get outta town!

Most of my riding for fun is on back roads. When I lived in California I tended to ride up narrow, poorly-paved, switchback-laden roads that cars tended to avoid. At climbing speed, poor pavement wasn’t a big issue. I rode down well-paved highways with broad, sweeping turns.

Sanchez St
Dead end of Sanchez Street, one of the ways you can’t get to Cumberland Street.

In Santa Clara I could ride a very short distance from home and be climbing in the Santa Cruz mountains. I just tried to get a photo of one of those roads on Google Street View –  there are no photos available, so I guess they couldn’t get their car up or down it. The other images on this page are from Google Maps. In San Francisco I discovered urban riding. I lived at the top of a hill that was steep enough that, on three sides, the streets dead-ended in steep stairways (left). There was only one street that made it up the hill to my house. I didn’t ride my bike when I first moved there, thinking it was too steep.

Vermont St
Vermont Street, less famous than Lombard Street, but no straighter

One day I couldn’t take it anymore, so I rode to work. Coming back up that hill was fun and easier than anticipated, so I started riding a lot more. I found streets in the neighborhood where you had to park perpendicular to traffic (bottom) due to the steep grade. I discovered the not-so-famous second crookedest street in the world (right). I had to be on call for work some weekends, so didn’t want to leave town, but still wanted to ride my bike. I realized that I could ride the “49 mile Scenic Drive” (below) and get in a 50 mile bike ride without ever straying more than about 10 miles from work or home.

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The 49 mile scenic drive

I later tried venturing farther afield on weekends, as I wasn’t getting many calls. I had a great ride out on Point Reyes before I found there was a paging dead area out there. Had I been paged I would have ridden blissfully unaware all day. (Since I headed this “get outta town” I thought I’d better put in a word about riding out of town. Really, I guess the point of this post is that you don’t have to get outta town to have a good time on a bike.)

Hill St
Hill Street, one of the steeper streets in the neighborhood

I’m not sure why I’m writing about San Francisco this week – maybe it’s because the temperature has been below zero for most of the last two weeks as I write this in early January. San Francisco, by comparison, is fairly warm this time of year. (Though not so much in the summer. You have probably heard the line misattributed to Mark Twain: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” While there is no evidence Twain said it, and it was apparently initially a reference to Duluth, I can attest that it can get pretty cold in the summer in San Francisco. I made note of the date one evening when I went for a walk in the neighborhood. It was July 29. I was wearing my winter coat, hat, scarf, and gloves, and was chilled to the bone. A cold ocean fog was blowing in and a wind tunnel had formed down my street. I knew what Twain, or someone, meant.)

P.S. Signs that it might actually be spring: the loons have headed north, replaced by coots;

terrace chairs
John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal

hyacinths, daffodils, and irises finally blooming, a dozen hammocks hanging behind Kronshage Hall; tables and chairs are back on the Union Terrace!

I think I’m done with this topic.

One last thing about safety and etiquette. This may seem obvious, but traffic laws are intended to make traffic flow more smoothly by getting us to follow some basic principles.

Stop signs are there to tell people going one direction to stop. The clear implication is that people going the other direction don’t stop. It makes things nice and orderly. We don’t hit each other. That’s pretty much the way most traffic regulations work.

Sometimes, someone tries to be polite and stops when s/he doesn’t have to. Let’s say I’m proceeeding north on my bike and you’re proceeding east in your car. I’m stopped at the stop sign with my foot on the ground. You don’t have a stop sign. Convention says you keep going, but you want to be polite to the bicyclist and you stop and wave me through. Now what? I can accept your generous offer and go, or I can point to my stop sign and wave you through.

intersection 1

Let’s say I (bike is the white car) take you (you are the blue car) up on your offer and I  start to cross the intersection. A car behind you (red car), wondering why you stopped for no reason, pulls around and hits me. Oops.

intersection 2

Or maybe there are two lanes and the car in the next lane over doesn’t know why you stopped and continues through, since he has the right of way. Oops. (Sorry about the white arrow indicating the bike turning the wrong way in this instance. I “borrowed” these diagrams and added to them. Think of the bike going straight.)

intersection 3

Or maybe the traffic going your way stops but traffic going the other way doesn’t. Oops.

Or maybe you change your mind and decide to go again; maybe you remember you’re in a hurry, maybe you didn’t think I took you up on your offer soon enough, maybe you just have it in for bicyclists and decide to run me down.

In all of these scenarios, the bicyclist loses. In all of these scenarios, the bicyclist is at fault in the crash, for failing to yield the right of way. Maybe in the last paragraph’s choices, where the very car that waved me through hits me, I have an argument. But that supposes that: 1) I’m alive; 2) I don’t have a head injury resulting in amnesia for the time surrounding the crash (common in even mild traumatic brain injury or concussion); 3) the motorist admits fault; 4) the police/judge/jury believe the bicyclist over the motorist. We all know that bicyclists can’t be trusted. In the post “Better Safe than Sorry”, I alluded to the “otherness” ascribed to bicyclists in our car-centric culture. My daughter reminded me that this experience is common to all “other” groups. We are seen as representative of a class and not as credible as the dominant class. The bicyclist in this scenario may be considered an unreliable witness because he might have a head injury and thus remember it wrong (ironic, if this is actually someone who does remember), or just unreliable for his “otherness”.

Regardless of the question of fault (actual or ascribed), it is always the bicyclist who comes out of this scenario with the physical injuries. That’s why, if you try to wave me through a stop sign out of politeness or solidarity or for any other reason, I probably won’t take you up on the offer. I risk being seen as rude or unappreciative, but I don’t risk being dead.

P.S. I will admit that I accepted a “wave through” this winter. I was stopped at a stop sign, foot down, waiting for traffic to clear. The next car that approached on the through street was a police car. The officer stopped and waved me through. The temperature was -5° Fahrenheit. There were no other cars approaching from either direction. Rather than “argue” (even if only with hand signals and pointing, as his window was closed) with a police officer on a cold day, I went through the intersection.

P.P.S. I can’t end this topic without acknowledging John Forester, a bicycle transportation engineer, originator of the “Effective Cycling” program, advocate of “vehicular cycling”, and one of the prime thinkers in the area of bike safety. I also want to acknowledge Bob Mionske, former professional bike racer and now attorney working in the field of bicycle safety and rights. He writes a regular column for VeloNews. Some of the ideas in the last three posts certainly came from them.

P.P.P.S. A Dude Abikes posted on safety this week, about a campaign in Austin – “Please be kind to cyclists” – check it out.

Next week: urban cycling, San Francisco

Spring arrives with a vengeance!

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

(Photo credit LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/GettyImages)

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.

Image from “Classic Factory Lightweights”

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.

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Crocus under April showers

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 found this guy hanging around my front door

 

Better Red than Dead

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”.
DSC_1226Riding 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: