We are a group of friends who ride bikes. Some of us are fast, some of us are slow, all of us are half-fast. In 2018, one of us is riding coast to coast across the US. If we meet Sal Paradise, we'll let you know.
I wander occasionally from my plan of weekly pre-ride postings when I think I have something to say. Feel free to disagree.
In the midst of three weeks of postings on traffic and safety, we’ll take time out for some updates and shameless commercial plugs.
Between rounds one and two of a scheduled 6 rounds of me vs April showers on Sunday, I stepped out to pick up some pastries from Batch Bakehouse. Since I was out I stopped for a shot of espresso at Cafe Domestique, to allow my wife some more time to sleep in before I made some asparagus, pea, scallion, and Ameribella cheese omelets. (Since I am shamelessly plugging friends, I made another cup of coffee with breakfast; beans from Just Coffee.)
The “showers” clearly won the first round. By round three I was making a comeback.
Domestique, for those of you who don’t follow bike racing, is a term for
those on a racing team who do the heavy lifting to help the team star(s). They ride back to the team car and pick up a bunch of water bottles, then ferry them forward to the other racers. They set the pace, exhausting them selves and (if all goes well) the other teams, so their star can win a stage.
Cafe Domestique is an homage to those unsung heroes. They also pull a pretty good espresso and have a changing display of cool bikes. Today they have some old Gary Fisher mountain bikes. Owner Dan Coppola tells me they have some pre-1970 Schwinn Paramounts coming in next. I plan to talk with my neighbor to see if he wants to display his 1970-era Holdsworth racing bikes.
After breakfast I went back for round three of sweeping, scraping, and shoveling those April showers from the steps and sidewalk. The crocus I photographed a couple of weeks ago is/are still the only thing(s) blooming, if you can call this blooming. By this time last year, the irises were in bloom.
I ramped up the training this week. Last Sunday I had a free spinning class with my co-workers at a “theatre” that shall remain nameless to protect the guilty.
On Wednesday I took the road bike out for the first time this season. While the computer swore that it would start raining between 7 and 8 PM, the stuff falling on me starting around 5 sure seemed like rain. It was mostly a light mist and arm warmers and tights were enough to keep me warm and dry-ish for ~25 miles. Post-ride pizza and Montepulciano completed the rewarming process.
I’d rather be alive than dead right. Sometimes the law is on your side but you’re still dead. So we’re going to talk about the law but also about staying alive. I know some stupid bicyclists and I know some old bicyclists. I don’t know any old stupid bicyclists.
Generally speaking, you are safer on a bike if you operate it more like a car than a toy. You are generally safer if you operate in a predictable manner. We’ll go into some examples of those.
In Wisconsin, a motor vehicle passing a bike is required to allow at least three feet of space. In many states (including Wisconsin), a bike is required to stay as far to the right as practicable. This does not mean “as possible.” You don’t want to ride in the “door zone”.
Riding in the door zone either means you get hit if someone opens their door or you end up swerving in and out of traffic. In the picture you can see that only the very far left edge of the bike lane (if that) is a safe place to ride. Safer in this instance is in the traffic lane. Alternatively, you can ride while looking through the rear window of every car to see if someone is in it and might suddenly open a door. That was easier to do before the advent of tinted glass. (And you still need to watch everywhere else.) Bike lanes, to be safe, need to be outside of the door zone. Bob Mionske, writing in VeloNews, goes into this in more depth.
What does operating like a motor vehicle look like? If you’re going to make a left turn, signal your intention, change into the left lane, and make your left turn from the left lane. A left turn from the right lane is not expected. If you’re going straight and traffic is turning right, don’t ride to the far right of traffic, get into their lane. That way they don’t turn right into you.
Sometimes we forget where roads come from. Paved roads arrived primarily through the work of the “Safe Roads Movement” of the League of American Wheelmen in the 1890s. (The organization is still around but is now the League of American Bicyclists or Bike League. Wisconsin has long been known for its great system of secondary roads – why? Because family dairy farms were on those roads and the milk trucks had to get to them to make pickups in any weather. Now that the dairy industry is consolidating into fewer and larger farms, Wisconsin’s secondary roads are deteriorating.
