Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Just in case my dedication to the bikey lifestyle was in doubt...

New ink, as of two Fridays ago:

If I had put bacon in there, it would have all three of my most favorite things in the world.

So what's up in The Greatest City in America, you ask? Well, it's been hot. So hot that I almost considered giving up the bike for a week or so but... no, couldn't do it. Just the thought of having to leave the house a whole ten minutes early, then being interrupted in my reading by the light rail bull every five minutes to make sure I've bought a ticket (and seriously, Baltimore, come up with a better system already. In Pittsburgh you had to buy your ticket on the train and honestly that makes a lot more sense to me), and THEN having to wait for ANOTHER train on the way home. Point is, I think I made the right call. Although I did make the sacrifice of putting a bottle cage on my hybrid. I hate the way they look, but when the temperature's cracking a century, looks ain't worth a hill of beans.

I recently discovered a little tip that makes riding in 90+ temperatures slightly more bearable and even though I didn't know about it when it was really bad, at least I'm discovering it now. Cycle chic fans will hate me for this, but the secret is: men's boxer briefs. (Under your dresses or skirts.) Originally I was wearing nothing, but wound up getting terrible saddle sores and had the saddle pressing on me in all the wrong places. Then I graduated to wearing women's athletic shorts under my skirts*, but they were much too hot. I pinged to using boxers when putting away my husband's drawers and damn, do these things ever work! No saddle sores, no inadvertent flashing (not that I really care about that), and the cotton breathes like the poly blend athletic shorts never could. Yeah, it looks super dumb when you're off the bike, but again, hot weather + ease of use = don't give a crap. I'm using the Hanes brand. Maybe they make a "women's" version of boxer briefs but if they do it probably comes at half the durability and twice the cost. So dude panties it is!

*Taking off the skirt never occurred to me; I hate dressing multiple times throughout the day. If I lived in the desert or Florida or something, maybe I'd feel differently. But in Maryland? And with a half-hour commute? Just make clever use of layers, put on some deodorant, and deal with it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Expressway for Bikes

In the past couple of weeks, I've made drastic changes to both my morning and evening routes into work, coming up with what I think is both the shortest and the least trafficky way from Hampden to the Inner Harbor and back. I've completed them both in slightly less than a half hour, although that's only if all the traffic lights are working with me. I'm especially pleased with my evening commute, enough so to take a break from not posting on my blog and talk about it for a few hundred words.

View from the end of the lane, I love the color of that bridge.
Before, I was dodging evening traffic on Calvert, which I took mostly because it's either Calvert or Charles and there's slightly fewer cars on the former. Very slightly. Not a day went by where I wasn't yelled at or buzzed at least once, but that's what you should expect when you live in a city that didn't even make the top fifty American biking cities. (Okay, I know that these rankings are just a popularity contest and don't mean anything, but friggin' Orlando is on this list. Baltimore ain't Portland but there's nowhere in goddamn Florida that deserves to be on ANY "best biking cities" list.)

I've known for months that the Fallsway cycletrack was in progress, or had just finished progressing, or had yet to be completed... I'm not really as up on these things as I should be. I assumed that construction was still ongoing so instead of worrying about how I was going to deal with an unfinished road, I stuck with the devil I know. Then one afternoon I just said "screw it, let's try this out." It couldn't be any worse than dealing with northbound suburbanites who are already all pissed off about the JFX lane closure.
View of pedestrian path, bollards... and pothole.

The route isn't pleasant and picturesque in the normal sense of the word. You're sandwiched between the JFX and a succession of industrial buildings (and a jail). But who really cares? For a little over one glorious mile I'm completely separated from cars and that is the MOST pleasant thing I can think of. The road spits you out on Guilford Avenue, the first bicycle boulevard on the East Coast (but it's nothing compared to what Orlando's got). I've been taking Guilford into downtown every morning and I can say with confidence that it's at least ten billion times better than Cathedral. They're similar streets (one-way, multi-lane, 25 mph that really means 35), but the fact that Guilford is marked as a "bike boulevard" makes all the difference. So basically, suck on that, anti-infrastructure types.

