Sat, 25 Apr 2009

Bike lanes aren’t for cyclists

The other day, it occurred to me that bike lanes aren't for cyclists. They are for motorists. No, automobiles don't belong in the bike lane, bikes do. Let me explain my unconventional perspective on this issue.

As citizens of this great nation, we have a right to freely travel the public roadways. Before there were automobiles, we Americans traveled the roads on horses, carts, and bicycles. In the last one-hundred years, the roadways have been virtually overtaken by automobile traffic. And in response, we've built our transportation infrastructure to primarily accommodate motorists.

But horses, carts, bicycles, human beings on foot, and other forms of non-motorized transportation still have a right to the roadways. Interestingly, driving is a privilege, not a right. So, it seems a bit odd to me when motorists tell cyclists to get off the road.

There have been some recent efforts to tax cyclists to pay for bicycle specific infrastructure (primarily bike lanes). The argument for such measures is that cyclists don't pay their fair share.

It's a tired and inaccurate argument. Most cyclists have automobiles, too, and pay the same taxes as every other motorist. While riding their bikes, cyclists are reducing congestion, wear and tear on the roads, decreasing demand on gasoline, and decreasing the environmental impact of transportation. Cyclists are, in fact, doing more than their part for the transportation system. A separate, additional tax for cyclists is silly.

And that brings me to my current view on bike lanes. Since bicycles already have a right to the road, we don't NEED any bike lanes. We can travel the same asphalt automobiles travel. Bike lanes make the roadways more convenient for motorists by moving the slower non-motorized road users out of their way.

So bike lanes are for motorists, not cyclists. If motorists don't want their tax dollars spent on bicycle infrastructure, that's fine by me. We can share the road. Slow down and enjoy the ride.

[/cycling] [link]

Tue, 19 Aug 2008

“Dad! You’re just crazy—and weird!”

Well, it wasn't exactly the endorsement I expected from the daughter I love.

She called just after 9PM thinking, finally—finally!—she would be able to catch me when I didn't answer my cell phone from my bike with the wind noise louder than my voice.

But she was wrong. I had just hung the halogen head light on my bike and pushed it out the front door for a short ride.

The temperature finally dropped below 70 degrees. Tomorrow's forecast is for rain—all day. With the near full moon rising in the east and the red lights gleaming on the radio towers to the west, stars in the sky, and quiet, empty roads, I couldn't think of a better time for a ride.

So, April asked a quick question and left her crazy, weird dad to his ride.

It was a beautiful ride. Quiet. I rode to the top of Belle Vista where I could see the city lights below me in the valley, and even over the ridge, downtown. I met only a handful of cars and they gave me plenty of room.

There was a little breeze and the only sound was its passing through the trees. A half mile from home a deer trotted across the road in front of me and I could hear the ting its rear hooves made strumming the wire fence it lept in the dark.

The only bad ride is the ride you don't take. Tonight's short ride in the dark was—perfect.

[/cycling] [link]

Fri, 15 Aug 2008

Serendipity

With all the news about car vs. bike violence, it's easy to forget the simple but great moments that don't warrant news coverage.

On our Wednesday night group ride from the local bike shop this week we experienced a moment of pure serendipity that couldn't have been choreographed better.

Our group of fifteen was headed out for a ride on lightly traveled, rural roads. We reached a three-way intersection where the roads meet at equal angles like a three spoked wheel. At exactly the same moment we made a right turn, another group of ten to fifteen cyclists, coming in on the third spoke of that wheel began making a left onto the same road as us.

The two groups merged together like two halves of a zipper. We shared the same route for four or five miles before diverging, again, enjoying conversation and camaraderie.

The view of cycling through sunglasses, with your hands on the handlebars, is certainly much better than the view through reading glasses, newspaper in hand.

[/cycling] [link]

Tue, 05 Aug 2008

Your LBS is important

Too often, I think people discount the importance of their Local Bike Shop (LBS). They shop the LBS for a bike, then buy it online because they can save a few bucks. But they fail to consider the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

I have an excellent relationship with my LBS and it has saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. More importantly, it has saved me time, frustration, and effort.

