Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Infrastructure’s Not The Problem. It’s The People!

I just finished reading the comment section on an article over at the blog, “One Woman Many Bicycles.” The article was about cyclists basically throwing in the towel, and considering parking their bikes, after having the crap scared out of them for the umpteenth time by a motorist.  The comments ranged from the pointed and logical, to the amusing, but one epideictic theme kept leaping to the forefront of the discussion: “We need more, and better, cycling infrastructure.”  “We have too many cars.”  Sure, as if all of the terrors of our minds could be eliminated with more bike lanes/paths and fewer motor vehicles.  Dream on.    

However, it got me thinking.

Amid the calls for “Better infrastructure,” “More Bike Lanes,” “Traffic Calming,” and “Road Diets,” it dawned on me that even if every cycling plan ever conceived by humans were implemented, absolutely nothing would actually change until people themselves began to change.  I mean, c’mon, we basically already have a pretty decent road network to begin with, we all just have to learn to get along on that network.  More to the point, if motorists and cyclists were both considerate users of the road, and everyone obeyed the law, we would not even need to be discussing “Cycling Infrastructure” in the first place.  We all would, simply, just get along.   

In traffic congested areas motorists want more roads, and rightfully so.  In Los Angeles, for example, the freeway system is woefully inadequate, and horribly outdated.  And, like streets, more, and logical, capacity was needed yesterday.  All the wishing in the world for the opposite is completely foolish, as the traffic of tomorrow is already here today.  Removing available traffic lanes/roads via any method only exacerbates the existing problems.  Additionally, efforts to take away “Their” infrastructure will, of course, be met with firm resistance to “Us,” the us being cyclists.  It is not rocket science, people.  For someone to gain, someone has to lose, and that is not how harmony and understanding are promoted.  We need better integration of road users, not segregation, which creates the “Us versus Them” mentality in the first place.

It was once said land was valuable because they are not making any more of it.  This is especially true when it comes to a finite amount of space in which to make roads.  Drivers want more roads, cyclists want more exclusive lanes - Is there any wonder we conflict on how best to use the limited real estate we have?  While adding lanes in already built-up areas is not impossible, taking away available road space in already crowded areas, solely for bicycles, is not going to win us any friends in the long run. 

So, what does this all mean?

First, no one should have to fear for their life so much that they are actually considering parking their bicycles.  How would motorists feel if they were “Constantly harassed by 18-Wheelers all day, everyday,” as was suggested in the comment section following an article in the Orange County Register about a cyclist recently killed on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Laguna Beach, California.  While that may sound like an immature idea, the commenter backed up their point with, “…So that drivers understand the position cyclists are in when they ride the roads they are legally entitled to use.”  Good point.    

Additionally, and factually, society today operates at the speed of commerce, and like it or not, methods such as the horse and buggy are not the most effective, anymore.  Motor vehicles, airplanes, and massive ships are the ways the world does business and how people move around freely and efficiently.  All of the wishing and praying at the alter of “The Church of The Holy Bicycle” will not bring about the extinction of the internal combustion engine, and it never should.  And, since “They” are not going away anytime soon, and since “We” are not going away anytime soon, either, it just makes plain sense to pursue massive, dedicated efforts to get along, and quit trying to “Out-Lane” each other.

OK, so what do we all do? 

While I don’t have the magic, ready answer, ponder the following: The best, first step, would be driver and rider education programs beginning at the State level, filtering down to the local municipalities, being taught as a component of every driver’s education program, and even in the schools.  Heck, if we can teach kids how to do their taxes in schools, why can’t we begin to teach them what the real meaning of what a “Shared Road” is?  This idea would also require serious attention from Law Enforcement to drive home the point of shared road safety, no matter what conveyance one is utilizing at any given moment.  The results would not come over night, but it would be one heck of a good start.

