Category Archives: Smugness

The End of Smugness

Friends, I have a confession to make. For about 2 months, I had in my possession an automobile.

Here, let me return your jaw to you from it’s place on the floor.

I did not own this car, it was on loan to me from some friends who were traveling overseas. Spouse and I had a few car-intensive errands to run while we did some renovations to our house, so it seemed like a good idea to have the car around. Plus, our friends needed to park their car somewhere, and in Providence, you just can’t leave your car on the street overnight. In the two months we had it, we drove about 1,000 miles. There were home improvement errands, day trips, a trip to the beach, and one overnight trip to upstate New York that made up the plurality of the miles.

About a week before my friends were due to return and reclaim their car, I decided to make a stock-up run to Trader Joe’s – about 10 miles from home. Because I am a car-free smugmonger, I left the car in the driveway and took my bike. Some other friends had recently offered me the use of their bike trailer and I wanted an excuse to try it out. So I hooked up the trailer to my city bike and headed out.

Riding with the trailer was a little easier than I expected. At times, I felt like I was flying down the Washington Secondary Bike Path. I stopped for a while to help out somebody with a flat tire. He wasn’t quite sure how to use the patch kit, something I didn’t really know how to do until about 2 years ago, so I was happy to lend some assistance. Besides, is there anything that can make you feel more smug than being the Good Samaritan?

I left my SPD's at home and went for a retro-grouch look with the Keens. Also, I was a little afraid of losing control and needing to put my foot down in an emergency. This did not happen.

To get to the Target, I have to ride on a wide, fast suburban road for about a mile. It’s never fun, and I thought it would be worse when pulling the trailer. However, I didn’t realize that cars would give me more room and not hassle me when I’m pulling a trailer – probably because they think there’s a kid back there. When I pulled into the Target lot, I saw this:

A $20 bill stuck in a bush! What great luck! I figured it was a little Karmic reward for my Good Samaritanism (to mix religious metaphors). This resulted in a general feeling of increased smugness. Next, however…

The bike rack was blocked by a big construction fence! I was slightly angry, but I was riding on such a wave of smugness that I didn’t really mind so much.

I bought a basketball at the Target, thus using up my $20 bill.

Next stop was Target, which still lacks for a bike rack, as does the EMS next door which actually sells bikes. I felt smug as I locked up to whatever this thing is:

A little more navigation of the big 4-Lane road, and I was back on the bike path. I was definitely moving slower than when the trailer was empty, but it was still easy to pull. Around the Point Street bridge, I passed the stragglers of the Rhode Island 70.3 Triathlon. Evidently a portion of the running course went up Olney Street this year. That’s just mean.

After recovering at home for a bit, I decided to test out my basketball. I pumped it up a little, then took a few shots. The first was a brick, not surprisingly since I hadn’t taken a shot in at least a decade. Soon, however I was landing a few bank shots and even a swish or two. Unfortunately, my basketball net has seen better days. Being stuck outside for years, it’s shrunk at the bottom so the ball will not go through. So, every time I made a shot, I had to jump up and punch out the ball. After making a few close ones, I backed up for a 15 footer. I missed, and the ball headed towards my friends’ car. It bounced once on the pavement and then landed on the windshield – and cracked it.

That’s one way to get rid of a day’s worth of accumulated smugness!

Speaking of accumulated smugness, the dedicated reader(s) of this blog may have noticed that I have not included a check-in on the SmugCalc in a while. This was a spreadsheet I started at the one-year anniversary of being car-free. I used this spreadsheet to track all of the miles I traveled using various forms of transportation (except for planes, that’s where I cheated). I was able to keep going with it for months, even tracking my miles after I broke my collarbone and could not ride my bike for a while (I was racking up transit smugness points instead). Finally, however, it just got boring tracking the miles on the bus. But now I’m back. Starting today, the SmugCalc is in full force. It’s not quite my Carfreeniversary, but August 1 makes for a nice round starting date. I’m at 5.5 SmugMiles so far.

And also speaking of accumulated smugness, the ladies at Let’s Go Ride A Bike are holding their 2nd annual LGRAB Summer Games. I have to do 4 of the following 10 items and blog about them:

  • on vacation? rent a bike and go for a ride!
  • write a letter advocating for bicycling infrastructure (bike lanes, bike rack, etc) to your alderman/council representative, mayor, or a local business.
  • take a picture of something along your commute that says “summer” to you, and explain why
  • commute to work by bike or bike/transit if you don’t already
  • perform a maintenance task on your bike
  • explore a greenway or bike path in your city that you haven’t previously visited
  • test ride a different type of bike than you normally ride (road bike, mountain bike, etc.)
  • read a book about cycling
  • ride your bike somewhere new in your city
  • go on a group ride

These things have to be done between July 21 and August 8. I’m late to the game, but there’s still time for me to slay it! * So even though this post may be titled “The End of Smugness”, this is really just a renewal of smugness.

