Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Don't Lose Your Marbles Alleycat

I thought the racing season was pretty much done now that the rains are here. But there was one more before Halloween.

What a fun race too. The format was what I have come to think of as the standard alleycat. Meaning, a race with stops in any order. It did come with a twist though. The manifests were not at the start though. Instead we had to pick up the manifests at South Lake Union.

Once I got the manifest I picked out my route. There were six stops, I started with Queen Anne. There I did mess up a bit. I didn't realize the stop was on the back side of the hill. It would have been easier going up Dexter, but oh well. Then crossed the Aurora bridge and down into the U-district. Up through the arboretum. Then down to Judkins park along 23rd. (Probably should have used MLK.) Then to the convention center. At the stop on Union I picked sand a Pokemon song and picked up two more checkpoints. I hit Pioneer Square first, then through the Seattle Center. That was a mess on Saturday. The last stop was on Capitol hill so I busted up Denny. That is the straightest/steepest way to get there. If you want to race in Seattle to have to be ready for hills. I then headed to the I-5 colonnade for the finish. In all it took a little over an hour and half. I came in 3 minutes behind the race leader, and for the fourth time this year I took second place. I guess that is just my number.

I did come away with a few prizes. I got a t-shirt and some tri-flow. Both of them from Seattle Bicycle Collective. Thanks to JT and the guys who put it on. I had a blast and I am looking forward to the pictures.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Sher Kung Memorial Ride

For all my excitement to head off to NACCC the trip did start off on a sad note. A woman was killed riding her bike to work on 2nd avenue in Seattle that morning. I didn't find out any more details until the following week. As it seems is usual in these cases the victim isn't a reckless scofflaw riding through stop lights giving the finger to the cops, it is someone just like Sher Kung. A regular person with a regular job. A mother of a small child. Someone who was working to make her community better. She died doing something as mundane as riding a bicycle. An activity so safe we let young kids do it.

The cyclists that I ride with had all talked about how dangerous the bike lane on 2nd was. The term "deathtrap" gets used a lot to describe it. I am sad to say that is now true. Something that makes this even more tragic is that the city knew about the dangers and had a plan to change the bike lane in place. Those changes came to late.

I am also not convinced that those changes will make a big difference. I never rode in the old bike lane. I have no intention of using the new one. I feel more comfortable moving with car traffic and having room to maneuver. Maybe other cyclists will feel more at home in the protected lane. I am not sure that the changes will eliminate the dangerous turns though. I guess time will tell.

Today there was a memorial ride for Sher Kung. I was very impressed. The Seattle Police cleared the way for the group of bicycles on 2nd down to the Garden of Remembrance where the accident happened. There were some speeches and a moment of silence. The mood was somber and respectful.

The ride then continued down to pioneer square for a more charged discussion about the state of bike facilities in the city. Again, the group was guided by Seattle Police motor cycles. There wasn't much talking either.

I was struck by one image though. That is of a couple of kids no older than ten biking along with us. I don't know if they really understood what was going on. They were having a great time. Enjoying having a street all to themselves. No fear of having to dodge cars or getting honked at. Without the police escort I doubt they would be able to ride down second. Some bus or car would ride them off the road in short order. I realized that it wasn't the road that made it dangerous for these kids, it was the drivers. We have come to expect a level of danger in the people who operate very dangerous machines. There is no legal reason why those child cyclists could not be operating on the road. Instead it is our continued toleration of aggressive and callus driving that would normally regulate those kids and most others to back streets and bike lanes.

I hope that what we as a society come away from this tragedy with is not that we need more green paint on the road, but instead that we need to drive better. For all of you who drive like I do, take care. Slow down. Be aware of your surroundings. The person you share the road with may be a 10 year old boy, or the mother of a 7 month old girl.

If you want to help out the family of Sher Kung there is a fund set up here.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

NACCC 2014 - Minneapolis

It has been a year since I went to the NACCC here in Seattle. That is the North American Cycle-Courier Championships. It really changed my life. It set me on a new path. I became a bike courier last winter in hopes of being able to compete. While winter is not a really great time to become a courier, I was set. My goal was to ride in the NACCC in 2014 in Minneapolis.

