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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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Bicycles…and airplanes

Bicycles…and airplanes

“Society is singularly in debt to the bicycle, since bicycle mechanics developed the airplane as well as the automobile.”

James E Starrs, The Noiseless Tenor

Did you know? Several of the developers of the automobile and the airplane were “wrenches.” Rudolf Egg, Edward Butler, Léon Bollée. Peugeot. Charles and Frank Duryea. The Wright brothers and Charlie Taylor. Glenn Curtis. Surely the automobile and the airplane would have been invented anyway, but the work of bicycle mechanics began the era of motorized transportation. These innovators brought their skill sets to the question of flight, and brought us into the skies.

It’s interesting that we find ourselves in the 21st century with many looking to bicycles again, but for different reasons than those of its developers in the 19th century. Today’s reasons? Transportation, surely. But for many, it’s the joy brought about during a bike ride. Or for the exercise: an excellent cardiovascular workout – with whatever intensity the rider wishes, from leisurely family rides to HIIT training and bicycle racing. Or because it’s WAY less expensive than owning a car. Statistics show that most vehicle trips are just a few miles long: the perfect situation for using a bike.

Or for the environment. Little “carbon footprint.” No burning of fuel (except what the rider has eaten!). Less congestion on crowded roadways. And the pleasure. Behind it all is the sheer joy of a bike ride. The sights, the sounds, the smells; a real experience of the journey, instead of the closed-in space of the four-wheeled box in which we typically travel.

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Dedication

Dedication

“No quote today.”

Les Leathem

OK, so I didn’t start today’s post with a bicycling quote. I guess it is a quote, though…Why no bicycling quote? Because today I’m going to talk about how I spent one weekend this month.

I was in Sarasota, Florida, working with LCI (League Cycling Instructor) candidates. These folks came to be certified in order to share their passion for bicycling with people in their communities. It was great. Dedicated people, hard at work in their communities already, who want to do an even better job of teaching others how they can use their bicycles to commute, to exercise, to travel…

The group was diverse – some young, some older. For some, a “long ride” would be 10 miles. Others wouldn’t be fully warmed up in 10 miles, on their way to the goal of a “century” ride of 100 miles. Some had a lot of experience working on bicycles; others, not so much. What they all shared was passion. Passion to share their experience with others. Passion to work to make bicycling accessible to all. Passion to teach others about the joy that bicycling can bring.

They demonstrated the ability to teach others. They demonstrated the ability to handle their bicycles in hazard drills. They demonstrated the ability to navigate roads in Sarasota – even one of which a local candidate said point-blank, “I live on that road, and I won’t ride my bicycle on it.” But ride on it he did, as did the rest of the candidates. And no, I would never take less-experienced people on bicycles down that road, but as instructors, LCIs should be able to handle higher-volume roadways. And handle it they did.

I am honored to now call many of them “colleague,” rather than “candidate.” This group of brand-new LCIs are eager to get out there and share their knowledge and experience with others. Several of them already have plans in place to work with their local clubs in upcoming classes. They are wasting no time in giving back to their communities. It’s wonderful to hear, and I am so happy I was able to meet and work with them.

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Bikes as a workout, too

Bikes as a workout, too

“My own preferred fitness regime is to use my bicycle.”

-Paul Hollywood, celebrity chef

I’ve done a lot of different types of exercise over the years. Nautilus machines. Dumbbells. Barbells. Kettlebells. Aerobics. Cybex. Universal. Ellipticals. Body weight. Rowers. Bodypump.

You get the idea. For my entire adult life I’ve exercised in one way or another. Maybe that’s why in a recent hospital stay, they kept saying, “Wait. All of your vitals and lab values are great. You’re a healthy man living in New Orleans. How does that happen?”

Or maybe it’s in the genes; or both? I don’t know.

But, I will say that my favorite activity to keep myself going/ healthy/ happy is to ride my bike. For so many reasons. When I train new League Cycling Instructors, part of the very first exercise includes the question, “What one word would you use to describe what learning to ride a bike meant to you?” The most common answer is freedom.

Yes. The freedom to expand your life: from your home, your neighborhood, even your city (for more ambitious riders)…

For me, as an adult, it’s another kind of freedom. When I’m on the bike, I can think about anything, or nothing. I can solve the problems of the world, or I can intentionally let everything go. And regardless, I’m exercising! Oh yeah, this is about exercising.

