Tag Archives: Bicycle Commuting


Some might say that this blog is only updated sporadically. Others might think that I’ve run out of things to say. I prefer to think of this blog as a “limited release” or “carefully curated.” No matter, dear reader(s) we have a good topic in front of us today.


If you ride a bike for any length of time with any proximity to motor vehicles in any sort of climate where the drivers of said motor vehicles may have their windows down, you have no doubt been subjected to someone yelling this at you. If this type of motorist was capable of putting together a sentence, they would say, “You should be riding that bicycle on the sidewalk.” The subtext of this is, “I’m driving a car in the street, therefore I am more important than you who ride what is equivalent to a child’s toy and should therefore be riding it on the sidewalk. Get out of MY way.”

Spouse received the “SIDEWALK” yell from someone recently. Here’s how she relayed it in a tweet:

Me (on bike): Were you just honking at me? He: Yeah. Me: Any special reason? He: Sidewalk! [i.e. I should be on it] Me: Check the law [WTF]

I agree with Spouse’s sentiment, so I retweeted to my many followers, one of whom replied to Spouse with this gem:

talked about this w/bikers & drivers alike; they all agree the root of hostility is mostly when bikers DON’T obey traffic laws

Well that’s one way to respond, I guess. A law-abiding cyclist is verbally harassed by a motorist, and this particular tweeter’s response is to say that the source of such hostility is when cyclists break the law.

I disagree.

The source of the hostility is this motorist’s sense of privilege. He’s driving a vehicle that he paid a lot of money for. He has encountered a cyclist in “his” way. Because of this cyclist, he is going to have to 1) pay more attention to piloting his 3,000 pound vehicle. 2) Endure a slight delay in his travel on a 25 mph city street (I’d say as much as 15 seconds).  3) Turn his wheel slightly to the left in order to pass the cyclist. 4) Turn it back to the right to return to his lane. 5) Get really annoyed when he sees the cyclist in his rear view mirror because she caught up to him at the next light.

I know, I know. It’s a tough life driving a car with all of these cyclists around. But maybe this motorist is right, maybe we should be riding our bikes on the sidewalk. I certainly see lots of people doing it, what could be so bad about it? Maybe I’ve just been reading too much propaganda (and state laws) that say that cyclists are entitled to the rights and responsibilities of using the roads of our great little state (and every other state). Maybe I should give up on the streets and take to the sidewalks like so many motorists love to suggest.

So I did just that.

For my commute home last Monday, I resolved to ride only on sidewalks. I started out from Kennedy Plaza, riding on the sidewalk along the south side of Burnside park. It was a lovely day, so there were many people walking along, not really paying much attention. I had to keep it pretty slow. I made my way over to what I call the “RISD Riviera” – that part of the campus that is right next to the Providence River.  I made my way down to Water Street and crossed over to the wide walkway between the street and the water. Some maps designate this as a bike path, but I never ride on it – too many desultory pedestrians. On this afternoon, there was this:

This required me to slow down to about 3 MPH and weave between the barriers and the parking meter where there was just enough room for my shoulders. I headed up to Wickenden, passing many people out on the sidewalks who were just trying to get to a shop or restaurant. I turned up Brook St., a normal part of my commute (aka, the Providence Wiggle, aka the Pwiggle), but I had to make a detour. I just couldn’t allow myself to ride on the sidewalk as I passed my local bike shop – the shame! Instead, I encountered obstacles like these:

Recycling bins, and pedestrians! (I ducked into the street for a second to pass the pedestrians).

I’ll stop boring you with a turn-by-turn account of my commute, let’s just say that it sucked, it was slow, and it was more dangerous than if I had ridden on the street like I always do. How did it suck? While I hate the pothole-encrusted streets of Providence, the sidewalks make for a much rougher riding experience. Expansion joints out of whack, bumps, uneven pavement, and the lack of curb cuts made for a bumpy ride. Why was it slow? I couldn’t get much over 10 MPH with the rough pavement and pedestrians in my way. In fact, I was usually riding about 8 MPH.  How was it less safe? I was constantly crossing driveways where a car could pull into the sidewalk, and I was crossing streets at a place where drivers do not expect to see a cyclist. And oh yeah, it wasn’t particularly safe for the people who were using the  sidewalk to, you know, walk. In fact, I passed 40 pedestrians in my 2.6 mile commute home that day – all of whom I inconvenienced in some way or another.  5 of the pedestrians were children aged 6 or younger. A block away from my home, I saw a mother with two small children walking towards me on the sidewalk. I pulled into a driveway to let them pass and the mother apologized to me as she passed. There was no need for her to apologize – I was the one doing it wrong!

