Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Be Careful Out There

I'm old enough to have been a fan of Hill Street Blues, the grand-daddy of post-70's gritty neo-realistic cop shows on TV. A signature moment of each episode was when Sgt. Phil Esterhaus would end the roll-call with the exhortation "Let's be careful out there."

Today's cyclingnews.com round-up includes this soul-deadening piece:
Three cyclists descending down a winding road on a training ride Sunday morning near Cupertino, California were struck by a Santa Clara County sheriff's patrol vehicle that had briefly crossed the centreline while traveling in the opposite direction. Two of the cyclists, identified by the San Jose Mercury News as Matt Peterson, 30, of San Francisco, and Kristy Gough, 31, of Oakland, died from their injuries - Peterson on the scene and Gough hours later after being airlifted to Stanford University Medical Center.
I don't know these people, and this incident happened hundreds of miles away. I suppose if I were right in the head, this story would have no more impact on me than any other story of people dying.

But I'm not right in the head. I seem to get caught up in stories of tragic death of remarkable people. Maybe it's the Greek mother in me.

A teammate of Kristy Gough recounts of the fast-rising phenomenon:
In the Snelling Road Race, she had gone out solo and had a huge gap after the first lap but felt bad about the other girls so slowed up and only won by like 12 minutes!
I think that's remarkable.

When we go out, whether it's to race, train, commute, run errands, or ride for the fun of it, we always expect to come back. Sometimes we don't.

Be careful out there.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Hummunnaheedada: SOLD!! Bike group Auctions Coming Up in Seattle Area

This event sold out: Seattle Bike Works will be holding the Bike Works' Sixth Annual Auction, at 6:00 PM on Saturday, March 15, 2008, at Gould Hall, University of Washington, 3949 15th Ave NE.

Marymoor Velodrome Association's "Track to the Future" auction comes a week later: March 22, at the Mercer Island Community Center.

Get out your wallets. (Or duct-taped reinforced baggies, as the case may be.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Back to 'Works

Last night was my first at a Volunteer Repair Party as Seattle Bike Works.

Several years ago, I volunteered for Earn-A-Bike, BW's program wherein kids learn to work on bikes, and in the process, put enough labor into a (used) bike of their choice, as well as other bikes, to have earned it. But, get a bunch of tweens and teens together, and the energy in the room takes on a life of its own, so my sessions at that time were really more about working with kids, rather than working with bikes. Given that my own household was going through very rough times, with a teenager in severe crisis (and I mean really severe), I just couldn't put in the effort, and had to back out.

Nevertheless, I have stayed interested in BikeWorks, and have always meant to return to volunteering when my life got sane enough. Now, with both kids out of the nest (can you believe it?), and Carol firmly established in the local job market, I felt it was time.

And so, last night, I was back. Cue the Rocky theme? Picture me running up the steps to BW, turning and pumping my fists in triumph? Not quite. The evening ended by my apologizing profusely to the volunteer coordinator for damaging one of Bike Works' tools.

The bike I was working on (an entry-level Bianchi mountain bike) had the chain installed wrong (not through the front derailleur cage). I don't know whether this was intentional, as a way to remind people that the chain needed to be cleaned and lubed. My bench didn't have a chain tool, so I wandered around trying to find a bench that did. A volunteer at an adjacent bench handed me one. It was marked "BMX". That should have stopped me, but for some reason, it just didn't. Well, profiles of BMX (3/16") link plates are wider than the profiles of non-BMX (1/8") plates, which means that if you seat a 1/8" chain into a BMX chain tool (in this case, the Park CT-7), the chain's pin will not align with the channel into which it is to be pushed. The result? Screwing in the handle results in the driving pin in the chain tool getting bent. That's what happened to the CT-7 I was using.

The rest of the overhaul went OK -- I found several things wrong on the bike that weren't marked on the repair ticket (stripped rear derailleur cable anchor bolt, very slow leak in a replacement tire, unadjusted front derailleur), and their repair went smoothly -- the only problem I felt was that, since I was unfamiliar with the bench and location of stuff, it took me a long time to get things done -- I was always looking for something.