But bicycling gives me so much more. Out in the air. Seeing the world. Smelling the flowers (and in passing the farms in New Jersey, smelling other things!). Talking with friends (I like riding alone, but it’s better when friends are there too). And thinking, or not. And meanwhile, my heart is pumping more. I’m breathing more deeply. My muscles, at least the lower half of my body and my core) are getting a workout. OK, so I still need to exercise the upper half, but that’s fine. Days on a bike are especially good days.

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But ride

But ride

“Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short, as you feel. But ride.” Eddy Merckx

Yes, that. For many reasons. I find that my riding has been neither as frequent nor as far as I would like this year. Part of it is the back and forth of travel. Part of it is inertia. None of it is for good reason. I have noticed that no matter how much or how little I ride, I love it equally. I have managed to get in a few longer rides, but many of my trips this year have been short ones: to the bagel shop, to the hardware store, to the farmers’ market. On that one, I got my wife to ride with me. She didn’t think we could do the trip on the bikes; she assumed we’d drive the car. I grabbed the Ortlieb bags. We carried home corn, tomatoes, and a number of other fresh herbs and vegetables, zucchini flowers (for stuffing at dinner that night!) and a bouquet of fresh flowers for the table. It was nice.

A few trips on the Mississippi River Trail in New Orleans; a few rides on Long Beach Island in NJ. Other than that, short jaunts on the cruiser. But on all of them, the same feeling of joy. Of freedom. Of peace. All days are gifts, but days that include a bike ride are special.

You’ve seen articles on the bike and its contribution to physical health, to the environment, to business, to traffic mitigation…and to mental health. I can only speak for myself: a bike ride is a recharge/reset; a mental break; a chance to enjoy the beauty around us.

Go recharge. Go do yourself some good. Go for a long ride, or a short one…but ride.

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A moment…

A moment…

OK, this is a complete (well, not for me) diversion from the usual. I’ll relate an experience I had this week (off the bike) and it’s only tangentially related. So if you’d rather not get philosophical today, move along…

Those of you who know me may know of my fascination with labyrinths. I’ve admired them, walked them…even tattooed one on my leg. That’s part of the story.

I’ve never been much on tattoos. I felt that, for me, at least, it had to mean something. Until I found something that truly meant something to me, I would not put it on my body. As some of you know, that happened last year. I had said for years that a tattoo of the Chartres labyrinth would be cool. For me, these were the reasons why: 1) I’ve been fascinated with it for years. The journey of faith, of pilgrimage, of prayer, represented there was important to me; 2) I’ve often considered bike riding a “physical” prayer, much like walking the labyrinth; 3) the dentelles, or teeth, surrounding the labyrinth reminds me strongly of a chainring.

So I finally decided to do it last year. I had it placed on the inside of my right calf, right where a “chain tattoo” would be.

And then this happened early this week:

A local church advertised a labyrinth walk. I decided to go in. I approached the canvas labyrinth, and near the entrance, two ladies were seated. As I got close, I said, “Good morning,” and, having worn shorts, I turned slightly and they saw the tattoo. One responded enthusiastically and asked if she could take a picture of it. The other, meanwhile, asked how much it hurt then said, “You idiot.” The first lady laughed nervously, and said, “Leave it to (second lady) to come up something like that.”

Second lady scurried away, and I began walking the labyrinth. I prayed. I was overwhelmed by the comment and thought that I needed to address it with her. I had no idea what to say. On my way back from the “center,” it came to me. Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Matthew 18:15)

So I did. As I exited the labyrinth, she was walking by. I said to her, “I really need to speak to you about something.” I told her that Jesus said we should point out our brothers’ and sisters’ fault. I said, “This is the first time I’ve ever come to pray and been called an idiot.”

She apologized profusely and we hugged. She thanked me for giving her the opportunity to right the wrong. She had realized what she had done the moment she said it, and moved away in embarrassment. We talked some more, about labyrinths, about who we were, about prayer, and then we hugged again. It turned full circle – from a wonderful moment, to a moment of doubt, to a wonderful reconciliation.

The Lord works in mysterious ways.

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