This, then, also leads to us to the concept of capacities and finite spaces.  We limit capacities all over society, from the number of seats in theatres, airliners, buses, trains, our automobiles, the number of souls on an elevator, all the way to how many people can sit at the counter of your local Denny’s.  These capacity protocols were established, and are enforced, for our own safety.  Why, therefore, do cities not follow the logical protocols of capacity limits?  I hate to sound like a Loon, but at what point do we just flat-out, and logically, have to say, “Sorry, no vacancy.”  Congestion need not be a bitter pill we are all forced to swallow.

So, as I wrap this up, we may be better served if the following societal axioms were taken to heart by all parties involved in the battle (which should not even be a battle) for road-based relevancy:

  • To the people in Motor Vehicles: Bicycles are never going to go away.

  • To the people on Bicycles: Motor Vehicles are never going to go away.

And finally, to Law Enforcement and Law Makers: The penalties for harming another on the road must be immediate and huge, lest people think they can “Get Away” with breaking the law without any consequences.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Well, It’s Racing Season Again.

As seems to happen every year about this time, I am overcome with a renewed sense of both cynicism and sarcasm which wells up in me, and I just have to write about it.  In all truthfulness, who am I to even question, let alone ridicule, the professional racer, anyway?  Well, I’ll tell you.  I am a fan.  I am a consumer.  And, I am a cyclist.  Plus, I really, really like the truth and despise hypocrisy.  Well, Professional Cycling is really, really full of the latter, and way too short on the former.

For starters, just who the heck is the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), anyway?  This collection of out of touch, pompous, creeps not only runs a rolling, worldwide, medicated circus, but they also get to decide what kind of bikes we ride, their shapes, their components, their minimum weight, and even if they can have disc brakes or not via an ambiguous set of immature “Rules.”  Seriously, when did this Micro-One-World-Government style mafia get so much control of our beloved activity, anyway?  Is it any wonder nobody likes them.

Additionally, what really got me going on a bender were this year's Giro d’Italia and the Amgen Tour of California.  Both of these races were basically decided by a discipline that really should not have even been featured in a road race to begin with.  The Giro, for example, was a grueling, multi-stage race consisting of many mountains too far, over way too many days, punctuated by a curious event known as the Time Trial (TT).  Why was there even a TT in a road race in the first place?  If anyone is going to hold a real road race, make it one complete with uphills, downhills, flats, and many, many twists and curves, all being conducted on an actual ROAD BIKE.  Leave the TT bikes where they truly belong: In Triathlon’s with real Triathletes.  I mean, even the Indianapolis 500 has the good sense to not require everyone get out of their cars on lap-100, race buses for 50 laps, and then jump back into their cars for a grueling finish.  Why should cycling be any different?  It should be one, single, discipline from start to finish.  The best racer should win, not the best Time Trialer. 

But wait, there’s more!  Just to make sure the racing is even more over-the-top nonsensical, there were two kinds of TT’s at the Giro: The Individual Time Trial (ITT), and the even bigger, more foolish waste of time, the Team Time Trail (TTT).  And, if  you don’t think these discipline’s can affect the outcome of a race, well, check out the following two paragraphs from a recent on-line article over at VeloNews. 

“Time trials are where grand tours are typically decided, and that’s become especially true at the Tour de France, where even an extraordinary climber who cannot perform well against the clock has almost no realistic chance to win the maillot jaune.”

“As cycling has evolved to become more controlled and more scientific (and boring, Editor), especially with the application of power meters in training and racing, the overall level at the top of the peloton is relatively equal. The winning differences are now being made in time trials.”

If that is truly the case, why not just have a one-day TT, with no road stages at all?  I mean, just think of how simple the logistics would be, with all of the savings in time, money, effort, not to mention how happy the planet would be with all of those transport motor vehicles no longer being utilized for travel over multiple stages.  Call it an Environmentalists wet-dream, if you must.  Seriously, why should there be all of those days of racing when the winner can be determined by a single TT?  Sprinting stages?  Ah, who needs ‘em!  And, as for the mountain stages, hah!  We don’t need no stinkin’ mountain stages!  We have a TT to run, lads!

