Archive for January 15, 2009

This bike lane is mine, God gave this lane to me

Today’s vastly oversimplified and seemingly off-topic history lesson:

It wasn’t that long ago, a little less than a century, that there were very few Jews in Israel. In fact, there was no Israel.

At the end of the first World War, less than 90,000 Jews lived in what was then known as Palestine. Then the Zionist Movement encouraged the migration of Jews to Palestine, reclaiming the land the Romans expelled them from nearly two millennia before.

The turmoil preceding World War II led to further migration, as did the resettlement of refugees following the Holocaust — resulting in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

The only problem is, there were already people living there.

Over 700,000 Arab Palestinians became refugees virtually overnight. And a conflict began that defies resolution 60 years later, as two distinct groups claim their right to the same limited space.

Remind you of anything?

There was a time — a very brief time — when the bicycle was the king of the road; the cleaner, more efficient, new-fangled contraption that was to replace the horse and buggy. At least until the car came along and claimed the roads for themselves.

Bikes were relegated to the side of the road — or banned from the roadways entirely. Some cyclists and traffic planners believed the solution was to build segregated bike lanes and off-road paths; others felt the answer lay in reclaiming our space on road, just as any other form of vehicular traffic.

The problem was, drivers felt the streets belonged to them, and would not willingly give up any part of the road, or make way for what they considered an inferior mode of transportation invading their turf.

And so began the conflict we deal with every day. A cold — or sometimes, very hot — war between cyclists and drivers, as we fight for our right to ride, and the motorized world too often refuses to give an inch.

Does it compare to the tragedy currently unfolding in Gaza?

Of course not. But the roots of the conflict are similar, and a resolution just as unlikely.

Even the cycling community is divided as to what approach to take. Some riders refuse to be confined to a separate but unequal lifestyle; others are willing to utilize bike paths and lanes, but believe the solution lies in a better educated motoring public. Some believe in sharrows, while others are willing to fight for their bike lanes; yet even those who support those painted lines on the street accept that they may not always be the best solution.

Then there are those of us who want to take their bike lanes with them, and others who are just happy to stay off the sidewalk.

As for me, I suppose I have a wheel in both camps. I agree with Will, in that I believe the ideal solution lies in educating drivers, so they’re more willing to share the road. And make room for us as equal users of the streets.

I just don’t believe that will ever happen.

So unless, and until, it does, I will take my place on the road, while staking my claim to the bike lane — even if it doesn’t go anywhere. And fight to defend it from any form of abuse, encroachment or foreign invaders. Because separate and unequal may not be ideal, or even right, but it’s ours.

And right now, it’s the best we’ve got.

Gary reports on Bike Kill, complete with killer photos. Matt fills us in on L.A.’s upcoming tour de hills (and yes, we do have a few), while Will once again demonstrates his mastery of the cyclist’s revenge — with no blood, or anything else, spilled. C.I.C.L.E. announces their new office in Northeast L.A., courtesy of the brewers of my favorite beer. Denver follows up on its bike sharing program during the Democratic Convention with an affordable city-wide rent-a-ride plan. And Lauren, AKA hardrockgirl, fills us in on her first four months of L.A. riding, part 1 (and thanks for the kind word).

The big BikinginLA January blowout

As others have noted, this week has been ideal for riding. Temperatures in the low 80s, low humidity and — at least here on the Westside — no wind to speak of.

So even though this was scheduled as a rest day, following yesterday’s hard ride, I couldn’t resist grabbing my bike a for quick spin along the coast. After all, if I didn’t work too hard, it still qualifies as rest, right?

And for most of the day, today’s ride was just this side of perfect.

The views were spectacular and the weather conditions, and lack of tourists, meant I could keep up a good speed, even through Santa Monica and Venice. And what pedestrians and slower cyclists there were just served as slalom gates, giving me something to swerve around.

Of course, idyllic rides seldom last. And today was no exception.

It started on my way back home, when I decided to take Montana Avenue, rather than my usual route up San Vicente.

Like when a pedestrian suddenly changed direction and stepped out directly in front of me, without ever looking in my way, her long blonde hair blocking her peripheral vision, as well. The result was a fishtailing panic stop, screeching to a halt just inches away from her.

Two blocks later, I hit the brakes again when a car darted out of an alley and made a right turn right in front of me. But this time I was prepared, since I couldn’t make eye contact with the driver — usually a dead giveaway that they have no idea I’m there.

Then just up the road, a woman started to make a left turn after I’d already entered the intersection, on a direct collision course with yours truly. Fortunately, she heard me yell a warning and jammed on the brakes — avoiding me by just a few feet. And scaring the crap out of both us.