I think a sign of maturity, and a behavior I expect of other adults, is that if you make a mistake, you should expect criticism, and you should be totally focused on learning from your mistake. And so, I quietly accepted the volunteer coordinator's comments about needing to ask, if there's any question about a tool or repair.

BikeWorks didn't ask me to, but I've ordered a replacement CT-7. I see this as a long-term engagement, and I don't want BikeWorks to pay for my mistakes.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Unleash The Monkeys!

We finished our first sewing project. For Carol it was all review, but for me it was all new, and more challenging than wheel- building.

But they're done.

The Monkey Pants.

Hundreds of monkeys, frolicking with bananas, will heretofore adorn my legs when I am lounging at home.

By this time next year, you're each going to be wearing custom-designed lycra arm warmers.

Ooh! Is That A Glove?!

[click here to skip to the glove comparison]

One of the many, many endearing qualities of My World of Hert is her ability to shift her attention with mercurial rapidity; keeping up with her is like trying to track minnows in shallow water. Anyway, one of the earliest moments that I knew I had to marry this woman was when we were driving along in a Syracuse winter, past shoulder-high snowbanks, having a conversation about I-don't-know-what, when all of the sudden she yells out, without skipping a beat, "Oooh...Is that a glove?" (The fact that we were already married didn't trouble me, and shouldn't trouble you). I immediately pictured a big, friendly Labrador, attention switching second-to-second, with every new wonderful really really interesting wonderful thing is that glove throw that stick can I have treat?!

Anyway, this sense of wonder and amazement has slowly evolved into dread, with the realization that Carol really likes to take it all in when she's driving: the trees, the birds, the wildlife, the houses, the mountains in the distance, the clouds on the horizon, the way people are dressed, the dogs they walk, the new fashions, nice gardens, and every once in awhile, the road. By now, I know that the only reason Carol has not had an accident driving is the minute changes in momentum I impart to the car as I cringe, twist, grip various things, and stomp imaginary brake pedals while riding in the passenger seat. (Carol reminds me that she's not watching all these things, she's delegating; she's telling me what I should be watching. Oh, man, a whole different can of worms, there!)

The Great Glove Throwdown

Anyway, at the end to this long preamble is: gloves. Specifically, reflective gloves for use by cyclists. Awhile ago, Bike Hugger posted this item about GloGloves reflective gloves. In trying to find out about them, I ran into another kind of reflective gloves: Bright Hands Glow Gloves Well, being the demanding consumer that I am, I had to know, which of these gloves is better for cyclists? And so, I staged ... The Great Glove Throwdown.

Aw, no I didn't. I just went to a parking lot with a photographer (the intrepid Oliver Mak: take a bow Oliver, the Oscar's for you, baby!), with these two pairs of gloves, a bike, a stationary trainer, and a whole lotta dark, to try to get an idea of what a driver actually sees with these two gloves.

Well, as we were setting up, it became clear that the Bright Hands Glow Gloves (the ones I stumbled upon) have no value as a cyclist's reflective glove. I'm not sure under what circumstances they actually glow, but they were pretty much not visible under our circumstances: bike about 35 feet ahead of the driver, offset about 8 feet laterally, illuminated by a Subaru Impreza's headlights. In fact, at one point I got lazy about taking gloves off, and put the Bright Hands over the Glo Gloves. Oliver could see the Glo Gloves through the Bright Hands.

So, cherry-picking opportunist that I am, I decided to change the purpose of the inquiry from "Which Glove Is Better" to "What Does a Motorist See When You're Wearing GloGloves?" (Those of you who make a living doing academic research, and have learned the lesson that, noble rhetoric about scientific inquiry notwithstanding, negative results get you nowhere, will recognize this nifty little move).

And so, this is what the camera saw. (Although I had originally envisioned still shots, with appropriate camera settings found by trial and error, Oliver convinced me a much easier way to do this is by digital video camera, since DVR's are specifically designed to reproduce what the user sees).

The first part of the clip, I am wearing the Bright Hands...my hand is not visible. Then I take off the Bright Hands, exposing the GloGlove. I see a big difference.

Anyway, I'm buying a bunch of GloGloves for myself, Carol, my cat, my fish, ...

