Monday, June 30, 2008

My angry neighbor, part two

I was in our building's underground garage cleaning the last of Montana off my motorcycle when I saw my neighbor coming. To remind you, I had never heard anything like an angry word from the man until he spoke to me about rude cyclists on the sidewalks, and uppity cyclists stopping next to him, then crossing the intersection against the red - clearly violating the law.

I thought at length about his and my previous conversation inside my motorcycle helmet during my trip. He wants me to do something about those damn sidewalk cyclists who scare him. But does he carry a cellphone in his car so he can report aggressive drivers to a hotline?

What can either of us do about abusers, motorized or pedal-powered?

I asked him if he reports those scary drivers and he said no. Our conversation quickly became confrontational. He says he's going to get a walking stick. If he's startled by a cocky sidewalk cyclist he'll put that stick in that cyclist's spokes.

You'll kill someone, I said. It won't be like Laugh-In, it'll be a call to 911 and you'll go to jail. They'll be getting what they deserve, he said.

I asked him if he thinks that in my years of riding bicycles and motorcycles I've been scared or offended by drivers. I've been hit by drivers, I told him. Not just had my feelings hurt. Have I shot anyone, I asked. Have I acted violently toward any one of those offending drivers?

I'd like to think, I said, that the driver was momentarily hostile or distracted. That the driver is not a lifetime, fulltime creep. And I don't want to go to jail. Not worth it.

It's not the law, and it's not the threat of injury, I told him. It's about YOU. Your feelings are hurt. You feel you've been taken advantage of, not treated with respect. So you want to hurt someone. It's YOU.

Fact is, he has not been hurt. He's only been treated with disregard, the same way cyclists are treated every day. He's been treated this way a few times, maybe several times, and he's threatening homicidal action, or at least mayhem. He's lost it, because of disrespectful cyclists.

I ask you again: As respectful cyclists who are not tinhorn sidewalk terrorists, what can we do to avoid being tarred with the same brush?

This is not a bad man, my neighbor, but he's pissed off and it's hard to blame him. If he's pissed off, thousands of his fellow prideful Americans are equally pissed off. Worse maybe.

Why no new posts, Maynard?

Hi all!

I'm just back from a four-day motorcycle trip to Phillipsburg, Montana, for a lunch meeting of a nat'l motorcycle club for owners of smallish, single-cylinder motorcycles, most of them dual-purpose or "enduro-style" bikes.

For some reason that I've pondered but still don't fully understand, it's the best bunch of guys (and a few women) I've encountered in motorcycling. Ride a 40-horsepower, lightweight, skinny motorcycle with no windshield from Ohio to western Montana for a burger with the boys - and you're probably an okay type-a guy. You're okay in my book for sure.

Phillipsburg is west of Butte and Anaconda, MT, north and west of Yellowstone. Unless you ride the interstate, it's not so easy to reach. It's pretty to reach, but far from effortless - and there are deer and elk everywhere. Spooky.

Today's Monday. I'd never been in Montana in my life until Friday, and hadn't been in Wyoming since I was a young guy, right after the French and Indian Wars. I think I passed through WY in a car at night in the '60s, so I had no impressions. This time I traveled both states on a motorsickle in daylight, which by the way starts super early and lasts until 10PM in the summer.

As a lifetime city boy, except for a few years in smallish Chico, CA - a college town, not a country town, I always am surprised by the "country." I use the quotes because it isn't the country as we remember it.

There are funky coffee places in the tiny towns on the tourist routes, and you see signs for Yoga Healers. You see no Audis and no Ducatis. You still see lots and lots of huge pickup trucks, many of them diesel, driven by folks who look like cowboys. Some of them are cowboys.

Locals are super nice. They have time to spend with you and seem genuinely to enjoy that time. They have stories and want to tell you about the last guy who passed through there on a BMW or Harley, and what their sons or nephews ride and where they got them.

In Wyoming, as you leave towns, there's a big sign that says: If these lights are flashing, this road is closed. Go back to the town you just left. Luckily, none of the lights were flashing.

