Friday, December 30, 2005

A message for the humor deprived...

I've been on vacation since the 22nd, and I don't return to work until the 3rd. Its one of the perks of being an old fart - lots of accrued vacation time!

But I haven't written any comedy for awhile. That will probably change one I'm back to work. I think there's a balance between sleep deprivation and coffee intake that sparks some of the wilder ideas. Anyway, I should be back on that razor's edge next week.

Tomorrow (Saturday) I'm going to begin the reformat of my ancient PC, the one I use here at home. It's always an adventure! Mary has the good sense to keep small children away so that they don't learn some new, highly colorful language.

Rider sought citation, claims right to the road

It seems I'm not alone! And apparently they've never heard of the Selz decision in Alabama. Travis Sherman was stopped for impeding traffic and he received a ticket. To his credit, Travis insisted that the issue go to court. His attitude is certainly commendable, but at this point, I really hope he has an attorney! His court date is January 10th.

From the MASSBIKE law page, here's the relevant section of Alabama law. It's the same 'as far right as practicable' language as is seen in most other states. To motorist and some law enforcement officers, this is the 'get the hell out of my way' section.

Section 32-5A-263
Riding on roadways and bicycle paths.
(a) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.

Here's a link to my traffic stop piece from last summer.

I think it's encouraging that Doug Daughhetee, former president of the Birmingham Bike Club, endorsed education, tolerance, and road design, instead of the knee-jerk reaction of calling for more bike lanes and paths, as some people with little real cycling knowledge would do.

What follows are excerpts from the newspaper article on Travis Sherman's stop.

Birmingham News

Ticketed cyclist to get day in court
Rider sought citation, claims right to the road

Friday, December 30, 2005

Travis Sherman could have ridden away with a warning, but the avid cyclist decided a ticket and a day in court were a matter of principle.

As Sherman rode his bicycle along Shelby County 58 in Helena Dec. 18, a police officer stopped him and eventually wrote him a citation for impeding traffic.

"I am part of the traffic," Sherman said. "I have the right to be on the road."

During the days that followed, Sherman said, he watched as news of his citation appeared on Web forums and the situation mushroomed. He had sent his account of the incident to about 25 friends but, before long, hundreds of cyclists and cycling clubs had contacted the Helena Police Department.

"That was never my intention," Sherman said this week. "I'm trying to get the word out there that they need to stop calling. I don't want to slam the police."

As Sherman recalled, he was hugging the right side of the road when the officer stopped him.

A different version

Helena police have a different version. The officer's report states Sherman was not riding on the far-right side of the road, as state law requires, said Lt. James Penhale.

...Penhale said Helena's cyclists should not worry about an onslaught of traffic tickets because of the Sherman incident.

"We don't have anything against bicycles," Penhale said. "But, like a motorized vehicle, you have to obey the traffic laws, and when you don't, there are consequences. And he asked for a ticket. What officer is going to deny that?"

...Doug Daughhetee, former president of the Birmingham Bike Club, said law enforcement and cyclists have an overall good relationship. He agrees with Sherman that the focus should shift away from his citation and back to the need for awareness.

Daughhetee said he does not think bike paths and bike lanes are the answer. Tolerance, education and attention to road design would be more effective, he said.

"Most people are not antagonistic. They are just oblivious," Daughhetee said. "There is not much accommodation for cyclists. Drive around and tell me how many share-the-road signs you see. And the issue is not covered very well in the drivers training manual. There is something in there about watching out for kids on bikes as a hazard, but nothing that recognizes that they are road users."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Photographer arrested for not warning pothole victim

Sure, the photographer was an ass, but it's also a cautionary tale for cyclists. Don't ride into water! You can't see what lies under it! Duh!

Follow the link for the photo! (As an aside, I'll tell you that I have to learn how to put photos in CycleDog. My Luddite leanings are against it, but it's another step I'll have to take. My friend Wade gave me a digital still camera for my birthday. You know he's part of the family, because he came over for breakfast on Christmas morning, and since he was going to be here all day, he wore slippers!)

From Boing Boing

Photographer arrested for not warning pothole victim

By Mark Frauenfelder

A photographer in China was accused of lying in wait to take these pictures of a poor guy riding his bike into a pothole.

Readers of the Beijing Youth Daily, which published the shots, wrote in to express their feelings.
One wrote: "The pictures are well shot, but the person who shot this is disgusting. He knew there was a pit, but was waiting there for someone to fall over."

Liu defended himself, saying: "I just knew that the city government has paved the pit, and without my pictures, the pit would not be noticed by the government, and there would perhaps be more people falling over."


From the "I wish I'd thought of that!" files...

Here I was thinking that the next religion would be based on Elvis Presley or more plausibly, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. How wrong I was! Pastafarianism is the worship of the newly minted deity, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who spends His time mucking about in human affairs via His noodly appendage. Invisibly, of course.

How does this affect cyclists? First, cyclists consume monstrous quantities of pasta. It only seems natural that Pastafarianism would be a good fit with such a diet. This could be the Next Big Thing - combining a radical new diet with a new religion! Forget Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. We could eat tons of Italian food, ride our bikes, and gain spiritual grace at the same time! What's not to love?

Next, when we're having an off day, say, one of those slow moving Frank-Sinatra-in-my-head days, we can claim that His noodly appendage is holding us back, for reasons known only to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It works for me. Not that I'm ever slow or anything like that, of course.

Finally, since the worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster entails full pirate regalia, we could be practicing our religion by cycling in traffic while carrying a mean-looking cutlass and a brace of pistols. I'd probably forego an eye patch since it interferes with depth perception, but I'd consider a dead parrot wired to my shoulder. Hmmm....speaking of dead parrots brings us back around to Monty Python again. There may be more connections here than I originally thought!

Excerpts from

...We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it. We have several lengthy volumes explaining all details of His power. Also, you may be surprised to hear that there are over 10 million of us, and growing. We tend to be very secretive, as many people claim our beliefs are not substantiated by observable evidence. What these people don’t understand is that He built the world to make us think the earth is older than it really is. For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage. We have numerous texts that describe in detail how this can be possible and the reasons why He does this. He is of course invisible and can pass through normal matter with ease.

I’m sure you now realize how important it is that your students are taught this alternate theory. It is absolutely imperative that they realize that observable evidence is at the discretion of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Furthermore, it is disrespectful to teach our beliefs without wearing His chosen outfit, which of course is full pirate regalia.