It's not done, as the huge, evenly-spaced ditches can attest (it's just not a Baltimore road if there isn't at least one pothole every half-mile). I'm also still a little edgy about taking it in the wintertime but I'll cross that overpass when I get to it. For now, this is the fastest, safest way to get out of downtown on a bike. I'm sure glad I decided to try it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How's Your Bike Week?

As the many cycling blogs I follow have mentioned once or twice, this week is Bike Week in the USA, a time when we collectively think about how different and better our lives could be if we accepted cycling as a viable form of intra-city transportation... before jumping in our minivans to drive half a mile down the street. As this is my first Bike Week as a transportation cyclist in a city with a large enough cycling population to support Bike Week activities, I wanted to partake in a few of the events, even though I'm not really a very social person by nature or in practice. "Unfortunately," I've also been busy with writing stuff: I've really felt a lot of drive to work on my short stories lately, and haven't done any cycling outside of the minimum amount of nine miles per day. That's more than 99% of Americans, but less than 85% of bike bloggers. Mea culpa, except not really, because my short stories are very important to me.

My bike, after riding to work in the rain. Note the frame sticker.
My "festivities" this week have been pretty much confined to riding my bike like always, although I must admit knowing that there were going to be bike counts this week (and that I pass two of the checkpoints on my daily commute each way... four "counts" in all!) influenced my decision to ride to work Tuesday in a fairly heavy rain, although I've found that even when it's raining, I never really regret riding to work. I think I've maybe missed two commutes because of weather in the six months-plus I've been doing this, and both times I spent a good portion of the morning thinking "man, I really wish I would have rode in, I'm such a chumpette." And anyway, the rain was over by the time I got to work, as happens more often than not when I set out (the other possibility, of course, is that it gets way worse and I have to wring out my pants/skirt in the bathroom, which is annoying but still probably better than taking the train). I thought about going to the Ride of Silence but I didn't know about it until the last minute, and I had a writing group meeting. It's something I think is really important, though, and I'll definitely be doing it next year as it is apparently a yearly, nationwide event.

Tomorrow I attend my first Bike to Work Day, which I assume will be just like a normal non-capitalized bike to work day, except that I'll get free stuff. I'm hopeful that there will be a lot more riders on the road... but it will also make me sad, because I know that for many people, this is only a once-a-year thing. Then a week later is Baltimore's first Tweed Ride. Being a committed citizen of the 21st century, I don't have anything to wear for it, and I'm debating showing up in rags with dirt smeared on my face, as this was the style at the time among my coal-mining ancestors. (Who probably didn't even own bikes, and just walked everywhere until their feet fell off and then couldn't afford to buy new ones, which was also the style at the time.) But I could also just get a nice hat at one of the four thousand resale shops along the Avenue and duct tape it to my head. At least my bike is vintage!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Back in Action

Sorry once again for the lack of updates, my three or four regular readers. I'm still riding to work every single day, and still riding most other places too. Still as committed as ever. Just... not talking about it. I think that maybe it's because cycling has moved to being such a normal, everyday part of my life that I don't talk about it, any more than, say, a blog on eating food. Although, wait, those do exist. Damn hipsters.

BUT ANYWAY, I am pleased to report that my vintage Raleigh Sports is back in service! A few months ago, I came out of my last day of work at my former job to find that my rear wheel was flat. This is the wheel that is really hard to remove due to the internal hub, and I had a new job to get to, and the hybrid was sitting right there, looking pretty unsexy but oh-so-practical. And then even once I changed the tube, I couldn't get the rear wheel back on correctly. The Sports isn't practical for winter anyway, because it doesn't yet have lights (though I hope it will soon... hint, hint).

But now that it's light for my entire commute home, I knew I'd want to ride it every damn day. So I took it down to Baltimore Bicycle Works and gave it a full treatment: tune-up, cog change so it's easier to climb hills (was 17 teeth, now 20), and new brakes. Before, I had to partially use my feet to skid to a stop, like a fixie rider. Although it was even dumber because this bike weighs like 35 pounds and was hard to stop. It's working probably as well as it did when it first rolled off an English assembly line in 1973, and I actually think it's a better hill-climber than my hybrid now. The steel frame definitely makes it a smoother ride on Baltimore's interestingly-textured streets. Still not sure if I'm going to put a rack on it, since I have the hybrid for my epic weekly 50-pound grocery hauls. But it will be my daily commuter until it gets dark out again at least.

