Saturday, July 30, 2005

Cyclocross sponsorship

One of the local shops is looking to sponsor a cyclocross rider this fall. The owner put out a message on several e-mail lists, looking for someone committed to racing, with a pleasant demeanor. It’s a sweet deal – full shop support and an opportunity to purchase the bike at cost at the end of the season.

But I had an errant thought or two about it.

Why not sign one of us Old-Guys-Who-Get-Fat-In-Winter as a sponsored rider? Think of it this way. The young, fast guys are just too skinny to provide good advertising space. Spectators catch a fleeting glimpse, at best, and think, “Whatwuzzat?”

But us older, shall we say - slightly pudgy guys offer ample surface area to carry a lot of text and maybe even some graphics. Plus, since we travel slower, spectators will be able to read the shop name, phone number, pager number, fax number, street address, zip code, and website address. In my case, they'd probably even have enough time to write it all down, including any fine print! What a deal!

Someone described a mountain bike race as a mass start event that devolves to an individual time trial. Cyclocross is like that too. The last one I was in went for an hour and one lap, which was about 20 minutes longer than my legs lasted. Cyclocross is madness! The race is both on and off-road, and includes water crossings and barriers that require the rider to dismount and run carrying his bike. Toss in some wet, miserable weather and copious amounts of mud, and you have a true spectacle! It really is fun, if your idea of fun stretches far enough back to remember being a kid in a mud puddle!

Sure, there are some awfully fast people in a cyclocross race. Think of them as swift, sleek greyhounds. Then there are the bicycling equivalents of the Budweiser Clydesdales, big, ground-pounding behemoths with one big ab rather than a lot of little ones. It’s sort of like watching those trained circus bears riding bicycles. The wonder isn’t how well they ride. It’s that they can ride at all.

Spectators have a perverse fascination with watching the big guys go by, mud flying, legs flailing, lungs wheezing, and bits of bicycles falling off. It’s a lot like watching those police car videos where you know something awful is about to happen, but you can’t quite turn away.

If you get a chance to see a cyclocross race this fall, don’t pass it by, especially if it’s a wet, cold weekend. Who knows? You might catch the madness too and think, “Hey! I can do that!”

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Thursday Musette

Wow! Near-record low temperatures here in Tulsa overnight! It was 62F when I rode in to work this morning. I had a long-sleeved thermal shirt under my jersey, and I was glad to have it because the first part of my commute is mostly downhill. It was actually chilly!

Still, it will be close to 90 this afternoon, so I’m sucking down Gatorade in order to stay hydrated for the ride home.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that in Oklahoma you may need to use both the heater and air conditioner in the same day.


Fritz asked about putting my assailant’s tag number on-line. (See “Where to Begin” for the background). From my point of view, there’s nothing to gain from doing this and there are several pitfalls. This person may not ever harass a cyclist again. But if he does, the local police have his information already. If he has a history of hassling cyclists, I’d prefer the police deal with it. Yes, there’s a certain visceral appeal in the idea of vigilante justice, but let’s face it folks, it works well in the movies, but in real life it can backfire badly. So don’t even think about it.


Christmas is a long way off, but I’m already thinking about what to tell Mary. I may ask for a new saddle, a Brooks B17 in honey brown. There’s an old Brooks Pro on my fixed gear. I rode it all winter and I like it. I think I’d like a Brooks on my Bianchi too. I do value comfort!


Jordan, my fourteen-year-old, will out-grow his Nishiki road bike this summer. The kid weighs 160 pounds! That’s what I weighed when I graduated from high school! He’s gonna be a biggun. I promised him my Giant road racer when he was big enough, and it looks like that day is arriving far sooner than I expected. When he gets the Giant, I’ll need another performance bike, and my ego wants a Bianchi Pista. Like an Italian mistress, it probably won’t be good for me in the long run, but it sure would be fun!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


It must be one of those perennial rites of summer, a complaining letter to the local newspaper about all those lawless cyclists on the road. And it’s true. Some cyclists are indeed lawless. They have little regard for courtesy, common sense, or the law. I’ll get to them in a minute.

Before talking about the cyclists, I want to write about some recent experiences with those other lawless road users – motorists. My commute takes me past an off ramp from a local freeway. Earlier this week, a small truck came flying down the ramp as I approached, and without ever slowing, turned right onto the city street. Right turns on red are legal in Oklahoma, but only if you stop first. There’s another red light a little further down the street. He ran that one too.

The third light was red as well, but rather than run it, he turned left just before the intersection and cut through a business parking lot at about 30 miles an hour. Then he roared away on the cross street.

Where’s a cop when you need one?

