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Jul 22

Bicycles in movies, music, & literature

Posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

Photo by Eco Suparman

Photo by Eco Suparman

Not only are bicycles fun to ride, but they are fun to put into song and story.

Movies. There are quite a few movies about bicycles or with bicycles. I love Kermit and Miss Piggy’s romantic musical bicycle ride in The Great Muppet Caper. Kermit rides with no hands and stands up on his saddle! The iconic movie bicycle is the Wicked Witch of the West pedaling through a tornado. In The Pink Panther, Steve Martin plays the bumbling detective Inspector Clouseau who inadvertently, hilariously, and repeatedly causes Tour de France riders to wreck.

Music. Other than “A Bicycle Built for Two”, Queen’s “Bicycle Race” may be the best known song about bicycles. But I prefer the other side of the double A-side album, “Fat Bottomed Girls”, when Freddy Mercury yells, “Get on your bikes and ride!” Pink Floyd’s “Bike” is almost a good description of my own bicycle, Crush. Crush does have a basket, a bell that rings, and things to make her look good. However, you may not ride her if you like. I’m selfish that way.

Literature. The bicycles in the funny yet creepy book, The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, have personalities and even, at times, appear to have moved by themselves. In fact, two of the bicycles run off together. David Byrne’s folding bike played a central role in his touring experiences with The Talking Heads, and he published Bicycle Diaries, an account of his experiences bicycling through the cities the group was touring.

Finally, I leave you with a poem by one of my favorite poets.

Ode to bicycles by Pablo Neruda

I was walking

down

a sizzling road:

the sun popped like

a field of blazing maize,

the

earth

was hot,

an infinite circle

with an empty

blue sky overhead.

A few bicycles

passed

me by,

the only

insects

in

that dry

moment of summer,

silent,

swift,

translucent;

they

barely stirred

the air.

Workers and girls

were riding to their

factories,

giving

their eyes

to summer,

their heads to the sky,

sitting on the

hard

beetle backs

of the whirling

bicycles

that whirred

as they rode by

bridges, rosebushes, brambles

and midday.

I thought about evening when

the boys

wash up,

sing, eat, raise

a cup

of wine

in honor

of love

and life,

and waiting

at the door,

the bicycle,

stilled,

because

only moving

does it have a soul,

and fallen there

it isn’t

a translucent insect

humming

through summer

but

a cold

skeleton

that will return to

life

only

when it’s needed,

when it’s light,

that is,

with

the

resurrection

of each day.

Jul 17

What is Amendment 7?

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Image by MoDOT

Image by MoDOT

On August 5, you can change our future by voting “Yes” for Amendment 7. Amendment 7 will save Missouri roads for all travelers– including both motorists and bicyclists.

Amendment 7 is a 3/4 cent sales tax for transportation. What is significant about this tax is that it is for transportation, not for roads and bridges. Our current state transportation funding is for roads and bridges, so sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, and transit can be built only with local or federal funds.

Legislation is always a collection of compromises and concessions. This one is no different and there are several things I wish were different about Amendment 7. But thanks to the valiant efforts of the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation, the most important aspect to me, inclusion of bicycling, is intact. The Highway Commission approved the final project list tied to Amendment 7 which has substantial bike/ped projects– not as many as I would like, of course– but far more than we can expect under the current funding model. An issue paper from Bike Walk KC covers the good and the bad of Amendment 7.

I’ve been following the evolution of Amendment 7 for a couple years. Opponents do have good reasons to oppose the measure, but the alternative to passing Amendment 7 is that we wait another year, or two, or ten to negotiate compromises and concessions and end up with a bill that may be even worse. In the meantime, our roads continue to crumble and we face losing federal money because we won’t meet the required matching state funds.

MoDOT itself has been just as important in persuading me to support Amendment 7 as the content of the bill was. Under the leadership of director Dave Nichols and prompted by the funding crisis, MoDOT was incredible over the past couple years in seeking public input– something unheard of before now. The MoDOT Vision, formally approved by the Highway Commission, incorporated public input and 2 of its 4 pillars are “safety” and “choice”: MoDOT wants me to be safe and to be able to choose to bicycle.

Amendment 7 is important whether you bike, walk, bus, or drive, and if it passes on August 5, it will usher in a new era of transportation for Missouri.

 

Jul 14

Even more about gears

Posted on Monday, July 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

My right shifter has 8 gears. My left shifter has 3 gears.

My right shifter has 8 gears. My left shifter has 3 gears.

I’ve written about spinning vs. mashing and how I taught people to use their gears. But as I continue to teach people how to use their gears I discover that I have more to say on the topic.

New bicyclists gets frustrated trying to figure out which gear to use. It depends on many factors– the grade of the hill, the wind, your speed approaching the hill, the weight of you and your bike, the width of your tires, the surface of the road. It’s impossible to say exactly what gear you should be on at any point.

I don’t think about my shifting; it’s automatic. After coaching a bicyclist through shifting, I watched how I did it myself. I realized that I was constantly making adjustments and that I got it wrong a lot. I shift too high or too low and drop back one or two gears. I primarily use my right hand shifter, which shifts the rear cogs, but I use my left hand shifter, which shifts the front cogs, quite a lot too. Before I run out of gears with my right hand I’m try out a different combination using my left hand– and sometimes I get it wrong and go back to where I was before. While I’ve gotten much better at guessing what gear to use, I’ve also gotten much faster at changing gears so that I can make mistakes and recover without losing all my momentum.

If you are learning how to shift:

1. Practice shifting with both hands until you are comfortable with all your gears. Many new bicyclists only shift with their right hand. The right hand shifter (the rear) is for fine-tuning which gear you are in. The left hand shifter (the front) is for making big adjustments, when you’ve run out of gears or almost run out of gears on the right hand. But don’t be afraid of making big adjustments because sometimes you need to.

2. Avoid the extreme combinations. This is a little complicated to explain and easier to see. Many shifters assign numbers to the gears, where 1 is the gear for going up hills and bigger numbers for going down hills. My bike has 3 cogs on the front and 8 cogs on the back. The combination 1-1 is great for climbing a steep hill. The combination 3-8 is good for going down a hill. I would never use the combination 1-8 or 3-1. Those are extreme combinations, and it is called “cross chaining”. These combinations are bad for your bike because they put stress on the chain, and they are redundant– the gear ratio achieved by 1-8 is duplicated by the 2-6 combination.

3. Shift before you need to. If you are climbing a hill and can barely turn the cranks and you try to shift, your bike just won’t shift. In order to shift, you need some tension on the chain but not too much. If you shift too early, your feet will flail away for a moment, but just relax and let the bike slow down until its speed matches what gear you are in.

 

Jul 12

Revelations

Posted on Saturday, July 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

Even after years of bicycling, I think I ought to be able to go faster up the steepest hill in southwest Missouri.

Even after years of bicycling, I think I ought to be able to go faster up the steepest hill in southwest Missouri.

