Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I See Bicycles

This is cool enough I had to share. Imagine taking your kid to school in the Netherlands.

Feeling very tired today. I have a health issue; hopefully I'll know more (and can share) in a week or two.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Things Motorists Need to Understand About Cyclists

(Tanya said it first, but I'm going to paraphrase it, because I think it's important enough to bear repeating.)

Why Do I Ride My Bicycle?

My bicycle is a means of transportation, not a toy. I'm not too poor to afford a car. I'm not a racer (though sometimes I dream of being one.) I choose to ride a bicycle because I save $400 every month, it's healthier for me, better for the environment, and it doesn't put money in the hands of mid-East oil terrorists. When you see me on the road, I'm trying do the same thing you're doing: go to work, the grocery store, the doctor's office, and the parent-teacher meeting.

I know it seems crazy when I'm riding in the rain, in the cold, or in the dark. Most of the time it's pleasant outside, even when the weather doesn't seem "perfect." I'm not the Wicked Witch of the West, so a little rain doesn't hurt, and I'm quite dry underneath my layers. I'm warm as I ride, partly because I'm riding. When it's dark I use lights. Except on the darkest country roads, I can see the roadway by natural lighting; my lights are to make sure that others see me.

I know you think it's dangerous to ride a bike on public roads, but statistically it's three times safer than walking and about five times faster. Oh, and it's also about a hundred times more fun!

Why Am I Riding in the Lane?

If you see me riding in the middle of the lane, it's not because I hate cars and am trying to annoy you, but because the lane is too narrow to safely share it with you. On city streets, people open car doors in front of me (ORS 811.490), so I need to stay far away from parallel parked cars. There are potholes, construction signs, metal rebar, hubcaps, and other obstacles on the shoulder or the bike lane that you might not be able to see. Glass, metal, and other debris can damage my tires and possibly cause me to fall, causing personal injury or even landing me in front of your wheels.

If it seems like I'm "darting into traffic", I have a good reason. It could be a pothole, a huge puddle that could be hiding a pothole, or a piece of debris (ORS 814.430 (2)). Remember, you're traveling much faster than I am and you're sitting behind an engine, so you have neither the time nor the clear line of sight to see the roadway like I do. One special circumstance you need to be aware of: just like a motorcycle, I may choose to weave my bicycle to cross a crack, raised lip, or railroad tracks at a right angle. If I don't do this and a track is the slightest bit slick or rough, I run the risk of falling.

Please don't tell me that I belong on a sidewalk. I have the same rights and responsibilities as other vehicles (ORS 814.400), including the use of the road. There are many restrictions upon riding upon a sidewalk (ORS 814.410), and it is illegal in many cities, including downtown Portland. It is also safer for me and pedestrians if I stay on the roadway. While I'm on the subject, 80% of the costs of the roads are borne through the general fund, so you don't have a special right to the roads because you're in a car; I pay for them too. Remember that the reason motorists need a driver's license and registration as well as pay taxes and insurance is because a car is so dangerous.

I may end up taking a lane depending on the direction I'm traveling. If I've swung out to the far left of the lane, I'm probably about to change lanes or make a left turn (ORS 814.430 (2)(b)). Please think twice before passing me if I've moved from the right. Passing on the right (ORS 811.415) requires as much care as passing on the left; see the next section.

Remember that I am safer if I have both hands on the handlebars. I will give hand signals, but I may put my hands back on the handlebars if I feel need more control over my vehicle (ORS 814.440 (2)).

Please Pass Safely

I'm higher up, in front of you, and traveling slower, all of which means I have a better view of upcoming traffic hazards than you do. If we're at a place like a blind corner where you wouldn't pass someone in a steel cage, I don't want you passing me either. Remember that if you crash while passing me, I will probably also get hurt.

Think about how you would feel if I fell down in front of you while you were passing. It could ruin your whole day. Most states have a law requiring you to leave at least three feet of distance when you go around me. In Oregon, you have to leave enough room so that if I fell towards you, you would completely miss me (ORS 811.065): that pretty much means the entire lane. You really are required to move into the next lane to move around me, and if you don't feel safe doing that, then I don't feel safe having you pass me.

I know you are an expert race car driver with nerves of steel and could squeeze by me with an oncoming car in the next lane. However, when your 2000 pound vehicle passes within mere inches of me at high speed, you are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor (ORS 163.190). This crime has the same punishment as if you struck a total stranger with your fist (ORS 163.160). Are you really that sort of person?

I understand that I am required to yield to you in order to pass (ORS 811.425), and I'm glad to do so when it is safe. You need to understand, however, that this is only if you are proceeding at less than the speed provided by Basic Rule (ORS 811.425 (1)(a)), and Basic Rule includes all of the problems I've been talking about above (visibility (811.100 (1)(e)), road surface (811.100 (1)(b)), or oncoming traffic (811.100 (1)(a))). When I prevent you from passing, I am making it safer for both of us. It's hardly ever the case that you need to wait more than six seconds before you can pass without endangering yourself, the oncoming drivers, or me. Please relax, be patient, and remember that you're only following the law.

