In a recent homework assignment, I analyzed the reasons why we choose to go by car, by bike, by foot, or by bus. Of course, most people go the quickest way, which is usually by car, but people who bicycled also cited enjoyment, exercise, and cost, while some people who drove needed to haul cargo or small people.
Guess what, you can haul cargo and kids with your bicycle, thereby allowing you to reap the enjoyment, exercise, and low cost of bicycling as well as get your errands done.
Small children love riding in bicycle trailers. There are also child seats that go on your bicycle, either in front of you or behind you. (I haven’t seen any bicycle sidecars.) As kids get too big for the trailer or the child seat, they can ride a Trail-a-Bike which attaches to your bicycle. It gets a little harder when they outgrow the Trail-a-Bike. There are some products that attach two bikes together, or you can get a tandem (expensive!), or you can bike a lot slower so they can keep up with you. If you have multiple kids of different sizes, you might need a triple tandem and a trailer to get them all in.
Unless you are in a bicycle race with a support vehicle and domestiques, your bike has to carry at least a little bit, like a water bottle and a seat pack with your flat kit. To carry a purse or a few items as well, you can use a backpack or a basket on your handlebar. But a rear rack expands the cargo possibilities: panniers, rack trunk, a rear basket, or strapping stuff directly on the rack. A front rack opens up even more storage space.
If you have large loads, like when you stock up on groceries and bring home a giant package of toilet paper, a flatbed trailer is your friend. I converted a kid trailer into a flatbed trailer by removing the plastic seats and attaching the axle & hitch to a piece of plywood. In addition to the usual groceries, I’ve hauled a Rug Doctor, Christmas trees, and cats on that trailer. I’ve even strapped a lawn chair to it and hauled people!
The bakfiet, or Dutch cargo bike, is growing in popularity. Several children can fit inside the box that is the front of the bakfiet. You can haul anything in a bakfiet that you could haul in a car.
With a 12-foot-long Bikes At Work trailer, my bike exceeds the hauling capabilities of a car. I’ve borrowed one of those for lumber a couple times, and a bed once. I made several trips with it to help a friend move a few block away. Her furniture wouldn’t fit in her car, but it fit on the trailer!
Hauling stuff by bike is satisfying work!
I’ve had a couple fun homework assignments in this semester’s class, Transportation & Health, for my Sustainable Transportation Master’s Degree. Every student in my class entered data into a spreadsheet about a trip we make regularly. How long would the trip take by car? by bus? by bike? by foot? We calculated our exposure to pollution via each of these modes, and indicated which mode we primarily use and why. Our data joined 2 other years’ worth of data, for a total of 35 students.
For the next step, we each asked a question that could be answered, possibly, by analyzing the data. Assuming that most people choose the mode of transportation that gets them there the quickest, I asked, “What other reasons play into our choice of transportation?”
For everyone, the car was the fastest mode. But 1/3 of the students (including me) chose something other than the car: biking, walking, or transit. These students must have had compelling reasons to outweigh the time commitment.
Oddly, students who chose to bike, walk, or bus sometimes listed “Time” as the reason. That was because their mode, while not as fast as taking the car, was faster than one of the other modes. Walking was usually the slowest mode.
Many students who did take the car, 2/3 of the class, mentioned “Time” as well as other reasons. Since we all chose different trips, such as going to work, going to the gym, or going to the grocery store, we had different needs for each trip. Students listed the need to haul groceries or other passengers as a reason to use the car.
I’ve found myself using the car more often than I like lately, and the reason is “Time”. Each errand, I consider biking. If I’m making a big grocery trip, I would hook up my trailer to my bicycle. If it’s dark, my colorful bicycle lights would blink like a police car. If it’s cold, I would bundle up in my winter gear. But then I think of my homework, grading papers, cooking supper, and attending meetings, and I sigh and get in the car, saving myself 30 minutes of travel but losing an opportunity for 50 minutes of biking.
To be fair, I bike somewhere almost every day, to the gym and to meetings. But I enjoy biking my errands, and that hasn’t been happening much. Another day, when all these other very fun things that I do like Bike/Ped Commission and Public Transportation Advisory Commission and the Mayor’s Task Force on Pedestrian Safety wind down, I’ll bike some of these errands that I’m driving today.
Why do you go the way you go?
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” – Alfred Wainwright
The autumn rains bring back memories of my early days of bicycling. The first time I got caught in the rain, I got soaked. That’s not a big deal if it’s warm, until I have to spend the day in an air conditioned building. Next time it rained, I was prepared. I brought a change of clothes with me.
Then I learned that my change of clothes should include a towel, socks, and underwear. A steady rain gets through all layers pretty quickly!
Then I learned that my change of clothes had better be in a plastic bag, like a grocery sack.
Then I learned that my change of clothes had better be wrapped in TWO plastic bags. Thin plastic grocery sacks get holes in them, and leak.
While summer rains are pleasant, autumn rains are cold. A $10 rain suit from Walmart fell apart after two bike rides. It wasn’t designed for bicyclists. I purchased a Gore-Tex rain coat and Gore-Tex rain pants made for women bicyclists for–cough–$400! “It’s cheaper than car payments,” I reminded myself. 8 years later, I’m still using both the rain coat and the rain pants (although somehow the rain pants have gotten snug), so this investment has paid off. That’s $50/year, and keeps going down every year I continue to use them. I wear my Gore-Tex more often as extra protection from the cold than from the rain, so this has been a good investment.
I wore the rain coat and rain pants during a steady, cold rain this week. I was warm and comfortable while biking, and only slightly damp at the end of my trip, except for my hands and feet.
