Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I think Bikers believe they are above everybody, and they do not have to follow the same rules. What makes me mad is when they bike on a road, where there is a bike path on the side, I feel at that point they are fair game, and they can't yell at me if I miss them by 1/2 a foot because of on coming traffic.
- Troy Szczepanski
(My emphasis added in bold.)
You said it, Troy -- exactly the sentiment a lot of your idiot internal combustion friends are thinking: "The government spends billions on paths (while every bridge in the state is falling down) and the pedaling rodents still want to clog the streets! Why, you'd think they had rights or something!" Troy, you could be the psychopathic spokesperson, m'boy! And thanks to KSTP for running a hair-brained feature on "Bicyclists breaking the law." Check out the free-for-all comments forum, if you have the patience. We might be the #2 bike commuting city in the nation, but it doesn't by any stretch of the imagination mean that drivers here love cyclists.
Not that anyone asked me, but I would like to rephrase the topic with a slightly more positive spin: "Cyclists who choose not to obey ALL the rules of the road." I consider myself a respectful rider, but I don't follow traffic laws as written. Why? Because they are not written to take cyclists into account. The law says a cyclist has a right to egress within an infrastructure that was negligently designed not to accommodate the operation of bicycles for transportation. End of story. I respect drivers, mostly because they could easily crush me with one wrong move. But I assert my right to the road. In addition, I respect my life. I'd be an idiot to believe emulating the behavior and movements of a two-ton automobile would either earn me the respect of drivers or preserve my life. And drivers (as well as "do-good" cyclists) who claim that are full of shit.
Riding is a metaphor for living life -- no matter how hard you try and how nice you think you are, you're still going to bump into a few dozen people who hate you for something you wear, the way you talk, how you look, who you're with or how you're acting. Fine. Move on.
That's my philosophy of riding -- be smart; use all your senses; make wise, yet fast decisions; avoid conflict but don't fear confrontation; and, perhaps most importantly, move on. Which is precisely what I plan to do ...
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Take good care of the family while I'm gone ...
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Okay, so she doesn't look happy at the moment, but once we got rolling she was quiet and quickly fell asleep.
Our bike caravan worked our way west, braving the path around Lake Harriet. I rarely ride paths around the lakes, so it's certainly novel, maybe even a little fun, when I do. If I did ride these paths frequently, I just don't think I'd find it enjoyable at all. This is partially due to the presence of cyclists like the "Incredibly Aerodynamic Duo" which flew by us this afternoon. A terse, last second shout of "On your left!" was followed by two riders in full aero tuck (bars and all) zipping by us at over 20 mph. Seriously, guys -- get off the bike path and ride in the street. A path around the lake on a weekend is not the place for a training ride.
We made it to the park unscathed. Sylvia went straight for the playground, I prepped the grill, April relaxed and Willa slept away in her seat. There were a lot of people out. I'm not always okay with that. My idea of a good time can include friends, but I also derive incredible enjoyment from lonely stretches of country road on a bicycle or remote lakes in the Boundary Waters seen from the cockpit of a solo canoe. Today my heart felt open to the presence of fellow Minneapolitans. Besides that, I love people watching and a beautiful spring day in a city park produces many fine spectacles of human behavior.
I love food to take food photos. Dinner was not just charred burgers and crispy dogs.
Femmes Fleck enjoying the sunshine.
This makes so much more sense to me than a mini-van/SUV in a fast food drive thru.
Mama and Sylvia on the ride home. No, Sylvia is not sleeping. That would have been the perfect end to a great day, but it wasn't going to happen.
Our picnic spot was near the bike path and I watched a lot of riders pedal between Lake Harriet and Calhoun. I shocked April when I said, "You know, it's just nice to see people on bikes." I tend to be a little crotchety and I obviously have no shortage of opinions concerning people and bicycles. But for a while today I was able to put aside criticism and view everyone riding not as a sum of their quirks and idiosyncracies, but rather as a short study in the way the human form unites in motion with the bicycle to create a pure expression of beauty.
Speaking of beauty, the moon is full tonight. Slide open those windows and work on your moon tan.
Mark waiting outside Chi-Lake Liquors. I can't believe I've lived in Mpls 6 years and I'd never been into Chicago-Lake Liquors. It boasts quite a variety of patrons with no shortage of excitement. An Xtracycle and a Big Dummy attracted some attention, especially since Mark already had firewood loaded on his bike. "I don't believe I've ever seen anyone carrying firewood on a bike," quipped one boozer on his way in.