The fastest I rode on the entire trip was the last, oh, 40 miles - on Interstate 25. That 40 miles was also the most trafficky and dangerous of the trip. When you get near the city, you can feel the impatience and self-importance of the drivers. Especially after hundreds of miles on roads empty to both horizons, the drivers' behavior is strange indeed.

I saw one elk and many deer, as I mentioned. Deer, I've been told, have brains the same size as a squirrel's brain. They dart in front of moving motor vehicles and get killed, often injuring or killing the motorists. I can't hate deer. They're just not very smart.

Drivers evidently are not as smart as deer. My evidence: I-25 on Sunday afternoon. I rest my case. Perhaps you can provide corroborative evidence from your own area.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sidewalk terrorists...

It's Wednesday, Bike to Work Day. As I walked through the parking garage under our building this morning, I waved at another resident, a nice guy I see every week or so. He knows I'm a writer; he evidently thinks I wield that "mightier than the sword" influence.

He asked me to stop for a moment, to tell me that he thinks that bicycles and their riders are positives for the community and the city. But, he said, he's been scared twice just this week by riders who've passed him suddenly and without warning on the sidewalk, where he had previously felt pretty safe. Walking.

Have you noticed, he asked me, more cyclists than ever riding on the sidewalks?

And y'know, I have. I’ve been scared twice myself, startled is a better word, by cyclists who suddenly appeared on the sidewalk from the street, missing me by millimeters. Both riders appeared to be sure of themselves and of their right to be wherever they wanted. Oh-kay...

Those guys, guys who dart onto the sidewalk or ride on the bike path no-handed or take the right lane on a busy, fast street even when there's a bike path next to the street - those guys aren't reading my blog. Maybe no one reading my blog even knows one of those guys.

Had I felt like arguing with my neighbor, I guess I could have asked him if he turns in dangerous drivers via some hotline. Does he say anything to people he sees doing stupid things in their cars, people he follows coincidentally to our building's parking garage? Does he police HIS peers? If he doesn’t, what would he suggest I do?

Are those sidewalk terrorist cyclists any better than aggressive drivers? They are not. Are they aware that there are other people in the world? Or are they just as self-absorbed as our driver friends?

Evidently they are every bit as self-absorbed and just as quick to take advantage.

I don't know those guys. Neither, I'm pretty sure, do you. Know them or not, they have upset my neighbor. He’s not an angry guy, or never has shown a sign of it. He's angry now though - because of a few scofflaw, do as they please, dudes on bicycles.

My neighbor, not a student of cycling sociology, cannot differentiate among classes or types of cyclists. He lumps us all together, I'm sorry to say.

He said that he assumed that the laws for cyclists were the same as those for drivers, but he sees cyclists who stop next to him at the light, then take off without waiting for the green. He has to pass them a half a block or a block down the street, traffic approaching and traffic behind him.

I said very little to my neighbor. Certainly I did not defend the bicyclists he sees flaunting their disrespect for the laws and other traffic. What can I say?

I hate like hell blaming the victim. I’d like to think that our cycling makes us all family, sortof, and that we have so much in common that we share a certain mindset.

I don’t ever scare people. I treat people further down the traffic food chain with respect, just as I’d like drivers to treat me. I wouldn't be surprised if you do the same.

There have always been irresponsible cyclists, I guess. I always figured they were guys who were riding because they had to; they’d lost their licenses or cars or whatever. There are more of those scofflaw cyclists than ever though, these days. Havin’ fun, scaring the seniors. Acting exempt from the law. Peeing in the pool.

Cool, huh?

Monday, June 23, 2008

An epiphany on the bike path

For years (I confess) I have noticed and fretted about who waves back and who does not.

I almost always wave. I wave at all kinds of riders. I feel that our cycling creates a certain kinship. I wave. Most riders evidently sense no such kinship; they seldom wave.

Stupidly, I note their non-waves and keep loose track of who responds and who doesn't. Decades, I been doing that. No kidding.

Just the last couple of rides, I've changed my program. I still wave, because it feels right to me. But I've stopped monitoring responses. Here's what I do.