Excerpts from Wikipedia:

Flying Spaghetti Monsterism (FSM) is a satirical parody religion created in 2005 to protest the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution. The FSM was first revealed to the world by Bobby Henderson, a graduate of Oregon State University with a degree in physics.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is typically depicted as a clump of tangled spaghetti with two eyestalks, two meatballs, and many "noodly appendages," here in a parody of Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam. Illustrated by Niklas Jansson.In June 2005, Bobby Henderson submitted an open letter to the Kansas Board of Education in response to their scheduling a hearing debating whether to give intelligent design equal time with evolution by natural selection in biology classes. On his Web site, named after the Spanish word for revenge, he formally requested that Flying Spaghetti Monsterism be given time in classrooms equal to that given to intelligent design and to "logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence" (evolution). He warned that if this was not done, "we will be forced to proceed with legal action." Shortly afterwards, he received sympathetic responses from three members of the board; a fourth replied that "It is a serious offense to mock God."

Images depicting the creation of the universe typically show the Monster, a tree-covered mountain, and a "midgit."Many of the "beliefs" proposed by Henderson were intentionally chosen to parody arguments commonly set forth by proponents of Intelligent Design:

An invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe, starting with a mountain, trees and a "midgit" (sic).
All evidence pointing towards evolution was intentionally planted by this being.
Global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct consequence of the decline in numbers of pirates since the 1800s. A graph showing the inverse correlation between the number of pirates and global temperatures was also provided. This component of the theory highlights the logical fallacy of correlation implying causation.
It is disrespectful to teach their beliefs without wearing "His" chosen outfit, full pirate regalia.
The monster continues to guide human affairs with his "noodly appendage".
Prayers to "Him" are typically ended by "Ramen", instead of "Amen".
Heaven has a stripper factory and a beer volcano.
Bobby Henderson is the "prophet" of this religion.
Every Friday is a religious holiday.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Monday Musette

This is called an 'ask' in fundraising. It's from a very vocal paint-and-pave group associated with a large, national alliance. They have an all-bike-lanes-all-the-time approach that deems it absolutely necessary to have a bike lane on each and every street. Complete The Streets is shorthand for the program, as is the Safe Routes to School, which has been hijacked for the same purpose. In the original SRTS information, it was emphasized that the community should decide which programs were necessary and desireable. However, the PnP crowd turns this on its head, substituting their own agenda.

As you read through it, ask yourself two questions: first, why does this group need money, and second, why is there no mention of bicycling education?

P***** Needs Your Support!

And, because of a matching pledge from a long-time supporter, your donation is worth double!

As a supporter of P***** you know that the work that we're doing is important to both you and our community. We want to take a few moments and remind you of some of our important accomplishments this past year and ask that you support us with an end-of-year tax-deductible gift of your financial support. Your contribution will help us to build on our current efforts in to 2006, and is our most important source of income.

Here is a short list of some of P*****'s more important accomplishments this past year:

- Secured new Safe Routes to Schools funding for P*****.
- Fought for bicycle and pedestrian access on C***** Road and Sixth Street and will continue to do so.
- Educated officials on the many ways we can complete our streets for all users.Worked with Territorial Transit to develop the first regional public transit system including bicycle and pedestrian access to bus stops and bikes on the busses.
- Worked with city officials on strategies for extending the P***** Trail and completing the P***** Trail into C***** Valley.

Many employers also offer a matching gift program; check to see if your employer will match your gift. This is a great way to stretch your contribution to us even farther!


This next bit is a newspaper article. I've included the whole thing, partly because it's short, and partly because most news articles don't sit around on the server for long. I like the humor of it, taking shots at complaining motorists and clueless cyclists. Still, there's this egregious bit: "The bike lanes are wide enough for a rider to travel almost outside the door zone..." Almost? Why do some cyclists think that any facility, regardless of its merits, is better than no facility? Door zone bike lanes are an invitation to disaster, yet too many cyclists cannot see that. Worse, city planners, engineers, and attorneys who really should know better, install substandard, poorly-designed, poorly maintained 'facilities' as a sop to area cyclists. Well, that and they get some federal grants. Money is fungible, after all. Did you really think the military spends $800 for a hammer?

On the other hand, you really have to admire a reporter who uses 'flahute' in an article!

Bike Notes: A bicycle Christmas wish
By Rick Riley

Here's hoping that Santa Claus or some such other gift-giving entity brings you a new bike this year.

We received a fine gift from the City of Fort Bragg in the form of the newly striped bike lanes on Franklin Street. These could serve as the appropriate model for additional mixed use street markings as the city moves forward in its paving projects. There is ample room for on-street parking, bike lanes wide enough to be practical, and motor vehicle travel lanes which leave no question as to where a vehicle should be safely driven.

I heard one complaint that the motor vehicle lanes might be too narrow. I've driven them several times and have found them to be just right. The trick is to place your left hand at 10 o'clock on the wheel and your right hand at 2 o'clock while focusing your eyes straight ahead. It's called steering.

When riding a bicycle in the bike lanes it's quite appropriate to travel in the direction of the arrows painted on the street. If you don't travel in the right direction it is likely that you don't read either so we'll just leave your situation to the justice of physical laws and the Fort Bragg Police Department. I just hope you don't get hurt.

The bike lanes are wide enough for a rider to travel almost outside the door zone the area where a parked car's door swings open. You just stay a bit to the left in the bike lane and watch for movement inside cars. Getting doored or nearly doored is not fun.

Hope to see you out there Christmas morning on your new bike. Get soggy and they'll adore you in Belgium. The weather's been great for the flahute with plenty of wind and rain. There's mud too, but you have to go looking for it.


Friday, December 23, 2005

The rest of the rest of the story…

It’s gets better and better.

I rode home from work with a mild tailwind again yesterday. The temperature was near 60 and the sun was almost on the horizon. I love days like that. I was inspired to push the fixed gear maybe a little faster than usual, and even sprinted uphill a couple of times. It just felt good.

I put the bike in the garage, locked the door, and went into the living room. Mary and the kids were waiting for me. “We have a surprise for you!” she said.

Jordan brought a big food basket from the kitchen. It was chocolate and other candy, cheese spread, cookies, biscuits, a summer sausage, and tea, among other things. Lyndsay lugged a huge ham from the refrigerator.

“Our neighbors brought these”, Mary said. “Eric and Adrian gave us the ham and a gift card for Wal-Mart. Kim and Chuck brought the basket. They know we’re having a hard time this year and they wanted to help.”

