Cyclistically Speaking

I haven’t been blogging as much because I’ve been super busy at work, and — this may be shocking, so sit down — after day in front of a computer screen writing I don’t feel much like spending the evening in front of a computer screen writing. But I’m going to break that today, because the Seattle Times published an article that infuriated me so deeply, on so many levels, I have to address it.

The article: “Spokane woman is standing up to cyclist who yelled ‘Hot pizza!’ and then smashed into her on trail

OK, let’s set aside for the moment the fact that The Times used some pretty emotionally charged language in the headline — “smashed” and “standing up to” both carry some notable emotional connotations — and let’s take a look at the article.

It describes this scenario:

A lady and her friend were walking side-by-side down a shared-use path where other people were also out walking, including some moms with strollers and people with dogs. As the lady walked along, a guy riding his bike approached from behind and yelled, “Hot pizza!” Then the cyclist hit the lady, who had kept walking along the same way she’d been going. The cyclist started cursing the lady for not getting out of his way, although there was plenty of room to her left to pass around her. The lady suffered a fractured elbow, and the cyclist re-broke a recently healed broken wrist and broke his nose.

The cyclist apparently yells “Hot pizza!” because people misinterpret “On your left,” the traditional salutation of cyclists passing slower trail users. The cyclist seemed to expect the walking lady to interpret “Hot pizza!” as a request to move out of his way, and he kept riding as if she was already out of the way… and then got angry at her for not moving. Other witnesses affirmed that there was plenty of room on the trail to go around.

The cyclist said he didn’t slow down because he doesn’t like to slow down.

Let’s break this down from a cyclist’s perspective.

First, I wasn’t there, but based on what I read, the cyclist was unequivocally in the wrong. When riding on a trail, cyclists have responsibilities:

  1. Be predictable.
  2. Ride at speeds appropriate for the conditions. If there are lots of other trail users, slow down.
  3. Be prepared to stop at any time.
  4. Yield to ALL other trail users. As the fastest-moving vehicles on the path, we have the greatest responsibility for all users’ common safety.
  5. Pass other trail users with at least a couple feet between. If you’re passing people walking or riding two abreast, wait until the trail is completely clear and then go around after clearly communicating with the other trail users.
  6. Ride single-file. (I appreciate when slower trail users, who hear me call out, move from two abreast to single file, but it’s not necessary.)
  7. Use some kind of auditory signal well in advance of passing slower trail users. Call out with plenty of time for the person you’re passing to figure out what’s going on and respond. If “on your left” doesn’t get a response, try “coming up behind you” or, better yet, ring a bell — you don’t even have to speak English to recognize that sound! It’s the cyclist’s job to communicate clearly, and calling out “Hot pizza” definitely doesn’t communicate clearly.
    NOTE: “On your left” does not mean “Move out of my way,” or “I have the right of way.” It’s a polite notification that you’re going by and a request that the other trail user doesn’t move into the space you’re about to occupy as you pass them. It’s 100% appropriate for slower trail users to just keep going on in a straight line having heard you; it’s extra-courteous if they choose to move right a bit. The only thing they shouldn’t do is dodge to the left unexpectedly.

Second: I know it sounds totally egregious for the cyclist to say “I don’t like slowing down.” Of course, you should slow down to avoid a collision. Keep control of your bike and don’t hit people — seems elementary, but some things need stating explicitly. But honestly, I know that feeling. Momentum is a terrible thing to waste, as they say; when I’ve finally gotten some speed up, I certainly don’t appreciate having to brake for some unpredictable pedestrian or their stupid little rat-dog on an extending leash and then use a bunch of energy to get speeded back up all over again. I much prefer rolling smoothly along with fewer stops. But that’s not how riding on shared-use trails works most of the time.

When I commute on the Burke-Gilman, I ride from Fremont all the way to Bothell, something like 15 miles on the trail, including going right through the heart of the University of Washington and along some very pedestrian-heavy sections near parks. I see everything on the trail — people walking, jogging, strolling, walking their dogs, walking their children in strollers, walking their dogs in strollers, walking their birds, pushing BBQs, you name it; and, more and more, I see lots of people wobbling along on the super-cheap bikeshare bikes (fodder for another post), weaving all over and stopping and dodging unpredictably. Through it all, I remain prepared to slow, stop, or swerve; I ride defensively, predicting collisions and actively avoiding them; and I call out or use my bell continually.

