39 tagged with #pedaling

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one of the days i was at clingman's dome, listening, i overheard a couple of people discussing the signage that explained the perpetual haze as a result of air pollution from vehicle traffic. 'what do they expect is gonna happen?' one of them asked in frustration. 'we all drove our cars to get here. it's not like we can just not get back in them to go home.'

rarely do i find it worthwhile to confront people in this situation anymore, but my rehearsed responses stick to me. 'of course you have to drive home,' i'd say with understanding, while sitting on my motorcycle that i also clearly used to contribute to the toxic haze. 'drive home, but think about this when you get there. think about if you can carpool to work, or if you can walk to the store in your community, or if you can change your habits of idling in the parking lot while waiting for someone to run in for a gallon of milk.'

i think about my own suburban adolescence, where the middle school, half a mile from my house, banned me from walking because there was no crosswalk cutting through the busy throughway. 'vote in local officials who will prioritize safe walking infrastructure for your children,' i'd ask them. 'be a good example to your neighbors by driving safely.'

i can advocate for a lot of these things because i have the luxury of living within a few miles of where i work and play, i have the luxury of a body that can take me places without needing a device that burns oil or gas or coal, i have the luxury of possessing the willingness to engage with streets that are not quite optimized for my mode of travel. i also have access to a car, and a motorcycle, and the frequent offers of rides to faraway places or during inclement weather, but i cannot participate in using those without feeling a heavy guilt. leave that seat in the car for someone who cannot ride their bicycle to the store; let that cup of gasoline be burned for an urgent need, not my instantaneous comfort.

i don't know if anyone will listen to me, though, so i keep my mouth shut when i hear them complain about dirty hippies pressuring them to give up their cars. i don't want anyone to give up something that gives them freedom and happiness; i also don't want anyone making a regular decision that commits us to a path that seems to steadily narrow towards a destination choked with poison and riddled with dangerous travel.

07 March 2018 23:21

eye contact

i slipped my goggles over my helmet as i left the house this morning, but i forgot to push them down over my face. it wasn't until i was about to pull into the back entrance that i realized there were tears streaming down my cheeks, the wind tunneling into my eyes like a thousand papercuts.

in the summer, i'll bike through clouds of gnats, feeling them drown in the sweat pooling at my brow and sliding into the corners of my eyes. the chemicals they secrete as they die sting as it seeps into the mucous membranes of my face, and sometimes it blinds me for a moment.

05 March 2018 19:59


i was standing at my desk when i heard it: a soft pop and a sudden loud hiss. 'what the FUCK,' i yelled; i knew the hiss by its pitch, the sound of air whistling out of my bicycle tire.

i turned and watched the rear wheel rapidly deflate, crossing the room in two steps just in time to reach down and touch the valve, which was flapping in the breeze. there was a clunk when the last of the air escaped and the rim crashed into the floor.

15 February 2018 18:48

bike greetings

some people frown at me when they see me on my bicycle. sometimes, it's their response to imagining themselves on a bicycle. 'can't you walk to work instead? what about the bus?'

sometimes it's a frustration that i'm in their way, that my presence forces them to be more careful, that they're worried something bad might happen to me and they have to see it.

but sometimes, i'll pass someone who looks at me and grins through their scarf. sometimes, i pass the old security guard who's been keeping an eye out for me since i was a teenager, and raise a hand in greeting. 'hey! you're making me look bad,' he protests.

'you can be out here with me, too,' i shout back, and his reply is blown away by the wind as i slide around the corner.

07 February 2018 15:23

how to bike on black ice

my bike creaks and rattles down the hallway; salt crust and dirt clogs the chain and builds up under the fenders. someone in a black university hoodie stays at the door when i'm on my way out, holding it open so i can scoot past.