“Well sure,” you may be saying to yourself, “you inconvenienced a few pedestrians, but how many motorists do you slow down when you insist on riding in the street?” I’m glad you asked. I had never really counted before, so the next day, on my way home, I counted the number of cars who passed me. There were 17. However, 5 of them passed me on Waterman Ave where there are two lanes headed in the same direction – the drivers merely had to change lanes in order to pass me. Another 10 passed me on Water Street – also two lanes wide. Of those 10 that passed me on Water Street, 6 of them passed me while I was riding about 23-26 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. That is, they were exceeding the speed limit when they passed me. I caught up to 5 of those cars at the next light. That leaves 2 motorists who passed me on two way streets where there was only one lane in each direction. I delayed each driver by about 5 seconds.

There are some rare occasions where I might consider riding on the sidewalk. In fact, I used to do it on a regular basis (for a very short distance). There are some more suburban areas of the country where it might be occasionally appropriate to ride on the sidewalk. And I can understand how a timid cyclist may feel safer on the sidewalk – but most of the time, you are going to be safer in the street.

So, the next time a motorist tells you to get on the sidewalk, tell them to go drive on the interstate. Or just wave and smile – that might be more productive.

S#!7 Motorists say to cyclists

Yeah, yeah, that meme is so last month. Still, there seems to be a theme in the things that motorists say to me when I’m on my bike.

The most common thing that motorists say to me is


I’ve mostly reached a state of zen on getting honked at. I (mostly) don’t care and just let it slide off me. Sometimes though, if the honk is delivered for a longer period of time, or the motorist is particularly close – it just throws me into a blind rage. I was honked at last night, a few blocks from my home. Instead of making the turn onto my block, I put the pedal(s) down and followed the car. I could have caught up to them, but they ran several stop signs (Richard at Cyclelicio.us has an interesting post on “scofflaw” motorists). What would I have done if I caught up with the driver? I dunno… doesn’t seem like it would be a teachable moment. But I was in a blind rage, so I sprinted. Eventually, my lack of cardiovascular fitness caught up with me. I was a little worn out from the sprint, but hey, no more blind rage!

The second most common thing that people say to me is

“Great day for a bike ride, huh?”

The first time this happened to me, I wasn’t sure what to do so I think I said “Uh, yeah, I guess it is.” Motorists can’t stop themselves from saying this, so I’ve come up with a few responses, only a few of which I’ve tried.

“Then what are you doing in a car?”

“Bike ride? I wish I had time for a bike ride, I’ve got to get to work!”

“It’s always a great day for a bike ride!”

“Hey Lance, get out of the way!”

Evidently, this happens pretty often to people, but it’s only happened to me once. I was too far away before I realized what they’d said. But since then, I’m ready for the next time I hear it:

“Lance rides a Trek, can’t you see this is a Cannondale?” [or Jamis, or Raleigh, depending on the situation]

“Hey Dale Earnhardt, go drive in circles somewhere!”

What sort of S#!7 do motorists say to you? Got any snappy comebacks?

Protest – successful!

It’s been well over a month now since my last post to this blog, and I’m sure that my reader(s) have been eagerly waiting to see what I’ve been up to. Although it might seem like I’ve just been slacking, really I was involved in a month-long online protest against SOPA/PIPA. Sure, some websites went dark for just a day on January 18th, but I was ahead of the game. In order to protest these bills, I made sure that this website was dark from December 19th until the bills were defeated. Sure, they bills might have been defeated a couple weeks ago, but I stayed dark a little longer, just to make sure.