Adrian was here when I told Mary about the car repair cost a few weeks ago. She couldn’t miss the shock on Mary’s face. I can only assume she and Eric informed Kim and Chuck, though the absence of a car in the driveway for a week was probably a good indication. Regardless, I’m not complaining.

Then she told me that Wade had called too. Lyndsay was doing Christmas shopping for him, since she enjoys shopping and he doesn’t. Wade gave her money to buy gifts, but when he talked with Mary, he said, “Just take whatever is left over from that cash and buy groceries!” Wade is our friend, part of the family, and he’s always here for holiday dinners.

We were planning to have lasagna for Christmas dinner in order to save money. Now we have a ham, a very large ham, and we’ll have a traditional dinner. But I could eat lasagna too! Is it any wonder I have weight problems this time of year?

There was a time I referred to our street as “Jerry Springer Boulevard” because of some of the wackier neighbors. Fortunately, they’ve all moved away. For that I am deeply thankful. Let’s just say we had a regular police presence on the street. One couple had so many domestic disputes the cops had all memorized the address. When the daily fight call came in, you could almost hear them groan as they responded.

Like I said, they’re gone. Our neighbors now are good people. We’ve watched as Kim and Chuck’s boys grew up and moved away. Our own kids will be doing the same all too soon. And we see Emily, Adrian and Eric’s little girl, going through the same stages as our daughter. I watch their little girl, and I wonder about my own. Where did the time go?

So we have good neighbors and good friends. Mary wondered how we could ever return this favor. I’m not certain that we can, or at least I’m not certain that we can return it to our neighbors. But there will undoubtedly come a time when we meet someone in need, and we can help.

We are truly blessed. Have a wonderful Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What a difference a day makes!

Mags wrote:

Ah, yes - from time to time riding seems like such a drag. There are days when I really have to force myself onto the bike. But then, then there are those beautiful, clear and calm spring mornings that make it all worthwhile during the winter months.

Yesterday’s ride was a slog. I felt slow and tired.

The weather report last night called for temperatures just below freezing with heavy fog. That always gets my attention because I get nervous riding in dense fog. Motorists do not slow down just because they can’t see. I attached an amber xenon strobe to my messenger bag in order to be more conspicuous. Amber penetrates fog better than red.

But I needn’t have worried. Yes, there was fog this morning, but it was very light. And although it was right around freezing, there was no wind. I’ve been riding the fixed gear again, so the wind can be a factor too.

The ride home was a wonder! A high-pressure dome moved in, pushing off all the clouds and giving us absolutely brilliant sunshine. I went out in the hall and could see the sunlight streaming in through the doors at the east end of the building. It looked marvelous! I was getting excited about the ride home, particularly when I checked the computer weather and discovered a light tailwind would be driving me home, along with temperatures near 50! (We have access to lots of weather information in the shop, one advantage of working for an airline!)

Now, I can’t speak for all big guys, but I know that I feel best when it’s cool. I ride harder and don’t overheat. Once the temperature rises much above 60, I start to suffer. Thermally efficient, you know.

I loaded up and started north. Where yesterday had been cold, overcast, and dreary, and my spirits sagged right along with the weather, today was brilliant, upbeat, and uplifting. There are magical moments on a fixed gear when the bike seems to move of its own volition, without requiring much effort on my part. The tailwind wasn’t a factor as I could see the flags hanging limp on their poles. It was oddly quiet. But the pedals just spun around and around. I felt as if I were running effortlessly atop the bike.

Of course, when you feel like that, you simply have to take the long way home! I figured I could get 10 miles in before sundown, and I did. Even the climb out of the Bird Creek valley seemed easy. It was a magical ride. Sure, my legs are a little sore now, but it was worth it!

Tomorrow’s forecast calls for freezing temperatures overnight, and a high of around 60. I may have another magic day! Let’s hope!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


It was a long, slow grind to work this morning. I felt like a galley slave, chained to an oar in the lowest deck while the fat guy beat out a throbbing tempo. But there was a critical difference. I was both the galley slave and the fat guy setting tempo. Riding the bike felt like work.

Sometimes when I’m riding, a song settles into the rhythm of the pedals. On a fast day, it might be the Ramones with “Blitzkrieg Bop” or something similar. On a bad day, it’s a dirge-like Volga Boatmen, or a slow Sinatra song. Oh, the horror!

I over-indulged last night, not on booze but on food. I’ve reached the age where having a couple of drinks usually just makes me sleepy. On those rare occasions when I’ve had too many, I’ve discovered that the painful recovery from the good time takes longer than having the good time. That’s no fun.

We went out for dinner to a new Chinese buffet, and I tried to eat a little bit of everything. The only thing I can offer in my defense was that it was tasty. This place offers both Chinese and American food, as well as sushi and a Mongolian grill. I ate things I’ve never seen before.

But the high point of the dinner was when the Chinese waitresses sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in bad English. It was genuinely funny since most of them don’t speak the language well, but they were very sweet. My kids thought I’d be embarrassed, but I just rolled with it. The waitresses brought me a ‘special Chinese birthday cake’ and I was so full, I needed help eating it.

Shortly after we got home, I fell asleep, wrapped around that big ball of food in my belly. I think I could have slept through until spring. Hibernation sounds attractive.

Morning arrived, as it always does, and I stood on the bathroom scale out of habit. You’d have thought it was some kind of Lotto drawing! The numbers spun by. Gears whirred and springs protested against the strain. When all the commotion stopped, I was aghast at the number! No wonder I felt like a slug all the way to work.

Drinking coffee didn’t help, even though I managed to drink half of the water bottle on the ride in. (I use an insulated, stainless steel water bottle for coffee on the bike. It’s very civilized!)

The kids gave me some interesting birthday gifts, including a couple different kinds of dark chocolate. Some of it is Chocolate Coffee Dreams from Anthon Berg. I brought that box into the shop. Get this – it’s coffee AND chocolate! There are five different flavors: espresso, cappuccino, Irish cream, toffee macchiato, and vanilla frappe. So I get to over-indulge in caffeine, sugar, and all those interesting alkaloids.

The day is looking up! If I pump enough of this stuff into my system, the rest of the day could be very, very weird.

Monday, December 19, 2005


No, it’s not the answer to “What is six times nine?” We all know that’s forty-two, as any Douglas Adams fan can tell you.

No, it’s not the number of miles or kilometers I’ve ridden today. I wish!

It’s not today’s temperature, either. It was 25F when I passed the bank this morning.

It’s my birthday. I’m fifty-four today. Fifty-four years spent on this little blue planet.

