Thursday, February 28, 2013

FHR - 2013

Distance: 32 miles
Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Average Speed: 18mph
Max Speed: 40mph
Song of the Day: Knock Knock - Band of Horses

It is that time of year again. The FHR was last Sunday. This one one of the reasons I love my bike club. This year was especially good because it didn't rain. It wasn't sunny exactly, but no rain is good. I also perfected my calorie intake a bit. Last year I ran out of energy towards the end. This year, that wasn't a problem. My solution? Donuts.

The race itself didn't have that much drama to it. I rode pretty well, except for dropping my chain. There were a number of people who would draft off of me, but I didn't find myself behind anyone else almost the whole race. The one time I did get stuck behind a clot of Cascade riders I had to pass them again once the line of guys hit a hill.

One change this year was the vodka stop had become a whiskey stop. It is still a performance reducing drug. I only wanted a little bit, so I pulled the cup away before Scott had finished filling it. He was kind enough to throw the rest at me any way. Thanks Scott!

After the whiskey (yuck), Baker Hill didn't seem that bad. I wasn't amazingly fast, but I wasn't running out of energy. From there it was just a rush to the finish. I was a little tired coming up the last couple of hills. I could still push myself a bit to get up them. I passed one rider on the last hill. I ended up coming in 6th, which I thought was pretty good all considered. (We had about 120 riders all told.) Then again, that is the unofficial number. I asked Derrick and he said "You weren't top three, so I stopped counting."

I also heard the police had been by to say no alcohol was allowed. The keg of beer had to remain in the back of the truck. Not that I minded, I don't drink beer. Even worse though the whiskey stop had been shut down by the police not long after I had been through. While in retrospect I can understand that announcing free liquor with a megaphone may not have been a good or even legal idea, it was all part of the tomfoolery that makes the race so fun. Not vomiting while going up the biggest hill of the race is part of the challenge. I realize this is not a solid legal defense, but there is a difference between illegal and doing harm. Really the worst harm to come from this was to my sense of taste. I hope we can work something out for next year because I would hate to loose the tradition.

Thanks to Derrick and all the sponsors for putting this on. I had a great time, and I look forward to next year.


Friday Tune, Saturday Race

I received the shifter for my commuter bike back on Friday. I guess they just sent me a whole new one instead of a refurbished copy. No complaints from me on that. Thanks Shimano.

After work on Friday I headed over to Back Alley Bike Repair. They were having a Derrick from Point83 had arranged for "wrench party" there. That was great. I got my new shifter installed. That was the easy part actually. I also got my cable housing replaced. I probably should have done that a while ago. The inner sheath that holds the cable was coming out. I got those changed out and re-wrapped my bars. Now it shifts like a dream.

This is good because I hit up the Up & Down alley cat on Saturday. It wasn't a long race, but fun. The haul up Yestler was a bear. I saw a number of the fixed gear riders just walking their bikes up it. Frankly, I wasn't that much faster even in my lowest gear. At one of the other stops we had to ride off a stone bench. It was only a foot and half off the ground. I got up there, rode off and over the handle bars. There wasn't enough space to build up any speed. I heard later that only a couple of the riders actually landed that jump. The lame thing was that my shifting was all messed up after that. I just got it working! At least I made it through the rest of the race okay. Came in 8th place, which was about the middle of the pack. In all it was about 10 miles in less than an hour. Though when I got home I spent another hour fiddling with my shifting. I did get that tuned up again, no harm done.

Good way to start the weekend.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bike Tax - Dumb Idea

This week the democrats in the Washington State house released a new transportation plan. In it, the proposed bill would put a $25 dollar tax on bike over $500 dollars. It is a bad idea on so many levels I am not really sure where to begin.

