A few weeks back, the not-so-surprising news that Indiana ranks only #42 nationally in bicycle friendliness was released. Living downtown where Mayor Ballard has created a bicycling mecca of sorts for Hoosiers, it's easy to forget that the rest of the state has a lot of catching up to do. Having never really traveled beyond Carmel by bike, I cannot comment on the condition of the rest of the state, but the recently released study by the League of American Bicyclists does and the picture isn't pretty.
The #42 ranking is a reflection of Indiana's bicycle infrastructure, funding for bicycle facilities, education and programs that provide encouragement, and the passage and enforcement of laws that make our roadways safe and friendly for cyclists of all ages.
On the local level in communities like Indianapolis, Goshen, Columbus, Carmel, etc. we see aspects of these factors improving constantly. However, as Nancy Tibbett, Executive Director of Bicycle of Indiana, said in a May 1 press release, "We continue to struggle to achieve similar progress at the state level."
It's definitely unfortunate and a little disheartening to learn about the state's priorities in regard to bicycling. Yet, the process of converting our entire Midwest state (we ranked #11 in our region) is indeed that--a process. Currently, INDOT is working on a state-wide bicycle suitability map that will rank all of Indiana's state and federal roadways according to their ease of use for bicyclists.
What strikes me most about this news is the idea that bicycling in Indiana isn't suitable for people of all ages. I spoke at Storytelling Arts of Indiana's Jabberwocky event earlier this week. Sponsored by IndyCog, this month's topic was bicycles. Myself and two other daily commuters shared our non-professional stories, and then the microphone was opened to the crowd.
A few of SAI's regular Jabberwocky attendees shared stories about their first bicycle, the kids they use to ride with when they were younger and happy memories of bicycling as children. The group didn't have much to contribute in terms of current bicycling activities, causing me to ponder how intimidating and difficult our roadways must be to certain demographics.
Then one middle-aged woman shared her own brief but recent feat of bicycling to her IUPUI job from Speedway. Honestly, I was shocked and proud of her for moving beyond her comfort zone to try that. I certainly never biked anywhere from Speedway when I lived on the Westside. But she noted at the end of her story the scariness factor of riding on not so friendly roads keeps her from integrating such a commute into her daily life.
Focusing on improving infrastructure and not only passing but enforcing legislation that protects bicyclist will perhaps encourage people like her. And I truly believe that in order to add momentum to this arduous process we need our numbers and voices to swell. It's easy to get involved: simply start riding. If you already ride, encourage friends and family to do the same. Encourage your workplace to be more bicycle friendly and/or make your voice heard by elected officials.
May is National Bike Month. If the growing number of bikes I see on my commute is any indicator, plenty of Hoosiers are already celebrating. Finding myself in a pack of cyclists on the cultural trail, drafting behind fellow bikers, I feel the power of our numbers. I, too, want to celebrate the beginning of three seasons of heavy bike use in Indy. Here are a few upcoming happenings that will help you revel the power of the pedal.
1.) Commuter Connect's Commuter Challenge - Even though our state officials have taken yet another pause on the mass transit question, this is a great way to show your support of transportation alternatives. Through the month of May, Commuter Connect (a service of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority) is offering prizes simply for tracking your environmentally friendly commutes.
Join the website, and log your commute activities. Biking, walking, busing, carpooling and vanpooling all count. Each week, Commuter Connect gives away prizes to randomly drawn participants including free bus passes and bike shop gift cards.
This handy website connects users to car and vanpool communities, bike partners and bus schedules. I'm logging my daily commute by bike and already feel more empowered to try other forms of sustainable transportation. Join me as I take the May Commuter Challenge.
2.) Bike to Work Day - The League of American Bicyclists has dubbed May "National Bike Month." The week of May 13-17 is their Bike to Work Week. And in Indianapolis, celebrations of bicycle commuters will commence on May 17--the official Bike to Work Day.
