October 2010 archive

The macho discourse on city cycling

How much does the bike community’s own discourse on city cycling negatively affect the number and type of people who are willing to give life on two wheels a try?

This question has been swirling around my head since last week, when I read a guest post on Commute by Bike that offered 10 Rules for Urban Commuting. The rules are full of advice such as disobeying stop lights, being aggressive and never signaling. There is also solid advice about avoiding the door zone, not waiting to the right of stopped traffic and taking the lane. I disagree with a lot of the rules, but that’s fine: it’s not my list and I’m sure the style of riding works for the author and many others.

However, the macho tone of the article is endemic of a problem of the greater discourse on bicycling in the bike community. This wild west approach contributes to the fringe status of transportation cycling, both by repelling everyday people, especially women, and by reinforcing a culture that pits cyclists, drivers and pedestrians against each other.

When I first started bike commuting, I eagerly searched the web for tips and information, and this is the kind of advice I found everywhere – the kind that increased my apprehension about riding in the city and made me feel like I was not the type of person who should be attempting this. While I would have learned something from the “10 Rules,” the net effect may not have been helpful.

Me, a happy city cyclist {photo (c) Martha Williams}

I must not have been the only one who felt this way. The comments following the “10 Rules” post argued passionately both in favor of and against the rules. In response, the author followed up on his own blog by posting an 11th rule:

“I was struck by one curious and oft-repeated theme: the idea that those who ride bikes should assiduously avoid breaking traffic rules, because doing so makes motorists think badly of us.

For those afflicted with this way of thinking, I offer Rule 11:

If your priority is being seen as a “cycling role model” by drivers, you should not ride in the city.

Leaving aside the notion that riding safely and not making motorists think badly of us are mutually exclusive, I have a problem with this statement. I am not comfortable with advice aggressively telling people they should not ride in the city if X, Y or Z. I have enough experience with city cycling now to know what’s what, but this macho instruction would have been very off-putting to me when I was a beginner. What is a new bike commuter to take from such a statement: that to ride a bike in the city, one must abandon a lifetime of lawful behavior and reconcile oneself to pissing off drivers in a never-ending struggle to make it home alive? Sign me up!

Since new bike commuters are presumably the intended audience for these rules and other similar advice columns around the internet, I worry about how many potential cyclists are scared off by this kind of rhetoric. Someone kicking around the idea of bike commuting is already going out on a metaphorical limb and is likely hearing from family and co-workers that riding a bike is crazy and dangerous. It may not take much to push someone away from the notion completely. Certainly, safety is important and a new bicyclist must learn the rules of the road, but there is a way to broadcast that message without alienating most of the audience (I highly recommend the article, “How not to get hit by cars”).

Hopefully, some who are initially put off keep digging around the web and find advice that speaks to them and their situations. In the two and a half years since I first started my research as a new bike commuter, the number and quality of alternative resources has grown. Although the discourse is still largely controlled by the hardcore contingent, I am optimistic that as city cycling becomes more popular, the discussion will become more moderate.

Final Outdoor Farmer’s Market Trip

October is drawing to a close far too quickly and today was the last outdoor farmer’s market of the season. Luckily, Chicago’s Green City Market continues year-round indoors. Still, I will miss spending time outside in the fresh air of Lincoln Park. This is my last hurrah post with pictures I took using my vintage film camera.

After the market, I met up with Melissa and Chanh for the somewhat lackluster Rally to Restore Sanity (the main event was in D.C.). Afterward, we went to lunch. They were dressed up for Halloween as a redneck and a hippie. The waitress, after remarking on their costumes, turned to me and said, “I know who you are. From the Wizard of Oz. You’re Dorothy.” Hmm, I thought, this is actually how I dress everyday (in my new thrifted outfit). Aloud I said, “Yes, I am Dorothy.” A true statement, but not in the way she understood it. :)

And now, In Memorium: Summer 2010 Farmer’s Market.

Bicycling to the Farmer’s Market
Simple Pleasures
Farmer’s Market by Bike
Farmer’s Market on Film

How are you spending the last weekend of October?

Friday fun time

It’s finally Friday, and after an interminable week I am headed to the ATL for a weekend with friends. For your entertainment, here are some random shots from the week, with commentary.

It has been a dry fall (poor Nashville; this year we’ve had the coldest winter, wettest spring, hottest summer and driest fall on record for a while) but there is still some beautiful fall foliage, though this tree is a lot more bare today than it was on Monday when I took this picture

I don’t think I’ve ever expressed my dislike of bike racks that don’t work with non-diamond frames. Although diamond frame or not, I never see anyone using this rack as it’s intended to be used. Too complicated!

