cycling clothes, form follows function, but that's a topic for another time.)

I posted all the above as a comment in Xavier’s blog.

Like most cyclists, I own a car and I get to drive it from time to time. Having teenagers in the house means that the car seldom gets a chance to cool down. But it’s true that most cyclists (not all!) drive cars too, and they pay fuel taxes just like anyone else. The difference is that we pay less if we use our bikes more. Does that make us tax evaders or just smart consumers?

But fuel taxes mostly go toward expensive infrastructure like bridges and highways. Local roads are paid for with sales taxes, real estate taxes, and state income taxes. So far, I haven’t found a way that cyclists are exempted from these. If I do, the roads will be clogged with bicycles! And I’ll write a book on how to do it, thereby becoming wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. It’s that or hit the Powerball.

As for side paths, bike lanes, multi-use trails and the like – there are myriad reasons to avoid them. Most revolve around safety. A sidewalk cyclist is roughly three times more likely to have a collision with a motor vehicle or a pedestrian as opposed to a cyclist on the street. Every doorway and driveway is an intersection, and the intersections are where the crashes happen. Paths and trails may be congested with pedestrian, skaters, and dogs, making rapid bicycle travel unsafe or impossible. Finally, and this is by no means an exhaustive list of reasons to avoid side paths, there may be debris or other material on a path that is invisible to motorists but provides a significant hazard to a cyclist.

I’m thinking of a local multi-use path that crossed under a street. Some yahoos broke bottles against the concrete and covered the width of the trail with broken glass. Would I ride there? No. Would motorists know about the debris? No. Would I care if they were annoyed at another pesky cyclist on the street? Do I have to answer that?

Finally, there’s the issue of cyclist’s rights. (Yes, I usually write about rights AND responsibilities, but this is longer than I’d like already, so I’ll save the responsibilities for another time.) Public roads are simply that – public. They are available for anyone to use regardless of their mode of transportation, subject to the laws defining that use. No one has a superior right to the road. No one. The idea of ‘same rights, same rules, same road’ really does apply to all of us on the public way. Some of those who bray loudly about individual rights when it comes to guns, or voting, or what we can read, watch on television, or listen to on the radio would gladly restrict our right to travel as we choose. These same hardy souls demand their rights. Why shouldn’t cyclists demand ours?

Hot Dogs From Hell

This was just published in "Wheel Issues", the newsletter of the Red Dirt Pedalers out in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Susan Walker is the editor and a real sweetheart. Don't tell her I said that! Our agreement is that I'll hold a piece meant for RDP and post it here after it's published. So, here ya go! Remember, though, that this is a work of fiction. My ex-wife wasn't a great cook, but I tend to exaggerate....Ed

Susan asked:

“What sets dogs running . . . in the other direction?”

Here’s the easy answer: my ex-wife’s cooking. When she reduced perfectly good food to yet another inedible mess, and I refused to eat it, she put it in the cat’s bowl. The cat sniffed once, and tried to scrape the linoleum over it, covering it like she would something offensive in her litter box. Even Molly, my springer spaniel, a dog known for eating sauerkraut, jalapenos, and even cantaloupe, wouldn’t touch anything that woman cooked. Feeding that stuff to an animal may have resulted in cruelty charges from the ASPCA. After our divorce, she got a job cooking in a state prison, but retired a few years later after selling her chicken and biscuits recipe to the Army’s chemical warfare group.

Most dogs can be repelled by a squirt of water or Gatorade. Outside dogs in particular have an aversion to getting wet. But once in a while I’ve run into a dog that isn’t deterred by a quick spritz from a water bottle. There was one terrier I encountered who seemed to LIKE Gatorade. I hoped the sticky mess attracted some bees; hostile, angry bees with sharp stingers.

It’s difficult to gauge a dog’s intentions. Some want to run off the intruder. Others want to take a chunk of flesh out of your leg. Regardless, never stop pedaling! The motion makes biting difficult for the dog. I’ve watched their heads bobbing up and down, trying to figure out how to grab that ankle, while they ran flat out. Sometimes this is more than a dog’s brain can process.

There’s one dog along my commute who’s smarter than average, a huge German shepherd as big as an old Buick with tailfins. You can almost see him working out the problem. “If cyclist A is traveling at X miles per hour, and my top speed is Y miles per hour, when given an intercept angle of S, how many seconds will elapse until I can take a chunk out of his leg?” This dog is very difficult to cope with, mainly because his mathematical ability is better than mine. I had a hard time with those Train A vs. Train B questions. For a long time, I just relied on speed, but one morning I discovered a more effective way to discourage him. I started singing.

My singing is known to repel most animals and humans. My own mother wouldn’t sit next to me in church. It was too painful. I do to music what my former spouse does to food. I was riding along one morning, mangling the lyrics to some old pop tune, when the dog turned tail and ran as fast as he could! And I wasn’t even bellowing all that loud. So if any of you are having similar problems with dogs, I have cassette tapes, CDs, and MP3s available for a nominal fee. For a much larger fee, I won’t come to your house and provide live entertainment.

Last week, the dog upped the ante once again. He came roaring out to the road wearing a noise-canceling headset! Fortunately, I’d already planned a countermove. I had a photograph of Dick Cheney hanging around my neck. This is extremely effective as it repels all dogs with the exception of Ann Coulter. (Note to Ann: Please stop hanging around my front door. It’s embarrassing.) Furthermore, it’s very effective on vampires, chupacabras, and aliens from outer space, but avoid use around small children as they may require extensive psychiatric care. I tried other photographs, but Cheney is the best. Definitely avoid using Bill Clinton’s photo, unless you want to be at the head of a howling dog pack. I hated that.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Just riding along...

I was just riding along to work yesterday morning. Nothing special. The sun was shining down through the pecan trees as I turned south and into the wind.

The wind was steady, but not so high that I had to work hard going into it. Let’s just say it was enough that I could feel it in the legs. I selected a gear I could spin and just kept grinding away.

The trouble came at the Bird Creek bridge. The approach rises about 50 feet, not a steep climb, but with the wind in my face it felt steeper. The easy way to do this is to bob up out of the saddle and keep the tempo up.

I was just riding along, enjoying the morning. I’d forgotten that the cycling shorts I wore had a tendency to snag over the nose of the saddle. Sure enough, I popped up out of the saddle, and my shorts remained at, shall we say, half-mast. Gentle breezes blew over parts of my anatomy that seldom experience gentle breezes. Not in public, anyway.

I sat back down very quickly! And in an astounding feat of coordination and agility, I managed to pull the shorts up over the exposed skin without stopping or even slowing down. It’s truly amazing what we can do in a pinch, or a mild state of panic, even.

Still, it could have been worse. Imagine the scene if my favorite TCSO deputy had been behind me. I’d be posting this from the county lockup!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Manly men...

“Manly men, doing manly things, in a manly way!”

Here’s another hairy-chested real man, who confuses sexuality with the clothing some people wear. I know a few just like him, guys who smoke unfiltered cigarettes, treat their wives like servants, and don’t know how to make a meal or even a cup of coffee for themselves. Real men, yeah. The chest-thumping display of manly testosterone is almost comic.

I think it was Robert Heinlein who said a man should be able to hit what he’s aiming at, plot a course, build a shelter, diaper a baby, skin a mule, and cook (or something close to that). His point, as I understand it, was to emphasize that a man has to be versatile. He has to do the nasty, dirty jobs as well as the fun, interesting ones, and he can’t let self-image or ego get in the way. ‘Cool’ doesn’t enter into it.

