Friday, May 31, 2013

Deja vu all over again

Bike rides and fires, then and now. On June 26th, 2011 I planned to ride the Bandelier Loop and then up into the Jemez Mountains. There was a fire burning in the Sangre de Cristos north of Santa Fe.  I ran into some folks from Santa Fe and we knocked each other out riding between the Y and Back Gate. I left the house that day looking at smoke in the Sangre de Cristos and woke up after the ride and a postride nap seeing smoke in the Jemez. Sound familiar?

I guess the good news is we now have a 150,000 acre firebreak to the West of BombTown. Sigh.I took some pics while riding the mountainbike. Here's a sample.

Fire near La Cueva as seen from Los Alamos, 5-31-13 1800
Plume is over Pajarito Mountain 
As seen emerging at the Bayo Canyon trailhead
Fire as seen from the Kwage Mesa singletrack, ~1720
Riding back up behind the North Mesa stables ~1745

Bike Month Closes Quoting Baldwin

"God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water but fire next time" --from Old Negro spiritual, used as the title of James Baldwin's book "The Fire Next Time"

Tres Lagunas fire photographed at 1400 today from North Mesa in Los Alamos.
With sustained winds of 25-30 mph and gusts over 40, its not the time for the tinder dry forests of New Mexico to catch fire, which surely they are doing. It is also a crappy time to be on a bicycle. I shot this picture of the Tres Lagunas fire, currently burning out of control near Pecos, from the Middle School up above our house and decided to go back home again and sulk with our Aussie Shephard, just recovering from surgery.

Say what you will about the climate change arguments, but Ma Nature has always been a little bit tough to handle in the Southwest. With much of the state in the worst drought in its recorded history, its sure not getting any easier. Patrick O'Grady, who once scribed for the New Mexican, once made a joke about turning on the water tap and having sand pour out. It might actually happen.

Need another category soon:"Mother of All Droughts"
Source: Albuquerque Journal

Note added at 1634. There is now a small fire (small being a very temporary definition in these parts) burning north of Jemez Springs near La Cueva, the Thompson Ridge Fire. Both the Jemez Springs and Tres Lagunas fires were started by damaged power lines. You know, like the one that started the Las Conchas fire? Don't you think we would have learned to clear sufficiently around power lines by now?

Jemez Springs fire just starting up

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Can you sue a city for failing to appreciate the obvious?


From today's New Mexican.

I ranted about the hazards of crossing the Cerrillos-St. Francis intersection via bicycle some time ago, as did many others. What I don't know, and is worth a discussion, is the relative balance of responsibility between the cyclist and the NM Dept. of Transportation when putting in a sub-optimal facility. Railroad tracks are all over the place. Motorcyclists and bicyclists need to understand how to navigate them. As I suggested in my 2010 blog post, one has to be able to manuever to get a right angle approach to a railroad track. If cyclists are unwittingly encouraged to hit them at a shallow angle by the bike facility, someone besides the cyclist needs to be held highly accountable.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day weekend brings Bombtown an intense Darwin Award competition

 No pedestrians or bicyclists were harmed in the making of this competition, which brings us to the waning days of National Bike Month in Los Alamos, NM.

"In the spirit of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species' chances of long-term survival.

This Memorial Day's  Darwin Award competition pitted an alleged aerosol can sniffing 22 year old male whose out of mind experience caused him to barrel down a Diamond Drive sidewalk and launch his pickup truck into Pueblo Canyon, vs. an 18 year old woman who said she fell asleep at the wheel up in the Jemez and thereby cyclecrossed her motor vehicle full of people 130 feet into the trees. He was charged with aggravated DWI. She was charged with "aggravated DWI, careless driving, minor in possession of alcohol, possession of drug paraphernalia and providing alcohol to minors". the joys of huffing, where did that damn road go?

It sounds like the driver fell asleep for reasons other than studying for finals. Snorting aerosol cans reminds me of those kids I grew up with who sniffed model airplane glue in paper bags while riding in the back of the school bus. At least those classmates of mine weren't driving.