Mark en route aboard the Stoke Monkey Xtracycle 1X1. Viva la reflective tyres! He's hauling his bike stool on the snap deck. Smart man.
Packing in a little more wood at the S.A. (the purveyor of Skiles favorite snack food, the Tornado!) People are just plain intrigued by the relatively mundane notion of hauling loads with a bike. A woman in the parking lot asked us, "Are you going far?" "Just down to the river to drink some beer and burn some wood," shot back Rahn. Well, he practically gave her directions, but neither she nor the cops showed up.
Joined by the two Anthonies around the fire. It was a beautiful night. The cloud cover glowed with the light from the full moon. I stayed a while after everyone else left for home, rather regretting I hadn't packed my sleeping bag. I mounted up and pedaled away as the flames of the last log were dying. The greenway was desolate and the road crossings were empty. There is nothing quite like the peace of riding the otherwise crowded bike trails at 3am on a Sunday morning.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Lastly, I'd like to present an award I'll dub the "D-Bag Award for Cycling Insensitivity." Sometimes people behave in such a way that I personally wonder how they can live with themselves. But, then again, I am my own worst critic and most folks might not be so clued in to the implications of certain behaviors. I'd like to present my special award to a subset of the subset of drivers with bike racks attached to their cars, specifically the subset who drive like assholes toward cyclists who are actually out riding the streets instead of carting their bikes around attached to their coffins.
It happened last night -- I got squeezed at a red light by some chode driving an SUV with Yakima racks crowning his over-investment. You know, the barely 12" separating me from the door panel deal. He also rather conspicuously gunned it when the light changed. So, you, my friend, get the D-Bag Award. There's no trophy, just infamy. I give you the one finger salute. KUDOS!
I wonder if dyed-in-the-leather Harley dudes get buzzed by yuppie wannabes with Harley stickers on their SUVs?
Ah, forget it. The award stands, but my argument's invalid -- I'm obviously of the narrow opinion that bikes are meant to be ridden for a purpose. Not that fun can't be a purpose, 'cause it is. But bikes are not merely toys and I suppose I get a little chapped when a driver who appears to also be a "cyclist" treats me like I have no right to the road.
On that note -- happy weekend!
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Yesterday I got up early in order to load up my 1X1 for a tow into work. It was time to box it and ship it out to Fruita for next week's festivities. Here are some Fruita photos from a Lincolnite friend. I just can't begin to express how much I really don't want to go on this WORK trip.
16 miles in headwinds and crosswinds wasn't as bad as it might seem. This arrangement works out pretty well and it's better than saying to oneself, "One, I suppose I need to drive today since I have to transport a bike one way." One ... that's not a good move. "Thanks for setting me straight, One!"
On the way into work I detoured west and then south to provide some funky Big Dummy backdrop for a short on-air TV interview with a couple of co-workers, David Sunshine and Swervy. It was fun to mutely smile and nod, all the while standing in front of my 1X1's top tube to obscure it from camera view. It seems I pulled up with the non-drive side showing. That's the side sporting the O.F.S. sticker. I s'pose the network didn't want to shock its early morning viewers.
The 1X1 hasn't seen much action since I built up the Karate Monkey last summer. But now that it has suspension I can envision riding this bike much more often. Can you say "totally different bike?"
That little gig of standing around accomplished magnificently, I mounted up and pedaled off into the 20mph+ headwind toward work. It was tiring, but a pleasantly warm ride nonetheless. In the park near our labor compound, I rode upon BLAR walking in. BLAR has a heart of gold. He is one of the most genuinely enthusiastic people you'll ever meet. He loves to ride and really loves to ride with friends. This past winter and early spring he stretched his riding comfort zone by pedaling in on days that were cold and nasty and icy. A few weeks ago when we were having all that afternoon thaw/overnight freeze crap, he crashed his bike FOUR times riding in through the park. But he kept riding and found out later he'd kept riding on a broken wrist. BLAR is off the bike for a while, but he's been driving within a couple miles of work and walking the rest of the way. We chatted a bit and I offered him a ride on the Dummy, but he said he'd walk. As my Uncle Ray says: "Now that's some good stuff!" Way to go, BLAR!
