Sunday, November 8, 2009

Interesting . . .

October and November are ideal months for bicycling in Houston. Unfortunately, they are also my busiest work months, and I haven't liberated myself from the car just yet. So, I haven't ridden as much as I would have liked.

Today, I rode out to Barker Reservoir (my usual Sunday ride). Barker isn't a typical reservoir; it mainly serves as a buffer for flood protection so that Buffalo Bayou doesn't overflow its banks every time we have a heavy rain. Barker Reservoir is also known as George Bush park, and it is host to, among other things, a nice multi-use trail that is mostly populated by recreational bicyclists.

When the reservoir floods, much of the trail isn't accessible (because it's under water). This morning, much of the water had receded and I was able to take a nice 20+ mile ride.

Some rain is in today's forecast. Outside, it is cool, overcast, and humid. The cloud cover seems to be darkening as the day wears on.

On my return trip, I noticed that the cars queued up at the light on Briar Forest all had their headlights on. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea for me to light up, too. After crossing Highway 6, I pulled off the road, turned on the lights mounted on my bike and clipped a red light to my CamelBak. Then, I proceeded in the bike lane on Briar Forest.

The light on my pack is a Planet Bike Super Flash. I had it on steady mode (after reading John Forester's reasoning behind using a steady red light in Effective Cycling). The Super Flash is advertised to be visible up to a mile away, and I'm sure that staring at it for long would melt one's eyeballs easily.

So, I'm riding in the bike lane. Usually, about half of the cars approaching me from behind move to the inside lane, and the most of the other half slow as they pass me just the other side of the dividing line. Today, though, driver behavior was considerably different.

Every car that approached me from behind moved to the inside lane. And, they did so much longer in advance than is my usual experience.

When I reached the stop light at Eldridge and Briar Forest, I attempted to merge into the traffic lane for better visibility. However, I waited too long, and cars were approaching too quickly. Instead, I stopped in the bike lane behind the last car in the outside lane.

The two cars approaching from behind slowed and stopped, too. One moved to the inside lane; the other stayed about 10 feet behind.

That doesn't usually happen. Usually, cars will slow, then pull up beside me if I'm in the bike lane.

In my Traffic Skills 101 class, Peter Wang wondered if some of the hostility I (and other cyclists) encountered on Houston roadways from time-to-time was due to motorists being scared coming up on us and wondered also if standing out more would remedy some of that hostility.

Evidently, being visible . . . really visible . . . helps a lot. Even in the daylight. Maybe eyeball-melting red lights are the ticket in the same way that many cars now use full-time daylight running lights.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Traffic Skills 101

It's official: I am safe to ride on Houston's streets!

Today, I completed the Traffic Skills course sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists. REI hosted the course taught by instructors Peter Wang and Nicole Volek.

We spent 8 hours in class; five hours were classroom work and a written test, and the other three were a variety of drills in the REI parking lot and a ride through Houston's Galleria area.

I would have like much more time on the bike . . . especially with the drills. While I was able to do all of the emergency maneuvers passably, more supervised practice doing them would have been much appreciated. Still, I got to spend time doing them under supervision, and I have some things to practice on weekend days that I don't feel like taking a long ride, but feel like riding some.

Goofy errors on my part kept me from acing the written test. However, I'm of the mind that the most important purpose of a test is to show me the areas needing extra attention from me, and I passed, so all was not lost.

I recommend the course. More information about Traffic Skills 101 can be found by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Get in the Bike Lane!

Tonight, I made a milk run on my bike . . . in the dark.

Plans for a commute today were foiled by more fun with bicycle tires. This time, the front tire was flat. Hopefully, the tube I put on tonight will be the last one I have to replace for awhile.

Anyway, I put on helmet, turned on flashers, and headed for the store for a half-gallon of soy milk.

While cruising through the neighborhood, a guy told me that my strobe could cause someone to have a seizure. I'll have to check that one out . . .

The two cops that were sitting side-by-side at a dead end didn't say anything about my flashing white.

At the store, I locked up, did my business, and got back on the bike.

I've already said that I don't like the bike lanes on Briar Forest. I like them even less in the dark. On the way to the store, I ran over something metal. After that, I was done with bike lanes for the night.