So after surviving the Montana gauntlet, though, you might think it would be smooth sailing the rest of the way home.

But you’d be wrong.

Maybe it was the stress of the repeated panic stops, or something in the road. Or it could have just been normal wear and tear. But about four miles from home, I heard a loud bang like a large balloon exploding. And suddenly found myself struggling to maintain control of bike, as heavy traffic whipped by just inches away.

Somehow, I managed to stay upright long enough to get to the curb, and found a gaping hole in the side of my rear tire — which meant that there wasn’t patch big enough to get me home. And that meant walking to the nearest bike shop for a repair.

And since I still hadn’t replaced the cleat covers I’d lost a few months back, when I forgot to zip up my seat bag after I stopped to fix a flat, I had to walk every inch of it on my bare cleats.

(Later — much later — it occurred to me that I could have taken a cab, or even caught a bus home. But did I think of that then? Of course not.)

So I set off rolling my bike down the mean sidewalks of Brentwood, watching enviously as the DB9s and carbon-fiber Conalgos continued to roll by without me.

I’d only gone a few blocks when a woman walking in the opposite direction paused in her cell phone conversation, leaned in towards me, and said “nice legs.” Then she calmly resumed her conversation, and kept walking.

Brentwood is very strange.

After hoofing it for a couple miles — okay, 2.09 miles to be exact, not that I was counting or anything — I arrived at the shop. Only to discover fellow L.A. biking blogger Anonymous Cyclist behind the counter.

Turns out he’s a great guy.

And surprisingly enough, we’d actually met before. He was the guy who helped my wife get my bike fixed when he worked at another shop, while I was laid up following the infamous beachfront bee encounter — and managed to get a near-custom, one-of-a-kind paint job for my bike.

So a few minutes later, I left the shop with a new tire, tube and a couple of these. Along with a new pair of cleats to replace the ones I ground down walking to the shop. (Note to self: cab rides are cheaper than cleats, and a lot less painful than walking in them.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go soak my aching feet.

 

Looks like L.A.’s Downtown may become more pedestrian — and bike — friendly. Streetsblog demonstrates how easy it would be to improve intersection sightlines. C.I.C.L.E. asks riders to complete a quick survey about their Urban Expeditions program. Now that we’re getting a roadie president — replacing our outgoing fat-tire pres — Republican leaders are opposed to spending for biking infrastructure. Finally, it turns out cyclists may actually have a friend in Congress.

The keys to getting even

You don’t have to ride a bike very long — here in L.A. or anywhere else — to experience an unpleasant interaction with the driver or occupants of a car. And most of us have harbored more than a few fantasies of getting even somehow.

Some of us have even gone beyond the realm of fantasy.

I was reminded of that the other day, when Will followed up his story of an ill-advised, water-logged ride by recounting his efforts to even the score with a deflating tale of a Valley double-dunking.

To paraphrase a song from my blissfully misspent youth, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger. And you don’t mess around with Will.

In fact, I’d say it’s probably the second-best story I’ve heard about bikers getting even.

The best came a few decades back, when I met one of the first competitors in the Race Across America — an ultramarathon cycling event in which the competitors ride from coast to coast in a little over a week. (I’m leaving his name out because it’s not my story to tell. And because the statute of limitations may not have run out yet.)

This particular rider lived in a small mountain town in the Colorado high country, and trained by commuting by bike to his job in Denver — a round trip of over 100 miles every day, rain, shine or snow.

Usually, he didn’t have any problems with drivers. In those days, at least, Colorado was home to the Red Zinger/Coors Classic bike race, and drivers were used to seeing cyclists on the roads. And since the winding mountain roads didn’t allow vehicles to go very fast, he seldom had a problem with impatient drivers, particularly on downhill portion, where he could easily ride at or above the speed of traffic.

This particular morning, though, he had to deal with a truck driver who seemed to be in a hurry. And was being a total jerk about it, repeatedly honking his horn and driving in an unsafe manner.

They traded the lead a few times, as the driver would pass on a straight section, then he would catch up and pass on the right when the truck had to slow down for a tight turn.

That continued through the entire length of the canyon.

Once they got to the bottom, the driver was in no mood to share the road. In fact, what he wanted was a fight. So as soon as the road widened, the driver gunned his engine and zoomed past, then screeched to a stop on the side of the road. And got out of the cab with his fists balled — leaving the door open, with the engine running.

So the cyclist came to a stop just behind the truck — but stayed on his bike, balancing with his feet in the clips, as they traded angry words. When the driver charged him, he would ride back and stop again to maintain the distance between them.

