High On Bike

A Bellinghamster On Wheels


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Don’t Justify The “Cyclists are Scofflaws” Mindset

Years ago during a very rare visit from my parents, I let my Dad drive us up to Mt. Baker for a picnic. I did not let him drive us down. Blowing around corners much faster than the speed limit and crossing the double yellow lines while doing so, had me white knuckled, exhausted, and angry by the time we arrived at the top. Well not really the top top, just as far as the road would take us. Anyway, Dad was not happy that I bumped him from the driver’s seat and was rather surly for the rest of the day. He just didn’t understand why I was upset enough to take the keys away. When I told him that by not obeying the speed limit he could have killed us, his response was that speed limit signs were merely “suggestions,” he was in completely control, and knew what he was doing. Of course, the flip side to this is that he was very prone to road rage when other drivers didn’t follow the rules.Stop

Dad has long since departed from this world but unfortunately his ideas about traffic laws are still alive and well — as is his egocentric attitude that it is okay for him to break the rules but not for anyone else. I see it every day when I ride. Sadly some of what I see are bicyclists blatantly ignoring stop signs, stop lights, and other basic rules of the road. Look, I get it. Nothing is more annoying that stopping at a red light on a bike when the sensor doesn’t register that you are there and you have to wait for a car to pull up so it will change. I’ve been sorely tempted to run a red light or two when that happens. I’ve even asked a passing pedestrian to hit the walk button to change a light. It’s frustrating. Just as having to stop at stop signs every other block. But just because traffic rules are annoying and sometimes inconvenient doesn’t mean we get to be immune from them.

As cyclists, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t expect drivers to respect our right to share the road if we don’t respect and abide by the rules. If we believe its okay to blow through a stop sign because “we know what we’re doing” then you have to know that some other asshole behind a wheel believes the same thing. (Sorry Dad, but you were an ass behind the wheel.) The ultimate result of this kind of thinking is that someone gets killed — and it’s usually the cyclist. I was stopped at a busy crossroad when a roadie ran the stop sign. He turned to look to at me for a second, laughed and shook his head, like I was the idiot. He squeaked through traffic, leaving me wondering if he had a death wish.

Driver Cyclist HosingOne of the things I hear most often from non-cycling drivers is the complaint of cyclists blowing through stoplights and stop signs, not signaling, and hogging the road. It makes them angry and when there is a tragic accident involving a cyclist, it’s automatically assumed that the cyclist is at fault. Never mind that there are many cyclists out there that do obey the rules, people only remember the ones who don’t.

I can almost hear my Dad telling me what a pompous, preachy, idiot I’m being right now and maybe I am – at least a little. I’m just saying that cyclists get a bad enough rap as it is just for being out there, we don’t need to justify the idea that cyclists are all scofflaws and deserve whatever happens to them on the road.


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Butt Boils, Smoke Monsters, and Standing My Ground

Pacific AvenueOne of the many things I love about being on my bike is the imaginative free-for-all that takes place in my brain. (Read my post about the Smoke Monster. See below.) But sometimes I have to give it a rest deal with a real threat. Instead of the Smoke Monster from “Lost” haunting me along the trails, it’s some dickweed with a long, stringy pony tail in an old, beat up, dark, mini-pick-up filled with what looks like the paraphernalia of a handy man. Evidently, he haunts Pacific Avenue because twice now this summer this jerk of all trades has for no apparent reason — other than he must really hate bicyclists — harassed me while I’ve been riding.

Pacific Avenue between Iowa and Alabama is a two-lane road that is wide enough to accommodate parked cars, cyclists, and moving cars. I ride far enough to the right to be as out of the way of motor traffic as I can but far enough away from the parked cars to avoid the risk of being “doored.” In other words, it’s right where a bike lane would be — if there were a bike lane. Visibility on this section of the street is excellent, allowing drivers to easily see a rider, particularly one wearing a bright orange vest. And they can safely pass without any trouble.

But this dumb ass in the pick-up, which by the way is probably worth less than my bike, apparently leads such a pathetic life that the sight of a cyclist on the same road fills him with a blinding rage. He sees no other way to assuDickweedage his anger than to follow behind a cyclist (me) honking his horn and then zooming past perilously close with his middle finger extended.

The Smoke Monster at least had an excuse to be crazy. Try being trapped on a weird-ass island for hundreds of years as its protector. You’re dead and all you want is to take over another body so you can just get off the friggin’ island. Anyway, I don’t know if dickweed expects me to ram myself into a parked car to get out of his way or if he thinks I’ll wither at his abuse and ride on the sidewalk. But my guess is that he’s just a bully and a miserable human being. Maybe some Fred ran off with his wife.