My final task for the work day was to box my bike in a spiffy Thule hard case designed expressly for such purposes. I've sold bikes and boxed them to ship to their new owners. It's a pain in the arse. However, I've never boxed my own bike for re-assembly at a destination where I'll be riding. I don't exactly know why I thought it would be any less of a lump in my saddle than boxing a sold bike.
Three co-workers also had to box their bikes. Jim and I (the newbies) sought input from the seasoned vets, some of whom have shipped their steeds overseas multiple times. We were both dealing with singlespeeds, luckily, because in the end our bikes were mostly disassembled -- disc calipers pulled, cables off of levers, stem and bars removed, fork removed, saddle and seatpost yanked. I padded and wrapped more than I needed to I'm sure, but I had horrific premonitions of broken parts and mangled tubes greeting me when I crack open the case in Fruita. I just don't want to start the trip with a gimped bike -- I can accomplish that just fine on my own without the assistance of UPS.
The ride home last night was phantasmagoric. Winds were blowing 30mph straight out of the south; temperatures were well into the 60s. I was coasting on the Big Dummy at 20mph on some stretches. Everyone was out -- walkers, joggers, bladers, gawkers, fisherpeople, dogs leashed to their pet humans. I always lament this time of year just a bit. I'm happy winter is over and folks are out bursting with life and renewed energy. But I love the solace of winter -- the stillness and cold and how it keeps a lot of people indoors. I appreciate the densely-populated urban landscape in its barren winter state, devoid of citizens spending time in the out-of-doors. Yep, I'm an introvert and I'm proud of it. (Give me a break -- at least I have social skills.)
I read some fun stuff tonight on MSN about how "experts" are predicting gas prices will peak at around $3.50/gallon and fall again after the "summer driving season." It was a rather happy-go-lucky article -- a silver lining the quasi-recession cloud enshrouding our nation. Funny it mentioned gas prices will recede by fall -- isn't this an election year?
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Other projects for the weekend included installing suspension on my 1X1 in preparation for a trip to CO in a week and a half for the Fruita MTB Festival. It's a work trip and there's going to be plenty of hard work going on in between epic rides and the nightly scheduled parties. Yep, lots of arduous, grueling and monotonous work. I really wish I could get out of it, but duty calls.
Today April and I dropped Sylvia with her adopted grandmother and went to 6 open houses. We're kicking off our home search. It seems like we have a long road ahead of us. We toured a couple houses we really liked but they felt just a bit too small. Others had tiny basements with low ceilings (the basement is a prime consideration for bike storage and shop space). Still others were charming enough but had either no garage or might as well not have had a garage since the shack out back was sagging, leaning to the side or practically already falling down. What's the deal with Mpls garages? Did all our homegrown bands of yore rock them off their foundations?
Willa does a lot of this still. She's three weeks old today. We almost got her out for her first bike ride, but most activities are planned these days on "Sylvia time." Our soon-to-be-three-year-old has been less than accommodating, to put it diplomatically. This week is forecast to be warm and mostly dry, so I'm looking forward to getting out with Sylvia for some outdoor fun. Hopefully she can rechannel some of that toddler angst.
A bit of sad news: The Bryant Ave Pedestrian Bridge over Minnehaha Creek and the greenway is closed indefinitely. I rode by it yesterday and noticed officials have boarded up both ends to dissuade anyone from walking out onto it. Gone is a famed site for post-work Bridge Club gatherings. A major interstate bridge collapses in Mpls and all of a sudden every bridge is suspect.
In other news: You did know it's spring, didn't you? Okay, just checking.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Pushing off into the precip was an adventure. I quickly discovered the rain wanted to switch fully over to snow, but the residual temperature wasn't letting it. The strong NE wind didn't help (as I had to ride north and east to get home). A mile into my ride I was soaked. Now the ride home might not have been so miserable had I not needed to make a stop at the Richfield government center to file my application for a passport. I pulled up just over halfway through my ride. I immediately went to the restroom to wring out my gloves and hat, and to remove my soaked outerwear. Still, my jersey was saturated, particularly in my sleeves. I took a number and waited 15 minutes to be called. All the while I was dripping onto the floor, trying to avoid soaking my documents.
After half an hour pause in my riding, that errand was over. I am now completely at the mercy of the Dept of Homeland Security. (I feel much safer just typing that.) I went back to the bathroom to layer on my wet garb. A couple of deep breaths and I walked out the door to unlock my bike and ride the remaining 5 miles.