My hands and feet were soaked and cold. I’m still experimenting with rain gear for my hands and feet.
While the right clothing can make any weather just fine, it can take a while to find the right clothing for the right weather!
“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” –Abraham Maslow
My bicycle is my “hammer”. It solves many problems:
Bicycling saves money.
Bicycling makes me healthy.
Bicycling doesn’t pollute or cause congestion.
Bicycling makes friends.
Bicycling makes me strong.
Bicycling in all weather makes me tough.
And bicycling helps me sleep.
Well, that might not be entirely fair. I’ve always been a good sleeper. It’s my superpower. I know I’m a good sleeper because most people I know struggle with sleep. They can’t fall asleep, or they wake up and can’t get back to sleep. They sleep restlessly and are tired when they wake up.
I fall asleep early and wake up early. I struggle to stay awake late, when I have a reason to stay up. I think my sleep quality might be better since I started bicycling, but it’s not something I’ve ever struggled with, so it’s hard to say.
The effect of bicycling on sleep is more obvious in people who do struggle with sleep.
A single bike ride doesn’t guarantee them a good night’s rest. They might even be a bit restless the night after a long ride. Three of my friends have independently observed that regular biking or walking does improve their sleep. When they stop biking or walking, their sleep deteriorates. And when they start biking or walking again, their sleep improves again. It takes a few days to a couple weeks to notice, either direction.
That’s not real evidence; it’s anecdotal. What is evidence is the plethora of studies on the topic. A recently published study links cardiorespiratory fitness to sleep complaints in 8000 people across 35 years (Dishman 2015, Med Sci Sports Exerc). That’s just one of hundreds of studies of exercise and sleep. The effect isn’t one-way: better sleep improves your life in many ways, including your fitness. Exercise to sleep, and sleep to exercise! Sleep is the new vitamin!
I can solve just about any problem with my bicycle. What problems do you have? Try biking or walking, and see if that solves your problem! If it doesn’t directly solve your problem, it’ll make you feel better.
My apologies for the Long Silence. In less than a month, I attended 2 conferences in different cities while teaching one online class and taking another. That advantage of an online class is that it can be done anywhere; the disadvantage is– it can be done anywhere! Couple that with my usual activities of commissions, boards, and task forces, and a minor family crisis (Nell’s ok– though it’s been a challenging semester), and things start falling off my plate.
What has not fallen off my plate is bicycling and family. It’s time like this that I can see my priorities clearly! I haven’t taken any long, recreational, just-for-fun bicycle rides, but I haven’t even considered canceling or trading shifts for a GetAbout ride. Our riders count on the ride leaders like me to show up, and that bit of accountability is what I need to spend some precious time on something that could be considered frivolous.
It’s not frivolous. Not in the least. Bicycling is my self-care. It’s what gives me the energy and health to do so much, to attend 2 conferences in a month, to teach, to learn, and to take care of my daughter.
If you need a little motivation to make self-care a priority in your life, start a Couch-2-5K, volunteer as a Walking School Bus leader, or lead a class at the gym. That extra accountability will allow you do something selfish– taking care of yourself– under the guise of serving others.
MoDOT is replacing 3 bridges on I-70. The bridge replacement includes redesigning the streets underneath. MoDOT used a ‘Design-Build’ bid process which is unusual. The advantage is we can get a much better result for the money, but the disadvantage is the lack of opportunity for public input. The stated goals of the project are 1) to replace the 3 bridges, and 2) disrupt traffic as little as possible during the construction period.
The problem is that MoDOT and the winning team interpreted “traffic” as “motor vehicle traffic”, and the disruption to pedestrian traffic during this project is severe. If there had been a chance for public input, we would have championed preserving pedestrian as well as motor vehicle traffic.
Rangeline has 6 traffic lanes under the bridge, including 2 left-turn lanes (one on each side). These 6 traffic lanes will be preserved although narrowed during nearly the entire construction period. However, the bike lanes and the sidewalk are already shut down entirely.
That’s right– there’s enough space for six 9-foot lanes of traffic but not for a single 4-foot sidewalk. For what will probably be the better part of a year.
So what is a pedestrian to do? MoDOT says: walk half a mile over to Providence, cross there, and then walk half a mile back. That’s three times the distance of the closed sidewalk.
I tried out the detour for myself. I walked west on Vandiver, a hilly street. One rationale for not allowing pedestrians under the bridge during construction is ADA accessibility. I wondered how a wheelchair would handle the steep slopes of Vandiver or some broken pavement.
I drained my water bottle as I waited at the stoplight to walk south along Providence. The sidewalk on Providence was new and wide with a pedestrian bridge over the highway. At a side street, a driver waiting to make a right turn was intent on watching traffic to his left, waiting for an opening. When he went, my wariness pays off– he never had looked to his right and would have hit me if I had walked in front of him in the crosswalk. I waited again for a car turning onto the same side street that also never saw me.
At Bus Loop, I had some shade. It was late afternoon and after school activities were winding down, with students lined up trying to get out of the parking lots. The front car of each queue poked out across my path and the driver inside may or may not have seen me. I took my chances and crossed in front of them.
After I passed the high school, the sidewalk ended abruptly! I caught a glimpse of what might be a sidewalk underneath used cars for sale.
Finishing the detour, I walked the “closed” sidewalk for comparison.
There is a “goatpath” in the grass around the barrier at the construction zone. Concrete barriers turn the bike lane into an effective sidewalk– but one barred at both ends to pedestrian traffic. It is a path intended for construction workers. In the absence of active construction, pedestrians are using it. I saw one go around the barrier.