This morning, the event was nearly repeated. Another motorist flew down the ramp, and was about to turn right when she suddenly noticed a bicyclist (me) almost directly in front of her car. I have the ability to magically appear like that, apparently. She was miffed that she had to slow down. Never mind about the stopping bit. Once I’d cleared the intersection, she floored it to go around me. I must be really fast because so many motorists find it necessary to downshift in order to pass.

But the cool part was that the next light had just turned red. I caught up to her and stared into her passenger side window from the right hand lane. She stared stonily ahead. That’s another one of my abilities. I can make myself invisible to women sometimes, but it’s an ability I haven’t quite mastered in that I can’t turn it on and off. Regardless, she was off in a cloud of exhaust fumes as soon as the light changed.

What about lawless cyclists? In the last week, I’ve encountered sidewalk riders and wrong-way riders. I suspect that sidewalk riders see themselves as pedestrians-on-wheels rather than as cyclists. In my town, it’s illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk within a business district, though to be honest, I’ve never heard of that law being enforced. Still, the chances of crashing are about three times greater for sidewalk cyclists as compared to those on the street. Every ramp, doorway, or other sidewalk is an intersection, and as we all know, intersections are where the crashes occur.

Worse, I saw two twenty-somethings riding on and off the sidewalk. They swerved onto the road when it was clear, but at the first approach of a motor vehicle, they zoomed up onto the sidewalk again. I was doing almost 20 mph and barely overtaking them.

Pedestrians on wheels. I think it’s the perfect description for these people. And when you consider the wrong-way cyclists, it fits even better. Consider this – we teach children to walk facing traffic, and in fact, that’s the best position for a pedestrian. So these people are acting like pedestrians. They just have a pair of wheels beneath them.

We have to change the mindset of those pedestrians on wheels, convince them they’re on a vehicle, before we can educate them further.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Where to begin?

The following incident happened a few weeks ago.


I’ll try to do a chronology of yesterday’s events.

I was riding home from work along that nasty stretch where some motorists believe I should be in the right turn lane. One of them passed very rapidly on my right, then swerved into the dedicated left turn lane. I stopped behind him. When the light changed, we both turned left onto the cross street. Before completing the turn, he jammed on his brakes and I almost ran into his bumper. He accelerated away.

He remained in the left lane, then made another left into a parking lot. I followed. He parked and threw open his door and began shouting that the roads are for cars, not bicycles. I shouted back and called him an asshole. He pulled out a can of Halt pepper spray and started toward me. I lifted the bike to keep him at a distance, but at about 6-8 feet, he sprayed the canister into my face and eyes.

I’ve never experienced pepper spray, though I carried it for a while as a deterrent against dogs. The effects are unpleasant but not incapacitating. I could see for a short time but it was difficult to keep my eyes open.

I dropped the bike, and before the spray overwhelmed my eyes, I ran at him. I did not want to be blind and defenseless if he attacked further, so the only alternative was to get close in. We fell into some shrubs with me on top. I couldn’t see at all. Another man showed up and separated us. I asked him several times to call the police.

I retrieved my bike from the parking lot and leaned it up against the building. I found a bench, sat down and started washing my eyes with a water bottle. Apparently the bench and a nearby planter had been overturned in the struggle. I don’t remember running into them and I certainly couldn’t see them.

Behind the bench were several credit cards and a set of car keys. I held up the keys. “Are these yours?” I asked. My assailant said they were. I threw them into the shrubs. He found them, got in his truck and started to leave. “Get his tag number!” I said to the other guy. Then I got up and walked to the parking lot. Despite my blurred vision, I got his tag and returned to the bench.

A woman came out of the optometrist’s office and said she’d called the police. Several officers responded and took reports. I remembered the credit cards behind the bench, and gave them to an officer. Sometime in there, my assailant returned to the parking lot, and a police car blocked his vehicle from moving again. The officer with me said that my assailant claimed I’d started the fight, and of course, I was saying that he started it. Without witnessing the fight himself, the officer couldn’t bring charges, though he said I could make a citizen’s arrest (?). Of course the other guy could then take the same action against me. I declined.

The officer took my driver’s license for identification, and said that the matter would go to the city’s prosecuting attorney. Also, he said that the incident report would be available in about a week.

I’ve thought that intersection would be the site of a confrontation sometime. Some motorists get very annoyed at a cyclist traveling north in the through lane. I’ve brought this to the attention of both the police and Public Works. The right-hand lane is separated from the through lane by a solid white stripe. According to both the MUTCD, that makes it a deceleration lane, not a through lane. There are no other markings or signs to indicate this.

Now, I’m not naïve. I realize that some motorists won’t care about proper signage. But some will, and that signage may make them more tolerant of cyclists. Then there are those who believe that cyclists have no place on our roads, and they’re willing to use their vehicles as weapons. Fortunately, these truly malicious people are very rare. We’re far more likely to meet inattentive, distracted drivers, and regardless of the motivation, the potential injury to a cyclist is just as real, just as painful.