Suffice it to say, I didn't rebuild body heat until I had nearly reached home. Completely water-logged gloves and shoes were a challenge. The icy snow pellets, driven by the wind, felt as if they might cut into my face. Turns east made me face a wind that nearly stopped me in my tracks. I tried to head east on my block, but the wind forcefully persuaded me to go north instead. I turned around on the sidewalk, pulled into port, off-loaded my cargo, stowed my bike and headed to the hot shower with a cold beer.
Later I fed Willa from her first ever bottle. April was getting Sylvia to bed. While rocking Willa I heard sirens, then more sirens on our block. It turns out a house was burning just a few doors down. Needless to say, this provided a distraction for an already distraction-prone 2-year-old Sylvia. I don't think anyone was hurt, but it was an intense drama through our side window.
I immediately thought my ride home sucked, but it's nothing compared to what those homeowners are going through.
The icy snow continued to fall, but today it didn't produce much. On the way home I rode up the alley to the burned-out house. Our family's house burned when I was 7 years old. I realized several years ago I've never gotten over that fear and I don't think I ever fully will.
Sylvia's had this thing lately before bed. She wants to go outside and say goodnight to the sky, moon, stars, trees, etc. Tonight she wanted to walk up the alley and say goodnight to the fire that burned the house. We donned jackets and hats and I carried her there. It was eerie, but I played a good dad -- confident and resolute. Still, I was happy when she said she was ready to go back home and get ready for bed. I was eager to retreat to the comfort and warmth of our home.
Be safe, friends.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Obaid and Hap toast you!
We are all your friends! And we'll still do growler rides, even if you insist on visiting us all year long.
But just in case, I'm banking some more mojo: I'm shaving my beard this weekend. Maybe that will help. And I'm tired of cleaning bikes only to get another dump of slop. I'm not touching a rag or cleaning product until the threat of this fun stuff is thoroughly abated. Conjure your own spells amongst yourselves ...
Monday, April 7, 2008
Thanks, Dave. I learned something else from your email, too -- there are blogs about things other than bikes!
Sunday, April 6, 2008
I was foolish enough to sign up for the Almanzo 100 -- a 100 mile gravel "road race" taking place in Rochester on May 17. Okay, that may not sound all that foolish, but I signed myself up for the fixed gear category. Now, I've done some long fixed gear rides, but nothing over 40-50 miles. Still, I love fixed gear riding. The silence, the simplicity -- yah, all that jazz. No track bikes for me (besides on a real track). I'll take an old 80s road bike frame (or currently, as is the case for me, a Cross Check with 47X19 gearing), a light rack, some fenders and sensible 32c rubber. That's a bike you can cruise all day on and carry enough gear to encourage you to occasionally stop and smell the roses.
Saturday was to be THE day -- 60s and sun. Plus, Sunday would bring rain. I assembled gear the night before, which mainly consisted of piling a heap of Power Bars and Clif Shots/GU -- stuff I never eat otherwise -- on the table so I wouldn't forget them, along with my tool kit, map and a jacket. The next morning I threw in a notebook and a small thermos of green tea. I cleaned my bike in the a.m., lubed the chain (a little crusty from the Slick 50) and I was ready for action.
Clean and tidy, the Fixed Check is ready to roll. In case no one has told you, frame pumps are cool again. Unless you like pumping 200 quick little strokes to get your tire to 70 PSI.
I headed west along the Midtown replicating the Slick 50 route (minus the Triple Rock breakfast). Dodging the riff-raff clogging the lakes trails, I couldn't help but pine for the far western paths which would be sparse with users. In Hopkins I took the south LRT trail and rode it to its terminus in Chaska.
Trails' end at 21 miles. Ye best be findin' another way from here, little fella.
From there I did several map checks to make sure I was headed the right way, but I basically navigated around Carver Park (site of our summer camping trips) and north to Mound. The county roads were a nice counterpoint to the bike paths. It was refreshing to not have a completely sheltered (bike trail) experience, although I did see a lot of other cyclists riding the roads around Lake Minnetonka (a popular weekend destination for bicycling).
It's sunny and 60 degrees, but something is wrong with the lake. Most of the lakes still have a top sheet of ice here in MN.