Festivities include a free bike commuter lunch and learn at the Indy Bike Hub, a Sun King sponsored happy hour and bike trains to various parts of the city. This is a great day for beginners to feel the power of large numbers on longer commutes and for seasoned cyclists to celebrate their year-round efforts. For a timeline of all the events that day visit IndyCog's Bike to Work Day 2013 page.
3.) Indianapolis Cultural Trail's Event: "Get Down On It" - On May 11, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail comes alive like never before. Cultural institutions and businesses that line the Cultural Trail will host a variety of events, activities and entertainments from 8 a.m. to midnight. What's the best way to take advantage of as much free fun as possible, you ask? By biking, of course! Hop on the trail for scavenger hunts, food and beer trucks, arts and crafts, games, music and free or discounted admission to landmarks across the city.
4.) Jabberwocky - On May 14th Storytelling Arts of Indiana teams up with IndyCog to host the monthly Jabberwocky event at IndyFringe Theater. This month's topic: Bicycles. Hear stories from non-professional storytellers (yours truly included) about our experiences on two wheels. Come prepared to share your own yarns, and stay for a film screening of Reveal the Path, a documentary about a 36-day vagabond bike trip.
5.) Get on your bike and ride! - Of course, the best way to celebrate National Bike Month is to get in the saddle and start pedaling. A lazy Saturday afternoon ride is my favorite pastime of late. You may not be up to the challenge of a long commute to work, but you can definitely enjoy the rewards of a tour on our beautiful greenways and bike paths.
Something I missed on this list? How do you plan to celebrate National Bike Month!
Blooming flowers, rain showers and bicycles abound during the first few weeks of spring. In addition to a daily commute, I've returned to touring mode. I actually feel I've maintained a good amount of endurance through the winter; enough to accomplish a 23 mile ride on my first long outing. Truthfully, I felt very sore the next day, but that didn't stop me from hopping back on the saddle on my way to work.
But with beautiful weather comes a different kind of danger. Instead of watching for slippery patches of snow and ice, I fend against angry drivers who are somehow less forgiving of cyclists when the weather is nice. In fact, at the beginning of that 23 mile ride, I had my first truly horrible encounter.
On the way to my favorite trail, which runs parallel to White River, I take a few busy streets. En route on Lafayette and 10th, a car full of men zoomed past me honking and hollering. One unpleasant grunt in the back seat rolled down his window shouting: "Use the sidewalk, BITCH!"
Later that week on my morning commute another man, this time in a truck, tailgated rather close to my rear as he honked his horn. At his first opportunity, he sped past me only to stop at a red light. I rolled up next to him, knocked on his window and attempted (less than gracefully) to spout my rhetoric about bicycles and cars having the same rights on the road. He rolled down his window replying, "Fuck you, Bitch!"
Again he sped to the next light, and again I rolled up beside him this time more eloquently stating my case.
"Well you need to learn how to ride," he said, "and get on the sidewalk."
"I have every right to take the lane," I said.
Aside from the fact that legally, I do have every right to be on the road, the part of these encounters that really upset me was the derogatory use of the word "bitch." Simply because I am a woman, these men felt it their right to demean me within the cowardly confines of their metal bubble.
A female friend suggested that because I was a woman operating outside the norm of their expectations of course I am a bitch. I wonder, though, would they shame a man for the same behavior?
Our society holds men and women to a different standard for many things: career, sex, success, body image, aging, and on goes the list. So, I'm curious: what, if any, slur would these men have slung at a guy on a bike?
Don't mistake my meaning. I'm sure that male cyclists have their fair share of negative interactions with cars. In fact, on the second of the above encounters, a male cyclist ahead of me heard my ranting at the car and turned back, his response ready on the tip of hisWhile I'm sure that male cyclists have their fair share of negative interactions with cars, tongue. But when he saw me...
"Oh sorry," he said, "I thought you were a car yelling at me."