Self-image is at the top of the list for many people, whether they’re being ‘cool’ like this guy, or whether they’re wearing the latest pro team kit right down to the socks and sunglasses. But for many of us, performance is more relevant. (“Can this group beat me to the top of this hill?” is a question I’ve pondered on various group rides. The answer all too often is “Yes, they can!”) It really doesn’t matter if someone is wearing cutoffs and a t-shirt if he’s capable of riding in a group, sprinting, or climbing. It doesn’t matter if someone is wearing lycra cycling shorts while just riding to work. And it doesn’t matter is someone wants to (gasp!) WALK half a mile to school, or work, or the grocery store. The important thing is that they’re out doing what they want to do, without giving a tinker’s damn about what other people think. And that, my friend, is very cool.

These things almost always start off with “I ride a bicycle” then go off on some rant against cyclists. There’s a world of difference between a guy-on-a-bike and a cyclist. The guy-on-a-bike is a pedestrian on wheels, riding on sidewalks and against traffic. His skill consists of little more than the ability to balance.

We have a local journalist, another guy-on-a-bike, who does an annual column in the spring or summer about the maniacal drivers who won’t let him ride his bicycle on the road. When we’ve contacted him with an invitation to ride with the LCI group, he never returns calls or emails. He prefers cursing the darkness to lighting a candle. It’s difficult to reach people like him or this Suburban White Guy. Bicycling education isn’t ‘cool’ and it interferes with a good rant.

I own and occasionally ride a bicycle. Although I manage to do so without being a spandex-clad, cyborg-helmeted total fucking nerd. I make bike riding cool. Got an ashtray mounted on my handlebars, and a little tray that holds my smokes and a drink.

…we were headed north on Southview Drive. Those of you familiar with the area may know that Southview runs parellel to 291. Between Southview and 291, is a bicycle trail.

In front of us, ON THE STREET, not 5 feet away from the designated bicycle path, was a guy on a bike!! We had to slow to a CRAWL and wait for traffic in the other lane to clear before we could pass his obnoxious ass!… felt like opening my door as we went by and clobbering the geeky sonofabitch!

Every year, when I renew my car tags, I have to pay taxes and fees for the upkeep of the roads that I drive on. Fair enough. I understand the logic. I drive the roads...I pay for the roads.

What about those inconsiderate, nerdy fucking assholes on bicycles?? Why IN THE FUCK should I have to slow to a crawl or swerve into an opposing lane of traffic and take the chance of a head on collision with another TAX AND FEE PAYING CAR OWNER just to avoid taking out a few tree-hugging "cyclists" decked out in gay-cyborg-superhero regalia?

Don’t get concerned, though. Between the cigarettes and smoldering anger, this guy won’t be around for the long haul.

On the other hand, there’s a thoughtful piece like this from Oil Is For Sissies.

The efficiency of American Suburbia

I'm listening to an interesting program on MPR now about suburbs. …As a result of this drive toward consistent consumer experience, if one was blindfolded and taken to any residential or shopping district that has been constructed in the past 10-20 years, it would be hard to determine by inspection where exactly it is.

…The guest on the radio program made a statement in regard to the American transportation system that I find hard to swallow. The guest was contrasting the European "hub and spoke" geometry of sprawl, which is mass-transit-friendly, to the distinctly American "dispersion" model, which tends to be single-occupant-car-friendly. She pointed out that over the past several decades, the average American commute has increased by a minute or two, which apparently indicates that the dispersion model is an efficient way for development to proceed.

…It's interesting how the car-friendly dispersion model seems to penetrate even those areas of society that most of us might think would be immune. The bike shop that I started is about two blocks from my house. I walk this distance in just a few minutes everyday. This was a deliberate choice to remove myself from the car culture (though, regrettably, the short commute cuts into my bike miles). My business neighbors, who occupy four or five storefronts along the same stretch, also live in the neighborhood. Last week when we had a big snowstorm, on my walk to the shop, I met some of my fellow neighborhood businesspeople as they were out shoveling their portions of the sidewalk. They all recognized me as the owner of the new bike shop, and we chatted for a few minutes about various things, namely how close we all lived to each other and to our respective businesses. One of them said, "you're the only one who walks though," and everybody shared a good chuckle about that. Huh?

I’m not a fan of New Urbanism ideas, particularly the ones advocating high-density housing and in-fill. I get perhaps too much amusement from pointing out to a friend that my grandparents lived in high-density housing when they arrived here from the old country. They just called them ‘tenements’. And really, who wants to know when it’s kielbasa and sauerkraut night at my place, unless they’re planning to show up with fork in hand?

Still, the pattern of an urban core surrounded by suburban sprawl seems depressingly common, yet it’s the pattern most people prefer. If they didn’t want it, developers would offer whatever urban or suburban design they could sell. I think in this instance, the marketplace really does work.

Yet, here’s a guy who dares to walk to work, defying the more common practice of driving whatever the distance. The neighbors think he’s a bit odd, but I think he’s stepping out the door, doing precisely what he wants to do, regardless of the neighbors. And that’s cool.

Monday Musette

(I’ve been relentlessly serious lately. Mea culpa. Honestly, there’s a funny piece coming along soon. They’re more fun to write than the straightforward stuff, but I have to wait for the odd thunderbolt of inspiration to arrive. The really good ones seem to write themselves, but it’s not something I can turn on and off at will. If I could do that, my life would be greatly different!…Ed)

Skills Clinic

Yesterday’s Freewheel skills clinic was sparsely attended. We had 4 instructors and 6 students. Partly this was due to the wind conditions, no doubt, but it was also partly due to the common belief that adult cyclists really don’t need any bicycling education. One of my LCI instructors, Preston Tyree, put it this way, “Balancin’ ain’t bikin!”

The wind was bad, out of the south at 25-30 mph with higher gusts. I rode into it at no more than 10 mph, grinding along in a smaller gear that I could spin steadily. Still, it was exhausting, almost like riding up an invisible hill that got steeper without warning. When I stood in the parking lot doing the skills clinic, the wind did a good job as a sand blaster, blowing sand into my legs hard enough to sting.

The ‘students’ did well, with the usual discomfort over learning to counter steer for the quick turn. Frankly, I still have a death grip on the handlebar when doing that too. But everyone came through OK, and some were surprised to discover just how quickly a bicycle can turn. It’s a good avoidance technique.

One of the women rode an older Mondial, probably from the 1970s. It was Reynolds 531 throughout with all Campy components. The frame had lovely chromed dropouts, a chrome fork crown, and chromed chain stays. Back in the day, I lusted after similar bikes. She said a friend had it in his garage and said she could have it if she’d ride it. I need friends like that!

With that wind at my back, the ride home was fast and fun! I cruised along at 20 mph barely making an effort to keep the pedals turning over.

Flying Spaghetti Monster in the news

USAToday has a story about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, His Noodly Appendage, pirates, and some pasta puns. Expect irate letters to the editor from the humor-challenged. Arr! Arr!

Will its revelations — that pirates control global warming, that there's a beer volcano in heaven, and that superstition trumps science every time — overwhelm religious belief for all mankind?

Probably not.

Worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — "Pastafarianism" as it is known to its adherents — began as a whimsical side dish in last year's standoff between advocates of evolution and intelligent design. FSM, as it is known to its followers, took shape in a protest letter to Kansas officials who were embroiled in a controversy about how to teach students about the origins of life. The parody religion leapt from those pages to become an Internet phenomenon, finding fans among supporters of the theory of evolution —— and receiving e-mailed threats of bodily harm from evolution's opponents.