“It’s for the safety of the pedestrians,” one engineer told me, alluding to the danger of something falling from construction equipment. How does this compare to the increased risk in exposure to traffic, the increased risk at conflict points like the side streets and parking lot entrances?
I believe that the engineers who came up with the innovative and clever designs for the bridges are smart enough to come up with a better solution than the 1.5-mile pedestrian detour. The City stepped in and offered free bus rides to anyone needing to get through the intersection.
I want to recognize, appreciate, and laud the progress MoDOT has made in accommodating non-motorized traffic. As I walk through a so-called detour like this, or the 3-legged crosswalk I inspected the other day, and I see how far they have to go, my faith is tested. However, when I spoke to another engineer, he was amazed that a pedestrian detour was offered at all. Now that I know that, I’m pleased that they did make the attempt. They can learn from the experience, and I hope they’ll do better on their next pedestrian detour.
I planned to ride 90 miles at BikeMO, MoBikeFed’s annual bicycle ride in mid-Missouri. But a few days before the event, I threw my back out. So instead of riding my bike, I drove the “SAG wagon”. A supported bike ride has roving SAG wagons, people driving around ready to help bicyclists in trouble. I was the designated sweep SAG, so I hung back near the last bicyclists. Rather than follow the last bicyclist, I drove ahead a little, pulled over and waited until the last one passed me, then drove ahead again. I anticipated a boring day, but it was surprisingly interesting watching peoples’ progress. We rolled down the windows and waved and cheered every time we passed bicyclists!
It was a useful experience for me. These sorts of rides are generally on quiet, low traffic, two-lane highways with no shoulders. The low traffic volume makes the roads safe– the hills and lack of shoulders does not. Often I found myself following a string of bicyclists as I waited for the other lane to clear so I could pass (and cheer). Usually the bicyclists all fell into single file and hugged the edge of the road when I did this, although there still wasn’t space to safely pass until the oncoming traffic had cleared.
I have the same impulse to move over when I’m bicycling. Now that I’ve seen the point of view of a driver, I understand more clearly than ever what a bad idea that is!
The only way to safely pass the bicyclists is to change lanes. I can’t change lanes until the oncoming traffic clears. Bicyclists singling up and hugging the edge encourages and tempts me to try to squeeze past them in the same lane. That is not safe! The message the bicyclists are sending is: Go ahead, pass us, we’ll make room. Only they can’t make room, because the lane just isn’t wide enough for the car and the bike.
If the lane is too narrow for a car to pass you going the speed limit without changing lanes, ride in the center of the lane. It doesn’t matter what the speed limit on the road is. Don’t tempt a car or truck to try to squeeze by you. Take up a little more space– and reduce the temptation to pass you– by riding side-by-side. As long as you don’t stray into the oncoming lane, take as much space as you like. You are not inconveniencing anyone, because they can’t and shouldn’t pass you whether you are in the middle of the lane or at the edge of the lane. You are safest if you don’t tempt and encourage them to try to squeeze past you by giving them the perception that they have enough room to pass.
When you are the driver and you approach a bicyclist, change lanes to pass! Thank you!
It’s time to reflect on how easy it is to take my health for granted, because once again I’ve thrown my back out. This is partly a consequence of bicycling many thousands of miles– bicyclists are prone to certain types of injury, and this is one of them. But before you suggest I stop bicycling, let me tell you some injuries and diseases that bicyclists are NOT prone to: Diabetes. Heart disease. Arthritis. Depression. Cancer. Car crashes. Bicycling protects me from diseases that are associated with sedentary lifestyle and car culture. I’d rather risk ulnar nerve entrapment, IT band issues, lower back pain, and the possibility of a broken collarbone than a chronic disease or serious injury that destroys my quality of life.
Don’t get me wrong– bicycling neither dooms you to certain ailments nor guarantees protection from others. I bike a LOT, and I’ve learned how to reduce the risk of many injuries and crashes– clearly, I am still learning!
And now that I’ve moralized and alienated half my readers, let’s return to my reflections on health.
When new bicyclists tell me they are worried about slowing down traffic, I lecture, “You have a right to the road. You’re not inconveniencing anyone more than a couple seconds. Take your time, don’t let yourself feel rushed.”
Getting on the bike with a lower back injury was a bit uncomfortable, but manageable. The first slight rise in the road astonished me (and my back)! I’m not used to thinking of that small rise as a hill, and I had to shift all the way down. The next surprise for me came when the light turned green as I was waiting in line with several cars before and after me. I usually follow the cars ahead of me closely through intersections, but I couldn’t keep up. I felt awkward about slowing down traffic, and had to tell myself, “Take your time, don’t let yourself feel rushed!”
Bicycling with a lower back injury was a good reminder of what it’s like to be a slow, uncertain, and wobbly bicyclist. It improved my compassion and empathy for new bicyclists.
When I’m healthy, I take pride in biking slowly. Using my lowest gears, I can climb hills without breathing hard, breaking a sweat, or passing someone out walking his dog. I take pride in my endurance, my ability to bicycle for long hours, knowing that I’m slower than most bicyclists (and faster than most couch potatoes). Bicycling with a lower back injury showed me how strong and fast I am ordinarily– stronger and faster than I realize.
Take a moment to appreciate your health. Don’t take big risks, like sitting on a couch or in a car. Protect your body with a happy, active lifestyle!
Why did the chicken cross the road?
To get to the other side.
Most chickens can cross once and they’re on the other side, but not so at Bernadette and Stadium. Chickens are supposed to cross THREE roads to get to the other side. Each road has a pedestrian refuge in the middle, so it takes 6 light cycles to get through the whole thing.
