Archive for June, 2010

WTF Mornings

Why is it some rides are just utterly brutal for no apparent reason?  I had one of those rides yesterday morning, and I’m still baffled by it.  Why?  It was barely a ride at all.

I’m not talking about bonking it the middle of a long, hard ride here, this was a 6.6 mile commute that kicked my ass worse than any century ride I’ve ever done.  I was feeling fine when I left, but about a mile into the commute it just felt like my legs were dying and my lungs were refusing to take in any oxygen.  I felt like puking twice on the ride, and the most stressful part of the ride is the whopping 40 foot “hill” in the middle.  By the time I got to work, I was gasping for air, dripping with sweat, and wobbling on unsteady legs.  It was like I ate some bad oysters in a sweat lodge.

What the hell?  I can do this ride when I’m quite literally sick and tired.  I can do it in 105 degree temperatures.  I can do it while toting 20 pounds of clothes, lunch, and other gear in my bag.  Why could I barely do it yesterday morning?

I guess these are just the little mysteries of life that help keep cycling interesting.  Or maybe it’s just my fat ass telling me I really need to get serious about the training again.  Whatever it was, next time just send me an email.

Stupid Google

So, I’d been riding the same commute route for a little over two years now (with small variations for hitting different grocery stores or running other errands). I thought it was pretty much the best route available, hitting a sweet-spot for low traffic density with little riding out of the way to avoid the more hairy stretches of traffic. In fact, I was so sure that this was the ideal route between my home and work that when Google Maps first added their biking directions option, I asked it to map out a route for my commute and scoffed at its silly reply. “You want me to go where? Stupid Google.”

Then three days ago I set out on my morning commute and found, a bit to my dismay, that the city of Plano was resurfacing one of the stretches of road that I commute on, and had closed the road to through traffic (I was only a bit dismayed because that stretch really does need resurfacing). So I wiggled about and took a detour which pulled me over a mile out of my way that morning, and a similar one that evening for the ride home. And the next day I took a shorter detour which plunked me smack in the middle of some more construction on a far busier street with far angrier drivers. “I guess I’ll have to take the long detour after all,” I sighed to myself as I was about to resign myself to my fate (goodness knows I love riding my bike, but after work, I just want to get home and see my girl and my dogs and my couch; and frankly, the hot, humid Texas summer weather isn’t the happiest stuff to ride in either). But then I remembered that route that Google suggested to me all those months ago.  Sure, I laughed at it, but maybe it would be better than taking the long way home, even if it were busier with traffic. I’d try it that evening on the way home and evaluate it.

Eventually, it was time to head home, so I strapped on my bag and my helmet and I hit the mean streets of Plano, ready for the worst, and preparing myself to leave a little earlier in the morning tomorrow after this route failed tonight. Only… it didn’t.

It turns out that those goons at Google know what they’re talking about. This new route not only cuts a bit of distance off of my regular commute route (only about a quarter of a mile), but it cuts out about three quarters of a mile of the highest traffic density road on my ride and instead routes me through an industrial park where, to date, I’ve seen a total of two cars on the road in three days. Imagine that. On the downside, I do need to cross two sets of rough railroad tracks and … well, that’s it. Sort of.

On the route as suggested by Google, for my morning commute there are two problems:

  1. There is one left turn required onto a very busy stretch of road. You’re only on that stretch for about a tenth of a mile, so the pucker factor isn’t too bad, but you can wait a long time for traffic to clear enough to turn out.
  2. Just after that left turn is a right turn onto another busy street (the one mentioned above that had much of its length cut out by this new route. Here, the problem isn’t the turn, as it was with the previous left, this one is protected by a light. The problem is that about a quarter of a mile down the road, I need to make another left turn, and I need to cut across three lanes of traffic to set it up. Now, given the speed limit of the road (40 MPH, just coming out of a 45 MPH zone), the speed of your average cyclist, the distance from the light at the intersection, and the length of that light, it just so works out that, when it comes time to cut across those three lanes, if the cyclist had gone straight through that intersection, there will almost always be a gap between waves of cars that makes it easy to cross over. However, if the cyclist is now making a right turn at that intersection onto that stretch of road, he is now a half-cycle off with respect to the traffic lights, and the gap no longer exists to safely and easily cut across those lanes to turn left at the next light.