After I’d been bicycling for a few years, I felt frustrated with my apparent lack of progress. Everyone around me was so much faster. After the first year when I lost 25 pounds and gained fitness, I didn’t get any faster.

Then I had a revelation.

I was far faster than everyone who wasn’t on a bicycle. Even as a bike/ped advocate, I know more people who don’t bicycle than people who do. When I’m biking I don’t see the people who aren’t biking. I also don’t see the people who are behind me. I only see the people who are ahead of me, the people who are faster than me. It’s hard to feel like you’re improving when you only see people who are faster than you.

I had another revelation.

Anyone else in my body would be doing only as well as I was doing. We have only the body we have. The faster bicyclist puts less effort into her ride than I put into mine. The faster bicyclist shouldn’t feel proud of what she is doing on the bike right now. She should feel proud of what she’s done on the bike every day in the past. It is that effort that has given her the body that can do what she is doing now.

I’m teaching someone how to bike. He feels clumsy and out of shape. I’m prouder and more excited about his first 5 mile ride than I am about my last 60 mile ride. He’s got more to be proud of than anyone sitting on the couch. He’s doing an incredible amount with the body he has to work with. No one else could coax more speed or more endurance out of it than he can.

Don’t get discouraged by your apparent lack of progress or feel that your performance is pathetic. Don’t demand more from the body you are given than what it can give you. Appreciate the marvelous job that the body you have is doing for you.

 

Jul 9

A bicycle named Hillary

Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

Scott and his bicycle, Hillary (named for the hills)

Scott and his bicycle, Hillary (named for the hills)

The last time Scott was on a bicycle was over 50 years ago. He rode all over the little town of Knob Noster. One evening, he rode into the yard– straight into the clothesline his sister had strung up to dry her doll’s clothes! That didn’t stop him from bicycling. College and a car put an end to his bicycling days.

His health hasn’t improved with age and sedentary living so he decided to start bicycling for transportation. I was excited and nervous when he asked me to help him pick out a bicycle and learn to ride it.

We would put the aphorism, “It’s like riding a bike” to the test! Would he still be able to ride a bike after 50 years?

The answer is yes! He pedaled around the parking lot, a bit wobbly and uncertain, but he still knew how to ride a bike.

We started with a bike rental. We biked down a quiet street to the Katy Trail. On the trail, he was distracted by an oncoming bicyclist and crashed onto the rocks. He was scratched a little but otherwise unhurt, and he bravely continued another mile down the trail. We took a break every mile. I brought snacks and water for the 4-mile ride.

The next weekend, we took the same route and I still did not think to bring a first aid kit. We took a break every mile and consumed the snacks I brought. We were nearly back to the quiet street, congratulating ourselves because he hadn’t fallen, when he brushed against the curb and lost his balance, crashing onto the rocks again. He was scratched and bruised. But he was game to go again the next weekend.

I finally realized that the Katy Trail has too much traffic and too many rocks for a beginner. I picked out a different route and brought a first aid kit. We went down quiet streets to the Stephen’s Lake Trail which is quiet and bordered by soft grass. He did not fall! (When we passed near a creek, he reported feeling a magnetic pull toward the rocks lining the trail…)

He bought his bicycle this weekend. The Trek Verve 1 is a good solid bike for a beginning bicyclist. We took his new bike to Stephen’s Lake Trail and continued up Hominy Trail, quiet, paved bike paths with mostly grass borders. He is getting the hang of the gears and his balance is much better. I’ve learned so much myself about teaching someone how to use a bike, that I hope I have more opportunities to do this.

During his first ride on his new bicycle, he named it Hillary, in honor of the hills he struggles with as well as the presidential candidate!

 

Jul 6

Just try

Posted on Sunday, July 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

Need to look nice? Bike in your suit-- slowly, and tuck your pants leg in your socks.

Need to look nice? Bike in your suit– slowly, and tuck your pants leg in your socks.

People do amazing and creative things to keep bicycling despite obstacles. They use specially built bicycles to overcome medical limitations. They park-and-bike or bus-and-bike to overcome prohibitively long commutes. They use trailers, trail-a-bikes, and bike mounted baby seats for kids.

The message I get from this is that there is only one good reason not to bicycle: because you don’t want to.

I want to emphasize that. It is a GOOD reason not to bicycle. While I can be somewhat evangelistic on the subject of bicycling, I do recognize that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to bicycle, but then you probably don’t understand my complete lack of interest in watching football.

If you don’t want to bicycle, that’s ok! I won’t judge you. You don’t need to make excuses. In fact, if you make excuses, you’ll probably get annoyed with me. I have an answer to every one of your excuses, because I’ll assume that you really do want to bicycle and just need solutions. So just be honest with me.

These are not good reasons not to bicycle:
You don’t have time.
You have to dress nice for work.
You live too far away from work.
You have to drop your kids off.
You have to use your car during the work day.
There’s a big hill between your house and your work.

I have answers for every one of those.

If you think you don’t want to bicycle, I just ask that you try it. Give it a real try, not some half-hearted attempt that is doomed to failure. Bicycling can improve your life so much, your blood pressure and your pocketbook and your mood, that it’s an important thing to try.

Don’t cite some reason why it didn’t work for you. Be honest that you didn’t like it. Maybe you want to like it, because it’s so good for you, but you don’t. If the reason you don’t bicycle is that you don’t want to, tell me so and I’ll shut up.

Who knows? If you try it, you might like it. And in return, I’ll try watching football when I get back from this bike ride.

 

Jul 2

The great bike path debate

Posted on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

A quiet place with little or no traffic is a good place to practice bicycling skills.

A quiet place with little or no traffic is a good place to practice bicycling skills.

 

On the side of the great bike path debate, I come down firmly in the center, unlike my unlucky friend who came down bloodily on the rocks on the side of the bike path. You will likely be surprised to hear that there is such a thing as a bike path debate. What’s not to like about bike paths? You probably assume that the only dissension is over who is going to pay for it, or maybe someone might oppose it if it passes too close to their back yard.

Bicyclists disagree about the relative merits of bike paths. Opponents believe that bike paths marginalize bicyclists. Poorly designed or maintained bike paths put bicyclists at increased risk of injury. Proponents feel that bike paths are safe places for normal people– not just experienced, daring bicyclists– to ride bicycles, a training ground for beginners.

I’m in favor of building bike paths because the data show that more people bicycle when there are bike paths. Rightly or wrongly, people feel safer on bike paths and so they bike more. When more people bicycle, all bicyclists are safer. I like to ride on bike paths sometimes myself, but only when the path is convenient. I adamantly oppose any attempt to restrict bicyclists to bike paths.

I witnessed some crashes on bike paths recently that slightly modified my opinion of bike paths. One crash was that of a beginner who I’m teaching how to bicycle. He can ride a bike, but it has been decades since he last rode and he’s unsteady. Thinking of the trail as a safe place for a novice bicyclist, I took him to the Katy Trail where he did all right until another bicyclist appeared and distracted him. We went back to the Katy Trail a week later, where he crashed again! Another crash I saw on the trail was an “endo”, where a bicyclist braked with the front brake only and flew over his handlebar.