Let start with the idea of the tax being a way for cyclists to pay "their fare share". This is a stupid and dangerous notion. The roads are a public service available for all. This is just the same as the service provided by the police or the public school system. Making the link between tax payments and road usage only encourages the asinine idea that some people deserve to have more right over the roads because they pay more in taxes. Imagine not being able have all your kids go to public school because you don't live in an affluent zip code? Or the police not arrest your assailant because you didn't pay enough in sales taxes? Public services don't and have never worked that way. Roads are a public good that everyone can use, regardless of how much any specific user pays in taxes. The government needs to be out front in making sure that all road users understand this. Hiding behind a $25 fee is an abrogation of that responsibility.

Beyond that, the way the fee is implemented is idiotic. Users like myself who build their own bikes would likely not have to pay anything. Someone who buys a decent downhill mountain bike however would have to pay this fee, even though that bike will never ride on public roads. It seems like this fee is designed to punish small bike shops. For a businesses that make vary narrow margins they can ill afford the fee or giving their customers one more reason to buy out of state, online, or not at all.

What does this tax get for cyclists? According to the plan, nothing. Specifically "0%", really 0.6% (about $60 million out of the $10 billion plan) will be spent on improving cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure. The majority of the money will be spent on highway and freeways, which cyclists aren't allowed to use. Remember, this is the state transportation budget. Most of the cycling infrastructure comes from the city or local government budget.

There you have it. The new tax is likely to shut down small businesses, tell drivers they own the road, and do nothing for cyclists. This will bring in a whopping $1 million dollars in revenue. Most of which I imagine would be spent on administration costs for the new tax. Well done. Well done, indeed.

But I have a plan. Scrap the $25 fee and add a checkbox to the motor vehicle registration form. Have it say "I would like my registration fee to go to bicycle improvements". You see, most cyclists do own cars as well. I have to pay to register my van regardless of how much I use it. That said, I would much rather see money spent on making new bike lanes than on new freeways. If just 1% of the state would check that box the amount of money raised would be around $20 million dollars. That is twenty times what the bicycle fee would raise. If the point of the whole thing was to show that cyclists pay their taxes like everyone else, what better way. It would be yearly proof that people who own and pay for their cars would rather bike.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Change of Pace

For the last few months the shifter on my commuter bike has been acting up. It was still under warranty so I thought I might as well send it back while I was gone in Singapore. It wasn't back by the time I got home though. I know I could have been riding the bike, but using a 48x11 single speed bike in Seattle isn't that much fun.

For the last three weeks I have been riding other things. For the first week I was riding Molly, my touring bike. Most of that bike has been through the trials of Africa. It has a lot of interesting mods and two very sturdy racks. These make it about a 40 pound bike. That is double what my commuter bike weighs. I hate to say it, but she really isn't built for speed. Beyond that I didn't have a long enough seat post for the bike. I couldn't use the saddle without my knees coming up to my ears. Commuting around was taking a lot longer, and not really as much fun.

Sweet Jump
Fortunately I was able to locate my Mzungu mountain bike after the first week. It does weight a third more than my commuter bike, but still almost half as much as the touring rig. I do find myself enjoying the smooth ride over the rough pavement though. The cracks and pot-holes I dodge on my commuter I can glide over on the fat tires. That has been much easier. Except for the wind, which we have had a lot of recently. Cutting through the wind with 3 inch tires is like cutting a watermelon with a baseball bat. It might be fun for Gallagher, but not very efficient. While I can't go fast on it, the bike does have other advantages. For instance, they put in a sweet jump on my route to work. It has been nice. Between the sunny days and the molasses smell on Harbor Island, things have been great.

Still, my shifter arrived back yesterday. It has been a nice change to my regular routine, but I can't wait to get back on my normal bike. I will probably get it installed Friday night. That should be fun. I want it ready for this weekend. I have an alley cat race on Saturday and the FHR on Sunday. Should be a great weekend.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Final Notes on Singapore

I wanted to put in a couple of last notes about bicycles in Singapore. Sadly I never got to ride there, which does grind my gears a bit. There is always a next time, I guess. I wish I had known about the East Coast Park earlier. There is a great path along the ocean and they rent bikes for cheap all along the beach. So that is more of a note to any avid cyclists planning to travel to the region.