I ride along. I see a cyclist approaching. I watch until I'm confident that he or she is not a threat. Then I take my eyes off that cyclist and wave.

I wave because it feels right. He or she waves back or doesn't wave back, whichever feels right. Wave or not wave, I don't see it.

We all do what we feel is right. I don't wave for effect, for a response, after all. I wave because I'm old school and always have waved. They don't 'cause they aren't and haven't.

I'm happy with my new program. If you're a frustrated, old school waver, try it on your next ride. Look away. You'll lighten your heart before your legs warm up.

Yet another piece from the NY Times, this one about the last genuine motorcycle road racing - on the Isle of Man

Written by the estimable John Burns for a reader who is not motorcycle-savvy, this piece talks about the Isle of Man as a community and a unique venue for racing. If you've heard about the island and the TT and you're curious about them, this piece will either satisfy your curiosity or send you scurrying to Google to learn more.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Is Lance's private life our business?

Here's another link to an article in today's NY Times, about Lance Armstrong's romantic life and his efforts to fight cancer. Will his dating render his advocacy less effective? Or is all publicity good publicity? This piece is gossipy and thought-provoking, all at the same time.

A NY Times piece with a surprise inside

Surprised me, anyway...

Here's a link to a piece from today's NY Times - about a blind guy who's the owner and chief mechanic of an NHRA top-alcohol, funny car team, a bigtime drag-racing outfit. The guy's story is interesting enough, but if you're a cyclist, and you read down to the name of his driver...

That's the hook.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Get a bike. Then you'll understand, pt 3

As I thought further about our new converts to cycling, folks who are buying new bikes or resurrecting old ones in these days of high fuel prices, it seemed to me that I was not being fair. Maybe.

Are some of our new riders reacting to this country's debilitating petroleum addiction? Are they filled with self-loathing at their previous polluting, resource-consuming, lazy, car-based lifestyle? Are a few deciding that this is as good a time as any to get skinny, fit and healthy? Are they furious with the oil companies and their reptilian DC cronies? Are they bored with GPS, satellite radio and their twice-daily contribution to gridlock?

If one or all of the above is/are accurate, why now? Why not last year? Maybe it's true that everyone has his-or-her price. And four dollars a gallon is theirs... Oh, well...

Whatever the motivation, their riding is better for everyone than their driving.

If you have the chance, dear reader, if you see one of them in an immediately evident state of bafflement and frustration, give that New Cyclist a hand.

We all started riding for some reason. Doesn't matter why, really. What does matter: Have we kept doing it? Let's encourage our new friends to keep doing it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Get a bike. Then you'll understand, pt 2

I wrote the previous post late in the evening, after bedtime really. This morning, as I thought about what I'd written, I wondered if today's premium-at-perfume-prices will provoke people to park their SUVs, and if some of them will actually attempt to use bikes to replace them.

I wondered too if the consciousness raising I mentioned could really happen. How could it not, I asked myself. These new riders will surely sense "man's motorized inhumanity to man" directed for the first time at THEM, vulnerable on their bicycles. How can they not be changed?

And then I thought: What if the prohibitive fuel prices last a year or so, during which time we gain thousands of converts to bikes from cars and trucks? And what if fuel prices fall back to an "acceptable" level? Will our converts continue to ride?

If they do not, if they get back in their SUVs as soon as they can afford to, will they remember what life was like when they were riding? Or will they quickly become the preoccupied, rushed, territorial bullies they once were?

We'll see, huh? Meanwhile, as cyclists we can't be totally upset about gas prices. Lance's exploits sold lots of bikes - to club cyclists who drive to each ride. Maybe expensive fuel will sell cycling to people who'll ride because they can't afford to drive or would rather spend the money elsewhere.

On another note: As I rode on the Cherry Creek Trail this morning, I thought for the 1,000th time: Please, New Urban Hipster Cyclists, ask your Dead Authentic, Real-Rider friends to put their hands on their handlebars when they're riding on busy bike paths. Certainly doesn't bother me, but I'll bet it makes some people nervous. People that timid just don't belong on the paths.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Get a bike. Then, you'll understand...

