Thursday, September 30, 2010

The danger is real

Hey. I don't mean to be a Debby Downer, or since I'm a male I guess that would make me David Downer, but I was reminded last night that we as bicycle commuters usually only get one vehicle/bicycle collision in our lives. Don't worry. I think it's obvious I wasn't in a vehicle/bicycle collision. My wife, however, was worried sick I was.

Yesterday afternoon I attended a fund raising kickoff event for the volunteer organization in which I participate. With the decreasing length of daylight growing these days, combined with the nature of humans to talk at length about virtually anything, well past the scheduled close, it's no surprise the kickoff event lasted well past sundown. I faced the prospect of commuting home, across town, in the dark. 

This was nothing I was worried about. I had several things increasing my visibility and my chances of avoiding a collision: a highly reflective vest; a highly reflective bracelet worn on my left ankle; a red flashing led in the rear; a white flashing led in the front; white reflectors in each wheel's spokes; and front white reflector, and rear red reflector, plus pedal reflectors.

I made it home safely, without incident. My wife didn't anticipate the extended length of the meeting. From the kitchen window where we do dishes in the sink and from where last night she bathed our oldest son, she can see a view of the state highway a block away which is the last segment of road I use before turning off of it, onto our own street.

Apparently about the time my wife was expecting me, and in the general vicinity of the highway I use there must have been a vehicle/vehicle collision. Emergency services were present on location including firetrucks and ambulances, and police cars. She could see a bevy of flashing emergency lights and hear the blaring sirens of the different vehicles from her vantage point as she completed our oldest son's bath.

She became worried I had been hit by a vehicle. Much like a person can scare themselves into hearing people walking in the woods once they get spooked a little, my wife became convinced I had been hit by a car. Her relief gushed out of her when I went past the window and she saw me come through the door.

This event made me think about my decision to commute by bicycle. I don't think I fully appreciated how my decision affects all of us, not just me. I don't think I fully appreciated how I am literally taking my life in my own hands when I ride. I need to take this seriously. I need to decide if taking this section of road is the best choice. I could go back to taking a different path, a safer, slower path. I know I have a right to take which path I choose. I now need to decide if it's exercising my rights that is most important or making sure I arrive safely.

It's food for thought. Be careful out there. A driver with good intentions can still make a mistake and wind up killing a person on a bike. The vehicle won't know the difference.

Keep on commuting by bicycle!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cooler weather