This continued for several minutes, until finally, they were around 3 0 or 40 yards from the truck. At which point the cyclist simply stood on his pedals and rode past the sputtering driver — then stopped at the open door to the truck.

Realizing his mistake, the driver sprinted back to the cab as fast as his chubby legs could carrying him. But not fast enough, as the rider calmly reached in and grabbed the keys, slipped them in his jersey pocket and rode until he was safely out of reach.

Then he stopped and turned around to make sure the driver was watching. And threw the keys into an empty field, as hard and far as he could, before continuing to ride calmly on to work.

And when he rode back home that night, the truck was still there, abandoned on the side of the road.

 

Streetsblog LA counts down to the upcoming Los Angeles Bike Summit. I’m marking my calendar, though I have no idea where the L.A. Trade-Tech College is. Green L.A. Girl suggests uglifying your bike to deter theft. And in case you missed it, the despised — and probably unenforceable — L.A. bike licensing program is semi-officially dead, despite the best efforts of many riders to comply with it.

Extra added non-bike related bonus post

Funny how things work out.

On New Years Day, I wrote about taking chances. Big chances. Like the time I loaded my belongings in my car and started driving across the country, with no destination in mind.  Or when my brother set aside his doctorate in particle physics, and walked away from a successful career to compete in the Iditarod — a 1,200 mile dog sled race through the wilds of Alaska.

A few days later, a writer associated with Fermilab — one of the world’s leading research facilities in the field of high energy physics — did an online search for particle physics.

And somehow, was lead to my humble blog.

Now she’s written about the intersecting point of high-energy hadron deuteron collisions and sled dog racing — i.e., my brother — for Fermilab’s online magazine.

You can read about it here.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

The art of self defense

A few decades ago, when I was living in Louisiana, riding was not exactly a safe activity.

It wasn’t the traffic, or the narrow streets. It wasn’t the heatstroke-inducing humidity. Or even mosquitoes large enough to show up on local air traffic control.

It was the assaults.

From getting intentionally run off the road or doored by drunken frat boys, to riders getting mugged as they waited for stop lights while riding through one of the poorer sections of town — reminiscent of last year’s problems on the Ballona Creek bike path. Not to mention the usual problems of trash, sodas and other assorted flotsam flung from passing cars.

I dealt with it by refusing to stop for red lights in that part of town — following the advice of a friend on the local police force. And never riding after an LSU football or basketball game.

A friend of mine dealt with it by strapping a .22 revolver to his handlebars.

It was legal under Louisiana law at the time, since it wasn’t a concealed weapon. And according to him, all it took was a brief gesture towards the gun to make any threatening drivers — or anyone else — back off.

I was reminded of that after reading recent posts from Brayj, Gary and the Rearview Rider, which ranged from a slap on the ass to a late-night mugging.

While arming ourselves is an extreme reaction, we do experience a high level of vulnerability when we ride. We are exposed on the road, subject to the whims and impulses, criminal and otherwise, of those around us.

And hunched over our handlebars, balanced on two wheels, we are in no position to defend ourselves. Unlike drivers, we don’t have glass and steel, door locks and airbags to protect ourselves. Or isolate us — in perception, if nothing else — from those who might wish to do us harm, even if it’s only for their own amusement.

I don’t have a solution to offer.

Over the years, I’ve learned to defend myself from angry dogs and angry cyclists. The former will usually respond to a firm command ordering them to sit or stay; the latter will invariably back off when confronted with a hard object — say, an air pump or tire lever — about to be jammed through their spokes.

But as for criminal activity, threatening drivers and assorted jokesters, I have yet to find an effective means of self-defense, nor an effective response. And unlike Rearview Rider’s experience, I have yet to find a police officer who will take something like that seriously.

The only solution I’ve been able to come up with is to begin shopping for small video camera like the one Will uses. But one small enough to be mounted on my helmet, so it will record whatever I look at — such as a license plate — rather than mounting it on the bike, so it only records what’s directly in front of me.

It might not be an ideal solution. But it beats the hell out of a gun.

And if anyone has a better suggestion, I’d love to hear it.

 

Gary nurtures his competitive instincts with a spin around the Velodrome, while ultra-rider Matt posts his interview with Peak.com (part 1 and part 2). If you’re looking for a good cause, Mikey Wally suggests Africycle, an organization dedicated to improving access to bicycles in Africa. And C.I.C.L.E. relays winter biking tips from Minnesota, in case we experience a sudden freeze on the boardwalk this year.

An unexpected change in direction

This is not the post I intended to write.