I decided to try it out for myself.
Standing in front of Drury Inn, I looked across at the gas station on the other side of Stadium Blvd at the intersection of Stadium and Bernadette. I biked here, so I will wheel my bike along as I cross each street.
I start the stopwatch. I push the button for the WALK signal. I wait for it to change. The light changes and I walk south across Bernadette. I have about 10 seconds. Almost immediately my light starts blinking red. The red hand stops blinking and turns to a solid red “DON’T WALK” as I step into the pedestrian refuge in the middle of the street.
I’m not walking slow, I’m not rushing either. If I were an elderly person, or in a wheelchair, walking slowly for any reason, I wouldn’t make it across before DON’T WALK. If I sprinted, I might make it beyond the pedestrian refuge and across the entire street before DON’T WALK.
I angle my bike so that it fits inside the pedestrian refuge, a narrow path between raised concrete curbs to isolate me from the traffic. I push the button for the WALK signal. I wait. It changes and I continue south to finish crossing Bernadette. Again, I have barely enough time at my moderate pace to cross before the solid DON’T WALK signal. After 3.5 minutes, the first leg is done.
I won’t bore you with pushing the button, waiting for the light, crossing halfway, repeat. If you are bored reading about it, imagine the tedium of the experience. This isn’t a pleasant amble through green forests and chirping birds. It’s vigilance for the moment the light changes and a mad dash and vigilance in a vista of concrete and poles listening to engines humming and roaring.
At the last corner, I point my bike north and a young pretty panhandler joins me. A bit embarrassed, I try to explain to her that I’m conducting an experiment. Then I realize how silly it is for me to feel self conscious around a panhandler. “I’m timing how long it takes to go through all these lights since there is no crosswalk to get from the hotel to the gas station,” I explain.
“Oh, I usually just wait until traffic is clear and just go,” she says helpfully.
Of course she does. ANYONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND would do the same. And if she were unlucky enough to get hit, we could blame her because she was, after all, jaywalking. How did the engineers who designed this intersection not know that people needing to cross there would do exactly what this bright young panhandler suggests?
The panhandler tells me about the people she’s met during her journey and the crazy and amazing things they are doing, as if my experiment fits into the same category as rock climbing in every state or bicycling across America.
We reach the northeast corner of the intersection 9.5 minutes after I started. It has taken me nearly 10 minutes to traverse 356 feet– nearly the length of a football field. If I’d done what the panhandler recommended, I’d have traveled less than 1/2 the distance in 1/6 time.
The experiment yielded data, sure, but it also yielded an experience.
You never know what will happen when you cross the street.
Last year my dad and I bicycled 1400 miles, for 6 weeks, to 40 Missouri State Parks. This year my friend Scott and I planned to bicycle 1400 miles, for 6 weeks, to 28 Missouri State Parks and State Historic Sites. Last year our route took us all over Missouri. This year our route was St. Louis to Kansas City by way of the Bootheel– the perimeter of Missouri.
We were 203 miles, 7 days, and 3 State Historic Sites into our tour when disaster struck. Scott didn’t see the broken pavement at the bottom of a steep hill (thank you, St. Louis County Public Works). He went airborne, over the handlebar, and landed on his shoulder, separating it. He and his bike needed repairs. The tour was over.
It was not a bad tour. It was a failed tour. The distinction is important.
The walls of Sparky’s Ice Cream Shop in Columbia, MO are covered with thrift store art. The owner and collector explained in a TedX talk why he collects thrift store art and what the difference is between bad art and failed art.
“I dislike the term ‘bad art’… I don’t call them bad, but I’m okay with the word ‘failed’. Failure is interesting, and it’s a normal part of the process of becoming an artist. But artists usually fail in private. So when I come across one of these paintings for sale, I feel like I’ve been allowed to see something rare that I was never supposed to see… Bad art is when the skill dwarfs the ambition. Gigantic technical ability plus no big dream except to create the same product over and over and over.”
A ‘bad’ bicycle tour would be one where someone started off to do it, inexperienced and unprepared, and gave up after 2 hours or maybe stuck it out for a couple days. The best moments of bicycle touring come after serious suffering. You have to suffer to get there, to get to that Perfect Moment. You can’t do that in a couple days.
This wasn’t a ‘bad’ tour. We tried, we suffered, we experienced some glimpses of Perfect Moments.
Our skill and experience definitely did not dwarf our ambitious tour. We had a big dream, if not gigantic technical ability.
Ours was a ‘failed’ tour. I’m proud to let you see something rare that you were never supposed to see. Failure is interesting, and I love things that are interesting, like abandoned buildings in ghost towns, in run down areas of cities, and in thriving business districts. Abandoned buildings are full of mystery and history and interesting.
I want to try again. I want to ride the Iron Curtain and the Bicentennial Trans-America Route. I want to experience the suffering that yields up the Perfect Moments, to experience the appetite that kicks in after a couple weeks of struggling and low energy and makes the simple act of eating a spiritual experience. That’s what our ‘failed’ tour left me with, a desire to try again and again.
I love bicycle touring. When I started, I didn’t have any bicycle touring gear and I didn’t have a clue. I had a lot of suffering, a lot of meaningful moments, and a lot of fun. Now that I’m a moderately experienced bicycle tourist, I have bicycle touring gear and lots of clues. With these, I have a lot of suffering, a lot of meaningful moments, and a lot of fun. Anyone can bicycle tour without special gear. Having special gear makes it a little easier, but overcoming challenges without easy answers can be rewarding and even fun with the right attitude.