It’s a lousy time of year for a birthday, let me tell you! When I was a kid, I got the combined Christmas-and-Birthday presents, because my parents and relatives were too tapped out to make a big deal of both. My Mom has it worse, though. Her birthday is New Year’s Eve.

What have I learned in my fifty-four years? Sometimes, I really wonder about that. I may be starting to understand my wife after only twenty years of marriage. I may understand women in another twenty or thirty years, but I suspect the epiphany will arrive right along with my final breath – too late to share with the rest of the unsuspecting men out there.

I’ve learned not to gamble, since I’m only good at losing money. I’ve learned to avoid using words and grammar I don’t understand. I’ve learned that people who see themselves as too important to do the little jobs shouldn’t be trusted with bigger ones.

But this is supposed to be about cycling, after all, so what have I learned about that?

I’ve learned it’s easier to take care of little problems before they become big ones. That means I do routine maintenance, lubrication, and cleaning in order to avoid mechanical problems. I replace tires and tubes regularly, before they develop lumps, cracks, or too many patches. I try to have back-ups for critical items like lights.

I’ve learned my body requires proper nutrition and hydration, and that like the bicycle, it too prefers preventive maintenance. Saddle sores are a perfect example. They’re easier to avoid than to cure.

I’ve learned to take my place on the road as just another vehicle. This is not as simple as it sounds. Like many cyclists, I was afraid of riding in traffic for a very long time. But as I learned more, the fear ebbed. The capper was taking the Road1 course, and discovering that many of the things I’d learned via experience had been distilled into genuinely educational classroom lessons, coupled with practical road cycling.

Best of all, I’ve learned that when we encounter things like the simple, child-like fun of riding a bicycle, we should share that with whoever will listen. That’s one of the reasons I write CycleDog, to share the fun with all of you.

I realized just recently that I’ve been writing this for a year. It really doesn’t seem that long. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll run out of ideas, my mind going dry and sere, and CycleDog withering from lack of attention. That day will probably come, but not today.

Today has to revolve around fifty-four. Maybe I’ll eat dinner in fifty-four bites. Maybe I’ll dance lasciviously atop a freeway overpass for fifty-four seconds. (Fat chance!) The traditional thing would be to ride fifty-four miles, but there isn’t time enough for that. Maybe I’ll deflate my tires to fifty-four pounds….nah. Maybe I’ll tell Mary that I love her fifty-four times. She’ll suspect that I’m up to something.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

...the rest of the story.

I wrote about putting our car in the shop for major electrical repairs because of a cracked lead-acid battery. Well, the repairs were expensive. Most of the wiring had to be rebuilt by hand. The shop took several days to accomplish the work, so we were without a car over Thanksgiving. I could live with that since I rely on my bike for transportation, and we live within walking distance of the grocery store.

But the expense put a huge hole in our budget. Huge. I am not exaggerating. It wasn’t wolves-at-the-door threatening, and we won’t lose the house or have our water and electricity turned off. But it forced us to cut out all non-essentials.

Mary and I are accustomed to giving as generously as possible to our children at Christmas. I think most parents are, within reason. And although we’ve never been able to give them everything they desired, they’ve never had a lean, mean Christmas – until now. This year, we couldn’t afford a Christmas tree.

And that broke my heart.

I was deeply depressed about it. I felt like a failure as a husband and father. My heart was a leaden lump in the center of my chest.

Mary and I have had harder times at Christmas. We had almost nothing when we moved to Oklahoma. Many years ago, on our first Christmas here, we decorated a table lamp because we couldn’t get a tree. We were saving money for the imminent birth of our daughter. Even before she was born, our baby came first. It was no different when the second one arrived.

So imagine our surprise today when our ‘babies’ arrived in the driveway with a Christmas tree in the trunk of the car! Our two teenagers picked it out at the local tree farm and bought it with their own money. I stood on the front porch, hugging my daughter and quietly sobbing on her shoulder.

They’re good kids. The best, in fact, and I couldn’t be prouder of the two of them than I am right now. We’ve been giving to them all their lives, and they’ve obviously learned something because they’re giving back.

Christmas is about family, and my family has a gift this year that is beyond price, beyond measure.

Coast-To-Coast Fixed Gear Charity Ride

Fritz posted this over on Cycle-licious, and I received the following from the Fixed-Gear e-list.

(Message follows)

Apologies if this has already been posted to the list. If not, you might want to get a napkin to wipe the drool from your face ...

Phil Wood & Co. wrote:
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 14:29:01 -0800

Dear All,

First of all sorry for the spam.

In case you are not familiar with "The Big Fix" ride please see details here. Yes, that is riding fixed gear bikes from Davis CA to West Newton MA.

We are doing everything we can to help from providing hubs, building custom bikes, generating exposure at trade shows, and just getting the word out in general. It is a very worthy cause! In short it is a disease that targets children and young adults. The symptoms are like cancer and there is no known cure.

So here is the deal, for a mere $50 donation someone gets a shot at 15 pairs of Phil Wood hubs. That is a sweet deal considering if you only donate $50 you have a 1 in 200 chance.

Link here

Someone can hook up all their riding friends, make a mint on ebay, or decorate a Christmas tree like you wouldn't believe!

Please help if you can.

Thanks for reading and happy holidays.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas pitch

Just in time for Christmas! It's the one cycling accessory that EVERYONE

Act now and get your very own "Suzie Voodoo" doll! Yes, now you too can
engage in sympathetic magic by sticking pins, toothpicks, broken spokes, or
other sharp implements into the voodoo doll of your choice.

Available in two sizes: Standard Size, suitable for hanging on a wall,
attaching to a toolbox, or staked out on your local railroad tracks; or the
Convenient Travel Size, perfect for carrying on your bicycle when you just
have to act quickly, inflicting well-deserved pain on a wayward motorist or
pedestrian. Both models are molded from high-density industrial foam, and
unlike cheap plastic imitations that can crack or shatter, they'll stand up
to repeated punching, stabbing, and mauling. (Impalement tools not

Watch how our product tester, Inga, pounds on her "Suzie Voodoo" doll with a brick! Inga kept it up for twenty minutes and Suzie emerged without a scratch! Inga stood on the roadside, hacking at her "Suzie Voodoo" doll with a machete for another 10 minutes. When the police arrived, Suzie was still in perfect condition! What a doll!

Call right now, and we'll include the "Johnnie Wacko" doll, Suzie's voodoo
boyfriend, at no extra charge! And that's not all! With each doll set,
we'll give you a detailed instruction book, two sets of doll-size handcuffs,
and a miniature battery-operated pit bull terrier. You'll have hours of
fun, so don't delay! Call today!