For the past few months I have been completely obsessed with Mumford & Sons. And I am seeing them LIVE on Monday. Can. not. wait. This song is perfect for the morning commute.

And now, back on the bike to head in for the last day of work this week!

What have you liked/disliked/loved this week?

Gale Force WIND-y City Commute

Since I took public transportation instead of riding my bike during the two-day windstorm, I bring this story from my intrepid reporter/friend E A.  If there’s ever a day when I don’t ride due to weather conditions, I can be 95% sure that E A rode anyway.


With the gusty weather predictions for the Midwest and Chicago on Tuesday, I debated the safety of venturing out on two wheels for my morning commute. A high wind advisory and tornado watches had been alerting me all Monday evening and Tuesday morning about the potential dangerous weather that is plaguing many areas of the U.S. as October nears its end.

At 7am Tuesday rain was pouring down and traffic reports showed the results of jack-knifed semis and cars in ditches. Luckily the worst of the storms moved over Chicago quickly and I found myself staring out into an eery calm after the storm by 8:30am. Shortly after 9am I was on the road with a light wind breaker for a dry commute into strong (but not gale force) southerly winds. Along my route, I bike down Wells Street – which to me is always ridden with cyclonic type winds – and my commute on Tuesday (or Wednesday) did not disappoint.

So… from my commute, I offer you some cautionary advice for dealing with such gusty wind storms:
* Keep both hands firmly gripped on your handlebars
* Tuck your upper body down more so less of you is exposed to the brunt of the wind
* Forge ahead
* Don’t be ashamed to bail out to use public transportation if the conditions are not safe – put your own safety first

Especially when the cross-winds come, I find it particularly challenging to keep my line and not be blown into parked cars or traffic speeding by. But I know my route well and that high level of familiarity helps me know just when and where I’m most exposed and where I can seek shelter or alternate transportation if need be.

I rode both ways Tuesday and Wednesday despite the high wind advisory. Going home both days the winds should have be at my back, but some of those gusts whipped at me from every direction…  The best part was when the wind literally did PUSH me home – “Look Ma – No pedaling!”

At least the these are the warm winds. It’s when these winds turn blustery that I start to shudder.

Stay upright out there! And please share your stormy/windy commuting adventures and tips.

Live Call-In Show with Path Less Pedaled TONIGHT

The owner of transportation and cargo bike shop Cycle 9 (located in my beloved old stomping grounds of Carborro, NC) is doing a live call-in interview with Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of The Path Less Pedaled TONIGHT at 9 pm eastern/8 pm central.

Russ and Laura, photo by Trisha

You can not only listen to the hour-long show, but call in to ask questions!  To do this, you first need to register at http://www.biketouringbliss.com.  Once you register, you’ll have access to the call in number. There’s no charge to participate.

If you don’t already know about Laura and Russ, you should!  They are a couple who have embarked on a truly “epic” 14-month bike ride across America.  I know I’ll be listening tonight!

Bike Deprivation

I am in the middle of one of the longest stretches of bike deprivation I’ve suffered in my 2.5 years of cycling. On Saturday I did not ride my bike because I spent the entire day on the couch reading the fascinating book Joyride by former Portland Bicycle Program Manager Mia Birk (stay tuned for my write-up). On Sunday I did not ride my bike because I spent the entire day at a film bootcamp learning to develop and print my own photos.

Monday – I rode my bike! And Martha shot this portrait of me and Oma.

Me and Oma, shot by Martha Williams

Today I took the L train to work and I’ll be doing the same tomorrow. By force. Chicago is currently in the throes of the second-strongest storm in it recorded history, a cyclone over Lake Michigan that is bringing sustained winds of more than 30 mph with gusts up to 60 mph. As much as I love to ride, I know where to draw the line.

Things I miss about riding:

  • Eating donuts with a clear conscience;
  • Feeling the wind in my hair;
  • Not feeling like a giant ground sloth;
  • Free transportation – the L train ride today was $4.25 I’ll never get back;
  • No wait time;
  • Fresh air;
  • A cheerful start to the day;
  • A stress relief after a long day.

What good stuff did I leave out?  :)

Is anyone else feeling the affects of this massive storm?  I’m sure there are hardier souls than I who rode anyway.

Martha’s Stylish Cyclists

Today I met Martha, a professional photographer working on a project documenting stylish Chicago bicyclists. She photographed me and Oma, and then I turned the tables on her for a few shots. After all, she has been a chic bike commuter herself for many years and rides an awesome vintage pink Schwinn.

Martha, her camera, her bike and Chicago

Here is more information from Martha about her project and a call out to Chicago cyclists.