Do I want to slow down for all these people? No. I want to get home. I have 21.4 miles to cover, and I already know it’s going to take at least 75 minutes, possibly more. I want to get rolling and not stop until I get home. Yes, sometimes I get grouchy and don’t want to slow down, because this is the 492nd person who has stepped into my path; but that’s why I have a bell. I ding-ding the heck out of that thing, and everyone knows what I mean and I don’t even sound as grouchy as I actually am. And I slow down, because ultimately I’m responsible for the well-being of everyone slower than me on that path when I’m going by them.

Third: The cyclist in that story said he had something like 25 broken bones from riding. He expected to break bones and get injured while riding. This, more than anything, speaks volumes about his entitled and inappropriate attitude. I’ve ridden 75,850 miles since July, 2008 and in that time, I’ve had two significant crashes, one resulting in a minor concussion, neither resulting in broken bones. One time, I was hit by a car (story here and here); the other my front fork failed as I braked. The latter could, conceivably, have been my fault, for following too close to an unfamiliar cyclist, although the fork shouldn’t have failed like that, either. That was in 2010. I haven’t had a crash of any sort since then — riding in groups and riding alone; riding fast and riding slow; riding pregnant; commuting in the city and in the suburbs and on trails. All without mishap.

In any case, I think it’s a tribute to the efficacy of courteous, defensive riding that in all those miles, I’ve never hit any little old ladies or broken any bones — mine or other people’s. This is what we should expect from all cyclists, and it’s not a hard thing to achieve. But it requires actual teaching of bicycle skills, the same as you learn how to drive a car. Parents teach their kids to pedal and balance bikes, but they don’t teach rules of the road or rights and responsibilities of cyclists.

This is one of the things I really believed in with the Bicycle Alliance of Washington (now Washington Bikes, although apparently pretty much consumed by the vast amoeba that is the Cascade Bicycle Club) and with the League of American Bicyclists, for whom I taught many Bike Ed classes back in the day. I sincerely believe that better education for cyclists — maybe even mandatory education — is crucial to ongoing successful relationships with all the users of our infrastructure.

Okay, it’s implausible to imagine most people getting real, honest-to-goodness bike education. But most cyclists tootle along perfectly safely and courteously, getting from Point A to Point B (or, if it’s a recreational ride, maybe just back to Point A) without hurting anyone.

That’s why I’m irate at this story (not the Seattle Times, just the actual events). That bicyclist is a fluke, the equivalent of the driver with sleep apnea who, several times, killed passers-by while having fallen asleep behind the wheel. Does this mean most drivers are deadly? Or even most drivers with sleep apnea? No; it shows that one guy had colossally bad judgment.

In the same way, this one cyclist doesn’t represent us. He’s a clearly selfish, thoughtless, unskilled rider who’s willing to put himself and others at risk for minimal gain. The way the article is written, though, it almost sounds like he’s speaking on behalf of cyclists. I kept waiting for them to get to a quote from Cascade or some bicycle authority disavowing this behavior, but never found such a thing.

Certainly this will give non-cyclists more fodder for howling about those darn irresponsible dangerous cyclists injuring innocent people. While that’s certainly not behavior to tolerate, the fact is that such collisions comprise such a minute, infinitesimal, microscopic — is there any other way to say “tiny”? — proportion of all bike crashes that any response is going to be way out of proportion with the risk.

So, yes, I’m pissed off. I’m pissed off that an irresponsible jerk has gone and made all of us look bad, and now we’re all going to have to suffer as a result.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep on riding defensively, courteously, and legally. My goal, since I became a bike instructor, has remained the same: Avoid collisions, and if I can’t avoid a collision, make darned sure it’s not my fault.

Living In My House

Day’s Verse:
Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant…
Luke 2:2-5

If you lived here, this is what you would see.
Living in My House
And it would be normal.

Ashland Bike Ride Media

Day’s Verse:
Run to me, dear lover.
Come like a gazelle.
Leap like a wild stag
on the spice mountains.