Returning home, things were going well. Suddenly, a car behind me turned on its brights. When I didn't move over, the driver laid on the horn.

Meanwhile, the inside lane remained free from cars or any other vehicles.

About the time it came time for me to turn, the car pulled into the inside lane, came up beside me, and a woman yelled from the passenger seat, "Get in the bike lane!"

My reply? "I'm allowed to ride in the street . . . read the code!"

I resisted the urge to add, "Sanctimonious bitch!" I guess my complaint - free program is helping after all.

And, the law says I have the right to ride on the roadway. So there!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fun with Bicycle Tires

When I think about it, I've had a very charmed couple of thousand miles on the CrossTrail. Yes, the rear wheel had to be trued (mostly because of the weight I force it to carry) a couple of times, and the spokes on the rear wheel were replaced, but those were good things.

When toting up the mileage on the bike since last December, it was easy to see why I've suffered three flats since Saturday.

Saturday morning, I woke up early. I had a little time before my Traffic Skills 101 class, so I decided to make a coffee run on the bike. Lo and behold, the rear tire was flat. I guess the night riding the night before took me over something sharp.

I pulled the tube, checked for a leak, and couldn't find one. So, I put the tire back on, filled it up, and went for my ride. Then, I went to the class (which I'll talk about in a future post).

When I got home, the tire was flat again. So, I pulled out a tube and went to fill it.

Ironically, we had talked about tire checks in class. Our instructor said that every year, at the MS 150 ride from Houston to Austin, someone invariably blew a tire while topping it off before the ride. He also said it sounded like a gunshot.

I've been around guns off and on throughout my life. The stain in my shorts verifies the instructor's claim. At least I was outside, and the ringing in my ears went away fairly quickly . . .

So, I figure that the tube was too small for the bike because I'd gotten the wrong size. I take the tube and the tire to Bike Barn to make sure I get the correct size. Eric, the sales guy, comments that the tread is awfully worn . . .

Turns out that the tube was the right size, but it was likely flawed. Bike Barn comped me another tube (which was really nice since tubes aren't warranted).


Then, the riding day of the Traffic Skills class gets postponed due to rain . . . which never arrived.

This morning, it takes a little effort to get vertical and get motivated to ride, but I do it. I have a great ride into work. New lights make me more visible to drivers and the road more visible to me.

The ride home is even better! Tailwinds all the way. I'm spinning in the highest gears ever on the ride home. It's fast, easy, and fun!

When I turn into my neighborhood, the bike feels like it's weaving beneath me. Must be the wind, right? After all, it's blowing against me now.

Nope. When I check tire pressure, it's down to 20 psi. So, I inflate first. When it gets to 60 psi, a clear hiss lets me know that I have a puncture of some kind.

That does it! Time to think about a new tire.

Bike Barn tells me my options are limited . . . until Maxx pulls down a set of Armadillos.

Ninety dollars later, I walk out with a new set of puncture-resistant tires. I'll be rolling a thinner tire; 38 c instead of 45 c.

Will I roll faster with less surface on the road? Will the new tires stay inflated for a couple of thousand miles?

It would be really sweet if they installed themselves . . .

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Night Riding on the M.U.P.

Today was supposed to be a commuting day. But, my daughter had a Girl Scout meeting at the same time that my wife had a doctor's appointment. Being the noble husband and father that I am, I offered to forsake my bicycle commute to get the Princess to the meeting and get the monkey off of the Queen's back.

"Oh, I hate for you to give up your ride. I'll make it work."

I already knew that it wouldn't. I also knew that there would be one stressed out mommy and one disappointed little girl if everything didn't go according to plan. So, I said, "I can go for an evening ride, instead. Don't worry about it. I'll drive."

Today, a steady gentle rain came down from late morning until dinner time. That's great news for Houston (we've had a drought most of the summer), but bad news for a commuting cyclist (drivers were quite cranky the last time I rode in the rain). So, I picked a good day to drive.

After getting the meeting wrapped up and homework supervised, it was almost sundown. The streets were wet and the air was saturated with moisture. When I think of dark, slick, and steamy, it usually isn't bike riding that flashes across my mind . . .