Here's the Sports at one of the stops on last Friday's Baltimore Bike Party (formerly Critical Mass) ride:

Holy crap, that's blue.

That's Northern Parkway in the background, and I feel I should report that I rode on it for a whole minute almost, and it was kind of a surreal experience. Certainly not anything I'd do without fifty other cyclists around me, but if they're there, then it can be fun, and a good preview of the kind of riding we'll all be doing post-peak oil. I've done four group rides now, and each time I come away feeling so much positive energy (to sound like a damn hippie) and hope for the future of transportation cycling. Although, the fact that our ride also has sweet tunes is all for the better:

In the dark he put on lights that made it look like a disco ball, and as a side benefit, made it easier to find the group if you fell behind. Which I did a lot, because I'm not used to cycling fifteen miles at a stretch. One thing that I love about the group rides I've done is that they're incredibly low-pressure. You don't need to be a racer to join and sometimes even I was able to get closer to the front. I do wish the Baltimore rides had more diversity (both age-wise and race-wise), but there were a lot of other lady riders. I'd guess maybe a third of the riders this time were women, and while I don't know how that compares to other group rides in other cities, nationwide the gender split for transportation cycling is like 80%/20% men/women. I feel like I've seen a higher percentage of women cyclists in Baltimore, although it could just be that I notice them more.

So to get back to the main point of this post, my vintage bike is working again, and I'm pretty excited about that. Now, off to ride!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Taking Me Home

A discovery: my evening commute is exactly as long as one of the soundtracks to my late adolescence, Sleater-Kinney's Call the Doctor.

It's a great album to ride to!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Submission Call for Short Bikey Fiction

As some of you know, I write me some fiction, and today I stumbled upon a submission call right up my alley! Maybe it's something you're interested in, too? Ride 2, a collection of short stories in which "a bicycle (or bicycle subculture) must feature prominently in the story." Up to 12,000 words. Of course, I'll be writing some kind of SFnal crapsack world post-peak oil story, because that's the only type of fiction I am capable of writing. And if you want, you can check out Ride 1. I just might.

Reading that submission call made me think about the other stories I've written, and how even without trying to set forth any sort of "message" or even intending it to be that way, my stories are largely car-free. This could be because my writing is pretty much autobiography. (Autobiography that's usually set in the future. With aliens. Or global pandemics. But it's still autobiography.) I've never known what it's like to own a car, so consequently, I don't think of including cars in my fiction. If something's not a major part of your life, it's easy to see how it can slip through the cracks when you're writing a story. If I wrote "straight" fiction, the transportation mode might be notable, but I think to some extent it's hidden in genre work. Or at least, I've never had anyone ask "hey, why don't any of your characters drive?" and I didn't even notice it myself until earlier today. Then again, most of my fiction is set in cities, where "alternative" transport isn't such an unusual thing.

Despite my relatively car-less fictional world, I've never written a story in which bikes play a major or even minor role. So I'm excited about writing a story involving bikes. Maybe that story will be a little less crapsack than most of my others! (But it will still be pretty crappy because that's the way I roll, man.)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Getting My Advocacy On

On Saturday I attended the launching of BikeMore, a new bicycle advocacy group just starting up in Baltimore. (Note: group does not yet have a website, so that link goes to Twitter.) Some random thoughts:

  • It makes me ridiculously happy to pull onto a sidewalk and see three dozen bikes parked there, and know that almost everyone at the meeting got there on a bike. I didn't snap a picture because I'm not yet at the stage of my blogging career where photography is second nature, but rest assured, there were plenty of bikes, and I hope to get to the point where it's common to walk down a street in Baltimore and see three dozen bikes (although hopefully with better parking).
  • I was quite happy to see a diversity of ages and genders represented... okay yeah it was still largely white males in the 30-50 range but maybe a fifth of the attendees were chicks? Not so much racial diversity but hey, gotta start somewhere. And a focus on diversity (both of the members of the group and of the eventual board of directors) was one of the main things talked about so I am pretty confident that this isn't just going to become a conglomeration of vehicular cycling advocates with their insane hatred of bike lanes.
  • Still a little confused about how advocacy at this level actually WORKS. Like, say you have an awesome idea, like taking out all the on-street parking on Calvert Street and putting up a sweet two-way bike lane with a barrier. (Note to politicians: steal my idea!) If you're like me and have no political connections or desire to BE a politician, what then? But I guess this is stuff I'll learn as I get more involved!
  • The most contentious debate seemed to be about the name of the group, and at some points nobody really had anything to say and I wondered if the facilitator was getting peeved. I don't know if that means we're all on the same page or if everyone was just really shy.

