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Things Cyclists Wish Motorists Knew February 26, 2015

I watched as the truck came to a screeching halt and stared at me. I had the right of way, but it was clear he hadn’t seen me. It was also clear that he was more upset about not having seen me than I was about not being seen. (I had seen him and was able to stop well in advance of our anticipated collision.)

As I continued my ride, I began to contemplate the many things that I wish motorists knew about cyclists. (Like that we don’t all get angry just because you didn’t see us. After all, sometimes we don’t see you, either!) With that in mind, here are the top entrants on my personal “wish you knew” list:

1. Just because I’m small, doesn’t mean that I can’t (or don’t) move very quickly. I’ve been riding for a while and can easily keep pace with most residential traffic. The result is that if you suddenly pull out in front of me, you’ll be risking a collision. It may take a cyclist less time to reduce their speed than is required for the driver of an SUV, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take time. The faster I’m moving, the more time it takes.

2. My skill level is not evidenced by the clothes I wear. I’ve seen some amazing cyclists who wear street clothes and a backpack and some incredibly inept bikers who wear a full riding kit. Don’t presume that just because someone is on a road bike and wearing a jersey that they have the skill to stop or reroute themselves without getting hurt or hurting someone else.

3. Cycling laws don’t always mirror traffic laws. That means (at least in my State), that I get to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights like stop signs. It also means that I can ride on the road or the sidewalk. If you see me hopping onto a sidewalk, to avoid falling prey to a light or claiming a lane to preserve my safety, it isn’t necessarily because I’m a dangerous or impulsive rider.

4. Sometimes traffic laws are in conflict and it leads to conflict between those using the road. We’ve both dealt with the turn signal that goes green at the same time the crosswalk sign lights up. The pedestrian has the right to cross the very lane that the driver also has a legal right to cross. It isn’t your fault because you’re a motorist. It isn’t my fault because I’m a cyclist. It just is what it is.

5. There are good cyclists and bad cyclists… and sometimes good cyclists do bad things. Just as with motorists, our differing skill levels, degree of fatigue, and whether or not we had a good day at the office can influence our alertness and ability to react. While many of us are good at following the law, that doesn’t mean that we don’t occasionally “run a red”. Show us grace when we do.

6. Sometimes I don’t see you. You may be bigger. You may be louder. But that doesn’t always mean that I know you’re coming. Just like motorists don’t always expect to see me on the sidewalk, I don’t always expect to see you dashing between those two oncoming vehicles.

7. I don’t ride to thumb my nose at people who drive. Yes, I like to ride because it provides me with exercise, saves me money, and helps to preserve the environment. But I’ll tell you a secret: I also own a pickup truck. I recognize that just as I have reasons for two wheels, you have reasons to get around on four. My choice of transport isn’t a judgment against those who choose another form.

So there’s my short list. To sum it up: mutual respect and a measure of grace can go a long way – regardless of the size of our vehicles!


How Borrowing a Book Might Have Saved My Life or a Treatise on the Danger of Empty Intersections December 4, 2014

Filed under: Bicycling — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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I confess that I do my best to be a careful and conscientious cyclist. I know and obey the laws… and I do my best to keep an eye open for those who don’t. I know where the dangerous intersections are and at what points I’m safer using the crosswalk than the road or vice versa. I always look in every conceivable direction before crossing a busy road (even when I have the clear right of way). And I obey the laws for motorists whenever I encounter situations in which the motorists may be unaware that there are separate laws which govern legal cycling.

On this particular evening, however, I was being extra vigilant. A friend of mine had loaned me a rather valuable book and had charged me with its protection and preservation. (Including a directive that I was not to spit in it… something I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.) Despite the humor involved, I viewed the charge as a serious one and had carefully wrapped the volume an over-sized beach towel and nestled it into my backpack alongside another, similarly protected work. I also determined that I should work extra hard to ensure that if I were in a wreck of some sort, the book would be preserved.

