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A thing apart

A thing apart

“It is no exaggeration to affirm that a journey by bicycle is like none other; it is a thing apart; it has a tempo and a style of its own.”

James E Starrs, The Noiseless Tenor

A journey by bicycle is a thing apart. It’s not like driving a car.

In a car, you are separate from the world, not a part of it. The metal box has its own environment; one created by the car manufacturer, and customized by the driver, to minimize the interaction with the world outside. In recent years, the car’s environment has become even more insular. Touch-screen interfaces, messaging, Bluetooth connectivity, all combine to make the motorist even more laser-focused on the inside of the vehicle and the inside of his or her mind. More and more distractions are available. Less and less attention is given to the outside world, to the ROADWAY, and to OTHER ROAD USERS! 

We’ve seen (among many other things in 2020) an increase in bad motorist behavior. It seems that as the streets emptied early in the COVID era, those who were on them decided that they didn’t need to follow the rules so closely. Average speeds increased, with a parallel increase in crashes, injuries and fatalities.

But another thing that has increased in 2020 is bicycle use. Data show increases across the country. People have rediscovered the bicycle’s tempo and style. Continuing the musical analogy, what’s the tempo of a bicycle? Somewhere between a pedestrian’s “Andante” (a walking pace) and a motorist’s Allegro” (quick) or “Presto” (very fast). Moderato,” then, using the musical term for “moderate.”

And it’s more than just a difference of speed: it’s a difference of approach. When driving a car one sees the world in glances, in (often) disconnected bits. The driver passes through the world at a pace that allows only glimpses between the start of the journey and its destination. The journey is incidental. The goal is the destination. 

On the bicycle, the journey is often as much a part of the experience as the destination. One sees so much more. The more relaxed pace allows the bicycle driver to see details that would be missed by the motorist. The sights, the smells. The sounds, the breeze. The hills, the weather. The light, the clouds. In all, a journey, not a mere conveyance from Point A to Point B.

Think about your neighborhood, and about your usual haunts. Most of your travel is within a few miles of your home. What if you used a bicycle to get to the hardware store for those batteries you need to replace? How about a bike ride to get that gallon of milk? Do you ever think about driving your bike instead of your car to the drugstore? What would you get?

A little cardio exercise…a little saving on gasoline…a little less wear on your car…maybe even more time to do something else, since you didn’t have to get the car out, find a parking place, park it, walk to the store’s front door (you can park right in front!), put things in the trunk, drive home, find a parking space (or put it back in the garage)…

And it’s not just about those things; it’s about being outside on a bike. Maybe it’s been a very long time since you’ve been on a bike. Maybe it’s time to rediscover the joy that is possible on two wheels!

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Really? Anything works!

Really? Anything works!

“Sometimes jerseys are even uncool. The guys that have a bike and a helmet and that’s it, they’re my favorite mountain bikers.”

Dave Wiens, US pro mountain bike racer

No, this is not a post about the World Naked Bike Ride. It’s about gear. Riding gear. What you ARE wearing rather than what you’re NOT WEARING…

What to wear?

There are those in the bicycling community who have certain “standards” about acceptable wear for riding their bicycles. And if you don’t conform, they look down their noses at you. For example, a popular magazine in the sport actually has articles occasionally about things like proper sock height; or about whether your sunglasses should go over or under the straps of your helmet.

Good grief. What’s the point, anyway? The point is to get some exercise. The point is to get to work. The point is to run some errands. The point is to reduce your carbon footprint. The point is…to ride your bicycle. That is all. And to do that you DON’T need any special (magical) sock height to fit in with the in-crowd. You DON’T need to worry about placement of the arms of your sunglasses.

What to wear!

What you DO need is serviceable clothes that will keep you comfortable and safe. That means you probably don’t need anything special! Depending on the weather, layers and wicking fabrics will keep you more comfortable than thicker materials. Lightweight gear for precipitation can be had without spending a lot of money, but the “style masters” will insist that you NEED high-end clothing for every type of weather. Nope.