So anyway, it was a fun experience even if I got a little stir-crazy by the end. (Eight hours in a room with no windows, oh my!) I am looking forward to being a part of this group even if I'm still a little new to the idea of organized advocacy in general. Once again, BikeMore's the name, and I'm sure I'll be posting lots more about it!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Random Thoughts from an Increasingly Infrequent Blogger

1. I listen to music while riding now. Yeah, I know, it's dangerous. Still not as dangerous as driving, of course! My new commute is around forty minutes each way, and truth is, I was getting a little bored, and also very, very tired of listening to nothing but wind and cacophonous engine noises. Right ear only, of course, and not ALL the time, although most of the time. I find my music choices on the bike are slightly different from my music choices at home: more dancey, electronic-y type stuff, no folk rock by bearded hipster dudes. Some current faves: Cut Copy, The Go! Team, Tune-Yards, Aesop Rock, Los Campesinos! (Looking at that list, the unifying factor seems to be "bands with exclamation points in their names." If only I liked !!! more.)

2. It's sorta funny to me that as much of a transportation snob as I am, and how much I truly believe in sustainability and urban living and whatnot... in some ways I will always be a suburbanite. Take my food choices, which would probably horrify most bike bloggers. My diet is that of the typical five year old without parental supervision: we're talking corn dogs, Mountain Dew, giant blocks of processed cheese, and candy. Oh, so much candy. And even though I know this stuff is bad for me (and the planet), it's easy to believe it's not, because I'm at a weight I'm happy with and I don't feel any better when I don't eat crappy. In fact, I feel worse, because I'm denying myself my favorite foods! So at least for now, I'm going to continue eating dirty and traveling clean, the exact opposite of most "health nuts" I know.

There's also the fact that I sort of love big box stores, at least in concept. I like doing all my shopping in one place, especially since I don't have a secure trunk to put my purchases in. Anything I buy has to come with me to the next store, so yeah, cutting down on trips is definitely something I look for when I'm planning any consumerist activities. Of course, in my fantasy world, big box stores would pay a living wage and not be surrounded by miles of shitty parking lot and would sell only fair trade or locally sourced goods. It's more about convenience than price, for me. (And hey, it's not like I could find locally sourced versions of most of the stuff I buy at Target anyway, no matter how much I'd be willing to spend.)

3. Drop bars: what's the deal with them? I'm starting to think my next bike is going to have drop bars. I have no interest in racing, but I DO have interest in doing recreational rides like Tour Dem Parks and although it's certainly possible to do a 30+ mile ride on a comfort hybrid with BMX handlebars, it seems like it might be easier on a more aerodynamic bike. Like, I even found myself struggling to keep up with Critical Mass and I don't know how much of that is because I'm just slow, and how much is the bike's set-up. A little of one, a little of the other, I'd reckon. But then, drop bar bikes look more difficult to ride and someone might mistake me for an athlete, which would be the worst thing ever, am I right? So, mental note: if I get a bike with drop bars, I have to be sure to always wear an evening gown and/or clown costume when I'm riding it.

4. I know it's old, but this Portlandia clip still cracks my shit up:

Cars, man, WHY???

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Last Week I...

1. Went to a Bike Maryland meeting. My review is mixed, although I now have had the (dis)pleasure of actually encountering one of the vehicular cycling spawn of Satan advocates in the wild and I'm cautious about doing any more advocacy work with this organization until I am convinced they are advocates for separated infrastructure, or at least, not advocates against it.

2. Rode in my first Critical Mass! It won't be my last.

...but I don't really feel like talking about those things right now. Instead, let's talk about pedestrians, in particular Baltimore pedestrians. What the hell, Baltimore pedestrians? I recognize that pedestrians are our most vulnerable road users and should be protected at all costs and any car (or bike) that hits them is the one who's at fault, not the pedestrian. Whenever I am off my bike, I am a pedestrian, and I would like other road users to look alive and be aware of the very-slow-moving humans among them. Yes, this includes bikes.