* by “slay it” I mean complete 4 tasks, blog about them, then get entered in a random drawing to win some prizes.



My cycling habits have changed over the years. I’m not sure if this change is due to: 1) biking more and more, 2) reading so much about transportation cycling, or 3) just getting older. Whatever the reason, I am a more careful and (dare I say) law-abiding cyclist than I used to be (broken collarbone notwithstanding).

To illustrate this point, I invite you to take a trip with me. A trip back in time to the year 2002. Or maybe it was 2003, I’m not really sure, it’s been a long time. This is also a trip in space – to the distant land of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Massachusetts Avenue – the stretch between Porter Square and Cambridge Common. The stretch that always feels like an East-West road no matter how many times one sees it on a map and realizes that it actually goes almost due North-South. But I digress. Mass. Ave. – as the locals like to call it:

This stretch was a regular part of my commute when I lived in the Davis Square area and worked in the Cambridgeport area. One day, I was biking to work on my quasi-crappy mountain bike, as I often did on nice days. I stopped at a red light and waited until the cross traffic cleared, then I continued through the intersection. That’s right I ran the red light! Total scofflaw I was back in the day. At the next light, a middle-aged woman wearing a color-coordinated cycling kit and riding a road bike pulled up behind me. Again, I waited until the traffic cleared and ran that light too. The woman passed me before we reached the next light. We waited, when the traffic cleared, I executed a bit of a “shoal” maneuvre, passing her and continuing through the intersection. There are several annoying lights along Mass Ave here, so this happened a few times. As I pushed off through the last light before Cambridge Common, the woman said, “You give cyclists a bad name.” I rolled my eyes and muttered (under my breath) “oh, bite me,” and continued on my way because I had to get to work and didn’t have time to change into different clothes. At the time, I took the woman’s comments as just another form of Cantabridgian Pedantry. (“Cantabridgian” is Cambridge-snob for someone who lives in Cambridge.) This sort of thing seemed to happen fairly frequently in the city of Harvard & MIT. People always getting up in your business about doing something wrong. Growing up in Kansas, I got less judging from my conservative Lutheran church than I got from the bumperstickers on the back of an average Cantabridgian Volvo (Oh how I loved living there!)

Sure, I rolled my eyes at the time, but obviously the incident has stuck with me over the years. Residual shame? Deep down, did I know that she was right? Or maybe I pitied her for her stick-in-the-mudness. Every once in a while, I’m struck with the urge to reprimand a cyclist about some idiotic behavior, but it is only the memory of that pedantic Cantabridgian that keeps me in check.

I got really close to saying something the other day when I saw this:

He’s biking on the wrong side of a relatively major street (Hope Street, just north of Olney), in rush hour, while his dog trots along beside him. I’ll have to admit that I’ve done this in the past, but I was on the sidewalk AND I WAS TEN YEARS OLD! Seriously, could there be any excuse for this? Although it’s legal for adults to ride on the sidewalk in Providence, in most cases it’s less safe than riding in the street. But in this case? Dude, just ride on the sidewalk. I was very close to yelling at this guy. I’m usually a little shy about taking pictures of strangers, but in this case I just stood on the opposite sidewalk and kept shooting as he slowly pedaled up the hill, his dog nonchalantly trotting in front of him, motorists looking perplexed and swerving away from him at the last second. I believe I’ve seen this guy around town subsequently. He was riding a brown Surly Crosscheck frame with some handlebar configuration other than drops. I believe it was a singlespeed as well. If you know this guy, for me, please tell him that he gives cyclists a bad name. And he’s stupid. And a jerk. And an idiot. And that’s all my pedantry for today.

On The Street with CarFreePVD

Sometimes I wish I was Bill Cunningham, flitting about the streets of New York snapping pictures of the fashionably dressed with my SLR. Instead, I’m a schlub in a sling, riding the bus through Providence, furtively taking pictures with my iPhone camera. (My 2-year-old iPhone camera. Can you imagine?) And instead of taking pictures of the fashionable, I take pictures of cars and bikes in various stages of parking. Exciting, no? It can be exciting if I pretend that I’m a National Geographic photographer, attempting to capture rare animals in their natural environments:

Shhhh. Be very quiet, we’re approaching a Surly Big Dummy rarely seen in the wild – gently nuzzling a no parking sign. It has locked eyes with a Prius and seems to be in some sort of staring contest in order to determine who is more smug.