I am working on a small project photographing stylish cyclists, and I want to photograph you with your bike (outside somewhere). I have a few rules:

1. No active wear, you should be wearing work clothes or going out clothes. (unless you can make a case for a particularly nice looking “functional” outfit)

2. I want all kinds of bikers but prefer women and commuters.

3. Look cute and dress up a little!

If this sounds good to you, contact Martha at mafaw1 {at} gmail {dot} com – she is still looking for subjects. She plans to compile her documentary photographs and create a new bicycling photoblog set to launch soon. I’ll definitely update you all when her site goes live!

Why is Nashville’s bike share program being kept under wraps?

Last Saturday, I took a trip downtown for BarCamp.  It was a beautiful afternoon, and after a few hours in tech seminars lit only by the glow of Apple computers, I was ready for some sunshine. Wanting to prolong my trip home, I swung by Riverfront Park to check out our much-touted bike share program. I was already feeling guilty for waiting two whole months to visit.

So I left Le Peug tethered and walked the two blocks to the Visitor’s Center.

This is what I found.

How inviting.

A trip inside was no more encouraging. My friend and I stood in front of the reception desk for at least a minute before the young man sitting behind it noticed us (hard to hear an entry bell when you’re listening to your iPod). We proceeded to attempt to extract some info about the program from him. It was like pulling teeth from a hen. He eventually said that to borrow the bikes, we would have to be residents of Davidson County (check) and would have to fill out a form (he implied this had to be done online beforehand; I’m not sure that’s true).

Since I had my own bike, I did not press the issue. But it made me wonder if anyone at all had actually been able to use this program. It’s nice that you can rent bikes for free and cruise around downtown. It’s not so nice that on one of the most beautiful fall days of the year, the bikes were covered by tarps in the back of the building and the person in charge did nothing to encourage their use, even when confronted with people who were interested.

This bike share program has seemed dubious from the beginning — just two locations, Davidson County residents only — but the fact that it was free and the fact that the two stations were in good locations made me think the investment might be worth it, if only to give Nashville’s citizens a risk-free way to rediscover riding a bike on a lazy afternoon. Maybe the Shelby Bottoms location is more welcoming, but if the Riverfront station is an indicator, I doubt they’ll get enough use out of the bikes to justify next year’s planned expansion. The Music City Star all over again?

On a cheerier note, here’s a picture from downtown. I loved seeing the SUV behind the horse and buggy.

suv and buggy in Nashville

And here’s a pic of us  back home. You may have noticed I’m missing about 11 inches of hair. Locks of Love was very appreciative, and I adore my new bob.

me and le peug

A close up:

But back to the subject at hand: Any Nashvillians had a better experience with this program than mine? I’m willing to admit it was just one day and one man, albeit one perfect day for a bike ride…

Another day of bike commuting

Another day of bike commuting in Chicago: enjoying the perfect fall weather, getting honked at for the audacity of taking the lane to turn left, being the only vehicle to stop for school children in a crosswalk while cars whizzed by, having most drivers treat me respectfully, feeling healthy and happy on my bicycle, and wearing purple for Spirit Day.

You may have noticed that Oma is missing her huge wicker basket. I go through accessory phases and currently I’m feeling the Basil pannier. I took off the easy-to-remove front rack for a little change. I’ve had the Basil pannier for over a year, but I’m still amazed by how much it can hold – at least as much as the basket – and how it never looks dirty.  Magic.

On another note – have you answered the “Your City” bicycling survey yet? So far there are over 50 fascinating responses. If your city has not been mentioned yet, represent! If your city has been mentioned, see what others have to say and then give us your perspective.

Your City: A Bicycling Survey

I love Chicago. I moved here 3 years ago for a job and because I wanted to live in a big city. I stay because there’s so much to do and I enjoy walking, biking and taking public transit everywhere.

Chicago’s bike infrastructure and sizable bike community are huge pluses. Compared to most North American cities, Chicago is advanced in this aspect, but the bar is not set very high. What I really want is serious European-style infrastructure with separated and protected bike lanes.

I’m optimistic about Chicago’s future as a bicycling city, but real progress lies in the far future. In the meantime, I wonder if a quiet town with light traffic would be better for bicycling, even if there is absolutely no infrastructure. And while I’m wondering, how about cities like Portland, Boulder, Minneapolis and Davis, those shining bike-cities?

Thinking about Chicago – what I like and don’t like and how bicycling plays a role – makes me interested in how others view their cities or towns. We’d love to hear about your experiences, if you feel like sharing.

1. What city do you live in?
2. What brought you to your city originally?
3. What is keeping you in your city?
4. Do you ever think about moving to a city that is more bike friendly?
5. Does the bike infrastructure (or lack thereof) play a major role in whether you will stay in your city?
6. Are you optimistic that your city’s bike infrastructure will improve?

Please leave your answers in the comments! We can all compare notes and learn more about each other’s experiences.

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