So use to fighting this losing battle, we cyclists must have our responses packed away with the rest of our gear. Or be prepared to simply turn the other cheek. Ultimately, I regretted engaging the man in the truck. Neither of us changed our perspectives, and all I accomplished was to buy into his negativity and spread around a little more bad karma.
But my question remains. Are male and female cyclists treated differently by angry drivers? Tell me, cycling world, how do you handle such encounters? And what names have you been called?
Lately, my gear shift hasn't been working properly. I'd be pedaling my heart out on the busy downtown streets, and my gears would grind and shift without warning. It was an uneasy sensation to say the least. Not only did it sound terrible but it felt very unsafe. So, I took my bike into Indy Bike Hub for a look-over.
As it turns out, I made a rookie mistake when throwing my bicycle into the back of a friend's car months ago. Shoving it in a tiny back seat, derailer side down, had put my gear-shift out of alignment. The friendly bicycle mechanic asked me if that was the case and explained that I should "Never, ever do that again."
I watched him take apart and put back together my gear shift mechanism in a matter of minutes. To my right, a skinny-jean clad gal touched the flipped brim of her cycling cap and threw her head back in laughter as her companion re-wrapped the handle bars of his fixie. I watched them and felt out of place in my gray slacks and pink floral trench. I felt apart from their world and the world of the bicycle mechanic.
As I paid the nominal repair fee of $10, I thanked him for fixing my bike and teaching me a little something about gear shifts. He told me to come back in a month to get my chain cleaned, that it was all "gummed up." And I left with a vague sense of dejection.
A year ago, when I started this blog it was because I felt intimidated by zooming cyclists on bustling streets. The same thing that pushed me to go boldly beyond my comfort zone last year was now creeping over me without warning and in a crippling way.
In the past year that I've been biking and blogging, I've learned a lot and changed a lot. I don't smoke. I buy less gas. I feel more "in" my body. Yet the more I change and learn, the more I realize how little I know of the ways of the two-wheeled world. When I got home from the bike shop, I re-read a few of my early blogs, searching the words for inspiration. And as I read, I pondered: would I ever achieve mastery of my two wheels?
A year is a natural time for retrospection. When I began this blog, I wanted to grow and encourage others to grow with me. Bicycling is an integral part of our cities growth, and I want to experience that. But sometimes growth comes with pain. I'm no expert, and 52 weeks of riding and writing doesn't make me one. I guess the jolt of insecurity I felt in the bike shop is exactly what I needed to remember why I started riding and what I want from it.
Tell me, why do you ride?
The Spring Equinox is come and gone, yet the weather outside is still, for lack of a better term, shit cold. Those riders who didn't stick it out all winter are listening eagerly to the weatherman's forecast, hoping in vain for a hint of warmer weather. Soon enough they'll be dusting off their bicycle seats, airing up those tires and oiling their chains in anticipation of a weekend tour in the sun.
Honestly, I, myself am ready to do more than just commute back and forth to work. A long Saturday cycle up the Monon, a sunny ride along White River or a brunch-time tour to Broad Ripple are what I crave. Even a little jaunt around White River State Park would break my cabin fever. In anticipation of the glorious days of in-season cycling to come, here are my thoughts on my favorite touring trails.
1.Monon Trail: The Monon is good for straight shot north or south. Coming from downtown, I dread riding through the industrial (read: smelly) blocks of the Monon between 16th and Fall Creek. But once past Broad Ripple, the trail becomes shaded and cool, albeit packed to the hilt with dog-walkers, strollers and runners. Regardless, a ride up to Broad Ripple for brunch is just long enough to stretch my legs. If I'm feeling particularly bold, I'll push further north on the trail: past the Indianapolis Art Center, 86th Street, the Monon Community Center, the Center for the Performing Arts and beyond. The farthest I've trekked on the Monon is up to 146th Street from 13th. Maybe this summer I'll even make it to Westfield.