Like I said, that was all written a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve talked with an attorney, a former police officer, and the records clerk at our local PD. To keep it short, no charges are likely to be filed against either party. Basically, it’s his word against mine, and there are no corroborating witnesses. So it’s probably over and done with, and believe me, I’m relieved about that. I don’t know the guy’s name, nor do I want to. I’ve learned much from this.

Will I confront another malicious motorist in similar circumstances? That’s something I just can’t answer yet. My gut feeling is that I will, if only because evil people have to be opposed. Remaining silent only encourages them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Our Ford...

I can really understand why Steven King wrote Cujo as his revenge against the Ford Motor Company for selling him a Pinto. My Contour has a remarkable appetite for switches. Several burned out in the dash, including the one that controls all the lighting. When it went, the only working lights were the headlights. This led directly to an informal meeting with the local constabulary one evening.

Saturday night, the driver’s side power window went down and refused to come up again. I tinkered with it on Sunday and actually managed to get it to go up once. It promptly went back down. Of course, in managing that feat, I’d disassembled most of the interior. There really isn’t much to a power window, only a switch assembly, a relay, and a motor.

Monday, I went to the Ford dealer to get the relay. They didn’t have one, nor could they find one in their computer. This should usually be regarded as a bad omen. But they’d have one the next day.

Tuesday, I went to work early so I could try to get the car finished in the afternoon. Just before I was to leave work, a co-worker came inside and said that it was about to rain. I drove home instead of going to the dealer. In the driveway, I closed the door, then thought about tinkering with the window switch, so I pulled it out and wiggled the wiring on the back. The window went up!

It’s been up ever since.

This kind of nickel-and-dime stuff makes me crazy. I like this car, but it’s these little things that really make me appreciate my bike all the more. At least I can fix them fairly easily.

If it weren’t for having a family, I probably wouldn’t own a car. That might be impractical for living in suburbia, but it has a certain appeal. Picture a tidy, well, mostly tidy, yard surrounding a house without a car in the driveway. There’s never a car in the driveway. How subversive is that?

But the kids have to be taken here and there. Groceries have to be carted home, and with a fourteen-year-old son, there are a lot of groceries to cart! Sure, I could do all this with a bike and a trailer. But there’s another, more compelling reason to have a car. Mary has an adult form of muscular dystrophy. She may have the strength to ride a bike, but any kind of fall requires a long recovery. She’s terrified of falling.

I’ve tried to coax her onto the back of the tandem without success. That may have something to do with her dim view of her husband’s ability to control a bike. And I don’t believe that she’s alone in believing her husband is a klutz. I tried again last night. “I’ll think about it”, she said. That means I have a better chance of hitting the Powerball jackpot while being eaten by sharks and struck by lightning simultaneously.

So my family needs a car. Still, I liked what Sandra wrote about being car-lite instead of car-free. I use the car when I need to, but most of my basic transportation is on a bicycle.

That brings up another interesting divide. A co-worker attended the local Wednesday night ride yesterday, and he noted that almost everyone there was on a shiny new bike. Nary a dusty old Schwinn to be seen, let alone a high-mileage commuting bike. These people are primarily recreational riders. They wouldn’t ride to work or ride in heavy traffic. Yet transportation cyclists do this everyday.

Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not demeaning recreational riders and I’m certainly not trying to imply that they’re not ‘real’ cyclists. Almost all of us started riding for recreation. But there may be a perceptible difference in the way we approach road rights.

Recreational riders are happy to use low-traffic roads, trails, and sub-standard facilities. This is a gross over-generalization, of course. But in broad terms, they aren’t as interested in road rights because they simply aren’t affected much.

Those of us who ride for transportation have a different attitude, well, those of us who ride on the road rather than the sidewalks. When we need to get from home to work and back, we travel on many of the same roads used by motorized commuters. Our right to use the public road is important, fundamental to our transportation mode.

A co-worker was talking with me today about last night's group ride. "Those people are on high-end, very expensive bikes!" he said. "All of them are spotless and new. I rode my old Raleigh and people were sneering at it!" He's one of those guys who are perhaps excessively concerned about what other people think.

"Ride with them until the first hill, then drop 'em!" I recommended. From my point of view, the rider is the important part of this, not the bike. It's the ride that matters. I'm not a big fan of the Wednesday night ride because it has a reputation for lawlessness, but I'm very tempted to do it on one of my ancient fixed gears before the season ends.

Danger! Danger!

Rant Mode Switch to ON!

I'm not a fan of Huffy bicycles, unless someone offers one of those
re-badged Serottas that the 7-11 team rode back in the day.

