Friday, September 16, 2016

A Modest Proposal

As cyclists and pedestrians we learn about ways to make ourselves visible and safer while using streets and shared paths: high visibility clothing, reflectors, blinky lights, helmets, hand signals, eye contact, etc. As vulnerable -- yet legally equal -- road users, the onus has been put upon us to protect ourselves to ride, run, and walk safely.

When we hear about collisions or near misses, or when new projects for multimodal transportation are proposed, there is often an outcry of "why should WE (the motorists) have to pay for something we don't use" or "why should WE (the motorists) lose parking spaces or lanes to make way for pedestrians or cyclists who  belong on the sidewalk/not on MY road" etc.

Sometimes the language is couched in "roads are too dangerous for anyone not in a car".

Sometimes the language is "THEY (the cyclists/pedestrians) can have more road space when they pay for it", which is often a call for licenses or registration. But cyclists and pedestrians - when not wearing headphones - are aware of their surroundings.

Here is the thing, and it's a lesson that has stuck with my since driver's ed. (which is not a required course but should be). Our instructor, lousy teacher though he was, did manage to drive this point home:

Vehicles are 1000+ steel-frame bullets that are speeding along at 20+ mph.

In the last 100 years or so we have come a long way in increasing vehicular safety, but that is safety for those inside the vehicle. The impact studies are to protect those inside the vehicle (the force is taken by the frame and passed around the cabin, rather than older designs where the front end would crumple up on itself and into the driver and passenger). New regulations about infant seats, seat belts, airbags, etc. are all to protect those in the car.

Add to that the social psychological effect that occurs when one is literally in a bubble: people in an enclosed vehicle behave differently than those in a convertible (are less courteous, less pro-social in general, and are worse drivers) because the physical bubble removes them from the environment.

So we have people careening around in 1000+ steel bullets at 20+mph, with the full knowledge (at some subconscious level) that they are protected in their bubble, and psychologically removed from their world by being physically removed from their world.

If you include distractions like the radio, people in the car, texting (AUGH), or mobile calls, this insularity and removal from the very real responsibility of having to direct this 1000+lb steel bullet at 20+ mph becomes larger.

Which brings me to my point. We as a society license drivers because it is a big deal and big responsibility to drive a car. Every time we get behind a wheel, as routine and simple as it seems is a massive undertaking, and requires a social agreement and engagement with the greater world.

My proposal: stop making cars safer. Get rid of airbags. If we went back 60 years to unreliable cars that would break down if you look at them funny, to where people would realize that the act of getting into the car is the risk that is actually is, perhaps they would take driving seriously.

It is inconvenient. Lawmakers drive, so they want to protect themselves and be safe. But the unintended consequence is that people forget why they need a license in the first place; it is a dangerous and risky behavior, and if we only protect the people inside the car so that motorists forget about everything going on outside then that's when people get killed. The vulnerable users.

It can't be perfunctory. Driving is not a right.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Two and a Half Months to Go

I'll admit it, my training has been a bit, well, spotty. I've ridden to school a few times, but that's only 5 miles round trip (almost exactly - I hit 2.50 miles on the roll up the ramp to the door of my building, but the route home is a hair longer). I've gotten in the long weekend ride and G and I have been pretty good about getting in a second weekend ride in, too. And the numbers look good. We're strong, we're not completely gassed at the end, despite our lack of mid-week rides.

But that has to stop. We (though I can't speak for G, so I) have to start getting in mid-week miles.

Finals start next Wednesday and end the following Tuesday. I'm giving two, one on each of those days (of course). I've already begun coding the Excel sheet that will do the calculations for the grades for that class, so the real heavy lifting will be getting the grades in on time. And then, the glorious summer opens up before me, with some weekend travel and obligations (a bachelorette party! AP reading! a wedding!)

Excepting that, there's no reason I can't get in at least one good ride T-R each week. The world is my oyster.

I should really take pictures while we're on the road, but I'm bad about photos anyway. I'll try, I'll try.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Less Urban Cyclist

G-man and I moved to Athens, GA in January (just before the New Year, actually, but it might as well have been January).

Things are--different--here. Different from Blacksburg, even.

It has been an adjustment and certainly some culture shock. (Getting used to UGA, getting used to living away from a major metro area again, getting used to 12-hour days, etc.)