Fixed Gears

I was tempted for only a moment. I thought about riding one of the fixies to the Freewheel skills clinic yesterday. The thought evaporated quickly in the wind. Nathan asked in a comment, “What gearing do you run? I ran 43x16x700x35C = 58.4" with my studded tires this winter and I'm curious what a OK guy considers "low".”

My winter beater, a Centurion LeMans 12 that came from a yard sale, has a 42x20 with 28mm tires. That works out to about a 56 inch gear. I cobbled it together from whatever parts I could find in the garage, and decided to keep the gearing. It’s good for the headwinds here in Oklahoma, and since I almost always carry baggage, it helps with the load too. (More about baggage in a moment.) Yes, it’s geared quite low, but remember, my knees are 54 years old and since I have a sentimental attachment to them, I’m trying to be nice to them as they age.

My quasi-TT bike is my old racing bike, a Pennine Re della Corsa set up with a 47x18 just now. But I can change it to a 49 or a 52 as well. The Racin’ on the River TT is coming up on the 8th, so I’ll most likely ride that bike. But I’ll wait to decide the gearing until the night before when I can get a good estimate of the wind.

As to baggage – I carry a messenger bag, pannier, or Camelback Hawg depending on the load I expect and the weather. In summer, the Camelback is big enough for my lunch and some work clothes. The pannier is intermediate in size. I use it when I need more clothes in the morning cold and can expect to ride without them in the afternoon. The messenger bag is almost a garage with a carrying strap. I can put more stuff in there than I should. Somehow, that thing always has an invisible cinder block inside. I know from experience that it will hold 2 full grocery sacks, a gallon of milk, and a loaf of French bread on top.

Did I mention that I’m the family pack animal?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Dangerous Roads?

John W asked:

I am just curious about what you Vehicular Cyclists think about the question of dangerous roads for Vehicular Cyclists. Are there roads out there that even experienced Vehicular Cyclists are genuinely hesitant to ride on (and no, I'm not asking about bikepaths etc., I mean real roads)? If there are, what are the characteristics that make them dangerous and why can't you overcome these limitations by using vehicular cycling techniques? If such roads exist, what should be done to improve them? If you can give specific examples I think that would be particularly helpful.

I think there's a two-part answer to this: Dangerous roads and dangerous drivers.

A dangerous road has some flaw that presents a hazard. The most common around here seems to be a pothole that's deep enough to trap a bicycle wheel, or causes traffic to swerve around it. That unexpected lateral movement is hazardous whether initiated by a cyclist or a motorist. Fortunately, the public works department is very proactive in repairing potholes once the weather cooperates.

Railroad tracks crossing at a shallow angle present a dangerous conditon for cyclists. Unfortunately, they're not maintained by public works since they're railroad property, and getting the RR to repair them is difficult since they have little regard for cyclists.

Oklahoma has many older roads that were originally very narrow and paved with portland cement. In fact, one of the original pieces of Route 66 still exists. Called the 'Sidewalk Highway', it's 9 feet wide. Similar roads were repaved and widened, and in places the newer, wider sections have deteriorated toward the road shoulder. The nice, fresh asphault develops a sagging area next to the road edge, sometime extending several feet into the new surface. This edge is rippled, with a distinct drop of an inch or so from the new surface.

As for dangerous drivers, we all know that truly malicious ones are thankfully rare. We're at more risk from impatient, distracted, or impaired ones. And we also run some risk maneuvering on the roadways containing some of the hazards listed above. In that sense, the hazard causes a behavior that puts us at risk, whether we're trying to cross a railroad track safely or a driver is dodging a pothole.

In another sense, a lawful vehicular cyclist educates those around him on the road. For instance, I commute on the same road day after day. I see the same motorists and they've come to expect a cyclist somewhere. Those three flaws above are along my route, and those motorists I encounter seem to be accomodating when it comes to my presence and the necessity of dealing with those hazards. We truly share the road.


On a few occasions, the highway running parallel to my route has been closed by accidents or fire, forcing all that traffic onto the slower side road. Traffic counts go from the tens into the hundreds. That's when I'd describe the road as dangerous, mainly because there are numerous impatient motorists unaccustomed to finding a cyclist on the road and unknowledgeable regarding the hazards we face. But even then, the vast majority of drivers can safely overtake and pass a cyclist. There are only a few who become irate at the presence of a cyclist on their drive home. Obviously, the condition of the road hasn't changed. It's driver behavior that has because they rarely encounter a cyclist on their normal commute.

In essence, then, dealing with so-called dangerous drivers is an education matter. We educate motorists by riding lawfully, responsibly, and predictably. We educate other cyclists by doing so. And we educate those bureaucrats and government officials responsible for maintaining our roads.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Saturday Musette

Owasso Bicycle Parking

I was out and about this morning, running the normal Saturday errands. I stopped at the new shopping plaza just north of my house and went into that famous French store, Target, for some coffee. That’s pronounced “tar-JAY”. Besides the ubiquitous S-Bucks stuff, they have some other less well-known coffees, and I was feeling adventurous.

I was pleasantly surprised to find some bicycle parking bollards out in front of the store! These are vertical posts about 8 inches in diameter with steel semi-circles welded to each side. They’d work well with chains, cables, or U-locks. The racks are just south of the main entrance, around the corner of the building, but in plan view of passerby and the coffee shop. The design is very pedestrian-friendly. And since it’s Target, they’re painted red.

That makes two businesses in town that have bicycle parking. The other is the Walgreen’s with its ‘wheel bender’ rack on the sidewalk out front. The space is constricted, unfortunately, and if someone were to use the rack as it’s intended, the bicycle would block the sidewalk completely.

Still, it’s good to see that some businesses want to attract cyclists. I talked with the manager on duty, Mark, who said that the racks are standard design features for all prototype stores and they’ll be retro-fitted to all the other stores too.

Pedalin’ Mormons

The family went out for dinner last night to celebrate Lyndsay’s return from a mission trip in Mexico. Her group arrived at about 2AM Friday morning and she’d spent most of the day sleeping. We went down the hill to Goldie’s Patio Grill.

After dinner at about 8PM, we went to Braum’s for yet another gallon of milk and some ice cream. Anyone with kids can relate to this. A gallon of milk lasts two days – at best – in our house. The city should just pipe it in and meter it.

As we drove down the frontage road, I spotted two cyclists riding north in the dark. They were wearing helmets, white shirts with ties, and dress slacks. Most likely they were Mormon elders doing local missionary work. But they didn’t have lights on the front of their bikes, and as we passed, I couldn’t see any red rear reflectors on the backs, even though there was a car overtaking them.

Oklahoma law calls for a white front light, a red rear reflector, AND a red rear light. In their case, the white shirts helped to make them more conspicuous, but lights would have helped even more. I called the local Church of the Latter Day Saints to talk with them about it, but no one answered. Since we’re having a skills clinic in conjunction with tomorrow’s Freewheel training ride, I wanted to invite them to attend.

For the most part, the Mormon elders I’ve encountered have been careful riders, though they often ride the sidewalks. I’ve never seen them ride against traffic, but riding at night without lights is both scary and dangerous.

An American Derney

It may not have the funky style points of a purpose-built European derney, but there's no denying that the price of the state-side unit is far more attractive. Just the thing for doing motor pace work!

Spooky Tooth Cycles

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Jordan is miffed. He’s been stuck in the house all week because of the foul weather and it’s spring break. First, it rained for a couple of days, and then last night it started snowing!

When I got up this morning, snow covered the grass, but the streets were merely wet. This called for a fixed gear with fenders! Sure, I could drive to work, but where’s the fun in that?