That said, what I really wanted to mention was the work bike culture in Singapore. I love the idea of a bicycle as an integral part of commerce. A way for everyone to get around. A way to transport goods to market. It appears that the Singapore used to be much more dependant on bicycles than it is now. There is this article from Copenhagenize. I also found two different forms of tricycle that I thought were pretty cool.

The first is the heavy duty cargo trike. I have seen this style before, just nothing so burly. It is as engineered for hauling heavy loads as a dual-suspension mountain bike is for going downhill. The wheels look more like they were made for a car or motorcycle. I imagine it would hold a couple hundred pounds. Then again, you would need some real legs to get that thing going. I also like the brake. That is the handle right below the seat. If you look carefully you will notice that pushing down on the handle pulls the brake pads into inner rim of the back tire. That is very much like the style of push-rod brakes.

The second one I wanted to mention is the tricycle rickshaw. At first I thought it wasn't that much more interesting than the rickshaws Seattle has. I was wrong. The side-car for the passenger is completely separate. So unlike the cargo bike above, it doesn't require a custom built bike frame. You simply bolt the side-car on in three places and you are ready to go. I love the ingenuity of the whole thing.

So, there you have it. A couple of interesting work bikes from my trip to Singapore. The bikes in the pictures come from museums. I did see examples of both out on the streets though. The use of work bikes is still alive in Singapore.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Cycling in Singapore

I am off travelling again, this time to Singapore. Coming from a place that is cold and rainy this time of year to one that is 80° and sunny all the time  has made me itch to get on a bike. At the same time I have been reading about a tragic accident that killed two young cyclists here. This has me thinking about how people use the roads here and how that is different from what I am used to.

The biggest thing I have noticed since being here is that pedestrians and cyclists are not respected on the roads. The drivers here seem to have a consensus that they have the right of way in any situation. Even a crosswalk or a pedestrian signal is no guarantee that a driver will be looking for you. Pedestrians and cyclists here need to be extraordinarily careful at traffic interchanges because the drivers are not prepared to stop.

Another issue is that the lanes here tend be narrow. The people that do bike in the road do so over on the outside edge of the lane. You don't see people taking the lane. Yet because of the narrow lanes there is no way for any cars to pass safely. Instead the riders have to trust that drivers will see them and move around.

Also, I have yet to see a bike lane in the city. For a city of five million people, the infrastructure made for cyclists is non-existent. Instead pedal-pushers are relegated to the gutter. It is almost as if they have become road debris that needs to be avoided. Not people.

The whole system seems designed to push riders off the road. Yet it appears that using a bicycle is remarkably popular. People ride all throughout the city. You see bikes parked at every street corner. Some of this must be due to the nature of the bicycle. It is a cheap, fun, and effective way to travel. That doesn't mean it is safe.

This isn't helped by the fact that most riders don't wear helmets. In a tough city, I would imagine you would want any protection you could get. Even worse, most bikes have no lights. Riding on the side of the road with no lights in the dark makes the bike almost impossible to see. That is really taking your life in your hands. 

Singapore is such a modern city in many other ways, but conditions for bicycle here remind me much more of cities in Mexico, China, or Africa. Cities across North America and Europe are competing to encourage bike riders. This city appears to have done nothing for them. If Singapore wants to be seen as a truly modern city, I am afraid some changes in this area will be necessary. I hope that the changes will also help to prevent accidents like the one that claimed the lives of those two boys earlier in the week.

The first change is to make an effort at providing space for cyclists. There are many things the city could do, from adding bicycle lanes to simply painting a sharrow on the road. Seeing the conditions here only reinforces my belief that people will ride bikes, even if it is on dangerous roads not designed for them. It is better and faster for everyone if bikes are given a bit of space to ride.

The second, more important matter, is to change the culture. That isn't easy, and it has been slow to shift in the United States. People are coming around to the idea that bikes aren't an impediment to traffic, but an alternative to it. Doing so is critical to creating a bike friendly city. Once you change the mindset from bikes as road debris to bikes as little cars, the safety condition get much better.

If Singapore can work on these two things, they will be come a safer and much more exciting city.