Friday, July 6, 2012

Sad Loss - Ride Carefully

Yesterday the news broke of another cycling fatality, this time quite close by.  Steven Jordan, director of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services was killed when he was struck by a tractor trailer (see article).  This is such a sad and avoidable loss.  My prayers are with Mr. Jordan's family and friends.

Of course there are the numerous comments about the incident ranging from "cyclists should stay off of the road" to "cyclists should just always take the lane" to make vehicles wait until there is a clear lane for passing.  At one level, this accident just reflects the reality that, when bikes and motor vehicles share the same roads, there will be tragic encounters.  Before we make sweeping statements we must take some time to live with the sadness of such a big loss for Mr. Jordan's family and friends. And it's a big loss for the driver who did not set out to do anyone harm and now lives with the reality that he has taken a life by his negligent driving.

I have had my own close calls, with drivers buzzing by a foot off of my handle bars and once, while riding just to the right of the white line on a busy road a tractor trailer went by just on the other side of the line less than a foot away.  Terrifying experiences that could have ended very differently.  This prompts me to put down in writing a few things I think reflect some basic wisdom in survival riding.  One can never be totally safe but at least one can work to increase safety!

  1. Whenever possible, sacrifice distance for safety.  Pick routes that offer the safest riding conditions even if it means a longer commute or ride.  Some bad roads are unavoidable (trying going north out of downtown Raleigh) but avoid the avoidable ones.
  2. Ride defensively.  Think ahead about how you might escape a dangerous situation.  On narrower roads I make sure to leave a foot or two to my right in case a vehicle is passing too closely - it gives me room to change the situation.
  3. Take the center of the lane when you know it is not possible for a vehicle to pass you safely AND when you know there is sufficient line of sight behind you for the car to see you and adjust their speed.  Going over blind bridges or around blind curves are such occasions, but only if there is not a blind curve behind you.
  4. Take the center of the lane when you are approaching stopped cars.  Make sure to signal to the cars behind you that you are about to slide over into the lane.  Do not pass the line of stopped cars on their right.  Just be patient and wait in the line.  You want drivers to be patient - well we cyclists need to be patient as well.  You don't want to be beside cars when they don't know you are there.  Get in the line and then slide back to the right side when the line is moving faster than you can.
  5. Take the center of the lane when you are moving at the same speed as the traffic.  In stop and go traffic, just act like a car.
  6. Don't blow through red lights!  Wait for them to turn.  If there is no traffic and the light won't turn because of no "trigger", then I do go through.  But only after waiting a bit to see if a car will come to trigger the light.  I know this removes some of the perceived advantages of biking (passing lines of cars and not waiting at lights) but the greater advantage will be greater safety and less animosity from drivers.
  7. Keep your line!  Don't weave in and out of the traffic.  Predictability is key.  Cars behind you need to know where you will be when they reach you.  On the other hand, if a car passes too closely on my left I will often "swerve" a bit to "encourage" the next car give me more clearance.  They don't WANT to hit you.  But when you are changing your line always give a hand signal - you want to be predictable.  And when cars respond by slowing down to let you shift lanes or change lines, always give them a wave of thanks!  It will encourage future good behavior.
  8. Expect the dumbest things.  My dad always taught me to drive as if the drivers around me will do stupid and dangerous things.  Like stopping just as they enter a parking lot leaving anyone turning in behind them stranded in the road.  Same goes for biking.  Expect the worst.  Whenever I am approaching an intersection and I hear a car speeding up beside me I always think they might be about to do a right hook.  Don't fight them for the position.  Slow down first and see what they do. I've avoided at least three of four accidents that way.
  9. Now, use the comments to add to the list.  Let's help one another out by sharing wisdom.  But be nice and respectful of other cyclists and drivers or I'll remove your comment...nicely.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Media Week"

This week, cycling for a year took on a more public posture.  Monday was media day.  The folks at New Belgium asked if I would do a TV spot and, wanting to be helpful, I said yes!  Except that the station was in Raleigh.  So I took the morning DRX (Durham/Raleigh Express Bus) with the bike on board and cycled up to NBC17 for their morning "My Carolina Today".  But first it was a meeting with a couple of cool folks from The News and Observer for an article about the Tour de Fat coming in this Friday's paper.  We met at the Benelux Cafe for the interview/photo shoot and just happened to run into a few New Belgium regional folks working away at a table nearby.  What a fun coincidence.  If you live in the Raleigh area, Benelux has a great cycling theme and supports a weekly ride from their shop.  Its right in the heart of downtown.

People ask how cyclists handle bad weather.  My usual response is the standard, "There is no bad weather, only bad gear."  The heat this week reminds me that this axiom holds true for everything but the heat!  I guess in that case, good gear = a change of clothes, a washcloth, and some deodorant!  But hot weather commuting can be a pretty big obstacle.  You can do a couple of things to help!

  1. Slow down!  If you are a "pace pusher" like me, give that up when you are going to the office or off to a meeting.  You sweat less and the evaporation can better keep up with your output!
  2. Leave time for cleaning up after you arrive.
  3. Pack a microfiber towel to dry off and a shirt to change into.
  4. Be willing to look sweaty - make yourself the brunt of your own jokes!
  5. See if your employer will accommodate cyclists by adding in some showers to the facility so you can clean up when you arrive.  Kudos to Duke University for identifying showers on campus and for arranging for registered bike commuters to be able to swipe into the campus gyms before 9:00AM in order to use the showers.
For those who read this, please plan on coming out to the Tour de Fat.  Spend some money there and the proceeds will go to local bike charities.  Even the car for bike trader will get money to spend at a local bike shop to design their dream commuter bike.  All the money stays local!  Join the parade (BE the show), and enjoy the show provided by this cool event.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Two Weeks to Go!