Also, I took a little vacation for part of the hiatus. This picture pretty much sums up how I spent my time:

espresso and oakland bikeways map

Drinking delicious coffee and enjoying the excellent cycling infrastructure of the SF Bay Area. What could be better?

borrowed bicycle

How about this sweet ride? I was visiting an old friend in the East Bay and his downstairs neighbor loaned me one of his bicycles. It was an old Italian lugged-steel road frame, built up with MTB handlebars and a 1 X 8 drivetrain. It was a couple sizes too big for me, but with a few adjustments, it was a perfect loaner bike.

I’ll have more on my trip later, but I’ll leave you with this sign from Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District:

valencia street green wave

There’s a 1.5 mile stretch of Valencia Street where the lights are timed such that a cyclist riding at a comfortable 13 MPH can get green lights the whole way. This was possibly the greatest feeling on Earth. The cyclists can just tool along, getting passed by motorists who then must stop at the lights. The cyclist approaches the light and it magically turns green. The motorist roars ahead for half a block, but then has to slow down again for a red light. The cyclist just continues to pedal at a comfortable pace. It was truly awesome.

Traffic Pseu-nami: Winning isn’t everything

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know the results of today’s race between myself and ace political reporter, Ian Donnis. If not, you can probably figure it out from the title of this post. If not that, I’ll say it plainly:


I arrived at the office to find Ian, sitting in a chair in the front of the office – looking, well, smug I suppose. And as a certified smugmonger myself, I can’t fault a man for feeling smug. According to Ian, I lost by about 4 minutes.

I won’t bore you with a long account of the race, instead I’ll bore you with a short account of the race. If you missed it, see the post outlining the genesis of the race and the rules of the road.

It was a lovely fall day in Rhode Island. Ian and I met at his home in East Providence:

I mentioned the lack of missile mounts because the previous evening, Ian had been posting trailers for the 2008 film, Death Race. Although his Camry was free of weapons, I’ll note that it had been backed into his driveway before the start of the race, perhaps for a speedy start?

It’s a shame that I had to pixilate my face in order to preserve my quasi-anonymity. Due to the pixilization, It’s difficult to make out that I was sporting the proper “eyeglasses outside of helmet straps” setup as prescribed in The Rules (#37).

What’s not difficult to make out is that my helmet looks like a giant mushroom on top of my head. Oh well.

After simultaneous tweeting, we were off!

I caught Ian at the first two lights, but he soon passed me and was out of sight. It turns out that there was almost no traffic in downtown Providence today (despite predictions), and the parking wasn’t so bad either (as long as you have a monthly spot). So, I lost. But only by 4 minutes, which really isn’t too bad – that’s a lag of about 1 minute per mile between a 1 human-powered vehicle and a 133 horse-powered vehicle. I wasn’t at a full sprint, but I was moving pretty good and I was a bit sweaty by the time I got to work. I brought a change of clothes and used the “office shower” and I was pretty much good to go. I still prefer my leisurely commute on my bike with the rack and panniers.

The "office shower" - pretty effective, actually.

A big thanks to Ian for letting me cajole him into the race and not totally gloating all day. I will happily buy him lunch.

Thanks to everyone else for following the race and rooting for me (no one was rooting for Ian, right?) I’m happy to report that the race was such a big deal that it was covered by the Associated Press! (if “mentioned in tweets by an AP reporter” counts as “covered by the Associated Press”)

Despite this loss, I’d happily take on other challengers, if anyone is interested in how quickly once could commute by bike in Providence. Same rules – I’d meet you at your house and we’d head into downtown Providence at the same time, obeying signs, speed limits, signals, etc. As long as your home is within 10 miles of Providence, and you work in or close to downtown.

Even better, although it wouldn’t be a race – if you are interested in commuting by bike, but aren’t sure how to do it, I could meet you at your home, and we could bike in at the same time. That could certainly make for an interesting post. It’s been quite a while since I did a “bicycle commuter profile” post, so I’d even be up for tagging along on another bike commuter’s commute, just to compare to my own. Hit me in the comments if you are interested.

RIPTA is my SAG Wagon

For a definition of SAG Wagon, please refer to the good book of Sheldon Brown, Chapter Sa—So.

