With all this snow lately, fewer and fewer cyclists are on the roads, myself included. But I'm afraid to admit that it isn't the snow that has kept me out of commission. In a delusional moment of bicycle triumph, I was over taken by hubris and messed up my front brakes.
I always think it's such a good, easy idea to pop the front wheel off my bike, and throw it in a friend's car en route to holiday shopping or post work drinks. I'll just pop the thing back on after a little social rendezvous and head on my merry way home. I've got quick release tires after all, I'll think, forgetting that the ease of my bicycle's design is no match for my shortcomings when it comes to assembling even the simplest of machines.
So it was when I agreed to do a little holiday shopping with a coworker at the City Market a few weeks back. I rode into work, so my friend offered to drive us there with my bike in tow. I easily detached the wheel and in no time slid it into his back seat, peacocking about my bicycle prowess. On arrival, I hopped out of the car while he looked for parking, giving me ample time to reattach the wheel and lock it up.
Fifteen minutes later, a fellow cyclist found me at the rack fiddling with my brakes as my friend loomed over me. The cyclist gallantly offered his assistance. And I made some embarrassing reference to Gone With The Wind and the kindness of strangers, turning scarlet at the thought of the last three times this happened to me and the other charitable souls that took pity on my lack of skills. It was dark and the cyclist did his best but the brake pad still rubbed the wheel as I rode home later on.
Cut to the snow day this past week, and I still haven't gotten the brakes fixed. I've pulled my bike inside my apartment to tinker with it several times. Learning by doing has gotten me far in the past. Surely I'll fix the problem by loosening and tightening bolts at random. Wrong! Now the brake cable is loose rendering the brake leaver useless, and the pad is still too tight for the wheel to spin properly.
In my tinkering (a misguided attempt show off my bicycle badass-ery to my fiancé) I'm sure I've cocked it up worse. I really need to take it to a shop, maybe Bikes on Mass Ave or BGI at the Indy Bike Hub and have an expert look at it. But now with all this snow, I'm procrastinating that walk of shame. Perhaps my New Year's resolution for 2013 should be to learn more about bicycle mechanics.
It's been a big two weeks of bicycling now that the cold weather is finally settling into Indianapolis. Here are a few snap-shots of my time on the saddle.
1.) On evening commute home, I sailed out the front door of the State Museum deciding in a split second to follow the Cultural Trail through the city rather than the canal underneath it. I maneuvered my way down Washington Street, cursing the difficult path by the Conrad Hotel, as always. (Why do they park cars in the middle of the bike path flow?) When I turned North on Alabama, I found myself in a herd of three other bike commuters.
We kept pace with each other as we pedaled our way toward Mass Ave. I drafted behind one of the more experience cyclists, and in turn found someone riding rather close to my back wheel. I wondered briefly at the etiquette of drafting behind strangers, but shrugged the thought away as my brief companions turned to go their separate ways on the Avenue. For a delicious moment I felt as if it was the height of riding season on the busiest of trail days. And in the next split second, as the cold swept through my lungs, I felt part of an elite group of hardcore cyclists sticking it through until next season.
2.) I also learned about "Moose knuckles" this week. I pulled up beside a well-dressed rider one morning on the corner of Mass Ave and Michigan Street. We said a cheery good morning to one another, a normal occurrence on bike but one that's rare by car. I pried my frozen hands in their homemade mittens from my handlebars and marveled at pockets attached to his handlebars--inside them his hands were cozy and warm.
"Moose-knuckles," he said noticing my gaze and added with a knowing smile. "Just Google moose-knuckles online and you'll find a pair."
I thanked him as I turned onto Michigan Street and he continued down Mass Ave.
"Moose-knuckles, moose-knuckles, moose-knuckles," I repeated to myself so as not to forget.
3.) I thought I might upchuck for the first time because of riding. In my entire search for advice, this little secret was not revealed. On a morning ride to work at a normal pace, I felt my lungs fill with icy air. The first very cold day I rode and my heavy intake of arctic breath made my stomach churn. When I finally arrived at work, I swung my leg over my bike and doubled-over panting. I've since invested in a bandana to wear over my nose and mouth for very cold days.