I cannot remember a time, the graying blogger wrote, brushing bits of pipe tobacco from the front of his plaid sweater-vest, when bike riders have talked so much about their lives in traffic.

Bob Mionske's weekly legal column in Velo-News has focused on strife between motorists and cyclists issue after issue. Bloggers post their opinions many times each day. Newspapers that used to give bike riders a good leaving-alone, now lavish column-inches on us, especially those of us who are undergoing drastic behavior modification to escape Shell and Chevron.

High gas prices must help explain to non-cyclists why ostensibly sane folks would commute on two wheels. Can't be fun...and it's so dangerous.

About that danger: Many of us yearn to understand why our neighbors, friendly over the back fence, turn hostile behind the wheel. We're your friends, we think to ourselves; we're teachers and pharmacists and PTA members and full-fledged human beings. We may vote for the same people you do. We're nice people. And we're not One More Car.

Why do you treat us (and everyone else) with such cavalier disregard? We're you, just on a bike.

Maybe gas prices will provoke our neighbors to curtail their driving. Maybe they'll buy motor scooters or ride public transportation. Gotta wait six months for a Prius, I hear.

Maybe some will drag old bicycles, bought on impulse one fat-feeling Saturday a decade ago, down from their garage rafters. Maybe they'll take it to their local bike shop for a tune-up and new tires and tubes. Maybe they'll buy lights and a tire pump.

Maybe they'll actually try to ride to work. If they do, and let's hope they do, they will sense what we sense when we ride. What a shock it'll be - when their whitebread suburban neighbors invite them into the roadside ditch instead of over for the backyard barbecue.

What an eye-opener it'll be. I wonder how many trips to work and back our neighbors will attempt. The ones who stick will have endured a brutal consciousness-raising, huh? They'll have walked a mile in our Sidis.

Without realizing it, they've been able to travel without concentrating on what they're doing. They've been visible and armored. They've driven distracted and emotionally upset and in a senseless hurry, and they've been defensive and righteous about it all. You got a problem, buddy?

A few commutes will reveal to them that if they ride at the same level of diligence that they drove, they won't make it home. Distracted? Pissed-off? Cowboy up. You have to pay attention for you - and for them. They're distracted, pissed-off and in a hurry. Can't depend on them.

I remember a friend of a friend who would say calmly to offending motorists: Get a bike. Then, you'll understand.

Maybe thousands and thousands of our fellow Americans will get bikes. Maybe, then, they'll understand.

I hope it happens, but if I had a ranch, I'd bet it on something else. Something with better odds. Hillary for president, maybe.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Well, yes, it's another link to a terrific Dave Moulton piece...

Here's a link to Dave Moulton's blog site. Please read his fine post, Dispelling the Myth. It's about bicycle safety and automobile safety. As you'll read, some of what we believe about road safety is based on shaky evidence. Another stellar post from Dave Moulton...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sorry, says the lapsed blogger...

Hi all,
I apologize for letting a week-plus go by between posts, but I had deadlines with monthly magazines, the Bicycle Paper and two motorcycle magazines: CityBike and Motorcycle Sport and Leisure. I had to focus on pieces for them.

If you are a writer yourself or if you are curious about the writer-editor relationship and how the pieces you read evolve into what you see on the page, this post should interest you. If you are a regular reader of my stuff and curious about my "process," here's a peek into my writerly head.

I was up against a deadline at the Bicycle Paper, as I mentioned. I'd just had a couple of experiences that lingered in my memory, and seemed to have resonance - with other experiences and with one another. Here's the piece I wrote:

On the Paths

A week ago, I saw the photo that’s been flying around the internet, the awful shot of a car driving head-on into the pack at a road race in Mexico. The driver reportedly was drunk; he fell asleep at the wheel. The photo somehow captured the instant of impact. I couldn’t look at it.

At least a few cycling bloggers put it up on their sites. I didn’t want to see it or offer it to others as a thing to see.

What can you do or say, I asked myself, about that sort of accident? If there’d have been a school bus or police cruiser or ambulance there instead of the pack of racing cyclists, the drunk’s car would have hit the bus or black-and-white or ambulance.