A few days before my accident, I had the unfortunate experience of catching a pinch flat from hitting a massive pothole on Canal Street at about 18 MPH. I could feel the hit and thought “oh man, that’s not good.” I looked down at my bike and didn’t see any apparent damage. I could really feel the hit on my front wheel, but when I got to work, my front wheel and tire looked fine, but my rear tire was looking mighty spongy. I took a peek at my bike later in the day to find this:

A completely flat rear tire. I know that I should always have a patch kit, spare tube and pump on me at all times, but I just don’t keep those with my commuter because my ride is so short (I think I’ll changes this practice once I’m back on the saddle). Also, I don’t live in Cambridge where cyclists are lulled into a false sense of security by one of these public bike-repair stations located every three blocks:

(h/t to Jon of Wobbly Music for the link)

Because I no longer live in the Cyclists Republic of Cambridge, I had three options:

A. Walk the bike 1.5 miles home. This could be kind of damaging to the tire and the rim. Also, not particularly fun.

B. Remove the wheel, take it home for repairs and bring it back the next day. This would have required walking a few miles while carrying a wheel, looking like I stole it.

C. Put the whole thing on the Bus and ride home. This would cost $2.00 and save me some trouble and embarrassment.

I chose option C. Although I have been disparaging of RIPTA in the past, I’m glad that they have bike carriers on the front of all of their full-size buses. It certainly came in useful that day.

Spring is Here!

Well, Spring is kind of here. It’s been raining more than snowing, so at least we’ve got that going for us. My cycling miles have picked up a bit as well in the last couple of weeks. As previously mentioned, I’m back on the Cannondale for most of my trips (after a month exclusively on the Raleigh), but I still manage to get some time in on the old 3-speed due to all of the rain. Let’s compare January and February.

That’s a lot of walking! A good chunk of it came from a trip to NYC in the middle of the month. I always seem to walk the length of Manhattan while I’m there. This trip also accounts for the large number of “transit” miles. Maybe I shouldn’t count “taking Amtrak to New York” under transit, but hey, I’m making up the rules here so… too bad. I got rid of “total cycling miles” as an automatic category and replaced it with “SmugMiles” so I could directly compare the total of walking, cycling and transiting with the total of miles spent in an automobile. Also, this method allows me to feel more smug, and that’s really what this whole exercise is about. Now, I have to do a little spreadsheet addition (that is, shift-selecting a few cells) in order to find out how many miles I’ve traveled by bike. And that’s a round-about way of saying that for January, it was 130.2.

For February, I biked just less than 180 miles. I believe that there were only about 25 cycling miles out of both months that could be considered purely recreational (although I managed to squeeze in a trip to Wal-Mart on that ride). I’ve also noticed that I haven’t been on the Jamis in almost 2 months! I just don’t feel like taking it out on the sand and salt covered roads.

Let’s take a look at the big board:

This is a running total from 8/21/11 which as a faithful reader you recognize as the one year anniversary of my car-freeness. It’s interesting to see that over 1/3 of my walking miles came in January. I hope to see these numbers really take off once the roads clear a little more and I can get out for some rides on the weekends.

Along with increased mileage for me, another sure sign of spring is the increasing number of cyclists I see on the roads. It’s been very noticeable in the past week as I see more sidewalk riders, stop sign runners and everywhere I turn: salmon, salmon, salmon! Seriously, I can kind of understand going the wrong way on a one way street. People have a mistaken perception that it slows them down too much to go around the block, but if you are going to bike up on the wrong side of Hope Street at night with no lights, maybe you would just be better off on the sidewalk (actually, you would be better off on the right side of the road with lights). I haven’t yelled at a salmon yet. I’m not sure it would really do much. I just grit my teeth and remind myself that I used to do it too and one day they will understand that it really doesn’t save them any time.

I recently went to the South Side Community Land Trust Urban Agriculture Spring Kickoff at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. There were talks on composting, urban chicken raising and other things to help increase one’s smug quotient. Despite the fact that there was no bike rack, there were many bikes parked at the event.

My silver steed is on the far right, and the third from the right is a classic Bridgestone CB-1 with a milk crate to make it look more stealth. Also spotted:

A bike from famed bike collective: Troy Bike Rescue, almost 200 miles away. Evidently it is owned by a recently transplanted Trojan. Let’s hope he joins us at Recycle-A-Bike. Speaking of Recycle-A-Bike, we recently had a work party, tearing down the shop in preparation for our big move to a new location.