Just because it is a bike path doesn’t mean it’s a safe and appropriate place for beginners. Any place that has a lot of traffic, whether it is a bike path or a street, has too many distractions. I found quiet streets and a quieter trail for my beginner to practice on and he did NOT crash. I’m glad to have learned this lesson but I’m sorry I learned it at his expense!

 

Jun 28

The importance of shoulders

Posted on Saturday, June 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

The frontage road next to Hwy 36 with a steep grade and a higher peak.

The frontage road next to Hwy 36 with a steep grade and a higher peak.

 

When my dad and I biked to 40 Missouri State Parks, we experienced all kinds of roads and surfaces. When choosing our route, roads with little traffic were tempting. But low-traffic roads are the least likely to have paved shoulders and most likely to have steep hills. Busier roads are more likely to have wide, paved shoulders and lower grades.

We biked on some gravel roads, but as few as possible. Gravel is slow to bike on and there’s nowhere to buy chocolate milk and V8 on gravel roads.

We biked on narrow, curvy, hilly, low traffic two lane roads. Some of them were in good repair, and some had so much chip seal repairs that they were nearly gravel.

We biked on bike paths a few times. The bike paths were charming, but didn’t compare well to the roads. The limestone gravel of the Katy Trail slowed us down and our bikes got dusty, requiring prompt cleaning so that our chains didn’t deteriorate. The St. Joe path wasn’t graded at all, so climbing the hills was hard work but worse, the downhills were dangerously steep and narrow.

When we could, we biked on paved shoulders ranging from a narrow 18 inches to an ample 10 feet.

The traffic volume and speed coupled with 18 inch shoulders made the few miles on Hwy 50 alarming, but it wasn’t so bad after all because it’s a four lane road. The big trucks and fast cars used the left lane to pass us.

Hwy 7 near Warsaw and Hwy 32 near Bolivar were the scariest roads. These roads carry a high volume of traffic but have no shoulders. Because of hills and curves, Hwy 7 had few places where traffic could pass us safely. But Hwy 32 was worse because it appeared to have shoulders and the drivers were impatient with us for not using the shoulders. It was impossible to bike on the rumble strip that filled the narrow shoulder. On these roads and others, we pulled off frequently to allow traffic to pass.

Shoulders in poor repair were frustrating. On Hwy 32 on the east side of the state, the wide shoulder is in frightening condition with large random pools of gravel. The traffic volume and speed made riding in the lane pretty uncomfortable, but it was far safer than the dangerous unpredictable gravel.

Among the best roads to bicycle on were, surprisingly, the interstates. It is legal in Missouri, though not in most other states, to bicycle on the shoulders of interstates. Interstate highway shoulders are 10 feet wide and have smooth pavement in good repair. The gentle grade of a long climb contrasted sharply with the adjacent frontage road that peaked 3 or 4 times in the same distance. The big fast trucks created a wind blast which was frightening at first, but once we got used to it, we called it our “second tailwind”. We could always count on a big truck to give us a little boost. (The most dangerous part of biking on the interstate is crossing entrance or exit ramps. Don’t bike on the interstate if you don’t know how to do this safely.)

The best roads have wide, paved shoulders. Nearly all the roads we biked on were state roads. Although historically MoDOT has saved money by omitting paved shoulders, this strategy resulted in roads that are dangerous for all travelers, motorists and bicyclists alike. The new MoDOT Vision emphasizes safety and choice. Paved shoulders are central to safety and choice, so we can expect to see more of them as roads are built and repaired.

Jun 24

Bicycle Clothes

Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

A bandana and a skirt wrap turns my bicycle outfit into my in-town outfit.

A bandana and a skirt wrap turns my bicycle outfit into my in-town outfit.

 

Bicycling clothes can be intimidating and expensive. But they don’t have to be. While some aspects of bicycling-specific clothes are helpful, you can bicycle for transportation in ordinary clothes. My daughter avoids skirts and flared pants if she’s going to be bicycling, but with some simple steps these can work on a bicycle too. You can bike in cute clothes, comfortable clothes, or the weird clothes made just for bicycling.

Bicycling, especially at this time of year, will generate some heat. If you need to look nice, dry off with a towel and change into a fresh shirt. Allow a little extra time before you change because you will continue to sweat for a few minutes after you stop pedaling.

Roll up your pants leg or tuck it in your sock so that it doesn’t get caught in the chain. I have velcro leg bands that keep the pants leg out of the way of the chain.

The key to skirts is practice. My new sister-in-law hiked up her wedding dress to show off her shorts that matched her sneakers when she and my brother rode a tandem bicycle from the chapel to the reception. Tuck a longer skirt up around your legs so that it doesn’t get caught in the chain. Medium length skirts are easy to bike in. Wear shorts or tights under a shorter skirt. A tight skirt that restricts leg movement won’t work for bicycling.

I wear ordinary clothes for most of my bicycle trips. I wear bicycle specific clothes in some circumstances. Early on in my bicycling, I bought a rain suit that wasn’t cycling-specific. In just two short bike trips, the rain pants were ripped to shreds. After that I bought expensive cycling-specific rain pants and rian jacket which have served me well for several years.

For longer bicycle rides, I wear padded bike shorts and a bike jersey. This is mostly because I like to wear the appropriate costume for whatever activity I’m doing. There are some functional aspects of the costume that are helpful, but by no means necessary. They fit snugly so that they don’t flap in the breeze. Bike jerseys have pockets in the back so that things don’t fall out, which is a concern in the bent-over position demanded by road bikes. Bike jerseys are often bright colors, which increase visibility, and my newest jersey advertises the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation.

Some bicyclists swear by the thick padding of bike shorts, but many do fine without it. I rode 75 miles a day from Columbia, MO to Omaha, NE and back in regular shorts, and I’ve done many rides with padded bike shorts. A comfortable bike seat is more important than padded bike shorts. Padded bike shorts also have the disadvantage of looking utterly ridiculous. I feel self conscious enough stopping at a store or restaurant while I’m on a bike trip that I carry a skirt wrap to put on over my bike shorts.

Experiment with your bicycling wardrobe and wear what’s comfortable and convenient.

Jun 18

Get out!

Posted on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

Frenchman's Bluff at Cuivre River State Park

Frenchman’s Bluff at Cuivre River State Park

Now that I’ve visited 42 Missouri State Parks, people ask me which park was my favorite. That’s a tough question to answer. My favorite park is the one we visit in the middle of the week during nice weather! But whatever the weather or even if it’s a popular camping weekend, I heartily recommend visiting a Missouri State Park any chance you get.

The best park to visit is the state park that is closest to you that you have never been to. Or visit a new area of a familiar park, a trail or a beach or a visitors’ center you haven’t seen. Seek out the naturalist and the park supervisor or assistant park supervisor and find out what they know about their park. Go to the next presentation. When is the last time you went camping? You need a lot less to go camping than you think you do! If I can live in Missouri State Parks for 40 nights and 41 days with just 40 pounds of gear, you don’t need to fill up your car.