I really liked this trailside ice shelf. Spring is here, but we are not green yet. It wasn't so last year if memory serves me correctly. There were quite a number of snow patches and icy tunnels remaining on the trails. I freaked out a few riders who had obviously not ridden through the winter. On the way through one tunnel, a woman walking her bike past an ice flow said, "There's ice there!" I rode right past her, over it and out onto the path. On another section of trail I stopped briefly to check the map and squeeze down a GU packet. A pair riding a tandem recumbent pedaled by on the road behind me. The guy up front chuckled, "There's snow..." I rode the trail and sure enough had to negotiate a couple patches of snow, but nothing worth walking. I pondered that encounter the rest of my ride. Those folks had most likely tried riding the trail and, for the sake of a 20 meter patch, had instead turned back and navigated all the way around on streets. Why? Then, it finally hit me: Riding through the least bit of challenging trail on a tandem recumbent would be a nightmare. It would be a nightmare on a single recumbent. My conclusion was reaffirmed -- self-righteous recumBENTS are wrong. Their machines are great for smooth travel, but suck when the going gets rough. I'll keep my "safety bike," thank you. The rest of you can get BENT all you like.
Part of the reason I want to train for the Almanzo is a matter of distance. Sure, I have no doubt I can go out and ride 100 miles. I remember the mythical "century mark" from my early biking years in middle school. It used to seem like a big deal to go out and ride 100 miles in one sitting. A lot of cyclists still make a big deal out of 100 miles -- countless century rides are organized every season. People train and psych themselves up to it. They pay good money to have stops along the way complete with support vehicles should they choose to bail. But, in reality, it's just 100 miles. If you pace yourself, eat and drink plenty what's the big deal? The Almanzo 100 will be predominantly gravel roads, however, and freshly graveled roads at that. That means sections of several inches of gravel in the midst of farm fields, miles to the nearest house let alone a commercial establishment. Gravel translates into a slower pace of travel (more exertion) and a greater chance of washing out. Yeehaw! And better stories to boot.
On this little training excursion, I experimented with nutrition. I ate very little before leaving; I'm just not a breakfast person, plus there wasn't much to graze on around the house. 10 miles in I stopped for two Power Bars at the headwaters of Nine Mile Creek. I drank plenty of water. Part of the reason I like to begin rides on a somewhat empty stomach is so I can feel the effects of foods immediately after consuming them. Power Bars absorb quickly, as do gels and drinks. But they are not substantial and you have to keep stoking the belly, depending on your pace. I was keeping my heart rate in the fat burning zone most of the time, so I wasn't worried, my body would tap on existing fat reserves.
By the time I hit Chanhassen, however, I had a suspicion I'd waited too long to eat "real food." I was beginning to slowly fade into that tired, dull zone, but in no danger of bonking. I stopped for water at a convenience store and bought a tuna sandwich which I stowed in my trunk bag. I made a deal with myself that lunch would be when I hit the Luce Line trail, another estimated 15 miles away.
It was glorious riding with mostly a tailwind blowing me up to the Luce Line. I took a gel part way there, but kept riding. En route I had a choice to B-line to the trail or veer west a bit on another county road. Of course, I veered left. I was worried my mileage would be low and I wanted to log 70 or more miles. My diversion was nice, but hilly. Cranking up the hills I kept thinking, "This is what it will be like around Rochester." Every climb was followed immediately by a quick descent, which can be as much of a test on a fixed gear as climbing. Eventually, I pulled onto the Luce Line at the Ox Lake Inn. I contemplated a beer, but stayed focused with my tuna sandwich, a powerbar and some energy drink.
The bothersome thing about rest stops on a ride is getting going again. It's the same with distance hiking -- you get your muscles going but then the delay contracts them. I headed slowly east from Lyndale. It was immediately wet and muddy. My average had been near 16mph thusfar. I looked down at my odo and saw 13-14mph for a couple of miles. Then, something happened. Maybe the trail got drier; maybe the wind shifted; but I think the food kicked in and I bumped back up to 15-17mph. I started cruising again, albeit with more output necessary to maintain that pace.
After riding a number of miles of trail that had narrow slices cut into it (sometimes catching my front wheel), I determined they must have been snowmobile tracks. Then I encountered this gate after a road crossing. Get some skis, pedal a Pugsley... Should this really be a seasonal sentiment? Use your body!