The uninsulated, unheated shop just wasn’t working out so well since it meant that we pretty much had to shut down all programs for at least 4 months. But even though the shop has been shut, one of our mechanics has been very busy rebuilding bikes to sell to help fund operations. And even though it was a miserable winter, he’s managed to sell a few bikes. You can find some more at RAB’s goodsie shop. There are some good deals there, far better than what might come out of some guy’s basement and end up on Craigslist.

Alas, not all bicycles can get the tender loving treatment that Recycle-A-Bike gives to the bikes that come into our bike shelter. Some bikes are abandoned on the streets by their owners. It makes me so sad to see perfectly good bikes left outside to the elements for months at a time.

There’s nothing too special about this red 3-speed Schwinn.

But does it deserve to be left to rust in front of a police station?

And this Raleigh, outside in the rain, slowly oxidizing, its leather saddle crumbling like the caked sands of Death Valley.

It even has a rack and front basket that would fit well on my Raleigh (grumble grumble).

And finally, for weeks this Bottechia road bike was buried beneath a pile of plowed snow. Now it has emerged with a completely rusty chain, but all it needs is a little bit of TLC to get back on the road.

I took the picture about late last week and when I went by this evening, I found this:


It could have been transportation for someone, but now, it’s just junk on the sidewalk.

Special Request for the DJ: Heart Attack Man

The New York Times is somewhat infamous for its “bogus trend” stories. Jack Shafer at Slate.com loves to write about these sorts of stories. All you really need are three examples, and wha-lah! le trend. (next one: misspelling french). These stories really stick out on the Times’ website because they run next to and look just as legitimate as a story about the economic conditions in Greece. However, they are a little less egregious nestled into the Style section with coverage of some band that records an album in a Central Falls warehouse or whatever. Worse than the “bogus trend” story is the “I’m going to make up a medical condition based on one study that I kind of looked at, even though I’m a journalist and not a doctor.” I present to you, from Jenny Hope at the Daily Mail:

The article cites a study about the “final straw” risk factors in triggering a heart attack. Some of the worst of these include: commuting in traffic, breathing polluted air, and strenuously exercising. It’s the reporter who came up with the idea that bicycle commuting must be the most dangerous thing because it combines so many independent risk factors. Of course, there’s nothing about bicycle commuting in the study… I think the author mentioned bike commuting just to troll for comments on the article. And of course, it this trolling was successful. I only scanned the comments, because they seemed to quickly get into a bullshit back and forth about cyclists not having a right to the road because they don’t pay “road tax” (this is in the UK, BTW). If you don’t know why this argument is bullshit, please leave a comment below.

There was one particular comment that caught my eye:

So … the problem is that pollution in our cities is increasing the possibility of heart disease? And low levels of fitness are also increasing this? Hmmm if only there were some way of reducing the amount of pollution whilst improving peoples fitness levels. Any ideas, anyone?

This comment perfectly illustrates how bike commuting does not put cyclists at risk of a heart attack: our own smug sense of self-importance helps to create a protective layer of positive “vibes” encasing our heart, and ensuring its proper function. Plus, we’re like in hella good shape.
If Jenny Hope was just combining a few random “final straw” heart attack triggers, I think she really missed the obvious:
Other risk factors included negative emotions (3.9 per cent), anger (3.1 per cent), eating a heavy meal (2.7 per cent), positive emotions (2.4 per cent) … sexual activity (2.2 per cent)… cocaine use (0.9 per cent).
So the real risk factor for a heart attack is
being Charlie Sheen.

A Month on the Raleigh

January and much of February sucked for riding. I’m glad it’s almost spring. In the 35 day period of 1/7/11 to 2/10/11, I didn’t set foot to pedal of my main commuting bike, the 2005 Cannondale Roadmaster 400 (a flat bar road bike, or performance hybrid, if you prefer), or my road bike, and there were 6 days where I decided it was better to walk than ride. The rest of the time, I rode my 1968 Raleigh Sports. I bought this bike for pretty much this purpose, so I can’t complain too much, and as a matter of fact, it was nice to have over a month riding just the Raleigh. I feel like I really got to know it.