2.Indianapolis Cultural Trail: I ride the Indianapolis Cultural Trail daily to get to and from work, but I cannot wait to start exploring the new additions toward Fountain Square and beyond. Plus, I love a leisurely people-watching spin through downtown. If you're looking to stay downtown, but want to get some good exercise, I recommend doing a few laps around this lovely urban feature.
3.White River Trail: By far the White River Trail was my favorite discovery last summer. While riding it, I had my best wildlife encounters including a family of muskrats, a beaver, a bale of turtles and a flock of young goslings. With actual spring just days away, I'm wondering what creatures I'll chance upon this year.
4.Central Canal Towpath: The Central Canal Towpath offers access to two of the most stunning garden spaces in Indianapolis and passes through Indianapolis landmarks like Butler University, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the 100 Acres and Broad Ripple Village. This is a good trail for a picnic ride with friends or a solo meditation on nature. Beware though: it's a bit bumpy on the gravel path.
5.Fall Creek Trail: An offshoot on the Monon, the Fall Creek Trail is a winding path that follows along none other than Fall Creek (pretty obvious right?). This beautiful bikeway keeps me focused as I twist and turn my way through the cities' Northeast side. While riders must be careful of joggers on the narrow path, in general, Fall Creek is a relaxing and easy ride.
As I dream of the perfect riding day, I imagine a meditative ride up the White River, along the Canal Towpath and home on the Monon. Now if only the weather would cooperate.
How will you spend you're first perfect riding day? Share tips about your favorite touring trails below!
Forgive me while I rant.
Scorned cyclists everywhere reacted
harshly to the words of Washington state legislator Ed Orcutt
in regard to a transportation spending bill currently being considered by the
Washington state. The bill proposed a $25 tax on new bicycles $500 and up, as a
"symbolic" means of asking cyclists to help pay for the roads on
which they ride.
In a reply email to one constituent who voiced his concerns over the bicycle tax, Orcutt responded, "You claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike. But if I am not mistaken, a cyclist has an increased heart rate and respiration. That means that the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider. Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride." Read the full email exchange here.
Yes, you read that right. By Orcutt's logic, we are all constantly polluting the atmosphere, putting us in an odd series of catch-22s. Don't use the elevator, which burns more electricity than walking up the stairs, but also try not to increase your heart rate and respiration as you climb step-by-step to the next floor. The next time your lover shoots you that come hither stare, be sure to explain to him/her that a roll in the hay just isn't good for the environment these days. And don't even think about going to the CO2 factory we know as the gym.
I'll pause for a moment to let your disbelief and rage subside over such ignorance.
The GOP lawmaker later apologized for the insane notion that bicyclists pollute while they ride by simply breathing, saying, "It was not a point worthy of mentioning."
It's plain to see that the amount of carbon-dioxide released as one burns physical energy in no way compares to the greenhouse gases emitted from idling cars at stop lights. Any idiot knows the difference between exercise and pollution.
While Orcutt did make the point that cyclists need to help pay for the road systems they utilize, the tax suggested in the proposed bill is nearly 5% the cost of a bicycle, compared to the .7% excise tax on automobile purchases in Washington state. But what I find most discouraging about the whole situation is a lack of compassion for individuals motivated to not only reduce their carbon footprint by driving less, but who are doing their best to stay fit in a world inclined toward stasis.
It's this kind of un-informed attitude about bicycling and, in general, efforts to live a "greener" lifestyle that really rubs me the wrong way.
Now for a shameless plug: if you want to learn more about living a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, join me at the Going Green Festival (March 15th and 16th), which I helped plan during my day job at the Indiana State Museum. Bonus: Saturday, NUVO managing editor, Jim Poyser, will give his Climate Reality Project presentation and you can get $2.00 off admission by bringing recyclables (including old electronics, broken down bicycles and more) to RecycleForce, who will be on hand to haul away your junk.