Realizing the unlikeliness of any scenario in which I was sent sprawling across the pavement while my backpack and its contents remained unharmed, it became imperative for me to keep my ears open and my eyes on the road. I made it quickly and safely through downtown without incidence and was feeling pretty good as I approached the empty crossroads.

The particular intersections was used sparingly even at the height of traffic and was usually quite empty at this hour. My light was green and there was no car in sight, so I headed across.

I was about a quarter of the way into the road when an old car appeared over the crest of the nearby hill. In a split second, I recognized that its speed was significantly over the posted limit… and that stopping for the red light was the last thing on the driver’s mind. Gripping my brakes, I halted my bike mid-lane and watched as the vehicle sped through the intersection.

To be honest, it didn’t feel like a close call, despite the fact that it might have looked that way to an observer. I saw the vehicle coming and I reacted appropriately. I didn’t even have to slam on the brakes. What I did wonder, however was whether I’d have seen the vehicle in time had I not been trying to protect my friend’s book.

While I’d like to think that I would have been riding safely with or without the volume, I’ll never be quite sure. What I do know is that I will never view an empty intersection as a danger-free zone again. Cars can come out of anywhere and it pays to be vigilant!


How My Kidneys Became Justification for Cycling November 20, 2014

Filed under: Bicycling — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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I didn’t realize there was a problem. My back ached and that was all. It didn’t feel like a muscle problem, but the pain was not too intense. No reason for alarm.

It wasn’t until after dinner several evenings after the pain first appeared that I began to grow concerned. The sensation had grown from occasional sharp stabs to a persistent fire. I tried a bit of Aspercreme, but to no avail. Curled up on the floor wondering when (or if) I would be able to stand upright again, I made the decision that it was time to see a doctor.

As it turns out, that was exactly what I’d needed to do… about three weeks earlier. In retrospect, I had noticed a few minor symptoms of the infection. But since I wasn’t in discomfort, I wasn’t looking for an explanation. By the time I got to the doctor’s office the problem had become one of “epic” proportions. (In fact, the nurse even commented on my unusually high tolerance for pain.)

Lying on my back, with an IV plugged into my arm (a very weird sensation for an ordinarily healthy person), I began to contemplate the conceivably astronomical proportions of my pending medical bill. (One which turned out to be significantly greater on my new “affordable” health plan than it was on my old insurance.) I was fairly certain that the few hundred dollars stashed in my medical envelope wouldn’t cover the cost. As a Dave Ramsey devotee, I knew I’d have to alter my budget to make up for the shortfall. And the answer came in the form of my bicycle.

Truth be told, I love to ride. It’s a great recreational sport – easy on all of the joints which are suddenly showing their age. I make time for it on weekdays as part of my regular exercise regime and ride with the dream of someday competing in a Century. A few mathematical calculations performed after receiving the coverage statement from my insurance company, however, quickly proved that riding could be much more. In fact, if I were to use my bike as my primary form of transport for just two months, the money saved on gas would be sufficient to make up the gap between the money in my medical savings and the clinic’s bill.

I was only a few weeks into my new “ride everywhere” financial scheme when two things became apparent. The first was that I could actually get everywhere I needed to go in the same or, on some occasions, less time than it took me to drive. This was due in large part to the fact that cyclists in my State are not bound to the same laws as motorists. (There is always more than one safe, legal way through a red light!) The result, of course, was that I actually gained some free time each day by combining my workout with my commutes.

The second was that I was actually getting much more exercise by riding everywhere than I had when I had set aside specific hours for my rides. (On some days, my workout time was actually quadruple what it would have been otherwise.) In fact, it wasn’t long before my cycling had improved to such a degree that I hardly noticed that I was ascending “THE REALLY BIG HILL” until I was just a few feet from the top!
So here I am, with the medical bill fully paid, and I’m still riding just about everywhere. My only regret is that my kidneys had to be the ones to tell me that this was a good idea! But I can guarantee, I won’t need to be told twice!