When you choose to pass me, you really don't need to blow your horn. It may be hard for you to believe this, but your car is really loud; I'm more likely to know you're there than a motorist would; would you honk your horn to pass a car (ORS 815.225)?

We All Try to Obey Traffic Laws

I know there are bicyclists who behave really badly: they don't use hand signals, run stop lights, ride the wrong way down one way streets, ride without lights at night, and terrorize pedestrians on sidewalks. These bicyclists even scare me. There are also motorists who behave really badly: who have shouted obscenities at me, thrown things out their window at me, and even tried to run me off the road (in Corbett, with witnesses; I called 9-1-1). I always tell myself that it's human nature to remember the ones who behaved badly. (I sure remember that oaf in Corbett!) Please consider that for ever bad driver or cyclist you see, there are a hundred you didn't notice because they behaved well.

If you see me run a stop light, keep in mind that a lot of lights on suburban streets won't change for a vulnerable roadway user (ORS 801.608). My friends are always trying to get these lights fixed, but traffic engineers are reluctant to "slow down" traffic due to "phantom" cars, which is what a bicycle looks like to modern traffic signals. It's no safer for me to push the pedestrian button than it is for you to get out of your car, cross two lanes of traffic, push the button, cross two more lanes of traffic, then get back into your car. Please understand cyclists are left with a terrible choice, and we're trying to cross as safely as we can.

If I'm sitting squarely in the middle of a lane at a traffic light blocking you from making a right turn, I am trying to make the light turn green by positioning my bike over the wire sensor loop. Please don't be impatient; I deserve the same consideration as if I were there in a car waiting for the light to change.

If you roll through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop, I don't get mad, as long as you do it safely and take your proper turn in traffic; please allow me the same consideration.

Also, consider that when I make a mistake in traffic, I am probably the one who will be injured, whereas if you make a mistake, you can end up injuring or killing others. The risks and the consequences are different for for motorists and cyclists, and so cyclists and motorists will operate in traffic differently.

When you offer for me to go through an intersection out of turn, I know you're trying to be nice; it takes a lot of work to start a bicycle up from a stop, and we are less stable at slow speeds. I do appreciate the sentiment, but it really is safer if I cross the intersection when it's my turn. I like it when I can safely do so without stopping, but offering to let me go out of turn will confuse me, the people behind you, and the people behind me; all this makes it less safe. I really am grateful, but please don't do that.

Look for Bicycles

Do you know how most motorcyclists get killed by cars? It's when a car turns left in front of the motorcyclist, violating his right of way. Safety engineers say that motorists don't look for vehicles that are smaller than, well, a car. Please, you need to understand you share the road with other types of traffic, and just because they're too small to hurt you (much) doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention. I know this sounds obvious, but do the test to see how observant you really are and then come back to finish reading this.

Did you do the test? Seriously, I'll wait...

Bicyclists face the same danger from left turning motorists that motorcyclists do, except we have less power to scoot out of your way. At night I use use lights to try to get your attention, but it won't do any good unless you are looking for me.

Bicyclists have an additional problem that motorcyclists don't have. You know those bicycle lanes that allow you to conveniently ignore the bicyclists on the side of the road? The number two risk to bicyclists is when you pass me going the same direction and then make a right turn in front of me.

Please error on the side of caution when calculating when you can turn (either left or right), and plan ahead: it really doesn't make me feel safer (or make you use less gas) when you race ahead of me and then jam on the brakes with your right turn signal on waiting for me to pass.

If you are planning to make a right hand turn, don't ignore the bike lane. Pay attention well before your turn to see if there is a bike lane and if you might have a conflict with me before starting your turn. Use your turn signal and try to see where I am. If I choose not to pass you, I will try to make my intentions clear by either hanging back or even, if safe, pulling into your lane behind you. If it's legal where you live (not in Oregon), consider slowly entering the bicycle lane before making your right hand turn; as always it's your responsibility to execute the lane change safely.

Motorists have a tendency to underestimate the speed of bicyclists and motorcyclists. In city traffic or downhills it is quite possible that bicyclists are keeping up with traffic, and you shouldn't be surprised if I'm traveling as fast as 30 mph, which, except on open highway, really isn't that much slower than the other vehicles you're waiting for.

Thank You!

To all of you motorists (except the idiot in Corbett):

I know you try really hard to share the road with me, even if you don't understand everything I'm doing. You wait until it's safe to pass, give me plenty of room, and really try to look for me before making a turn. You understand (although sometimes I have to remind you) that perhaps this isn't the safest place to pass, or that I need to change lanes in order to make a left hand turn.

Thank you also for looking out for me when I make a mistake. All of us are human and occasionally forget or choose wrong. For the woman who slowed down when I mistakenly thought she had a stop sign, or the guy who slowed down when I forgot my turn signal, thank you! For the guy who slammed on his brakes when I spaced a traffic light, G*d bless you!

If we all work together, we really can share the roads. I'm your father, your son, your coworker, your husband, your friend; don't think of me as an enemy or an obstacle. Please be safe, and thanks for reading.