'there you go, get on out!'

and at the second door, someone on their way in holds it open for me, too. 'nice, one shot to get through!' i laugh, and the first door-holder laughs with me. 'just the way i like it!'

i nearly splatter into the curb as soon as my tires hit the sidewalk; the world is an unexpected sheet of ice, with a fine dusting of powder on top. my shoes have no tread, but they miraculously balance on the ground as i pause to collect myself.

none of the cars are happy in this. for the most part, they tentatively creep along, but there's the occasional daredevil whose decided that maximum velocity through every intersection is the only way.

against all my expectations, i can creep slowly uphill. there's fresh powder in the bike lane, which gives me more traction than trying to ride on the tire-beaten slick ice that encases the road.

here's how you survive on black ice:

  • keep your center of gravity low; this means you should weight the pedals more, lifting yourself slightly off the seat.
  • go slow. expect to go slow. expect to be cold because you have to go slow.
  • do not brake. if you must brake, gently engage the rear brake, and only very tentatively feather the front brake if you somehow managed to go so fast that your rear brake is not enough to slow you down.
  • (if you lock your rear brake, that's okay; do not panic. ride out the skid. let the bike pick a direction to slide, and slide with it. do not lock your front brake. do not lock your front brake.)
  • if a car's windows are still snowed over, there's probably no one in it, and it's probably okay to ride in the door zone. at the door zone, there's more likely to be a sliver of snow covering the ice. this is a risk, because it encourages cars to pass you closely, but consider this risk against the cost of failure if you ride on a patch of ice, fall over, and are in front of a car that cannot easily stop.
  • dismount before you reach a tricky spot. if you need to dismount during a tricky spot, you will have a much harder time staying upright.

i hopped between spaces where parked cars had left; those dry squares became islands where it was safe for me to put down a foot. memories flooded my body, of other times when i needed to balance and control my motion. you have to be calm. you have to be quiet. you have to know that you've got it, and know when you don't got it. never move aggressively, never show off, never let hubris take over when you've successfully navigated six slippery intersections without a single wheelspin.

i've had lessons in this before. a snowboarding instructor, trying to help me figure out how to straighten my legs easily enough so the edge of the board bit into the snow. a motorcycle instructor, constantly bellowing 'keep your head and eyes up', with reminders to look where you aspire to be, not where you wish you weren't. a surf instructor, who coached my timing because i didn't know it yet, but gave me the space to discover that when i stopped thinking about why something worked, it worked better.

the world is a mashup of anti-lock brakes firing, and i stare with disbelief that four blocks of rubber have enough friction to stop a minivan from sliding into me. other pedestrians share the look on my face, more than they usually do, of survival and worry for other people not in metal boxes or brick buildings. a pair of them come up behind me as i carefully remount at an intersection.

'oh, be careful,' one of them mother-hens at me.

'yeah. yeah, this is hard.'

'this is all ice,' the other one says as i gingerly walk my way across.

'yeah. i know.'

'just take the sidewalk,' he recommends. 'it's clearer up there.'

and i scoot past them, following one other set of bike tracks. the sidewalk is all snow, not yet packed, and i can hear the ice below it when my tires crush a pattern through it. two people walking out to their car in the parking lot, one of them inhales in shock. 'a cyclist!' she identifies. 'i can't believe it!'

she speaks in the tone of voice that motorists often do, that 'i am in an enclosed object and you cannot hear me, but even if you could hear me, i do not care, because soon i will be far away from you' declaration.

seeing is believing, ma'am, i say in my head. i'm safer biking than driving.

'but you could fall over!' i imagine her protesting, because her four wheels are certainly more stable than mine.

sure, but if i lose control, i'm much less likely to kill someone.

the conversation i wish i could have with everyone who chooses a car in these conditions. the hanging accusation that they are irresponsible for choosing their own comfort of being in a warm, four-wheeled object that will effortlessly transport them home, while overlooking the potential for harm that decision carries. every time they show concern for me, i wish they would acknowledge that they could be driving safer, they could be following the speed limit, they could be stopping at stop signs, they could be passing me with reasonable amounts of space.

a woman stands in the middle of the sidewalk, her back to me, texting. 'excuse me,' i chirp optimistically while i approach.

'whoa,' she turns, and she looks like she could be one of my aunts. 'be careful! don't fall down!' i laugh; i haven't fallen yet this season. i don't mind falling. it's the cars that might not stop for me that i mind.

it used to be hard for me to bike up this hill, in my city of hills. on a fair day with a freshly tuned bike, i'd struggle and stare down at my knees slowly bobbing up and down, because the sight of the endless slope rising above me would demoralize me. now, it's a gentle cruise with a week's worth of groceries on a grumpy frozen bike with questionable traction. this is how i know i've grown stronger, more stubborn, more experienced over the years.

this is how i know i exist.

24 January 2018 22:53

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