Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Bike to Work Week Survivor’s Guide

Bike to Work Week (BWW) is nationally recognized May 12–16, however, Carbon Footprints Without Borders does not recognize any perimeters placed on the reduction of one’s emission of greenhouse gases.

That said, I did participate in this year’s BWW for the first time, and I have been biking to work ever since. Yeah, yeah, I know; they got me. It was only a matter of time before the Johnson County bicycle community ensnared me from the world of the Motorist Muggles, although for the record, the abduction was consensual.

During the first pedal-rotation of my journey, I made several rookie mistakes and imagine I will continue to make many more. With this in mind, I would like to impart some advice, hoping that you, dear reader and potential BWW convert, will not follow in my carbon footprints and make the same mistakes I did.

1. Preparation is the Key

This should go without saying, but I had to say it anyway. I will skip over the obvious (e.g., a bicycle) and focus on the two most important elements of biking attire: bike shorts and helmet. True, biking shorts may not be the most aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but on a pragmatic level they may one day save your life. Ask anyone who has ridden a day of RAGBRAI without biking shorts what I’m talking about, and you’ll find your answer. Better yet, ask their proctologist.

Wearing a helmet should be a no-brainer, but Americans have always harbored a libertarian streak and choose to ride without helmets, thus grasping the delusional reins of freedom’s last ride. Whenever one of my sons spots a bicyclist or motorcyclist not wearing a helmet, he asks: “Dad, why aren’t they wearing a helmet?”

This prompts my patented response: “Well, son, it appears they don’t have any investments to protect.”

2. Avoid Reading Online Comments Responding to Articles about Biking

I’m perplexed and shocked by how many people out there, especially in the anonymous abyss of cyberland, harbor deep-seeded animosity toward bikers. Reading these comments will only serve to exacerbate any fears a biker may have about being run over by a road-raged motorist, whose life may have been inconvenienced by having to temporarily slow down for a biker.

“Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad!”

During BWW, Greg Beaumont, of West Des Moines, submitted the following editorial, “Bikes and Traffic Don’t Mix” to the Des Moines Register:

It's another ill-conceived Bike to Work Week. We just returned from Phoenix, where they have an abundance of bike lanes. This helps a lot, but it's still dangerous, particularly at intersections and driveways. In business portions of our metro without bike lanes, organizers have no business putting everyone at risk. Biking is great, but not on city streets during rush hours.
Beaumont’s letter served as a springboard for anonymous commenters to unleash their inner beast and hatred for bicyclists, while some of the more extreme commenters went as far as to suggest and/or advocate committing vehicular homicide.

Jules 1965 wrote:
In the town where I live [Carroll}, I have to tell you there are some days I would just love to tap a bicyclists and hope they fall over.…use the trails or get off the streets and roads as I don't need to be hitting you accidentally of course…
But of course… “Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad!”

Bloghead wrote:
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand stinking times: Bicyclists do NOT belong on the roads with 10,000 pound death traps…
“Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad!”

Moreover, shocktheallah wrote:
...You fools want to mess with 4000lb vehicles, then expect the consequences....
“Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad!”

Given this wrath, bicyclists can only hope these commenters’ mothers don’t ever let them out of the basement. Better yet, they should stay locked up indefinitely, but for humanity’s sake, they should be allowed a monthly conjugal visit form the Geek Squad to have their computers fully serviced.

I’m not quite sure where all the animosity toward bikers comes from, but it appears that the hatred is spawned by anecdotal evidence of a biker who did not obey the traffic laws, therefore all bikers are evil lawbreakers.

Jules1965 wrote:

They don't belong on the streets with cars, especially if they are not abiding by the rules of the road. There is always one cyclists in town who seems to think he can go through every stop sign there is and I'm waiting for the day he gets hit...
Now Jules1965, lest we forget the wise words from our predecessors:

“He who hath not committed a moving traffic violation, cast the first 10,000 pound death trap.”

3. Plan Your Route Safely, not Geometrically

In the geometric world, the shortest distance from point A to point B is a straight line, but this doesn’t always translate well in the bike world. For bikers, the quickest route is not always the safest route. Because I live in an exiled community between Tiffin and Coralville, I have no other choice but to share the road with motorists on a two-mile stretch of Highway 6, where the speed limit is 55 miles per hour.

This stretch of highway, which has no bike lane or spacious shoulder (see pic below), has served as a deterrent to my biking desire in the past. The stretch feels like a 2008 version of “Death Race 2000” – a cult classic film about a brutal cross-country car race where pedestrians are run down for points. I imagine a high school English teacher wouldn’t score a lot of points, but when you throw blogger in the mix, I’m willing to bet my point status shoots up, for there aren’t many of us who leave the couch, let alone ride bikes.

My fear of being run down and killed came into fruition last summer when a red pickup truck tried to run me off the road. You know, to send me a message or somethin’: “Next time yous won’t be so lucky, biker boy.” I did manage to get the license plate number and called the police, which probably only fueled his hatred for two-wheel obstacles.

If I survive this stretch, I’m blessed with the Clear Creek Bike Trail, which, after four miles, pretty much takes me to the promised land: work.

4. Ride with Your Mouth Closed

Similar to remembering to let go of the rope upon falling while waterskiing, keeping your mouth shut while biking should seem obvious. Nonetheless, I have trouble remember either one. I must, subconsciously, have some repressed desire to eat bugs. Thanks to this year’s wet winter and spring, there is an overabundance of bugs to feed upon, thus circumventing the need to add protein to my breakfast dietary needs.

Mosquito Flats: Home of second largest breeding ground of mosquitos in Johnson County (located on Clear Creek Trail)

5. Take the Pain

Unless you are already in decent physical shape, you will feel the pain, and it’s best not to think about it. Otherwise, the pain will inevitably consume you and serve as a pre-emptive excuse to not bike to work the following day.

6. Reward Yourself, Frequently

We are champions at deluding ourselves into believing such fanciful thoughts as democracy is democratic, this is the year the Chicago Cubs will finally do it, and by golly, I deserve something special for working so hard. The latter is where your own personal reward system kicks in. As part of the official BWW, sponsors threw a party at the end of the week to reward bikers for participating.

The party held at Old Brick Church in Iowa City, however, did not count toward RAGBRAI training, because beer, although samples from Millstone Brewery were provided at no charge, could not be purchased and consumed in mass quantities as part of the biking process.

“Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad!”
“Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad!”

Appendix A: BWW by the numbers:

Number of commuting miles pledged: 61,135

Estimated gallons of gasoline saved: 3,396

Estimates amount of money saved on gas: $12,465

Appendix B: Lone Bicyclist of the Apocalypse Index

Number of miles I covered during BWW: 63

Estimated gallons of gasoline saved: 2

Estimated amount of money saved on gas: $7.34

Unsolicited gestures from passing motorists: Zero

Total carbon footprint reduction: Priceless

Anticipated legal fees for defending myself in Mastercard parody lawsuit: Priceless


Anonymous said...

this is for" Jules 1965" i love your little post on how you would like to tap a biker with your car and knock them down well come to Toronto Canada ill be track standing at that red light and you go and tap my bike knock me down, then off comes the 3 feet of chain and U-lock "bike's go just as fast as a car so chill out" and on that note you don't have kids do you or a soul.