A word everyone likes to use but no one really wants to talk or do anything about. Another symptom of our short-sighted society.

We are trained to look at quarterly profits for corporations, so they plan for short-term profits at the expense of long-term financial health. With public works projects, we are trained to look at the contract cost, and usually to go with the lowest bidder. What are the actual costs and what does this have to do with riding a bike across the country?

I’ve mentioned before the difference between riding on different pavement surfaces. My speed varies up to 20% depending on surface quality. Talking with another rider this morning, he verified this, noting that his power meter indicates a difference of up to 20% power output for the same speed, or a difference of 20% in speed for the same power output.

In a car you don’t necessarily notice this, you just step on the gas a little harder. But if we’re using 20% more power, so are you…meaning you use 20% more fuel to go the same speed on a rough chipseal compared with a smooth concrete or new high-quality asphalt. Asphalt also absorbs and then radiates heat from the sun, whereas concrete reflects that heat. For us that’s a difference in comfort. In a car that’s a difference in how much your air conditioner runs, thus how much fuel you burn.

Tires also wear faster on a rough surface than on a smooth surface. As a bicyclist, we feel the difference in our hands and our butts from the vibration as we pass over a rough surface. In a car that may be less noticeable but still adds to increased stress. Does that translate into a change in crash rates?

In other words, the cost of a road is not just the cost of laying down some gravel and spraying oil or tar over it vs the cost of pouring concrete. The cost of a road can also be measured in terms of cost per vehicle mile driven. We can include the cost of increased fuel use and the cost to manufacture and dispose of tires. Those costs include the cost of extracting and refining the raw materials and transporting them. The environmental costs are harder to measure, but are there.

What are the overall societal costs of bad roads? Has anyone crunched the numbers? When is cheaper not really cheaper?

The ride

You probably came here to read about a cross-country bike ride, so let’s get on with it. There was a kids’ bike event outside the building where we ate last night in De Smet. They had a mechanic and a table giving away lights, locks, helmets, and horns. I talked with the organizer and she said they’d gotten a grant for this and timed it to coincide with our arrival. While I stood at the table, she praised a child’s helmet (it had graphics from “Frozen”, the movie). A slightly older child said, “helmets are annoying.” I couldn’t help myself and said, “not as annoying as brain injuries”. While that kid didn’t react, a couple of others asked me to say more and I spoke of my experience in the trauma unit of a major hospital. I think I won a couple of converts to helmets.

I watched a couple of Little League baseball games before retiring to my tent in the park across the street. I read a short story by Aldous Huxley before bed, staying up late (past 9:00!) because we were starting late today (Wednesday) due to a short ride. I slept in an extra 45 minutes and was still ready with time to kill before loading the trailer and eating breakfast.

There was a chill in the air so I started the day with a plastic bag under my jersey. We headed north into a strong NW wind. When we turned right, the relief was palpable. The route was mostly north and slightly east, on a route that looked like stairs, alternating north and east, with relief on every eastward reach.

Being a short day, I was content to ride slowly and daydream rather than fight the wind, until two others rode up behind me and invited me to join their echelon. We were on a quiet road and could ride in a diagonal line to shelter each other from the wind.

On the outskirts of Watertown we caught up with another group riding slowly and chatting, and rode into town in a group of maybe a dozen. We were into Watertown before noon and stopped at an Irish pub that had been recommended. We pretty much took it over. I was at a table of 16 and we eventually filled up a few other tables as well. We did our best to delay our arrival at the school to give Greg time to set up.

Tomorrow is pretty much due east. The forecast is for continued strong winds from the northwest so it should be helpful. We will enter Minnesota and stay in Montevideo, sister city to Montevideo, Uruguay.