Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Difference of a Week

What a difference in my anti-car crusade the last two weeks has made!

While in San Diego, I never had to drive and was able to walk anywhere I needed to go.

Last week I flew to Grand Rapids for a friend Kris' wedding, and it was a car bonanza! I rented a car upon arrival and drove to my friend's apartment for the afternoon and evening. Kris then drove us to Founder's Brewery (my favorite beer brewer!)

Drove back to the airport the next day to pick up some friends, then to Holland, MI for our hotel, then to Saugatuck for the rehearsal dinner, and back to Holland for the night. Next day we drove from Holland to Grand Rapids (40 miles) to drop off an extra rental car picked up along the way, then back to Suagatuck for the wedding
and back to Holland for the night. Finally on Sunday, the 50 min drive back to Grand Rapids for my flight home.

I drove more miles in that one long weekend than I normally do in two weeks of my normal life in Raleigh. Aside from all the driving, it was an excellent trip, and possibly the most fun I've ever had at a wedding (that might include my own, of which I don't remember very much)

Back in Raleigh on Monday, I skipped riding my bike to work because I "had" to drive to Carrboro to pick up, via Craigslist, an absolutely vital (what I told my wife) piece of equipment to support my emerging beer brewing hobby. 

Finally got back into the swing of things on Wednesday. After picking up my wife at the airport in the morning, I drove to work with the bike on top of the car and bike home that afternoon. Today I biked to work and will drive home, picking up a keg full of homebrew on the way.

As if all this driving around weren't enough of a blow to my biking initiative, I suffered a huge setback on Tuesday. While going through my normal weightlifting routine, I severed the tendon holding my bicep to my shoulder. It doesn't hurt much, but it is possible it will need surgery. If I do go under the knife (I'm really sick of hospitals), I can't imagine my doctor will allow me to get back on the bike for several weeks. I'm really hoping they tell me that I don't need surgical intervention as long as I don't mind the new contours (referred to as "Popeye-Arm" in the literature) of my left arm.

I see the orthopedist tomorrow morning, and as long as I keep my mind off it, I avoid being worried sick. I was out of commission for 8 weeks last summer with an infection in my knee, the surgery to repair it and the resulting recovery period. I'd really like to avoid a repeat. Wish me luck....

Friday, July 19, 2013

Can Car Type Predict Anti-Bike Behavior?

I saw this article in Slate today:

The author proposes that BMW drivers are more likely to crowd cyclists on the road than drivers of other car types. Not scientific at all, but it reflects my own perception. But perhaps that is just my own bias, as BMW's stand out more than many other car makes.

I'll add that the amount of space a driver's car takes up correlates positively with the driver's intolerance for sharing road space. Drivers of pick-up trucks and SUVs are much more likely than drivers of sedans to try to squeeze past me when its not safe. Minivan drivers fit somewhere in the middle, unless the vehicle is full of kids, in which case behavior deteriorates. Sports car drivers, being inherently aggressive drivers, are also pretty bad offenders.

The worst are the small truck professional drivers. Box trucks and landscaping trucks with trailers are often the worst. I attribute this to personal driver skill and behavior and minimal training coupled with industrial size vehicles.

Surprisingly, the most courteous drivers that pass me are the 18 wheeler drivers. They almost universally pass only when safe and with more than adequate passing space. Maybe that's because they recognize my Surly brand bike as being of the "Long Haul Trucker" model and they recognize a kindred spirit. Maybe its because they, alone in the automobile world, accept that with great power comes great responsibility.

Though I've put in tens of thousands of miles in several states developing these perceptions, this is certainly not a scientific study. You have to pay me if you want statistically valid results.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Back in Raleigh

I'm just getting back into my routine after a week away in San Diego. I didn't get to ride my bike for a whole 7 days, but this was mitigated by the fact that I didn't have to drive a car at all either.

Getting to live without a car spoils me. We forget how much time our cars steal away from us. For my normal automobile commute, I spend at least an hour in the car round trip. And that's only when there are no traffic delays! In San Diego, the walk from our hostel to the conference center is only about 5 minutes, and I was doing something I would be doing even if I didn't have anywhere to be; walking around, taking in the sights, stopping for a bite to eat, and enjoying the excellent weather.

If I drove a car to work five days a week, that's five hours a week spent in a stressful, unhealthy, unproductive, not-fun environment! Then I have to add in time to get in a workout. Biking to work, while it takes longer than the car, actually saves me time in the long run.

Now, after a few days back in the real world, all the stress has come back. I rode my bike to work Monday, and I wasn't as out of shape as I had feared. Tueday and today I had to drive for unusual logistic reasons. Tuesday morning I enjoyed the ride, as is usual after a day of biking. It's always nice to savor the ease of transport after sweating it out the day before (and traffic was light as I woke up late for work). By the end of the day, I wished I was back on my bike.

I try to drive legally. This makes me a second-class citizen. Its nearly impossible to safely drive the speed limit on the interstate, and even cruising 5mph above the posted speed limit will draw lots of aggressive behavior and odd looks.