Riding the bus can lead to an action shot…

… like with this picture of a Honda Fit parked on the sidewalk across the street from the west entrance to the East Side tunnel (taken from the window of a RIPTA bus). Other pictures are less action-packed:

I’m not sure why the BRU Crew was parked here, but I won’t complain too much because it’s more of a walkway adjacent to a parking lot than an actual sidewalk… not as bad as say… parking on the sidewalk in the middle of a downtown square every day.

I’ve seen this bike several times parked in the student ghetto section of College Hill.

I tried shots from several angles, but I was unable to capture the extreme ungainliness of this bike. It’s just oddly proportioned and those BMX-style handlebars aren’t helping.

Hidden bike parking at Brown. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to park a bike here. Looks like plenty of coverage for someone who wants to steal something (not that bike thieves require much coverage).

Not spotted on the street, but discovered on craigslist, this Track-tacular Orange Masi:

orange fixed – track frame
asking $600 – has new campagnolo bottom bracket – and campagnolo crankset
rims and pedals are not included

Looks like you’ll have to provide your own Aerospoke if you want the same look. It’s probably best that the rims aren’t included since this guy evidently doesn’t know how to close a QR skewer:

Sometimes, my camera is not enough and I have to rely on my network of sources.  Andrew of Troy Bike Rescue spotted this on the streets of Troy, NY.

It seems like the new LOOK pedal system is starting to trickle down to the BMX market.

Gilded Age Meets the Gasoline Age

Visiting the Newport Mansions to vicariously experience the glories of the Gilded Age should be on every Rhode Islander’s to-do list. In fact, it’s still on mine, and I’ve been here for almost 4 years now. I’ll get around to it one of these days. But now there is an extra incentive for me to head down to Newport, as long as I do it by car, as I recently learned from a story on my local NPR station.

Evidently, visits to the mansions dropped off in March as gas prices started to rise, so the Preservation Society is offering a $5 rebate on your mansion-visiting ticket if you can show them a vehicle registration. From the WRNI story:

 The Preservation Society’s John Rodman says they are proud to give families a little break. “If the gas price is what’s hurting people then our idea is that we’ll give you some money toward that,” says Rodman.

Here’s the announcement on the Preservation Society’s website:

We could all do well by emulating William K Vanderbilt, Jr.

I can certainly understand how the Preservation Society would want to boost visits during a down period. But is a rebate to those who drive to the mansions, really the best way to do it? Why not just have a seasonal price reduction?* Do they really need to encourage more traffic in Newport when there are plenty of buses that will get you there?

[Uh oh, I feel a smug attack coming on. Prepare yourself for…]

The Inevitable Post About Gas Prices

Yes, it’s come to that. It’s all over the news, gas prices are once again flirting with the magic $4.00 per gallon mark where people start to gripe, politicians begin to grandstand and SUV owners sell off their vehicles for an enormous loss (we haven’t seen that last one yet, but it did start to happen in 2008.) Oh yeah, and transportation cyclists start to feel extra smug.

I feel so smug these days, that I feel comfortable taking pictures of idiotic bumper stickers on the cars in front of me. Like this one:

Not such a bad sentiment, really. Compared to cars, motorcycles are a far more efficient way to move one person around (not as efficient as a bicycle… but I let my smugness make me digress). So it’s not really an idiotic bumper sticker per se, but the placement was kind of surprising:

On the back of a mid-90’s Jeep Cherokee with a 4.0 liter, 6-cylinder engine (MPG: 14 city, 19 highway). I guess I should be happy that it’s not a V-8. I’ll admit that I took this picture from the passenger seat of a friend’s car (I guess that makes me a hypocrite). I’ll keep going with this holier-than-thou thing for just a little while longer…

I mentioned politicians grandstanding earlier. Some blame restrictions on domestic drilling, others blame commodity speculators. When you move away from the bloviating, it’s pretty easy to see that the gas prices are the result of supply and demand. Global demand for oil continues to rise, mostly as a result of rapid development in China and India. Global supply does not rise as quickly. Prices go up. What can we do about it in the short term? Reduce demand. Every time I ride my bike, I’m helping to reduce demand and thus I put downward pressure on gas prices for everyone else. That’s right, transportation cyclists help make gas cheaper for everyone else.

You’re welcome.

*I’ll be honest with myself and say that I’m sure the $5.00 rebate has almost nothing to do with gas prices. It was a publicity stunt – a way to tie a seasonal price reduction to something in the news. A way to get publicity on a slow news day. And it worked, good for them! Now I’m more likely to finally visit the mansions. I could even ask for the $5.00 rebate and present my bus ticket instead of a vehicle registration – it would be an excellent opportunity for me to be a pedantic bore to a customer service rep who had nothing to do with the decision to tie the rebate to vehicle ownership.

One more footnote: some Newporters are working to encourage cycling there and helping to save their neighbors some gas money. Check for info on Newport’s version of Bike to Work Day.