When I ride into my LBS with any minor problem, it doesn't seem to matter how busy they are—they put my bike in the stand and take care of the problem while I wait. If I need a part that isn't in stock, they rifle through their scrap parts to find something slightly less broken or worn to loan me until the new part arrives. Failing that, they send me home on a demo bike. They never leave me stranded.

I do a lot of my own bicycle maintenance. When I have trouble diagnosing a problem or need some pointers on how to tackle some new task I'm not familiar with, they give me the straight scoop, free of charge.

When I have a friend or family member visiting and want to take them out for a two-wheeled adventure, the LBS sets them up with a top end demo bike.

They invite me on their group rides. They, many of them ex-pros or highly ranked amateurs, give me riding tips, share their favorite routes and trails, and offer encouragement and advice.

When I buy clothing and accessories, I get a discount.

When I have a warranty problem, they exchange the item across the counter and I don't have to hassle with shipping time or dealing with the manufacturer.

I'm sure not everyone who buys a bike at his LBS gets the same treatment I've just described. The level of service I've obtained is the result of a long relationship with the bike shop and the people that work there. I reciprocate as best I can.

I recommend my LBS to anyone who asks about bikes. I invite others to join their group rides. When I see another cyclist with a mechanical problem or changing a flat, I stop and assist. Often, that means using my own spare tube. When they offer me cash or ask how to get in touch with me later to replace the tube, I just tell them to stop by my LBS, purchase a tube and leave it in will-call for me.

I drop off a six-pack of beer once in awhile.

My LBS is so important to me that whenever I purchase a new bike, regardless of what the latest hot trend is, I buy what they carry. My LBS is a Specialized dealer. When I buy, I buy Specialized, or one of the other brands they carry. If my LBS was a Trek dealer, I'd buy Trek.

I've certainly heard the argument that the premium for buying at your LBS is worth it, for many of the reasons I've laid out, here. But in my experience, there is no premium. I'm getting a better deal, overall, than I would if I purchased online. In addition to the cash savings, I'm getting much more that simply isn't available any other way.

If you don't already have it, you need the same relationship with your LBS I have with mine.

[/cycling] [link]

Tue, 10 Jun 2008

40 day bicycle only challenge successfully complete

Yesterday, I got behind the wheel of a car for the first time in 40 days. I drove to the airport to meet Jenny on her return from Switzerland and bring her home.

In Switzerland, 40 days without a car would not even be worth a mention. It’s a popular mode of transportation for all ages.

Bicycles in Switzerland

It was an interesting 40 days. There were many rainy days, but I only rode in a downpour once. The weather forecasters got it horribly wrong, that day. “Rain after 11 AM,” they said. So, I jumped on the bike and headed out to do my errands early. At about 9:30, 6 miles from home, the rain came.

Even that wasn’t a horrible experience. It’s good to ride in the rain once in awhile.

The funniest bike trip was to fetch gas for the lawn mower.

Gas Transport

It was a very enjoyable experience and I intend to continue using the bike instead of the car whenever possible.

[/cycling] [link]

Fri, 30 May 2008

Wimped out

Bike pulling refrigerator Earlier this month, when the refrigerator died, I shopped by phone and Internet and had the replacement delivered. Seems I wimped out. I could have hauled the refrigerators by bike.

[/cycling] [link]

Thu, 29 May 2008

Do cyclists pay their way?

Every Wednesday evening, I meet a group of fellow cyclists at our local bike shop for a ride. (We have a Facebook group. If you're in the area on any Wednesday evening, we'd love to have you along.)

Last night, as we gathered, we exchanged stories about some run-ins with motorists. Three or four in the group had ridden on the Palouse, Sunday, and encountered an angry, local motorist. He went off on them, red-faced, bulge-eyed, screaming, "You don't belong on the road. Cyclists don't pay their fair share of the taxes and fees!"

It's an argument we hear often, but before I address the validity of his assertion, let me address how I think it is best to respond. A heated argument with a motorist is probably counter productive. You're not likely to sway his opinion. An automobile is a lethal weapon when controlled by an enraged motorist. For your safety, you want to be as far away from him as possible and as soon as possible.

It is probably best to say, "I'm sorry to trouble you. I'll be on my way and won't be on this road any longer than I have to."