But, man, sometimes it's hard to care about pedestrians! Last week I witnessed a man in a motorized wheelchair crossing against the light. In front of a bus. At. Night. Luckily, the bus ground to a halt. That's the worst single example of Baltimore jaywalking I've seen, but on every commute, I have pedestrians literally throwing themselves at me. It's not really better if you're in a car, according to my husband, so it's not a case of pedestrians not understanding that a bike in motion can hurt them.

There's a certain attitude inherent in Baltimore jaywalkers that is different from, say, Pittsburgh jaywalkers. If you are jaywalking in Pittsburgh you do it fast and make sure to look apologetic while you're doing it. Baltimore jaywalkers, though, take their sweet time. They give you an expression that seems to say "yeah, I see you, what are you going to do about it?" as they saunter across the road, only five feet away from the nearest crosswalk. They are a very diverse group in sex, race, and most visibly, age. You'd think an eighty-year-old woman with a cane wouldn't want to take the chance of walking against the light on a moderately-trafficked road during rush hour, but hey, she's managed to live this long and I haven't, so maybe there's things she knows that I don't. Baltimore jaywalkers are the true kings of the road.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Week of Fail

Hola, amigos. I know it's been a long time since I last rapped at ya, but I've been living it up, enjoying my great new job (and, relevant to this blog, the most perfect 4.5-mile commute), and attempting to work on my "real" writing. After taking care of the house and the cats, there isn't much energy left for blogging

This has been... not so great a week for cycling. My troubles started on Wednesday morning, when I decided to bike to work despite it being a cool thirteen degrees out. Cold weather doesn't bother me any when I'm on the bike because I heat up like a motor (this is probably also the case for you), but it sure did bother my bike! The back wheel froze up causing me to skid. I tried everything to unfreeze it, including loosening the brake pads and attempting to unlock the quick-release back wheel, but it remained frozen until I reluctantly dragged it onto the train, at which point it heated up enough to spin. I resolved not to ride anymore if it's under twenty degrees.

On Thursday, though, it was a bike-approved thirty-five degrees when I set out, so no problems, right? WRONG! I normally take the Fallsway to work, a gently down-sloping back road with almost no traffic and no stoplights, which runs alongside the Jones Falls. Scenery-wise, it is very pretty and a great way to spend half my commute. The Fallsway's upsides are also its downsides, though, since there was a thin sheen of ice on it that hadn't been melted away from the crush and heat of cars. And when I swerved to avoid that ice, there was an invisible layer of ice just to its left.

So, I fell off my bike, for the first time since I was a kid probably. I ruined my pants, removed the top layer of my knee, and was late to work again. I had no idea what was going on for like two minutes, at which point I figured, oh crap, better get the bike out of the road before someone hits it (hey, I told you that road never gets traffic). At that point a friendly motorist asked if I needed any help, but I didn't want to take a ride from a dude and I was only three minutes from my house, so I painfully pedaled back and took the train to work. Hello again, MTA! Really really wasn't expecting to see you again so soon.

Not that epic.
I wasn't going to bike to work yesterday and actually considered calling off the rest of winter, but it was Rob the non-cycling bikes-are-dumb-and-I-hate-them husband who convinced me to ride, because he knows that I'm miserable without my daily dose of exercise. Just avoid the Fallsway and leave extra early, he said. So I did, and I was completely fine. Bypassing the Fallsway adds an extra ten minutes to my commute, but hey it's not like I don't enjoy riding, right? And I'm sure I'll find ways to shorten that commute once I ride it for a week or so.

So basically, the moral is, if life kicks you once, get back up and do what you want to do. If life kicks you twice in two days, well... still do that. Or maybe the moral is that my impatience will someday be the death of me!

(P.S. The fact that the Fallsway is in such bad condition now makes me a tad leery about the in-progress Jones Falls Bikeway, which I previously wholeheartedly supported. I think I'm going to have to get some reassurance that the lane will be cleaned on a regular basis, or else I'm going to have to ride through the city, traffic or not, at least for the four months out of the year when ice/slush is a possibility.)