4.) I turned 27 this week, on 12/12/12. But I got an early birthday present the weekend prior. I was doing the annual Christmas decorating with my sweetheart; I'm a softy for Christmas decorating and have been slowly collecting my own tiny Christmas village with fake snow, tiny people and light-up houses. As I was setting up my village, my honey presented me with "Comet's Bike Shop." It's a tiny brick front building with a light-up display window and a few bikes parked out front. I put it in-between my greenhouse and my vegan bakery. And with that I wish you all a Happy Hipster Christmas!!!
I'm back on the banana seat again! For two months, I was lost in the dregs of directing a play. But now that I no longer have to rush off to rehearsal in the evening straight from work, I am able to commute by bike again. With no excuse not to ride, I've bundled up and hit the Cultural Trail every day for the past week. Riding in the cold and dark (thanks a lot daylight savings time) isn't as difficult as I thought. However there are a few marked differences from the days of regular season riding.
1) Bundling up: It's been a pretty mild week in terms of temperatures. So on my first day back on the bike, I dressed lightly, wearing a coat and my helmet. After all, most winter riders suggest that if you're warm enough when you first go outside, you'll be too hot by the time you arrive at your destination. I, however, froze through the whole ride. All week I've been struggling to find the right balance of clothes, scarves, mittens and ear muffs. The upside: I hate bone chilling cold. You know the kind of cold that permeates your being until Spring. Winter riding and resulting elevated heart rates turn out to be a great way to exorcise said chill.
2) A hefty dose of peace and quiet: With cold weather comes quiet. I've never known downtown to be so quiet. The canal after dark, though not necessarily safe, is a pristine palace of peace. By bike, as the light reflects on the water and the crisp air whips past my face, I understand the reward of serenity brought by Winter riding.
3) Bike lights: Because of earlier sunsets, I find myself riding in the dark more frequently now than ever. I'm thrilled to finally make regular use of the bike lights I invested in during the Summer. I know it's silly, but I especially love their blinking patterns. The little things, right?
4) Beautiful moon views: Marveling at a beautiful Winter moon as I pedal my way East through downtown is another big perk. In addition, if I leave work with hefts of extra energy, I can even take in the Circle of Lights and other holiday displays on an ambling route home.
5) Mysterious gusts of warm air: This is no perk. I find myself wafting into pockets of warm air throughout the city. They're actually not so mysterious. Rather, they are the after effects of exhaust pouring from a line of cars as I wait at an intersection or cross a busy street. I did notice them during warm weather, but not as much. And they are totally gross.
6) Biking boots: So as not to get oil on the nice pants I wear to work, I've been tucking my pants into my boots during my rides. Berry boots that match my berry bike make me berry happy.
Like everything else in this blog, I don't know much about Winter bike riding. I guess I've thrown that "write what you know" adage entirely out the window. In an attempt to prepare myself for the cold weather, which seems to have snapped upon me out of nowhere, I've done some research about the best way to deal with bicycling in the cold.
Before I get to the goods, I have an admission to make. I've not been biking very regularly. My excuse: a little play I directed made it impossible for me to bike to work and the rehearsal/performance space. I would never have been on time. Now that I've gotten out of practice and the play is about to close, I'm facing the difficult prospect of bicycle commuting once more in dropping temperatures. If you've read this blog at all, you know I have to work myself up to things. For me, this means doing plenty of hypothetical research before jumping into the deep end of (in this case) an extremely cold pool.
Thus far these are the tips I plan to employ as I gear up for the cool down:
1.) Don't dress too warmly: This one, though counter-intuitive, makes perfect sense. As we bike, we generate excess heat. One blogger suggested, "If you are warm for the first ten minutes of riding, you are overdressed." (He also gives a really awesome visual temperature scale of what to wear) But there are certain precautions to be addressed. I've learned. In cold weather, it is important to make sure you skin is entirely covered. Tuck in your shirt, wear gloves that cover your wrists, and if you are really ninja-like consider investing in a face mask.
