Tag Archives: bike 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.

Project Fake Commute: Bay Area Multi-Modal Mega-Commute

Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, spending most of my time in the East Bay community of Emeryville. I always love visiting this part of the country, it’s just a beautiful city. Making my visit even better this time – I had a loaner bike!

That’s not a very good picture. How about this?

borrowed bicycle

Ahhh, yes. Giant trash sculpture in the background – that’s the Northern California vibe I was going for. This is a Guerciotti frame that had been completely stripped of its paint. You can see the frame here with its original paint job. The bike was loaned to me by a nice young man named Jonathan who lives near the friend I was staying with. Jonathan had a few parts laying around and put the bike together for me to enjoy during my visit. The bike was a little big for me, but it worked out just fine. It had a couple of features that I had not experienced before. First was a 1 X 8 drivetrain. That is, a single chainring on the crank, and an 8 speed cassette at the wheel. Aside from feeling like I needed a little more low range on the steepest hills, this drivetrain was just plenty for me. As you can see, the bike also had a front basket. I was out riding for most of every day, shedding layers as I went, so it was good to have some place to put everything. Having a front basket did affect the handling a little bit, but I don’t feel like it made the bike unsafe in any way. The hardest part was parking the bike and keeping the front wheel from flopping around all over the place.

Aside from visiting friends and enjoying the fresh California air, I was in the bay area in order to participate in the the All-California Sacred Harp Singing Convention. I won’t bore you with the details of what Sacred Harp Singing is all about. If you are interested to learn, let me direct you to this informative website. Let’s just say that it’s a musical activity I enjoy doing, and it gives me a good excuse to travel to different parts of the country. In this instance, the singing took place in San Carlos, but I was staying in Emeryville. To illustrate:

It’s about 35 miles as the car drives. I had originally planned to take BART into SF and then take CalTrain the rest of the way. Then I took a closer look at the map and noticed that the BART stop was only about 10 miles away from my destination in San Carlos. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for one of my favorite activities: pretending that I am a bike commuter in a different town from where I live. How exciting, right?!

I’ve run a Fake Commute like this a few times before, but in a formal way, only twice. About a year ago in Austin, TX and almost two years ago in my hometown of Overland Park, KS (and its neighbor, Olathe). A Fake Commute is an opportunity to get out of one’s daily life and imagine what one’s life would be like if one lived somewhere else. It’s a chance to indulge in a fantasy life for a day. For example: when I made the Olathe/Overland Park commute, I pretended that I lived in a sprawling Midwestern suburb and worked at the vast corporate headquarters of a telecommunications company. Exciting!

For this commute, I pretended that I worked in San Carlos, but I lived in Emeryville… and I don’t really have any better narrative than that. Maybe I’m a software engineer or something, who knows. I also pretended that I only worked on weekends because that’s when the singing was taking place.

It was about a 2 mile ride from my starting point to the MacArthur BART. Bay Area Rapid Transit only allows bikes on the trains during non-peak times, but fortunately, weekends are non-peak all day long. I parked my bike, and settled in for the 50 minute ride.

guerciotti on BART

Bikes are required to stay in one particular part of the train, where there is not quite enough room for a full-sized bike. No matter how you park it, one of your wheels will stick out in front of the door, or out into the aisle. There just seems to be no way around it. However, I had an aha moment while riding BART:

bicycle parking brake on BART

That’s one of the velcro straps that I usually wrap around my ankles in order to keep my pants from getting chain grease. Instead, I’ve used it to secure the brake lever, thus creating a sort of parking brake. THIS WAS EXTREMELY EFFECTIVE AND I CAN’T BELIEVE I’VE NEVER THOUGHT OF IT BEFORE! I often ride the MBTA commuter rail between Providence and Boston, but this thought never came to me. I used the other velcro strap to secure the wheel to the frame (you can see it in the first BART picture). This was also awesome, but not quite as much as my velcro parking brake.

Well, I think that’s enough revelations for one blog post, I’ll save the rest of my fake commute report for another post.

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.