Tuesday, August 31, 2010

So long, Professor

Laurent Fignon, nicknamed "the Professor" for his trademark round wire rimmed glasses and scholarly appearance, died today after a long struggle with cancer. Fignon is seen here in yellow, with Greg LeMond, during the 1989 Tour de France. Recall that was the year where in the final time trial, Fignon lost the Tour to Lemond by that legendary 8 seconds after having started the day with a 50 second lead. That year the race was so close the jersey was never clear on which of the two combantants it wanted to live with.

Like many of us Yanks, I recall Laurent in the context of following Greg's rising star. That was not terribly fair to Fignon, a fine racer in his own right, winning the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984, the Giro (1989) and seventy six professional races in all.

Fignon gave the Grim Reaper a good run for his money as well, but that is one race we all eventually lose. Bon voyage, Professor.

Good piece by John Wilkonson here.

Photo and links courtesy of the New York Times and Velonews.com

Friday, August 27, 2010

Frankengears work

I've never been a great fan of the Campy or IRD low gearing on their wide-range road cassettes, which have a 23 to 25 tooth transition on their 12-25 (Campy) and 12-28 (IRD) cogsets. That close ratio shift may be great for young folks or racers, but I want a little bigger ratio drop to get this fat old hind end up the mountain with a higher cadence.

This morning, just for grins, I combined the eight higher (12-23) cogs from the IRD cassette with the 26-29 low gear pair from my old Campy 13-29 cassette to get a 12-29 ten speed cassette with a 23 to 26 tooth transition and a 29 tooth bailout gear for the initial brutal grade at the bottom of Camp May Road. Initially, the Frankengears was not spaced properly at the splice but then I added an extra ~0.8 mm spacer to the existing spacer between the Campy and IRD fragments and now it shifts as well as either cogset.

The reason I don't just use the Campy 13-29 is that I sometimes spin out on the 13 cog using my compact 50/34 crankset. And yes, this does exceed the listed maximum capacity for the Chorus system (using a med. length Chorus rear derailleur) but you can fiddle with the chain length (take out a link or two) to keep the upper derailleur pulley off of the low gear cog. I'll post a picture if anyone else is interested.

I took this Frankenstein gearset out for an inaugural run up into the Jemez and up Camp May road and it worked great, using the 26 to climb the steeper parts of NM-4 and the 29 for the bottom of Camp May.

Wish my legs and lungs worked as well. But its nice to know that one can customize, mix, and match this stuff rather than being stuck with off the shelf components. It just takes a little tinkering.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gloves and knickers, anyone?

Woo-hoo. Left the house at 7:30 this morning and for the first time since spring, wished for full gloves and bib knickers. Its supposed to drop into the forties tonight, too.

You know what that means? Fall and the Red River Century are right around the corner!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In Ellis County TX, is bicycling a jailable offense?

Second update. Attorney Steve Magas, who won the Selz vs. Trotwood appeal, has written a review of the Selz case here.

Update: Here is the League of American Bicyclist's statement on the Reed Bates case.

Hard luck cyclist Reed Bates has been jailed for reckless driving in Ellis County, TX. His crime was riding his bike in the road (shading to the left side of the right lane) instead of the "improved shoulder" (see Reed's web site for pics of the road shoulders in Ellis County, which range from quite nice to horrible to nonexistent).

I'm a little concerned that this is a legal overreach meant to deal with Bates once and for all "by any means necessary".

Here is our Los Alamos statute, which is similar to the Ellis statute (after all, the UVC requires some uniformity).

Sec. 38-296. Reckless driving.
(a) Any person who drives any vehicle carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others and without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property is guilty of reckless driving.

As applied to a cyclist who is not able to keep up with traffic but who is otherwise obeying the relevant laws such as "as far right as is practicable" and other onerous but relevant details, this potentially sets a precedent for criminalizing bicycling. I've read the TX laws as they apply to bicycling, and its not at all obvious that one could charge reckless behavior on the part of a cyclist who is obeying all of the TX bicycling laws. Nothing in this TAMU site says these laws apply except when a judge says they don't. I'm confused.

As Steve Averill posts on his blog, the judge's decision suggests we can be cited or arrested simply by riding slower than other traffic, in direct contradiction to Selz vs. Trotwood (of course a TX court can ignore a precident from elsewhere). Note that nowhere did the judge call into question AFRAP, which to me is the main question here, and it appears from TX law that a cyclist has a choice to to take a substandard width lane or to ride on the shoulder, but is not obligated to ride on the shoulder.

