And we’ll have fun, fun, fun…

The first club ride of the year! It started on my side of town so I could ride to the meet-up spot. That would only add 13 miles (21 km) to the ride…except that I took a detour on the way home, so the 27 mile (43 km) club ride turned into 47 (75 km) for me.

Some of the stalwarts of the half-fast cycling club made it, including Rollie Fingers; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and Sirius Black.

The club bought coffee for everyone at a cafe at the halfway point. I’m still not ready for maskless indoor crowds (if that seems extreme, see this), so I skipped the coffee and had a caffeinated Clif Shot Blok or two instead, stopping just long enough to shed some surplus clothes and eat a bar. (I’m a fan of the Clif Nut Butter Bars, which don’t taste like cardboard like the regular Clif Bars, or melt in your pocket like Luna Bars. I still miss Powerbars.)

The spring peepers are out and loud as usual, crocus are blooming and, if I wasn’t mistaken, the roadside grass is beginning to show a bit of green.

The thermometer read 33 degrees as I headed out (0.5 C) and my phone claimed a wind velocity of 1 mph. Silk t-shirt, fleece jersey, and jacket; fleece tights, shoe covers, hat, and full gloves were the order of the day – especially when I realized the wind velocity had a 2 in front of it (21 mph – 34 km/h) and it was a headwind for the first 25 miles (40 km). At the halfway point I was able to lose the shoe covers, the fleece jersey, and switch to fingerless gloves. About ¾ of the way, I ditched the hat. By the time I got home it was a balmy 57 degrees (14 C).

The coots are back

(Sat) I saw a flock of about 100 on the water on the way home from work. I watched a car stop to let two Sandhill Cranes stroll across the street. Despite that fact that it is 34 degrees (1 C) and sleeting (after snowing all morning), I think that means spring is on the way. The loons should be here soon.

The big lake is the only one with ice left. It is shrouded in fog, which means that, when the fog clears, we should see liquid from shore to shore. Right now I can see only to that flock of coots, with the occasional mallard interloper.

(Mon) As I rode across the tracks (living on the “wrong side of the tracks” I was crossing over) I saw a rabbit dash across the road in front of me, in much more of a hurry than I usually see. I followed it (with my eyes) into the park to my right, then looked back left. A fox was loping along in its path, either having given up, or hoping to lull the rabbit into inattention. Ten blocks from the center of town, at 3:30 PM, a fox was acting like this was no big deal.

Urban wildlife here usually means birds; raccoons and opossums at night; foxes furtively making their way along the lakeshore at dawn – but not in broad daylight in the middle of town.

(Sun) I have ruined the last 9 liters of maple sap (what would have been about 225 ml of syrup) by taking my eye off it at the crucial endpoint. A foaming black mass on the stove said “Oops – have fun cleaning that pan.”

(Tues) I heard, then saw, a loon flying overhead on the ride in to work. The lake is now fully liquid. Crews were busy yesterday. The piers and hoists for the university crew coaches’ boats are in the water. The floating docks for the crew’s shells are in the water and this morning, as daylight broke, the water was filled with every 4 and 8 (person boat) the university owns. The rafts of coots were on the move, as they like the same area near shore the crew likes to row on.

I think I saw crocus shoots poking out through the ground. (9)

Better Safe than Sorry?

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.

Version 2
Spring is coming late this year. This is all that’s blooming in my yard so far. Something was needed to break up all this text. Good thing I got the photo when I did. This crocus is now buried under 4 inches of snow.

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):