(Offer void where prohibited. Not available in CA, NYC, Canada, or Ramona,

The war against Christmas

The right-wing echo chamber is all agog over the idea of a secular 'war
against Christmas'. It's the whole "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry
Christmas" tempest in a teacup. It's not unlike the Texas town that decreed
that their government staff answer the telephone with a chirpy "Heaven-o"
rather than Hello. This is just stupid, and most sane people recognize it
as such. But since the rabid right wing is in control of the federal
government at present, they insist on the rest of us kowtowing to their
rabidity. I suspect that God is above all this petty crap. He's bigger
than our childish squabbles.

Still, if we're insisting on taking Christmas back to it's roots, perhaps we
should start wishing everyone a Happy Saturnalia. The early church simply
co-opted pagan 'holy days' (Old English which became 'holidays') and plunked
down Christian substitutes. Santa Claus, Yule trees, eggs, and Easter
bunnies are hardly Christian symbols. So it's only fitting that we
celebrate the end of the year with a 12 day feast.

I don't think God will mind, though I have it on good authority that He
rides a steel, full-Campy track bike sans brakes, and that putting an
aluminum, carbon fiber, or titanium bike under the
Saturnalia/Christmas/Holiday/ Yule tree just might incur His righteous

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cars I've known...

I have a love/hate relationship with my cars. I love driving, often wandering well off the main roads, getting lost, and finding my way back again. But I hate working on cars or being forced to take them into the garage for repairs. With the ever-increasing complexity of modern automobiles, those garage visits are both necessary and expensive.

The alternative is to ride my bicycle. And believe me, I really appreciate the relative simplicity of a bike. Just for fun, I started drawing up a list of the cars I’ve driven and the bikes I’ve ridden at the same time. I think that cars may have influenced the kind of bike I was riding.

I rode an all-steel German ten-speed way back in college. It was a Kalkhoff and I’ve never seen another one. After I graduated, I bought a ’68 Toyota Corona and the woman destined to become my ex-wife promptly blew it up. I rode the Kalkhoff back and forth to work.

A friend had a Peugeot UO8 that he wanted to sell. I bought it and rode it for a short time. One afternoon, a woman pulled out from a side street as I was coming home from work. “I swear, I never saw you!” she said afterward. I hit her car just behind the front wheel. The Peugeot was totaled.

Meanwhile, I rebuilt the Toyota engine and had it running again. I sold it and got another, much larger car, a 1964 Lincoln Continental. This thing was enormous! It had suicide doors in the back, and the trunk was almost a hangar deck. I could put a fully assembled bicycle back there! I dubbed it the Battlecar Galactica. But the beast sucked down fuel faster than most third world countries. It got all the way up to 6 miles per gallon on the highway, and about 3 miles per gallon in town. I still needed to ride a bicycle to work.

With the Peugeot bent double, I bought a Pennine frame from a local shop. This was high-zoot stuff! It was Reynolds 531 double butted throughout, and it was the first really good bike I owned. I figured that I could just swap the parts over from the Peugeot. This was my rude initiation into the mysteries of French bicycle parts and compatibility. Let’s just say that in order to make things work, I had to spend lots more money than I’d planned. This too was a source of irritation to the woman destined to become my ex-wife.

The Lincoln was in sad shape. The transmission was bad. The exhaust pipes were rusted and it needed tires and brake work. I drove it carefully for a while, but wound up selling it to a guy who blew it up in front of the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. He abandoned it there. It was an ignominious end for a great car.

In 1976, I bought a brand-new Honda Civic. A bike rack promptly went on the back because the only way to transport a bike inside required disassembling it. The bumper rack had the additional advantage of sticking out at grill height. In Pittsburgh at the time, Japanese cars were often targets for vandalism. The rack kept some of my more red-necked neighbors from parking on top of my bumper.

My soon-to-be-ex-wife drove the car for work, so I was still commuting by bicycle. I’d fallen in love with a Paris Sport track bike at the shop, and I used it as a daily commuter. There was a bakery along the route and I stopped there nearly every day, leaning the bike up against the storefront and almost daring anyone to steal it. If you’ve never ridden a fixed gear, let me just say that the first attempt at sprinting will be unforgettable! No one ever touched that bike.

In the space of a year, my job went south, my marriage followed, and my ex-wife ended up with both the Honda and my color television. I really missed that television, especially during football season.

I bought a junker Volkswagen and used it to move out of the city, driving in the dead of night because it didn’t have a valid inspection or license plates. Seriously, when I left the city, I had almost nothing. I was broke and if it hadn’t been for the generosity of some friends, I would have been homeless. They gave me a place to stay while I got on my feet again.

I bought another old Volkswagen, and all the good parts from the junker went into it. I rarely rode my bicycle to work because it was about 17 miles and I worked third shift.

For a couple of years, I rode only on weekends. I was living in a tiny apartment and the two bikes, the Pennine and the Paris Sport, took up a lot of space. Usually they sat in a corner of the bathroom, festooned with drying clothes.

Then I was laid off after Christmas one year. I rarely drove the car because I couldn’t afford to put gas in it. I relied on my bicycle again for basic transportation. I sold the track bike to a friend, and got an old Windsor for a ‘townie’ bike. I set it up with a single-speed and a rack. I attached some PVC tubing to hold my fishing rod. The bike was my basic utility vehicle. It was great for most errands, but carrying a full case of beer on that rack made the handling a bit squirrely.

I won’t write about the aberration called a ’74 Pontiac Firebird, arguably the worst car I’ve ever owned.

In 1984, I bought a new Chevy Cavalier. I loved it! But since I was driving all the time, I seldom got the bike out. Then I re-married. I got a sedentary job. Kids arrived. My waistline grew ever bigger. The Cavalier wore out, and I replaced it with another motor vehicle abomination, a Chevy Corsica.

Somewhere in the Corsica years, I agreed to help with communications at the MS150, riding along with a mechanic and helping out as I could. The mechanic was Tom Brown, of Tom’s River Trail Bicycles in Tulsa. I’d recently started commuting to work again in order to control my burgeoning waistline. I was riding a yard-sale Centurion, (and in fact, I rode that bike to work today!) but Tom talked up the joys of carbon fiber. A few months later, I was atop a nice Giant CFR2.

The Corsica went away unlamented. I bought a Bianchi San Remo for commuting. We bought a Ford Contour as the new family car, and since I was riding to work nearly every day, the Contour was driven very little. It’s now 10 years old and it has 86,000 miles. Of course, since Number One Daughter is now driving, it may pile up some more mileage. The Bianchi has about 20,000 miles.