In other crash and burn reports, a motorcyclist, cited for careless driving, overcooked a curve near the Los Alamos/Sandoval County line; his passenger was airlifted to a specialized care unit, I hope she recovers completely. Yet another motorist crashed on West Jemez when a deer decided to commit suicide by vehicle. Folks, it is well known that we have sharp curves and abundant wildlife. Please drive/ride prudently. Driving, even when you are doing it carefully, entails substantial risks.

Lest I sound too much like the grumpy old geezer that I am, when I was 20, whenever that was, we did pretty stupid things with our motorcycles. Only one of us (who has since gone on to become a well respected custom bicycle designer) lost his license. We never hurt anyone else, although one of our own ended up in the hospital after finding loose gravel on a high speed curve. I still remember that crash and it definitely slowed the rest of us all down. My high school friend Jim was killed when his car was t-boned by a high speed drunk driver. His younger brother Mike was not the same after that. A grad school friend went home one night and found her kid brother being carted off to jail. Driving home from his own birthday party quite shitfaced, he hit and killed a pedestrian. Heck of a way to spend your birthday--in the County B&B awaiting arraignment on a homicide charge.

Crashes are rare enough to put to the back of our minds, especially when we are in a diminished capacity.  When they happen, they are often catastrophic. Its easy to feel invincible until the brown stuff hits the fan, when it is too late for reflection. I hope these two young people either see the light (not the blue flashing ones) or get the full weight of the law on their hides for the sake of the rest of us.

Be careful out there. Maybe Memorial Day weekend was a good time to park the bike and just drink beer in the back yard. Beware of falling trees.

Go see Carol Clark's Daily Post story for full details.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Yet another Bike Month post: Kill a cow, win a county line sprint

Page 34 of the July Bicycling Magazine tells us old geezers of average age 59 that to maintain lean muscle mass, one should eat a six ounce steak. Why? I guess so that we can beat the other 59 year old geezers to the county line signpost. Ok, everyone belly up to the meat counter at Trader Joe's, Sprawl Mart, or Whole Paycheck.

Is Ultimate Narcissism a good reason to pound the prairie growing feedlot corn, kill a cow, burn a lot of energy in food production, and eat at the top of the food chain? Perhaps. For many Americans, the bicycle is a high end carbon fiber narcissistic toy, getting a mere fifteen miles per gallon while hoisted onto the SUV. If it is fueled, moreover, on well marbled steaks so that the rider can admire his physique while beating other aging yuppies to the signpost in races that subsitute for "who has got the biggest dick" honors, this sounds increasingly like bullshit.

That is a far cry for what a bicycle could be: a very efficient way to live a life in better tune to the environment while at the same time staying fit, allowing the rider to push the personal envelope as far as it can go, perhaps even beyond. One could still compete for the county line sprint sans dead cow, just as one could compete for it sans EPO and other performance enhancing drugs. Hell, at least with performance enhancing drugs, one is not tormenting animals other than the one in the mirror.  One could even do one's training while riding the damn bike to work, school, or the butcher shop.

Maybe Bicycling should spend less time extolling muscle meat and more extolling brain development. Or not? After all, the bicycle, like the steak, is just another consumer product, right?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Right Hook" scenerio inadvertently demonstrated

Pat Grant, of the League Cycling Instructor list, inadvertently took some excellent footage of an attempted right hook in progress. Riding up on the right in the lee of a motorist, or being overtaken by one at the last minute if you are already at or approaching the stop line, puts one in a treacherous situation. You cannot count on people to use their turn signals (at least in New Mexico) so the cyclist is  riding in the motorist's blind spot, assuming for the moment the motorist is even aware of the cyclist. At just about the five second mark of this video, you can start to see the right front wheel turn to the right. That's all the warning Pat got. Pat escaped disaster due to his low speed and as a last minute fix, the air horn.

John Allen, in the video below, is shown (on the Mass Bike Law Officer's Guide page) leaving the bike lane in such a situation and merging into the travel lane behind a car, which is the safe thing to do. In Pat's case the car overtook the cyclist in the bike lane very close to the intersection. In such a situation, I would advise the cyclist to either merge behind if practical or slow down and observe the motorist, not riding into the intersection until one is certain of the driver's destination path. If I get to the stop line when traffic is stopped, I move an additional bike length forward so I am in front of the driver rather than to the side. Just keep your situational awareness hat on and be thinking several seconds ahead and asking "what will I do if...."

This is the most common crash/near miss situation that folks have discussed with me in Los Alamos, especially since we finished the southernmost sections of bike lanes on Diamond Drive (i.e., south of Orange/Sandia) due to the numerous side streets and parking lot entrances located there. Bike lanes are nice where there are no turning and crossing problems, but they otherwise put you to the right of right turning motorists and also less visible to left turning motorists. Beware, and as the Saavy Cycling program advises, "don't let the paint stripes do your thinking for you".

Be aware and stay outa the "coffin corner".

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Three Feet Is Not Enough to Avoid a Dooring

Relevant to our one door zone bike lane in Bombtown.

My old Porsche 944 Turbo, a two door coupe, had almost four feet of door if fully opened.
Here, the centerline of Neale's bike is about 40" from the side of the car. 
Old North Road bike lane configuration shown, and was entirely in the door zone.

Editor, Bicycling

In the June issue, Susi Wunsch ("Square One", pg 21) tells prospective riders to "Keep at least three feet between your bike and parked cars to avoid opening doors...".  This is not adequate distance.

Our 4 door Subaru Impreza driver's door projects 37.5 inches from the side of the car when open. A truck or coupe can have even larger doors.

A rider, to avoid hitting a door or suffering a loss of control due to grazing handlebar contact, must be sure his or her right handlebar tip clears an opened car door.  Elsewhere, on**, Bob Mionske tells cyclists to avoid "...the 3- to 5-foot area next to a parked car." I would personally choose the larger number as a minimum, as do many other experienced cyclists, to make sure you have a margin of error.

 In this video, Preston Tyree coaches students through a good door zone avoidance drill.Thanks to Ian for reminding me of this video.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Skies Clear for Ride of Silence

Like a parting of the seas, the heavy thunderstorms lifted promptly for the Ride of Silence in Los Alamos. Thanks a million to Lily Cohen for doing all the heavy lifting to get this off the ground, to the riders who participated, and to LAPD for sending a representative. It was particularly important to have this ride up here. We have been blessed with relative safety in Los Alamos County, but recently lost one of our own when Rob Oakes was taken out elsewhere in New Mexico by an errant driver. Thanks also to Lily Cohen and Lori Erickson for sending me pictures to post. There is more coverage at the Daily Post and in the Los Alamos Monitor, although for the Monitor, I think you need a subscription to read it online.

Stuck inside a Subaru with the Bike Week Blues Again

As luck would have it, I injured my foot about a month ago. It kept getting worse, so when a local podiatrist had a cancellation yesterday, I decided to have it looked at. A few minutes of ultrasound showed a damaged tendon sheath surrounded by a lot of swelling and fluid that needed to be removed. A local anesthetic and a needle meant for a horse later, I hobbled out with instructions to stay off my feet the rest of the week. Bummer for bike week. So if you see a grumpy old guy in a car looking wistfully at anyone on their bicycle for the next couple days, its probably me.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Reminder: Ride of Silence is Tomorrow, 15 May

Lili Cohen has organized the Los Alamos Ride of Silence. It starts at 6:30 p.m. at Ashley Pond. The ride is a quiet, slow paced requiem for fallen riders. More info here about New Mexico rides and hope to see you at Ashley.

Tuff Riders co-founder Rob Oakes
Photo purloined from the Los Alamos Daily Post
See article at the Post link below for details

Do it for Los Alamos cyclist and Tuff Riders co-founder (per Kristin Pederson) Rob Oakes.

Los Alamos
Contact: Lily Cohen   <-- u="">Send email

7 miles
Meeting at Ashley Pond at 6:30 pm on May 15th

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Extra Bike Ed class at LANL

For those readers who work up here at LANL, I don't know if there are still openings for the Tuesday lunchtime Bike Ed class that I am teaching. If not, feel free to register on the waiting list. I told the Wellness Center I would do an additional class later this month if demand exists.

Meanwhile, if you are not riding your bike to work, perhaps you can ride this baby to work. With  tip of the hat to Slim Pickens...

Friday, May 10, 2013

400 ppm: Yet another spin on Bike Month, 2013

Carbon Dioxide Level Passes Long-Feared Milestone

Source: New York Times

From the New York Times: "...The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported on Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years..."

As Ian Cooper and Andy Cline have either said or implied, we will need a National Bike Decade and similar kinds of thinking to bring our geochemical experiment with climate change under better control.

Or don't bother. Humans, like other catastrophes, will cause major extinctions on earth, including our own demise. The earth and biosphere will recover as it always has after previous major events such as bolide impacts. But if we want to prolong our own stay here and slow down the pace of change we need to adapt to, some thoughts: 1. ZPG. Yep, use a condom after one or at most two kids, especially you high maintenance first worlders. Seven billion people driving SUVs won't work. 2. Drastically reduce our energy footprint with steps like eating lower on the food chain (vegetarianism) and on local production, living in smaller, more efficient homes, and ditching the high output gas guzzler for something with a much higher effective mpg, such as a smaller, electric car, a bike, an e-bike, or communal transit, whatever that looks like in the future. 3. We need to invest in renewable energy R and D so we can replace fossil fuels with elegant, sustainable solutions. Add a carbon tax for good measure, since we are presently dumping the costs of fossil fuels onto the future while harvesting the benefits now. 4. Re-think our settlement patterns so they are more sustainable. Exurbs make no sense if you have to commute to the Inburbs.

The cynic in me says "here's to 500 ppm". I suspect its right around the corner. But cynicism should not get in the way of just riding your bike.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Right Hooks and Helmets


"Do not make a sudden right turn after passing a bicyclist on your right. Instead, slow down and merge behind the bicyclist before turning."--New Mexico Driver Manual, pg. 26.

Almost took one on the chin yesterday morning, of the "ours" variety. While riding into the Conoco Hill intersection headed townbound, a lady in a small car quickly overtook me and made a sharp right onto Arkansas/38th and pulled into the Shell station. I did an instant turn inside her and followed her into the gas station.

The lady was apparently of the belief that bike lanes are equivalent to sidewalks, and that I had failed to wait for the WALK light. I explained how the law applies to bike lanes, which are travel lanes for the exclusive use of bicyclists, and that she in fact cut across my lane while I was in it. I admitted that the basic design is a confusing mess, i.e., a motorist is making a right turn from a center lane, and that we both needed to understand the layout and its limitations and avoid its pitfalls. I think she ended up believing that I was telling her good information.
Need more of these

Until we re-engineer bike lanes at intersections to ameliorate the hooking/crossing conflicts, possibly with protected intersection light cycles or signage such as the one I show here (not sure it is MUTCD compliant), they will be flawed designs, as they force a crisscross maneuver with a cyclist in a motorist's blind spot and frankly, the law is tough to sort out since a motorist making a turn from as close to the right hand edge as practicable (66-7-322) will be in the bike lane, which is a lane for the exclusive use of bicyclists. The clearest guidance is the basic idea (66-7-317) that you can't leave a lane until it is safe to do so. Indeed clear guidance is provided by the New Mexico Driver Manual, pg. 26: "Do not make a sudden right turn after passing a bicyclist on your right. Instead, slow down and merge behind the bicyclist before turning."  But given the usual motorist (and occasional police) confusion about the law, lack of training, and pure cluelessness, I conclude that you had better be on your situational awareness toes and up to date on your bike handling practice sessions. Don't put your safety in anyone else's hands.