Accessories are also available in unexpected places, and sometimes for free. For example, organizations like AAA give away slap bands to protect your pants leg from getting soiled by the chain. Also check out local bike groups, which sometimes give away seat covers to keep your seat dry in wet weather. Sunglasses and/or clear glasses from big-box hardward stores are significantly less expensive than “bicycling” glasses, and do just fine, thank you very much.

When to wear something else

Now this is not to say that special clothing has no place. Many riders who begin to ride more may find that some of the options that are available make sense. Like padded shorts. Like tops (and bottoms) made of wicking material that may keep them cooler/more comfortable. The choices are many. And they’re at all different price points, from reasonable to “you paid how much for that???”

But remember it’s not about any of that. It’s about getting on your bicycle.

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Go outside! Get healthy!

Go outside! Get healthy!

“So ardent a cyclist must be full of good health.”

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

A cyclist is full of good health. Riding a bike has a real health benefits. First, it’s low impact. Since you don’t land on a hard surface with every step, you may experience less joint pain and damage…I’ve known a number of riders who used to be runners. They gave up running eventually and discovered they they could continue to get great aerobic exercise by hopping on a bike instead.

It also uses lots of the body’s muscle groups…not only the legs get a workout. Glutes, back, core, arms; all help keep the bike upright and keep it moving.

Riding a bicycle generally gets you to breathe deeper (you can vary the intensity to made it as hard, or as easy, as you’d like!). And a 2014 study actually showed that people driving bicycles were exposed to far less air pollution than those driving cars!

Active people just feel better! Exercise causes the release of adrenalin and endorphins, which may energize you and make you feel good. And the extra activity burns calories…there’s no guarantee you’ll lose weight, but if that’s a goal, cycling (or any other exercise) may help you reach it.

Heart rate: cycling raises it, and is a good way to cut risk of heart disease. Many exercises will do this, and more. Possible side effects of exercise include improved sleep, brain health, and a strengthened immune system.

And here’s a shocker: using a bicycle for those short trips and errands often takes less time than using a car. Think about it. Getting in the car, driving to where you need to go, finding a parking place, walking to the entrance…or…jump on the bike, drive to where you need to go, park right by the front door, BOOM. Many “races” in numerous cities ended with the bicyclist arriving long before the motorist.

Want a little more information about how cycling can help? Check out these articles from Cycling Weekly, Harvard Health Publishing, MDAnderson. Or try it out yourself. Get on your bike and ride!

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Bikes and the law

Bikes and the law

“Is it about a bicycle?”

The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien

No, it’s about bicycling and traffic law. I haven’t read the book from which the quote comes, but it looks fascinating, and more than a bit weird. I put it on hold at the library so I can learn what the line has to do with anything. But for now, I’m using this quote to spur me on to other thoughts.

I’m in the middle of thinking through/planning/executing a series of short videos on bicycling and traffic law. If you followed my blog for a bit, you know that working with police officers has been my “thing” for the last few years. Over the next year, I’ll have the opportunity to work with a whole new group of departments. I’ve gotten a grant to expand statewide here at home, so I’ll begin laying the groundwork now. For posts about earlier work I’ve done in this area see posts here (2018), here (2017) and here (2015).

But what’s the connection? The series of videos would be about bicycles and traffic law and directed towards bicyclists, rather than towards police officers. Because experience says that many bicyclists don’t understand the rules of the road…

Hey, that sounds familiar:

Many police officers, while they understand traffic law from the motorist’s perspective, don’t understand how that translates into traffic law while seated on a saddle. So, since I’ve developed a program that facilitates giving officers that perspective, I thought it might be a good idea to bring that to the public-at-large, too.

If will have to be a bit more general, though, since laws differ by location. I would discuss the general principles of traffic and how they might look to a person on a bike, but not get into specifics on any one state or municipality. With every state and many local governments creating their own laws under those principles, it would be impossible to do a comprehensive program.