2.) Leave yourself plenty of time: It's no new idea that bicycle commuting takes a tad more time than car commuting. But it is important to account for the time it takes to don and drop your added layers before departure and on arrival. The upside to this one, as far as I can figure, is that there is no idling time and no extra time needed to scrap ice from a windshield. That's a big check mark in the pro column for me.
3.) Watch out for Black Ice: Okay, this one is really scary, but thank goodness I have plenty of time before really bad conditions set in. Regardless, apparently if I see a patch of black ice, you're suppose to ride straight over it. Don't turn; don't brake; don't peddle.
4.) Don't Feel Bad if you Wimp Out: This one I'm taking to heart... every article about winter riding speaks to the rewards and merits of making it through the season. I will most likely wimp out on the coldest, wettest or snowiest days... and as long as I get on the next day it's all right.
Honestly, there was a lot of advice out there. Too much to process at once. I guess the only thing left to do is stop being hypothetical about this whole thing and get down to it.
Share your Winter riding tips with me as I embark on the next frontier of bicycle culture in Indianapolis.
By now the news of Lance Armstrong's doping scandal is old hat. He's been stripped of his seven Tour de France wins, stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation and is no longer admired as one of the greatest successes in sporting history. It's not necessary to kick a man while he's down, but Armstrong's amazing (though now false) journey taught me something in my youth and brought me closer to someone I love.
I didn't know that cycling was anything adults did when I was in high school, let alone an international sport with an American at its center. In 2001, it was my brother Brendan, home for the Summer from college, who introduced me to the Tour de France. Searching for an entry point into the enigmatic world of big brothers, I plopped down on the couch next to him and watched as he cheered on a bunch of men wearing spandex and cycling through the French countryside.
Honestly, I was bored to tears, but contented to spend time with him. Gradually, I began to catch on. The man in the red-polka dot jersey is the "King of the Mountains;" the green jersey is worn by the leader in over-all points, and the most prestigious yellow jersey is worn by the general classification leader (the overall front-man). Once I understood the color-coded clothing, I opened up. I cheered breakaways from the peleton, gasped in horror at deliciously dangerous wrecks and most importantly felt pride in the American who wore the yellow jersey day after day.
When my brother told me the amazing story of Armstrong's recovery from testicular cancer and about his underdog comeback to win the previous two tours, I was delighted at the drama it added to the sport. Against all odds, I thought, he's conquered cancer. Of course, pedaling to multiple Tour de France victories would be easier than fighting and beating cancer. Perhaps there was something in the chemotherapy. I suggested this often to Brendan. It must be some super-human mutation like the genetically mutated spider that bit Peter Parker making him a super hero.
Armstrong was America's cancer superhero. And as he soared into the winners circle, drinking a flute of champagne, I remember jumping up and down, hugging my brother and believing that anything was possible.
Later that Summer, I helped my brother build his own road bike. The next Summer, I was the one to turn on the Tour de France, insisting that Brendan and I watch Lance go for a fourth victory. And when I was home from college for the Summer, I took the bike my brother built for spins around the neighborhood as I followed the results of the Tour online.
More than anything, thinking back on that time, I feel naïve. But so was the rest of America, unwilling to see our hero fall from grace. I believed that he stood for something more than just victories. That he stood as an example of thriving in the face of adversity. It saddens me to have lost a symbol of possibility in a cynical country that could use an injection of hope. But regardless of recent events, I'm still thankful to have found an entry point into my brothers world that Summer, to have believed in something bigger than ourselves. We learned to be hopeful, and just because the truth shatters the legend, my hope in triumph and possibility is ever ingrained into my memory.
Last Wednesday, Mayor Ballard's Office of Sustainability held an open house to discuss Indianapolis' Master Bike Plan: a guiding document for the development of bikeways through 2020. Bicycle Coordinator, Jamison Hutchins, shared some key aspects of the plan and invited the public's questions and comments before the finalization of the 71 page document.
Since the City of Indianapolis was first recognized as a Bicycle Friendly Community at the Bronze level in 2009 by the League of American Bicyclist (LAB), the city has set its sights on reaching the next level of bicycle friendliness. The Bicycle Master Plan outlines the vision, goals and implementation steps to be taken in the next seven years to improve connectivity and ease of use in our growing bicycle infrastructure.