Nice Ride October 23, 2014

Filed under: Bicycling — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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I confess that, for all intents and purposes, I prefer comfort to speed. While I dream of being a world class cyclist, the realist in me knows that I’m past my prime. I won’t be enjoying the adventure of cyclo-cross with its mud and hills or the exhilarating thrill of the Tour de’ France. (The Tour de’ Across Town can even be a bit much some days!) So when I purchased my bike, I went for convenience – a ride that offered enduring comfort with all the perks necessary to make getting from home to my next meeting a relatively pleasant task.

After trying out several models, I finally settled on a Giant Sedona. White with silver embossing, it came with a broad, cushiony seat complete with that cutout that guarantees bits of your nether regions won’t go numb. The low bar was another perk, ensuring that even when my bad leg goes a bit lame on me, I can still manage to fling it over the bike.

I accessorized the bike with headlights and taillights, a nifty silver bell to alert pedestrians to my presence, a set of chrome pedals (the originals were plastic) with grippy spikes, and a set of straps that perform essentially the same task as clips on the more sophisticated bikes. I tacked on a hand-pump instead of a water bottle, and finished my “custom” machine off with a rack which, to be honest, rarely holds anything.

The result is my ideal ride: fully equipped to handle a leisurely ride in the spring and a ride of necessity when gas prices skyrocket over summer. Like a dream, it’s weathered several thousand miles of use and, much to the surprise of the local bike shop mechanic (who is rather baffled by my unusually shifting technique), has yet to require a replacement chain.

I confess that I don’t spend much time wondering what others think of my beautiful bike. It was selected and outfitted with me and my personal comfort in mind… so the opinions of others don’t really matter. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate them when their offered and I could feel the grin beginning to spread across my face as the secretary admired my freshly washed and waxed frame.

 “That’s a really nice ride,” she observed.

Knowing that she spent a lot of her spare time riding, herself (and on significantly more challenging courses than were provided by our local streets), it was quite a compliment.

“Yeah, I really like it,” I modestly replied. Then, at her obvious visual invitation, began to explain what made my unassuming cycle so wonderful in my eyes – features that made designed for comfort rather than speed.

The conversation evolved and, as it neared its end, she complemented my bike again.

The dialogue followed me all the way home. As I freewheeled into the driveway, I repeated her praise one more time. “This is a really nice ride!”


Taxes and Tires September 4, 2014

Filed under: Bicycling,Bicycling,Books — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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This wasn’t quite how I’d expected my day to go. Ideally, I’d have been outside in the cool of the morning, washing my bicycle. That my bicycle is better cared for than my pickup is a well-known fact. During the heat of summer, when gas prices skyrocket, those two wheels carry me nearly everywhere. I can ride from one side of the town to the other and back again without wincing. (It’s an odd reality given my lack of stamina with nearly every other form of exercise.) A 25 mile ride can take place quite by accident.

Instead, I was indoors, on the phone, trying to resolve what I’m considering dubbing “The Great Tax Saga of 2014”. I don’t usually have any difficulties with my taxes. I fill out the 1040 EZ and I’m done. This year, however, presented a few difficulties including a misunderstanding as to whether my employer was to pay the employer’s part of my taxes or I was. It took several 8 hour work days to get the situation sorted out, but I was set to go and mailed my return, payment enclosed, two full weeks before the deadline.

It wasn’t until later that I discovered there was another problem. While the IRS had signed for the return and processed my payment, they hadn’t processed the return, itself. After another hour and an half on the phone with two separate, but extremely helpful employees, it was determined that I needed to refile. (I still firmly hold to a belief formed in my days as a Staff Assistant to a U.S. Senator that the IRS is the easiest Federal agency to work with.) Still, it was lunch time now and my bike was still in the garage.

I ran off several photocopies and dashed off a letter with precise names and dates (just in case the IRS wanted to double check my story), and stuffed them in an envelope for later mailing. (I hadn’t sent anything to the IRS via registered mail in years, but was glad I had done so this year!) Back to my bike.