We expected Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, Elephant Rocks State Park, and Mina Sauk Falls on Taum Sauk Mountain State Park to blow us away– and they did. But some of our most amazing experiences were unpredictable. The best view in the entire state was Frenchman’s Bluff at Cuivre River State Park. The fireflies at Pomme de Terre State Park blinked as fast and bright and thick as Christmas lights. I listened to a mandolin played by a fellow camper at Arrow Rock State Park as the setting sun sparkled on the water. I watched the full moon rise over a muskrat lazily paddling back and forth at Knob Noster State Park. I climbed over huge rocks on a narrow ledge on the challenging Devil’s Promenade Trail at Ha Ha Tonka State Park. A chance encounter landed us on a sailboat at Stockton Lake State Park. We saw things no one else sees thanks to a personal tour from the naturalist at St. Francois State Park.

Visiting 42 Missouri State Parks was an incredible accomplishment. But I’m not satisfied yet. I want to visit all the rest of the 87 Missouri State Parks and State Historic Sites. I haven’t thoroughly explored any of the parks we visited yet, and I want to go back to every one of them and spend more time there. I want to hike every inch of every trail in every Missouri State Park.

Missouri has a lovely state park system. Get out and enjoy this beautiful resource as soon as you can.

 

Apr 30

Frequently Asked Questions

Posted on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

Photo by Tom Uhlenbrock, DNR

Photo by Tom Uhlenbrock, DNR

Frequently Asked Questions

My dad and I are biking to 40 Missouri State Parks. You might think the question asked most frequently is “Why?” Dad gets that question a lot, but I don’t. Maybe no one needs to ask why I would do something crazy!

How far are you biking?
1500 miles.

How long will it take?
45 days.

When do you leave?
Thursday, May 1

Where will you stay?
We’ll camp in state parks.

Will you be on the Katy Trail the entire time?
This one makes me smile. The answer, of course, is No, because the Katy Trail only goes across the state, and the parks are scattered all over. The Katy Trail is a state park, and it will take us as far as Boonville which is a few miles from Arrow Rock State Historical Site. After that we won’t see the Katy Trail again, except to cross it a couple times.

How old is your dad?
65 years old. To save them the embarrassment of asking my age directly, I follow up immediately with, “I’m almost 40.” In fact, my 40th birthday is in the middle of this trip!

How far will you bike each day?
Anywhere from 17 to 70 miles. Our average is 41.3 miles. We have rest days scheduled following the longest days.

What will a typical day look like?
I think we can count on hills and wind. It will also be very cold and very hot, possibly in the same day, because this is Missouri. This time of year is a good time for thunderstorms and tornadoes. The question is, will there be any days that are mild, still, and flat?

Are you going to write about it?
Oh yes. You can count on that. We already have a journal (http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/40stateparks) with routes and approximate dates, as well as a Facebook page for updates (40 Missouri State Parks). Each day we’ll post where we are located and update our schedule. You can follow along or meet up with us at a campground or on the road.

Why?
In 2009, I bicycled from Columbia, MO to Omaha, NE, staying in state parks and city campgrounds along the way. I was an inexperienced bicycle tourist and I had so many miles to cover each day, that all I had time to do in the state parks was eat and sleep. I had no time to see and experience the parks. Missouri has so many state parks that they are, for the most part, spaced only a day’s bike ride apart.

 

Apr 27

My old friend Katy

Posted on Sunday, April 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Lots of purple stuff was blooming.

Lots of purple stuff was blooming.

20140426_162154 20140426_152013

Riding on the Katy alone is beautiful. But riding with company on the Katy is a real treat. On the road, conversation is continually punctuated by “car back” and a retreat to single file. Conversation resumes after the cars have passed. Yesterday, conversation wasn’t interrupted nearly so frequently, and when it was, it was to pass a walker or slower bicycle, a relatively quick procedure. Focused on the conversation, I missed much of the beauty of the trail, so it was actually pleasant at the turnaround when we parted company and I could pay attention– although it was good company and I will always choose company over scenery. (The headwind turned into a tailwind when I turned around, which also increased the pleasantness of that part of the ride!)

There was a moment that I will try to capture with words, at least a pale imitation of it. I didn’t try to take a picture of it because I knew it wouldn’t convey the scene. At this time of year, everything is greening up. Later, foliage will obscure much of the scenery. But now you can still see deep into the woods– trees, dead wood, old brown leaves, brown mud– with a thin veneer of green. The sun went behind a cloud and the effect was eerie. It felt like every Disney villain lurked just off the trail. It wasn’t scary, because Disney villains aren’t scary, just pathetically kind of mean spirited and bad tempered. It reminded me a bit of the scene where Frodo and his friends hide under the roots of the tree and the worms and bugs crawl out, only with less black and more green and brown– Disney villains, not Nazgul.

I haven’t gotten out on the Katy Trail nearly enough. I’ve been on it a few times in town, but not so much for just a nice ride. When I first started bicycling, one of the first things I did was discover the Katy Trail. Ah, back in those days everything was new. The hot sun and the dust, the river flowing nearby, the blue bluffs, green everywhere, critters of all kinds darting about, and 42 miles was a personal record, the furthest I’d ever gone on a bike. Then there was a time I had been on the Katy Trail so often that every other tree was a landmark and I knew just how far it was from Cooper’s Landing to Easley and where the bend in the river was and where Lewis & Clark had probably landed again.

When we moved to Kirksville, the Katy Trail was the thing I felt saddest about leaving. So it is a little surprising it took me so long to get back on it, not the in-town part but the far reaches of it. I haven’t been on the entire length of it yet, not as far as Sedalia to the west or St. Charles to the east. I’ve only been as far west as Boonville (3-4 times) and as far east as Tebbetts (once).

We went as far as Claysville. Marc is a stronger rider. When I ride with someone stronger, I always push a bit, even if they are holding back for me. I have never successfully ridden with someone stronger and NOT pushed myself. I can’t seem to do otherwise. It’s probably good for me anyway.

The first part of the ride was mostly cloudy with, as I mentioned, a headwind. I did well in drinking my Nuun and refilling my bottle at Cooper’s Landing. Almost to Ashland, I did well again in stopping to eat. (I guess I could have tried eating but not stopping. I had the almonds & raisins in the top tube pack and my banana in my jersey pocket, so theoretically they were accessible.) The rain spat on us a little, then near Hartsburg it got serious. We ducked under the shelter and moment later it poured– perfect timing. Marc had a live-tracker on his Garmin and his wife had been following him and trying to match his location to the storm she could see on radar, and decided to meet us at Hartsburg in case we needed a ride. She arrived as the rain let up and the sun came out. The trail is a mess during a downpour, but it drains fast and dries quickly and we were soon on our way the last few miles to Claysville. The sun came out for real and stayed out most of the rest of my ride.