Cooler weather is slowly creeping in upon us here in the midwest. Though the leaves on the trees have not begun to turn their glorious oranges, reds, and yellows, the temperature has been hovering right around 60 degrees just before seven a.m. This week we acknowledged the fall equinox and a harvest moon. Lastly, when I leave in the morning for school, it is still gray and much darker than when I began leaving for school near the beginning of the semester.
Due to these changes I've begun wearing my reflective vest and reflective ankle bracelet. I also turn on my flashing rear red light and flashing front white light.
This makes for some pretty pleasant riding. I am usually prepared to receive a "hard time" from my students and faculty based upon my appearance when I arrive at school. But, I justify my ridiculous outfit by reminding them, and myself, that I'm trying to stay alive by being seen; I'm not trying to be fashionable. I've long ago surrendered some of my pride when I made the decision to ride my bike as much as possible.
I hope you decide to make being seen and safe the "cool" thing to do. I've been taught by my dad to know who you are and know you're cool no matter what others think. Part of being cool is not caring about others' opinions. I keep this in mind and practice it. Sometimes I'll admit it's difficult. But, I remind myself I'm setting a good example for my students; I'm being a role model. You should do the same.
Keep on commuting by bike.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I can hardly believe it's been eight full days since I last updated this blog! Shame on me. Don't worry, I've still been commuting by bicycle to my job teaching English. I have to tell you about my experience on the way home Monday:
I was pedaling along on that particular stretch of road which I spent tediously describing in my last entry. I was nearing my turn about a half block away. I kept a steady watch on traffic approaching from the rear in my mirror and every vehicle, which weren't all that many, signaled and moved to the left lane well in advance, or stayed in the left lane if they were previously in it. This was a sign of courteous drivers. I took it as courtesy. One such vehicle was like the others: in the left lane with no erratic movement or things to cause me concern. In fact I was leveling off my pedaling in anticipation of this vehicle passing by so that I could then move to the left lane myself for my own left hand turn off that road. That's why I thought it odd the vehicle was going so slowly. I had expected to it to pass by much quicker, similar to almost every other vehicle.
Instead, the vehicle slowed beside me to roughly match my speed. When I looked to the side to see what was the deal, the driver, a scruffy, skinny white guy with glasses and a white tee shirt, was leaning over to speak to me from the lowered passenger side window. His words were muffled from the passing wind and he didn't really yell, but I caught the drift: "You need to get that f***ing bike off the road, they belong on the f**** sidewalk."
Then, as quickly as he had slowed to deliver the message he accelerated away from me. He was the last vehicle I needed to pass to free up both lanes to make my left hand turn. It had all happened so quickly I didn't think to respond in any way. I didn't even look to get his tag number.
I don't know what to think of this incident. In a way it frightened me. I don't know why. I guess I've never liked confrontation. Further, I'm not sure what I would have told him. I don't think he would have been persuaded by my argument that it's state law for bicycles to be treated as vehicles; that we have the same rights to the roadways as a vehicle does. I'm not much for yelling either, not since high school, and I think it would have been much like yelling at a high school age person.
Then, yesterday morning right around seven o'clock I was approached by another motorist. This time it occurred in our downtown, on a four lane again where I was in the right lane, in a twenty mile an hour zone, with very little traffic. Again, the motorist tried to speak with me while we were parallel and moving! this time it was an old female. She wanted to know if I knew there was a bike path the next block over running parallel to the roadway we were on. I said I did and she waved and went on.
I don't know if this was supposed to be antagonistic, but after the other incident I described, I was slightly on edge. She could have been genuinely concerned for my safety and thought that perhaps I didn't know of this safer route to take. Perhaps it was a veiled suggestion that I should not be on the streets at all if there is a bike path made available. The interaction was ambiguous, I'm not sure of her motives for telling me this. She was probably just being friendly and genuinely was trying to help me out, from her perspective.

It's been quite a while since I was harassed on my bicycle. The last time before these two incidents was at nine o'clock at night when I crossed an intersection and a person from a vehicle yelled out "Fag!" That was back when I had not yet decided I was going to take over a lane in the four lane and I was still traveling on the sidewalk. I crossed on the pedestrian walk literally a couple feet from the front of the vehicle.

I know I'm taking my life in my own hands when I take a lane on the four lane. However, I believe it will be to my benefit because I'll be positioned in such a place that drivers will see me. By that I mean I'll be occupying a place in the lane where drivers will be looking (if they look) for other traffic.

Like almost any other incident where a confrontation occurs, it was frustrating and made me wish for an opportunity to really tell the driver off or "show" him. But, I'm glad that opportunity never arose.

I try to just think of the other person. I can never know what kind of a day he'd been having. He could have just learned some of the worst news of his life; me traveling on the bike might have been just the last thing on a long list of things which irritated him. However, that doesn't excuse his rude, threatening behavior. I did feel threatened, though he never did actually threaten me. I don't want to go around threatening drivers because a vehicle will always win in a bicycle/vehicle collision.

Stay safe out there and remain positive. Don't lower yourself to these peoples' level by responding to them with like violence or threats. Or you can go ahead and follow your heart and really tell them off, flip them off, bash their windows when you reach them at the intersection. You decide.

Keep on commuting by bicycle.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