Mary came out to the kitchen as I was getting ready to leave. She stood there blinking in the lights and told me that I was crazy to ride this morning. I know she REALLY wouldn’t understand that I was looking forward to it. Maybe riding a bike in foul weather is a kind of compulsive behavior.

Someone in Texas said that he’d never consider riding a fixed gear on snow or ice. I actually prefer it. I can feel precisely how much grip my tires have, and the constant pedaling keeps me warm. I wear double-fronted tights and a windstopper fleece jacket. Since it was wet, I added a light sweater under the jacket. Halfway to work I had to unzip because I was getting hot!

The Centurion is geared very low, forcing me to spin. This is a good thing. The fenders keep the grime down too. My shoes and lower legs were just a little damp when I arrived at work.

Honestly, if you’re going to commute on a bicycle, consider fitting some fenders. They allow you to ride comfortably in the wet, stretching your cycling opportunities. You might even find that you need 2 bikes – one for fast, nice days, and another for bad weather.

Riding in falling snow is infinitely more pleasant than riding in the rain. Had it been a little warmer, it would have been raining and I would have driven the car. I HATE riding in the rain when the temperature hovers just above freezing. Snow doesn’t make me wet and cold. There’s an eerie stillness during a snowfall because it deadens sound. I get a kick out of riding along a quiet road made even quieter by all that white stuff! I can hear cars a long way off.

Motorists seem to be a little more considerate of a cyclist in the snow. I don’t know if that comes from sympathy or if they’re afraid we could just possibly be deranged. Mary would vote for ‘deranged’, I’m certain.

When I arrived at work, I heard all the usual stories of multiple car pile-ups and closed roads due to the nasty weather. And here I was thinking that it really wasn’t that bad. The roads were just wet. Maybe Mary is right about my derangement.



I had a dithering motorist this morning. As I approached a red light, he was overtaking. First, he decided to follow me to the intersection, and then make a right turn. On second thought, he figured he could go around me to the left, then make an abrupt right – the classic ‘right hook’ maneuver. But on third thought, he discovered that I was going faster than he’d realized, and the safe thing to do was to follow me and turn right.

I’d watched his approach in the mirror, dodging right-left-right as his thought processes kicked in. I rode more or less in the middle of the right-hand lane, just to the left of the tire track. That’s the usual position when I go through an intersection. It makes me a little more visible to a motorist on the cross street, and gives me a little more room to maneuver.

Dithering can be dangerous. At 45 miles per hour, a car moves 66 feet per second. While he hesitated, this morning’s driver rapidly closed the gap between us. Each instant that he spent deciding what to do allowed him to get ever closer, shortening the time he had to react. Dithering cost him precious time and distance.

This is one of the reasons that lane positioning is so important. When a cyclist rides in the right hand tire track or even further to the left, he makes that decision easier for the overtaking driver. Motorists are very good at avoiding things right in front of them, but when they have to judge whether there’s sufficient clearance to the right, they’ll dither and sometimes pass right next to our elbows.
The problem may be compounded by the multi-tasking necessary when driving. A motorist has to watch the cyclist, try to judge the traffic light, check for other cross traffic, check for pedestrians, look for potholes and debris, etc. It really is asking a lot when someone is moving that fast.

But cyclists are faced with dithering too. There’s been a discussion on the LCI of passing in the door zone when traffic is moving very slowly or is stopped altogether. The question was whether it’s a good idea to teach students how to do this safely, or whether to advise them to avoid the door zone at any time.

The supposition was that traffic was moving very slowly or was stopped, and there was space to filter forward to the right of the traffic lane. Done carefully and slowly, it’s possible to ride there. But it introduces many of the same problems that dithering motorist encountered. A cyclist riding in the door zone, even riding slowly, has to watch for people exiting cars on both sides. He has to watch for jaywalkers, debris, cars pulling out or pulling in, and even the occasional wrong-way cyclist. He has to be aware of not only the road conditions and traffic lights, but now he has to gauge the intentions of people inside automobiles. And if he’s going fast he encounters the same problem with shortened reaction time.

Worse, when traffic starts moving again, he has a hard time merging left into the traffic lane. Now, there may be a grade school mentality at work here, as many people resent someone ‘cutting in line’ ahead of them. Motorists in this situation find it very easy to tailgate the car ahead, and prevent that pesky cyclist from moving back over to the left.

My advice is to avoid the door zone at all times. It’s much less complicated.

Monday, March 20, 2006


It's an unusual morning. My horoscope said that with the moon in the constellation Fargo, and Mars in retrograde motion through the Youghigheny, my best bet would be to hide under a blanket all day. I checked the solunar tables to be sure, but they merely told me the fish would be apathetic.

It's been raining since Saturday. It's also Spring Break for my kids. Jordan is bouncing off the walls. Yesterday, he said he was bored and I suggested he read a book. But he wasn't THAT bored!

Lyndsay is in Mexico on a church mission trip, building and painting houses. Her absence, coupled with steady rain and Mars' inclination toward recidivism, let me drive the car to work today! What decadence! I was protected from the rain and I had both a heater and a radio. I was almost giddy at the luxury.

I know, I know. Fritz is reading this and he's given up driving for Lent. Plus, he's getting snow up there in Colorado. I'm not doing this to torment him, honest! But I did ask a co-worker if it was possible to give up Catholicism for Lent. I think the question gave him a severe headache.

I'm a creature of habit, though. I drove the same route I'd normally ride. And at the railroad crossings, I found myself trying to raise my butt off the 'saddle' - a tough maneuver to accomplish in a car!

Still, it's good to see the rain. Oklahoma is about 22 inches below average for rainfall. According to my weather chart, Oklahoma normally averages only about 40 inches for the entire year.

Even with this rain, the burn ban will still be in effect, meaning I won't be able to use the smoker. I've been hungry for ribs!

Tonight's forecast calls for lower temperatures with more rain and maybe snow. Regardless of the weather, I'll be back in the saddle - for real - tomorrow.

Don't Hate Me 'Cuz I Bicycle

I stumbled across this while searching for something else, of course. It's a blog post about commuting, but the interesting bit is that there are currently over 40 comments! We could mine this for material and teachable moments.....Ed

Opinionist: Don't Hate Me 'Cuz I Bicycle

Today's Opinion comes to us from proud biker and DCist's tech guru, Tom Lee.

You've probably never met me, but odds are that you have a grudge against me anyway. It's not that I'm a particularly objectionable guy. I'm generally pretty friendly, and if you and I were to run into each other I'm sure we could make some pleasant smalltalk about music or movies or the Redskins. But eventually my horrible secret would be revealed: you'd figure out that I'm a bicyclist. And if you're like most people, that's when your eyes would narrow.

It took me a while to understand that this was the order of things. I had always assumed that biking around in my helmet and reflective ankle strap made me an object of derision and/or pity — not hatred. I've only recently realized that bike riders are on every city-dweller's list of pet peeves.

...The apogee of this attitude may have come in last year's now-infamous Marvin Kalb commentary on WAMU's Metro Connection. In it, Kalb expressed his desire that cyclists stay out of Rock Creek Park, since they make it inconvenient for him to use the park as a shortcut on his drive to work. In Kalb's and many other people's minds, there really is no acceptable place for bicyclists.

Posted by Hemal Jhaveri in Opinionist

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Darwin Maneuver

I’ve written about this before, but now I have a name for it.

Maybe once a week, a motorist will pass me, crossing over the centerline while there’s oncoming traffic. Several times this has resulted in the other motorist dodging off the road to avoid a crash. Once, it was a school bus that ran the other car off the road!