About 10 years ago, Huffy went to its unionized workforce and said that in
order to preserve jobs, they'd have to agree to a concessionary contract.
The union agreed. Huffy went on to make modest profits through the next
contract period, then approached the union and asked for further
concessions. When the union would not agree to further concessions, Huffy
began closing their factories. We're not talking about wildly lucrative
jobs. Most paid less than $15 per hour.

Now they want to join that long list of companies eager to dump their
pension obligations on the federal government. United Airlines and US
Airways did so, and now the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation has a $23.3
billion deficit. Believe me, other airlines on the brink are contemplating
the same thing. What happens if Maytag, Whirlpool, or one of the automakers
takes the same path? It's unconscionable to destroy workers pensions in
order to maximize profits.

I had a supervisor who said, "Somebody has to take out the garbage." What
he meant was that in every relationship, professional or personal, someone
has to do those thankless, menial tasks. Even in our high-tech industries,
someone has to empty the dumpster. Is the guy who does that every day for
thirty years less deserving of a retirement income than the executive in his
air-conditioned suite? We've lost the common ties that bind us together as

What happened to the social contract that bound our society for the last
century? It was assumed that an expanding economy benefited everyone, not
just those at the top of the economic ladder. Productive, efficient workers
would see that their companies were competitive and their life's work would
bring some retirement income. But now those workers are regarded as
expendable. When they reach retirement age, the carpet is being pulled out
from under their feet. And the same political party that wraps itself in
both the flag and a pretense of meeting a higher moral standard aids and
abets those companies. Is it moral to maximize profits at the expense of
workers and their families? I don't think so.


(This was a response to a news story about the increasing popularity of
road cycling.)

While there's no doubt that Lance Armstrong has increased awareness of
bicycle racing in the United States, attributing increased road bicycle
sales to his popularity may be incorrect. I suspect that high gasoline
prices are a greater factor.

Regardless, it's good to see more people using bicycles for transportation.
There are many sound reasons for doing so, including the health benefits,
the environment, congestion mitigation, and others. But one outstanding
reason is often overlooked. It's just plain fun! How many commuters arrive
at work and say, "What a wonderful ride to work! I saw bluebirds, a couple
of deer, and smelled roses along the way!"

But many cyclists endanger themselves and others by riding recklessly. They
ride against traffic, or ignore red lights and stop signs. They ride on
sidewalks where the risk of collision is three times greater than it is on
the street. They ride without helmets or without lights and reflectors at

One key factor to enhancing bicycle safety is education. The League of
American Bicyclists and the Tulsa Parks Department offer the Road1 class,
designed for both beginning and experienced cyclists. The course covers
the rules of the road, basic bicycle maintenance, and practical exercises.
The intent is to educate bicycle riders and make them safe road users in a
short period of time, rather than relying on a sometimes painful
trial-and-error approach.

I like to tell people that my bicycle runs very well on Italian food and ice
cream, and 'fueling' it is lots more enjoyable than buying gasoline!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Thursday Musette

I watched live coverage of the first stage of the TDF on Saturday. It was an 18-kilometer time trial. Lance Armstrong started last as he was last year's winner.

In the starting house, there's a holder whose job is to hold the bike upright so the rider can clip into his pedals. He lets go at the starting time and the rider powers away.

But this start was a little different. Armstrong rolled down the starting ramp and his foot popped out of the pedal! Usually a rider is pushing hard to get up to speed, and popping out of a pedal can cause a violent wobble or even a crash. Armstrong merely hesitated, clicked back in, and went on to trounce the competition.

Now, you might think I'm making too much of this, but the idea of crashing right at the start of a TT kind of resonates with me. I've had this persistent fear of toppling over at the start of a TT, flopping around like a fish and unable to get out of the pedals. Of the many faux pas I've committed or contemplated, this one has staying power. I'd NEVER live it down!


I had a dream that I'd cut off my right forefinger during the night. It was lying on the bed when I 'awoke' and it never bled, nor did I feel any pain. Mary fixed it by using a Popsicle stick for a splint. She put it back together with duct tape, and if I do say so myself, she did a very nice job!

Maybe this indicates that there are too many things in this house that are patched together with duct tape. I don't know. But there's always a roll of it in my toolbag.


We had a typical Oklahoma Fourth of July - hotdogs and firecrackers. I worried that some errant missile would set fire to the big pine tree in the front yard, burning the car and the house. The bikes are safely in the garage, of course. There's no room for a car in there!


On Tuesday, my rear tire picked up a large chunk of glass on the way to work. It stuck in there and partially plugged the hole, making for a slow leak. I stopped twice to pump up the tire and finally limped across the parking lot. Then I took the wheel out and carried it into the building, planning to repair it at lunchtime. I’ve had tubes that consisted mainly of patches, and fortunately this wasn’t one of them. It only has 2 right now. But I was keeping a sharp eye for more glass on the way home.