Often, I leave the bike lane and occupy the appropriate travel lane as I approach an intersection in order to avoid this scenerio--its not "practicable" to put one's self in a dangerous situation. Riding slowly uphill on Diamond at Conoco Hill (is it now "Shell Hill"?) isn't one of those times, but it does leave me a little vulnerable to other people's mistakes. My typical low speed on cresting Conoco Hill works in my favor as far as safety. I look at it as good bike handling/situational awareness practice, and the occasional "teaching moment". But in general, one has to consider that being in a bike lane on a street with a lot of turning and crossing traffic, such as on Diamond south of Orange/Sandia, can be hazardous to one's health.

On another topic of occasional interest there is an excellent helmet article in the June hardcopy issue of Bicycling Magazine. Added later: the full story is now up on their web site. Title is "Senseless" and it is a...maybe...very well researched discussion on helmet design, testing standards, and current research into helmet design improvements and what is holding them back (fossilized standards, for the most part). If you want to learn something at the layperson's level about current helmet research, go buy a copy. Its really worth the price of the magazine. New designs in progressive foam compression and rotational acceleration management promise to make significant improvements in the old brain bucket, if these go into full production. Right now, Scott and Cannondale offer models with the "conehead" foam design, which is supposed to provide better management of deceleration by providing two interacting foams, one that compresses readily and one that is stiffer (see picture below). Go read the article and click over to the foam discussion on Randy Swart's for more authoritative information than I will put here in the interests of not violating copyrights or exceeding my limited expertise on the topic. Added later: Apparently, the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute had a far less rosy evaluation of this article than I did. Go read their review here.
A "conehead"multifoam design
photo and discussion at

I won't get into all the political, ethical, and sometimes downright silly arguments pro or con helmets here. Decide for yourself. But one thing that seems to make sense from the Bicycling article is that the lack of correlation between decreased numbers of all brain injuries and increased helmet wearing can be explained by the decades-old helmet design, which is built to prevent one model injury, a very serious linear (ie., not shear rotation) impact mitigated by a very stiff foam. Lesser injuries, including concussion and shear damage, are still possible.

Seems like a sort of crappy post for National Bike Month on this site, but I'd rather you be safe than complacent. Keep the rubber side down and slip those punches!

Added later. Mike Prime emailed me at work, commenting " Did I notice correctly that the old “Bicyclists ride single file” signs on NM 4 near Bandelier have been removed and replaced with “Share the road” signs? I definitely noticed the Share signs. A million kudos to whoever made that happen. In my experience, that change makes a big difference in attitude for many motorists. I don’t know if the change happened all the way up into the Jemez. I’ve not been that way recently."

Bryan Lally said the signage continues into the Jemez. I suspect it would be the State District Engineer responsible. That's definitely good news.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

National Bike Month, or, You May Not Drive a Great Big Cadillac...

Yeah. From Inner City Buffalo, NY to Los Alamos, NM, comes this spin on Bike Month.

Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac
Gangsta whitewalls, TV antennas in the back
You may not have a car at all
But remember brothers and sisters
You can still stand tall
Just be thankful for what you got.
Diamond in the back, sunroof top
Diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean
William DeVaughn 

Interesting essay on the song and author.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

New Mexico to cyclists "Well, at least we are not 50th..."

Once again, the Land of Enchantment fought hard for the title of Lanterne rouge in the annual Bicycle-Friendly States competition.  Only North Dakota (50th) and Alabama (49th) managed to beat us. We scored in the bottom quintile in three of the five categories, making it to the second worst quintile in Education/Encouragement and Legislation/Enforcement, even though many of the bills we fought to have passed only made it as far as the round file.

New Mexico is a poor state with a lot of road to maintain and a lot of poverty. One cannot ask for perfection. One should ask for better than this. Those hit hardest are not the kitted out cyclists with good jobs, who have plenty of options, but those people who depend on the bicycle for basic transportation such as kids riding to school, the poor, and those who cannot afford to load up the car and kids and find nice places to ride somewhere else.

I'm starting to think that for New Mexico cyclists, the partially paved shoulder should be the state symbol:
Partial shoulder paving on US 70 E. of Las Cruces
Parts of US 70 are NM State Bike Route 7

 For the full state by state discussion, go to the League blog post

Click to enlarge the chart, or go to the LAB Blog article