ORS 163

ORS 801
ORS 811
ORS 814
ORS 815

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gutsy Gibbon *and* What's Happened to Our Resolve?

I had a quiet weekend. The girls were gone to the coast for a bead retreat, leaving me and a near infinite number of cats in the house. After about a day they started getting frantic, since I'm not enough companionship for four of the furry little varmints.

I spent a large part of Saturday upgrading the operating system on three of our computers. Micro$oft has announced that they are "end-of-life"'ing Windows XP, and none of our computers are capable of running Vista: they have neither the memory nor the horsepower for this gargantuan slow OS.

Both Rachel and Clarkie have been running Ubuntu Feisty Fawn (7.04) on their IBM Thinkpads. (These machines are so old that even XP isn't an option, and Windows 2000 was end-of-life'd three years ago, to the great objection to many customers.) I'd been advised that Feisty Fawn is really hard on a laptop's hard disk (bad interleaving? My source wasn't clear), so I wanted to upgrade to Gutsy Gibbon (version 8.04. Where do they come up with these names? What's 9.x going to be? Heroic Horse? The mind boggles).

However, X Windows was also a bear on those machines as well. Clarkie's was the worst: it would appear to run for about five minutes, and then it would freeze. (In all fairness, it turns out this was a hardware bug on the graphics chip that only Linux exposed!) On both machines I had to install it without X windows and then make extremely arcane adjustments (read, software nerd magic) in order to make the graphics work.

I started with upgrading our newer desktop. I'd put OpenSuSE on it a few months ago, and it promptly ate its X-Windows configuration. (Yet another example of the above problems.) Since it still had an XP partition for people who were determined to use the desktop with its DVD burner, I left that as a project best saved for a quiet weekend.

Imagine my pleasure when Ubuntu "just worked". Oh, OK, I had to do it twice, since it (reasonably enough, in retrospect) declined to delete the failed SuSE partition without manual intervention. It even found and installed our two networked print servers without as much as a hiccup.

On to Clarkie's laptop. I wanted to get the worst out of the way, since I had such troubles with it before. It really was harder, since I had to start by backing up her email folder. She had 900 megabytes of email! Accck! She warned me before leaving for the beach that she likes to rummage through her wastebasket and examine deleted items. Sigh.

Anyway, so I used the non-graphic version of the installer, forced a clean install (I really didn't want to see what happened if I tried an upgrade), and clenched various fingers and sphincters when the computer finally rebooted at the end of the install. Imagine my pleasure and surprise when everything "just worked"! Even the wireless internet (which always required manual intervention on her laptop to work after you booted) went in relatively painlessly. Oh, the mail program had a severe bit of indigestion when I imported her old email, but it eventually "came out all right in the end." A little bit of magic ("acpi=force" in the vmlinux options to grub), and it even powers down correctly. That worked, briefly, under Feisty Fawn, but then--to my great annoyance--it autonomously decided (you think Clarkie would play with Linux boot options?) to stop working.

Rachel's was relatively simple. She'd already backed up her many gigabytes of Anime and other things to a shoebox drive, and her email was only 50 megabytes. Also, she's turned into an Ubuntu power user, so I didn't really sweat a lot of the personalization on the other end after the OS got rebuilt. I noticed that even pidgin (the instant message program) is a standard part of the Gutsy Gibbon build; I'd had to install that manually on Feisty Fawn.

I was pleased to discover that Gnome includes graphic support for NTP. No more worries about the computer clocks drifting away from reality. I pointed all of the OS's to a handful of time servers and called it good. Pretty cool!

Another nice touch are some additional login options. I set Clarkie's to automatically log in after ten seconds to her own user account. It turns out that she still has to enter a password; after I made that change it now challenges for a password in order to unlock the magic secret decoder ring for the home wireless network, but I guess that's fair that you have to enter a password sometime if you need access to a secret :-).

Gutsy Gibbon even set the graphics bells and whistles correctly. On the desktop (which is a pretty decent 1.3GHz P4), it enabled a moderate amount of animation in the GUI. It correctly characterized the graphics cards on the Thinkpads as being a short step up from stone knives and bearskins, and disabled it.

Overall I'm extremely pleased with the new Ubuntu. Whereas I would have given Feisty Fawn an overall C- (based on stability and usability), my tentative grade for Gutsy Gibbon is a C+ or possibly even a B-. Microsoft, watch out: not only is the price right (free), but it doesn't require the hardware equivalent of a Hummer H2 in order to run (though if you have one it would just scream with speed.) Finally, with the addition of OpenOffice and Firefox, you end up with a complete deck of cards (which is what Apple keeps bragging is so great about the Macintosh).

Begin soapbox (you didn't think I would stop without one of these, did you?) Have a great day!

I saw another article in the newspaper about people starting to carpool in the Portland area.

(Bill Maher's book looks like a lot of fun, by the way.)

I've heard that during World War II my grandparents faced gas rationing to the tune of 3.5 gallons per week of gasoline per car. (This was to conserve rubber and possibly refining capacity by the way, we weren't an oil importer then.)