Fortunately, I believe I found a solution to both problems with one fell swoop. It appears, from a look at the Google Maps satellite photos, that I can easily cut through the parking lot of one of the businesses along the new route, and enter that last busy stretch of road just ahead of the light. Doing so wipes out the need for that busy left turn, and it will have me back in sync with the traffic pattern that lets me cut across the road and set up my left turn. I’ll have to try it out tomorrow to be sure it works, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t.

In the meantime I can take comfort in the fact that I’m still smarter than the Google gang about one thing; parking lots.

Stupid Google.

83.4% of all statistics are made up on the spot

In a recent post on Copenhagenize by Brian Glover (along with a reply from Mikael), Brian tried to build up a case for pushing cycling as a part of a sexy, high-status lifestyle in order to get more people out on the streets with their bikes.  And in this post, he referred to a survey discussed in an earlier post by Mikael that asked cyclists “Why do you choose to bicycle to work?”.  While Mikael attacked the options given for the answers (in what I considered to be a rather foolish argument on his part, but that’s another screed), Brian took issues with both the answers and the question.  According to him the question should have read:

“Why do you choose to do something that, in the eyes of 95% of your society, marks you as a freak and a loser?”

No one will say this out loud, of course – it’s not polite – but it’s the truth. And no one will answer this question honestly, either, but if they did, the choices would look like this:

A. I am too poor to get around in any other way. I have no choice. I am abject.

B. I have had my rights as a citizen stripped from me because of repeated, unforgivably bad behavior (i.e. drunk driving convictions). I am an outcast and a pariah.

C. I think most mainstream people are idiots, and I actively seek out their disapproval. I am a rebel. If the majority of people around me start biking, I’ll hate that too.

D. I genuinely don’t care what other people think of me. I am an independent thinker. I also have enough job security and social status that I can afford not to care what other people think of me. I am either uncommonly strong, or uncommonly privileged.

Brian then went on to build up his “cycling is perceived as low-class and freakish, we need to make it glamorous and sexy” argument from this claim.

“Why do you choose to do something that, in the eyes of 95% of your society, marks you as a freak and a loser?
No one will say this out loud, of course – it’s not polite – but it’s the truth. And no one will answer this question honestly, either, but if they did, the choices would look like this:
A. I am too poor to get around in any other way. I have no choice. I am abject.
B. I have had my rights as a citizen stripped from me because of repeated, unforgivably bad behavior (i.e. drunk driving convictions). I am an outcast and a pariah.
C. I think most mainstream people are idiots, and I actively seek out their disapproval. I am a rebel. If the majority of people around me start biking, I’ll hate that too.
D. I genuinely don’t care what other people think of me. I am an independent thinker. I also have enough job security and social status that I can afford not to care what other people think of me. I am either uncommonly strong, or uncommonly privileged.”

And so in the comments section of the blog, I asked a simple question of Brian, “Could you cite the source of this ‘truthful’ statistic?”  Brian, in turn, kindly responded with another blog post, in which he lays out an anecdotal argument that tries to justify his claim.  Unfortunately, there’s still noting there that actually supports his original claim.

Brian’s opening line in his reply to my question reads “I don’t know where you’re from, but in the U.S.A., overt harassment of cyclists is a fact of life.”  This is one of those vacuously true(-ish) statements that provides no real information.  It’s like saying “I don’t know where you’re from, but in Florida, alligators are a fact of life.”  They’re there, you can see them, on occasion one even shows up in your yard or your pool.  Yet not everyone experiences a gator encounter, some see them more than others, and while they can be dangerous, even fatal, generally speaking it happens less often than the anecdotal evidence would seem to indicate, and you’re still more likely to be killed by your shower.