Dirty HarryI don’t take it personally. I’m sure he behaves as badly with other cyclists as he does with me. Although a part of me would like to whip out a .357 magnum and go all Dirty Harry on his ass, that’s just my imagination escaping its cage. Besides, I don’t think the Stand Your Ground rule would apply, shame though that is. Fortunately, he is an aberration in this town — a boil on the butt of a bike-friendly community where drivers who are considerate and accommodating outnumber guys like this by…a lot. So I just have to content myself with a little silent name-calling (I’m sure to respond verbally to him would just further aggravate his road rage) and continue to ride where I want.


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Flying Bicycle? I Need to Change My Pants

StingrayWhen I was a kid, I regularly climbed a big flowering plum tree in front of my friend’s house, pretending it was a spaceship. I flew that tree all over the universe always landing on some new, strange, and wonderful planets.  When I landed I climbed out of the tree and hopped on my blue Schwinn Sting Ray (which was really an amalgam of a Jetsons-esque hovercraft, motorcycle, and army tank complete with a death laser). Woe to any unfriendly life forms be it Klingon, Martian, or the neighborhood curmudgeon, when I had them in my sights! I spent hours “flying” through the neighborhood blind to everything but my imagination, only coming back down to earth again when it was time for dinner. Far too soon my
childhood slipped away and the idea of a flying bike was slowly beaten
out of me by the realities of life. (I think I hear the distant sounding
the waaah-mbulance.)

Flying Electric BicycleThen the other day I was scrolling through online news and discovered that some Czechs just tested a prototype of an electric, flying bicycle. OMG! My inner child almost wet its pants with excitement. The prototype is heavy, weighing over 200 pounds, and hasn’t been tested outside on humans (that’s a dummy in the image), plus it needs two electric batteries attached to what are basically humongous fans. But who cares if it’s pretty much the most ridiculous-looking contraption ever?  That’s a bicycle and it hovered in the air for five minutes! Take that reality! The only thing missing is the laser.


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So I Ride

Illinois LaneI ride because it’s fun. It’s also healthy, good for the environment, and my gas budget, but if it weren’t fun, none of that would matter. It’s what gets me on my bike almost every day, even when I’m tired, not feeling my best, or just not in the mood. No other form of “exercise” has equaled it. I used to love to run but I was injury-prone and couldn’t do it every day. I certainly couldn’t jog down to the store and come home with a 6-pound chicken for dinner. Walking is okay but definitely falls around midpoint on the fun scale. I enjoy it, especially when I’m walking with a friend, but I’m not exhilarated by it. Walking won’t get me out on a chilly, wet day like riding will either. I do go to the gym to work on strength training regularly. I’ve done so since I was in my mid 30s, which means I started around the Jurassic period. But until I started riding, it had become increasingly (and alarmingly) easy to blow off going when the mood struck. Now I eagerly look forward to the gym simply because I can get there on my bike.

Whatcom Falls Bridge 2013And I absolutely love getting places by bike. Doesn’t matter where. Drug store, groceries, hair appointment, library, even my doctor’s office (although my doctor would probably prefer me not showing up all sweaty and stinking), all easily within riding distance. Some places I don’t ride to because the trails won’t take me there and the traffic is insanely scary which I hate because Bellingham is a relatively small city and I feel there shouldn’t be anywhere where I can’t go without fearing for my life. Yeah I know, there are cyclists who’d say go anyway, but I’m not having fun if I think I might actually die. But those places are few so I really can’t complain…too much anyway.

Because I ride, Bellingham feels more intimate. Side streets and neighborhoods come alive with people, gardens, cats, dogs, and even wildlife like deer and raccoons. The trails are full of people—walkers, runners, other cyclists, bird watchers—who smile and wave at me as I cruise on by. I’m more connected to the rhythms of town as they pulse fast or slow depending on the time of day, the weather, the season. Every day is a new adventure. Every day is fun. So I ride.


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(Near) Death by Roadie

They don’t appear to enjoy what they’re doing and they don’t appear to know you exist      Bike Snob

Can you find the bell? Nope, 'cause there isn't any!

Can you find the bell? Nope, ’cause there isn’t any!

The morning was stunning. Sunny, warm, a cool breeze gently rippling through the trees. Riding the trails on my way to pick up a few groceries and drop off a library book, I maneuvered my bike deftly and politely around the throngs of runners, walkers, and other cyclists also out enjoying our ever-elusive sun, my bell in almost constant use. The streets weirdly enough were quiet in comparison, probably because half the town of Bellingham was on the trails. So on the way home with my panniers loaded down with food, I plodded along in the bike lane thoroughly enjoying being out on the road. Suddenly, and without warning, four road cyclists blew by me like they were three minutes late for a Lycra sale, scaring the crap out of me. They were lucky I didn’t yank my handlebars to the left and plow through the lot of them. Leaving me in their dust, they sped on not knowing nor caring that they almost gave me a heart attack.