"...The judge began by noting that it was fine for a cyclist to ride on the roadway, but it must be in a safe manner. He indicated that Reed may well have actually BEEN safer riding in the lane on Highway 287. He then cited the high level of concern on the day in question and the defendant’s disregard of the officer’s request. He further noted that road safety included not only the defendant, but the other road users who might be unfamiliar with cyclists riding on a road such as the one in question. As a result, he was presenting a hazard and was guilty...."

So other people's ignorance or indifference of bicycling makes a cyclist a criminal? What were the total facts of the case? I emailed fellow blogger Steve Averill at his blog asking for details as he has posted on this topic.

In general, I would have a hard time instructing anyone to ride their bike in the middle of a lane on a high speed (65 mph according to Steve Averill) rural highway unless they had to, i.e. there was not a decent shoulder. Riding as Bates was, a motor vehicle would be overtaking at very high net speed difference, possibly 40-50 mph. In heavy traffic, this can potentially lead some to unsafe passing. Not to mention, I hope no one is texting while closing on Bates. But in general, because humans are after all fallible, traffic engineering principles try to minimize drastic speed mismatches, i.e. from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, "...Posting a minimum speed limit was and still is motivated by the desire to reduce speed variability in a traffic stream and its attendant consequences in efficiency and safety of traffic operations. Numerous studies have documented the negative effects of speed variability...."

Now, obviously a bicyclist cannot keep up with a car on any moderate speed to high speed road, which is why all states exempt bicyclists from "impeding traffic" laws as long as one is following all relevant bicycle-specific laws such as referenced in the TAMU link. That was also the outcome of Selz vs. Trotwood, i.e, Steve Selz could not be convicted of impeding merely by riding a bicycle as a bicycle is intended to be operated. And it seems self-evident that neither Selz nor Bates were behaving recklessly, i.e., 38-296.

Recent AASHTO guidelines (see my sidebar link) provide some official guidance in general about AFRAP, suggest riding approximately in the right tire track or on a narrow lane, taking the lane. That is good to know if the shoulder sucks or is non-continuous. On NM 502 in the Rio Grande valley, a 55 mph road, all cyclists I've ever observed use the shoulder which is continuous and wide. But if there is no shoulder or a dangerous shoulder, such as on NM-4, then the cyclist's right to ride trumps concerns about low speeds. One has to mitigate the hazard as much as is possible by means at your disposal and so does everyone else. Anything further flies in the face of Selz vs. Trotwood and our rights.

Back to the legalities. I recommended to League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke that LAB have a legal counsel to advise on things like this and whether to get involved in these sorts of cases. Someone like cycling attorneys Bob Mionske or Steve Magas. Here was what I sent Andy, which I posted a few months back.

There are four issues (and probably more) to the Reed Bates case (or any other case) that I would ask about before diving into it and a case would have to pass muster on most or all of these.

One, is it a critical case about cycling rights requiring national resources and of strategic importance to cyclists? One such case was Selz vs. Trotwoood, where a cyclists right to ride on the road was affirmed to not be dependent on being able to keep up with cars.

Two, is the case strong enough and winnable so it makes sense to throw resources into it? Aside from the bare facts of the case, one needs to know if the battle can be won by looking at the totality of the situation. Texas is not the bastion of judicial liberalism. Bates was poking the cops in the eye by applying the letter of TX bike law. This is a judicial game of chicken. If LAB thinks he can win, then LAB needs to shake down the deep pockets we are aligned with, i.e., Bike Industry and go into court loaded for bear. But I'm not sure he can win. See #3.

Three, has the case been handled well or poorly? (see Steve Magas comments on the Steve Selz case) Has it been severely compromised such that an appeal would be fruitless or possibly make things worse for cycling? From what I have read, the Bates case has been a fiasco from the get-go. I don't know what kind of damage control would be needed and even in Selz vs. Trotwood, Mr. Magas was taking a chance. As he has said, the judges could just as easily have voted 2-1 the other way.

Four, is litigation the best long term solution? For Reed Bates, he needs to get outa jail and get a misdemeanor off his record and it seems to me there was enough bad law practiced here that this case should be overturned on its merits (or lack thereof). But for the long term, we need to fix the underlying problems, which include that Reed's present options are often sub-optimal, as they are for many cyclists, due to prejudice, bad engineering, ignorance, and an often inept legal system. Other options available for the long haul include improved laws and legislation, better rural highway design, informed cops and judiciaries, and some means of getting the engineers, cops, judges, motorists, and politicians in the same room with the cyclists.

I have not, frankly, followed the Reed Bates case closely until now and only now because the reckless driving charge caught my attention. But so does the fact that twenty five 911 calls came in. Uh..what the hell happened down there? Its hard to get twenty five 911 calls if someone is being stabbed in the street.