Visualize, for a minute, how long 3.5 gallons per week of gasoline would last you, with your current driving habits. Umm, that's not rhetorical. One statistic says that the average American passenger vehicle (excluding buses, trucks and other commercial vehicles) consumed 541 gallons in 2005, or about 10.4 gallons per week.

What's happened to Americans? Every time you pay the enemies of civilization to put fuel in your car, you're paying for bullets to kill American soldiers.

Here's an oxymoron, a "support our troops" magnet on the back of a single-occupant passenger vehicle.

(I wish I could have found this image with a Hummer emblem or some such next to it on the back of a car.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Car-Free in Seattle?

I just ran across this interesting blog about a family that went car-free in Seattle.

Very thought-provoking commentaries, and instead of duplicating his thoughts, I'll just refer you there. I particularly like where he writes,
Time spent walking, then, is utterly free. It’s time you would have spent dead.
(He reasons that for about every minute you walk you live about three minutes longer).

Of course, none of this applies to you, does it? I'm sure that the weather where you live is rainier than Seattle. Or that places you have to get to are farther apart than in this west coast city. Or that you get a lot less sunlight than winters above the 45th parallel.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hey, since it's the motorists that are doing the killing...

As far as I can tell, this article isn't an April Fool's prank or a tongue-in-cheek jab at motorists. The Dutch Cycling Federation is proposing that motorists install exterior airbags to reduce injuries and deaths to vulnerable roadway users that they collide with.

The next step would be to make motorists more likely to get injured if they strike someone. Perhaps a giant fist that pops out of the steering wheel whenever the exterior airbag deploys. Now that would be progress.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I got my Car-Toons!

I've said before how much I admire Andy Singer's cartoons. I was looking at his web site last week, and I discovered that if I buy his book, I get the right to use its artwork for noncommercial purposes. It even comes with a CD to make that a lot easier.

Well, I have to admit that I've been web-leeching a lot of the artwork in this blog, but now that I have Andy's artwork, I hope to put a lot of it into my future posts.

I went this afternoon to a doctor's appointment over the hill. They didn't like my urine specimen. Hunh. I can't even pee into a cup correctly? So they took another one. Of course, now there's some anxiety while I wait for the amended results. Otherwise I'm as healthy as a half-century-old horse. Neigh. Whinny.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day -- Where Were YOU?

1970. I was 12 years old, going through hell on earth as a seventh grader at Pattie Hillsman Junior High School. I wasn't politically active, and I vaguely recall the event. They gave me a sticker.

Next year when I joined the band, I put the sticker on my musical instrument case. It's still there.

I've never considered myself an active environmentalist. I mean, I'm responsible and accountable, but not really active. Well, until recently. Now it all seems to be coming together, all at once. The Californians seem to have killed off (or significantly damaged) a major fish run. We're getting air pollution warnings here in Oregon because of air pollution in Shanghai. The price of food is skyrocketing, a double whammy based on bad crops (climate change?) and George "Strangle on a Pretzel" Bush's mistaken notion that biofuels will ever make a significant difference in our nation's dependence on foreign oil.

(As an aside, our imports of oil and automobiles constitutes more than all of our current trade deficit. But that's another story.)

So, today at lunch I got to listen to an interesting talk by Bob Mionske. Bob was addressing a group of listeners with the San Francisco BTC, discussing legal issues. (Bikescape is really hit or miss with me; this particular podcast was really interesting.) I was particularly intrigued with a recent (1998) ruling that claimed that bicyclists on Illinois roads are "permitted" but not "intended" (hence jurisdictions are not liable for making the roads dangerous to those of us with a right to the road)., what a concept. Can we get the Oregon legislature to rule that private passenger automobiles are "permitted" but not "intended"? That would send a really clear message to murderists and public planners that they're going down the wrong path.

Similarly, on Earth Day, I've heard that the U.S. government wants to raise fuel efficiency standards. But...35 mpg by 2020? Excuse me? Suppose that 10% of vehicle traffic is service and commercial and the other 90% is by bicycle. If the bicycles get 900 mpg and the other vehicles get 0 mpg, that means that our fleet average could be 800 mpg. 35 mpg seems pretty pitiful. And how is this measly increment supposed to reduce our carbon footprint?

But, I guess that means people would have to turn off their television sets and take care of their bodies. Today, on Earth Day, I'm feeling dubious this will ever happen.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Say What?

The axes in this graph have been totally cooked by the presenter. The 1951 vehicle miles is about 1800 with a fat rate of say, 24%, while the 1991 vehicle miles is 8000 with a fat rate of about 32%. In other words, quadrupling the vehicle miles resulted in a increase in the overweight population of about 8%. That's not very compelling, even disregarding the difference between correlation and cause/effect.

However, the sharp spike in vehicle miles per capita is absolutely breathtaking. No wonder we feel like we're spending all of our time in a car. No wonder Americans have one of the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world.

In 2003 there were about 42,000 road-related fatalities and about three million injuries. In this same year there were 622 cyclist-related deaths and 46,000 cyclist-related injuries. (The injuries are probably unreported). There were 4749 pedestrian fatalities and about 70,000 injuries.