That’s not all of it. There’s a tandem that arrived as a fiftieth birthday present, a couple of Raleigh Tourists that I bought on a whim, a Schwinn Aluminum that is destined to be another fixed gear bike, and a Schwinn High Sierra that will be set up as a utility bike soon. It’s funny, but to a cyclist, the next bike he plans to buy probably is more seriously considered than a car. Bicycles are intensely personal vehicles. Cars are appliances. That’s too simplistic, I know, but it really sums up the difference.

Monday, December 12, 2005

My Christmas List...

Each of us has a list of things we'd like to receive at Christmas. Naturally, those of us who are cycling-obsessed have a bunch of desirables we'd like to find under the tree. So, with that in mind, here's my list. I've left off a Democratic administration in the White House this year, because I suspect that Santa, what with wearing a red suit and all, probably wouldn't deliver it anyway.

A multi-tool that weighs next to nothing, won't break, won't round off fasteners, or worse, break them off too. Honestly, I've used a lot of tools that were poorly designed, heavy, or simply didn't fit properly. They're a danger both to my bike and my hands.

Magic saddle dust. All the magic has worn off from mine! Let's just say we've developed some sore points, and let it go at that. A trial separation may be in order.

A personal masseuse named Inga, or Suzette, or Sophia. If she had a French maid's uniform, that would be nice, too. Additionally, a damn good lawyer, assuming that I remain alive. I did teach Mary to shoot straight, didn't I?

A bullhorn. This is something that would be wonderful to play with! Imagine the fun of working in the garage and using the bull horn to say, "Honey! Can you bring me a beer?" Or what about walking into the teenage boy's room before dawn and saying, "Hey! Time to get up!" Of course, every cyclist could use one. "Why don't you drive your CAR up on the sidewalk, ya %&*@#!"

A Viking helmet and a broadsword. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a helmet with horns sticking out the sides and maybe a little fur around the brim? One of those fur vests would be nice too, provided it wasn't one of Sonny and Cher's cast offs. I could change my name to Juan and yell, "There can be only Juan!" With a Viking helmet and a sword, I probably wouldn't need a bullhorn as any sane motorist wouldn't dare honk or yell.

An on-board espresso machine powered by a hub generator. Ah, the luxury of hot coffee on the bike! I'm not thinking about one of the high-tech Italian espresso machines seemingly designed by NASA. I just want something simple that can deliver good coffee while I ride. Of course, there's all that steam to consider, and I really could think of some uses for it. Propulsion comes to mind first, but it would be equally useful at blistering the paint off of passing motor vehicles, instead of relying on language alone.

A can of Instant Gunk. This is an aerosol that you use on someone else's bike, for instance, that annoying guy who shows up for group rides on an absolutely pristine bicycle. Instant Gunk dulls the finish, makes tires go lumpy, puts globs of lubricant on the chain, and adds pieces of grass and clumps of cat hair to the freewheel. It makes handlebar tape unravel too, making his bike look more like a normal bike. He'll need a week to sort it all out, just in time for the next group ride.

Wow! That's clearly a tall order for Santa. Let's hope he not feeling grumpy again this year, because much as I liked getting an entire case of Spaghetti-O's last Christmas, the novelty kind of wore off after eating them every day for a month.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Disease Riders

I think we've all encountered groups like this on the road, whether it's a charity ride or a large local club ride. It's one reason I don't like to ride in or near big groups. Groupthink seems to dictate that the composite IQ is inversely related to the square of the number of members. Or something like that.

Excerpts follow:

Disease Riders: Pedaling For Dollars With No Sense
Posted on November 30, 2005

(Editor's Note: Maynard Hershon of Tucson, Ariz., is a well-known journalist who has been writing about cycling for nearly 25 years.)


Don't get me wrong. I admire the thousands of cyclists who collect pledges and attempt long, hard charity rides. I think it's great that people use cycling and other athletic events to raise awareness and money to combat disease.

Many of these people do 100-mile rides after decades of smoking, drinking and watching TV -- and five non-consecutive weekends of training. They're examples to us all.

Not only do they get out and get in shape, they help countless others. They support medical research. They keep many annual charity rides alive. They support the bicycle industry. They are the salt of the cycling earth.

They scare the shit outta me.

...They have traveled here from near and far. You can read their home states on their jerseys. You're aware that they've raised money for a worthy cause and that they've conquered their personal fears of tough physical challenges. They're here to celebrate those victories. They deserve our congratulations.

I admire these people. I'm petrified of them.

I have to pass them; they're going 11 mph. Spread completely across our narrow path, they're laughing and chatting, unaware I'm behind them. Oblivious. I have to ask them to move over so I can pass.

I wait for the right moment. Surprising them is not a good idea. Anything might happen.

Eventually I ask. Though I speak in an unthreatening tone, I watch the group wobble and weave in the road. I pray no one locks bars with his buddy, no one brakes suddenly, no one screams and freaks and takes down Western Civilization.

Once I pass that group safely, I feel relieved, but my relief is short-lived. There's another group just like it up the road.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Excuse me while I rant a moment (OT)

I'm off today. In fact, I have every Friday off this month and I'm off Christmas week too. That's one benefit of bing an old fart at work (where seniority counts for nearly everything) and having a lot of vacation time to use up before January. So, being a guy and all, I went to do some scouting for Christmas presents. I'm terrible about hiding things away. If I bought gifts now, I'd give them to Mary and the kids long before Christmas arrived. So I wait until the last minute to buy stuff, but I've scouted it out weeks or even months beforehand.

But there's something that really annoys me. I'm not exactly petite. I'm about 6 feet tall with a 36 inch waistline and 210 pounds to throw around. Why is it necessary to put clothing racks in department stores so close together that I have to turn sideways to get between them! I'm not kidding. This is a real source of anger.

There was a time we were researching wheelchairs for Mary. It looked as if she'd need one since she has an adult form of muscular dystrophy. And it really opened my eyes to the difficulties the disabled face. Shopping is a real pain-in-the-ass when you have to do it from a chair. The grocery stores put stuff up out of reach. If you think motorists are rude to cyclists, try getting across a busy street or parking lot in a wheelchair.

But clothing stores are the worst. The racks are so close together that it's impossible to get a chair between them. This effectively shuts off that section of the store from a wheelchair user. Even the main aisles are cluttered with displays, making passage difficult. If someone abandons a cart, a wheelchair simply cannot get through. This is annoying in normal circumstances. In an emergency, it's life-threatening. I was inside our local XXX-Mart when it caught fire. People simply left their carts and ran.