Taking the lane is an important step for any commuter, but like anything, doing so is a process, easier said than done. I think most commuters would agree that they prefer trails to busy streets where drivers rush to the next red light. Trail riding allows me to take my alert level down a notch and just enjoy the ride. But street riding forces me into a state of hyper-awareness and fear that at any moment a motorist who is not alert will come flying from behind to knock me off my two wheels.
I'm lucky to live close enough to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail that I can take it for most of my ride. And as I begin to scout out a new place to live, proximity to bikeways and roads with bike lanes has taken a higher spot on my list of "musts" than ever before. While I'm lucky to live near one of our city's most beautiful urban bike paths, I'm not lucky enough to live directly on said bike path. To get there, I have to navigate some pretty harried rush-hour roads filled with crazed motorists doing their best to slurp down coffee or apply mascara before they arrive at work.
When I first began biking, I opted to stay on the sidewalk rather than use the road at all. Before I had any real concept of laws as they apply to bikes, I would jump on and off the cement pedestrian paths, making people on foot feel as fearful as I was when I was on the road with cars. Eventually, I womaned-up and made the transition to riding on streets, using the sidewalks sparingly and mostly as a short cut.
When I did first start riding the road, I stayed as far to the right as possible - I'm talking in the gutter. I did this so that rushed cars wouldn't be bothered by my slackened pace. In trying to make myself visible but not "in-the-way," I left myself vulnerable on the road.
My spacing and body language essentially signaled to motorists: "Go ahead, you're more important than me and it's right that you feel the need to speed past me. The closer you get to me the further I will move over to let you zoom by in all too close proximity."
But as I've gained more experience, talked to other cyclists and read more bicycle blogs, I've started to position myself with confidence on our urban streets. By fully taking the lane and waiting my turn behind cars at stoplights, I've started to act more like a vehicle that belongs on the streets and thus I feel I'm being treated (in part, anyway) as a vehicle that belongs on the streets.
Part of this statement is important to note. As tempting as it is, we as cyclists cannot run through a red light ahead of a line of cars. If we want to enjoy all of the rights of the road, we have to follow all of the rules as well.
While the odd rush-hour-warrior will honk at me from behind and fly by at the first chance nearly nicking my front wheel as they pull in front of me, I truly believe that as more cyclists make their presence known on the streets by taking the lane and following the rules, all Indianapolis motorists will adjust to seeing us as equal street vehicles.
Oh, and by the way. If you are looking for help planning your commute, here is a great resource from IndyCog that breaks down urban streets and bikeways by "most bikeable" to "least bikeable."
There's been a shift in my bicycle life. And like many of my posts, this involves first and foremost a confession. Come to think of it, I've made a lot of confessions in this little sphere of the inter-webs. Perhaps this is the biggest of them all.
I started riding a bike not for any of the noble reasons I would have you think: to save gas, to be healthier, to reduce my carbon footprint, to try something new, and so on. Instead, dear friends, I must confess that after a year of sharing my little adventures, in the question of which came first--the bike or the blog--I must assure you it was the blog.
Which brings me to my next point--the shift. A few weeks ago, after riding nearly every day to work, my fiancé asked me, "So, what'd you write about this week for the bicycle crowd?"
It was a Thursday night and I had completely forgotten to write a post, due the next morning. I whined a bit, after having already poured myself a tequila sunrise. "But I don't want to write..."
And why not? I had to stop and ask myself before sitting down to tap-tap-tap on my keyboard. After all, I've been pretty religious about riding this Winter, by far the biggest challenge I've set and met (no mention of the 50-mile-epic-fail please, dear friends). Yet somewhere along the way, the bicycle, not the blog, became the thing.
Instead of being a writer who bikes, I can now with all confidence pronounce: I am a bicyclist who writes. It's a very subtle but important difference. Like most things, and in view of Hammer's big announcement about his regular column for NUVO, I realize that this blog about bicycling will not go on forever. But I can with certainty say I will bike long after I stop writing.