The available statistics seem to be rather heavily slanted towards counting victims instead of perpetrators. However, it seems reasonable to assume that almost all of the motorist fatalities and injuries involve other motorists. There are also allegations that, at least in New York City, drivers are at fault for 90% of the cyclist and pedestrian deaths.

To put it simply, the danger on our roads arise from motorists--not pedestrians and cyclists. This blame-the-victim attitude is getting rather tedious. What if your sheriff excused a lynching, explaining that African-Americans who move into white neighborhoods should have known it was dangerous?

(By the way, I'm not saying there aren't stupid pedestrians and cyclists. Heavens, over half of all bicycle accidents don't even involve the assistance of a second party, but the numbers are pretty clear: motorists are the problem here.)

Have I gotten your attention? OK, I'll let Bob Mionske take over from here...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cars Are the New Smoking

I remember about 25 years ago it was considered acceptable to smoke just about anywhere except a movie theater or a doctor's office.

Today I read an interesting article from Jonathan Maus, titled Cars are Second-Class Citizens (hey, it was United Airlines that said it, Jonathan was just quoting). At the end of Jonathan's article, he says his new "mantra" is,

Cars are the new smoking

Yeah, I get it.

Copyright (c) Andy Singer; noncommercial use only

Saturday I took a ride with a dear friend who's active professionally in the Portland bicycle community. She was talking about a new chain lubricant that was based on soybean oil--though, as she laments, it was all genetically modified soybeans.

"So, uhh, what's the benefit of soybean oil?"

"It's not petroleum."

I think for a moment. "I'm not against petroleum, it's burning it that's stupid."

I did a rough calculation. Assuming I oiled my chain every hundred miles (which I will freely admit I don't always do), that I ride 7500 miles a year, and I use 0.25 fluid ounces of oil every time I lube my chain (which might be a bit excessive), I calculate that a gallon of chain lube would last me 51,000 miles, or about 7 years. A gallon of gasoline lasts at most, what, 60 miles, or about one hour?

Think about it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Spring is Here, finally...

It's been a slow progression. First I switched to the lighter booties. Then I switched to thinner full-finger gloves. And, today, I switched to cycling sandals and left my rain jacket at home, leaving only my windbreaker.

On the way to work there are two different places where a male robin always flies low across my path.'s always the same place. Sigh. As a cerebral predator, I know what that means!

Today is sunny, high is already in the low sixties. "Today is a good day to ride!" (Visualize the voice, inflection, and emphasis of Whorf in Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

Seriously, I wonder if a lot of people don't ride because they're...well, afraid of the weather. Reality check: it was 50 degrees when I left the house this morning, and I was perfectly comfortable.

Even in the worst weather, I am never really uncomfortable. Yes, my face may get wet, but the rest of my body remains dry. Yes, it feels a bit chilly for the first few minutes when I start out, but after that I'm perfectly fine. (I found out the hard way that if I'm warm when I start out, I'm roasting before I've even finished warming up.)

On insanely long rides, I can have trouble with my feet. Some of this is just me: I just have cold feet. I wear socks when I sleep at night, so that should be a clue. Also, if it's raining, after a while, your feet will get wet. My friend has invested a tremendous amount of effort (and gear) trying to get around this, but I believe her current solution is simply to change socks periodically during a long ride.

If you're considering getting into riding, I would recommend starting as a fair weather rider, and then budget some money to try to slightly extend your riding season as the weather shuts down. Next year you can start riding a little earlier, and then invest a little more so you can ride a little later. After a while, the theory is perhaps you won't have to stop riding.

What should you plan on getting? Wow, that's a tough one. I could give you advice, but it would be highly tailored for riding in the northern Willamette Valley, tempered for the fact that I tend to ride warmer than most of my friends.

I think most of us have acquired a lot of our gear through simple trial and error. You can bypass some of that if you can find riding friends and get some advice from them about what works. I'm hedging like this, because it depends so much on your riding environment. If you live in Phoenix, Arizona, the Showers Pass jacket is probably overkill. I know that the Pearl Izumi Amphib gloves are too warm for anything except perhaps snow riding, which doesn't happen very darn often here. And so forth. Trust me, though, that cyclist you see several mornings a week on your commute has it figured out: next time, examine what she's wearing closely, and if you aren't clear, just ask. Cyclists are a friendly bunch.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Nice Bike Shorts!

[update 2008-04-15. State Farm has pulled the ad. Old cowboy proverb: when you find you're digging yourself into a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging. Kudos to them, if a bit late.]