How would you warn cyclists about drivers like that one? What would you say? Wear your helmet? Stop at stop signs? Signal your turns? Take the lane? Act like traffic?

Yesterday as I rode out the Cherry Creek Bike Path, I said hi to a guy who looked like a bike rider. He had a nice carbon Trek and sat on it well. We chatted a bit as we rode. He asked me where the path went, and I told him.

I figured he must be from out of town. Local Denver cyclists know where the Cherry Creek Path goes; it’s perhaps the most-used path here.

“Where’re you from,” I asked the guy.

“Oh, I’m from here,” he said, “but I’ve never ridden the bike paths. I don’t know my way around on them.

“I just lost my brother-in-law,” he said. “He got hit by a Postal Service van out on 32nd. The driver lost control; the van veered all the way across the road. Hit him head-on as he rode, near the opposite curb.

“I loved that guy,” he said. “We rode together a lot. I’m not going to stop riding because of what happened to him. But I’m done with the road. I’m getting to know the bike paths.”

“I’m the same,” I said. “I ride the road little as I can. We’re so lucky here to have all the paths. I’m doing more miles than I used to but I’m more at peace, not as angry. I don’t feel like a helpless victim. You’ll be fine on the paths. Jeez, I’m sorry for your loss…”

I turned off the path to run an errand but I couldn’t stop thinking about that guy.

I figure he’s been riding around Denver for years. But he did not know where the Cherry Creek path would take him. My guess is, he avoided bike paths.

Like a lot of people, he thought bike paths were fine for weekend family cycling or for walks with your mother-in-law. Bike paths were emphatically not for him.

They’re too scary; ruined by their multi-utility. Too many clueless skaters and dog walkers. Too many preoccupied, head-setted strollers. Too many clueless cyclists.

He was right. The bike paths are crowded, particularly on weekends, with clueless, self-obsessed citizens, oblivious, unwilling to admit that others may also be enjoying the path today. When they have to share the path they get testy, certain they’ve been slighted.

Why, they’re just like drivers, oblivious and unwilling to share the roadway. No, they aren’t just like drivers. They ARE drivers. They’re drivers - disguised as skaters, dog walkers and cyclists.

They’re drivers; they’re just not in their cars. So they probably can’t kill you.

They’re not any more attentive when they’re out of their cars. They’re not kinder or gentler. They’re as detestable as ever - but they’re…unarmed. They left the SUV in the lot next to the bike path. They can still knock you down but they can’t run over you.

They can’t take you from your family forever because they just couldn’t get over what their girlfriend said on the phone.

I love the bike paths.

Oh, sometimes I hate the bike paths too. I do. I hate the long-invisible-leash dog walkers. I hate joggers who, without a backward glance, suddenly turn around to run home. I hate skaters, lost in the music of the spheres or Cloud Coo-coo Land or wherever they go.

I hate cyclists who forget that bikes don’t have brake lights, cyclists who turn or u-turn without warning, cyclists who pass when passing is recklessly unsafe, who stop in groups spread across the path while they decide if any one of them knows how to fix the flat tire.

Those people piss me off, but they do not, from intent or ignorance, try to kill me.

As careless and potentially injurious as their behavior on the paths can be, they don’t scare me the way my motoring neighbors do. They don’t make me feel as if every ride could be the last hurrah, sayonara, hey it was fun while it lasted, give my buddy my bike.

That’s how I feel on the road. Call me names if it satisfies you somehow. I’m telling you the truth. This is the truth. Your creep motorist neighbors are armed. They travel armed to the teeth. And armored, safe at 50 in a 25mph zone in their 6,000lb battering rams.

We’d be safer if they had guns instead of cars. Not everyone can hit a small moving target like a cyclist with a handgun. Takes hand-eye coordination and practice. Anyone can do it with a car. Thousands have.

How can you avoid injurious contact with your armed, untrustworthy neighbors? Stay away from them. Ride off-street bike paths where the obstacles are probably not lethal.