So, in a just world, the executives and managers of these big clothing stores would be strapped into an Everest-Jennings wheelchair and forced to work that way for a week. It would change their perspective a lot!

(Rant mode to OFF. We return you to the usual, slightly surreal CycleDog!)


Every now and then, someone has to hype The Next Big Thing, so I suppose the Street Surfer should be regarded in that category. It's essentially a bicycle with four small front wheels, "like the Tyrell P34 Formula 1 car" according to this website. And in all seriousness, I expect it could be a fun ride provided you don't hit any potholes, railroad tracks, street car tracks, or other road discontinuities. Small wheels generally have problems with 'stepping over' such things, and I'd definitely not want to be the guy to discover how effective the quad wheels are on a long, fast downhill! From the rest of the text, it sounds as if this was built as a trick bike, suitable for performing stunts in the parking lot......Ed

The StreetSurfer – like a bicycle, except very different

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 9 December, 2005 : - - “The bicycle has effectively been the same since the safety bicycle evolved from the Penny farthing more than a century ago”, says Mark Palmer, chief evangelist of the StreetSurfer, “and we figured it was about time to take the next step.”

Interestingly, those who have ridden the StreetSurfer tend to agree that it is not just very different to the bicycle, but significantly better in several key aspects – steering, cornering, front wheel tracking and the general feel which is more akin to surfing or snowboarding than a BMX or mountain bike – and more than capable of creating its own following and a dedicated street culture.

The four-wheeled front foot of the StreetSurfer offers significantly more traction than a bike tyre and the dynamics of the bike are flowing like surfing. Suspension is equally unconventional, being comprised of polymers which activate on impact. Limited supplies will be available of the StreetSurfer prior to Christmas.

First and foremost, it might look like a bicycle, but the StreetSurfer is an entirely different machine in so many respects – like the Tyrell P34 Formula 1 car, the Covini Sportscar or the Ford Seattle-ite, the secret of all those front wheels is the enormous traction. With four points of contact with the road, it sticks like glue and allows you to do things a normal pushbike can’t do.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Monday Brrrrr!

As I rode by the obnoxious bank sign this morning, one of the scrolling-everything-EXCEPT-the-time-and-temperature monstrosities that are
popping up everywhere, I was wildly fortunate to see the temperature as it
flashed by in a nanosecond or so. Then the sign went back to its usual
blather about how much I could save by giving the bank my money. It was
19F. My fingers and toes had already informed the brain that they were
COLD! Luckily the wind was out of the north, so I had a tailwind all the
way to work. But the little bit of wind that seeped in around the edges of
my balaclava made my ears feel cold too.

Regardless, the ride to work was uneventful. No aliens from outer space
bent on kidnapping. No yard dogs looking to breakfast on a wayward cyclist.
No idiot motorists. It was almost boring and dull. I spun along easily in
the small ring.

At the main gate, the security guard looked like the Michelin Man! He's a
little stout to begin with, but when he added multiple layers of warm
clothing, he was decidedly round. His nose and cheeks were red from the
cold, and I thought if he had a red suit and beard, he'd be a passable
Santa. The only incongruous note was a jaunty black and white scarf looped
around his neck. "Hey!" he yelled as I rode up. "They have special
hospitals for people like you!"

I laughed and shot back, "Yeah, and I worked in one until they let me out!"

By mid-January I'll be acclimated to the cold - assuming it actually stays
cold here. Oklahoma's weather is unpredictable. The average low in
December is 26F. In January, it's not much colder at 22F. Sure, this is
nothing to the Ice Bike crowd, but for now it feels like the Arctic!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Worst invention of all time?

This certainly looks like fun! For most cyclists, the obvious, Number One Favorite for worst invention of all time would be the motor vehicle. But that's sooo easy! It effects our environment due to the exhaust fumes and oil exploration. It impacts our cities because of the need for car-friendly infrastructure. It dictates our governmental policy that swaps blood for oil. I could go on and on, but it gets tedious. We all know the arguments.

So instead, I'll pick something a little more removed, like the drivers licensing system.

The NRA points out that a firearm is merely a piece of machinery, basically harmless until it's in a human hand. It the human aspect that has to be addressed, whether we're discussing 45 automatics or Humvees. I'm stating that the process of obtaining a license to drive is entirely too easy. It's a rite of passage for teenagers, and here in Oklahoma, far too many of them could get their licenses on their 16th birthday. The state recently stiffened the requirements, much to the chagrin of my 15-year-old son! Still, it's too easy.

We know that new drivers are more likely to have an accident in the first 2 years after getting their license. They need that time to develop good judgment behind the wheel. So wouldn't it be sensible to put some phased restrictions on them for those first 2 years? A license to drive should be difficult to earn. Once earned, it should be highly valued, and if it's lost, it should be doubly hard to re-obtain.

I know there are problems with this line of thought. If licensing requirements were too onerous, people would simply drive without one. Our jails are too crowded already, so why not make these offenders do community service in lieu of jail time? Think of it - picking up trash, washing police cars, or weeding a park every weekend for a year or so. No time off. No vacation. Do the public service or spend the time in jail. I suspect that one or two kids in the local high school would be object lessons for the rest.

The contest entry requires an actual typewritten letter, something I haven't done in years, so I won't enter. But if a CycleDog reader wants to borrow some of this text, please feel free to do so!

Here's the site:

Ecologist Annual Essay Competition
In association with the Coady International Institute

What is Humanity’s worst Invention?

The winning entry will receive a cheque for £2,500 and publication in the Ecologist magazine

Essay criteria: all essays must be typewritten, responses must be in English, up to 2.000 words. Entries will be judged on originality, critical thinking, clarity and the ability to spark debate.

Deadline for entries: 15 March 2006

Please submit entries to: essay2006@theecologist

Rules of entry: All essays are the property of the Ecologist. Published essays will be credited to the writer. Telephone and/or email contact details must be included. We regret that materials submitted cannot be returned. For full completion rules visit

Established by St Francis Xavier University in 1959, the Coady International Institute is world-renowned as a centre of excellence in community-based development.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

OBC Meeting

I just got back from the Oklahoma Bicycle Coalition membership meeting. It was held in Stillwater. My daughter needed the car today, so I rode to Sandra's house, then she, Brian, and I drove out to Stillwater.