Shortly after I turned around, another rider caught up to me. He slowed down, took out his earbuds, and chatted for a few miles. He was riding from Jefferson City to Rocheport that day. He rode a mountain bike but I was pushing to maintain 17 mph– even with the tailwind that was too fast for me. I kept it up for a while and then backed off, and he wished me a good day and went on. Again I did well in stopping to eat some almonds & raisins. But I wasn’t drinking enough water.

At Cooper’s Landing, I had exactly $3 cash, and I could get 2 egg rolls for that from Chim’s, the unusual Thai restaurant on the Missouri River. It’s just an odd place to find a Thai restaurant. It has been in business for many years and it’s one of our favorite places, if a bit out of the way if you’re not on a bicycle. I ate those and laid back on a picnic bench in the sun and closed my eyes as a singer/ guitarist began to perform. After her first song I reluctantly got up and left. I was getting a little cold because I didn’t have a jacket.

From Cooper’s Landing it’s a short ways home, yet at the same time long. It seems like it is so close but it takes so long. Cooper’s Landing often is the destination, an hour and a half out and an hour and a half back depending on the wind. My knee was bothering me more and my efforts to ease the pain with my leg position and using the other leg more were having less and less effect.

I got into town and got a call from Iain– they were at a restaurant downtown. I was torn. I was closer to home than to the restaurant. But the food was better and more of it at the restaurant. I remembered the plan had been to meet at the restaurant early and then go to the play. I hadn’t been sure if I’d go to the play, depending on my bike ride, and I didn’t want to go in bike shorts and filthy from the trail. I didn’t have a bike lock. I went to the restaurant, where they were eating outside so I didn’t need to lock my bike. We found a safe place for my bike during the play and I went in without feeling self conscious in my bike shorts & a coating of trail dust. The play was fun, though I was plenty tired by then. I was relieved to put the bike on the rack and ride home in the car, and not have to pedal again.

For riding with someone I haven’t ridden with before, someone who is likely to be a stronger rider, I had tried to make my bike as light as possible. That’s hard right now, given that I have fenders and both front & rear racks. Last time I used only the front top tube bag and it was barely big enough for a flat kit, much less any food, so this time I added the seat pack and some almonds & raisins. I only took my sunglasses, not my goggles, and it was cloudy enough at times that the sunglasses were annoying. I like the goggles not just for the eye protection but as a place to put my take-a-look mirror. I guess on the trail I don’t need a mirror, but once you are used to it, it’s jarring not to have it. So I mostly left my sunglasses on even when it was dim.

The one item that I wished I had was a jacket. It was plenty warm when I left, and I knew I’d get warmer pedaling. I also knew when we stopped I might get chilled. So it was a judgment call and I wish I had brought the jacket and bungied it to the rear rack.

I had almonds & raisins and a banana. I had a bottle full of Nuun and I refilled it 3 times with just water. I wish I’d put extra Nuun in my seat pack, since I did have the space. I was still thinking I didn’t have any space for it. I also wish I’d taken my multi tool so I could have made saddle adjustments on the ride.

My knee started hurting around mile 40. That means I’m so close to having a perfect fit– but not quite there. My knee was hurting quite a bit toward the end of the 65 miles, and it’s still hurting today so I did not do either of the bike rides I planned to. In fact I overslept entirely for the 6:30 am ride.

Apr 27

The new MoDOT

Posted on Sunday, April 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Behind MoDOT buildings

Behind MoDOT buildings

I job shadowed a MoDOT planner recently.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have considered such a thing. A few years ago, MoDOT was the enemy. MoDOT created a bike/ped coordinator position only because federal bike/ped transportation funding required it. Then they fired their bike/ped coordinator and left the position unfilled for a few years. When they finally did fill it, the bike/ped coordinator worked only on ADA compliance, and wouldn’t touch bike/ped.

Our legislative agenda one year pushed for a statewide Complete Streets policy. We had enough support that it looked like a promising bill that might even pass. But it didn’t make it out of committee because MoDOT did some underhanded lobbying against it. MoDOT didn’t want anyone telling them what to do.

That was years, before the funding crisis loomed. Almost overnight, MoDOT changed from an insular, father-knows-best organization into one that welcomes and seeks out public input. Since then, MoDOT has conducted Listening Sessions around the state. It was that public input which persuaded MoDOT to embrace bicycling and walking. MoDOT made a strong commitment to bike/ped: multimodal transportation is one of four pillars in the new Vision, and MoDOT promotional videos feature biking and walking. I’ve seen MoDOT share Dept. of Conservation Facebook status updates, an indication that MoDOT is looking outside of itself and interacting with other state departments– another behavior that is characteristic of the new MoDOT.

A funding crisis, it turns out, is an opportunity. A funding crisis shakes us up and opens us up to new ideas and new ways of thinking, whether you are an individual or an organization or a nation. New leadership at MoDOT combined with the funding crisis precipitated a new attitude.

It’s a time of change at MoDOT. MoDOT still makes mistakes, such as installing crosswalks on only 3 streets at an intersection– to cross the 4th street, you are supposed to loop around the entire intersection! But MoDOT is open to fixing these mistakes, and the new bike/ped coordinator is an engineer, which means he knows how to talk to engineers. Because of a 3-legged crosswalk debacle in Columbia, MoDOT changed its standard practice and 3-legged crosswalks are no longer acceptable.

It’s an exciting time at MoDOT, and I want to be a part of it. That’s why I job shadowed a planner and will enroll in a master’s program in Sustainable Transportation this fall.

 

Apr 24

Transportation Commissioners Ride the Bus

Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

Photo by Columbia Tribune

Photo by Columbia Tribune

I have been on the Public Transportation Advisory Commission (PTAC) for the City of Columbia for almost 3 months. My first contribution was to coordinate bus rides for the commissioners. To accommodate different schedules, we had the first on a Saturday evening and the second Wednesday morning.

One of the pushback complaints we get is that people see empty buses and think no one is using them. Our bus on a quiet Saturday evening had half a dozen people in addition to the commissioners, and Wednesday morning was hopping with a full dozen plus us. Columbia Transit keeps exact numbers so they know that people are riding the buses and what the peak hours are.

Saturday was the first time I put my bike on the bus. There is a rack on the front of the bus that can hold 2 bicycles. I studied the instructions on the rack: Push the handle and pull the bar. I was mystified but a Columbia Transit employee pointed out which was which. This YouTube video shows exactly how to do it (skip to 0:40). Now that I know how to do it, it’s easy!

On Wednesday I got to see the handicapped accessible bus in action. The step unfolded into a ramp and the seats folded up to make room for our 2 wheelchairs. Many of the bus stops along the route, however, are not accessible.

Some people think the city bus is uncomfortable and dirty, full of noisy, smelly people. That was not our experience at all. We were the noisiest people there, talking to each other and the reporter. In my experience other riders are quiet and respectful. The buses are clean, neat, and comfortable. I didn’t notice any odors from the bus or the people, not even cigarette smoke.