If you don’t have bike paths where you live, remember to act like traffic. Wear your helmet. Take the lane. Signal those turns. Good luck to you.


After I finish pieces, I paste them into emails and send them to my buddy Corey in San Antonio. Corey and I have known one another since we both lived in the San Francisco East Bay, years ago. He is a motorcyclist and bicyclist and a thoughtful individual. Here's how Corey felt about the piece you've just read:

About the piece: it's pretty bleak. I know it's how you feel and the honest thing to do is to share your thoughts/feelings. However, it makes me squirm in my seat to read it. Not only is it not safe to ride on the roads, but the alternative, the bike paths, are full of insensitive, despicable and murderous knaves. Where does that leave us?

I don't ride much on bike paths (as if there were bike paths in San Antonio, ha!), so I can't really comment on those citizens who inhabit the paths. They probably are clueless, self-obsessed, and easily angered. Maybe everyone, everywhere has become like that as a reaction to the pervasive air of fear and loathing in America today? Nah, surely not all of us.

Call me Pollyanna, but I think there are still some folks who are willing to share the road and are not trying to kill me when I ride. I suppose it just a matter of probability; even if only one in 100,000 is pissed off at bikers, it only takes one of those to make something bad happen. Nevertheless, I have not yet come to the point where I fear to ride the roads. I'm cautious for sure, but still willing to get out there and share the road with the pickups, gravel haulers and cement mixers.

I'm struggling with this. I know it's how you feel and you have to be true to yourself, but, as the reader, I'm not sure what to make of it. It warns me to take precautions, but the "good luck to you" ending is reminiscent of the "may God have mercy on your soul" that they give you before dropping you through the trapdoor with a noose around your neck. It's not uplifting, that's for sure.

In my opinion, it's too dark/depressing and most folks are not going to enjoy reading it. Maybe it's not about enjoyment and you feel the piece says things that need to be said, but those are my thoughts and they come from a place of great respect and affection.

Your friend Corey

I sent the piece to my esteemed superstar editor at the Bicycle Paper, Claire Bonin. I told her that my friend and editor, Corey, had thought it was too bleak and would not be fun to read. Here's Claire's response. Bear in mind that she wears many hats at the Bicycle Paper's publisher and she works super hard. Neverthe-goddamn-less, she took time to write this note:

Well, it is pessimistic in tone

I think you have a point about the people on the path not being attentive to the needs of others - but if we keep being negative about the bike paths and the roads, we won't be riding much longer. There most be a compromise somewhere.

I think that with the price of gas going up, we will see more and more clueless people on the streets and paths - so a more positive approach would be: What can we do, as road and path users, to make everyone safer and less clueless to make our ride more enjoyable?

Won't happen in one day, but... Do we just go by and keep riding being mad at those that are stopped and ignoring that others are using the trail while they fix a flat or do we ask them to move - politely? Do we scream at the dog walkers or just ask them to pay attention and turn down their ipods so they can hear us coming? Do we put bells on our bikes so we can signal our presence or use our voice to let them know we are behind?

For me it's just like asking someone who is stopped on the side of the road if they need help - many just go by, either scared to help or too busy - I don't know how many times I've helped people fix a flat, given them a tube and/or let them use my pump.

When they ask what they owe me for the tube or they can stop thanking me because I cared enough to help I tell them to help someone else in need. Next time you see somebody on the side of the road, I say, ask them if they are ok, give them a tube, lend them your cell phone if you can't help them get home so they can call someone (I don't have a cell so I figure other don't have one either). Make it a better place one person at the time, you do it, they do it, soon many will.

That's my take on it anyway.

Can't do much about drunk drivers, idiots and the likes, but we can help each other, I think - one cyclist at a time.


Is that a great letter? At that point, on deadline day, I had written a piece and heard from two people who I trust thoroughly that the piece was bleak and negative and no fun. If that's how you feel, Maynard, you could say, than that's what the piece should say. But it isn't therapy, is it? It isn't me working out my emotional turmoil in the Bicycle Paper.

It's opinion, sure enough, but it's reason for being is entertainment and enlightenment.