I’d spent a small portion of my morning (before discovering the tax problem) reading a copy of “The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance & Repair: For Road & Mountain Bikes” – a volume which I had determined to read cover-to-cover. Unlike my automotive endeavors, my interest in how my bicycle works is more than academic. I’ve ridden several thousand miles on this particular bike and, to date, the worst it’s done is drop a chain. I’d like that to be the worst that ever happens to my baby.

The morning’s topic was “suspension” and I was eager to discover what type of front-wheel suspension my bike possessed. (And to discover whether it needed adjustment… which I was sure it did if only because I wanted the experience of fiddling with the settings, myself.) But washing the bike was to come first.

It was nearly 80 degrees outside when I opened up the garage. I grabbed some de-greaser for my chain and derailleurs and a bit of polish for the frame. Then I turned on the hose and began the meticulous work of removing the grime from all those hard-to-reach places between the pedals and spokes. Yes, it was work. But I’ll take tires over taxes any day!



The Biggest Obstacle Isn’t Found On the Road May 16, 2013

Filed under: Bicycling — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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The morning was nearly perfect.  The temperature was in the eighties and the humidity was high, but the air was still and the cloud cover sufficient to keep the sun out of my eyes.  As I rolled my bike out of the garage, I noted that my tire pressure was a little low, but quickly determined that it was sufficient for one more outing.

Despite my apparent fearlessness as a child, I had long since adopted a more mature policy of simply avoiding anything that might even vaguely resemble a road hazard.  I tried to keep my pressure in range and enjoy a smooth ride, but I felt good this morning and maybe I’d have the opportunity to make use of the lower pressure (as well as the slightly more sophisticated shock system which had come with my bike).  Today, I would ride without fear and take the obstacles I met head-on.  I would be indestructible.

It wasn’t long before I had the opportunity for which I had hoped.  I was on a downhill stretch in a new neighborhood and gathering speed at a reasonable clip when I noticed that someone had placed a rather large speed bump inconveniently near the bottom… and that a gremlin had covered the entire bump in river rock.  I tapped the brakes, but knew that I wasn’t going to be able to shave off enough speed to “ease over” the obstacle as I normally did.  I was going to have to take it head-on, full bore… fearlessly.

Rising off my seat, I shifted my center of gravity forward, tucked my head down… and flew.  Right up and over the bump as though it were no more difficult than tying my shoes.  It was a moment of sheer freedom.

As I touched down, I glanced behind at my riding partner who had been able to take the bump at a more moderate speed and smiled.  I felt myself sit up a bit straighter in my seat, pleased with the knowledge that not only had I taken the obstacle with the finesse of a pro, but that someone had actually seen me do it.

We encountered our next hazard when the path we were following turned from pavement to a mixture of sand and gravel.  I could have turned back, but I was feeling fantastic and was up for more.  Standing up on my pedals and maintaining my speed, I made full use of my handlebars to guide my bike upright down the trail.  No problem here.  I had seen these rocks before and I had conquered them.

After a nice loop of a sandy trail, we headed back into town where I encountered my third big obstacle of the day.  This one turned out to be a human on a busy road.  The driver was going about 35 mph and I knew that I could sprint an easy 20 and be across the road in time without his ever even having to tap the brakes.  I took off like a shot, made it across, and had begun to pedal my way down the road when the driver hit his accelerator and paced me while blowing his horn.  I have to admit that this unsettled me and, for the next few minutes, I fumed while griping to my riding partner about discourteous drivers.

I admit that my mind was still focused on my prior encounter with the motor vehicle as we pulled up to the crosswalk and I reached for the button and did the unthinkable.  After a day of fabulous, fearless riding, I dropped my bike breaking my water bottle cage and skinning my knee, bruising my leg in five distinct places and slitting my thumb.  It wasn’t until I managed to release myself from my rather unusual pedal straps and regained control of my gripped my handlebars that I noticed the last of these injuries.  I looked down for a moment, watching as blood dripped down my grip and onto my leg.

I think I’ll leave the blood on my handlebars for a while – a reminder that the biggest threat to my safety on the road isn’t an obstacle in front of my bike, but the ones that exist within my own mind.  Next time, I’ll ride safer: not just fearless, but focused.