But I do have one complaint. I have gotten into the habit of wiping my nose on the my glove (gross, I know, but cycling gloves are specifically designed to accommodate such disgusting behavior). The reflective material on Glo Gloves is quite stiff, with a sharp edge, and is sewn onto the glove with the stitching about 3/16" from the edge of the material. The net result is that when I draw the glove across my nose, I get a faceful of hurt. Now I understand why all those traffic cops are grumpy and have band-aids on their noses.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Knowing WTF I'M Talking About: My First Critical Mass

I attended my first Critical Mass last night. What I saw and what I experienced has got me thinking. And I owe the people who participate in CM an apology.

On November 13, 2007, I had a letter published in the P-I, in which I used stereotypes of Critical Mass to make some rhetorical points.

I was trying to get drivers who equate cyclists with blocked traffic to think about traffic congestion, and their own behavior, in a different way. I did that by suggesting that drivers created congestion all on their own, and I likened their behavior and its outcome to Critical Mass. In doing so, I let my own ignorance about Critical Mass reinforce negative stereotypes of the movement. What I did was unfair to participants in CM. And by reinforcing these stereotypes, I worry that I may have done more harm than good to cyclists. Let me quote the letter at length, and comment, on the basis of what I experienced last night:
Eyewitnesses in downtown Seattle reported recently that during the evening rush hour, traffic was snarled for blocks when a group of individuals chose to use the streets in a manner that prevented commuters from moving.

I didn't see anyone acting in a way indicating they were trying to snarl traffic, and traffic was not snarled. I lagged behind to see what happened in the aftermath of CM moving through. No snarls.

Automobile drivers, almost all driving alone, simultaneously drove their vehicles into the streets of downtown Seattle and instantly created gridlock, impeding the progress of buses, cyclists and in some cases, pedestrians. Apparently fully understanding and anticipating the consequences of their actions, the automobile drivers nevertheless chose to act in a manner that made movement through downtown difficult.
Some riders momentarily impeded the movement of traffic to enable the group to move through intersections quickly and compactly. This resulted in delays of seconds, and if they hadn't done this, the movement of the ride through traffic would have been much more disruptive.

One frustrated cyclist, choking on the fumes emitted by the automobiles stationed around him, gasped, "I can go 25 or 30 miles per hour on this street. I should have been home by now. Instead, I've moved one block in the past five minutes!"
Comparing CM to a traffic jam to stigmatize the creators of the traffic jam implies that CM and a traffic jam are in some fundamental way alike. Nothing could be further than the truth. What I saw last night was a living demonstration that a large group of cyclists can move in an urban environment in a way that does not create congestion.

The immobilization of downtown Seattle streets by automobiles, although executed without central coordination, was highly effective. Commuters are cautioned to expect more such "critical mass" events, up to 20 times per month.
Again, I saw no behavior last night to indicate that "immobilization of downtown Seattle streets" was the intent of the ride, and it certainly was not the outcome.

Some additional observations from last night:

  • Several of the more experienced members worked smoothly to hold drivers back for the few seconds necessary to enable the group to move through intersections with minimum impact. They were unfailingly polite.

  • It's true what they say about CM. There is no central organization, no list of rules. No leaders.

  • Nevertheless, there are rules, or at least suggested behaviors. CM is not chaos. I heard CM riders informing each other on what to do to keep everything moving smoothly.

  • Of the comments I heard from non-participants, I think about 80% were positive and 20% negative. But I recognize the tone of the negative comment-makers. These are the drivers who will rage at you no matter how far you ride to the right, no matter how much you obey the rules. They consider cyclists' existence an affront. If we would have been following all traffic rules, staying within bike lanes, &c, they still would have raged.

  • I imagine there are as many motivations for riding in CM as there are riders, even more. I don't know what others' motivations were. But I had a realization while riding about why I wanted to be there, then. I wanted to help show how smoothly and unobtrusively a large group of cyclists can move around downtown. Imagine if each of us were in a car (one per car, as Seattle drivers overwhelmingly seem to prefer). How long would it have taken us to circle downtown? With what impact?

  • Will I do it again? You bet!

The points I had wanted to make in my original letter may be valid -- I still think they are -- but I regret using CM as a "bogeyman" to have made those points, and doubly regret doing so in complete ignorance of what CM actually is. Apart from the implicit slander of CM participants, I am disappointed in myself.