But there’s still plenty to talk about. What are your rights and duties as a road user? What’s the deal with being a part of traffic? Do you need to follow the same rules as motorists? Can you get a ticket on a bike? How does a bicyclist’s view of the road differ from that of a motorist?

In all of this, I’ll show that it’s about the law and how, and when, it applies to people on bikes. It isn’t about a bicycle.

What do you think?

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Riding While Black

Riding While Black


“Being stopped and harassed is one of the top concerns of Black and brown cyclists.” —Charles Brown, Rutgers University

A just-published article in Bicycling Magazine discusses one of the racial issues in cycling (See the original article here). Author Dan Roe looked at data from three major cities and found that, for black people on bikes are more likely to have problematic interactions with law enforcement.

Charles Brown, a senior transportation researcher at Voorhees Transportation Center (Rutgers University), reported on the results of a 2017 survey showing that 15 percent of Black and Latinx riders said they had been unfairly stopped by law enforcement.

Bicycling found only 3 out of 100 major cities that classify stops by race/ethnicity. Oakland, CA, New Orleans, LA, and Washington, D.C. had such data. The short version of the article: black riders are stopped at a high rate, disproportionately to the population. Black riders are also more likely to get tickets, white riders are more often let off with a warning.

One important finding: stops were made more often in neighborhoods that were historically or are currently home to black residents. Why? Is it because of the people who live there? Or is it because these areas (at least in New Orleans) have typically been underserved, and safe infrastructure has not been a priority?

Questions, not answers. Have we come a long way? Yes. We still have a long way to go, though. “Riding while black” can’t be an excuse to treat people wrongly.

For more on bicycling and equity, see these posts: “Welcome, Ladies,” “Is This About Bicycling?,” “Riding and Not Seeing.”

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Welcome, ladies

Welcome, ladies

“Because, you know, I can’t work a bicycle pump” – Judi Dench

Hmm…and that highlights one of the things we need to work on. I don’t know the context in which Dame Judi Dench said that, so I can’t/won’t assume any. But I will use it to launch a thought process about bicycling and opportunity.

As you probably know, I work with the League of American Bicyclists. Part of the mission of LAB is education of the bicycling community in the quest to create a “Bicycle Friendly America.” I enjoy teaching people how to safely and confidently ride their bicycles wherever they would like to ride them.

A quick story to illustrate where I’m going with this post. My daughter and I were on a long-distance/multi-day charity ride several years ago. We were riding with the usual suspects: a bunch of folks who had ridden together for many miles…all guys. She got a flat. We pulled over to deal with it, and a few of the guys jumped in to start fixing it. She waved them off, and changed it herself.

The point: as is often the case, the guys assumed either a) she didn’t know how to change it, or b) she would take too long to do it. But then, her dad teaches people how to do this, and made sure she knew how and and was able to do so.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that we don’t do what we need to do so that people can be self-sufficient. That is too often true in cycling. Everyone who rides should at least understand the basics of how the bike works, how to do at least the very basic repairs/adjustments to keep the bike in good shape, and when it should be taken into a shop for more expert care. And we’ve too often failed in that. Unfortunately it’s especially true for women. They’ve often not been treated well in bike shops, in bike clubs, on bike rides. It’s changing, a bit at a time, but we need to do better.

Welcome, ladies! How can I help?

For more on bicycling and equity, see these posts: “Is This About Bicycling?;” “Riding and Not Seeing.”

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Is this about bicycling?

Is this about bicycling?

“Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle.” — Helen Keller

Is this about a bicycle? Well, no, not really.

There is a tremendous amount of effort required to learn to balance a bicycle…or anything else. Most of us don’t remember the work that went into that, because it was so long ago. “You never forget how to ride a bike.” That’s what they tell us, and to a large degree, it’s true. Even after you’ve been away from riding, you can get right back on, put your feet on the pedals, and go.