If you don’t feel like going to my original post about the Raleigh, I shall summarize: It’s an old, heavy steel bike, with a Sturmey-Archer 3 speed IGH (internally geared hub). That is, it doesn’t have a derailleur. After seeing the derailleur on my Cannondale get clogged with ice and snow for the last 5 winters, I thought that an IGH might be the way to go. I bought the bike in July, and mostly saved if for rainy days. My idea was that this way, I’d be saving a little bit of wear and tear on the Cannondale.

There are a few small problems with my Raleigh:

First, it lacks a front fender. Fenders are kind of nice to have, especially for one’s “rain bike.” The lack of a front fender means that when I am riding through heavy rain or slush, it gets picked up by the front tire and dumped on my feet and ankles. Luckily, I’m usually wearing boots and rain pants, so this isn’t too bad. Still, one of these days, I’ve got to put a front fender on this thing. I think there might be some suitable fenders at Recycle-A-Bike. Once RAB’s new shop is all set up, I’m making it priority number 1.

Second, it doesn’t have a rack. I’ve grown to really appreciate the importance of a good rack and pannier system to successful bike commuting. Sure, you can just throw on a backpack, but in the summer time (and most of the spring and fall for that matter) that just means you are going to get all sweaty in the backpack area. Finding a rack for the Raleigh might be a little more difficult. There are some expensive options out there, but this was a $75 bike, so I don’t really feel like investing much money in it. I have actually spent more money on accessories for the bike than the bike itself cost ($50 for a new saddle, $20 for  a cup holder, 2 X $5 for front and rear light mounts), and I’m sure I’ll need new tires (and probably new wheels) for it eventually. In the wintertime, back sweat isn’t much of an issue, which helps confirm my choice for this to be my winter bike.

Third, the frame is a little bit small for me. This means I’m leaning forward  more than is intended for the frame, and I have the seatpost jacked so high that I can’t comfortably put my foot down when stopped. Nonetheless, like Rumsfeld would say, you go to work with the bike you have.

I would almost say that there is a fourth small problem with the bike: the gearing is less than ideal (it’s too high). I live at the top of a hill, and the quickest route home involves grades in the  7 to 12 % range. The lowest of the Raleigh’s three gears is not low enough to really handle these grades, and even downhill I’m never going fast enough to adequately use the highest gear. This could be changed by swapping out a larger cog, but I don’t really have the patience for that right now (frankly, I’m afraid something might fall apart if I try to remove the rear wheel). I say that it’s almost a problem because after a few weeks of riding the Raleigh exclusively, I became accustomed to its gearing. First, I picked a less steep commuting route. This added a mile to my commute in each direction, but that’s just bonus miles. Secondly, I just got used to using only the two gears. On my Cannondale, I’m shifting the rear derailleur all the time, often skipping gears as I accelerate down a big hill.  I don’t know if I’ve just become acclimated to it, or my legs are becoming stronger, but when I ride the Raleigh and don’t have dozens of gears to chose from, I don’t really miss it.

The upright posture has been a nice change of pace as well. Matt from BikesCanWork.com thinks that the upright posture is ideal for city riding, while I do see it’s advantages, I find it a little bit harder to look behind me, and in general I feel less agile on the Raleigh than I do on my Cannondale. At this point, the Cannondale almost feels like an extension of my body. I have very precise control of the Cannondale at very low speeds, which is nice for riding in traffic. When I ride the Raleigh, it gets a little wobbly as I get slower, and if I look behind me, I inevitably turn a bit in the direction I look.  As I approach a stoplight, I often swerve a little bit before putting my foot down.  These tendencies have lessened as I racked up more miles, but I’m not sure if they will ever go away completely. There is a certain feeling that I get while riding the Raleigh, like I’m not in a hurry. This is probably good, because there is no way to make the Raleigh hurry. It just wants to keep you going slow, and with all of the snow we had in January and February, this isn’t such a bad thing. In the 35 day period, I got in about 90 miles on the Raleigh, with the longest single ride lasting about 4 miles. I don’t think I’d want to ride this bike for much longer than that, but I think that it’s weight, paucity of gears and upright posture have made for a good change of pace, and maybe even a bit of a winter training regimen.

With the recent warming trend, I’ve been back on the Cannondale for the last week or so, but looking at tomorrow’s forcast, it looks like I’ll be dressed like this…

… and riding the Raleigh.