Song of Solomon 8:14

If I picture is worth a thousand words, what’s a video worth? Here are some videos I took of riding in Ashland, Oregon. This blog post will give you the impression that I went to Ashland for biking. Although the biking was exceptional, we were actually there for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I’ll put up another post about the plays and that experience, so stay tuned. Meantime, on to the media from the two hill climb rides I did in Ashland.

The first ride, I went out to the delightfully-named Dead Indian Memorial Road and did hill repeats. I guess you can call it a repeat if you do it twice, right? The interesting thing was going from down low, which has these sere hills, some scrub oak, and various other similar dry, hot-weather plants, up to higher elevations that are populated with gorgeous pines and evergreens. Here’s a video from lower down.

And here’s a video of the same road, a few thousand feet higher.

The next day, I rode up Mt. Ashland. The metrics don’t sound that impressive — 50 miles roundtrip, 5000 feet or so of climbing — until you realize almost all the climbing was in 15 miles going up the mountain. I now understand how different climbing 5,000 feet spread out is compared to all at once. Anyway, the ride was truly spectacular. Here are videos from that ride. They really don’t capture it; I kept getting these amazing glimpses into the valley all the way to Mt. Shasta off in the distance.

Here’s the lower-down video:

And here’s the video a few thousand feet higher up.

Definitely go take a look at my Flickr set for some cool pictures of Ashland and our drive down Highway 101. There are some very neat pictures there. Here are a few I just have to share.

You don’t see these at home. I cautiously walked across the cattle guard, not trusting myself to ride across it safely. How dumb would it be to crash on a cattle guard?
They Don't Have These At Home

This was the road lower down, heading toward Mt. Ashland. There was no traffic because partway up, one of the bridges was closed. Happily for me, the closure was for paving, which was essentially finished — they just still had equipment sitting around. I went around the road-closure barriers without any trouble. The result of that, though, was virtually zero traffic on that road, before or after the bridge. People saw the road closure signs and avoided it. Great for biking!
Mt. Ashland Road: Lower Down

Here’s the view from the top of Mt. Ashland facing…um, I guess south. That’s Mt. Shasta off in the distance.
View from Mt. Ashland

And finally, a vignette and accompanying picture. The story: When I got to the top of Mt. Ashland, I rode by a little boy who enthusiastically hailed me. There was nobody else up there — just me, this little boy, and his mom. And their black lab, Joy. Anyway, I stopped and asked the boy’s mom to take my picture at the top. The boy, who was incredibly gregarious, immediately gravitated to my bike and started examining it with great interest. He talked nonstop. I quickly learned that his name was Ian. He really wanted to be in my top-of-the-mountain picture, so here it is: Me and Ian at the top of Mt. Ashland.
Katie & Ian at the Summit
After that, he got fascinated with my bike pump and I let him carry it off in order to get a picture by myself. Turns out his little bike had a low front tire, and he immediately cottoned on to the idea of using my pump to put air in his tire. Unfortunately, the valves were incompatible and I had to leave without putting air in his tires. I rode down, taking one hour what had taken me two and a half to do going up. Boy it was fun.

Sometimes I really wish I could just ride and never stop.

Commute Conversations

Day’s Verse:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Ephesians 4:2

One thing about commuting by bike: You can have conversations with your fellow commuters. In a car, communication consists of turn signals, honking, and maybe gesturing. I, on the other hand, rarely have a week go by without having cordial conversations with other bicyclists. Every week or two, I’ll encounter somebody and we really hit it off, and end up riding for anywhere from 3 to 10 miles together. It’s fun and community-building, and it’s something that keeps me coming back to bicycling day after day.

I mention this because this morning a guy rode up next to me as I rode on the I-90 trail. Here’s our conversation in its entirety.

Him: Hello.
Me: Oh, sorry. [Moving to my right, thinking he wanted to pass me]
Him: I’ve seen you commuting, and I just wanted to say…I like your style.
Me:[Surprised] Thanks!
Him: Happy riding! [Turns off trail]
Me: You too!