I reentered Mpls through Plymouth on Duluth St, then headed south on Theo Wirth Parkway. The last eventful thing was passing a biker with a trailer who was parked trailside. He was sitting there with his head in his hands. He'd apparently, according to him, hit a tree taking a corner. A gash on his forehead affirmed some sort of impact. He also complained that his ribs hurt, but he didn't want an ambulance; he said he'd called friends. I rode on, since he seemed to be aware enough. I hope he made it somewhere safe.
I pulled into home after 73 miles in just over 4.5 hours (not counting breaks for eating and map checks). Here's a photo of what I ate. I took in 1665 calories by my calculations, including 2 drink mixes which aren't pictured here:
By the marvels of modern nutrition, this would have fit into my jersey pockets. Next time I will eat more beforehand and stop when I begin to feel hungry. By the way, my new favorite sports drink is MotorTabs -- one tablet you drop into your waterbottle. It dissolves on its on and it isn't too sweet, plus it's mainly electrolytes, not sugar and carbs.
So, as of March 31, my first quarter mileage, almost entirely commuting, is: 1641.74 miles. In the first week of April I've already bumped this up by 200 miles. I want to break last year's total of 6700, but I hope to break 10K this year. We'll see. Now that I've laid out a decent route west of the Cities, I can envision riding this route many times on weekends.
Friday, April 4, 2008
About Walk to Work Day: National Walk to Work Day is held the first Friday of April in the USA, beginning in 2004. National Walk to Work Day is promoted by Prevention magazine and endorsed by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the American Podiatric Medical Association.
In case you don't know "how to participate" (i.e. WALK), no worries:
How to Participate: You are encouraged to walk for all or part of your commute to work on the first Friday of April. Aim for a minimum 15 minute walk each way. If you take public transportation, try walking to a further stop before boarding, or getting off a stop early and walking the rest of the distance to work. If your commute is too long, make it a Walk to Lunch Day. Invite your co-workers to join with you for Walk to Work Day, or join you in a Walk to Lunch.
Walking for 30 minutes a day as part of your work commute or lunch puts you into the "Moderate Physical Activity" category and greatly lowers your health risks.
And, just in case you aren't up to the adult activity of dressing yourself appropriately, here are guidelines on that, too:
Dressing for Walking: Your walking shoes should be comfortable for walking for 15-30 minutes at a stretch. If your work shoes don't work for walking, wear athletic shoes and carry along your work shoes to change into. For April, dress for the weather with a jacket (water-resistant, with hood in rainy climates). Carry your necessary papers, purse, etc. in a small backpack.
Wow, I feel empowered. Thanks to this little review I think I can get out of my internal combustion wheelchair and use my legs again. If you fear you've regressed to a pre-developmental state, maybe this information can help you too. I thought walking was natural. I took it for granted as something I HAD to do to get to appliances and devices that cut out all work and physical exertion. Who knew I could use it to go places beyond the bathroom, the parking lot and the refrigerator? I can even be creative by carrying a backpack with STUFF in it! And if it rains or gets a little chilly, guess what? I CAN KEEP WALKING!
This is amazing. I gotta go tell more friends everything I've learned about something I once thought was pretty darned useless.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
The new REI "Cycle 2008" catalog hit our mailbox a couple of weeks ago. I have mixed feelings about REI. A lot of great folks work for REI stores, including those in our Twin Cities area. They're avid outdoors-people and know a lot about what they sell. As a monolithic retail presence however, REI has done a lot to adorn the SUVs and bodies of those wanting to exude that image of "outdoorsy-ness". Is that a bad thing? I won't answer because that's not exactly the topic I'm aiming at today. Besides, I'm jaded and my quick answer is bound to be 'yes.'
I have been an REI member since 1991, just before I took my first of a series of jobs in the outdoor industry at shops and manufacturers. Back when I was serving my retail sentence in an indepentendently-owned shop, we clued into the veritable posers right away. We called them the "Steves and Amys" -- all the cute little frat boys and sorority girls who'd come buy Patagucci Synchilla jackets, North Face parkas and Birkenstocks with their parents' money, all so they could adhere to the look about campus. My friends and I were working for peanuts, spending our money on beer and gear, scraping up change to get to the mountains to backpack, climb and paddle on days off. We thought we were special, and somehow better, I suppose. I've since mellowed out a bit.