I had planned to write about the challenges of winter riding here in L.A. — winter being a relative term, of course. And how the spandex-clad can dress effectively for cooler weather, including tips on how to avoid chaffing, both above and below the belt.

A post so brilliant, witty and insightful, it would have virtually guaranteed my first Pulitzer, and the love and admiration of cyclists everywhere.

Maybe another time. Because something happened today that I feel compelled to comment on (or, on which I feel compelled to comment, for those grammatical sticklers out there).

At the end of 28 cool, if uneventful miles, I found myself riding through a residential neighborhood just four blocks from my home.

Off to my left, I noticed a minivan starting to back out of a driveway just up the block. As I drew closer, I could see the driver carefully avoid the trash cans that were waiting for pickup along the curb. Then she checked for traffic, looking first to her left, then her right.

The only place she didn’t look was behind her.

Which was where I was about to be.

I had planned to be polite, and stop so she could back out. Unfortunately, from the angle of her car, it was clear that her path was going to take her to the exact spot I was occupying.

So I yelled a warning, and stood on my pedals to get the hell out of her way. She jammed on her brakes, and once again looked both ways to see who was yelling at her — and once again, failed to take a single glance behind her.

In fact, she never once saw me, before or after I yelled. Although how anyone could miss a 6 foot tall, 180 pound cyclist in a bright yellow jersey is beyond me.

But that’s not the scary part.

What’s really scary about this was, what if it hadn’t been an experienced cyclist behind her — someone with the skill to recognize the danger, and get out of the way before anything could happen?

What if it had been one of the many kids in neighborhood who ride up and down the street — never leaving their block because their parents think they’ll be safe there. Someone much smaller, without the skill to recognize the danger, let alone get out of the way in time.

Or maybe it could have been one of the many people who inexplicably walk their dogs in the street, rather than the sidewalk. Or a parent or nanny walking their kids across the street.

The point is, it’s fine to check for oncoming traffic when you back up a car. But there other users of our streets that are much smaller, and harder to see.

And if you don’t know for a fact what’s behind you, don’t back up the damn car until you do.

 

San Francisco forces cyclists and drivers to share a lane — in order to make things safer. Detroit riders share the frozen winter roads. My favorite brewery, in my favorite home town, is funding sustainable biking right here in my current home town. Mexico City cyclists fight bad streets — and worse drivers — for their space on the road. And China, home of the famous Flying Pigeon, rediscovers the fizz of cycling,

A little this, a little that

A few random thoughts while I get back into serious biking and blogging mode after the holidays…

So this is why they hate us. Over the weekend, my wife and I were wandering through Santa Monica, in full pedestrian mode. After awhile, we found ourselves needing to cross a busy street. So like the safety conscious, law-abiding citizens we are, we waited patiently until the light changed, then crossed in the crosswalk.

Unfortunately, not everyone shared our patience.

As we neared the other side, an oncoming cyclist apparently decided that normal traffic laws don’t apply to her. Or possibly to cyclists in general, since we didn’t have the opportunity to discuss her motivation with her.

Instead, we were busy trying to scramble out of her way after she ran the red light — despite the fact that we were directly in front of her at the time.

Now, I’m not one to insist that every rider has to obey every traffic law. Sometimes it’s safer to break the law; sometimes, strict adherence to the law just doesn’t make sense in a given situation. So even though I stop for red lights, I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not you want to stop.

But here’s a general rule of thumb: When there are people in the crosswalk directly in front of you, stop your goddam bike long enough to let them pass, for chrissake.

Loopholes in the lawI was relieved to read in the Times over the weekend that the state legislature didn’t go overboard when they banned texting while driving.

It seems that the law that went into effect on the first only bans two-way communications; that is, you can’t read or write a text or email to or from another person. (Damn, that was a complicated sentence.) But you can still text or email a corporate site or public forum — although how a cop is supposed to know whether you’re texting another person, or posting to your blog, is beyond me.

So by all means, feel free to respond to this post, or bid on that Cervelo carbon frame you’ve always wanted, while you cruise down the 405 at rush hour. (Cruise being a relative term, or course.)

And best of all, the law only concerns motorized vehicles. So while it may be illegal to text from the saddle of a Harley while you’re stopped at a red light, it’s perfectly legal to do so while you pedal down Wilshire Boulevard.

So be sure to take your iPhone with you on the next Midnight Ridazz Vegan Banana Penis ride, and text us all a photo of the cop writing you a probably unenforceable ticket for riding without a license. Or not.