The Master Plan evolved under the outline of the Six Es: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, evaluation and planning and equity, with an overall goal to construct 200 miles of on-street bicycle facilities in the next seven years. With the adoption of the Complete Streets Ordinance last August, city planning intends to incorporate the needs of all users (pedestrians, bicycles and cars) into already scheduled road construction projects. Within the context of that ordinance and through collaboration with bicycle focused organizations, the Master Plan sets goals, objectives and benchmarks to improve Indy's bicycle infrastructure.
Perhaps some of the most interesting aspects of the plan are the introduction of bicycle boulevards and bicycle boxes. Sometimes called "neighborhood greenways," bicycle boulevards are streets where all vehicles are allowed but that have been enhanced to improve bicycle safety and convenience. The idea is to calm vehicular traffic while creating a safe way for neighborhood residents to reach main thoroughfares of our already existing bicycle infrastructure.
As an urban bicyclist, I'm most excited about the implementation of bicycle boxes. These designated areas for bikes at an intersection push vehicular traffic a few feet back. They give a clear area for bicycles to queue up ahead of traffic, making it easier to cross multiple lanes on a busy road when stopped at a red light. This feature keeps both cars and bikes out of crosswalks and out of the way of pedestrians.
In general, Indianapolis' Master Bike Plan reflects a change in mentality when it comes to city planning and how projects are approached. In a city with a transportation infrastructure designed first and foremost for cars, bicycle and pedestrian needs are being taken into account at an equal level.
For more information about the Master Bike Plan, head to Sustain Indy's website. Or click here to view the document in its entirety. If you missed the public forum but have an opinion to share about our city's plans in regard to bikeways, the Office of Sustainability remains in its 45 day public input period until November 3. Contact bicycle coordinator Jamison Hutchins (Jamison.Hutchins@indy.gov) with your questions, comments and concerns.
A friend posted this this viral video of two cyclists in Colorado on my Facebook wall this week after reading about it on RTV6's webpage. In it, the cyclists are harassed by a motorist, who rides dangerously close to them honking his horn for more than five minutes. (The short two-minute video only shows a portion of the whole event.) All the while, the SUV holds up cars behind it, who are ultimately forced to pass both the honking car and the two cyclists.
According to the YouTube post, the pair of cyclists ended up slowing down to a point where the car was forced to pass. After posting their video online, they've found fellow cyclists in the Northern Colorado area who have had run-ins with the same driver. They've also taken legal action through the Colorado State Patrol.
Curious about the illegality of passing on double yellow line? The Bicycle Safety Act, passed in 2009 in Colorado, states that cars must give bicycles at least three feet when passing and that when safety permits, cars may also cross a double yellow line to pass a cyclist.
True, I found this video astounding. How can you not feel for the guys on bikes trekking breathlessly along in the thin Colorado air as an enraged driver harasses them? But what I found even more intriguing were the range of responses in RTV6's Facebook forum, which reflect the divergent feelings Hoosiers have toward cyclists in our own city.
Many took up the cause of the cyclists, sharing their own views on how to safely encounter bikes on the road. Others in the same camp resorted to the less tasteful tactic of name calling— referring to the driver as "douche bag," "crotchety old man," "idiot" and even "dick."
Facebookers on the other side of the argument weren't very gracious either. One commenter suggested that all cyclists deserve to be ticketed for impeding traffic. Another even thought that the driver should throw a milkshake (of all things) on the cyclists before burning rubber.
"They should go ride at one of the parks or many trails that our tax dollars have paid for," wrote Jason Linthicum. "They were made just for that reason. Why endanger themselves or cause further road hazards. They share the same rights on the road, but don't always follow all the laws of the road."
To which Brian Phillips replied, "It's pretty much impossible to achieve adequate training on most trail systems. For purely recreational cycling, trails are sometimes okay, but in training for events and serious fitness, we usually need open road and lots of miles."