But it hasn't all been bad: on the whole I'd say this has been a positive change. Let's start (and end) with the cycling.

In Athens (a bike friendly community), there are lots of bike lanes. There is a shared-use path and/or bike lane most of the way between home and work. On even the most unpleasant days, when I have driven in, I've seen people riding their bikes for their commute and being given room.

On approach to a narrow bridge that I must cross to and from school, the bike lane ends, but I have always been given space to enter traffic (particularly when I signal that intent). The motorists know the traffic patterns here and understand and anticipate, to an extent, the needs of cyclists.

I can go on a 30-, 50-, 80- (etc.) mile ride from my front door, on country roads, without first navigating multitudes of intown inconveniences like traffic controls, traffic, or Atlanta's ubiquitous steel plates (or potholes, really).

Of course country riding brings its own hazards (unpaved roads, loose dogs, sun-baked manure), but for the most part it is pretty idyllic, and we have ridden for miles without seeing more than a handful of cars.

The roads are well maintained, the routes are out-of-the-way, and (like Atlanta), they are not flat. There is enough going on in north Georgia to keep the rides topographically interesting without feeling completely gassed after 20 or 40 miles, though that certainly can happen. G noted that you can always tell when you've re-entered Athens-Clarke County because you immediately start seeing "Share the Road" signs and sharrows, even at the county border (which is to say, no where near civilization).

There are group rides every day of the week except Friday, with posted cue sheets and maps (and average speeds: there isn't a ride for everyone every day of the week, but there is a ride for me when I would need it). There are no membership dues and, my original assertion from 10 years ago, when I first started cycling, holds true. Cyclists are a generally friendly and welcoming bunch. I look forward to joining them.

So I'm pretty happy here. Even if it is the beginning of April, over 80 degrees, and stupid muggy. To Hell with Georgia.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


This blog (shudder, I hate that word) needs a focus. It has existed primarily as a journal of my training rides (and runs) leading up to different events.

That is boring. I want it to be more.

I have no delusions of being a BikeSnobATL as it were. I don't have any particular insights, and I would like not to continue rehashing the "can't we all get along" approach to riding the roads in Atlanta.

That's why this has been so quiet lately. Riding GTRs isn't particularly interesting and is relatively uneventful (And I don't have pictures to share). I don't have new and wonderful thoughts about the state of cycling. And all of my rides are held on Strava.

I don't know what to do with this space.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride (ever?)

I've said it before: I haven't been on all the bike rides in America to know whether the ride around Lake Tahoe really is the most beautiful, but it is easier to imagine uglier ones. This year's event was not a disappointment. Early in the week leading up to the ride, the forecast called for cold temperatures in the morning, which is typical, but also a decent chance of rain. There had also been snow in Stateline, NV, so we packed clothing for two days' of riding for literally all weather types: two pairs of tights, two pairs of arm warmers, a winter jacket, a rain jacket, a wind jacket, knee warmers, two wool base layers, etc.... When we arrived to the team hotel on Friday just before bike pickup (after several days in the Bay Area), another teammate informed us that the forecast had done a 180: sun was predicted for the entire weekend, with highs in the low 70s and lows in the mid 30s. In short: perfect.

The team's bikes all arrived on time, even if all of the team didn't (coordinating travel among 30+ people and their respective families is a hassle), and there weren't any mechanical issues. The new transportation company was professional and had us in and out relatively quickly. Team in Training's packet pickup wasn't crowded Friday afternoon, either, so we were able to move through with some ease. I even bought my first "bazaar" fundraising item: a TNT buff, and I couldn't be happier. Perfect.

The Georgia Chapter has a long and storied history of renting a catamaran for a champagne cruise on the lake on Friday evening to kick off the weekend's festivities, and this year was no different. It was a windy evening, making keeping birthday candles on Curtis' birthday doughnuts lit a challenge (more easily managed below deck). We had two birthdays to celebrate, which we did in style. The clear, cloudless sky made for a beautiful backdrop for the first of many team pictures over the weekend. Perfect

