‘Share the road!’

August 5th, 2009

Look out, it bites!

No, that wasn’t me shouting at some lunatic driver. It was a lunatic driver — in a Prius — shouting at me after she’d nearly run me over.

Like so many altercations, this came out of pretty much nowhere. I was the first one to a T-shaped intersection, turning left. I pulled forward, signaling my intentions and waiting for a break in traffic, which was mostly going to my left. As I waited, a Prius appeared behind me and immediately pushed out into the intersection and started to turn right — into me.

I briefly panicked, but thankfully someone stopped and I was able to quickly cross to safety. I looked back and shot the driver a glance, but if I was looking for vindication, no luck. “Share the road!” she shouted back, zooming off with a gas-and-battery-powered squeal. “Get it? Share the road!!!” And with that she was gone, the two kids in back unsure what to think about the maniac who’d suddenly replaced their mother.

So what’s wrong here?

For starters, last I recall, “Share the road” is aimed at drivers, not bicyclists. We two-wheelers have to respect of the rights of others, of course, but drivers are the ones in the multi-thousand-pound steel cages, able to take all the room they want with a punch on the gas or a twist of the wheel. Bicyclists may be able to thread their way through traffic, but if drivers want a lane, they get it.

Second, as I firmly believe, cars have an amazing power to turn perfectly sane people into dangerous jerks. To some people a gas pedal is a drug: Once you’ve had a hit, you want more and no one can stop you. And having all that metal around you makes you feel invulnerable, no matter what the truth of the matter is. It’s a little about being at home, yelling at the TV, but instead you’re in public and are piloting a potentially deadly weapon. A curse here or a gesture there, and pretty soon you have a body or two on your hands.

I got to work safely, but was in a bleak mood all day. It was just a routine dust-up in the mean streets of Cambridge, but what got to me was the choice of insult, the car, and what it supposedly represented. I’m pretty hardened, but you’d think that if someone was driving a Prius there’s be some degree of social consideration. Nope.

So, be ready. Even after we melt down the last Hummer, switch to all electric cars, and power everything with windmills, drivers are still going to be jerks. Environmentally clean cars may be desperately needed, but they aren’t likely to make drivers any more considerate or more sharing — and yes, that word is for them.

Bike lane? What bike lane?

February 7th, 2009

Somewhere in the back of my ice-choked skull I remember some talk about a bike lane on Mass Ave. Wasn’t there one? Well, even if so, there isn’t any more.

Sure, things are tough when you’re in the middle of a winter as snowy and cold as this one. The flakes are fluffy and white one moment and plate steel the next. At first plows and tow trucks are aggressive, pushing back the snow and hauling away cars. But as the weeks turn into months, and one storm’s debris piles on another’s, some things get lost. Bike lanes, for instance.

Yesterday I rode from Boston to Harvard Square on Mass Ave, and it was not pretty. During a good stretch, cars might have grabbed half of the bike lane; during bad runs, they took it all. Even more laughably, on the ride from Cambridge to Boston, at one point the bike lane goes straight into a massive snowbank. Any sign that anyone’s going to take care of that? Nope.

During my ride to Harvard Square, I followed another cyclist, taking pictures of him dodging the cars and trucks as I did the same. All hail Cambridge for creating a space for bicycles on the busiest street in the city; what’s needed is follow-through, throughout the year.

Today was actually a lovely day for riding, with mild temperatures and clear skies. Alas, riding wasn’t quite so delightful, as hunks of black-brown ice littered the road, grit was everywhere, and drivers even more psychotic than usual. While I’m out all the time, no matter what the conditions (I actually like bad-weather riding),  a lot of riders aren’t so determined. Bike lanes are good things, and having them consistently available and respected by cars and city workers alike is essential to building a real, durable bike culture in Boston.

Repair, repair, repair

January 28th, 2009


What you see is a pair of junky old pedals. Just mid-’80s SR SP-150s, they probably cost $10 new, if that. But cheap or not, these pedals have kept on going — at this point more than 20 years and untold thousands of miles, all the abuse dished out by yours truly. The bike they came on is long gone, but the pedals are still here, still slugging away. I’ve probably rebuilt them on average once a year, and if the outer cones are shot, with a fresh load of grease and some new bearings, they don’t run too badly.