I’m not so sure, though, about Helen Keller’s contention. Indeed, toleration requires effort at the start. But I think that the two are unlike each other because toleration often requires a readjustment when you haven’t thought about it for awhile. New facts, opinions, and differing approaches to life all require us to reexamine our own perspectives, and to figure out how we will incorporate them into our own thoughts. It’s not the same as getting back on the bike (which is the same now as it was oh so many years ago when we first learned to ride). The only constant is that everything changes. So we must change too.

But…we MUST admit that having differing opinions is not the same as intolerance. At the same time, we MUST admit that toleration is not the same as professing those thoughts/taking those actions/holding those opinions ourselves. And we MUST be willing to have conversations about our different experiences, thoughts, hopes, beliefs. We MUST NOT brand those who disagree with us as intolerant. Perhaps some are, but a person who merely has different opinions than I do means only that that person is not me! Nor would I want everyone to be me. That would be a boring world indeed.

Maybe if we worked a bit harder at toleration, it would become easier. We may find relevance…and a need for change…in some of the things others say. We may learn that someone else’s approach to things works better than ours. And eventually, we may see that it’s almost as easy as getting back on the bike.

Perhaps you weren’t so far off, Ms. Keller!

For more on bicycling and equity, see this post: “Riding and Not Seeing.”

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Food, glorious food

Food, glorious food

“I eat to ride, I ride to eat. At the best of moments, I can achieve a perfect balance, consuming just the right amount of calories as I fill up at bakeries, restaurants or ice cream parlors.”

Daniel Behrman, The Man Who Loved Bicycles

Yep, my philosophy. I used to joke about it with my riding buddies. When I first started doing long-distance rides (by that I mean the annual 7-day, 500-mile charity ride I participated in for 9 years), I ate massive quantities of food during the ride. To paraphrase the hobbits: breakfast, second breakfast, 11sies, lunch. tea, dinner, supper, snack…I’m sure it was the riding that allowed me to consume such a massive amounts of calories without blowing up like a balloon. But that elusive balance he talks about? It’s kinda hard to achieve sometimes. Especially since I’m not doing anywhere near that kind of riding these days.

When I moved back to New Orleans a few years ago, I noticed a bit of weight creep. Nothing major, just a few pounds, but at the same time my bike miles were down significantly. Realizing what was going on, I started paying attention to it. That was something I never had to do. Good genes, I guess, but adding excess weight was never a problem. That changed.

So I started paying attention. But I live in New Orleans! I need not tell you what that means re: food. I’ve mostly found a balance again. I get out on the bike for a long ride once a week or so, and get in what I can for short trips on other days. And I’ve cut back on some of that food, glorious New Orleans food a bit.

But…all things in moderation. I think I’ll go get an order of beignets and cafe au lait now…

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More minds changed…

More minds changed…

In this time of the world being “on hold,” I’m digging up random things. I found this post that I wrote mid-summer, last year. Somehow I neglected to post it. So it’s old, but you didn’t know that!

Different towns, very different programs. We taught the same material, showed the same videos, said the same things. But the days were very different. 

In one session, there was mild interest, but little interaction, and almost no one participated in the afternoon on-bike clinic. Our experience shows that the classroom session, as expected, gives the “intellectual” understanding of the issues, problems and concerns regarding traffic law and bicycling. But participants who then join us for a bike ride around town after the classroom session get it to a degree that others don’t. 

In a second session, there was real interest, and a lot of interaction among participants and instructor, and EVERYONE participated in the on-bike clinic. They genuinely began to understand what the world looks like from the perspective of the saddle. They realized that things do not look the same as when they’re driving in a large metal box that protects/insulates from the outside world. As one officer said after the road ride, “It’s amazing how much more you can see when you’re on a bike!”

During another road ride, officers experienced the lack of care some motorists have for other road users: I was riding at the back of the group. We were riding lawfully, two abreast in the right lane, when a motorist decided to pass us in the same lane. We were taking up most of it – so he moved over just barely enough to sneak by us. The left lane was unoccupied. Nonetheless, he passed so close to me that his passenger-side mirror came within about three inches of hitting my left arm.