In fact, I always enjoy the experience of the city bus. It’s different than my usual modes of transportation. Driving by myself is an antisocial activity. Bicycling and walking sometimes give me a chance to interact briefly with other people. But riding a bus is a shared activity, even if you never speak to the other riders. We are all in the same bus together. And if you want to talk to someone, it’s easier to strike up a conversation with total strangers when you have something, no matter how small, in common.

 

Apr 20

Gear stories

Posted on Sunday, April 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

Learn the gears

Learn the gears

One of the hurdles for new bicyclists is gears. Once you learn how to ride a bicycle, you always know how to ride a bicycle, right? But if you learned as a kid, you may not have learned how to use gears. You may not be able to fully operate the first bicycle you own as an adult, yet you think you should know how to do it because you biked well when you were a kid.

I barely remember learning how to use my gears when I got my first real bike in college. I know I had troubles with it, but I don’t remember the process of learning.

The other day I rode with some folks I met at the gym who are training for the TriZou triathlon. They were all good athletes, but they were new enough to bicycling that they didn’t understand their gears.

Traci was struggling up a steep hill and I noticed she was in her middle chainring. “You have a smaller chainring,” I told her. “That will make it easier.” I was a little uncomfortable speaking up, because some people like to mash away in a higher gear and don’t enjoy my easy spinning style.

But she was grateful for the advice and asked how to shift. “Your left (front) shifter is for making big adjustments, and you have 3 gears there,” I explained. “Your right (rear) shifter is for small adjustments and you probably have 8 or 9 gears there.”

“When do I use the biggest gear in front?” she asked.

“Going down a hill,” I answered, “when you get to the point where you can’t pedal any faster, then you use your biggest chainring.” She tried that out and it worked beautifully.

“I hate bicycling,” Elizabeth said at the top of a hill. I knew immediately what was wrong. Just like Traci, she was using her middle chainring for everything and only shifting with her right shifter. I explained it to her, but we had the additional challenge of her bar-end shifters that I wasn’t familiar with. But we figured it out on a flat stretch. After the second loop, she felt much happier with her bicycle.

Scott thought there was something wrong with his bike. “I can’t get it to go into the smallest chainring,” he said. “On that last hill, I finally gave up and stood up on the pedals and then it shifted and I nearly fell over.”

“Ah ha!” I said, excited. “That’s because your chain has to have tension on it, but not too much tension, to shift. When you go up a hill, you have to downshift before you need to.” He tried that approach with success.

I thought then that I should explain cross-chaining. Some shifters assign numbers to the gears: 1 to 3 on the left, 1 to 8 on the right. 1-1 is a good combination for climbing a steep hill. 3-8 is a good combination for going down a steep hill. 1-8 and 3-1 are terrible combinations and put a lot of strain on the chain. They cause the chain to be at an angle relative to the bike, instead of parallel with the bike. They are unnecessary because the gears have some redundancy: the gear ratio achieved in 1-8 might be the same as 2-6, and 3-1 overlaps with 2-3.

This is a confusing concept, but I told them to put the bike up on the bike rack on their car and try it out. They’ll see soon enough how the chain doesn’t look quite right in the 1-8 and 3-1 combinations.

If you don’t have a personal coach, the easiest way to figure out your gears is to try them out in a parking lot or on a flat stretch. Just try them out and feel how it gets easier or harder to pedal as you change gears. If you find yourself struggling up a hill, shift down so it is easier to pedal. If you are flying down a hill and can’t move the pedals any faster, shift up so it is harder to pedal and you can go even faster.

 

Apr 20

Core strength

Posted on Sunday, April 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

After many months of practice, I can hold a side plank just long enough for a picture.

After many months of practice, I can hold a side plank just long enough for a picture.

I’ve heard for ages the importance of core strength, but until I joined the gym I didn’t make much progress. Over the past year, I’ve gained a keen appreciation for core strength, stemming from hurting my back shoveling snow last winter, hurting it again just as it was improving by standing for too many hours, and hurting it yet again as it was starting to get better by walking in the pool!

We now live a 10 minute walk from the gym, and my husband’s job pays for half our gym membership. So all winter I’ve walked to the gym once or even twice a day. I’ve always been disdainful and intimidated by gym rats, and now here I am one myself. I discovered that while in theory I can walk, run, bike, and workout at home anytime for free, in reality I don’t do it as often as I ought. But classes at the gym with a scheduled start time and people to see are highly motivating for me!

At first I was wary of hurting my back. The instructors were happy to point out when I should modify an exercise. My back is stronger now and I am able to do most of the exercises without modifications.

I ran a 7K trail race in January. Trail running is fun but exhausting and it uses a lot of core muscles. I hadn’t been running much, so I was surprised at how comfortable I felt even at the end of the hour of running. My improved core strength made a huge difference, not in my running speed but in my endurance.

During my trip to D.C. for the National Bike Summit, I spent a day visiting museums. I used Capitol BikeShare to get downtown and back, but I walked the rest of the day. My feet, legs, and back ached. I found that by tensing my core and taking smaller steps, everything quit hurting. I wondered, had I more consciously kept my core engaged the entire day, if I wouldn’t be aching at the end.

As my 40 Missouri State Parks bicycle trip approached, I felt I should be putting a lot of miles on my bike to train for this trip. Undertraining puts you at risk for overuse injuries. But the weather wasn’t overly cooperative. Finally, I was able to get out on a 55 mile ride.

Once again I noticed my improved core strength. At the end of 55 miles, it’s not usually my legs that are tired, it’s my arms and back and neck that ache. Again, my improved core strength didn’t make me faster, but I felt like I could go another 20 miles without discomfort. I didn’t ache at all. Even the usual saddle sores were minimal. To train for this trip, my time was better spent in the gym than on my bike!

 

Apr 13

Coming soon to a state park near you!

Posted on Sunday, April 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

Our mascot is You. You are ready to get started!

Our mascot is You. You are ready to get started!

Five years ago, I biked from Columbia, MO to Omaha, NE and back. I camped in state parks and city campgrounds. I carried everything on my bike. It took 11 days and I rode 744 miles. When I got home, I decided that I would bike to the 40 Missouri State Parks that have campgrounds in 2014. My dad looked at my mom, who had worried about me biking by myself and camping by myself, and bought a bike so he could go with me. I had gotten lonely a lot on my first trip, so I was very happy that I would have company.

It’s 2014 now and our trip starts in less than a month. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost here. All winter, Dad and I have had weekly Google hangouts to plan our trip. We’ve been going to our gyms and, when the weather was not too bad, riding our bikes. We’ve collected tents, sleeping bags, a pocket fisherman, a tiny inflatable raft, a cookstove, smart phones, black box cameras, spare parts, and other equipment. We’ve researched state parks, highways, obscure facts about obscure towns, newspapers, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), apps, and more. We reached out to friends, bicycle clubs, bike shops, newspapers, the DNR, Missouri State Parks, the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation, and many others. We have a blog, a mascot, and trail names (Shere Khan and Balloo).