Two Saturdays from now the Tour de Fat returns to Durham.  It will be a fun, zany festival of all things motorless and two-wheeled.  For those who missed last year, the "Tour" can be described as "street theater", vaudeville, and festival all rolled into one.  It is most definitely a bike festival with beer, really good beer, on the side.  Its sponsored by the New Belgium Brewing Company which makes its signature Fat Tire Beer (hence the "Fat" in Tour de Fat).  The TDF raises money for local biking advocacy and development.  All the proceeds stay local.

They've changed things around this year so that the "Car for Bike Trader" (that would be me, last year) receives not a bike, but money to put together a tailor made commuter bike at a local bike store.  That way even more of the money stays local and you can design a commuter to suit your particular needs.  So put your name in the pot to give up the old gas guzzler (they sell it and donate the money locally) and commit to riding for a year on your new leg powered vehicle.

For a bit of fun tune in to NBC17 for My Carolina Today on Tuesday, June 19 at 11am.  I'll be doing a bit of an interview to talk about the Tour and the bike trade.  Fun!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Big Question

I am often asked these days, "When does your year commitment end?"  The simple answer would be June 25, the anniversary of the car for bike trade.  But there is not a simple answer because I don't plan on purchasing another car.  We'll still have our family vehicle which my wife drives, and perhaps I can once again drive it to fetch 50 lb. bags of lime for the yard, but overall I don't plan on changing my main way of getting around.  Why? Because it is fun, cheap, mostly efficient, and just genuinely good (especially now when the weather is basically perfect).  And on the worst weather days it is still very doable.  Remember, "there is no bad weather, just bag gear."

One recent experience gives you a taste of the good part. I wa riding on Hillsborough Street on my way home when I saw a young man yelling at the bus that was picking up across the street.  Of course the driver did not see him or wait (or saw him and didn't wait).  Our eyes caught, I yelled "bummer" we both laughed and I pedaled along my way.  That connection never happens in a car.  If I am behind the wheel, that person barely exists.  On my bike we are fellow travelers.  Those connections are precious and they are humanizing.

May is National Bike Month.  So be nice to the bikers you encounter on the road, or better yet, join them!

June 23rd is the next Durham Tour de Fat.  Join the parade, bring the kids, take in the festival.  And, just maybe, trade you car for a bike.  You won't regret it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Durham Roads and Cycling

Last week I attended a info meeting with Congressman Price and a number of city, county and state leaders in bike and pedestrian transportation.  A few things struck me.

  1. There are some smart, committed and creative folks creating all sorts of opportunities for people to move around on bikes.  The rails to trails projects are booming and it won't be long before we can move from Durham to  Cary to Raleigh along these trails.
  2. There are a growing number of bike lanes that work for getting around close to downtown on the roads which is great since the trails only go to discreet places.  And "Sharrows" (share the road arrows) are showing up all over the place on our road surfaces around town.
  3. What seems missing is a good plan for folks to use roads for commuting.  Lots of money being used to create new bike/pedestrian trails but little buzz about roads.
  4. There are some good bike lanes approaching Duke and Durham from the south where a lot of the new growth is occurring.  
  5. There are literally NO BIKE LANES (yes, I am yelling for any who will hear) approaching Duke and Durham from the North where half the county lives.  Morreene, Hillandale, Guess, Gregson, Roxboro all are North/South corridors and none of them even approach being safe to ride on.  I did find out that a portion of Hillandale/Fulton, from I-85 to Duke Hospital, will be getting bike lanes within the next two years but the section being redone up to Carver will be getting only "wide lanes".  This addition is better but why no lanes up to Carver?  What a missed opportunity!
  6. As far as I could hear, there are NO OTHER PLANS (yelling again) for bike lanes from the north into the major work areas.  This makes no sense and leaves northern citizens traveling dangerous routes if they want to bike commute.  That includes me.
  7. Bike and pedestrian advocates and committee members are great folks.  They need more clout and I wonder what some of us non-involved citizens can do to help them get the clout they need.
Well , that's my rant for now.  I do appreciate the efforts of the local commissions and rails to trails folks.  But we seem to be missing some major pieces and more help is needed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ordinary Days

After a while, bike community stops feeling like something special.  It becomes somewhat ordinary with repeated routes, regular weather (chilly but very tolerable), kind drivers (mostly) and no surprises.  I don't like it, and I DO like it.  Life is not fundamentally about how you get from here to there.  It is about how you invest in others, about how you do your work, about how you love those you ride home to, and about living in harmony with creation.

People at work are used to me coming in all bundled up, with lots of bright yellow clothing and a bit of sweat.  Conversations however are about life and ministry and schedules and family.  My wife is used to me coming home on the bike and asks less about how my commute was and more about how my day was.  And I am used to coming and going on the bike, used to adjusting my schedule to accommodate for travel time, used to carting clothes and food back and forth according to the needs of the day.

This way of commuting is less exciting.  This way of commuting is more sustainable and integrated into the larger whole of my life.  This way of commuting is good.

On another note, hats off to my LBS (Local Bike Shop) owner Adrian for quickly repairing my Black Sheep after one of my bungee cords sprang off and got caught in my hub.  Service while you wait - can't be beat.  Check out

Keep Riding!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Beautiful Day to Ride

Last day of December, a Saturday, temps in the low 60s!  Had a great ride today with a dear friend on my neglected Madone.  Only 25 miles but it seemed long compared to the commutes.  I must say a 16 lb bike sure is a lot easier to get up a hill!  I have missed the long rides and hope to resume them this spring.

This is well into my 7th month of my year on a bike.  Time flies when you're having fun!