Imagine no more patch kits. Finally, I was catching up on my reading the other day, when I stumbled upon this small item in the December Esquire Magazine. Evidently, a pair of French scientists have invented a form of synthetic rubber that can heal itself — automatically resealing itself in the event of a puncture or cut.

The developers envision using it to make unbreakable glassware, or — far more interesting for us Angelenos with our crumbling roadways — mixing it with asphalt to develop road surfaces that won’t crack.

And as a cyclist, my mind immediately goes to tires and tubes that won’t go flat. Allowing us to leave our patch kits, tire levers and pumps behind, once and for all.

Although that would ruin the fun for all those people who seem to derive such joy from breaking their empty beer bottles in the bike lane.

 

Ubrayj — or El Brayjereno, if you prefer — describes how to stage a coup in the LABAC. L.A. loses it’s Bike Snob, but gains an Anonymous Cyclist. Damien wants to know what kinds of stories you want StreetblogLA to cover in the coming year. Personally, I want to know why no one has chucked a brick through those damned digital billboards yet. (Not that I condone taking the law into your own hands, of course.) And Timur, in his non-cycling blog, poetically describes his language skills in architectural terms — a perfect example of why I love his writing. Borrowing his metaphorical device, though, my German is like an old refrigerator box under the overpass that someone is using to sleep in, while my Spanish is like an empty Carona six-pack at his feet. And my French is like a broken bottle of Ripple in the gutter… 

The year of living dangerously

It is better to make a mistake with the full force of your being, than to carefully avoid mistakes with a trembling spirit.

— Dan Millman

When I was in my early 20s, I worked as assistant manager for a local jewelry store in my hometown.

Every day, I would follow the same route on my way to work. Which meant that every day, I would stop at the same intersection along the main highway through town, and turn left.

That lasted for about a year, until I started to wonder what would happen if I turned right instead. So eventually, I quit my job, packed everything I owned into my little ’74 Fiat, kissed my family goodbye, and drove back to that intersection.

And this time, I turned right.

I woke up the next morning in a rest area somewhere in the middle of Missouri, with the most incredible feeling of absolute freedom — with the knowledge that I could point my car in any direction, and go anywhere I wanted. And for perhaps the first time in my life, it seemed as if all things were, in fact, possible.

That was probably the single greatest moment of my life — up to this point, at least — and certainly the most pivotal. Because everything that has followed came from the choices I made from that moment on.

And those choices led me to where I am right now.

And this is a pretty good place to be.

My older brother, on the other hand, took a different route entirely. Despite spending most of his childhood right here in L.A., he dreamed of one day touring the Yukon with a dog team of his own, just like his hero Sgt. Preston.

Like most childhood dreams, though, it was brushed aside, if never entirely forgotten. He served in Vietnam after college, eventually returning to get a PhD in particle physics, before raising a family in Houston, Texas.

Then one day, life offered him a chance to trade the Texas dust for the snows Alaska. And after years of training and false starts, just a few years short of his 60th birthday, he led his own dog team across nearly 1,200 miles of frozen tundra, to cross the finish line of the world’s greatest sled dog race.

The Iditarod.

To put it in bicycling terms, that’s like finishing the Tour de France. By yourself. In sub zero temperatures. When you’re old enough for AARP.

He’s also competed every year since — despite suffering a broken leg, a wrenched shoulder and severe frostbite in the 2007 race.

Is it any wonder that I want to be just like him if I ever grow up?

And he’ll be competing again this year. Except now, he’s an experienced musher, with an experienced team — and a real chance to do more than just finish. (He’s also looking for sponsors, if anyone is interested.)

The point is, the greatest risks in life come from taking chances. But do the greatest successes — and the biggest rewards. And as long as you’re breathing, it’s never too soon, or too late, or too hard, or too crazy, to take a chance on living out your dreams. Whatever they may be.

So my resolution — my only resolution this year — is to stop making excuses, and start taking more chances.

Starting today.

So what’s stopping you?

Best wishes to all for a very healthy, happy, safe and prosperous new year!

In case you missed it, a local biker decided on a whim ride across the country to attend the inauguration. Meanwhile, congrats to Will, who set a goal of riding 3,000 miles this year — and more than doubled it. Gary finished last year with an assault on the road in WeHo — here’s hoping 2009 sees him, and all of us, a little safer. The Cycling Lawyer discusses the Cyclist’s Bill of Rights, and gives credit where credit is due. Evidently, 3M’s new reflective tape can look cool in the daytime, and light your bike up like a Christmas Tree after dark. Victoria, BC discusses making cyclists pay for their own infrastructure. And finally, cycling beats driving — and rickshaws, for that matter — even in Delhi.

%d bloggers like this: