Monday, February 27, 2012

Motors: some initial thoughts

It weighs 580 lbs, not 20. Stock photo from WWW
Very similar bike to the one in the garage
Rider in photo knows what he is doing, unlike some
I've noticed a few things after riding a motorcycle again for several months. First, I'm a lot more aware of everything when on the big bike. That says a lot, since I'm normally pretty wired in to traffic while on my bicycles or in the car. Maybe its because the motorcycle is new to me after almost 25 years (1987-now) without having one or maybe its because unlike those college years with the inboard knee hovering slightly off the pavement, I am now old enough to sense my own mortality.

Second, I find myself working even harder to maintain optimal lane position, situational awareness, and visibility. I'm scanning like a fighter pilot flying into Germany. I work even harder to second guess motorists and do my "what if" drills. Riding at 15-20 mph usually leaves you more time to contemplate an unfolding Holy Shit Moment compared to riding at 35-55. If you have any doubts, call my Dad, whose BMW R60 kissed the side of a left turning motorist who failed to yield. Fortunately, both the old man and the BMW are still with us, although both required considerable collision work. He shakes his head when he thinks about his three sons all riding motorcycles and everyone else riding their cell phone. Can't blame him, given he knows all about Mr. Pavement.

Thirdly, when things start to go wrong they can go wrong in alarming ways. On Sunday, we were doing chores all morning after walking the dogs. I decided to let lunch settle by taking the K1100 over to the gas station and filling up before we left the house for a bike ride on the tandem. On the way home, I decided to take North Mesa Road rather than South San Ildefonso, because North Mesa road has a nice set of 15 mph (advisory, W13-5) curves in it. Well, it was pretty cold out and the bike was only five miles into a ride. In the first 15 mph curve, I felt the rear tire start to wash out, so I countersteered to straighten the rig upright a little. It worked, fortunately. I found this note on the web about cold motorcycle tire side tread and curves. Sides of motorcycle tires don't heat up very fast, since they generally aren't doing much work.

Finally, that responsibly used 100 HP at the flick of a wrist can be seductive and addictive but its kinda overkill for riding to work and back. The moto will never replace the human power bike for the short haul, i.e., for me, 5-10 miles or less. Especially if I want to look like me rather than like a guy trying out for sumo wrestling.

Its interesting to push the envelope this way, but pushed too hard, the envelope pushes back. I lost a couple turn signals back in my misspent youth, had friends lose turn signals and footpegs, and one lost an elbow as I watched the sparks fly.  But getting back on a moto has given me a chance to see what I have not been seeing for a while; outside the box a little. The application to bicycling is that there is always something you don't know yet, you can always be a better rider, and most of safety is between the earlobes. Watch for those surprises, Practice, Practice, Practice, and don't ever paint yourself into a nasty corner, real or metaphorical. Motor or not, we are all on two wheels. Keep the rubber side down, he says knowingly.

p.s. In response to Walter's SIPDE comment, which is a brief version of my situational awareness tome, and more quantitative (Aloha, Walter!):
  • S—Sweep, Search, and Scan (keep your eyes moving at all times to effectively see imminent danger)You should search a minimum of 25 to 30 seconds down the roadway. At highway speeds (55-70 mph) this would be a minimum of 1/3 to 1/2 of a mile down the roadway. In an urban setting (25-30 mph) this would equal at least one to two blocks.
  • I—Identify hazards, Identify what's happening 12 to 15 seconds in front of you. (road-way features) (take notice of things that could cause trouble)
  • P—Predict which hazards could potentially come into conflict with you; predict 2 things 1-worst case scenario and 2-actions
  • D—Decide 3 to 5 seconds in advance on a safe action (decide on something to do should the dog run across the road)decide on the path that will put you in the least amount of danger.
  • E—Execute that safe action; use communication; confidently execute the manoeuver.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Unified bicycling advocacy?

Fresh off the wire, sort of. In other words, it happened today and I finally got around to typing this.
"Waddaya think? Should we merge?"
screen shot from Breaking Away, if you missed it

 Looks like the League of American Bicyclists, Bikes Belong, and the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking may merge, subject to their governing organizations agreeing to all this. Here is the BRAIN article and there are press releases at the three sites linked above.

I agree with several other folks that we need to see what, in detail, is proposed regarding what sounds like a corporate merger. But I'm willing to be the optimist and take a pull at the front with these folks unless convinced otherwise by future events. Hey, the more folks in the peloton, the merrier, right? Well..maybe. As long as they are all taking turns at the front and pulling in the same direction. This could be quite good.

This merger has, optimistically speaking, the potential to add considerable power to the voice(s) of cyclists in the realm of local, regional, and national lobbying efforts. For example, what could have happened had all the local bike shops in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, as agents of BB, working with advocates, thrown their considerable resources into recruiting, transporting, and feeding a myriad of cyclists riding to or catching rides to the Roundhouse for Biker Day? Maybe we would have had a lot more lycra present amongst the leather. Hmm.  And, as nationally known bike lawyer Steve Magas says over on his blog, there is plenty to lobby about if one sees the bicycle as part of a bigger picture in addition to a personal avocation: "...Bicycle advocates have fought for many years to try to secure some federal recognition of the importance of cycling to society.  Cutting emissions, reducing reliance on foreign oil, improving traffic conditions by cutting down on the number of cars on the roads, decreasing childhood obesity, increasing fitness, decreasing long term medical costs – these have all been cited to the House as rational reasons to support and encourage cycling..."

Having said that, we also need to ask whose voice or voices will be heard the loudest. That's a serious concern--diluting a membership based organization, although some would say we are all in bed together already. My guess is the big money is in Bikes Belong (if there is any big money to be found in bicycling, that is, LOL--see LAB Board member Diane Albert's comment to the contrary). The most experienced and dynamic spokespeople, not to mention those familiar to cyclists, will be in LAB and the Alliance. Will we all play well in the sandbox together once we are all wearing the same jerseys? Will all the major US bike corporations want to share the same jersey? Will Fred the Bicyclist be center stage in the sandbox? This all needs to be elucidated and signed in ink.
Fred asks "what's in it for me?"

A similar concern is that while all three organizations share many common interests, they differ in their historical clientele, sensu stricto, and in their governance. The LAB has historically been a membership organization of serious road bicyclists. In recent years, it has become more DC-centric as a lobbying organization for cycling rights, cycling advocacy, and enlarging the cycling base through avante garde urban planning and in addition, has taken on increasingly corporate governing style. Some of these changes have created friction with some of the "traditional" LAB members. But LAB is still and remains a member based organization and as such, responds to membership, in my estimation.  LAB, in addition, has a strong national educational program (LCIs), the Bicycle-Friendly America program, and has in recent years been more deeply involved in state and local issues such as fighting municipal bike bans. (For those critical of the BFC program, the BFC award was the stick/carrot that LAB held over Albuquerque during the Duke City's abortive attempt to ban bicycling from a popular road).  Bikes Belong is the lobbying/advocacy face of the bike biz, so its primary thrust must presumably be grounded in selling bikes; how these are used may or may not be secondary. But BB's Tim Blumenthal has been involved in bicycling as a serious bicyclist and bicycling journalist since God was a child. BB funds a lot of advocacy.  The Alliance for Bicycling and Walking is the recent reincarnation of the Thunderhead Alliance, which was an advocate-centered grassroots organization dedicated to developing strong local and state bike advocacy organizations. Personally, I thought they sometimes sounded a little too much like true believers but they do very good stuff and they have some very, very good people on their Board and Staff (in the way of full disclosure, I once interviewed for the Alliance ED position).  Of the three, only the LAB, though, was based on individual membership cards.

Cyclelicious asks some good questions. Who will be the lead dog? Will all dogs be created equal? In which case, will they fight like dogs?  Will this be a member grounded organization?  Whose agenda will dominate? Will corporate money rule or will the new merger, assuming it goes through, realize that it needs to be bicyclist-grounded? Or, will no individual agenda dominate? How will this new conglomerate be governed? What will the bicyclist's role be?  Will membership have sufficient influence and/or control over the Board of Directors to make this a true member-based organization or will we be along for the ride? The devils, as always, will be in the details.

I agree with Steve A, who left this comment on the LAB site: "I think we will all be interested to hear what is proposed. I, for one, plan to keep an open mind about how this can work to the benefit of LAB members and look forward to seeing the details of what sounds like a corporate merger." Indeed. I second that notion.

I certainly hope this works and given the stakes, I'll do what I can to make it work. But it will take considerable skill, horsetrading, sausage-making, control of egos/power, and trust. Given the cycling community's reputation for being as easily led as a herd of cats, this could be difficult. Hence this video (warning--don't hit "play" if F words offend you).

For extra credit, find Andy Clarke and John Forester in this skit.
Just pulling leg, guys...

But as Ronald Reagan would undoubtedly say, "trust but verify".  Lets see where this goes. I guess we have a few months to listen to the details and send in our votes and our $0.02 to LAB. Stay tuned, and stay optimistic. And, of course, stay on yer bikes. And unlike me, don't try to outsprint a car on your way home from work and yank a shoe out of a pedal with the bike at a considerable angle to the vertical. That, frankly, is for young guys. Fortunately I stayed upright and was able to clip back in and keep pedaling. Lets hope this proposed new organization does, too.