Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hipsters to Spandex

There is a wide range of different types of cyclists and many times these typologies overlap one another. Many names have been coined for different types of riders; hipster, commuter, spandex, parents and kids, etc. Within the past 24 hours I have gotten to ride with several of these..

Last night was the monthly Critical Mass ride in Orlando, and in over 300 cities around the world. Critical Mass is a group ride, which was over 200 riders last night, that rides at a slow to moderate pace through the main arterial streets of the city.  The ride is intended to show bicycle awareness and to protest that bicycles are just as important as any other vehicle on the road.
It was pretty cool that I had a woman come up to me and ask me if I ride on Livingston every morning. I said yes, but that I hadn't remembered seeing her out there commuting in. She said that she was driving to work each day and that she drove a big van with dog paw prints painted on it. I actually recall that vehicle, since at 15mph you actually take in most of your surroundings and the dog paw prints are a pretty rare detail.

This morning I did my typical Saturday "Lakemont" ride. I cut through neighborhoods and ride 5 miles to get to the group start location, and the rising sun is the last peaceful moments for the next 2 hours. We had a good group of about 100 riders, ready to scorch the pavement.

The ride itself is 40 miles in 1.5 hours and there is no stopping or waiting for people to catch up. As we rode this morning I heard rumblings in the pack that a group of 6 or 7 were going to break off and attack at mile 30, and that is never good. When a breakaway occurs, the riders go off the front in a line and the pack responds and tries to catch them and pull them back in. It takes a ride that is a fast 25mph into a wild sprint that surpasses 30mph and splinters the pack.


Well the attackers kept their word at mile 30 and we finally caught them after riding at 32mph for about 2 miles. We finished the ride and ended with only about 30 riders (people get dropped and finish the ride alone or in small groups, or they end and head home early).
I love it because it sets up a great Saturday when you are home by 10am and feel like you already accomplished something and don't have to worry about doing anything but relaxing the rest of the day.

Friday, January 29, 2010

No Fear Cycling

Last night was the annual State of the Union address from the president that describes the condition of our country and allows the president to outline their goals for the upcoming year. I could spend several posts on where our country stands in the cycling world, and what I think that we should be doing to promote cycling use. It is encouraging that a revolution of new riders and cycling advocacy has swept our country, and that the government is open to provide for the growing cycling needs. As more money is spent on cycling education, planning, and safety, one would think that the roads would be covered with cyclists. Unfortunately the numbers of cyclists, while they are increasing, are still at a fairly low level.

This thought made me wonder about what keeps people in their cars and off their bikes. My only solution was that it had to be fear. Fear of traffic, injury, looking silly, the bike equipment itself, failure, etc. Bike advocates don’t really focus on any of these fears. Bike groups typically focus on helmets, bike lanes, and laws. All of these things are important, but they don’t help get additional riders on the streets. I think that if more effort was spent toward answering the fears that potential riders have, then we could get more people out on 2 wheels.

By adding a little perspective to the fear scenarios, many of them can be put aside. According to the Florida Department of Health, three times as many pedestrians, three times as many motorcyclists, and ten times as many automobile passengers suffer brain injuries as bicyclists do each year. Most bicycle accidents actually come from cyclist error. Careless riding, riding against the flow of traffic, running stop lights/signs, and riding without lights or warning devices are some of the things that I have personally witnessed on the road just this week. If cars drove this way, drivers would be pretty fearful about driving a car as well.

The self conscience fears that people have can also be fought by education and a shift in perspective. Bicycle equipment can be cumbersome and look intimidating at first, but riders must always remember that the “fancy” bikes that they see in the LBS (local bike shop) have the same basic components as the simple bicycle that they learned to ride on as a child. These “fancy” bikes also ride and perform just as dependably as their childhood bikes once did, and can be pushed as hard as their level of fitness can provide.

Self-mastery is a natural aspect of cycling, but getting support can encourage and serve the needs of novice riders. New riders should look to bicycle groups and clubs to provide them with answers and confidence in their riding. In turn, these organizations should be more inviting and less intimidating to facilitate the needs of these riders.

Cycling, like most things in life, takes courage to undertake, but with determination and a realistic perspective on the perceived fears, it can be a fun and life changing activity.

Ride safe, ride hard, ride on!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Power of Paint

Many drivers see the white stripe on the inside edge of a bike lane as a guide to keep them on the road and to give them a visual cue of where their lane boundaries are. To cyclists these markings help direct them away from the traffic travel lanes and give them a buffer from passing cars. Academically I knew these principles to be true, but the power that these little white lines have, became evident in today's rides.