That said, getting fancy gear that makes something easier is rewarding, too. My opinions in bicycle touring gear constantly change. I can only tell you why I like the gear I have right now.
Gear selection is a balance between comfort on the bike (less weight, less volume) and comfort at the campsite (sitting, sleeping, eating, entertainment). Gear can be comfortable, durable, and lightweight, but rarely is it all that and inexpensive!
The popular tent these days is the MSR Hubba Hubba NX. At over $300, it’s still on my wishlist and I make do with something cheaper. If you have a tent that is free-standing and doesn’t have to be staked down, you can set up on a concrete pad out of the mud and water, or maybe under a picnic shelter. Weight and volume are critical, so choose a smaller tent.
I’ve finally got the sleeping pad of my dreams, and it’s actually a cot. The Therm-A-Rest LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot is pricy, but a good night’s sleep is invaluable! This super lightweight cot puts me a couple inches off the ground. On hot nights air can circulate under me, and on cold nights it’s great to be up off the frozen ground.
To make the cot even cushier, I put a Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sleeping Pad, which folds up accordion-style. Many bicycle tourists just use this.
Sleeping bags filled with duck or goose down will compress into a tiny stuff sack that takes up very little space. I have a medium-weight bag that keeps me warm almost to freezing temperatures, but ideally I’d also like an alternate bag for milder weather.
The MSR Micro Rocket Stove takes up very little space, is lightweight, and boils water fast.
I love the Hydro Flask water bottles. They aren’t cheap for water bottles, but ice water stays icy in them for a long time. I recommend the standard or wide mouth that accommodate large ice cubes.
I don’t like to use a trailer on a bicycle tour. It allows me to carry too much stuff, and before I know it the weight is slowing me down to a standstill. Furthermore, a trailer tire is smaller than bicycle tires, requiring extra spare tubes and spokes. I prefer to pack my gear in front and rear panniers and a handlebar bag, strapping on anything that doesn’t fit. Ortliebs are the top-of-the-line panniers, which many of my friends use. I picked up a used set of Cannondales a couple years ago, and I like the multiple pockets, but I wouldn’t mind the spaciousness, bright colors, and water proofness of Ortliebs.
My non-essential luxury items are a tiny lightweight collapsible chair, and my mascot: a stuffed chicken named You. You show up in many of my photos, and You are a great conversation piece!
A common mistake people make when doing a bicycle tour is planning too much detail. It is perhaps theoretically possible to plan an appropriate number of miles to travel each day. But I have never heard of anyone actually doing that. The far more common story is too many miles and a huge amount of stress trying to make a particular destination by a certain day.
On my first bicycle tour, I reasoned that if I could bike 100 miles in a day, that I could bike 80 miles fully loaded in a day. It was brutal, and the relentless hills of northwest Missouri meant that my ‘easy’ 60-mile day was the longest and most exhausting.
A more reasonable number of miles for a fully loaded bicycle tourist is 40 or 50, but it depends on so many things (wind, hills, fitness) that I wonder if the best planning is no planning. An 82-mile day during my first bicycle tour across a flat part of Kansas with a tailwind ended up being the shortest day! If I’d planned only 40 miles that day, I’d have had energy and hours of daylight and nothing to do.
I repeated that mistake recently, on a 3-day shakedown cruise to test out my gear for an upcoming 6-week tour. I planned 55 miles a day for 2 days and 30 miles for the 3rd day. The first day was nice until near the end. I’d biked to Arrow Rock State Historic Site twice before, and I remembered it as being hilly. My memory was accurate. Those hills at the end of a long day beat us up and spit us out. I managed to get coals hot enough to cook hamburgers if I held the skillet close to the wet wood, but I was too tired to bother with the marshmallows.
It is a sad day indeed when you are too tired to set a marshmallow on fire.
The next 55-mile day was 100% hills. They were pleasant if tiring until we got to Glasgow where Hwy 87 is unpleasant and tiring. Hwy 87 goes down in my book as the hilliest road in Missouri, which is saying something, because I’ve bicycled over 2000 miles of Missouri highways. In addition to the hills, Hwy 87 has no shoulders and more than enough traffic. We decided to take our chances on the gravel roads in the floodplain of the Missouri River. While some of this route was flatter, I had to walk some hills for almost the first time in my life. I pride myself on my skillful and eager use of my lowest gears that allow me to climb any hill slower than you can walk it, but the steep gravel hills defeated me.
The gravel road included a low-water crossing with 5-inch deep mud. I was grateful for the weekly deadlifts in the gym class I go to, as I carried my fully loaded touring bike across that mud.
Even our final day, an ‘easy’ 30 miles on the flat Katy Trail, was rough because of a heat wave. We refilled our water bottles several times and used electrolytes liberally, but we were far more exhausted than we expected.
On the one hand, I hope that less planning and more flexibility will make my upcoming bicycle tour more enjoyable, but on the other hand, I have to admit that in a way I enjoy the suffering. I don’t enjoy it while it’s happening, but I love having done something extreme. I loved the peach cobbler I earned on the Glasgow hills. The Katy Roundhouse campsite felt like Shangri-La after endless pedaling. I love retelling stories of 30 mph headwinds and 5-inch deep mud.
I’ll let you know in a couple months what a bicycle touring experience is like with less planning!
Fear of traffic keeps a lot of people from bicycling. But it’s not always fear for their safety. It’s more like social anxiety. The road is a social place. It’s a place with rules of behavior. Everyone has their own ideas about what those rules should be, and we are very quick to judge anyone not following our rules.
