Thursday, October 14, 2010

RBO Cycling

  • I've commuted by bicycle almost every day since I started my PhD in 1998. That's a lot of kilometres, a lot of near accidents, a lot of hills, and a LOT of rain (we're talking Glasgow and Vancouver here, two cities notorious for their wet weather). And yes, I've always ridden year-round, rain or shine, although I do take the bus on icy or snowy days. Really, if you have the right gear and your journey takes less than half an hour or so, how wet are you gonna get?! Plus it's still cheaper, faster, cleaner, and more fun to ride in the rain than to take a steamed-up bus full of wet people. With a hot shower available at both ends of the trip, the worst thing about wet weather riding is the ickiness of putting still-damp leggings and shoes back on at the end of the day before the ride home, but that's just a fleeting sensation. I've done this for so long now that it's part of my identity, and if I'm 100% honest I do feel a certain sense of superiority over fair-weather cyclists, enabled by friends and colleagues who say things like "you rode today?! Wow, you're so dedicated! I'd never ride in weather like this!"

    This autumn, though, feels different. I sense a growing reluctance to ride in the rain, characterised by a bad case of the DON'T WANNA!s when I look out of the window on wet mornings. I blame the Vancouver-Seattle ride I did in June: I got thoroughly drenched on one of my long training rides, damp on a couple of others, and soaked to the skin to the point of what a nurse colleague tells me was almost certainly early-stage hypothermia on the ride itself*.

    Now, if you'd asked me back in hot and sunny August what effect those experiences might have on my commuting habits in the future, I'd probably have said "none" - surely after all that misery, I'd power through my wet 20 minute commutes thinking "this is NOTHING!", right?

    Wrong.

    I think that second day of the ride just plain ol' exceeded my tolerance limits for rain for the year, if not longer. Rainy rides now just take me back to the misery of that second day, when the rain and the hills just. Would. Not. Stop., and I got so cold I started making near-fatal bad decisions. I just DON'T WANNA! any more.

    I'm going to try to push through this. I don't want to be a fair-weather cyclist, I don't want to take steamed-up buses full of wet (and germy) people, and more importantly I feel the need to get out there and make all the naysayers realise that yes, there IS a point to building new cycling infrastructure in a rainy city, because people WILL use it year-round (a major point of contention in Vancouver right now as our awesome mayor and council commit to building more and more separated bike lanes downtown and elsewhere).

    I'll let you know how it goes...

(don't worry, the remaining bullets are much shorter)
  • As a caveat to the above: I no longer ride on (most) Fridays. I started this habit during my training, as I did two long rides most weekends, and Friday seemed like a good choice of rest day. But I quickly realised that there are other benefits, such as not having to choose between the "leave bike at work and then not have it over the weekend" and the "ride bike to pub/friend's house and then either ride home after drinking or leave it at friend's house" options when a friend texts at 3pm on a Friday to suggest a spontaneous get-together.

  • When I first learned to ride a bike, I started on a two-wheeler with removable stabilisers (training wheels, if you're from North America). So did all the other kids in my town. But all the kids I see around here who are just learning to cycle have two-wheelers, no stabilisers, and no pedals - they push themselves along with their feet. I guess that sometime in the last 30 years or so, someone decided that it's better for kids to learn balance first, rather than mastering pedalling/steering first, as I did. It makes sense, actually, and I wonder how many bruises and scraped knees I might have been spared if I'd learned this way!

  • Once the local kids graduate to pedalling normal bikes, many of them start to accompany their parents on rides on the city's designated bike routes (side streets with some traffic-calming measures in place, but which are unfortunately still very popular with drivers because you get favourable stop signs, plus lights to cross all the major cross-streets). This is great - with the right parents! Some let their kid(s) ride behind them or on their left, where they're prone to wander all over the road or make sudden changes in speed and/or direction, which is very dangerous when faster riders and cars are trying to pass. And of course you can't say anything to these parents without getting yelled at (I've tried).

    So it was such a joy to see two counter-examples in the last couple of weeks. In the first case, a father was riding behind his son, keeping up a constant commentary along the lines of "go wide! That driver's stopped in front of a parking space, so she might start backing up and swinging out!", "I don't think that driver's seen us, so let's slow right down even though he has a stop sign and we don't", "wave and nod to say thank you!", "remember to keep in a straight line", "look behind you if you want to slow down", etc. It was awesome, and I told him so ("great job on the training!") as I passed. The other case, on a different route and a different day, involved a mother riding behind her daughter, giving similar advice and reminding her to always try and figure out where other road users want to go and what they might do next.

    Awesome job, guys! I salute you, and I wish there were more out there like you!
  • That is all. Sorry this got so long. Bullets FAIL.
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*apparently my self-treatment prescription of hot-tub, beer, and spicy Thai food was "kinda dumb", but hey, what doesn't kill ya makes ya stronger, right? :)

14 comments:

  1. Maybe if you can somehow make sure that your first rainy rides are in very light rain, nothing even hinting at that awful second day. Now, how to guarantee that? What do the rain gods like to be appeased with? Umbrella sacrifices maybe?

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  2. Too late for that!

    I don't think there's any appeasing the Vancouver rain gods... the fact that it's been an abnormally wet September (this is usually a lovely month) is probably part of the reason for my DON'T WANNA!s.

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  3. Can we do a what I hate about cyclists post???! I love cyclists like you and I can catch them a mile away. They understand they need to obey the rules of the road. I always like to keep alot of distant between my car and bikers. I'm bigger and if something unexpected happens, I want to have enough space not to hit them. What is not cool.

    1) not wearing bright and/or reflective gear. its dark and rainy and I can't always see your black gear.

    2) not signalling

    3) when I"m taking a right, coming up on my LEFT and taking a RIGHT in front of my car so I almost hit you as I"m taking my right.