Right. Unh-huh. I like what they said here:

Yeah, he's dressed like a freak but he is also extremely fit, athletic and healthy. Sheila's teasing him, but that's because she thinks Jim is hot. The idea flickers across your medial prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain the neuromarketers are always trying to get to: "Hey, maybe I could get fit and healthy by biking to work like Jim. For $369 a year and whatever gas money I'd save by not driving I could buy a really nice bike."
It makes me want to publish a 30-second ad of an obese emphysemic shoving an oxygen tank into the car, turning to the camera, saying

State Farm loves it when you drive. Don't you want to be like me?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Hold the Weasels Accountable

As reported by

I know this is old news, but did anyone catch the irony that Patrick McHenry is overweight and represents a state that is a stronghold of plantation drug lords (tobacco)?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Birkenfeld Brevet 2008

My Birkenfeld Brevet pictures were actually from the "pre-ride", taken before the actual event, which is both a responsibility and privilege of being a volunteer. The actual volunteering occurred yesterday.

We had about forty enthusiastic riders ready to ride in chilly but above freezing conditions. There was a light sprinkling as people checked in, but not enough for anyone except us volunteers with the paperwork to notice.

We gave the pre-ride announcements a little bit too early, so the riders had another couple of minutes to wait before the official starting time of 7 AM.

After we packed up the starting booth, we all rode up to Vernonia to set up the rest area. We chose to follow the riders' route in order to get some pictures. Most of my pictures hanging out the passenger window of Lynne's car didn't turn out, but there were a couple of decent ones.

In Vernonia, we set up in the shelter and started heating water. The first crew (pictured here) dropped by very shortly therafter. They were really fast! 10 mph doesn't seem very fast when you're in a car, but when you're climbing up to Vernonia, that's pretty impressive.

One asked when the control was opened (you aren't allowed to come too early). When he heard it had opened seven minutes earlier, he exclaimed, "We're late! Let's get going!"

But seriously, it was great getting to see and talk to all of the riders and volunteers.

After the last rider came through, we packed up and went back to Grand Lodge. Lynne and I warmed up in the soaking pool (it's cold out there if you aren't riding a bike), and then spent the remainder of the afternoon in the Round Room greeting riders as they came in.

Beth came by and we had a terrific time discussing bikes, the weather, and training plans.

It appears there was one abandon (he never called, but his riding partners reported it). Everyone else finished without incident. The weather got progressively wetter as the day went on. A number of the riders who came in were a mute testament to the virtues of fenders and mudguards in the Pacific Northwet.

The pictures I felt worth uploading are here. I haven't tried my hand at organizing one of these events, but volunteering is almost as fun as riding 124.2 miles. Don't hesitate to help out when you get a chance!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Let's Burn Our Food, Shall We?

Today's business section reports that corn prices have jumped 30 percent.

This on top of a news report recently that indicates that the price of rice has skyrocketed in the last year.

And finally, Joshua Lederles wrote today that corn production is spreading the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

The articles all ascribe the issue to the increased production of biofuels. Before I continue, permit me to point out that the carbon footprint of 35,000 Kcal (1 gallon of gas) is going to the same (or possibly slightly worse; petroleum is amazingly efficient) for biofuel as it is for petrofuel. So, either way, if we don't change our transportation habits, we're going to poison the planet.

The question thus remains, shall we starve as we poison the planet, or not? When Bush says he wants to reduce dependence on foreign oil, he's still missing the fundamental issue: our transportation-based economy and life style will not continue indefinitely.

Yeah, I know, Lynne, here I am on the soap box again. At least I kept it short.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Cartoons and Social Responsibility

My aunt asked me if I do the cartoons you see on the blog. Sigh, no way. My favorite cartoons come from Neil Skorpen, Andy Singer, and the occasional beauty from Jeff Mallett (like above). Since this all published artwork, I'm linking to their art instead of republishing it. This also means that the links could die. Ah, c'est la vie. I have hundreds of these as screen savers, and as I find ones I like (that are currently published), I'll add them as time allows. Oh, heck, here are a few more...

Be sure to check out the rest of the work of these artists; they're truly fun.

Anyway, I get a ping from a robot at facebook saying that my daughter's ex-boyfriend had mentioned me in a blog entry.

I went to look at it, and it appears that he had a bit of free time and went on a comfortable long ride across the city (Vancouver). He noted how pleasant it is to ride your bike (the endorphin high and all), and says that he's going to name his bike "Jason".

I told my family about this, and said that I wasn't sure how to take it. Rachel: "I'd go with creeped out". Yeah, well, that's why he's her ex boyfriend .

Seriously, I guess I'm at the point in life where I want to leave a legacy: mentor someone to write better software, get someone to turn off their television set
and get some exercise, or just plain make the world a better place for my children and grandchildren. I do think this is a function of age. I look at my kids in their 20's and I can relate to how I was at that age: "we are only immortal for a limited time" as the song by Rush goes.

I've seen some interesting speculation in the last couple of years about longevity (or even immortality) and its impact on the individual. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. suggests that even with near miraculous technology (nanites and the like), "no one lives forever--there's always the freak accident." Kind of sobering to think that the daily activities we take for granted (taking a shower or swallowing food) could, in the aggregate, be the proximal
cause of one's demise when other factors (such as heart disease and cancer) are removed.

Another author wrote a fairly forgettable novel wherein well-to-do individuals could elect to undergo a rejuvenation process, and most elected to thereafter wear an earring that marked them as rejuvenated. "The young are so callow", one says, explaining why she preferred individuals of her own generation.