As a social setting, the rules of the behavior seem to be simple. We drive on the right side of the road. We stay within the lines. Stop lights tell us when to stop and when to go. Speed limit signs tell us how fast we can go.
But it isn’t really simple at all. The rules are complex. The speed limit sign doesn’t tell us how fast to go– only the upper limit. Without any other guidance, people turn to the speed limit sign as dictating how fast to go. “I couldn’t believe I had to follow a car going 30 mph in a 35 mph zone for an entire mile,” someone might complain, as if the 35 mph means that is the speed you ought to travel, rather than the maximum speed you are allowed.
We are on the same road going different speeds, and angry with virtually every other user of the road for going the ‘wrong’ speed. And that’s when we’re all using roughly the same sort of vehicle with the same capabilities. When one of us is using a very different type of vehicle, such as a tractor, or a bicycle, it gets even more complicated.
It’s the threat of social ostracization on the road, even more than the threat to our safety, that deters many of us from bicycling. The thought of someone honking or yelling at us makes us nervous, even though a honk or yell can’t hurt us. The feeling is the same as when we agonized over what to wear in junior high– the honks and yells on the road are the equivalent of whispers and snickers in junior high.
The solution is the same as my solution to pretty much every problem in the world: walk and bicycle more. The more people who walk and bicycle, the more normal it will seem to you and to everyone else on the road. Your bicycling will overcome not only your own social anxiety over bicycling but others’ social anxiety too. Not quite bold enough to do it yourself? Ask a friend to join you.
It seems like everyone I know is bicycle touring this summer.
Maybe that’s not so surprising. Many of the people I know are people I met through bicycle touring.
My own bicycle tour this summer starts on August 2. I’ll bike from St. Louis to Kansas City– by way of the Boot Heel! I’ll bike 1400 miles in about 6 weeks, same as last year’s 40 Missouri State Parks tour.
Here’s a little primer about bicycle touring. Bicycle touring comes in several flavors.
Self supported means you carry everything with you, including camping gear and cooking gear. I’ve done several self supported tours, ranging from a single night to 6 weeks.
On a credit card tour, you eat at restaurants and stay in hotels.
You can join an organized ride, where someone else, such as Adventure Cycling, has worked out the logistics.
On a supported ride, your gear goes in a big truck. The first and most famous supported ride is RAGBRAI in Iowa. Missouri now has the Big BAM– Bicycle Across Missouri. The truck and the stops along the route are called SAG support.
Self-SAG, bringing your own vehicle, can be done with friends where you take turns driving. This works really well with 4 people: 2 bike while 2 drive ahead and park the van. The 2 drivers then bike back to meet the others, then turn around and they all ride together.
I like touring self supported because it’s cheap and it’s hard to do. My dad likes to sleep in a real bed once in a while, eat at a restaurant, or drink hot coffee– he might like a credit card tour. Organized, supported rides can be a lot of fun, and they are very affordable compared to other types of vacations. Dad & I made good friends during Biking Across Kansas. But we also made very good friends during informal tours.
A bicycle tour can be any distance, any length of time. Overnight trips are easy to plan and don’t require taking time off work. A trip that lasts several weeks has unique rewards that can’t be experienced any other way.
For an amazing experience that will stay with you the rest of your life, get on your bike now, and don’t come back home until it’s happened.
I do not wish you joy without a sorrow,
Nor endless day without the healing dark,
Nor brilliant sun without the restful shadow,
Nor tides that turn against your bark.
I wish you love,
gold enough to help some needy one.
I wish you songs, but also blessed silence
And God’s sweet peace when every day is done.
~Dorothy Nell McDonald
This blessing is perfect for bicycling. The fun, enjoyment, and pleasure I get from bicycling is not possible without the suffering that bicycling also brings. I want you– and I– to experience sorrow so that you can experience the joy afterwards.
Dusk, the ‘healing dark’, is all the more beautiful for having bicycled through the ‘endless day’.
On a bicycle with the ‘brilliant sun’ beating down on you, you watch like a hawk for that ‘restful shadow’, a bit of shade to rest in for a few minutes.
I even wish a headwind upon you, my friend, the ‘tides that turn against your bark’. Some of my strongest memories of bicycling involve fierce headwinds, like the time it took us 5 hours to bike 20 miles during Biking Across Kansas, the 25 mph headwind gusting up to 40 and coating us with a visible layer of manure from the cattle farms we passed. Showering at the end of that day, though it was in a locker room with a dozen other women and not quite enough hot water, was the greatest luxury imaginable.
I wish you love– Bicycling with a companion or two is my favorite treat. and strength– Even in weakness I can turn the pedals, but the feeling of strength as I power up a hill is awesome. and faith– Exhausted, thinking I can go no farther, the final 2 miles seem endless, but at last, they, too, come to an end. There is food, there is rest, there is home. and wisdom– Foolishness brings adventures, such as dehydration, electrolyte deficiency, and sunburn. Wisdom brings safer adventures. goods– like more bike gear. gold enough to help some needy one– My dad is bicycling from Lawrence, KS to Atlanta, GA right now. He was feeling down on Day 4, and giving $5 to a stranger in need lifted his spirits right away.
And God’s sweet peace when every day is done– Whatever religion you are or aren’t, sweet peace is at the end of a long day of bicycling.
I started bicycling when we became a one-car family, and I was only going to do it until we could afford a car payment. I discovered I loved bicycling and I loved not having a car payment. The average car (not including minivans or trucks) costs $9,122 per year. Over the 10 years I’ve been bicycling, I’ve saved over $90,000!