So I rewrote the piece. I eliminated any mention of the horrible photo from Mexico and I followed Claire's suggestions as to how to make the piece positive and to encourage veteran riders to welcome new (ill-equipped, clueless) cyclists who are fleeing from high fuel prices to our paths.

I would show you the piece here on my blog site, but the Bicycle Paper has certain rights. When the issue appears online, I'll put a link in a post, I promise.

Feel free to comment about the raw piece. It isn't my best, most coherent work, but it's chock full of attitude - for what THAT's worth.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sadly, Bo Diddley is still dead...

But life goes on, as someone said. So here's a little newsy post. What's happening with our blogger there in the Mile High City?

I'm feeling better on my bike, I'm delighted to write, than I have for years. I have to give the credit to Denver's marvelous bike path system. I ride it nearly every mile I ride. The road will grind me down and take the sunlight from my days. So I avoid mr and ms America and their self-obsessed urgency in favor of one or several of our paths. I can ride and ride but not despair and despair.

Because I'm enjoying my riding, I have been staying out longer on the bike. During the last year or so Tamar and I lived in Tucson, my rides got shorter and shorter, more and more predictable. I chose routes that minimized my exposure to traffic; such routes were limited in number and scope. You couldn't just go anywhere.

Here, I can ride 50 miles and hardly see a car. I see lots of drivers though, drivers disguised as cyclists, pedaling bicycles on our paths. So the paths are not as safe as they might be, especially on weekends when drivers-on-bikes infest the paths and the nice loop in Washington Park.

Scary as those folks are, down on their aero bars or towing the twins' trailer down the center of a narrow, traffic-y bike path, they're not nearly as scary as they WILL be when they load all that stuff back into the Volvo Cross-Country for the four-mile trip home.

The pedaling drivers, skaters and dog walkers on our paths are frightening no doubt but they will probably not kill you. Until they get back in their cars to drive home. Then... Well, you know.

As you will recall if you are a faithful reader of this space, your blogger has retired from writing about bicycling, except for... Well, except for a couple of exceptions.

I wrote a piece some months ago for VeloNews that was to run in a new department in the paper, a space for guest opinions. In order for the piece to run, I was asked to stop by the offices in Boulder and get my picture taken. I will do that soon and I am told that the piece will run.

That's exciting for me; I enjoyed my four or five years as a regular contributor to VeloNews. It'll feel good to get a foot back in their door. But that's just one piece...

Grant Petersen at Rivendell has asked me to reconsider my decision to stop contributing to the Rivendell Reader. We're talking about a couple of articles per year here, not a dozen. And some of the pieces I write have an "Oh, the old days...weren't they wonderful" kinda feel, perfect for the Reader's readers.

I'm going back and forth about continuing my association with Grant's magazine. I love Grant as a guy and I mightily respect his way of presenting his ideas. I know he is not responsible for his flock, with whom I am often and fiercely in disagreement.

I'm secretly afraid that they are Proud Rivendell Owners, not Frequent Rivendell Riders.

I've been writing for Grant since his Bridgestone days, in the late '80s maybe. I've ridden his bikes for years and flown the Bridgestone and Rivendell flags. I may have my most loyal audience in his publication. I'm going back and forth, as I said. Write me if you care about this at all. Thanks.

I have felt attracted this last year to the prospect of touring on my bicycle. I have also been using my bicycle as an urban tool more than as a training tool. My needs have changed, I guess you'd say. So I'm replacing a bike or two - with bikes of broader utility.

I've traded my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket Pro frame with Bike Friday for a clean, used Bike Friday Pocket Crusoe frame. It's a light touring frame with wider wheel rims and a longer wheelbase than a Pocket Rocket. I can put panniers on it, for groceries or touring, and not hit my heels on the bags.

The new frame is the same color as the old one. You will hardly see a difference when I post a photo. I hope it will be nearly as responsive and fun to ride as my Pocket Rocket. I'll let you know.

This is Tamar's birthday weekend. We plan to do something celebratory, perhaps fly to Paris for dinner or ride on the motorcycle to Boulder for tea and lunch at the terrific Dushanbe tea room. If I fail to post another sparkling letter like this one on my blog for a few days, that's why.