We already have the right hook, the left hook, and the side road pull out, also known as oh-my-god-I-never-saw-him-officer. I believe we should add the Darwin Maneuver to the list.

I’d feel bad if this resulted in a crash, but then again, if someone is so hell-bent on passing a cyclist that he puts his life on the line to do it, he really should have the dignity of a name for his folly.

I write about this because it happened again today. I was riding up a hill toward home on a narrow, two-lane road. The first car passed without incident. But the second one blindly followed the first, only to be ‘surprised’ by a vehicle in the on-coming lane. Fortunately, that guy drove off the road, barely missing a fence. The Darwin-esque motorist drove blithely on.

Is it some hormonal thing that causes this behavior? Is it a momentary brain freeze? I really don’t know. But they’d be doing all of us a favor by removing themselves from the gene pool.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

CycleDog and Terrorism

When I wrote "This Just In..." a few days ago, I sent George an email describing why I felt it necessary to write the piece. Steve Martin said that comedy is not pretty, and in fact, the motivations behind comedy are sometimes very serious, often 'whistling in the dark' past some of the darker places in the human psyche.

Here's the text:

I wrote that because I am disturbed by the pervasive 'linkage' between terrorism and anything our present administration opposes, particularly when that supposed linkage is largely imaginary.

I object to the politicization of nearly every controversy when the conflicting viewpoints reflect personal ambition rather than objective reality or simple morality.

I object to the grasping materialism that attempts to use world events like terrorism, or painful family crises like Terri Schaivo's as a means to make more money.

I object to the consumerism that insists newer is better, though to be truthful, I am not immune to it. In a sense, I reflect my parent's generation, who grew up during the Great Depression, and had to learn to make do with whatever was available. It's easy for me to resist the temptation of a new car, but much harder to resist that of a new bike!

I won't go so far as to say that cyclists are anti-materialists or anti-consumers. The appeal of a shiny new Litespeed/Bianchi/Masi cannot be denied. But those of us who use bicycles as basic transportation are definitely viewed as odd. We do not conform, and non-conformity arouses suspicion and doubts. (Am I projecting? I hope not.) There's something 'wrong' about people who do not use cars.

I don't revel in non-conformity. I'm just a guy going back and forth to work on a bicycle. I write CycleDog partly to amuse readers, partly to educate readers, and partly for my own ego gratification. Besides, it's fun! One of my goals in advocacy is to make cycling for transportation so commonplace as to be unremarkable. CycleDog is part of that effort, as is the Oklahoma Bicycle Coalition, and our local advocacy group in Tulsa, as well as the Road1 classes offered here and in Oklahoma City.

I have no illusions that my choice to use a bicycle rather than a motor vehicle will have an appreciable effect on the environment, the economy, or our government's policies. But if others do likewise, whatever their reasons, we really can have a voice in local planning and policy. ("And if three people do it, we'll have a movement!" Arlo Guthrie in "Alice's Restaurant")

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Wednesday Musette

The cops!

Stephen wrote:

Good move, but I would have gotten her license plate number and let the county sheriff take care of her later.

I've had Tulsa PD talk to one a**h*le who pulled up beside me while I was on the Third Street Bike Route and started cussing me and wanting to fight. I won't put up with that kind of behavior.

I've had wildly varying success in dealing with local law enforcement agencies. Most of the time, individual cops & their supervisors have been reasonable & open minded enough to realize they often are not up-to-date on relevant cycling laws.

Sadly, both Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz and TCSO deputy Mark Stephens (sp?) do not know the law, nor are they interested in learning about it. This is the deputy who stopped me last summer for 'impeding' traffic. He tried to harass and intimidate me in an effort to get me off 129th Street. I didn't play.

Another cyclist, a law enforcement officer, said he was once forced off the road by a TCSO vehicle on the Wednesday night ride.

So I don't have much regard for TCSO.

On the other hand, I've had good contacts with police departments in Glenpool, Tulsa, and Owasso. In a few instances, individual officers tried to enforce non-existent laws; mandatory side paths and single-file riding, for example. And in one incident, a local cycling advocate was told he had to ride in the gutter. But these are rare. More importantly, the chiefs of police have been genuinely helpful at getting up-to-date information to their officers. This kind of educational approach takes time (and tact - something I could do better!) but it pays off better than an angry, confrontational one.

Cycling clothes

The Old Bag wrote:

Left-clippers of the cycloworld, unite! You and me, baby.

And I chose to experience a week in the Canadian Rockies using a long-sleeved cotton T-shirt...rainclearrainclearrain which finally convinced me that jerseys actually have a pretty functional purpose. Sometimes one has to experience it before becoming a convert.

I think I bought a pair of gloves for my first cycling-specific clothing. In those days, I rode in cut-offs and t-shirts. Now, if I
wore cut-offs to ride, I'd be very sore, very quickly. I must have been a hard-ass in my youth!

I avoid cotton because I sweat buckets. My daughter told me that dancers glow, ladies perspire, and I just smell bad. Honestly, though I've used the 'thermally efficient' line once or twice already, it really is true. Big guys sweat buckets. Even when it's below freezing, I arrive at work just a little damp. This makes me a prime target for hypothermia if I break down, of course, but I'm rarely far from shelter.

Cycling clothing has several functions. First, it makes riding much more comfortable. Shorts reduce chafing. Gloves absorb vibration, let you brush debris from moving tires, protect the hands in a fall, and sometimes give you a place to wipe your nose. (Wash them regularly, please!) Cycling shoes with their stiff midsoles allow you to push much harder on a climb or in a sprint, without bending your foot around a pedal. Sprinting in sneakers can result in interesting levels of pain and maybe a letter from the Department of Funny Walks!

I haven't mentioned jerseys because they're often the last article we buy - or at least that was true for me. They're expensive, but once you start using one, you can't imagine going without it. One other thing - when you have 2 jerseys and you hang them in a dark closet, they breed like rabbits and produce offspring in an eye-searing variety of colors! Remember this when your spouse or significant other asks where they came from.

Finally, a word about helmets. I really hesitate to do this because I'm not trying to provoke the anti-helmet zealots. Helmets are a good thing to have AFTER something bad has happened. In other words, they're meant to protect you in a crash, but as I always point out to students, it's far better to avoid crashing in the first place. Sometimes you can't, of course, but one of the justifications for bicycling education is to turn out safer, more experienced cyclists who are less likely to become a statistic.

Anyway. Back to helmets. For commuters, they offer another surface for reflective tape. They protect against some types of falls but not all. They have no magic properties (that I'm aware of, anyway.) And helmets cost far less than a CAT scan or a set of x-rays. (Been there!) And if a helmet has a visor, it can keep some of the rain off of your glasses.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Karl wrote:

I just stumbled across this at PWC's online store and remembered reading this post yesterday. Enjoy:

That’s FUNNY!

I’ve probably mentioned that I work for an airline. We had the FAA on the base for an inspection last week. They do this periodically and we always try to present the best front we can, so the techs spent a day cleaning up, throwing out old junk, and making sure our paperwork was up-to-date and in order. Actually, we probably spent most of our time cleaning, because the FAA can drop in at any time. They can check our test equipment and go through our toolboxes and our workbenches. Everything has to be labeled.

You may find this hard to believe, but for some strange reason, I was overcome by a crazy idea. I labeled one of my bench drawers with “Weapons of Mass Destruction (and Tools)” figuring that since these guys are from the federal government, there was absolutely no chance that they’d look in that drawer.

And they didn’t!

Monday, March 13, 2006

This just in...

(Faux News) "Your All-Terrorism-All-The-Time Network"

(Close-up on anchor, Dave Cipriani.)