A few months ago I started eyeing the grocery bill as an area where I could save some money– I sure would like to get those student loans paid off! I learned that Sam’s Club has the cheapest almonds, Walmart has the cheapest avocados, Aldi has the cheapest baby bell peppers, and Moser’s and Hy-Vee tie for the cheapest cage-free eggs. However, anything might be cheapest at Lucky’s when it’s on sale, so it pays to keep an eye on the weekly Lucky’s sale ad.
Moser’s and Aldi are within walking distance. Everything else requires a bicycle at least. But I found myself taking the car to run several errands, including stopping at multiple grocery stores. It might be cheaper to get all my groceries at Moser’s and Aldi, if it means I could leave the car at home. But how do I calculate that?
AAA estimates that car ownership costs 60.8 cents per mile. That is an average number and includes insurance, taxes, maintenance, and depreciation as well as gas. A 2000 Chevy Cavalier costs a bit more in maintenance but costs hardly anything in insurance and taxes, and it stopped depreciating years ago. We pay some costs of ownership no matter how much we drive the car, making that 60.8 cents per mile even more fuzzy. But assuming the number is correct, it costs $5.35 to drive to Sam’s Club. It doesn’t seem right to add $5.35 to each item I might buy from Sam’s Club, because I would never drive to Sam’s Club for just one thing. The $5.35 trip would be spread across multiple items.
The result? I gave up on saving money on groceries. I don’t enjoy keeping track of half a dozen grocery stores and visiting several stores to get the cheapest price. I don’t like driving when I can walk or bike. I’m confident that I make the best progress on those student loans, at the same time keeping my health care costs down, by walking and biking everywhere I can.
This is the last hard conversation, and then we’ll get back to the fun stuff.
I believe in individual responsibility. I also believe that we are influenced greatly by our environment. There’s enough blame to go around that we can have individual responsibility for our situations and at the same time be victims of circumstance.
I’ve previously discussed how drivers have a large responsibility, and a person walking also has a responsibility– 0.000351 times the responsibility that drivers have.
When a person driving an automobile hits a person walking, the person driving is responsible and the person walking is responsible. The degree of responsibility depends partly on the math I’ve already discussed, but there are other factors specific to the incident and what each person was doing at the time. Both parties have some responsibility and at the same time are to some degree, victims of the circumstances.
It’s easy to see how the person walking is a victim. He is the one who is hurt or killed.
It’s not as easy to see how the driver is a victim. She won’t be hurt and her vehicle will suffer little or no damage. There will be almost no legal or financial repercussions, as long as she didn’t leave the scene and wasn’t impaired.
But she is a victim.
My friend says he would be traumatized if they hit a person, and if it was fatal his life would be ruined, even if he was completely innocent of wrongdoing. As a driver who is passionate about walking and bicycling, that is even more true for me.
We are victims of a society that makes it easy to drive and encourages people to drive, requiring and providing very little training for drivers. For comparison, Finland has the most difficult 2-part driving test, Germany requires 4 driving tests, and the UK has a 43% pass rate.
We are victims of land use patterns that cater to the automobile and mandate driving, because it is so far from our homes to our schools, stores, work, churches, and other destinations.
We are victims of poor transit systems because we have invested so heavily in highways and so little in buses.
We are victims of road designs that encourage driving above the speed limit, which is already too high for the safety of people walking, in the name of ‘safety’– wide roads, cutting down trees, and long, straight sight lines.
One of the recent pedestrian fatalities in Columbia involved a 17 year old driver who was probably texting or driving distracted. She may face jail time in addition to her mental anguish. She is certainly to blame for her carelessness, but she is also a victim. Young people make mistakes, but her mistake cost someone’s life. She is a victim because we encourage our young people make their mistakes with a 2000-pound killing machine.
We all have a responsibility for safety, but I want to change our environment, our laws, and our systems so that we have fewer victims. You can help me do that by joining the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation.
It’s another hard conversation. Today, I want to debunk an argument I hear from bicyclists about other bicyclists. But first, let me preface this with a disclaimer. I believe bicyclists should obey traffic laws for our own safety. I agree that bicyclists should obey traffic laws. What I disagree with is why we should obey traffic laws. We should obey traffic laws for our own safety, not to prove a point.
“If bicyclists want to have their own lanes, they must obey traffic signals.”
“Why should drivers share the road with cyclists if we can’t be bothered to obey the law and do something as simple as stopping at intersections?”
The premise of these statements is that if every bicyclist obeyed traffic laws, we’d be welcomed to the road with open arms. No one would honk or yell or pass too closely. Drivers would miraculously start paying attention and not right-hook a bicyclist who is legally in the bike lane that just happens to put the bicyclist in the path of the right-turning vehicle. Drivers would look as they open their car door and no bicyclist would ever get doored again.
Why should drivers share the road? It’s their road to share or not to share. If I’m not in a car, it’s not my road. I say this in all seriousness, even though I pay for the road through my tax dollars, because possession is nine-tenths of the law. Automobiles own the road because they have it under their wheels right now.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when automobiles were new fangled inventions and people hated them. Automobiles were fast and noisy and they killed people. Automobiles conquered the road, and now people love them. Automobiles are still fast and noisy and they kill people.
Bicyclists and pedestrians would do well to study history and find out how automobiles conquered the road. Maybe we could learn a trick or two. Automobiles did NOT conquer the road by saying, “Hey everyone, stop killing people, behave yourselves, and maybe they’ll let us on the roads.” Automobiles conquered the road by blaming the victim. Automobile interests such as car manufacturers, oil companies, and construction companies created something called the jaywalker in the 1920’s. They got pedestrians banned from roads, restricted to sidewalks and crosswalks, and blamed for their own deaths.