Bike path or road? Most bike paths are actually “multi-use paths” or “shared-use paths“. They are intended for bikes, walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, sometimes horses, strollers…If you are riding closer to the speed of walkers you are probably safer on a multi-use path. If you are riding closer to the speed of a motor vehicle, you are probably safer on the road. The walkers are safer with you on the road, too.
Be visible and make noise. I wear bright clothing. I have a bell on my bike. I find it is most useful on shared-use paths. Calling out “on your left” doesn’t work very well. Hearing the word “left” makes many people swerve to their left. The sound of a bell seems friendlier than yelling and people can usually place the sound. If it’s coming from their left, they move right. See above re: speed. If you’re on a shared-use path and there are walkers, ride more slowly than you would on a street or empty path.
With cars, a bell is seldom loud enough and it doesn’t carry a sense of urgency. When a car is running a stop sign into my path, I loudly yell, “STOP!” That seems to have a better effect. Plus I don’t have to get my thumb to the bell and I can use my hands to avoid the car (by steering and/or braking).
Communication carries other benefits. When I stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, they often thank me. When in an ambiguous situation I often wave drivers through. They usually smile and wave back. Those smiles feel good. I can only hope that those interactions have some influence on those drivers the next time they are thinking “those damn bikers!” instead of “that @sshole!” (See last week’s post.)
By ambiguous situation, I mean things like: when two vehicles arrive at a stop sign simultaneously (at right angles to each other), the law requires you to yield to the vehicle on your right. Otherwise, whoever got there first has the right of way. If it is not clear who got there first, a gesture clarifies intent. The right of way is something to be yielded, not something to be demanded. Notice there are no “assert right of way” signs, but there are “yield right of way” signs.
I thought I was going to put a bunch of diagrams of potentially dangerous situations in here. Others have done that. One example is: https://bicyclesafe.com.
Spring comes to Wisconsin.
What else can you do? We (my family) are members of AAA, ostensibly for the emergency road service. But that also means we are contributing to an advocacy group for motor vehicles. I decided to at least equal that donation with donations for bicycle advocacy. The Bike League is a good place to start. Most states have an organization. In Wisconsin, it’s The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. Some places also have local advocacy organizations. Spend at least as much to advocate for your rights as a bicyclist as you spend for your rights as a motorist.
Totally unrelated: Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Tammy Wynette. I saw her perform in the Sun Prairie High School gym, wondering how she had fallen so far so fast. My friend Jeanette loved to sing Tammy’s “I don’t wanna play house“, but I have to admit that my favorite is below:
Relations between people on bikes and people in cars are frequently strained, even though most adults who ride bikes also drive cars. What is that about, and what can we do?
Maynard Hershon is a writer about bicycles and motorcycles. Back in the 80s he wrote an essay for the California Bicyclist which changed the way I ride. I haven’t been able to relocate that essay, but I’ll put my own spin on what I remember of/learned from that essay and what I’ve learned in the intervening years.
When someone in a car cuts you off when you’re driving, you think, “What an @sshole!” When a bicyclist rolls through a stop sign when you’re driving, you think, “Those d@mn bikers!” What does that mean about us? First, we notice aberrations, not the norm. We don’t pay any attention to people doing what is expected of them. We pay attention when they don’t do that. Like the kid in class who never raises his/her hand is never noticed, but the kid who acts up get attention. So we don’t really notice all the cars that don’t cut us off and all the bikes that stop at stop signs. (And here someone is thinking, “no bikes stop at stop signs.”)
But there is something else going on here. We live in a car-centric society. Without consciously realizing it, we consider the driver of a car to be an individual, because driving cars is what we do. We consider the operator of a bicycle to be representative of a class, because that’s what they do. I can speed in my car, and I’m just an individual @sshole, but if I roll through a red light on a bike, I’m one of them, and they never stop at red lights.
But, guess what? Someone has studied this. Dave Schlabowski , former manager of the Neighborhood Traffic Safety Program in Milwaukee, has wrtten extensively on the topic. He notes that “people riding bikes are more law-abiding than people driving cars.” Dave has revisited this topic and found a high incidence of speeding by motorists. How many people actually drive at or below 25 mph in a 25 mph zone? Not many. He cites another study (which I can’t find right now) that indicated that people tend to break laws that are convenient for them to break and where the consequences are minimal. Thus speed limit laws seem to be the least followed by motorists who break the law, and stop signals are the least obeyed by bicyclists who break the law. In Idaho, the law allows bicyclists to treat stops signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs.