Arlene took me by my hand,
And she said ooowee Bo, you know I understand.

Who do you love?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Come on take a little walk with me Arlene and tell me: Who do you love...?

Bo Diddley died today at 79 years of age. Shown in this 1972 NY Times photo with Chuck Berry (on the right), Bo Diddley, along with Berry and a few others, formed rock 'n' roll in the '50s. Rock and Roll will Never Die, some say. A piece of its heart died today.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Justin's Prius

My pal Justin bought a new Toyota Prius a few weeks ago. He lucked onto an unsold one that was in transit to the dealer - in a color he liked, with the options he wanted. He did not hesitate to place his deposit. Two weeks, and the car was his.

He's been paying attention since he got it, incidentally; he says the waiting list is months long at this point.

Justin had personal reservations about buying that Prius. He'd always owned cars of distinction, often European cars. He thinks of himself (accurately) as young at heart, perhaps a bit sporty, and involved in driving as a skill. He's not a driving gloves and tweed cap kinda guy, but if he'd bought something like an Audi TT sports roadster, he could be that kinda guy, I suspect.

So the Prius seemed to Justin to be a boring choice. It was surely slow, clumsy handling and smallish inside. Okay, they get great gas mileage, but is there any sparkle in the driving experience? Is it fun?

But Justin's wife suggested they drive a Prius. Justin went along with it. Remarkably, the car won him over. She was already convinced.

At this point, Justin has filled the tank once. He got 47mpg from that first tankful, and he loves that damn car. He sees folks at the pumps as he drives by the stations. He can't believe how lucky he is to own the Prius - and how foolish they seem to have bought gas guzzlers when they could have bought a car like his. It is curious, isn't it?

Shortly after he bought the car, he took me for a ride in it. He has the GPS and the rear-view camera. It's roomy inside and beyond quiet. It doesn't feel like an econo-box or whatever cheap sedans are called these days. I was impressed - at 47mpg.

I have bragged to several people about Justin's new car, about the mileage and silence and smoothness...and about how it didn't cost a mint to buy. Most everyone has a car, so I figure they're interested in cars on some level, especially about a car that makes the most of a four dollar gallon of fuel.

I noted a reluctance to believe what I'd say about that car. Oh, it doesn't really go 47 miles on a gallon of gas. Oh, it must be tiny inside. Oh, it probably won't pass crash tests. Oh, it won't be much use in the mountains at altitude; doesn't have any power. Stuff like that.

I mentioned that resistance on people's part to believe in the Prius. Justin said that since he's owned the car he's noted that same skepticism from several people he's talked to about it. He'd been skeptical himself, sure that a Prius was going to be irritatingly lackluster, but he's driven his hundreds of miles now, and he's converted.

Why the skepticism? Justin and I talked about it over breakfast this morning on our club bicycle ride. We think it's code. It's what people say when they can't say what they really think. They think the Prius is sexless, that it won't say about them what they want a car to say. That they're double-oh-seven or Sharon Stone or Indiana Goddamn Jones.

We talked about the difference between the thing itself, the steak - and the image of the thing, the sizzle, say. In the US...and maybe elsewhere...sizzle sells cars. Maybe sizzle, sex appeal, sells everything. The thing itself is somewhat secondary. Think Mustang.

The Prius is not sexy. Economy, especially in reaction to inflated gas prices, is not sexy. Justin says that Toyota hardly advertises them. People find their way to Toyota stores nevertheless and many of them purchase those unsexy Priuses. And have to defend their choices. Imagine.

This is all turned around, right? So cheap and transparent.

Let's say we have to drive. Many of us do. Maybe somehow we're identified by what we drive. People think, ooh he's got a Whatever; whatta star he-or-she must be.

If driving a Prius makes a statement, it's a statement I wouldn't mind having made about me. I'd love cruising past gas stations and I wouldn't be crushed if the car failed to get me laid. I count on my aftershave to provide that sort of action anyway. And my Harley-Davidson.