Missouri has a hiker-biker policy, so we won’t be turned away even when the campground is full. The DNR is sponsoring our trip, so we won’t pay campground fees. They are writing an article about us and the publicist is meeting us soon for photos.

I will never feel that I have trained enough or prepared enough. But I can’t wait to start! Ready or not, I’d leave tomorrow if I could.

We want you to join us. You can bike with us for a few miles when we pass through your town. If you’re more adventurous, you might join us for a few days. If you don’t have a bike, we’d love to see you at a state park or anywhere on our journey. We could use some help along the way: a ride to the grocery store, a few extra bananas and boiled eggs, or route advice.

If you can’t join us or meet us, please follow our journey online and leave words of encouragement on our blog. ‘Like’ our Facebook page, 40 Missouri State Parks to get updates and announcements, and visit the 40 Missouri State Parks www.crazyguyonabike.com journal.

 

Apr 11

Capitol Day: Beyond the legislation

Posted on Friday, April 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

I kept my napkin from the Governor's Mansion.

I kept my napkin from the Governor’s Mansion.

Capitol Day for the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation is one of my favorite events. Each year, we meet bicyclists from around the state and visit with legislators, staff, and officials. This year was particularly exciting with the sneak attack on bicycles in the transportation bill.

I coordinated the volunteers this year for the first time. A nasty spring bug took out a couple of my volunteers, including one of the most experienced ones I was counting on. The sneak attack meant hurried, last-minute, extensive changes. So in addition to being the most exciting Capitol Day ever, it was the most rushed ever!

Ordinarily we have an extensive awards ceremony to recognize Missourians who have contributed to bicycling & walking around the state. Due to limited resources this year, we limited our ceremony to a few key state-wide efforts. Bill Bryan, director of the Department of Natural Resources, personally accepted a Friend of Missouri Bicycle and Walking Award for Missouri’s achievement of Best Trails State by American Trails.

We always invite any legislators present to say a few words, and politicians never pass up that opportunity. Only the quick reactions of Rep. Chris Kelly and Rep. Jeremy Lafaver had given us the chance to drum up opposition to the attack on bicycles in the transportation bill, and we were happy to hear from them. Rep. Lafaver had quite the story to tell with his bicycle on the stage just behind him.

Eight years ago, his father, an avid cyclist in D.C., was diagnosed with cancer. Rep. Lafaver took a couple months off to visit, but between chemotherapy and bicycling, his father was too tired to chat. If he wanted to see his dad, he was going to have to ride a bike. His dad was delighted at and immediately bought him a bike. “It’s much too nice of a bike for someone who looks like this,” Rep. Lafaver said, joking about his non-athletic physique. I didn’t think he looked too out of shape to have a nice bike. I thought he looked too young to have lost his dad.

That is why bicycling is important to Rep. Lafaver. He hasn’t ridden the bike much since his father passed away, but he rode with us that day.

The forecast predicted rain during the Legislators’ Bike Ride. But the sun shone, the wind was calm, and the temperature was perfect. I pulled on bike shorts, hiked up my business skirt, and swapped my high heels for sandals for the bike ride. My bike helmet even matched my suit. Every time we cross the Missouri River on the bike/ped bridge, we remember the days when we had to drive over the river to reach the Katy Trail.

At the Governor’s Mansion we met with the new director of Health & Senior Services, Gail Vasterling. Traditionally, transportation and public health have been separate sectors, but more and more we recognize the link between the two. It was a useful meeting as we identified several places we can help each other.

We had some indication that Governor Nixon would make an appearance when we met with his office. Not surprisingly, something came up and he was unable to see us. We were not to be denied our photo op, and we now have a hundred professional photographs of a bemused aide surrounded by a pack of grinning bicycle advocates.

Those of us still there at the end of the day headed off for a long-awaited meal and fellowship. I won’t say that was the highlight of the day, but the pizza was delicious and the meal was a lot of fun.

 

Apr 9

WIN

Posted on Wednesday, April 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

Rep. Kelly gave us Respect the Bicycle Peeps stickers that he had printed up!

Rep. Kelly gave us Respect the Bicycle Peeps stickers that he had printed up!

This year was the most exciting Capitol Day ever for the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation.

Missouri transportation faces a funding crisis due to the declining power of the fuel tax and ever more efficient vehicles. When the fuel tax was adopted in 1923, it was designated for roads and bridges. State funds cannot be used for nonmotorized transportation, such as sidewalks and bike lanes.

So the funding crisis is an opportunity for bicycling and walking.

Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs coalition proposes a 1% sales tax to go to voters in November. Last year, the bill passed both the House and Senate but fell to a Senate filibuster during reconciliation of the two versions. We are trying again this year. If it passes, voters will decide in November if it will become law.

As a member of this coalition, the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation wants to ensure that transportation funding includes bicycling and walking. Even though bicycling and walking are included in this bill, at any moment anything can change. That is what happened on Thursday. Rep. Curtman introduced an amendment that would remove the word ‘bicycle’ from the definition of transportation. This was a routine amendment that could easily slip through. But Rep. Kelly and Rep. Lafaver noticed and objected and the amendment was postponed.

In just 4 days, we issued an advocacy alert and launched a social media campaign.

Coincidentally, our Capitol Day was Monday. We re-wrote our prepared material and printed it at the last minute. We quickly educated Capitol Day participants about the amendment and sent them off to their representatives. We asked bicyclists throughout the state to call and email their representatives.

We had support from Democrats and from Republicans– including Kirksville’s Rep. Nate Walker. We had support from the coalition and from MoDOT. Our lobbyist helped us strategize. Monday’s legislative session began in the evening, so we stayed late in order to talk to the legislators who didn’t come in until shortly before session.

I had the opportunity to return to Jefferson City Tuesday morning to witness the final maneuvers. We had succeeded so well in whipping up opposition to the amendment that there was one last argument about whether the defeat would be by a roll call vote or a voice vote! With a roll call vote, the individual votes are on record, and some representatives will vote for or against something only if their individual vote will not be on record or off record. It’s a matter of who gets credit or blame, and people who are up for reelection care deeply about that. We only cared about defeating the amendment, which was most likely with a voice vote.

We sat next to MoDOT director Dave Nichols in the House gallery to hear the debate and then the vote on the amendment that would remove the word ‘bicycle’ from the definition of transportation. A few meager “Ayes!” sounded and then the House chamber echoed with resounding “NAYS!” We had defeated the attack on bicycles.

Making sure folks get do get credit, despite the anonymous voice vote, is important, so please thank your representative for his or her support.

 

Apr 3

Morals, ethics, cheating, and me

Posted on Thursday, April 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

I just listened to a coursera lecture about research that sheds light onto why and how we cheat or don’t cheat. From an evolutionary point of view, cheating is an arbitrary distinction that is only possible in a social definition. If our social training indoctrinates us that it’s the responsibility of the smartest person to come up with the answers and everyone else should try to get the answers from that one, then it isn’t cheating to copy off of someone’s test, it’s our duty to copy.