Bicyclists can blame the victim, too– drivers see themselves as victims. When an automobile kills a bicyclist or a pedestrian, the driver is a victim, despite the lack of legal repercussions. I’m not being sarcastic, I absolutely mean that. Most people I know would never be the same if they accidentally killed someone. That would be traumatic. The driver is a victim of a culture that makes it so easy to kill someone.
Bicyclists won’t get automobiles to share the road by stopping at stop signs. We’ll conquer the road by blaming victims, blaming drivers who kill bicyclists, not by playing nice. I’m not advocating that strategy or saying it’s right, I’m saying that the evidence suggests this strategy would be effective. Or maybe there is a more palatable path to equity.
Obey traffic laws for your own safety. Stop telling bicyclists that if we play nice, drivers will share their toys– it’s not true.
Let me start by saying that people who are walking, which is everyone who can walk, have a responsibility for their own safety and a responsibility not to involve an innocent driver in their own unfortunate tragedy.
I wanted to start with that, because every time I try to explain what I’m about to say, the first and only response is, “Pedestrians have a responsibility, too.” This is victim-blaming.
This is the sort of thing that has been on my mind that prompted my last post, “A hard conversation“. This is the actual hard conversation. I’m about to explain why people driving have 2,848 times more responsibility for safety than people walking. People driving need to be 2,848 times more careful than people walking. If “Pedestrians have a responsibility, too,” I agree. Pedestrians have 1/2848th the responsibility that drivers do.
When two objects collide, such as a person and a car, the amount of energy released and the damage caused are a function of mass and velocity: how heavy the two objects are and how fast they are moving relative to one another. KE = ½mv2.
Let’s take a 158 pound person walking at 3 mph. Let’s call this 158 X 32 = 1,422 Responsibles. I made up the unit “Responsibles”. (Don’t worry about the units or the 1/2, it’s all relative so they’ll cancel out.)
Collide her with an oncoming car that weigh 2000 pounds and is traveling at 45 mph. 2000 X 452 = 4,050,000 Responsibles.
4,050,000 Responsibles divided by 1,422 Responsibles is 2,848. When you are driving a 2-ton killing machine at 45 mph, you have to be 2,848 times more careful than I do, I mean than our 158 pound person does, when walking.
A pedestrian has 1/2848th or 0.000351 times the Responsibles of a driver. A bicyclist on a 25 pound bicycle moving at 10 mph has 1/221th or 0.004519 times the Responsibles of a driver, and 13 times the responsibility of the pedestrian. The pedestrian and bicyclist have virtually 0 the Responsibles of a driver.
What does 2,848 times more responsibility look like? If our walker’s responsibility means looking up from her phone and looking both ways before crossing the street, our driver should operate his 2-ton killing machine with the utmost caution and extreme vigilance, constantly alert. He should scan the road for people and check for people at crosswalks.
By the way, if he slows down to 20 mph, he can reduce his responsibility to merely 563 times that of a person walking.
“With great power there must also come great responsibility” (Spiderman)
It’s been quiet on my blog lately. I won’t say “I’ve been too busy to write” because it’s just not true. Bicycling, talking about bicycling, and writing about bicycling are activities that I love, and no matter what else is happening, I find time. The problem is, I haven’t wanted to write about what’s on my mind.
When you do or are anything that most other people don’t know much about, you get offensive questions and you hear offensive things. Whether it is your missing limb, your paperclip collection, or your mode of transportation, people who have never seen someone like you or never heard of your favorite pastime will say and ask things that are offensive and sound horrible to you. They say things out of ignorance, trying to be clever, or pure cussedness.
A friend whose career now revolves around getting people to walk and bicycle more admitted that when he was younger, he honked at bicyclists on the road. Before I started bicycling, I said ignorant, offensive things about bicyclists. In high school, I made jokes such as, “How many points is that bicyclist worth? How many for that pedestrian?” I drove everywhere and didn’t know anything about bicycling and walking. I thought I was funny.
That sort of ‘joke’ sickens me today. It sickened me before a truck hit my daughter. I have a hard time identifying with people who say such things, even though I said them once myself. I have a hard time seeing them as people who don’t know about bicycling and people who are trying to be funny. I can only see them as mean, horrible people saying mean, horrible things.
Luckily, people who know me don’t say such things to my face, and if I refrain from reading the newspaper and especially the comments on news stories about bicycle and pedestrian wrecks, I can mostly avoid hearing or reading offensive things.
But I can’t shut my ears and eyes to every offensive remark. It is something I have to come back to when I’m talking to a new bicyclist who has just experienced harassment or has read for the first time comments on a news story about a pedestrian death. It is something I come back to when well-meaning law enforcement personnel blame the victim and vow to crack down on jaywalking.
Worst of all is when fellow bicyclists turn on their own, blaming bicyclists who don’t stop at stop signs for the vitriol heaped upon us.
It’s hard to talk about negative things like bicycle harassment when bicycling is so joyful. Bicycling has changed my life in so many ways:
I’m healthier. I lost 25 pounds the first year I biked without dieting. My resting heart rate now is 54 bpm.
I’m richer. I used to amuse myself on steep hills calculating how much gas money this bicycle commute was saving us that day. Including gas, insurance, taxes, wear & tear, and parking fees, I’ve saved thousands of dollars over ten years by not owning a 2nd car.
I’m kinder. Being on the receiving end of offensive, hurtful remarks makes me very careful not to say offensive, hurtful things myself.