Barring some unforeseen catastrophe and with exception to an inevitable lazy slump here and there, I feel that as long as I live in Indianapolis, or any bicycle-friendly area for that matter, I will do my best to bike for fun, for exercise and for transportation. After nearly a year of chronicling my beginner's experience at bicycling, I know what kind of cyclist I am now. I no longer consider myself a newbie.
Thus begins the next chapter of my bicycle life. And who knows what I'll learn about myself or how I'll change next?
Winter biking wardrobe has become quite the conundrum for me lately. Admittedly, I punked out on riding on the coldest day of Winter so far. The weather man's forecast of 4 degrees with a negative 12 windchill convinced me that driving to work for just one day was not such a bad idea. But as the cold weather refuses to relent this week, I've been gearing up to get back on the banana seat.
I've been doing pretty well up until now. Last week I biked to work a majority of days, and I'm having some luck defining my own personal winter weather riding style. The norm for me on very cold days is tights under my pants, a shirt, a sweater, a winter coat, double gloves, a scarf, ear muffs and a bandana that I wrap around my nose and mouth. However, I've been having some trouble with the last item in my list.
Dropping temperatures, like we've seen, create serious a cold-burn on my face. In addition my eyes tear up for the first two or three blocks of any given ride. Sometimes I fear the tears might turn to icicles on my frost-bitten cheeks, but so far my tear ducts have forgiven me within a few minutes of each early morning ride.
Regardless, my rosy cheeks are evidence of cold wind whipping past my skin. So I've implemented the bandana tactic in an attempt to combat this freeze. It seems to work for the most part, but I have the misfortune of bad eye-sight, and when I'm breathing heavy under the fabric, the glass I look through can't help but fog up.
As you can imagine, this presents serious visibility issues on rush-hour roads. And as I fight my way through traffic and exhaust fumes, I'm sometimes forced to reveal my masked orifices in order to simply see. Perhaps, this is a sign that I should invest in a proper face mask of sorts, rather than wrapping my face as an Old West bank-robber would.
In all, I'm realizing that winter weather riding isn't as difficult as non-cyclists might think. In reality, the most challenging aspect is not the cold, but finding the perfect balance of bundle and mobility. I'm guessing that by the frozen days of February, I'll have it all figured out--just in time for the bloom of warm weather in March.
It's been an adventuresome week of bicycle maintenance in the Coyne household. I finally took my bike into a shop to consult an expert about brakes. Thanks to Jamie from Bicycle Garage Indy at the Indy Bike Hub downtown. It only cost me $4 and 20 minutes of time; what a tremendous deal!
Bonus, I told him about my new year's resolution to learn more about bicycle maintenance, so he took me through the mechanics of my brake issue step by step. Now my front brakes are as good as new, and I know how to take them apart and put them back together.
Jamie also tipped me off to thread lock. I mentioned I was planning to attach a rack to my bike that afternoon (hoping he would give me a few pointers). I stopped by TruValue on my way home, utilizing my now perfectly working front brakes, and bought a tube of thread lock blue. Apparently, the crossover between the steel bolts for the rack and my aluminum bicycle frame can cause problems, according to Jaimie. He also explained to me that over time, placing weight on the back rack can cause the bolts to rattle loose. Thread lock ensures not only a seal between the steel and the aluminum, but also that the bolts won't rattle.
I attached the rack all by my lonesome, and reveled in my small victory at bicycle competency. I guess I can't take total credit because I asked my fiance to use his man hands to tighten the bolts all the way. I know it sound anti-feminist, but I really needed his help. Perhaps recognizing my limitations and asking for help can also be counted as a small victory.
In addition, I attached a basket to the rack, and now I'm completely equipped to carry more stuff than I probably actually need on my daily journey to and from work. I am grateful for the added capacity, but didn't expect to encounter one major issue: Now the weight is distributed much differently on my bike, making it much more cumbersome to drag the thing up and down two flights of stairs to my apartment. I'm sure I'll adjust to the extra weight soon enough, and that my guns (read: biceps) will be the real beneficiary of said challenge.