After dark, I generally wear clear safety glasses to keep road debris, insects, etc. out of my eyes. When stopped, those glasses generally fog up; once I start riding again, they clear quickly. Not so tonight. It finally got so bad, that I removed them so I could see drivers and the street more clearly.

In Houston, when the temperature drops, all of God's creatures come out to play . . . especially the little bitty ones . . . especially when near plant life. When I got to the trail, the glasses went back on . . . fog or no fog.

I'm not sure, but I think tonight was my first instance of scofflaw riding. I didn't see a sign to confirm it, but I think the path at Addicks Reservoir closes at sundown. My bad! Oh, well . . .

Turns out I wasn't the only one on the trail. A couple of ninjas rode past; I hope they were only riding on the trail and not on the public roadways.

Another guy rode by with an incredibly bright helmet-mounted light. I got to get me one of those!

Eastbound bike lanes on Briar Forest were full of water and debris. Tonight, there was no question in my mind about whether I should take the regular lane or not! The few drivers traveling eastward with me didn't seem to mind.

So, I sit here at 10:35, wide awake with my endorphins running full tilt. It was a great ride!

And, I bet I'm gonna pay for it in the morning . . .

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Downhill Both Ways?

Holy crap!!! What happened?

I think someone gave me a leg transplant sometime between Tuesday and this morning!

So, I get on the road at about 6:50 a.m. and ride to Starbucks. I order my usual, take a seat outside, sip my coffee, and watch the sun come up.

By the way, the coffee was decaf.

Then, I hop on the bike, get on the road, and head out into the park. A group of roadies pass me (on the right, of course . . . chickens!) and stop at the top of the dam. I ride pass, down the hill into the park.

Then, all of a sudden, I'm flying!

Granted, the downhill gave me plenty of impetus . . . it always does. Usually, though, I slow down within a couple of hundred yards after reaching the bottom. And, the hill ain't that big (this is, after all, Houston).

So I'm riding in both a higher gear and at a higher cadence than usual. I sustain that pace to the turnoff to the equestrian area. Turning into that area, I pick up the MUP through the center of the park, and I pick up the pace again.

I continue that pace through the park. I notice another cyclist trailing me at a distance. That gap doesn't close.

Toward the end of the park trail, I slow my pace for a bit on the road and then on the reservoir trail. The cyclist following me catches and passes me on his road bike.

His cadence is pretty fast, I notice. I spend the next few seconds attempting to match his cadence as he pulls away. Finally, I do.

And then, he isn't pulling away anymore.

And then, I'm pulling closer. Me. On my CrossTrail with the 45mm tires.

I'm almost close enough to draft when we come to a fork in the trail. He goes left, and I go right. The hammering continues up a gentle incline toward the end of the trail. Once I cross the highway, it starts up again.

And then, I'm home . . . half an hour sooner than I expected!

Now, I need to figure out just exactly what it was that I learned today . . .

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why Don't You Ride on the Sidewalk?

First, finding a contiguous sidewalk alongside any roadway in the Houston area is a challenge.

Second, pedestrian behavior is even less predictable than motorist behavior . . . especially if there are pets or small children involved.

Third, I can't help but think that being closer to vehicles in driveways entering traffic is a bad thing.

Fourth, the law says that I have a lawful right to operate on the road.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Bike Lanes? No, Thank You . . .

Shortly after I moved to Houston 15 years ago, a large bike lane program was unveiled. It consisted of bike-only lanes on some major thoroughfares, some less-traveled through streets designated as bike routes, some off-road multi-use paths, and the occasional sharrow.

Ultimately, the Houston Bikeway System (as I recall) was supposed to have over a thousand miles of designated bikeways that would eventually link much of the Houston metro area and Galveston. About 370 miles of those proposed bike lanes/paths/routes are in place now. If you're into keeping track of "bike-friendliness," Houston seems to be making good progress.

Bike lanes/routes/paths have one substantial weakness: They don't always go where some of us bicyclists want, or need, to go. If they do, they don't always provide the most direct route. Case in point: My commute from home to school and back. I have a couple of options for getting between the two.