Photo courtesy Kathy Empen

Saturday mornings in Tahoe usually call for a team breakfast and then a shakedown ride out to Inspiration Point (overlooking Emerald Bay) and back. This year, we had a team BIRTHDAY breakfast, courtesy of Curtis and in honor of Clarice, and then.... quite a bit of downtime. Our shakedown rides are usually in the morning, but this time we left closer to noon. The advantage: warmth. The disadvantage: traffic and thinner air (but breakfast had settled). We rolled out in our little groups, I riding with Team Tripod (Kathy and Al), and scouted the first 13 miles of the century we would ride the next day. The climb up to Inspiration Point is a sneaky devil: I thought I'd remembered what it looked like from when I was there in 2012, but we started ascending and I felt great. I figured my memory must have been off. Then we got to where we started climbing in earnest, which looked exactly like I'd remembered it, and realized that I was really just an idiot instead. These things happen. Got to the top, had pictures taken, and it was, of course, beautiful. 

Photo courtesy Kathy Empen
The ride back down was dicey as usual, because of the tight, technical turns and traffic, but once at the bottom we zipped right back into town, splitting up depending on where everyone planned on eating. I represented Strava well in my kit, and received a "hey! nice Strava kit!" in the lobby of the hotel for my efforts. As a good ambassador, I thanked the man and entered the elevator. Perfect.

At the inspiration dinner, the Georgia Chapter sat at its 3.5 tables and ate an inordinate amount of food and stole an inordinate amount of bananas in preparation for the next morning. The national Team coordinator for the event told us that the 700+ participants at the ride that year raised $3.3 million for LLS. One man, in the course of his time with Team, has raised over $500,000. I can't even imagine. The coordinator then introduced the top 10 individual fundraisers. When she got to the top two, she called a man named Lance Shaw and Georgia's own Don Schaet to the stage. Lance's son, Brian, had been helping hand out hats to the top fundraisers, so we knew this was a special fellow. 

Photo courtesy Curtis Hertwig
  • Lance, a first-time participant, had had a goal to raise $37,454.13 (the average cost of a single chemo injection for his son). He ultimately raised $55,850, and in doing so he had his name linked to a research portfolio of his choosing (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia) and was an incredibly inspiring, humorous, and moving keynote speaker. Lance was "only" the number 2 fundraiser for the event. He told us about his son's diagnosis, how he'd explained why a shaved head made him a badass, detailed his progress from a bike novice to a soon-to-be century cyclist and how he found Team in Training.
  • Don, for at least the second time in his illustrious fundraising career, was the number 1 fundraiser, having raised (as of this writing) $60,029.03. Don chose as his portfolio pediatric research, and in his short time at the microphone told us his reason for raising so much this year. I'll paraphrase, but believe you will still get the main idea. This winter, Don realized he had raised $200,000 in his 20 or so years with TNT. At the age of 82, he knew this was going to be his last event. He also knew that, by making a goal of $50,000 this season he could not only reach a quarter million dollars raised for LLS, but he could create a legacy, to inspire us to set high goals and to continue to raise money for LLS in amazing ways. Don is an incredible, selfless man. 
Photo courtesy Curtis Hertwig
All together, the evening's dinner was--of course--perfect.

Sunday morning started early: we were expected to start the ride at around sunrise, which mean several layers of clothes as it was still about 31°F. I planned on carrying most of the food I would eat over the course of the day, as well as not dropping any of my clothing at any of the stops. This meant strategy, and I pulled it off brilliantly. The picture below of Team Tripod shows the progression of clothing removal over the course of the ride, and the clever viewer can infer the change in the height of the sun.

Photos courtesy Kathy Empen
The ride itself was fairly uneventful. I started off a bit cranky, and my legs weren't super cooperative (perhaps because of the lie of the climb the day before), but after about 20 miles (the middle picture above) I found myself and things were right with the world. The ride to and from Truckee was as nice as I remembered, though the headwind into Truckee remained a headwind coming out (explain that). We rode with another group of Peaches that was struggling for a little bit (one of them had a broken spoke), meaning I got to take my time, crawl into my head, and compose a song for Al (in the middle of all the pictures above and for whom Team Tripod is dubbed). I also got to look around and enjoy the splendor of the scenery around us. 

Aside: anyone who says the ride out to Truckee is ugly is only saying that because they are comparing it to the rest of the ride around the lake. Compared to anywhere else, it is beautiful, with the river and woods all along one side of the road. It is a little slice of heaven. 

The rest of the ride was marked, for our little group, only by the addition of Graham (who got a flat on the way out of Truckee, giving us time to enjoy the river that much more) and Dennis. 