I smiled for the entire rest of the ride, until I saw the car with a license-plate liner that said “You people make my a** twitch,” after which I probably looked puzzled.

Actually, I was a bit puzzled anyway. What did that bicyclist mean by “style”? Did he mean clothing*? Or behavior? Or bicycling technique? Or my bicycle’s look? Clearly he meant something good, and at first I assumed my bike, which is pretty stylish. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if he meant that my good manners on the trail — always giving an audible signal before passing, signaling turns, slowing (ahem) at stops — or something else entirely. I’m still not sure, but nobody’s ever accused me of having style before, and I kind of liked it. Not enough to become actually stylish, mind you, but enough to wallow in the compliment for a bit.

* Given that I was wearing black Spandex pants with neon yellow reflective ankle bands, a neon yellow vest, a teal short-sleeved jersey, white-and-pink Fat Cyclist arm warmers, and my reflective helmet, it’s hard to imagine he meant clothing-wise.

What I Saw and Didn’t See

Day’s Verse:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:26-28

This Porch is Comfy!
I think Carmel likes laying on the step because it gives her something to lean against and it’s just the right height to perch her head on.

Riding home on the Burke this evening, I saw three astonishing things.

  1. I heard, but didn’t see a car crash on Montlake Blvd. There was a shout — and then the distinct crunching noise of a bumper meeting another bumper. I didn’t turn to see this particular event, being distracted at the time by #2.
  2. A shirtless, well-muscled guy pushing a grill up the trail from Pend Orielle Road. Not just a little grill, either. This was a full-sized, man’s dream grill, and he was moving it along at a good clip. The guy I was riding with, Mark, and I commented to each other, “You never know what you’ll see on the trail!” I wondered what grill-man said when he passed people — “Burgers on your left”?
  3. A fistfight. Seriously. Here’s what I saw happen. Mark and I are riding along behind a couple of slightly faster cyclists just past 40th Ave NE. Then one of the faster riders moves over onto the graveled pedestrian path that parallels the paved path at that point. The next thing I know, the guy on the gravel path (Cyclist A) has stopped and is standing there, shouting. The other guy, Cyclist B, slams on his brakes and skids to a halt perpendicular to the trail, which brings me and Mark to quick stops. Cyclist B picks up his bike off the trail and heaves it into the bushes — and hurls himself at Cyclist A. Or maybe A rushed him. I didn’t see clearly. The next thing I know, they’re literally punching each other in the face, yelling, calling one another filthy names; then they’re on the ground, rolling around in the gravel, pummeling each other, gouging eyes, all-round attacking each other. Mark and a couple other guy bicyclists hurl themselves into the fray and pull the two fighters apart, with no small difficulty. The guys continue yelling at each other until Mark’s repeated shouting “Break it up! This isn’t worth it!” penetrates their skulls. Cyclist B says, “Let me just ask you one question,” but Mark says, “No. Just keep riding or I’ll call the cops.” One of the cyclists says, “This is a free trail!” and Mark overrides their protests, very firmly repeating, “Keep riding or I’ll call the cops” a couple more times. Cyclist A and B exchange parting insults (“Put some ice on that, b*tch!” “See if you can catch me, old man!”); Cyclist B rides off and we take off after him.

    The kicker: They were fighting about Cyclist B’s riding through stop signs and Cyclist A’s chastising him for it. They yelled “Red means stop!” and “I stopped at every f*ing stop sign!” “You did not!” etc. Both were well over 30 years old.

  4. A strange tandem. The front seat was a recumbent holding a little kid with very short legs. The back was what I assume to be the kid’s dad. This contraption (pictures of similar bikes here and here) pulled a trailer with another kid inside. Mom (I assume) followed on a battered mountain bike and she didn’t seem to feel the need to put her hands on the handlebars.

Here’s a map of where these strange things happened.

View Strange Signs on the Burke in a larger map

After all the excitement near the UW, I gratefully rode the rest of the way home with only the usual level of excitement. I found out that Mark works for Cray Computers, and that he ran a program on their fastest computer yet, but that’s really small beans compared to everything else.
Testing the Air
This afternoon Carmel went outside and stood very still for quite a long time, quite intently sniffing the breeze. She seemed a bit disturbed.