No ride weekend

Unfortunately, I didn't get any riding in this three day Labor Day weekend. However, I don't despair at this, but try to keep in mind it is the Midwest Bicycle Commuter, not the Midwest Bicycle Recreation Rider. I still love to ride just for fun, to see the sights, hear the noises, enjoy the company of family. But, my family and I went camping instead. Which is almost equally pleasant.
The problem is my wife is not nearly as gung-ho about riding the bicycle as I am. She's trying, but has not found the joy in it I have. So, when I ride for recreation, I am usually only with one of my two sons. When she goes, it's easier for all four of us to go. I worry I'll spend all of this nice fall weather worrying over and working on my home projects and miss out on some quality time on the bike with my family.
My commutes in the mornings have been getting darker and darker. I still use my flashing lights in front and back, but it won't be long until I'll need to wear my reflective vest as well. I avoid that until I must, because about one third of my commute is on a bicycle/pedestrian rail trail. I find it unnecessary on this portion of my commute. It's still a good idea to wear it anyway, probably, so oncoming pedestrians and cyclists can more easily see me coming as well.
I've noticed there is one particular section of my commute home which causes me concern. It involves a combination of factors which contribute to my uneasiness. The section of road leads out of town, is a separated four lane road, and increases from a 30 to a 40 mph zone. The road describes a very gradual serpentine path: that is a slight curve left, then a slight curve back right. It is a gradual uphill grade as well. Once the road curves back right again, it has reached the crest of a small incline and a residential neighborhood begins. These houses on the right side of the road tend to block the view of what's ahead on the road.
So, the combination of my slow speed (due to the incline), the increased speed of vehicles, both from the increased speed zone, and because many are leaving town and heading toward the interstate highway and on to Kansas City and they are increasing speed on up to 55 without the observance of the middle 40 mph zone; the limited view the curve of the road produces; all of these have made me feel less confident that I should be staking my claim on the entire right hand lane of the separated four lane road.
Further, it seems like the combination of my speed; the distance from the traffic signal at the intersection where traffic "begins" to the crest of the hill; and lastly the increasing speed of traffic as they leave town all make it difficult and dangerous to switch to the left lane for my left hand turn just past the crest of the hill ( the highway resumes as an un-separated four lane shortly before reaching the top of the hill). It seems like there is always increased traffic right where I need to turn left, even if I pedal alone most of the way up the hill.
I'm sure that was a long and confusing scenario. Sorry about that.
Anyway, so far I've commuted all the days to the high school where I work. I have already begun to pack my insulated leather gloves in anticipation that the weather will turn soon.
You can expect me to begin writing about riding the fifteen minutes in the increasingly colder weather and less and less light.
Be safe out there. If you have any suggestions for me, please leave a comment. So far, no one has become a follower and I can only assume that means no one has even read any of my blogs. But, that's okay. I'm trying it out. Maybe I'll try to make it more appealing and popular in the future.
Keep on commuting by bike!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Missing the rain

This week has had a couple days of rain, but somehow I've avoided being rained upon. Each day it rained, it stopped just long enough for me to make the 15 commute by bike to and from work. I much prefer not to be rained upon, but if it does happen I am prepared with my ugly rain suit I can don. I don't like to wear it if I don't have to. It's gray, for one thing, and that reduces my visibility. In an attempt to increase my visibility when I wear it, I've placed some highly reflective tape at certain strategic places on its exterior. But, it looks like just what it is, a home made reflective tape job. It's probably better than no reflective tape, but my already low style points are lowered significantly more by wearing the rain suit. Also, the rain suit has a big rip in the crotch. I guess it's from flinging my leg over the saddle, or just from the friction of riding while wearing it. It's mostly covered by the rain jacket, but invariably if it rains significantly, the crotch area of the pants I wear below the rain paints acquires a v shaped dark spot from wetness. Plus the rain suit is hot to wear and what usually happens is, it'll begin raining a bit, I'll stop and get out the rain suit, put it on, begin riding again only to have the rain let up for the remainder of the commute. I've used a couple cans of 3M Scotchguard upon the exterior of my backpack to repel rain water. It has worked pretty effectively so far.
I'm excited about this weekend. Tomorrow I'm going to ride my bike (the commuter) to the campground where we'll be camping on Saturday night. It's a little over thirty miles on hilly, blacktop county roads. My wife will be driving herself and our two sons there to meet me. Then, on Sunday, I'll be riding back home. I've been wanting to make this a destination for a ride for quite a while. I'd like to eventually carry with me a small tent and sleeping bag with some overnight food to make it a cycle-camping outing in the style of the late Ken Kifer. BTW, visit Ken Kifer's website for an extremely thorough and therefore valuable resource on cycling in general and cycle camping and touring specifically; and commuting by bike as well. It looks like I'll have ideal weather for it and maybe I'll have something to report on Monday. Everyone enjoy your three day weekend, I hope each of you (who is so far no one) gets a three day weekend.
Keep on commuting by bike!