As for the Tour of California, it was basically over on the second day, all due again to that activity usually reserved for Triathlons: The ITT.  After Sir Bradley Wiggins was injected and ran away with the stage, it was pretty much a boring affair from there on (Brad was so pumped up with Happy Juice, he is probably still going on that TT bike).  Again, why are they mixing disciplines at a road race?

So, in winding up my reasonably astute opinion, while I will indeed continue living with a casual eye on the racing scene, and with the Tour de France right around the corner, I would still rather ride myself than sit in front of the TV watching it. 

This is especially true on the days they run TT's.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Distant Early Warning: Approaching Vehicle Radar System For Cyclists.

In war, it was the artillery shell you never heard that got you.  While driving, it was the police car you never saw that pulled you over for speeding.  Similarly, while cycling, it was the car you never knew was there that plowed into you from behind.

Well, the clever minds over at Stellenbosch, South Africa, are actually doing something about the latter.  With their new vehicle detection system, they seek to give an added margin of safety out on the road by using radar to alert the rider of vehicles approaching from the rear.

The two piece system utilizes a bar mounted threat display and a rear facing red light.  The display alerts the rider to the presence of a vehicle and calibrates it's approach speed into a series of colored lights indicating the severity of the threat.  At the same time, the rear LED flashing light reacts by increasing its flash rate, again, depending on the perceived level of the threat.  Neat stuff. 

I think this device can have some real-world success, and they may indeed have a winner on their hands.  In addition to my question about the price, I wonder if it has an aural warning, as well?  One cannot spend their entire time staring at the light display, you know.

Read more at Bike Rumor.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Bear & Tiger.


All of us on this planet are waking around with biases within us.  Some people pay no heed to them, some people struggle with them, and other people like to see themselves proved wrong.  Not only do the latter types of people bring all of us together, it is also the group to which I subscribe to and make an honest, daily effort to remain a member of. 

On an adventure ride this last weekend to San Clemente with my partner Catrina, we ran across what I initially thought was just a homeless man and his dog on a bike.  I mean he certainly looked the part: A rough, sun-baked looking fellow, complete with dirty clothes, a beard and bandana, a beater bike loaded down with every conceivable piece of junk, plus a trailer with an old hound dog riding along on top of a blanket and a bag of dog food. 

Boy, was I wrong.  And, I felt all the better for it.

We first spied this odd-looking pair heading south on Pacific Coast Highway (HWY 1) in Newport Beach.  A few more miles down the road in Laguna Beach, we saw them stopped at the side of the road, and we pulled over to see if the man needed any assistance.  Turns out “They” were both OK, were extremely friendly, and were just catching a quick breather, as the bike was completely weighed down with stuff.  We introduced ourselves, and he told us his name was Bear, and the very well-behaved, friendly dog’s name was Tiger.  They had both left San Luis Obispo (SLO) three days earlier, and were on the way to Escondido to visit Bear’s mother, whom was terminally ill.  This was the only way he could get to her, so he loaded up the bike, Tiger and all, to make the journey to visit his dying mother.  Wow!

You just have to admire the size of this man’s character to do what he was doing, and how he was doing it.  Not only was he being loyal to his mother, but to ride that distance on an old Motobecane mountain bike, loaded down with full gear, plus a sixty-pound Pit Bull, camping along the way at various beach campsites, was nothing short of an amazing feat of humanity.  It was a classic case of accomplishing what you can with what you have.  There was no whining about the lack of a car, money, or a working iPhone, just honest, human grit and determination.


Bear also told us about Tiger, himself.  Tiger was a rescue-dog, but not in the sense of a regular shelter dog.  Tiger, as was his father, was bred for fighting, and Bear took him from the owner whom was breeding Bulls to fight.  Not only has Bear since trained Tiger to be voice-command obedient, he has also trained the aggression out of him, and followed that up with reporting the breeder to the authorities. 

In summation, I am reminded of a line by Tommy Lee Jones in the movie Men in Black: “Most people like to think they’ve got a good bead on things.”  Well, guess what?  A lot of what we make up in our own minds to be true is often not so.  I, for one, am certainly glad that I am not so hard-wired as to dismiss others as being less than myself. 

It would keep me from meeting people like Bear.