If you can safely and calmly say more, you might say, "I understand your concern, but you are talking about how things should be. Currently, the law gives me a legal right to ride on the road and I'm exercising that right. If you don't agree with the law you need to contact your legislators and lobby to have it changed."

This topic has been discussed at length, online, and a quick Google search will give you plenty of material to read. I found the exchange in the comments of this BlueOregon post interesting. TR, the anti-cyclist poster at least states his position articulately, so it is a good source for the argument that bicycles and cyclists should be taxed.

However, I think TR and the irate Palouse motorist my fellow cyclists encountered this past weekend are dead wrong. Cyclists do pay their fair share. The post titled Cyclists Pay Their Fair Share! on the Saint Louis Regional Bicycle Federation site is a thorough argument supporting that view.

According to the statistics cited there, 92% of the funds for local roads and transportation infrastructure come from property, income, and sales taxes. Cyclists are taxed no differently in that regard than motorists. The remaining 8% comes from user fees. Most cyclists own automobiles. So they pay the same vehicle registration and licensing fees all motorists pay. About the only fee they do not pay is the fuel tax.

Riding a bicycle reduces congestion. It increases the lifetime of existing infrastructure because it has a negligible impact on the road surface. It decreases demand on the fuel supply which directly benefits motorists with lower fuel costs.

And there are many indirect benefits. Joe Johnson, a very good friend of mine and an avid cyclist once told me about a discussion he had with a co-worker who was trying to make the case that cyclists don't pay their way. The co-worker was an overweight diabetic, his condition quite likely due to, or at least exacerbated by his lifestyle and lack of exercise. Joe is the picture of health.

Let's not talk about the gasoline tax, Joe said, "Let's talk about health insurance premiums. We both pay the same amount. Why should I pay the same amount you do when you refuse to ride a bike or do any sort of exercise to maintain your health?"

Cyclists not only pay their way, they reduce costs for other road users, too.

[/cycling] [link]

Tue, 27 May 2008

A small dose of bigotry

Sunday, I ran several errands on my bike. The weather was nice and I felt great. I even used the drive up window at the pharmacy and when they told me their printer was down and it would take ten to fifteen minutes, I rode the two miles home to let the dogs out and play ball with Jake instead of waiting there. Riding was much more enjoyable than waiting.

On my way back to the pharmacy, two lanes in each direction, a small pickup passed in the left lane with the passenger shouting, Faggot! Faggot!

It wouldn't have matter much what he was shouting. My blood boiled instantly. Here I was, enjoying the day, feeling strong, riding fast, and someone decides I shouldn't be allowed to do so in peace.

The anger made me ride a bit faster, perhaps. In fact, I passed the truck at the next light. The passenger, a young man perhaps twenty years old, continued his insults, this time whistling and cat calling as they passed a second time.

I passed the truck again at the next light, and would have been right with them at a third, but I'd reached my destination and left the street.

It puzzles me. What is it about riding a bike that makes me a faggot? Is that just the worst insult he knows or does he actually think a cycling jersey and shorts indicate sexual preference. Is riding a bike unmanly? Does he think Lance Armstrong and Mario Chipollini are sissies? Would he shout insults at me if he didn't have the protection of his steel and glass cage?

If I felt the need to shout insults at someone, I don't think I'd pick someone fit enough to keep pace with auto traffic on a bike.

Thankfully, incidents like this are rare, but they are maddening, frustrating, and sad. I feel exposed, vulnerable, and helpless. I feel angry—very angry. The attacks aren't provoked. The attackers don't know me. Yet, it feels so personal.

I'm a white, middle class, heterosexual, American male living in a predominately white community. Racial persecution, any kind of persecution really, isn't part of my personal experience. Moments like this give me a small taste of what that must feel like.

So, unknown to the bigots shouting insults and making fools of themselves, when the anger of the moment subsides, I emerge a stronger, more understanding person. They've done me an unwitting and very unwelcome service. I understand more about who I am, what I believe, and certainly what I do not ever want to be.

[/cycling] [link]

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This site is the personal weblog of Marc Mims. You can contact Marc by sending e-mail to:
marc@questright.com.

Marc writes here about cycling, programming, Linux, and other items of personal interest.

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