Back to Maynard: the essence of his essay was that, if we are going to be seen as representing a class when we ride bikes, we should represent ourselves the way we want to be seen. Before I read that essay, I rolled through stop signs and went through red lights when there was no traffic. I didn’t know about the “Idaho stop” at that time. Now I make it a point to stop and, especially, to signal my intention and then stop and yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. I’ve been known to move a bit to the left to make it harder for a motorist to blow by me and through the crosswalk. I’m still amazed by how many pedestrians are surprised to see a vehicle obey the law and yield the right of way to them.
My daughter makes a joke that no one seems to get. “Question: What do you call it when you kill someone?” Answer: Murder. Question: What do you call it when you kill a bicyclist with your car? Answer: An accident.” It isn’t funny, but it does appear that if you want to kill someone, that’s the best way to get away with it. The Des Moines Register studied 22 fatal car-bike crashes. The most common penalty (the mode, in statistical parlance) for drivers found at fault was $250. The joke actually stems from the article below.
Daniel Duane, in the New York Times, found that “studies performed in Arizona, Minnesota and Hawaii suggest that drivers are at fault in more than half of cycling fatalities. And there is something undeniably screwy about a justice system that makes it de facto legal to kill people, even when it is clearly your fault, as long you’re driving a car and the victim is on a bike and you’re not obviously drunk and don’t flee the scene. When two cars crash, everybody agrees that one of the two drivers may well be to blame; cops consider it their job to gather evidence toward that determination. But when a car hits a bike, it’s like there’s a collective cultural impulse to say, ‘Oh, well, accidents happen.’ If your 13-year-old daughter bikes to school tomorrow inside a freshly painted bike lane, and a driver runs a stop sign and kills her and then says to the cop, ‘Gee, I so totally did not mean to do that,’ that will most likely be good enough.” (NYT 11/9/2013)
What does this mean to me? Whenever possible, I make eye contact with drivers. I figure it is harder to kill someone who is human and not just an obstacle. I try to communicate with other road users. I try to use clear hand signals (and no, the one consisting of an extended middle finger doesn’t count) and talk to people. I wear bright clothing. That way, if you hit me, I figure you were aiming, not that you couldn’t see me. I try to remember that you’re not an @sshole, but you weren’t paying attention. I was once wearing day-glo pink when a texting driver almost ran me down. I yelled to get her attention. She said, “I didn’t see you.” I (not so calmly) pointed out that I was wearing bright pink and of course she couldn’t see me while looking at her phone.
In honor of our unseasonably cool weather:
Next time: a look at some specifics of bike safety.
And finally, on the way home from a meeting Wednesday night, I heard a loon on the lake – the first I’ve heard this year. Our lake in on their annual commuting route to and from the north woods. For those who have never heard one (and those who want to hear it again), here is a Common Loon (from Peter JH, recorded near Ely, MN):
A new plan has arisen, so a special post comes today. I’ve decided to leave my bike home.
Instead I will be riding a multi-speed unicycle, in honor of Ben Linder‘s (1959-1987) epic ride down the west coast of the US. Ben was an engineer from Portland Oregon, educated at the University of Washington.
Upon graduation he went to Nicaragua. He worked initially in Managua, commuting to work via unicycle and performing with a local circus. He subsequently moved to the El Cuá, where he worked to build a hydroelectric dam on a small stream to electrify a rural community. It was while working on this project that he was assassinated by US government-funded terrorists.
While I never met Ben, I worked with his Matagalpa roommate and visited his grave. Ben was both a dedicated engineer working to make the world a better place, and a clown performing as a juggling unicyclist. He was murdered 30 years ago this month.
I need to get some miles in on the unicycle to train. I don’t plan to juggle coast-to-coast – I want to see the scenery.
April 1, 2018
P.S. Whitecaps on the lake mean no ice from shore-to-shore; 25 mph wind means surf’s up! Grab your board cuz there’s nothing like surfing 32 degree (F) water!