Laura Andersen summed it up very diplomatically saying, "We just need clearer rules for bicyclists and motorists in regards to bicyclists. Something that is fair to all and allows those who use their bikes to get to work every day, no matter where they live. To do so in a safe and lawful manner. The laws are not clear enough and they need to be. For all over, not just bigger cities."
What do you think, friends? Do we need better laws, better bicyclists or better drivers?
Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of volunteering for the "Bicycle Counts" project run by the Office of Sustainability. The sheer fact that this bike blog exists is proof that the bicycling community is gaining in numbers. Undoubtedly, we can all agree that with the added bike lanes and trails throughout town, we are seeing a sharp increase in bicycle usage. But what we see and feel in our community isn't enough to gain future funding and grant opportunities to continue improving the biking and walking infrastructure. We must quantify hard data thus providing evidence that we, as a community, deserve to see even more bike lanes and paths across Indy.
That's where "Bicycle Counts" comes in. I found out about the project through a e-newsletter from Bicycle Garage Indy. BGI's call for volunteers that afternoon (and this coming Saturday) caught my eye. I called the coordinator, Jamison Hutchinson, immediately. As the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, he put me on the volunteer list.
"Coyne?" He asked when I told him my last name. "Like Wayne Coyne?"
"Yes, exactly!" I replied. "I love The Flaming Lips, but we're not related."
I met him at the City Market that afternoon, where he gave me my assignment: a count of both Illinois Street and the Cultural Trail. He handed me a packet of information about how to count pedestrians and bicycles, sort of like a radar traffic counter that sees only people who cross in front of it. I would count the East-West line of the Cultural Trail and the North-South line of Illinois Street on two separate data sheets.
I arrived at the required intersection a few minutes before the two hour count was set to begin at 5 p.m. Settling into a shady corner near an bright pink azalea bush in full bloom, I got my clock, pen and data sheet organized.
The first 15 minutes were pretty exciting: 14 male cyclists and 8 female cyclist passed me on the Cultural Trail, while only 6 males and 1 female passed on Illinois. With each passerby, pedestrian or cyclist, I made a hatch-mark in the appropriate column: male or female (a total of four categories for those keeping count). There was also an "Other" column for skateboarders, rollerbladers and the like (of which I only saw three).
Every fifteen minutes, I would move into a new row, starting the count over again. But soon my excitement and attention began to wane. After the novelty of the activity wore of, it was incredibly dull to say the least. For 45 minutes, I watched as one after another bicycle or pedestrian passed, trying my hardest to not space out. After all, missing even a single eligible person for my count could make the difference in millions of dollars of funding for bike lanes. (Did I mention making the stakes impossibly high was a central focus tactic for me?)
Amazingly, after an hour and fifteen minutes had passed, my sense of boredom began to fade. I noticed the smell of the blooming flowers beside me. I took in the beautiful stone work on the back of the Scottish Rite Cathedral across the street. I saw a second burst of businessmen leaving their offices just after 6 p.m., and felt the sun setting at my back. I even began to hum along to the chiming of the cathedral bells every quarter-hour. I found my zen place in the midst of this mind-numbingly important activity. All the while, I continued counting.
I began to think about how inappropriate it seemed to make snap gender assignments, which took my brain down a lovely rabbit hole. I listened to snippets of passing conversations, hearing one woman complain to her male counterpart, "I hate having a fixed gear." To which I script a ten minute conversation about the merits of rear-derailers.
At one point, I even decided to contrast my count of environmentally friendly movers to the cars passing on Illinois, but was discouraged after counting 29 single passenger cars in just one light. The number would have risen easily into the hundreds, dwarfing my pitifully made hatch-marks. I gave that tactic up quickly.
Before I knew it, the bells chimed 7 p.m., and my two hour count ended. I packed my bag, put on my helmet and left the cozy spot I had carved out for myself in downtown Indy. The next step: turn in my data and wait for the overall report. Stay tuned...
Wednesday night I ventured to the White Rabbit Cabaret for the third installment of the uproarious "Mom and Pop Porno Shop." I think I enjoyed the show and the cabaret's beer selection a little too much and my poor bike suffered because of it. Enjoying the innovative and cheeky show has become something of a Wednesday night ritual for me and a few friends. One that generally ends with a big bar tab and a splitting head ache.
