Friday, December 15, 2017

Even with a good bike plan, a lot is up to you

Road bike in battle dress for the ride up the ski hill
Appropriate gears for an old guy and light wheelset

Salsa LaCruz cross bike/commuter in winter commuting dress
heavier wheels with light knobbies, fenders, reflectors, lights
Lower wide range (11-34; 46-34) gearing, disk brakes
With the Laboratory beginning work on a site-wide bike plan, the County having just received Bronze level bicycle-friendly community status, and a plethora of good road and trail riding in Los Alamos and surrounding areas, there is a lot for local bicyclists to cheer about. That said, whether one is riding for fun, utility, or both, a lot still depends on the engagement and awareness of the rider in order to get out and back with the rubber side consistently down.

For fun, a bicycle need not be festooned with lights, fenders, or other utility stuff unless one plans on riding where that stuff is necessary. Fenders don't make a lot of sense in a desert environment but lights might be handy, if not mandatory, if riding before or after work during dawn or dusk hours. Gears appropriate for topography and one's strength and level of fitness are the difference between fun and misery. As is proper bike fit and good saddle/handlebar choices. Having a bike that has passed the ABC quick check  (don't forget your patches and tool kit) and sporting a rider prepared for potential inclement weather (I once was stuck in the Jemez in summer kit as the temperature dropped by thirty degrees and hail pelted me until I found a rock outcrop to hide under) and who is competent at the handlebars is a must. Fun riding is often done in low traffic conditions but one must still be situationally-aware and know how to dance with cars.

And not to be left out...
 Commuting or utility riding is a little more challenging. A rider must be ready to work with heavier traffic if one is working at a location where a lot of other people are also headed, such as LANL. One can expect a range of conditions including separated bike paths or sidewalks, bike lanes, or plain old roads that must be shared. Good bike handling skills, situational awareness, and a respect for traffic law and other users (motorists, pedestrians, fellow cyclists) go a long way towards keeping one upright and out of trouble of one's own or other people's making. I've avoided crashes with instant turns and emergency stops.  Having a bicycle equipped for the range of conditions one can expect during the commute to and from the salt mines is important: rain, snow, wind, darkness, rough roads, or what have you.

Effective commuting usually means more of a "utility" bike rather than a gossamer racer. My choices are touring or cyclecross bikes since they are more easily fit with fenders (to ward off rain and slush), larger and burlier tires (that can shed debris and possibly get you home in some snow or after hitting a pothole) and where you are not heartbroken over festooning a featherweight carbon bike with lights, reflectors, fenders, drop tanks, bomb racks, and a luggage rack to carry stuff. Plus, a longer wheelbase bike is more stable steering and, depending on chainstay length, can have more room between the backs of your feet and the panniers you might hang on a rear rack. These bikes can also be fit with a variety of tire widths and wide range gear trains useful for hauling you, your stuff, and a fully loaded bike back and forth to the factory.

Paying attention to the Five Layers of Safety is pretty important and puts a lot of stuff in context.  Its about being competent and effectively utilizing your skills, situational awareness, and the amazing abilities of your highly maneuverable bicycle to keep you out of trouble. Its also where the "wear a helmet" campaigns get it bass-ackwards. A helmet is the innermost layer of safety and you should hopefully never have adversity pierce those other four layers. Using your helmet up in a crash should be an extremely rare event (unless you are a gonzo mountainbiker or similar) but hitting your head can be a high consequence event. Avoid smacking your bare skull on something hard such as Mr. Pavement. Traumatic Brain Injury ain't fun and I have indeed experienced it, quite predictably, back when I was an inexperienced cyclist riding in traffic. Nearly ended my budding career as a scientist, if not my life.

Safe and effective cycling is a combination of good local policies and infrastructure, effective enforcement of traffic laws to keep people honest behind the wheel and handlebars, education/training so we all react appropriately when necessary, and finally, making use of the grey matter between the ears to integrate all of that within the scope of the bicyclist and his or her steed. Eventually, it all comes down to looking out for #1 and the best person to do that is #1.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Where would we be today if Adam Lanza had picked up a Bianchi instead of a Bushmaster?

Today is the fifth anniversary of the Newtown Massacre, where Adam Lanza shot his mom dead, stole her Bushmaster, and shot up an elementary school before eating his gun. Adam was apparently a deeply troubled individual. I just wonder where we would be today if he had picked up a Bianchi rather than a Bushmaster to deal with his devils.

That occurred to me as I sat looking through my first issue of Bicycling in a while. Apparently, the League of American Bicyclists has reestablished connections with the granddaddy of bike mags after a layoff for whatever reason.  Having just returned my two year League membership fee, the first of a series of what looks like a somewhat skinnier and glossier issue than I remember arrived in the mail. Perhaps not surprisingly for an old coot, I felt some of that old excitement we felt back in grad school as the new Bicycling issue appeared, en masse, in our Stony Brook Geosciences mailroom. A number of us subscribed as there was a big contingent of riders in the department. Even several faculty members. Some good stuff in this one, too.

I had my own devils spinning in my head while in grad school. A TBI from being lofted over a car as I rode my bike, a painful and protracted divorce, and convincing myself to finish my Ph.D. rather than pump gas during a time of deep self doubt. At one point I unwisely (and in a fit of stupid self-pity) put up a news story of Theodore Streleski on my door with my own face pasted over his mug. Thankfully no one took it seriously enough to call in the men in the white coats. (I retroactively apologize to anyone I rattled.) I wouldn't dare put up that shtick today, in a world where too many people think the answer to their grievances is an M4 rather than therapy--and where, with our retreat from a committment to public health care, its getting harder to get good therapy than to get a Bushmaster. Fortunately, I took to Cannondales rather than carbines (except during deer season) and no one was the worse for wear from my bicycling addiction except that raccoon that ran in front of me on a ride back in 1986. Even he/she ran off apparently unscathed and all I had to do was true my front wheel.