Floppy Dog
Right after the air-sniffing moment, Carmel came in, gnawed on a marrow bone for a little while, and then adopted the lazy Sphinx pose. I’ve never seen her lay like that before.

Apparently I also missed an exciting day in Pioneer Square yesterday, between President Obama’s whirlwind visit and the clueless private pilot’s inadvertently invading Air Force 1 airspace and causing the scrambling of 2 supersonic fighter jets.

An Update

Day’s Verse:
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
1 Corinthians 13:12

As I opened boxes of office-related stuff today, I ran across this Pearls Before Swine bicyclist comic, which I had up in my cube at Charles River.

Pearls Before Swine Cyclist Comic

I love this comic. I don’t know if the artist is a bicyclist, but it so perfectly encapsulates the reality of bicyclist/non-bicyclist relations in one succinct comic.

In unrelated news, we had an amazing family dinner at the Metropolitan Grill: Amazing in a few ways. First, when I say “family,” I mean more than just my parents and us. Uncle Greg was up from San Diego for Grandma Sullivan’s memorial service and taking her ashes to the Tahoma Cemetery, so he joined us. And my dad’s cousin John Whitlow and his wife Laurie joined us from Bainbridge Island. This is the first time in my memory I know of the Sullivans and the Washington Whitlows getting together at something other than a funeral. John and Laurie are avid bicyclists, and John serves on the board of the Bicycle Alliance, which is how we reconnected — really I should say “connected,” since we never knew each other before. I’m optimistic that we’ll get to be a bit more family-like from now on.

Some other tidbits:

  • I have started repainting the downstairs bathroom from dusty rose to off-white. I’ve cut in (badly) most of the edges and that doesn’t actually leave much to do with the rollers. Unfortunately it takes 2 or 3 coats of the white to cover up the current pink color.
  • Ian and I picked raspberries at a friend’s house this weekend. We are now flush with really delicious home-grown berries.
  • We got an estimate on redoing the floor in the downstairs bathroom and laundry room, which together total less than 100 square feet. Total cost: $1,500. Why? Because the subfloor is made out of particleboard or something equally not allowed, and they have to take out the subfloor, put in plywood, and then put the new flooring material on. Also, they have to remove and reinstall the toilet and moulding around the edges. Total labor: $950. I’m starting to think that we should just find out how to do most of the labor ourselves, if we can. Maybe our current ugly pink-diamond linoleum isn’t as awful as I thought…
  • Removed ivy from our rockery. DIE EVIL INVASIVE SPECIES!!! (Of course, we left all the succulents etc. that are certainly not native, either.
  • We’re watching Carmel while my parents are in California. We had to dope her up with doggie drugs on 4th of July; our entire neighborhood was a war zone, and we could see fireworks out of every window. It was horrendous. The next morning she found a moldy tennis ball and cat poop in the back yard. And then we got back from raspberry picking and found her unashamedly laying on our couch, which required serious reprimanding. I love having a dog!
  • We awoke to sunshine this morning for the first time in at least a week. I saw Mt. Rainier! And the Cascades! And the Olympics!

And last but not least, I’ll be in Trout Lake from tomorrow through Friday, so expect silence again. You’ll never even miss me. Enjoy the sun and drink lots of water!

Bike to Work Month Results: My Name in the Cascade Courier

Day’s Verse:
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. …So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31

Bike to Work Month Mention

Remember how May was Bike to Work Month? Here’s the page from the Cascade Courier listing the results. You can’t see it unless you click and zoom in, but I’m listed in the right-hand column under “Most Overall Miles by a Female Rider on a team.”

For this honor, Cascade Bike Club sent me:

  • An ORCA card with $5 on it (one-way fares are $2.75).
  • A medium T-shirt that says “Let’s bike to work, shall we?”, leftover from the shirts they were selling on Bike to Work Day.
  • A printed certificate stating my miles, team, and name. (I bought a frame for it myself.)
  • A CD of music paid for by Clif bar (based on all the Clif advertising), possibly bicycling related? I’m not sure, not having listened to it yet.

Thank you, Cascade Bicycle Club! That was definitely worth riding 709 miles in the month of May.