Photo courtesy Kathy Empen
More people means less time spent pulling, so we had a nice paceline headed into Tahoe City, and into lunch. As with last time, mile 60 approached in no time, because this ride flies by at "Fred Woohoohoo! Speed", sometimes even literally. Whizzing down the backside of Inspiration Point and then again down the long descent off Spooner (40.3 mph max, because I ran out of gears and there was wind coming off the water) was amazing, and my voice was rough from calling out to everyone as I passed them "On your left!". We rode in, about 13 of us (nearly half the Georgia team), together, and waited for the rest of our teammates to finish. Perfect.

Photo courtesy Kathy Empen
Here's the ride on Strava. You should do it next year, it may not always be pretty, but I bet it'll be pretty close to perfect.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Perfect Weekend

If I were an old-timey figure-skating judge, I would give this weekend a 6 (a first-place ordinal!), it was just that good. Yesterday the Team went up to Rome, GA for Up the Creek Without a Pedal, an annual ride that is both incredibly well organized and supported. The Team does this ride so that new cyclists have the valuable experience of a mass start and riding with non-GA-TNT-trained cyclists before event weekend. I had the pleasure of riding with J, J, A, K, and C for the whole 68 + 3-mile ride.

Let me tell you, despite the knot in my back and my crabbiness from having fitfully slept only 4 hours (on the couch) the night before, and despite the on-again, off-again drizzle and driving rain, it was a great ride. Possibly the best ride I've had in years. I was worried that I would be inside my head and be General Crankypants, but I wasn't (maybe I was outwardly, but I didn't FEEL like it). We just rode, and I wasn't thinking about pace or anything else, especially after I got to pee at the first SAG. It was an amazing day, and I could have kept going for quite some time after.

Strava details (excluding the +3 miles because they were on a path and dropped my average, which I just couldn't abide) are here.


This morning's ride was another perfect day. I got to ride with L (who was on a recovery day, having done 105+3 yesterday at 18+ mph) and D, who also had a stellar ride in the rain. We didn't dawdle, but we didn't hammer it out. I was in a great mood. I've been in a great mood since getting on the bike yesterday morning. I wonder if this is what it's like to be done with school. I'm not carefree (I need a job), but the constant anxiety of teaching and dissertation and that pressing anxiety is gone, and I wonder if that's the difference. I have just been very happy this weekend after the rides, happier than I've been after rides in a long time.

Strava details are here.

It could, of course, simply be that I had the perfect weekend. Good for me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wet and Windy Weekend Recap

This weekend brought  a mix of weather that I hope not to have to ride in again. The original forecast early last week was for rain on Monday (we got it, I was in the garden when it came) and then warm and sunny through the weekend. At some point that changed, and on Saturday we ended up riding in a cool, constant drizzle -- with head winds to boot -- for our 60-mile GTR. The only positive thing I have to say about the ride is that I felt physically good going in and was able to keep up with the faster group (who weren't at their best, so we found a happy median), and it was good training for Tahoe, in the event that the late winter rears its ugly head out there.

It was a seriously ugly day. I don't mind riding in the rain when I start out dry, but it is quite another thing to get out of a warm, dry car and get wet immediately. I wasn't sure I would ever get dry again, and I was wringing out my gloves by the first SAG stop simply by making a fist with each hand.

The Strava details can be found here.

Still, I had a great time riding with J (which never happens because she is so freaking fast and I have been so abysmally slow this season), and an even better time changing into dry socks afterward.


Fortunately for us Atlanta cyclists, Sunday was a much lovelier day. The forecast called for gusts of up to 20 mph, and instead we had sustained winds of seemingly that high. And, what with its being Atlanta, they were also always headwinds. My legs were absolute toast after the previous day's effort, so C and I took it relatively easy out to Stone Mountain and back, both of us happily opting out of the loops with absolutely no regrets. She is going to be out of commission for at least the next few weeks, so I'm going to be riding by myself on Sundays it seems, as there is no keeping up with the A group and I am the pokiest.

Strava details are here.

Although it was a holiday, we still had a decent group join us for the ride. I enjoyed the ride despite the wind, and I can feel myself getting stronger, even if it isn't always evident in the stats. I am still struggling on anything resembling a climb, which is natural, but as Graham says, the only way to get better is to practice.