Orlando has several bike routes and different types of on-street bike facilities. On my main route into work I encounter an interesting bike lane that is an over-sized 4' concrete gutter pan along the curb. The travel lane is paved with historic brick and the car traffic tends to straddle the gutter and have a faster, "half smooth" drive. When riding on this route I have had cars tailgate behind me, pass me and immediately cut back in front of me, on garbage day all of the trash cans are lined up in the lane, and of course when it rains the gutter is submerged in water. This of course pushes the cyclists out of the safety of the concrete gutter and onto the rough bricks and into the travel lane.



The city decided to paint a white stripe along the road edge of the lane, and have the paint delineate the space better than the material change did. In my first ride on the new facility, I encountered cars that were driving in the gutter, but when the came to the portion that was painted, they immediately moved back into the travel lane and stayed there. Of course they returned to the gutter when the striping ended, but it was obvious that the paint had mysterious, magical powers that kept cars away from it.

Currently the white stripe extends about half a mile on each side, but I hope that the city will evaluate this facility and see that with the expense of a just little paint, it can go a long way in providing a safer route for cyclists and motorized vehicles alike.

Monday, January 25, 2010

L-I-V-I-N

I was rained out of my morning commute, but packed my bike in my wife's Element and was able to commute home at lunch and back, so I got in about 8 miles today. I have rain gear, but some mornings it just doesn't feel worth getting soaked to the bone, redressed in a bathroom stall at work, or facing the chance of a car not seeing you in the rain.

With it being a slow day in the saddle, I thought I would explain the name of my blog. At first glance, it may seem that I just got lazy instead searching for another name when "Living In The Bike Lane" was already taken. That's where you are wrong. I actually wanted this name. The way I see life, there is living and livin. You can go through life surviving at the bear minimum and just going through the motions, or you can actually experience what life has to offer you.

Of course the term livin was personified perfectly by Matthew McConaughey's character, Wooderson, in the movie Dazed and Confused, "The older you get, the more rules they are going to try and get you to follow. You just gotta keep on livin', man. L-I-V-I-N."

I have found that hitting my bike first thing in the morning helps me clear my head and prepare me for the day ahead. Not only do I have to focus on riding and keeping yourself safe, but the slow speeds allow me to take in the morning and just feel the wind on my face. Cycling in to work doesn't allow me to eat behind the wheel, listen to the radio, talk on my cell, write notes about work, etc, I only get to enjoy the sights and sounds that you get in solitude at 20mph. Once you get in the zone, you can find your own nirvana, and start L-I-V-I-N!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ride On!

I was once told that the most efficient and reliable man-made tool was the bicycle chain. I rediscovered this great invention 6 years ago when I started grad school and needed to save money on gas, parking, time, etc. I say rediscovered because like most children I learned to ride a bike during my elementary school years and then gave it up once I turned 16 and was able to drive. Sure I took a "cheap big box" mountain bike occasionally out for a ride, but never for transportation and typically ending in some kind of mechanical or rider error that landed the bike in the garage or closet until my ambition was great enough to fix it for another ride.

My rebirth into cycling wasn't a glorious moment in my life either, but was definitely life altering. When starting grad school I again bought a "cheap big box" mountain bike (even though I was in Gainesville Florida=no mountains), and at the time I thought I was doing fine on my 2 mile commuter ride to school. I only questioned my abilities when I would be passed by a road bike like I was sitting parked and I was pedaling my hardest. Even though I didn't realize it until much later, the 3 years that I spent making my commuter trips taught me a great deal about cycling and fueled my desire for bicycle advocacy.

My full conversion into a cycling addict began when I gave myself a graduation present and upgraded my "beater" of a mountain bike, with a new Trek road bike. I was fortunate enough to get hired at a company in the downtown Orlando core, an apartment 2 miles from there, and was able to start commuting in style. I immediately noticed that my speed went from 12-15mph to 20+ and that the efficiency of the machine was incredible. This new rate of speed enticed my wife to give me a helmet that Christmas (I forgot to mention that I hadn't been wearing one for the previous 3.5 years, stupid and fortunate). Little did either of us know that in March of the next year I would collide with a truck at about 20mph, crush my helmet, lose my 2 front teeth, but still be alive.


After this baptismal experience into the conflict between motorized vehicles and bicycles, my journey into the cycling world was ready to begin. I sold my truck, got a new helmet and teeth, and made it my personal goal to bike everywhere within reason. Professionally (as a landscape architect), I also see opportunities for communities to better integrate pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

I hope to share with you some of my experiences as an urban bike commuter, advocate for bike friendlier communities, and create a forum for sharing ideas.

Ride hard, ride safe, ride on!