I don't really know much about TX other than what I saw when I was being recruited by UT Austin last winter and at any rate, we stayed here. My surprise and outrage at Reed being charged and convicted for reckless driving, which to me seems utterly outlandish and potentially a dangerous precedent, is tempered by my need to hear the details of the case history from legal counsel that has been briefed and understands it and is experienced in bike law, such as a TX version of Magas or Mionske. I understand that Steve Magas has commented on this case on his Facebook page.

As with all these cases, its important to win the war, not just a battle. That long term goal falls not only to cycling organizations, but to individual cyclists and the decisions we make every day. Sometimes winning means taking half a loaf today and coming back for the other half tomorrow. My criticism of Reed Bates is that sometimes when you play chicken, you crash.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

News Flash: Bicycling is Part of a United Nations Plot Against America

NEWS UPDATE: Photo: A futuristic Denver, CO; picture accidently leaked by the leadership cabal of the UN-based Bicycling-Urbanist Conspiracy.

Reporters at the North Mesa Mutts and New York Times have learned that indeed, the Bicycling-Urbanist Conspiracy is plotting to replace the national government with a UN-mandated governing agency. You want proof?

1. The President of the League of American Bicyclists is...British!

2. The League's powerful army of cycling instructors, actually well-trained UN political indoctrinators, all once wore blue jerseys, thus identifying them to each other and to the UN as members of the U.N.'s World Army. In an attempt to preserve their cover, the League recently changed to a less obvious uniform.

3. League President Andy Clarke's reasonable recent essay in the National Journal is clearly an attempt to disarm America while the Bicycling-Urbanist Conspiracy carries out its sinister plan.

4. Members of the both parties in the United States Senate are being duped into giving in to the New World Order.

Sigh...At one time this may have been silly (and still is) but unfortunately, times have changed and a fair number of our politicians (and apparently, one third of Denver Post reader who responded to their poll--see link below) are verging on bat-shit crazy. At least one politician, Dan Maes, the Republican candidate for Governor of Colorado, has equated the promotion of bicycling as transportation to a subversive takeover of the U.S. by One World Government.

"This (i.e., bicycling promotion in Denver) is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms...These aren't just warm, fuzzy ideas from the mayor. These are very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program that mayors have signed on to..." Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes said. Mr. Maes just won the Republican primary and is off to the general election to oppose John Hickenlooper (Democrat, United Nations) and Tom Tancredo (American Constitution Party, Bedlam). Tancredo is best known for his comment that Barack Obama is more of a threat to the U.S. than al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, what about that UN conspiracy? The strategy of those on the Far Right is we need more scapegoats and conspiracy theories to blame for the national mess we are in (to be fair, there were plenty of left-threaded wingnut conspiracy theories when Pres. Bush was in office). Given recent friction between cyclists and motorists as gas hit four bucks a gallon, its no surprise that some are painting ongoing efforts to promote bicycle transportation as another destabilizing influence on American values to be confronted, along with gay marriage, "ObamaCare", carbon cap and trade, illegal immigration, etc. Strange to focus attention on bikes, but for the fact that cycling as transportation is often mixed in with social efforts to "replace car trips", cut CO2 emissions, and promote higher urban density. To someone who thinks this is all a Communist or Danish plot, a bicyclist in traffic is a handy, highly visible symbol, thus useful to Dan Maes as he courts his constituency, even though creating a diversified transportation system can make real-world dollars and sense to a community.

But really. Freedom is supposed to be an American value. As in, my freedom to decide to ride my bike to work today. Spare me the bigger picture once in a while while I smell the flowers.

There is a lot of scary stuff going on in the world. There always has been. Things looked grim on the day before the Battle of Midway. With the U.S. at the pinnacle of its power in the sixties, we were faced with the real possibility of nuclear Armageddon as the US and USSR aimed thousands of warheads at each other and nearly pushed the button over Soviet IRBMs reported to be in Cuba. People were encouraged to build fallout shelters. Anyone besides me remember actually doing those duck and cover drills?

So shit is always happening. Its just that people have short memories and face it, no one wants to "live in interesting times." We need to retain some sense of sanity, rationality, intelligence, and civility if we are going to deal with change in a constructive way.

Thanks and a tip of the Blue Helmet to Patrick O'Grady for the Denver Post link. Now back to signaling to those black helicopters and setting up the New World Order.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Bike League and Rumble Strips

From the LAB site
...Cyclists and motorists share a desire for safer roadways. Most of us are motorists as well as cyclists and we have probably all benefited from the wake-up call provided by rumble strips on the Interstate or major state highways. However, as cyclists we also know that there is no such thing as a bicyclist-friendly rumble strip, and over the years a lot of good roads for riding have been lost to rumble strips. [Click here to go directly to send the alert.]