So this REI catalog literally made me want to gag (even more than a typical REI catalog). On the cover is a dorky cycle commuter dude. (In reality, I'm sure I look a lot like him to general passersby.) He's cranking through blurry traffic in the background. An edgy ad line reads: "UNLIMITED MPG" Bikes, gear, blah, blah, blah."
That's my beef. Pretty simple, eh? Maybe not. Here are the biking photo messages lining the rest of the catalog (CAPS preserved for emphasis): "put it into CRUISE CONTROL"; "POWER STEERING"; "out for a SUNDAY DRIVE"; "LEARNER'S PERMIT"; and "HITCHING A RIDE".
The issue I take is with the propensity to compare the bike to the automobile and cycling experiences as parallel to those of car culture. Why is this seemingly necessary for advertisers? Well, I have a few ideas:
Bikes, like cars, are marketed as status symbols. A common article in bike publications of all kinds lately seems to be the "What does your bike say about you?" feature. It's fun and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it's still about status and labeling. The human need to fit into a subgroup is firmly reinforced. If it's that way in cycle lit, what about mainstream? Even among cyclists, we want to establish belonging and assign a place for those we randomly meet based on the bike they ride, e.g. track bike -- posenger; hybrid -- suburbanite; recumbent -- dork; Surly rider -- probably someone you'd get along with as long as a few drinks are involved.
There is a decided lack of alternative frames of reference in our bike culture, or perhaps within our broader culture when talking about bikes. Since WWII, when automobiles were afforded an integral part in the equation denoting components of the "good life", bikes have been progressively classed more and more as toys. Viewed as toys, bikes are for kids, and if adults ride them, it's just for fun -- or "recreation." Lots of avid recreational riders would espouse that philosophy; many who consider themselves "avid cyclists" have yet to consider their bikes as a method of getting around.
To draw another parallel about our nation since WWII, I believe we can only talk about peace in terms of war. That is because all we have known is war. War established our nation as a foremost world superpower. Why then should it be so surprising that we can only talk about transportation in terms of the automobile? The automobile is one of the greatest icons of American culture. As the REI advertising speak quoted above demonstrates, it is not the pure utilitarian consideration of transportation being conveyed. It is convenience and luxury that must be spoken to the consumer. All sorts of products are plugged into this homogenous marketing equation. Frozen meals, cleaning products, snack foods, clothing, electronics, cars. Post-war prosperity stamped convenience and luxury into the minds of Americans. I am asserting that the automobile is the iconic representation of that ideology.
Perhaps consumers can be persuaded to use bikes instead of cars by talking to them in car language. But I don't know. I have as little faith that we can consume and, therefore, buy our way out of a problem as I have in the notion that one can buy perceptions like comfort or luxury.
Bikes are their own entity. They have an autonomous beauty independent of trite comparisons to antiquated automobile nostalgia. Our culture, incredibly limited and myopic at times, needs more languages -- a language of peace for starters. Bicycles need their own language too, because it is not only restrictive, it's insulting to imply a human-powered, two-wheeled replication of the automobile experience. Bicycles are sustainable, productive, enlivening. Cars are polluting, consumptive, sedating.
I heard about a truckers' protest from a friend of mine at lunch today. The truckers blocked lanes and drove 20mph on a busy eastern interstate because diesel is too expensive. Nice direct action, but did they stop to consider that the American government (despite its useless, expensive and murderous war efforts to control oil-producing regions) can do nothing about the dwindling supply of oil left in the earth itself? Today I read on my MSN homepage that they're paying the same high price for gas in Iraq. What is a headline like that supposed to do except fuel [pun intended] more consumer insurgency on the domestic front?
WTF, people? Oil prices aren't just about the fact that you and all your friends want more gas and the Idiot-In-Chief says you deserve more gas. Whomever is elected as president next term can't guarantee you more gas because, guess what, there isn't more to give. You're screwed if you stand by griping about the price of fuel. The earth is being tapped out as you bitch and moan. Like a great big keg at one sleezy, long frat party -- you hit the tap and all that comes out is a distant sucking sound.
I think that's cool. Oil is dead. I think it's cool because I like the good kind of change and too often that kind of change can't happen until something really drastic happens. I also think it's excellent when people decide to live in reality-land. Let enter all that is. Objectify your perceptions. Welcome, friends. Please take a seat. Relax and have a beer. Do a bit of reading by candle-light. Experience the moment. Ponder the peaceful language of self-propulsion. Pedal that peacefulness into the world around you.