I landed in Minneapolis at just after 10:00 PM on Friday. I reassembled my bike and rode out from the airport. (That was the third time I have done that.) The night started out well, it was a warm night sticky with humidity. In the distance I could see lightning. Before I had gone a mile I was riding through a thunderstorm. Other than the rain, it was a great ride though. I made it to the place where the NACCC contestants were hanging out. I got the time and place to meet the next day.

Waking up on Saturday I headed to the qualifier. I signed up and even had time to ride through the course a couple of times. Then I got ready to race. This isn't like any bike race you see on TV, though. It isn't rated in time or distance, but in "money". Each rider gets a list of jobs. These jobs all list a pickup location, a drop off location, and a value. Longer jobs earn more. But the race is as much about being smart and organized as it is about being fast. Racers get one hour to make as much money as possible.

My race started at high noon. I spent the first ten minutes without a clue what I was doing.  Then I got organized and started making some real (actually fake) money. I was going fast and racing through my stops. I was feeling great about how everything was going. At the end I had maybe enough time for one more job, but I didn't take it. I was worried about going over time.

The organizers of the NACCC then lead a huge group out to a secret lake. (I would have called it a pond, but anyway...) I met a bunch of really cool people from all over the country. Went swimming until the sun set. Then we raced back into town for the after party.

The party was held in the alley behind a bike shop. Super fun, but I think the best part of it was Taco Cat. Normally they will only deliver you tacos on a bike. However for this party they had set up to server fresh tacos to all the NACCC participants. It was amazing. The tacos are so good. If you get to Minneapolis, please try some.

The only bummer of the night was that I missed the qualifier by two places. They took the top 60 racers, and I was number 62. To put it another way, I was short of qualifying by 25 cents. Dang. I guess I should have done that last job. Oh well.

I did stop by to watch the finals the following day. Before the race began the racers were all looking for last minute gear. "Can I borrow a pen?" "Can I borrow your bag?" One girl even borrowed my arm watch. It makes sense. The final race is three hours long. Some of the jobs have a time limit. So being able to manage your time is very important. It took a while to get everything organized and begin the race. Once it started I did find a great spot on the far side of the course to watch the race from.

After an hour of watching the riders go round in circles I figured it was time to get going myself. I hadn't flow half way across the country to sit around . Having never been to Minneapolis before I decided to explore the city.

The city itself has a great mixture of old brick buildings around the edges. More steel and glass in the center. I was shocked at the number of sky bridges. It probably makes a good deal of sense in winter. It seemed like you could walk most of the way across the city without setting foot outside, though. Also, the city is very flat. Coming from Seattle it is a bit weird to ride across town without hitting one hill.

I spent some time at the sculpture garden. Meh. It seemed a lot like the one in Seattle. Neither of which I am very impressed with. Still, it was a gorgeous day and nice to be in a park outside.

I got back just in time to catch the end of the final race. Not that it was all that exciting. Again, it isn't about being the first person back, it is about earning the most "money". The real winners would be announced later. The organizers did put on a few extra challenges though. Foot down. Quick lock. I hung out and talked with more people. Meeting so many different people, it is crazy to see how different they all are. Race, ethnicity, education. Then only similar thread between all of them is that they love riding bikes.

After the challenges were over a group of people headed to a secret spot on the Mississippi river. We didn't even get out of the city though. The secret spot was a collection of decaying structures overgrown with trees along the river bank. On top of the cliff above were some old factories. It felt like being in the middle of nowhere even though it was only a couple of miles from down town.

Just before sunset the group headed over to a bar for some food and to announce the winners. We were enjoying the patio for a bit before more thunderstorms rolled in. The whole mass of soggy, sweaty cyclists jammed into the tiny place. After the winners were announced I said my goodbyes and headed out into the rain. I had an early flight to catch.I am looking forward to the next one. Denver here I come!


Monday, September 1, 2014

Dream Machines Alleycat

Went to another alley cat on Friday. Started at Back Alley Bike Repair. So a big thanks to those guys for helping to put it on. The race itself was pretty simple and short. It took about an hour. Four stops in a little zig-zag across the city.

I even came in second place! So that felt pretty good. I even got a cool new Knog light.

I was talking with Face, the guy who won the race, and Fred afterwards. They were heading out to the NACCC. Fred left for the airport just after I got there. That reminds me I should look into that again.