Roseanne RoseannedannaI’m quite aware that I am basically a dork on wheels. In my ANSI orange vest, pink helmet, colorful arm sleeves that seldom match whatever else I’m wearing, astride a tall mountain bike tricked out with side mirror, pink bell, trunk bag with a piggy button attached at the back, fenders, and extra grips on my handlebars that resemble the horns on a bull, I am the antithesis of what those road bikers were – or thought they were. Heck, I don’t move fast even when I’m going downhill. So I’m sure that being behind me was like Sophia Vergara sharing the red carpet with Roseanne Roseannadanna. I get it. But c’mon! Slow moving dorkiness aside, I deserve some courtesy, if not respect. While I know no roadie with an ounce of decorum would ever have a bell, a simple “On your left!” isn’t too much to ask. Just because I don’t fit in with your style of cycling, doesn’t mean you have to act like an ass!

I put my (near) death-by-roadies quickly aside and rode the rest of the way home with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart, (I Will Survive) perfectly content with the fact that I had to be nowhere fast.


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Imagine All The Bikes

…but we’re still talking about 1 to 2 percent of transportation funding.

                                        Tim Blumenthal, president of Bikes Belong.

 If you read my post on Citi Bike, you’ll recall that Dorothy Rabinowitz, in a fit of pique over New York City’s new bike share program, complained of an all-powerful bike lobby that had government in its clutches. That she could say something like that and expect any rational-thinking person to believe it was simply astounding. It’s like saying that the automobile lobby has just a teensy weensy bit of clout. Seriously, don’t you think that if the bike lobby were as omnipotent as she claims, our cities, streets, and culture would be very different than they are currently?

With a bike lobby on the scale of Rabinowitz’s fantastical claim, the first thing that you’d notice is that transportation by bike would simply be a part of every day life instead of the relative oddity that it is today because cycling would be both safer and encouraged. Protected bike lanes like the new Linden Avenue North Cycle Track in Seattle (that successfully separates cyclists from motor vehicle traffic) would be the norm instead of something to celebrate. In the few places where these lanes didn’t exist, motorists would be more aware of the presence of cyclists and laws like the Vulnerable User Law would either actually be enforced or be completely unnecessary. To encourage even more people to use bicycles, you might see tax breaks for those whose primary mode of transportation was cycling or for those who eschewed owning a motor vehicle all together. And Linden Bike Lane in Seattleyes, most cities would have a bike-sharing program. And then there would the secondary effects: healthier people, less traffic, cleaner air, less reliance on oil. It may be Dottie’s worst nightmare but to me it sounds awesome. Maybe…just maybe…I could retire my orange safety vest.

But I’m not hanging it up anytime soon. Even though the bicycle lobby has a seat at the transportation table, cycling still only sees about 1%-2% of all funding and there are a lot of Dorothy Rabinowitzs out there who think of cycling as transportation as a scourge upon this car-clogged planet. Yet the dream (or nightmare, depending on your take) lives. Cycling is becoming an ever more popular way of city travel. So while the all-powerful bike lobby is still only a figment of a nutty old lady’s imagination, if it can be imagined, it can be done.

 


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Meanwhile Back At the Gorge

royal gorge bridge.jpg

In more gephyrophobes’-worst-nightmare-related news, the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado sustained damage from a wildfire, aptly if not creatively named the Royal Gorge Fire, that’s so far burned over 3,200 acres. Yeah, I know this is a bike not a bridge blog but I wrote this while recovering from vertigo that, as it turned out, was the harbinger of some kind of nasty virus. It was better than watching TV all day and besides I just couldn’t resist an opportunity to use the word gephyrophobe again. Who knows when the next bridge will crumble, burn, or otherwise be newsworthy?

But back to the Gorge… The historic suspension bridge—one of the world’s highest—reportedly remains intact, however.  Although the bridge is mostly made of steel it does have some wood planking. I don’t know a thing about engineering but wood planking? Fire Information Officer Mike Smith told The Denver Post, “Even if it didn’t char the planking, the heat from adjacent burning buildings may have affected the cables.”

My first thought after I started breathing slowly and wiped my sweaty palms before continuing to type, was how are they going to evaluate a damaged suspension bridge that dangles to my untrained eye rather precariously over a 1,000-foot gash in the earth? Are they going to send someone out onto the middle of the bridge and if it falls, say “Yup, needs some work”? Again, I have zero engineering credentials, but to me, the only way to do a thorough evaluation is to send about 1,000 WWII-era tanks over the bridge with the evaluators, their families, and their closest friends all going along for the ride. Even then, you’d have to dose me with about five Ativan to go across that bridge, fire damage or no, and it would still be iffy whether I made it to the other side with my sanity intact. Because to me no matter how well constructed, no matter how much steel is used, every suspension bridge is basically no safer than this:

Rickety foot bridge

Case in point, Galloping Gertie.

Galloping Gertie

Speaking of galloping, there is some good news coming out of Royal Gorge Fire; the local wildlife are fairing well. According to authorities, the park’s elk, buffalo, bighorn sheep, and horses are being are being closely monitored and receiving fresh water and feed. But I’m betting that no amount of elk chow will get them to cross that bridge either.