Then, of course, there is the current wave of supernatural fiction, where some writers try to give a sense of what it must be like for those people who live extended life spans.

Anyway, I'm beginning to see that the emotional and intellectual viewpoint of people change as they age, and in odd and surprising ways. I think that if som
eone lived for hundreds of years, their outlook would be, well, inhuman.

OK, back to play with people my own age. Take care...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Birkenfeld Brevet 2008 post-pre-ride

This coming Saturday is the annual Oregon Randonneurs Birkenfeld Brevet. Part of organizing a ride like this is to send a couple of fools down a week before to find out what the course is like. All four of us had planned to ride this on Saturday but the weather was...well..uncooperative.

Andrew and Cecil chose to ride on Sunday. Lynne and I both had weekend commitments but felt that a) we could afford a weekday to ride, and b) waiting another day might improve the weather slightly.

This time of year the starting time of 7 AM means that you will want blinkies and reflective gear for at least the first part of the ride. Although we had plenty of sun before we made it to Gales Creek, notice how the flash on my camera went off and really trashed Lynne's pre-ride photo here.

The ride starts out of McMenamins Grand Lodge and heads west then north out of Forest Grove. Motorists in this part of the world are pretty polite, though you need to be concerned due to the early hour of the morning. Did you know experts say that you really aren't awake for as much as an hour after you get up?

One thing that doesn't change is the terrain. It seems like the entire route from the edge of Forest Grove to SR-6 is a slight uphill. In spite of that, the emerging sun gives you some tremendous vistas of rural western Oregon. Don't forget to look to take a look! I've lived in Oregon almost 30 years, and I still don't get tired of the beautiful interplay of clouds, hills, and sun. Here you see rain clouds and snow capped hills to the west

Snow capped. Uh, yeah, right. More on that in moment.

When you make it out to SR-6 (the "Wilson River Highway"), you have the short leg up past Glenwood to the Timber Road junction. When we road this section, not only did we have rumble strips on the shoulder, but the shoulder itself is extremely dirty. Be careful, especially if you need to hop into the murder vehicle lane to avoid trash (those rumble strips are pretty rough when you're on a bicycle).

The turnoff onto Timber Road was approximately 0.5 miles earlier than indicated on the cue sheet, and this discrepancy stayed pretty constant for me for the remainder of the ride. Or, as they say, "your mileage may vary".

As you start to rise on Timber Road, you may discover that the road surface is heavily sanded and graveled. On our return in the afternoon, we saw that Washington County and come through and (sort of) swept the roadway. However, I wouldn't be surprised if there's more crud on the road by the time Saturday rolls around.

Uhh..Oh yes...about that snow. Folks in the upper reaches of the Tualatin Mountains have noted snow just about every morning every last week, and as the store clerk at the Birkenfeld Grocery put, "it could stop any time now."

As we climbed, we saw a light dusting, but the road surface was quite manageable. However, if we continue to subfreezing overnight temperatures, be extremely cautious of black ice on this stretch; it is heavily shaded and protected from winds, so the potential exists for very treacherous traction here.

After about a mile of clear cuts (legacy of Ronald Reagan and George Bush the First), you (essentially) summit. I essentially because there's actually a slight bit of climbing on the far side of Timber before you drop down to US-26.

A political aside: Reagan and Bush so thoroughly raped the Pacific Northwest that we actually have less old growth forest left than places in the east such as the Catskills, Adirondacks, or the Blue Ridge. All you have to do is to use an airplane or get away from the freeways and US highways and you'll see what my grandchildren will get to enjoy until they're my age.

Ah well. Back to the ride. Be careful on your downwards descent into Timber. On top of sketchy ice conditions and the potential for sand and gravel, you have a steep downhill right before the train crossing, and the train crossing is really bad. Lynne walked her bike over it; I just picked my path carefully (1970's technology 27 by 1.25" tires have their uses).

Don't blink as you pass through Timber. It's small, but it really does have a bit of charm. You have two sharp hairpins past the railroad tracks, a slight climb, and then you get to start your downhill paycheck.

After about a mile and a half, the clear cuts stop (because you're getting close to US-26 and we wouldn't want the tree huggers in Portland to know what's going on, would we?). Another mile and a half and you cross straight over on Timber Road and continue north/northeast towards Vernonia.

It's along here that you start paralleling the course of the Nehalem River. Recall there was a flood that was on the national news last fall. The formaldehyde trailers are in place now, but if you look closely you can still see the occasional screen door or other household debris above your head in the trees next to the river.

It was about here that I was grateful that we hadn't ridden on Saturday or Sunday. The weather was definitely better than either of the previous days, but we still ended up with the weirdest precipitation. Seriously, it snowed on us once and hailed on us twice, but not once the entire day did we actually get wet.

The road surface was marginally better here than south of US-26, but pay close attention around mile 32. There is a "rough road" sign, and this means you. You have about 30 feet where the road has been just plain totaled. It looks a lot like some drainage problems that will need the summer in order to correct.