Too bad old Adam couldn't find a more constructive outlet for his demons than mass murder. Solve your problems. Ride a century or two; it kinda grows on you. In that context,100 miles is more constructive than 100 rounds.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Splash Pools and GRT Windfalls

Sent to the Daily Post


We have elections for a reason, and as Terry Goldman recently opined in the Daily Post, Council is empowered to make decisions on what to build and how to fund it subject to public input at regular intervals, i.e., election day, or at other critical times through referendum. The question of whether to build a more elaborate aquatic center is one of those decisions we as a community make, either directly via a bond issue or via a vote by council to spend our money.

Every community wants more stuff and ours is no exception. That said, once we build more stuff, we have the eternal obligation to maintain it. That costs money through staffing and maintenance outlays. Hence it requires us to raise these funds either through growing the economy or raising taxes.

Ever since LANL was privatized, Council and some citizens have seen this as a cash cow windfall. Indeed, Council has decided to speak for the work force in demanding that LANL stay private so that the county can continue to spend money like a drunken sailor on shore leave. Given the decision on who will manage LANL and what the terms of the new M&O contract will be are up in the air, all I call for is prudence.

I for one, having grown up in a community that saw its industries rust away, am a bit ashamed that one of the most financially well-off communities in the US might demand that the taxpayers of the Republic, many of whom can't afford a new roof over their heads, are being asked to pay a GRT surcharge so we can build a more elaborate swimming pool. At some point one has to ask if we have enough already.

Khal Spencer

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ode to Being A Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community

Acknowledgements and a tip of the 
brain bucket
 to Patrick O'Grady/Maddogmedia
(or, what a skeptical bicyclist might think about bike plans and metal colored awards. Heck, even Platinum Portland almost made the top ten in killing bicyclists)

Bike plan, bike plan, where art thou,
When every car gives me the plow
With every day I come and go
Some crazy motorist pushes me to and fro

So perhaps some day I will be free
To ride my bike without fear of thee
But until that day comes and I am loosed
Of someone's misdirected boost

I will remain quite skeptical of plans
Because every plan has left me damned
And all the virtue we so claim
(because we write our wishes in vain)
Does little to help when I'm always to blame

Burma Shave,

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Los Alamos Named A Bicycle-Friendly Community

Date: November 30, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE(I got this from Louise Romero in the Public Works Dept. --KJS)
Los Alamos County named a Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists

Los Alamos, New Mexico— Today, the League of American Bicyclists recognized Los Alamos County with a Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly CommunitySM (BFC) award, joining over 400 visionary communities from across the country.

With the announcement of 65 new and renewing BFCs today, Los Alamos County joins a leading group of communities, in all 50 states, that are transforming our neighborhoods.
“We applaud these communities for making bicycling a safe and convenient option for transportation and recreation,” said Bill Nesper, Executive Director at the League of American Bicyclists. “We are encouraged by the growing number of leaders who see bicycling as a way to build more vibrant, healthy, sustainable and connected communities and be a part of the solution to many complex challenges faced at both the community and national levels. We look forward to continuing to work with these communities as we move closer to our mission of creating a Bicycle Friendly America for everyone.”

The BFC program is revolutionizing the way communities evaluate their quality of life, sustainability and transportation networks, while allowing them to benchmark their progress toward improving their bicycle-friendliness. With this impressive round, there are now over 400 BFCs in all 50 states. The Bronze Level BFC award recognizes Los Alamos County’s commitment to improving conditions for bicycling through investment in bicycling promotion, education programs, infrastructure and pro-bicycling policies.

Philo Shelton commented “Last year we earned an honorable mention from the League. Within a year, we worked hard to meet the League’s objectives in becoming a Bicycle Friendly Community and made significant accomplishments to earn a Bronze level award. We are only the fourth community in New Mexico to earn such an award joining Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe as Bicycle Friendly Communities.”

These accomplishments include investment in bicycle infrastructure improvements such as completion of Phase 2 of the Canyon Rim Trail system and obtaining a sizeable federal grant to design and construct and a shared-use underpass for the Canyon Rim Trail beneath NM 502 near the Coop at Entrada Drive.  As part of bicycle promotion, education and outreach, County Council proclaimed May as Bike to Work Month which was followed with events celebrating Bike to Work Day.  Lastly, in June County Council adopted the Bicycle Transportation Plan which emphasizes the County’s commitment to bicycle planning as part of the transportation network.

The BFC program provides a roadmap to building a Bicycle Friendly Community and the application itself has become a rigorous and an educational tool.  Since its inception, more than 800 distinct communities have applied and the five levels of the award – diamond, platinum, gold, silver and bronze – provide a clear incentive for communities to continuously improve.

To learn more about building a Bicycle Friendly America, visit
The League of American Bicyclists is leading the movement to create a Bicycle Friendly America for everyone.

Motorcycle Shop

Motorcycle Shop

(a tip of the brain bucket to Marc, Frances, and the OCD family. Also, a quick thank you to my cousin, Lori Bonati-Phillips, for inspiration)

Someone forgot the heat shield
So there I sat, waiting for the gas to cool down
Looking across a wide field
The mountain road a lost cause, a frown

Men in smocks with bikes on lifts
Pistons and parts, those inventive industrial gifts
That get us down the road at speeds that blur
Pirsig has passed on, but his ghost is somewhere in this room
Is there Quality here, Phaedrus, or is my bike doomed?

An ancient R60 sits nearby, its pinstripe lines on black and chrome still alluring
Sometimes, old girls are sexier and more real than the young ones
This history book is still sitting where I left it
Everything about this oil-tinged place recommends it