"Faux News has learned that Critical Mass, a group of bicycle riders who claim they have a right to use the public roads and regularly block motor vehicle travel, causing major traffic disruption and gridlock, has been declared a terrorist front organization after federal investigators found links between Critical Mass activists and numerous suspect foreign organizations based in Europe and the Far East, including China."

"More after this."

(Cut to commercial)

"Are your whites bright? Are your colors vibrant? Or are they dull disappointments? You need new WhiteWash - the only detergent that fights dingy colors caused by the chemical contaminants that terrorists add to our water! Get brilliant whites and colors by using new WhiteWash! Remember - it's better to fight them in our washing machines than in our streets!"
(Back from commercial)

"Goverment investigators linked Critical Mass anarchists to several foreign organizations, including the UCI and the Italian "Gazetto dello Sport" flagged for its obvious communist ties because it's printed on pink paper. Furthermore, many bicycling activists have suspicious, foreign-sounding names that often end in vowels. That alone is sufficient to put them on a federal watch list. Homeland Security spokesman, Harold Swampgas, had this to say:"

"We already know the Critical Mass people are fronts for subversive organizations, and we suspect that all bicyclists are closet Bolsheviks, non-conformists who are out to cripple our economy by not buying SUVs and lots of gasoline, supporting American industry and our troops abroad as they valiantly struggle to make all the Middle East safe for multi-national American petroleum companies....and is that a RED tie you're wearing, Mr. Cipriani?"

"Uh...why, yes, it is!"

"For more on this story, we go to our midwest correspondent, Dave Smith, live from Tulsa, Oklahoma:"

"Thanks, Dave. I'm standing on a street corner in Tulsa, Oklahoma, part of the heartland of America. I've been here for almost an hour and haven't seen a single terrorist cyclist. Wait! There's one approaching now! He's about a block away, and HE ACTUALLY STOPPED AT A STOP SIGN! He's getting closer now. Cars are passing him as an eerie silence descends. No one is honking! Wait! He's slowing now and he's signalling a turn! None of the motorists seem concerned at this disturbing turn of events. Dave, I'm wondering now if Homeland Security could be mistaken about all bicyclists being Bolsheviks, and whether terro...."

(Screen tiles, then abruptly goes blank. Static crashes from speaker. Return to studio shot.)

"We are having technical difficulties with our live feed from Tulsa. We'll return to Dave after the weather. Here's John Flagwaver with the forecast."

(Camera changes to John Flagwaver in front of a weather map)

"Thanks, Dave. As you can see, there's a terrorist-inspired cold front pushing down from Canada. Once again, the Canadians couldn't stop it..."

(And so it goes.)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Clean yer bike!

Here's a page detailing how to clean your bike. With the right tools and the right cleaning agents, it's a 10 minute job - 15 or 20 if you're a klutz like me!

Oh, and do pay attention to the warning about limiting the use of degreasers to no more than 2 minutes. They really do attack anodizing and paint.

Of course, if you're a lazy slob like me, you use a pressure washer at the local car wash, taking care not to direct the full spray directly into any bearings. So you clean mainly from the top, not the sides.

A tip of the helmet to Chuck Davis, owner of Oklahoma Velosport, who posted this link on some local elists!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

I'm a bad, bad man...

I decided to go down to Mohawk Park for the first Freewheel training ride, a traditional start to the cycling season here in Oklahoma. The first ride is always well attended and it’s only 5 miles. By riding there and back, I’d get in about 20 or so for the morning.

Last night, I got my quasi-time trial bike down off the hooks, lubricated the chain, and inflated the tires. This is an old Pennine Re della Corsa road frame in honorable semi-retirement as a fixed gear. It’s a 47x18 gear, higher than my fixed gear commuter, but then this bike isn’t intended for carrying baggage. It felt really good to ride unencumbered.

I was westbound on 86th Street, a 4 lane arterial. A woman roared up to the stop sign on a side street, and actually had to stop because there was one of those pesky cyclists riding through the intersection. She’d intended to roll through the stop sign, but then I just had to be there. “Get the %$*# off the road!”, she yelled.

As soon as I was clear, she floored the accelerator and pulled out behind me. I could see in my mirror that she was intending to buzz by my handlebars with very little clearance.

So I hooked her.

In racing parlance, hooking is the act of intentionally swerving toward another rider, preferably when you are slightly ahead of him. Your back wheel could touch his front wheel, causing him to crash. This is obviously an illegal maneuver and can result in a disqualification. Some hooks are subtle, a slight nudge to the side that may escape the officials attention. Others are blatant attempts at intimidation.

I have never been subtle. I read somewhere that sprinters and track racers are often people with anger management issues. Had such classes been offered back when I was racing, I probably would have been an anger management school drop out. It’s been a life-long struggle with my temper.

My foul-mouthed motorist was overtaking rapidly, but cars don’t have the lateral agility of cyclists. As she approached, I quickly swerved left-to-right, a mere flick of the handlebar. I probably didn’t move more than 3 feet but it was enough. She dodged to the left, all the way over to the double yellow line, and then flipped me off after she passed. Next, she ran the red light up ahead and passed a few cars on their right as the road narrowed from 4 lanes down to two.

That was the last I saw of her, a speeding car trying to bull through traffic. Well, that and the little chrome fish outline on her bumper.

Confessions of a Retro-Grouch

(Here's a column I did for the Red Dirt Pedalers newsletter. RDP is a club in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The editor is Susan Walker, a real darling because she has a light touch with the editing pen!..........Ed)

What's a 'retro-grouch', and how do you know if you're becoming one?

I freely admit to being a technological Luddite. (Luddites were people who smashed automated looms back at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, claiming that the infernal machines would ruin the hand loom business and put them out of work. As it turned out, they were right.) My computers are ancient, my bikes even more so. In fact, the bike I ride through the winter is a fixed gear - a throwback to the safety bicycles of a century ago.

But does that make me a retro-grouch? If being a retro-grouch implies that one admire and prefer older, classic bicycles over new ones, I suppose I qualify. There's something about an old Schwinn Paramount, a Raleigh Professional, or a classic Masi that is simply appealing, maybe because these bikes were out of my reach when I was younger. For that matter, pristine examples still are! I'd dearly love to get a classic frame with those curlicued Nervex lugs. She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed would not be overly enthusiastic about another bike in the garage.

Don't misunderstand me - old bikes and components are not necessarily better than more modern ones. Some in the retro-grouch community would argue differently, but I worked in a shop that sold mostly French bikes. I know too well the difficulties of finding parts that fit properly. In that sense, you young pups don't know how good you have it!

Once upon a time, bikes reflected the countries where they were manufactured. Italian bikes came with Italian components. French bikes came with French components. English and American bikes came with a mixture of components. French pedals, handlebars, stems, seat posts, and bottom brackets were not interchangeable with other nation's parts. Some Italian parts were interchangeable with English, Japanese, and Swiss, but not all. A copy of Sutherland's Manual was absolutely essential because it had tables that showed what parts were interchangeable. Thread gauges and a good vernier caliper were essential too. They still are.

One benefit of the friction-type derailleur systems was part interchangeability. Just about any derailleur would work with any control lever. In fact, it was A Very Good Idea to replace cheap, plastic Simplex derailleurs with Suntour or Shimano units. I learned this the hard way, of course, sprinting in the rain when a Simplex derailleur snapped! The rear wheel locked up when the remains of the derailleur wedged between the cluster and the frame. Things got very exciting for a few seconds, but I didn't crash.