Of Panic and Panniers April 25, 2013

It was 16 degrees when I woke up and I have to admit that, for a brief moment, I thought about cancelling the ride.  I had been looking forward to it for weeks, but now sitting there, the warm mug of pumpkin coffee cradled between my hands, the near-tropical bliss of my pickup’s tiny cab seemed a paradise.  Like most years in Idaho, the weather had failed to keep pace with my ambition.  The skies were clear, the sun was shining, but as my mother was wont to point out: this was not sufficient reason to be donning my favorite pair of shorts.  If I was going to ride today, I’d have to do it bundled up like a snowman.

Using this logic, I had managed to postpone my first ride of the season for nearly a month.  Instead, I had curbed my desire for two wheels and fresh air with the purchase of a brand new set of Seattle Sports Rain Rider Panniers.  Bright orange with reflective tape, I had ogled them for most of the previous season.  It doesn’t rain much in Idaho, but a prospective move to a wetter locale had placed them on my radar and, for some reason I couldn’t quite explain, they’d never slipped off… even after the job opportunity had faded away.  So here they were, crisp and fresh, waiting for that inaugural ride and I wasn’t going to let them down.

An hour later, I was appropriately bundled in three layers which included thermal underwear, insulated coveralls, and my favorite Cannondale alpaca helmet liner.  I had taken great care to ensure that the pannier was well attached to my bike rack (something which had proven more challenging than anticipated, since I had no way to keep it away from my rear wheel and had been forced to resort to laying it flat atop the rack and holding it in place with a conspicuous web of mini bungee cords).  The air was brisk, but it wasn’t long before the blood was pumping and, thirty minutes later, I arrived at work with that delightful burn that comes with a few good uphill sprints.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what had led me to believe that the trip home would be shorter and less eventful than the trip to work.  Perhaps it was the success of my initial adventure or the knowledge that most of the big hills were behind me, but I felt compelled to ride just a bit faster… and it was at that high-speed coast down 14th street that it happened: my brand new pannier fell off!

I heard it fall.  The thunk.  The scratching as it slid across the pavement.  The squeak of my brakes as I pulled to an abrupt stop.  Looking back, I realized that my decision to take a different route home had been nothing short of an act of Divine intervention; My pannier now lay in the middle of the road… but not just any road, it was a road that was rarely ever used.

Dismounting, I picked up my new rainproof bag and the bungee cords which had held it in place.  (All the bungee cords, that is, except the one which had neatly wrapped itself around the spokes of my rear wheel.)  To my surprise, the bag, itself, bore little sign of its ordeal.  A minor scuff on the handle was all it had to show and I was reasonably confident that the bike lock and two unread issues of Bicycling magazine housed inside were equally undamaged.

It took several minutes, but I finally settled upon a different method of attaching the cords and set off again – grateful that the mishap hadn’t happened on one of the busier roads or on the bridge as I crossed the river.

For a while, everything went well.  The roads were smooth, the drivers courteous, and nearly every light was in my favor.  In fact, I was nearly home when it happened again.  Thunk.  Scratch.  Squeak.  This time, the pannier had landed in the gutter.  A good call on its part, since this road was a bit busier than the last and it ran a real chance of getting flattened by the line of traffic.  And, again, my pannier showed no sign of damage.  (If asked to review the product, I could honestly say that I recommend it: I have no idea how it holds up in the rain, but it does a dandy job with road rash!)

I thoughtfully examined the bike rack (which was also coming lose) and one of the bungee cords (which was now stretched far beyond its original length) and briefly considered just hand-carrying the pannier the rest of the way.  Such a defeatist attitude could not be stomached however and, once again, I rewove my web of bungee.  This time, I was more creative and the tighter fit did the job.  Both the panniers and I made it home – a testimony to the old adage that, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”

What about my next ride?  Well, hopefully by then I’ll have figured out a way to keep the panniers away from that rear tire.  In the meantime, I’ll settle for the knowledge that a little bit of ingenuity can go a long way… or at least part of a long way if you weave it right!


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