After a drink too many, I paid my bill and made for the bike racks outside. My head was swimming from the final beer as I fumbled with my steel lock. I swung my right leg over the seat and lost balance tumbling to the ground. Thankfully, my helmeted head was protected from the impact. In fact it was the very first time my helmet was employed to do its duty.
I had already decided to catch a ride home with my dear friend Marti, but wanted to ride my bike to her car. Not a great idea, obviously. Marti lifted me off the ground. I decided to walk my bike to her car instead of riding it. In the parking lot, I over-zealously pulled on my front tire's quick release latch. Out came the axel, and two little springs disappeared into the ground.
We searched around for a bit, but finding a small metal object on a black top in the middle of the night is akin to the proverbial needle in a haystack challenge. Add my beer goggles to the mix and the challenge doubles in difficulty.
I reluctantly gave up, pushing my bike into Marti's back seat and throwing my detached wheel on top. Once home, I began the terrible process of sleeping off my clumsy stupor. That night I dreamed fitfully about searching for bicycle wheel springs. Plucking one off the ground in broad daylight, I'd triumphantly yell: "Found it!" The next morning I awoke having learned a valuable lesson: never fuck with your bike while you're drunk.
That afternoon, I turned up at Bikes on Mass Ave expecting the worst. Would I have to buy an entirely new bicycle wheel just to replace two tiny springs? Would I be forced to pay through the nose for a miniscule piece of coiled metal?
But the wonderful Bikes on Mass Ave reminded me of the fundamental difference between big corporations and locally owned businesses, the human element. I told them my story, but before I could finish the clerk nodded interrupting, "You lost your springs?" I hadn't even told him I was drunk, but somehow he knew. Perhaps this was a classic mistake made by reveling cyclists.
Regardless, they gave me two springs, free of charge, from a box of spare parts. Reminded of the satisfaction that comes from connecting with the bicycling community, I re-attached my wheel and swore off drinking altogether, at least until the next installment of my favorite live sitcom.
I hate stop signs. I loath the feeling of hitting a red light. And stopping completely to look both ways at the intersection of a bike trail and street crossing just plain sucks. But I do all three of these because it's the law. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I've been guilty of coasting at all three. This is a major point of contention between motorists and cyclists. And I believe only through mutual understanding and respect can we begin to see eye to eye.
I get it; you've found your sweet spot on the bike. That place where there's a perfect balance between speed and conservation of energy. You've established momentum and as you approach a pesky stop sign or red light, letting go of that momentum is not preferred. I, too, have coasted through a stop sign or taken the head start at a red light. I know you're tired. You've worked a long hard day, and that five o'clock commute is sucking the last of your energy reserves for the day.
I've got two words for you my two-wheeled friends: interval training. Beyonce does it, and so can you... on your bike... while you commute. Interval training is a type of workout that involves a series of high intensity bursts of activity with rest periods in between. For example, pedaling your heart out on a busy road and stopping completely for five to 20 seconds at a stop sign or light counts as interval training.
Not only does this type of workout increase cardiovascular strength, it is also believed to be more effective in the fat loss game. Ergo, if even one of your reasons for cycling is to keep your shape in check, then abiding by the rules of the road is one major way to do this. It may feel easier to keep that momentum going, but in the long run by stopping at lights and signs you get more of the exercise benefits you seek.
I hope you'll trust me when I say: I understand where you're coming from on this whole full stop issue. Unpredictable cyclists are scary, not only because they could get hurt but mostly because they could cause you to be the one to hurt them. If you read the above, then you know I tried to reason with my fellow cyclists using solid visual images (read: Beyonce) and appealing to their sense of logic.
But that doesn't mean everyone will listen. So I ask you, lovely drivers, to please be considerate of all cyclists regardless of your experience with the few who don't follow the rules. We do belong on the road. Impolite behavior and road rage only serves to make everyone, including yourself, less safe. Cut us some slack. After all, we don't have the luxury of air conditioning.