    4) doing the reverse, coming up on my left to cut in front of my car and take a right.

    sorry, I needed to vent. and yeah i know the bike lanes will cut down on this, hopefully at least.

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  4. I feel you (sorta). I always walk or run the 2 miles to and from the train station, and lately it has been so HOT that I just wish I could take a bus. I prescribe a staycation stat to get you over the commuting blues. ;)

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  5. I love cyclists like you and I can catch them a mile away.
    Catch them? Hm

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  6. ScientistMother, vent any time! There are good and bad cyclists (and drivers, and pedestrians, and skateboarders, and rollerbladers), for sure! The bad ones really piss me off too, because they breed resentment among the drivers and give the rest of us a bad name.

    1) I have flashing lights front and back, and reflective stripes on my leggings, panniers, fluorescent jacket, and gloves

    2) I always signal if I can. I wish drivers would realise that it's not always possible, though, and learn to read body language and road position as well. e.g. if I'm going down a steep hill in the pouring rain and have a sharp turn, I need both hands on my brakes or else I won't make the turn. If a cyclist is going down a steep hill, not signalling, but constantly shoulder-checking to their left and trying to move out into the centre of the road, it's probably not a good time to pass!

    I also need both hands on my handlebars if it's a really bumpy road with potholes (lots of that about right now - it's construction season on the bike routes apparently!)

    (I also wish more drivers would realise that we often can't see their faces and hands - in certain lights (including in the dark with the streetlights on), from the angle we're at, all we can see is the reflection bouncing off your windshield. So gesturing at us to cross the road in front of you is pointless if you're still creeping forwards... we read your road position and movements when we can't see your face and hands. Stop moving completely and we'll cross then. Also, stop angrily gesturing/yelling at me to cross when the other lane(s) of traffic haven't stopped for me when you did! Thank you for stopping, but I'll decide when to cross, thank you very much! Your need to get home 30 seconds sooner does not trump my need not to get hit by a car)

    OK, I'm better now. Let's move on:

    3) and 4) - I've never done this, but cars used to do it to me on 10th @ Cambie (Westbound) all the time. Hooray for the new one-way system and protected bike lanes on that block that have completely stopped this from happening every day like it used to! It still happens on other blocks, but nowhere near as often.

    Ruchi, I think you just get to a certain point where you've had enough... I'm sure it'll cool down soon for you!

    Still a month until my staycation...

    Bob, well spotted! I'm scared now :)

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  7. Bob - by catching, I mean spotting!

    Cath - I LOVE cyclists like you. Yes, both drivers and cyclists need to read body/car language. Like I said, I give them tons of room and actually signal with my lights (ie double flash to say that you can go). My experience has been that most cyclists are awesome. However a good portion of those around the victoria / commericial area are HORRIBLE. I'm scared to drive around there because of their antics.

    I am super happy about the bike lanes too. I think they'll make things safer for current cyclists and encourage those that want to, but are scared to.

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  8. And I love drivers like you!

    (Group hug!)

    There's a major off-road bike route that ends at Broadway and Victoria. I used it on a lot of my training rides, and saw some idiocy as people get off the bike route and have to reintegrate with cars...

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  9. Maybe the solution is having one really horrible bus commuting experience to switch you back to the joys of cycling. Perhaps sitting beside someone with personal space and body odour issues....along with a cold, sneezing fits and a lack of tissue?

    That would make your bike seem like a luxury! And you can consider it a double win as you won't be exposed to nearly as many illnesses, so you will stay healthier.

    I love those little bikes the wee kids scoot around on. I have only started seeing them in the last 2 years or so. The wooden ones are awesome.

    Finally, yay for parents teaching their kids good bike sense! I am pretty vocal when other cyclists are behaving like idiots, especially when I am near them while riding myself. Of course, I also curse stupid drivers, but they usually can't hear me :).

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  10. Yeah, I've been spoiled recently by the awesome new #33 route, which is generally not as packed and obnoxious as the #8 / #9 combo that's my other option. (I just wish the #33 was more frequent - it can be a long wait if you just miss one). Maybe I should take the #8 / #9 next Friday to make me love my bike again!

    I haven't seen any wooden versions of the kiddy bike! How cute!

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  11. Oh, this was fun reading. Brought back memories of silly undergrad biking through the snow on the bike with the "winter tires with spikes in them" and snow goggles.... yeah.... but it beat missig the bus since it was full with students or arriving to uni 1 hour early since those buses were not full.

    As a grad student I decided bus rides were better than biking in snowstorm. I still biked when there was only snow and sun though. Ice is way worse, hardpacked snow works (and great workout for your thighs).

    I'd go on a very crowded but with sneezings and then the biking will feel like FREEDOM again ;) Good luck! (btw, I whole heartedly second the Friday off! it's a good night to hang out with friends)

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  12. This makes me realize again how much I miss commuting by bike. I will buy/order my new bike TODAY! Will write a cycling post myself soon!
    In the meantime, I totally know what you mean by feeling superior hahaha! When I cycled through meters of snow in Freiburg everyone was really amazed, and it was a bonding moment between me and prof, who did the same ;)

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  13. How can hot tub, beer and thai be a bad idea?

    -antipodean

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  14. Chall, I've never gone to that extreme! I don't even like walking down hills in the snow... (unless I have my snow shoes on, of course).

    Nina, hooray for buying a bike! I got one with my first postdoc pay cheque in Vancouver! I hope you get a good one and have an easier commute (and more weekend adventures) from now on.

    Antipodean, apparently hot tubs and alcohol make your blood rush towards the surface, and if you're hypothermic you need to keep your blood closer to your core and warm yourself more gradually. Ah well, no harm, no foul!

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