You’ll note some serious road rash, to say nothing of some major scars. The cage on the right pedal was badly damaged in a mid-’90s bike accident in San Francisco — I was riding South of Market looking up at some buildings and hit a massive pothole. I went down, snapping off one of my downtube shifters with my knee; the edge of the pedal cage hit the road and fractured.

The end of the line for the pedals? Obviously not. Like some crazy backwoods surgeon,  I cut away the damaged edge of the cage and crudely attached what’s called an earthquake strap — soft metal bands used to attach things like bookshelves to the wall so they don’t end up on you during a seismic event. They’re useful for repairs, as they’re easy to cut, moderately supple, yet stiff enough to stand up to use. And so there it still is, a dozen years on, still screwed to the right pedal.

Oh, and those white things where the dust caps should be? Soda-bottle tops. The original dust caps went missing a long time ago — I use toe clips and have a bad habit of pedaling on the backs of the pedals occasionally, something that can spin out the dust caps — and I needed to keep out the water. Casting my eyes around, I saw a plastic soda cap. Hmmmmm. A little trimming and a lot of hot glue, and there they are. The only downside is that you have to make sure the bearings are well adjusted before you glue the caps on; if not, you have to rip them off again. But once in place, they’re watertight and do the job just right.

And that’s that. I just rebuilt the pedals yet again, and they’re going on my city bike, which gets the most abuse of all my rides. But the pedals can take it, I know — they have already.

The moral of this story? Repair, repair, repair. With a couple of tools and a little determination, you can keep pretty much any bike or component going forever.

The un-gift that keeps on giving

December 22nd, 2008

How to Live Well Without Owning a CarIt’s always amazed me how much people fight to get and keep a car — the up-front cost, the onerous monthly charges, the outrageous insurance rates. And there are those little things — the tickets, parking costs, the aggravation of trying to find a spot to ditch the thing, and, yes, the repair bills. “When a car goes to the shop, it’s $400,” so many of my friends have told me. Oh, and when you sell it? It’s worth less — way less — than when you bought it. How’s that for an “investment”?

Well, there’s an option: don’t own one. While I gave up my car long ago, I saw a nice little book a couple of years ago that I’ve been recommending to anyone who will listen, and now thanks to this blog, all one of you can listen. It’s by a guy named Chris Balish and is called : How to Live Well Without a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life. It’s no preachy tome, but instead short, simple, and fun, and the argument is irresistible, even to the most wild-eyed car “lover”: money. The fact is that the total cost of owning a car — any car, large or small, hybrid or gas guzzler, new or used — is far, far more than you could imagine, and that makes getting rid of yours the best way to save money, to say nothing of regain your sanity. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

Despite what $20 billion of automobile advertising every year would have us all believe, buying or leasing a car, truck, or SUV is the worst financial move most people make in their lifetime. And they make this mistake again and again, at a cost of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. As you will see in the coming chapters, cars devour cash, increase debt, reduce savings, and make financial freedom difficult to achieve.

This book suggests taking a different path — a car-free path. The program in these pages will show you how to live a full, active life without owning a car. And without a car to pay for, practically anyone can get out of debt, save money, and achieve financial freedom. The truth is that tens of millions of working Americans do not need to own a car. One basic premise of this book is that if you can get to work reliably without a car, you don’t need to own one.

How to Live Well Without Owning a Car cartoonApparently Chris himself never planned on going car-free, but did briefly because of circumstances, and was amazed by how much more money just happened to be in the bank at the end of the month. He tells his story as well as those of others, and it’s a great read, light and funny, with lots of smart cartoons — just the thing to show you the way forward. If you’d like to learn more, read here; if you’re ready to take the leap, then go for it.

Sunday night….

December 21st, 2008

Shay’s on a snowy night

Started out the evening with friends at Shay’s in Harvard Square and then headed toward BoldSprints at Middlesex. Great ride down Mass Ave, which had this quasi-curfew feel to it — no parked cars, huge mounds of snow, and so few vehicles that every other one seemed to be a plow. No problem riding through the slush/ice mix, as my bike had some serious snow tires — always fun riding past stuck cars. Alas, when I got to Middlesex, found that the place was dark and that the event had been postponed — no BoldSprints. Dang! As I’ll be out of town on the make-good date (the 28th), it’ll have to be the next time around for me.