In the early eighties, things started to change. Shimano components began to appear on European bicycles. Over a couple of years, bicycles became (mostly) standardized, but it seemed that planned obsolescence increased. Five-speed freewheels were replaced by six and seven speeds. Chains became narrower to accommodate the freewheels. When index shifting arrived,component interchangeability became a problem once again. A Shimano cluster wouldn't work properly with a Campagnolo derailleur, for instance. STI and Ergo compounded the problems.

My 1996 Bianchi San Remo, for instance, came with Campy Mirage 8-speed components. Replacements are becoming hard to find. Some retro-grouches enjoy the challenge. Others, like me, find it annoying. This isn't a collectible bike. It's daily transportation. I didn't buy the bike planning to discard it in a few years. I bought it to use for a long time, so when the manufacturers make parts availability difficult, I'm seriously tempted to resort to the retro-grouch bicycle of choice, a single speed or fixed gear that eliminates the problem.

Even the manufacturers have begun to notice this. The latest trend over the last couple of years is to offer a single speed or a fixed gear as an alternative to their road bikes. I'm not referring to track bikes with steep frame angles and short wheelbases. I'm thinking of bikes based closer to road geometry, that provide a more comfortable ride, but have fixed gears, single speeds, or even flip-flop hubs. Nearly all manufacturers have one in the catalog. They clearly don't have the panache of a classic Masi,but they're simple, serviceable bicycles that will last a very long time.

And that's something that appeals to a retro-grouch!

Friday, March 10, 2006

My dogs are barkin'!

(No, it’s not another dog story. But trust me, I’ll get around to a dog tale before long!)

Gosh! I didn’t know pedals could be such a sore point!

Fritz wrote:

You unclip your left foot at stops? That's weird. No matter you're so twisted.

…I think it was about two years ago when the threads somehow stripped on my non-drive-side crankarm and the pedal plonked clean out while I was riding. I pedaled one-legged back home, but I was only about a mile from home when that happened so it wasn't bad.

Yes, it’s true. I unclip my left foot. It just feels weird to unclip the other one. Dunno why. I’ve always done it that way. Another habit I have is to mount the bike from the left – always. Maybe that’s why I unclip on the left too. Honestly, it felt very strange to stand astride the bike with my right foot on the ground. Maybe I should work on becoming ambipedalous?

I’ve had a pedal work loose too. It happened on my Giant last summer, ruining a Shimano 105 crankarm. By the time I noticed, about half the threads were gone. Fortunately, Tom had an older Shimano 600 crankset that was lightly used. It’s even shiny where the 105 was powder coated.

I’ve been a roadie since roughly 1972, and this is the only time I’ve had a cleat come loose. Sure, I cracked a few of the old nailed-on cleats, but I never had one fail in use. For that matter, the loose pedal on the Giant was a first too. Regardless, I hope not to repeat the experiences.

Okiedoke wrote:

Ah, the advantages of old-fashioned toe clips.

I used clips and straps for a very long time, but once I switched to clipless, there was a huge difference in comfort. I wear size 13E shoes. The width makes straps painfully uncomfortable after a couple of hours. They rub directly on my little toe. In the old days I had no other choice, but I really value my comfort now. Why suffer?

It’s hard to find shoes – any shoes – that fit properly and it’s worse when looking for cycling shoes. My little toes curl under. I thought it was due to wearing too-narrow shoes when I was young, but it turns out to be a genetic trait. The toes wear holes in the sides of my shoes. This is no big deal with my ancient Converse All-Stars. The holes just give them more character. But some shoes cause corns to develop, and when that happens, toe straps are painful.

I used Bata Bikers for commuting long, long ago. (If you remember them, you’re an old fart too!) They resembled sneakers, with a black canvas upper and a rippled rubber sole. But they had a fiberglass midsole than gave incredible stiffness. They were too stiff to walk in for long, but you could walk up a hill if necessary. The ripples engaged the pedals fairly well and they didn’t slip easily. Naturally, mine had holes over the little toes. They were comfortable for typically short commutes.

I had some Italian cycling shoes too, with nailed-on cleats. Very stiff, very chic, and very, very narrow! Finding ANY cycling shoes back then was difficult, and finding ones that fit properly was almost impossible. I suffered.

George wrote:

Hmmm, I just took the Look style pedals off of my Surly commuter and slapped a set of BMX pedals on. It's much easier to run errands when you can walk in shoes without cleats.

The utility bike I built up has BMX pedals. You’re absolutely right, George. They make running errands so much easier. I can jet down to the grocery store in docksiders or sneakers. But I wouldn’t want them for commuting, especially on my fixed gear. When the wind comes up and I have to do a long slog into a headwind, I really do try to pedal in circles, pulling up on the pedals as well as pushing down. One problem I’ve encountered with BMX-type pedals is staying in contact with the pedal at high revs. I tend to come off, and that’s a PITA on a fixie.

Now, I can understand having a long discussion about saddles because where a gentleman sits is quite important. (Or a gentlewoman, too. Is that a real word? I don’t know, but I’ll probably look it up in the dictionary to be sure.) We’ve covered two sore points, pedals and saddles, because I wrote about saddles some time ago. What’s next? Handlebar tape and gloves? If we do those, we’ll have covered all the contact points.

Really, when you get right down to it, those contact points determine how comfortable we are on a bike. It’s hard to convince a newbie that there are good reasons for wearing specialized shoes and shorts. Many have to experience the difference before they’re convinced. But shoes, shorts, and gloves make all the difference between a long, fun day in the saddle and a tortuous ordeal. That’s assuming the bike fits properly, of course, but it’s a topic for another day.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

So there I was...

…standing on the side of the road with a shoe in my hand.

I was looking forward to a fast blitz home last night. The wind was coming from the south at 20 to 30 miles per hour. A ferocious tailwind would be very welcome! I left work and zoomed north. The gods of traffic lights smiled on me, turning them green as I arrived at each intersection.

Indeed, I did the first couple of miles over 20 mph, then dropped down to the usual 15 as I went across the wind on the eastbound leg. Somewhere in there, I noticed my left side pedal seemed loose. I looked down but didn’t see any motion between the pedal and crank arm, so I figured the cleat was loose. I stopped to fix it. That’s when I discovered that the cleat was not about to release from the pedal. The retaining screws were loose, allowing my shoe to rotate, but not far enough to get the cleat to disengage.

I had been very, very lucky. Normally, I put my left foot down at stoplights. If I’d tried that, I would have fallen over. The only way to get out of the pedal was to untie my shoe and slip it off.

Then I discovered that my ubiquitous Cool Tool wasn’t in the bag! It just wasn’t my day. I considered calling home to have my daughter come and pick me up, but on second thought decided the bike was still rideable. Besides, I’d have to put up with her smug superiority at having to ‘rescue’ her dad.

I laced the shoe back on, balancing precariously on my right foot while doing so, and pushed off toward home. I hoped the shoe would stay attached to the pedal, but half a mile down the road it popped free. The cleat was still firmly attached, but the screws had come out completely. This happened on a hill, of course, so I pedaled along using mostly my right leg. The left shoe slid off if I pushed hard. From the top of the hill it’s only 5 miles home, so despite the pedal, I made it home safely.

Home Depot stocks 5x10mm screws, so I ran up there to get some replacements, fixed the shoe, and rode to work again today.

I stopped for a newspaper this morning. The wind had been southerly until I reached the convenience store, but when I stepped outside, I could see low, black clouds off to the west moving in rapidly. From a high point on 76th Street, I could still see the headlights of cars a couple of miles to the west, so it wasn’t raining – yet. The wind quickly shifted around to WNW and the temperature dropped. Once I made the turn south onto Mingo, I had a fair tailwind. A few raindrops pattered down on the road, but it didn’t really open up until I was in the parking lot. Timing is everything!