But anecdotal evidence is all that Brian has to offer in this response.  Nowhere in there does he even come close to objectively defending his outrageous claim from the article on Copenagenize.  Well, if he wants anecdotal evidence I suppose I can offer mine to him as well and let him factor it in as he sees fit.

I have been cycling on a regular basis for about six years now, and commuting regularly on my bike for about five of those years.  In all of that time, I have been overtly harassed a total of three times: once in Albuquerque where a car full of teens was honking their horn behind me then yelled something unintelligible as they passed; once here in the D/FW area which I wrote about here, and one earlier this month by a group of teens in Abbeville, Louisiana while I was out riding in the Tour du Rouge.  Of course, in that time, I’ve also been hooted at (in a good way) by women in cars twice, and given thumbs-up, words of encouragement, or other positive comments dozens of times.  And on top of that I’ve been passed by easily tens of thousands of cars who registered no opinion whatsoever on the subject (go read David Alison’s blog post again, I’ll wait).  And just for good measure, I’ll add that I’ve been honked at, yelled at, and given the finger far more times while driving my car than riding my bike.

If I were to form an opinion of drivers’ opinions of cyclists from this it would be that drivers are overwhelmingly neutral towards cyclists, with a small fraction pro-cyclist, and a smaller fraction still anti-cyclist.  And while I guess this is the way things would trend in a study, I sure as hell wouldn’t present my assumption as an objective truth without some sound study or set of studies backing it.  And that’s what I’m asking of Brian (and really everyone else out there).

Anyway, I don’t want this to sound like I’m disagreeing with everything Brian has to say, he does have some good points.  I think it would be helpful to show cycling in a more high-status, sexier manner, and I do think that it would help to raise the image of cycling (though again, I’d guess it would go from overwhelmingly neutral to slightly positive and hopefully, later, positive).  But I also agree with Mikael that it should be portrayed as quicker and easier than driving (which it can be, but is far from always being — again, a different screed).

Of course I disagree with both of them in that I feel that portraying cycling as fun is also very important.  Really, any marketing campaign (or collection of campaigns) needs to be multifaceted.  Look at beer commercials or car commercials, different commercials capture different aspects of their products.  Beer is fun, beer attracts sexy women and good looking men, beer is cold and refreshing, beer can be upscale, beer can reflect the values of the working man, beer is consumed by the world’s most interesting man and the crowds that hang out with him.  Cars on the other hand are fun to drive, and they attract sexy women and good looking men, and they are of great utility, and they are luxurious, and they are sporty, and they allow you to get away from it all, and they are tough, and they are safe. Cars are what get you to and from the party (where there will no doubt be beer), and get the kids to and from school, and they tow your boat, carry your groceries, haul your tools, and now with the  spread of hybrid cars, they help you save the environment.  Is there any reason that bikes can’t be all of that?  OK, OK, they have a much smaller advertising budget, but still, multiple views can be presented.

Anyway, before I drift too far off of the core topic, I want to address Brian’s closing bit of his response to me: “I’d love to see a decent psychologist do a study of this stuff, but as far as I know it’s never been done. Dave Horton is doing some interesting work, though. And I’ll bet you a new bike that that when that study does happen, it supports my conjecture. Whaddaya say, sport?”

Well, Brian, I honestly don’t know what conjecture you’re talking about here, so you’d really have to clarify, but if you’re stating that you think a properly constructed, unbiased study would show that anywhere close to 95% of Americans think that riding a bike to work marks you as a freak and a loser, then I’d be more than willing to put up the donation of a Kona Africabike or similar to some charity to be distributed to a worthy recipient, and I have a lot of things that my money could be better spent on than buying a new bike for someone else.