We covered a lot at the meeting, installing new officers for 2006, and covering a lot of business. There are 10 new LCI's, including 2 law enforcement officers. One new idea is to list the Road1 and LCI classes on the OBC website, something that should have been obvious. We explored some ideas that would increase the visibility and recognition of the OBC as the state-wide advocacy group.

Those three sentences are a paltry description of the discussion. There was so much more. But one thing that struck me was the progress we've made in the last few years. We have the basis for a strong, highly effective cycling advocacy group, and we've met with both successes and failures. We need to learn from the failures and capitalize on the successes.

Once I get the minutes from our secretary, I'll write something more focused and far more coherent. As happens from time to time, I had a headwind going both ways today. It was cold too, but the wind knocked the stuffin' out of me! I'm trying to watch a movie on television, but I keep falling asleep.

Welcome to middle-age!

Friday, December 02, 2005

They're after our nuts!

And all this time you thought they were just cute little, nut-loving rodents! Ha! The beady eyes and the cold stare gave them away. Keep this in mind on your next ride in the park. I'm telling you - they're trying to round up all our nuts, but their REAL intent is to take over the world! Remember, these are RUSSIAN squirrels!

From Boing Boing

Squirrels kill dog

By David Pescovitz

A pack of squirrels at a park in the Lazo village of Russia's Maritime Territory reportedly ganged up on a stray dog that was barking up at them in the trees. Witnesses say the squirrels jumped down, attacked the dog, and killed it. From the BBC News:

"They literally gutted the dog," local journalist Anastasia Trubitsina told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

"When they saw the men, they scattered in different directions, taking pieces of their kill away with them."

Mikhail Tiyunov, a scientist in the region, said it was the first he had ever heard of such an attack.

While squirrels without sources of protein might attack birds' nests, he said, the idea of them chewing at a dog to death was "absurd".

"If it really happened, things must be pretty bad in our forests," he added.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A car in every garage...

Let's see if I understand this right - this proposal would give people money to buy and maintain a car if they earned less than $52,000 per year, even if they didn't actually own a car and relied on public transportation, shoe leather, or a bicycle. Gosh, I'd be over-joyed to get a check that would buy a new bike every year! And I imagine the auto manufacturers, the oil companies, the auto parts stores, and even the insurance companies would get behind this idea too.

That doesn't mean it's a good idea.

This could cost as much as $100 billion a year. We're already in debt up to our eyeballs. We've hocked our country to the Chinese. We're pouring money into the sand in the Middle East, and the Gulf Coast will likely be feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina for year to come. What's not to like about putting a car in every garage?

I won't go into the ways that this is so very, very wrong.

=======Excerpts Follow==============

A Car In Every Garage

By Margy Waller, Washington Monthly. Posted December 1, 2005.

To be a fully functioning citizen in this country today, a car is a virtual necessity; so the federal government should subsidize a set of wheels and the commute to work.

Among the many unpleasant realities exposed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath--from persistent income and racial disparities to the chronic incompetence of the Bush administration--one of the most surprising, to many, was this: our nearly total dependence on automobiles.

Nowhere was this clearer than in the exodus from New Orleans itself. The difference between those who escaped with their lives and loved ones, and those who did not, often came down to access to a car and enough money for gas. Now, in the recovery stage, many of those who were left behind have been evacuated to trailer-park camps, where they are likely to be worse off than they were before, in part because they cannot get to where the jobs are.

...There is a limit to what government can do to reduce gas prices or increase private sector wages, at least in the short term. But it can do something to give middle-class families some relief and low-income workers a leg up--by recognizing that the cost of commuting is a business expense, and changing tax policy to reflect that fact. The federal government should offer tax credits that would lower the cost of commuting to work for low and middle-income employees, and would allow low-income workers who can't afford a reliable car to get one.

...Clearly, the problems are most acute for low-income families without cars. But even for low- and middle-income workers who do own cars, purchase and operating costs take a significant bite out of their income--more than 20 percent of all household expenditures go for transportation, second only to housing. For the vast majority of households, those costs aren't optional--cars represent a fixed and non-negotiable expense. And every time the price of gas increases, it is in effect a tax on work.

...The federal government should offer a tax benefit to anyone who commutes to work and is in the middle to bottom of the income scale--that is, anyone in the 60 prrcent of U.S. households making less than $52,000 a year. Those who need the credit most would get the most help: Lower-income workers would receive a refund if their credit exceeded the amount of taxes they owe, in the form of a check for up to $3,000. That's enough to help significantly with the purchase and maintenance of a decent, though not fancy, car. Those higher up the income scale would get a dollar-for-dollar credit against taxes owed; a family making $40,000 would get back around $1,000. To avoid punishing those who don't use cars, all workers with commuting expenses--even those who take mass transit--could claim the benefit.

...This is an ambitious proposal, and a costly one. If all eligible workers took advantage of the option--an unlikely prospect, based on our experience with other credit programs--the cost could reach $100 billion a year. Any initiative that big raises certain obvious objections.

Many who would be willing to spend that amount of money would prefer that it go to mass transit, in the hopes of reducing congestion and pollution. But there is little reason to think that even a massive investment in public transportation would substantially reduce the overall amount of driving Americans do. Anthony Downs, a transportation expert at the Brookings Institution, has projected that doubling the number of people who take mass transit to work (a Herculean achievement) would reduce the number who drive by only around 5 percent. While it unquestionably makes sense to improve service to the transit-dependent, particularly in dense urban neighborhoods, no amount of money will enable us to use transit to meet the needs of most workers. Only cars can do that. And even if every car-deprived household in the bottom half of the income scale were to buy an automobile, it would increase the number of vehicles on the road by only around 3.5 percent. The modest effects of this slight increase are far outweighed by the moral
imperative to give the poor access to a crucial commodity enjoyed by the rest of society.

...The political logic may be the most compelling for candidates: Any proposal that involves money in the pocket for this many voters won't lack for public support. In particular, rural and exurban workers who have long been particularly hard hit by this tax on work are a natural constituency for the commuting credit. Indeed, in addition to transforming the lives of America's inner-city poor, commuting credits could also be the first step toward making low- and middle-income voters feel that the federal government is making a difference in their economic well-being.

The idea that driving a car is a lifestyle decision has long since become outmoded. Americans do love to drive, but these days, they also must drive. To be a fully functioning citizen in this country today, a car is a virtual necessity, and any American willing to work ought to be able to afford one. We use the tax code to subsidize most other work expenses. It's time we did the same for the most common and unavoidable of them all.

Margy Waller served as a domestic adviser in the Clinton-Gore White House.
She is based in Washington, DC.