…The best part of the story? I’m riding next to a police officer, in uniform, with the word “POLICE” in reflective, capital letters across his back! Karma’s a bitch, though. The light just ahead turns red, and the motorist has to stop. His window is open. We pull up on his right side and proceed to discuss idiot drivers who think it’s ok/funny to do stupid things like almost run over a group of bicycle riders with police officers in the group. Of course, he wouldn’t look in our direction. The officer was not local, so could not ticket the idiot, but I think it was probably a good thing his windows were down – he looked like he had an accident in his pants!

The light changed, and off he went, rather quickly. I think he was just glad to get away from us once he realized what he had done.

During the course of those rides, I saw a change in how the officers view the world. In the first case, their eyes saw more things, and saw them differently. In the second, they saw how people driving motor vehicles treat other road users, and began to understand why people driving bicycles may feel threatened whenever they get on their bikes to travel.

And that was the point.

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What’d You Say?

What’d You Say?

OK, I’m not starting with a quote. “But wait, you always start with a quote!” I’m not starting with a quote because what’s most important here is one word: “accident.” I was inspired to write this post having read an article about language, and how it shapes our understanding…Here’s the reference.

TL:DR – The way we talk about crashes is changing. There are few accidents but many crashes.

“What’s the difference?” you may ask. The word “accident” has a certain connotation. When we hear that word, we believe that it “just happened,” that nothing could have been done to prevent it. The reality is that there are VERY FEW “accidents.” There are literally MILLIONS of crashes every year in the United States alone. In virtually all of them, one (or more) of the operators involved could have done something to avoid the crash. And there’s been research to show that the way we talk/hear/write about a crash has a dramatic impact on our perception of the event.

We read about the bicyclist who was run over by a truck making a right turn in front of a bicyclist…and the article says that the bicyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet. Yes, let’s pretend that a helmet would have prevented the death of a person who was run over by a vehicle weighing up to 80,000 pounds. Let’s forget that the truck driver unsafely turned right in front of a bicyclist legally traveling in a bike lane. The bicyclist WASN’T WEARING A HELMET. As if that would have made a difference!

But that statement changes our perception of the crash…blame is shifted to the bicyclist instead of the truck driver who failed to yield to the bicyclist; who did not merge into the bike lane prior to turning; who did not adequately check for traffic around the vehicle perimeter. No, the bicyclist shouldn’t have been there.

Or how about the motorist/pedestrian crash where the pedestrian is crossing the street in a crosswalk. And the reporter says that traffic is snarled in the whole area while the investigation continues. Subtly, we process that as though the pedestrian was the cause of all the tie-ups. The reality is that the pedestrian had the right-of-way, and the motorist ignored the law (and the person in front!) or “didn’t see the pedestrian” (were you looking…really looking?). But it sounds like all the motorists are being inconvenienced because the darn pedestrian went and got himself run over…

And then there is the official spokesperson for the law enforcement agency, who almost always makes sure to include that bicyclists should always wear helmets and conspicuous clothing…but never mentions either the rights of the pedestrians and bicyclists or the responsibilities of the motorist to be aware of his/her surroundings.

I have one request…and then I will end my semi-rant. Please pay attention to language when you read (or hear or write) reports of crashes. Be sure that the report accurately represents what happened. Try your best to approach it with an unbiased eye/ear. And be sure that the language does not force you to accept a view of the event that may be inaccurate.

This is changing, but very slowly. Crash investigators I have talked to seem to be more aware of the issue; they typically don’t call incidents “accidents.” They call them crashes. But there’s a lot of noise out there. We see road signs (even on some automated signs from state highway departments!) talking about accidents. News reporters talk about traffic accidents. Insurance companies and trial lawyers do the same. We need to do better.

I’ve talked about crashes in other posts. If you’d like to read on, try these: “Losing my balance…and finding my calling,” “GET OFF THE ROAD!,” “No. NO!,” “It was a crash…it was no accident,” “I just crashed! (hypothetically)

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