Driving down Wake Forest Ave north of the Beltline is the worst. It is an exercise in maintaining one's Zen to remain calm and let go of anger when constantly being dangerously and illegally cut off and intentionally blocked. It is possible to avoid taking such behavior personally and try to imagine a good, reasonable person behind those dangerous maneuvers, but it often takes more control than I have.

The tension creeps into my shoulders, and I want nothing more than to SHOW THEM! I'LL CUT YOU OFF AND SEE HOW YOU LIKE IT!

Ahhhh  (...breathes deeply...)  Even writing about it is enough to bring my blood pressure up.

The funny part is that while I often face much more aggressive and personally targeted behavior while I'm on my bike, it doesn't bother me nearly as much. Perhaps its because of the endorphin high I ride around with (See this: or perhaps its because I get to channel that frustration and adrenaline into ever more intense locomotion.

When on the bike, if someone cuts me off or crowds me or any of the dozens of things people do to let me know they don't think I belong on the road, I can usually smile and feel sympathy for the small world that person lives in (smugness helps a great deal). And there's often the satisfaction of smoothly and calmly passing same said psychopath when traffic backs up half a mile down the road.

It is frustrating that my wife and my work locations make it impossible for either of us to live much closer to our jobs. But till Wake County wakes up and implements some decent public transit, I'll continue to do as much of my commuting by bike as I can.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Soggy Monday Morning

The first week of my self-imposed challenge went pretty well - I biked to work Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I did drive the car to Raleigh two times over the weekend, so I can't really say that the bike was my primary mode of transportation last week. One of those weekend trips required me to take the toddler, and my wife won't let me put the youngster in the trailer and bike across town, so my options were limited.

Biking to work has several advantages over driving a car. Perhaps the most profound is the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I have when I get to work. When I arrive in my car, I'm tense from battling traffic and stiff from flying around town in a recliner.

I also get a better connection to the environment I'm in. Wednesday last week, I participated in this turtle rescue operation:
This guy was crossing Crabtree Valley Avenue heading out of Crabtree Creek about 730 in the morning 

The two women in the shot were waving down traffic to keep their turtle charge unsmushed. It's sickening how little regard some motorists show for the creatures that share our space. My own humble contribution to the operation was to act as watch-out for cars.

This morning, I had the pleasure of biking in the rain. Here's the radar from around my arrival time:

Why do people get so worked up about biking in the rain? My coworkers this morning asked me if I was crazy. If they mean, "do you use a 2 ton metal machine overpowered by 1500% that wrecks your health, finances and the environment to get to work?" - no. If they mean, "did you know you would get wet on the way in?" -yes

I find riding in the rain to be a pleasant experience. The white noise of the rainfall provides a soothing backdrop that at once connects you to the environment and cocoons you in an isolated bubble. The raindrops are like cool kisses on the climbs and sharp bites on the descents. Arrive at work refreshed and clean. The only real downside is figuring out where to store your gear without getting your office area soggy. My laptop even rode safe and dry in my trusty Ortlieb panniers.

not so bad

So I'm off to a good start this week. I even get to skip the car on Thursday! Independence Day! Independent of those pesky English, and for me, the car.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sweet Summer Air

Riding my bicycle to Crossfit Sua Sponte has become one of my daily rituals since I've been back in Raleigh. Until this morning, the weather has been mostly rainy, but today the sun has come forth and with it, the smells of summer. These are smells that cannot penetrate the confines of a car, even when cruising with the windows down. The flowers have burst forth, grass is getting cut, and even at 0920, there is a strong smell of BBQ wafting across the parking lot near the box. I wish I could actually ride with Dwight more often, so I could ask him about all the trees and test his memory on all the plant identification he's done years ago. I imagine the summer is easier when every tree has leaves and many of the flowers are at their fullest. Usually a cyclist is moving at a speed that allows for a good guess of the source of a particular smell. If I had my phone on me, I'd take a picture and later identify the source of the fragrance. I invite any of our readers who have found a particularly inviting smell to take a picture and post it to the page, to share a moment of their ride with the rest of us.
Even Susie likes to smell the flowers. These are gardenias.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Commuting Challenge

I've been a slacker - my bicycle riding has fallen off and my writing has been non-existent. I am going to attempt to remedy this. I feel good about myself the more I pedal where I'm going and I feel like I know myself better when I write regularly.

Therefore, I set the following goals for myself:
  • Make the bicycle my primary form of transportation. Commute to the job at least 3 days a week, run all errands less than 10 miles from home with bicycle*
  • Write about bike commuting at least twice a week.
In that spirit, here's a look at my commute from yesterday morning.

View Larger Map

It's about a 15 mile ride, and when I push hard, I can do it in under an hour. Barely. There are a couple of rough spots; the stretch of Edwards Mill that runs under the Wade Avenue Extension and crossing Wake Forest from out of the Quail Hollow neighborhood. Nothing too hair-raising, though.

We'll have to see how I do with my new self-challenge now that the temperature is rising. However, at the hour I'm leaving in the morning, its not been too hot.