Between riding one-legged yesterday and spinning furiously to out-run the rain this morning, I managed to turn my legs into large pieces of wood with shoes on the ends. I’ll probably be clumping around the house like Frankenstein’s monster tonight.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tuesday Musette

My Life of Grime

The Bianchi developed a layer of grime over the winter. It looked so bad I had to go by a car wash on the way home last night to use a pressure washer to remove some of the gunk. Here’s the good news/bad news: Pressure washers can remove layers of crusty dirt very easily, but they cannot remove stubborn chain lube.

I’ve been using Amzoil’s MPHD for a couple of years. It’s an industrial wax-based lubricant that costs much less than the boutique products, but it has a brownish color that shows up well against chainrings. I normally wipe down the rings after applying lubricant, but it’s difficult to reach the inner surfaces and the stuff accumulates there. The pressure washer wouldn’t lift it.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s a very good quality for a lubricant applied to a bicycle chain that’s exposed to all sorts of weather. But I’ll have to disassemble the drive train soon and get that stuff off with some solvent. One joy of riding a fixed gear – my other commuter bike – is that it’s much easier to clean. But it too is showing a waxy build up. I may be spending Saturday in the garage.

Tom’s Bicycles (LINK)

Tom Brown is a good friend. I’ve bought a couple of bikes from him. He called after the shop closed and we had a long talk about bikes, politics, work, and his website. One idea was to have a page of used bikes he has in stock, although at present, he has none. Since I’m the bike guy at work, people ask where they can get a good bike, and a web page of used ones would be a draw for any shop.

Tom’s a big supporter of Freewheel, the annual, weeklong ride across Oklahoma. Every spring, he’s publicized the training and seminar series. This year, a skills clinic will be offered along with a training ride. He posted this:

Hope I haven't lost you yet, 'cause there's an interesting addition to the "seminar" series this year. Tom is working with some of our
local area League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors to be on hand at the March 26th 15-mile Tulsa Bicycle Club FreeWheel training ride to assist new and experienced riders in road riding skills including, but not limited to, maneuvers like the quick turn, rock dodge and emergency stop. Look for more information on the web site related to this unique opportunity to improve your cycling skills.

(Ahem) I am one of the instructors, of course. We decided that Sandra is the Goddess of Tennis Balls, since she has all the halved tennis balls we use for classes. But if we’re going to do this in the proper spirit, I think we should all have similar lofty titles. I don’t think I’m eligible for god status, though. Demi-god maybe.

Meeting at Owasso

Last Friday, I met with Ana Stagg, Director of Public Works, and Eric Wiles, Economic Development Director. I’d contacted them about the INCOG bicycling subcommittee and since I live in Owasso, I’d like to see some cycling awareness developing there. I’ve met with them before. Actually, the first time I contacted Ana, she seemed a little defensive until I pointed out that I’m certainly NOT an adversary. I’m not going to tell her how to do her job. All I want is to see cyclists included in long-range planning.

I told them of the ‘Bicycle Friendly City’ status that LAB promotes so well, and said that it’s an indicator of the quality of life in a community. This issue – quality – is a huge factor in attracting new residents and businesses.

The Owasso area is growing rapidly. There’s an opportunity to see cyclists included as a normal, expected part of city transportation. One of my goals is to see that cyclists are so commonplace on our roads as to be unremarkable. And I’m fond of a tool analogy: Use the right tool for the job. By that I mean that we should use motor vehicles when necessary, but if a trip involves a run to the grocery store for milk-and-bread-and-eggs (an every other day occurrence in our house) maybe a bicycle is a better ‘tool’ for the task. The problem is that there’s no place to park a bike. In fact, other than the schools, there are no bicycle racks in the entire town.

I told them of the Louisville public art/bicycle racks and they seemed interested. There may be some interest in including bicycle parking in commercial planning also. The sticky point is funding. Isn’t it always? They’re going to pursue some ideas in that line. I’m not a money guy, so please don’t ask about funding. I have no idea how it works.

We talked about signage too; Share the Road signs and the like. There’s nothing in the budget to do this at present, but it’s something to consider in the next one.

There’s a lesson in this for anyone considering bicycling advocacy. Well, actually there are several lessons. First, nothing happens quickly in government. We plant some seeds and hope that in a couple of years they’ll develop. It can be frustrating to see little apparent progress, but when we look back over several years, we can see that the initial effort paid off. The budget process sees that any new project cannot come on line for at least a year. Patience, grasshopper.

Second, there’s no substitute for a good working relationship with the bureaucrats and planners. Again, this takes time to develop. Everyone who attends a meeting wants to see that hometown become a better place. We may have differences about how to accomplish that, but never lose sight of the overall goal. Treat differing viewpoints respectfully and try to develop a cordial relationship. That ‘personal touch’ goes a long way toward furthering your goals.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Stinkin' to high heaven...

Ah, spring! When young men’s thought turn to….well…what they always turn to. Those of us older and presumably wiser turn our thoughts toward the spring racing classics, trout fishing, and mowing the lawn. Yesterday, I saw a guy out on his riding mower, honest! It will be only a week or two until I’m out there in the garage, trying to kick-start my son into cutting the grass.

Many other things happen in the spring. Flowers bloom. Birds and bees do their thing. But one of the earliest signs is not the appearance of daffodils pushing up through cold earth. No. A sure-fire sign that spring is near is when the skunks wake up from winter hibernation. They awaken and waddle off in search of breakfast.

This year, however, they woke up and discovered that much had changed. President Bush’s popularity sank to 34%. The winter Olympics blew big chunks. West Wing was cancelled. And those people on Lost still hadn’t blundered into Gilligan, Ginger, and Mary Ann.

The skunks were depressed. The ones who couldn’t afford therapy had the worst of it. As their spirits sank lower, the thought of suicide must have become compelling. But for a skunk, checking out in style like Anna Karenina is almost impossible. First, there are very few railroad trains here and they run on an erratic schedule. It’s hard to plan when to lay one’s head down on the rails when a train may not come by for days. What’s a skunk to do? Hurling oneself from a tall building would be effective, but first you have to enter the building. That’s tough for a skunk since they can’t reach the doorknobs. Likewise with pills and overdoses. When was the last time you saw a skunk in a pharmacy?

Nope. A skunk’s suicide method of choice is to throw himself in front of a speeding car. It’s messy but effective. A driver may not even know he’s killed a depressed skunk, at least until he stops the car. Then the olfactory evidence of a skunk’s passing becomes readily apparent.

The valley along my commute route is littered with dead skunks. At least eight of them died there in the last 10 days, and that’s only a 2-mile stretch of road. When the wind is right, I never completely escape the odor, and I can only hold my breath for so long.

Fortunately, none of them have tried to shuffle off this mortal coil by lunging in front of a speeding cyclist, but it’s only a matter of time. Some skunk, desperate to escape the ennui of baseball season, will try to off himself under my front wheel. If they had thumbs, they could shoot themselves, but the only skunk with a thumb is Pepe LePew. Unlike our local skunks, Pepe had the ability to bounce back after numerous unrequited love affairs.

There’s a lesson in this. If you happen across one of those suicidal depressed skunks while riding your bike, start yelling. “No! No! Be like Pepe. L’amor! L’amor!” The skunks may take the advice to heart and stay well away from your front wheel. For that matter, any motorists or pedestrians who happen to hear it will stay well clear too.