As we turned north onto SR-47, Lynne and I had the bright idea that we'd try the Banks-Vernonia Trail, which has ready access along there. We took the first access road, went a tenth of mile, and then came across a "bridge closed" sign. Whoops, no. Back to the murder vehicle lane. Lynne tried again a quarter mile later and we immediately found an entire section of the pavement that had gratuitously slid about 15 feet to the right off of its bed.

Bottom line: don't bother, just stay on SR-47.

A note about SR-47. At this point I've ridden most sections of Columbia, Washington, and Yamhill counties, a large part of Marion and eastern Multnomah counties, and even chunks of Polk, Tillamook, Lane, and Clark County Washington. However, SR-47 is the one of the few places I've ridden where murderists have thrown trash at me, screamed epithets at me, and tried to run me off the road. And that trash throwing incident? That was in Vernonia. Be careful. If that wasn't enough, there were an astounding number of log trucks on the road as we did this ride on a Monday. I think it's a bit lighter on weekends, and log truck drivers as a lot are pretty careful, but at least one log truck murderist underestimated the length of his truck and cut back over into our lane a bit too early.
We didn't have the tremendous problems that Cecil and Andrew did getting into Alexander Park in Vernonia. The road surface at the cutoff is indeed a bit rough, but certainly no worse than what you saw at mile 32 earlier.

As you head down Bridge Street you will see ample evidence of the flood. It's also starkly apparent which property owners had flood insurance (very new looking) and which ones didn't (flood damage, right along the main thoroughfares). Turn on State Street and start a bit of gratuitous climbing, and be sure to answer your control question at Burn Road and turn back.

Make a left on Stony Point Road and start some more climbing. It's actually rather pretty here, in an almost rural kind of way. However, this is where we started seeing the dogs. Lots of dogs. Who have more enthusiasm than common sense. Lynne might characterize them differently, but I didn't see any that were a serious threat, except for the basic lack of any sense of self preservation that a dog gets when it's chasing. One of these could collide with you just out of canine stupidity as you go by, so I recommend either speeding up so that don't get that opportunity, or slowing down to the point that they cotton to the fact that instead of prey, you are in fact a human. Like I said, all the dogs I saw were of the tail-wagging "let's chase the fast moving prey thing" variety, not genuine threats (which do exist, unfortunately). You know: growling, tail down, follows you past their property line, looking for a place to latch the teeth onto. I really didn't see any of those on this ride.

At the tee turn left (north) on SR-47 and follow the Nehalem all the way out to Birkenfeld.

It looks like the single-lane road sections with traffic lights (where they were rebuilding the bridges) are finished. If you're an urban commuter like me, you'll still find yourself automatically changing lane position to hit the defunct sensor loops as you go by.

You'll know when you're close to the turnaround because of the church. The sign made this randonneur "gimme" picture (sorry).

The Birkenfeld General Store is definitely the hotbed of activity in this part of the world. Need a big game tag? Need to load up on bourbon or vodka? Want to know when the next A.B.A.T.E. poker run is? Want a grilled cheese sandwich or an espresso? It's all here. Everyone who came into the store seemed to know each other by name, and I think I saw one person come in and leave with a loaf of bread without money change hands (credit at a grocery store? Shades of the 1950's...) You can even buy a T-shirt or a sweatshirt with the company's name and logo. It certainly has a following.

The return is pretty much a straight shot back to Forest Grove. Of course, you're following the Nehalem upstream now, so be prepared to work a bit trying to get back to Vernonia. When you pass Stony Point Road (and continue straight), beware of more happy dogs on the right. The stretch of Timber Road leading to US-26 is stultifying. I guess the snow and hail kept me distracted the first time.

Heading back up to Timber, don't despair. You're at a higher elevation than when you were climbing up from SR-6, so the three miles really isn't that bad.

After you summit past the railroad tracks, do not take a carefree paycheck back down to the Wilson River Highway. Although you probably won't encounter black ice this late in the day, I saw more than a few stretches of road that were only clear in the double tracks left by the passing murderists. Also, you have sharp turns through exactly those same places that have been heavily sanded, so you run a real risk of losing traction or risking your life in the oncoming lane if you hit them too fast. Just don't overrun your sight clearance, pick your entry speed, and--instead of picking an apex--expect to hold your line and to find one or two pieces of gravel in whatever tire track you're in as you enter the corner. (If you don't understand that, it's motorcycle talk. Lynne calls me "Whacko Boy Junior" because the only rider she normally rides with me who's faster on the downhills, Don "Whacko Boy" Bolton, is also an ex motorcyclist).

It's downhill to the Glenwood open control, but don't forget to stop and get your brevet card signed (or a receipt). From there, you'll feel like George Hincapie as you fly down Gales Creek Road and then back to Grand Lodge. Be sure to bring along your swimsuit; for a $5 charge (waived if you have dinner) you can soak in their Japanese style soaking pool. And, you will have dinner with us, won't you?

See you there!

The few photos I didn't work into this ride report are here.
Also, check out Lynne's photos.

Music: If Only She Woulda (Frank Zappa, You Are What You Is)