But it is possible to study the phenomenon nonetheless because every culture does have some form of cheating, some rules that can be broken to some degree for the individual’s gain.

The results were in one sense promising: very few people are outright crooks. (About 12.) In another sense demoralizing: many people are a little bit crooked. (18,000.) (I don’t recall how many are purely honest, or if he said.) People are more inclined to cheat when their peers cheat. They are less inclined to cheat when reminded of honesty and values.

That fits me really, really well. I’m all about my worldview and how my actions fit my self image. I firmly believe that I’m, if not a good person, I’m not a bad person. If I have done things that are wrong, it’s the definition of wrong actions that is mistaken, not my definition of myself. That’s the compelling reason I learned a lot about neurochemicals and behavior, and how little control we really have over our own behavior. That allowed me to create a worldview where my actions which appeared to be wrong were a result of biology and evolution, not a symptom of the badness within me.

Philosophically, I am a moral relativist and I don’t believe (much) in free will. My husband is the complete opposite and it disturbs him to even contemplate the alternative.

According to this research, the decision to cheat or not is NOT based on a calculated cost-benefit analysis. At least, not one that is purely monetary. It has a lot to do with how we think of ourselves. Reminding people of things like honest and values inspires them to be better behaved: almost no one cheats after that reminder.

I have three stories which will reveal my propensity to cheating.

As a young soldier in the National Guard, I went to a 2-week training to get my sergeant stripes. Among the several requirements to pass the course was Land Navigation. The instructors expressed their frustration with the inadequate resources they had to train us: an out of date contour map that we had to draw the updates onto. Terrain that was challenging for experts to maintain a consistent stride length and impossible for beginners. Only one in-the-field opportunity to practice before we took the test, and only one chance to re-take the test.

Word quickly got around that after the practice test, we would share the coordinates that we found. With that list, we could cheat on the test.

I contributed to the list and I accepted the list, but I wasn’t going to use it unless I had to. I was going to try to pass it on my own merits first.

I had to find 3 of the 4 coordinates I’d been given. I found 2. Time was running out. Regretfully, I got the list out and wrote down the answer for the 3rd. I didn’t look to see if the 4th was on the list– there was no advantage in staining my soul a bit more for the 4th, when I only needed the 3rd to pass the test.

Another soldier refused to contribute to the list and did not accept a copy. She failed the test. She angrily accepted a copy for her re-take, and passed. (I forget whether she passed the re-take on her own or if she did have to consult the cheat sheet.)

There’s all sorts of justifications and rationales in there, discussions of what was right or wrong, but the incident made a strong impression on me.

A second instance is speeding tickets. At that same age, I drove faster than was good for me on the long drive to and from college and home or college and guard drill. It was a long, boring drive and I had homework and a billion other things to do. I received a handful of speeding tickets and I lowered my speed because those tickets are expensive. I persisted in following the custom of driving 5 mph over the posted speed limit, no matter what the conditions.

After I started bicycling, my driving behavior changed. I don’t notice the posted speed limits because they seem ridiculously high to me. I’m glad now that I got those speeding tickets in my youth which were expensive enough to cause me to slow down and I wish more people got more expensive speeding tickets. It would save lives.

No one feels any moral compunction over speeding. When I was a young driver, I certainly didn’t feel like speeding was immoral.

Now that I’m a bicyclist, stop signs are my equivalent of speeding tickets. I can track stand pretty well, but even so carrying a heavy load and approaching a stop sign, no one in sight in any direction, I don’t want to give up my momentum and use up my brake pads on an unnecessary stop. I feel guilty when I do this because I preach that bicyclists should always stop at stop signs. I do it rarely and carefully– but it makes me uncomfortable.

It makes me uncomfortable because it makes me a hypocrite, not because I think that running stop signs is inherently immoral.

Those are the 3 stories that reveal that I am no better than human.

I have one more story though.

I wanted something a great deal. The person who had the power to give that to me chose not to (for good reasons– and weighing the interests of everyone affected, it was the correct choice). I have respected that choice. Is it because I know that there is nothing I can do to change the decision? That any effort on my part will probably back fire and the decision will become even more firm? Or is it because I took the high road, and while I could possibly change the decision, I chose not to? Frankly it’s probably the former, but I like to believe it’s the latter. I like to believe that I am morally superior in this one instance if not in the rest of my life.

At any rate, if I’m not morally superior, at least I can go down with dignity. Kicking & screaming won’t change the decision, and it makes me look bad besides.

Apr 3

A Perfect Day

Posted on Thursday, April 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

A statue of Sergeant James Miller guards our bikes while we stop for bathrooms.

A statue of Sergeant James Miller guards our bikes while we stop for bathrooms.

This is the last of 8 posts about my trip to the National Bike Summit. Read about my experiences biking in D.C. (Capital BikeShare, Bicycling in D.C., When In Rome), attending the National Bike Summit (National Bike Summit, Perceptions vs. Reality, Lobby Day), and sight seeing (Transportation in D.C. Museums).

Once in a while, a perfect day just happens. It can’t be planned.

I went to the east coast a couple days before the National Bike Summit so that I could visit friends I’ve known for a few years on Facebook. This was our first chance to meet in real life.

Putting tires on a bike wheel might not sound like a fun activity to most people, but I jumped at the chance to do just that before breakfast. Ken has a fancy carbon bike and recently got fancy new wheels and fancy slick tires for it. I put the slick tires on his new wheels while he made omelets.

Laura met us early so we could get our bike ride done before the predicted snow storm, while it was still “warm” (barely above freezing). We spent at least a half hour on our ride thoroughly discussing bicycle saddles (brooks or terry? B.67 or B.17?), then moved on to Walking School Bus, Girl Scouts on Wheels, and bike/ped advocacy. I pushed to keep up with the faster riders so despite the cold, I heated up and peeled off layer after layer. When we stopped for a snack, I drank a smoothie– and cooled off too rapidly. I put all the layers back on plus my companion’s jacket and still shivered. When we got moving I warmed up and shed all the layers again.

It was a good smoothie. Chocolate raspberry.

After the ride, Ken and I walked to the bike shop to pick up a couple tools. We browsed the bikes, admiring the internal hubs and disc brakes. I like orange bikes.

Cathy was home by then and we headed to the gym to spin. We had gotten a good bike ride in, but spinning for 30 minutes was our excuse for a long soak in the hot tub.

The rest of the day we worked on the fancy wheels. We moved the cassette (that’s the cogs on the rear wheel) from the old wheel to the new wheel. That required the chainwhip tool and lockring remover he had picked up from the bike shop, and 2 bicycle mechanic books. We practiced it first on another wheel. We cleaned the cassette before we put it on the shiny new wheel. Once we got it all assembled, the freewheel locked up, so we loosened the lockring and tried again. That time it worked! I was startled at how late it was. The hours had flown by.

Bike ride, bike shop, spinning, and bike mechanics. What really made the day was talking about bicycling all day long. Eyes glaze over when I talk too much about bicycling. It was a real treat to talk about my favorite topic to my heart’s content.