Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Equally perplexing was the fellow (visible on the left hand edge of the photo) who had set up a folding chair right next to and above the sidewalk (the lot is elevated by about 4 feet) and was comfortably reading a manuscript of some kind. He denied any connection to the sculpture and then discouraged further conversation, which seemed incongruous from someone who'd taken the trouble to set himself up in such a visible and public place.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
You’re slower than cars and harder to see. Sometimes you tie up an entire lane even though physically you occupy only a fraction of it. You are going to get in the way of drivers. Here are a few suggestions on how to keep from annoying them at the same time.
The best general advice is, ironically, simply to conduct yourself like a good driver. Try, within your ability, to become part of and remain within the flow of traffic. So, first – you already know this, but it can’t be omitted – ride predictably. Unpredictable riders agitate drivers. (Not to mention that they are more likely to get hit.) In Washington’s miserable commuter traffic, drivers are already burdened with enough anxiety and frustration. Don’t add to it.
Second. Ride confidently and purposefully. A fearful rider is an unpredictable rider, which is bad. (See above.) You have the right to be on the road; ride as though you believe it. And ride purposefully; don’t dither. Nobody likes ditherers.
Third. You are entitled to make drivers to wait for a bit behind you, to slow to let you into space, or to change lanes to pass you – that’s what “sharing the road” means. But never do anything to force a driver into an abrupt change of speed or direction. It’s discourteous and dangerous. When I drove a taxi, I devised a rule for good hacking: Never give your passengers, or other drivers, reason to reflect upon Newton’s Laws of Motion. You haven’t got passengers but the rule’s good for you too.
In addition to doing your best to become part of the flow, be polite. Really polite. Here you have an advantage. The humans beings piloting cars and trucks vanish within their large and impersonal machines. But you on your bike are visibly, perceptibly, a person. Remind drivers of this, in thoughtful and considerate ways, and you’ll defuse a lot of potential resentment. So:
Fourth. When someone gives you a break, acknowledge it. A wave, a nod – something they’ll see. Maybe they gave you a bit of room at a light so you could ease past them on the curb side. Or slowed to let you into their lane so you could ride around a parked car. Or waved you through at a stop sign. Whatever – say thanks and make sure they see it.
Fifth and finally. When you screw up, apologize. Yeah, it’s hard, but suck it up. Be a mensch. Once or twice I’ve actually turned around and chased down a driver whom I’d wronged. In both instances they greeted me ready to continue the fight, but upon hearing me admit that I’d been wrong, quickly calmed down, allowed that everyone makes mistakes, told me to be the hell more careful and wished me well.
This last bit of advice is, I think, pretty idiosyncratic (I’ve never seen anyone else recommend it) and I suppose that it needs to be applied judiciously (a soft answer doesn’t invariably turn away wrath) but apologies are powerful things and I’m willing to bet that both of those drivers went home and told their wives or girlfriends about the remarkable encounter they’d had that day with a bicyclist. It’s a neat trick to use a mistake to make a good impression, and uncommonly satisfying.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
(Seven hundred cycling deaths each year in the U.S. compared to 33,000+ in autos and 4,500+ for pedestrians. Injuries similarly skewed, away from cyclists. I wonder how many lives would be saved every year, or how many closed head injuries mitigated, by helmet use by everyone at all times? As they say - "if it saves one life, it's worth it".)
Helmets may help, but your best insurance against serious injury is unwavering attentiveness, the constant awareness of your surroundings and everything that moves in and out of them. The great majority of bicycle injuries and deaths result from auto collisions, and avoiding those one-sided encounters altogether is a more effective way to stay safe than relying on some thin piece of styrofoam once you’re headed toward the ground. (Which is why I direct my scorn toward cyclists with iPods, who, unlike bareheaded riders, are actually increasing their odds of a crash.)
Friday, June 11, 2010
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Monday, June 7, 2010
In summer rainstorms, all you get is wet. And you quickly discover that wet, by itself, isn’t unpleasant at all. (One long day in the rain in 1995 revealed this truth to me.) The warm air, plus the heat you generate by riding, are usually enough to keep any chill at bay. In the cooler air of spring and fall, add a rain jacket or perhaps another insulating layer on rainy days. And of course no matter how wet you may get on the bike, when you get where you’re going, you peel off your wet bike clothes and climb into a dry set of duds. (The ordinary commuter by contrast has little choice but to wear the day’s weather until merciful evaporation completes its work.)
Staying warm in winter is largely a matter of the right clothes. With good layering and proper cold weather selections (like special lobster gloves and a balaclava), you can ride for half an hour or 40 minutes in temperatures down to 10-12 degrees Fahrenheit and honestly pronounce the weather merely “chilly”. Snow is not much of a problem because it doesn’t make you wet. The worst days are rainy ones right at or just above freezing, and I confess that I don’t really look forward to them. But even they aren’t that bad, and I ride in them too.
After a while at this you really do begin to believe you possess a special, personal kind of immunity to the weather. A couple of years ago I had to spend eight weeks in Chicago in October and November on business. I couldn’t ride to work so I deliberately chose a hotel about a mile from the office so I could at least get in a little walk each day. I know what Chicago weather is like that time of year but in packing I completely neglected to pack an umbrella, raincoat or hat. Only later did I realize I had come to believe that weather was just not something that I ever needed to worry about in travelling between home and office - having completely lost sight of the fact that this was thanks only to the bicycle and was not some superhuman trait. Luckily, taxis are abundant in Chicago even in the rain; I spent enough time in them that month.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
At 15 or 18 miles an hour you notice things that you might well overlook when driving by. And it's easy to stop for a closer look. This is the Café Putain qui Pue, or "Stinky Whore Café", located on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams (actually 9th & Q Streets NW), along with its motto, "Always Closed".
UPDATE: The photo is from 2009. Sadly the Stinky Whore Café is no more. See here.