Option one takes me north to Briar Forest (bike lane), across Highway 6 to Addicks Reservoir and George Bush Park (multi-use path . . . largely bicycles), and then leaves me the option of cycling on Fry Road in Katy or using the constantly curving sidepath beside the road. Round-trip is about 30 miles.

Option two takes me south to Westheimer, across Highway 6 to Westheimer Parkway (which goes over the earthen dam separating Addicks Reservoir and George Bush Park from the city), to Fry Road. Since my bike and I don't trigger the left-turn signal at Fry Road, I ride about a block on the sidepath to the crosswalk, push the signal, cross Fry and Westheimer Parkway as a pedestrian, and hop back on the bike to ride Fry Road to my destination. Round-trip is about 20 miles.

When I ride the bike lane on Briar Forest, cars commonly pass me at about 35 mph (the speed limit) close enough for me to reach out and touch them (if I'm brave). At stop lights, many cars sit straddling the bike lane waiting to make right turns.

When I ride in the center of my lane on Fry Road, Westheimer Parkway, and Westheimer Road, the majority of cars pull into the other lane to pass me. There's between four and five feet between cars and me when they pass.

Does it surprise you that I'm much less of a fan of bike lanes/routes/paths than I used to be?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Olfactory Delights

I don't know if my sense of smell has suddenly heightened, or if the wind out of the north carried smells a little further and more intensely, but my nose was working overtime today during my ride.

Sunday mornings usually consist of a ride into George Bush park. Distances vary depending on how I'm feeling on a given Sunday and what else I have scheduled for the day. Today was an out-and-back 12 mile round trip.

Briar Forest drive is the most convenient artery to the park from my home. Briar Forest also happens to be a part of Houston's bikeway plan; lanes were restriped to provide a narrow bike lane near the curb in both directions.

One of the downsides of bike lanes on major thoroughfares is all of the debris that gets pushed over to the curb by auto traffic and running water (from rainfall). Honestly, the lane is pretty useless, but I ride there (when it's clear and when not approaching a stoplight) because that's where motorists expect to see cyclists.

One of the big things to wind up landing in the gutter is dead animals. Today, there were two squirrels on the westbound bike lane, and both of them were very ripe. The wind carried the smell at least 50 years past the carcasses.

North of the trail, on the north side of the reservoir, there were a couple of cedar chip mountains. I'm not sure if they've always been there, but today is the first day that I could smell them. That odor was in the air for almost the whole length of the reservoir's north side.

Crossing Highway 6 on the return trip, the smell of gasoline permeated the air from the Chevron station on the corner. Since I was riding past the valves where tankers refill the gas station's tanks, I assume that they were recently refilled.

One smell I didn't notice was car exhaust. Traffic seemed relatively light compared to most Sunday mornings. Exhaust generally bothers me more in a car than it does on the bike. In fact, the only time I notice exhaust while riding is when waiting at a light surrounded by cars. Plus, it's usually quite warm or quite humid. Today was rather pleasant . . . a welcome change from our summer-long high heat and humidity.

Respite from the heat seems to have a different effect on me, too. Usually, a bike ride is followed by a recliner ride (even before showering). Today, the bike ride was followed by mowing the front lawn. Could this mean that my conditioning is improving after focusing on endurance this summer?

Or could it be the magical power of the Green Smoothie?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

This Week on Pedalcycling

I had the best of intentions this week . . .

Sunday, I took a short ride to the park. The only memorable part of the ride was the violet wildflowers growing alongside the path.

Monday, I had a great ride into work. You know, every ride into work is usually great. Traffic is light, noise is low, legs are fresh, and temperatures are cool. I love riding in the morning!

Monday afternoon, I was putzing around in my office trying to tie up some loose ends when my colleague, Pam, stuck her head in the door and told me that a storm was approaching and I'd better get to riding.

Thunder rumbled outside. I questioned whether it was wise to ride in what might turn out to be a thundersorm. However, the prospect of staying at work even longer prompted me to take a chance with the elements.

Fifteen minutes into the ride, the rain hit. It started gently, then built quickly into a typical Houston soaker. The road quickly became slippery, and wind gusts made balancing a challenge a couple of times.

Lightning flashed in the distance for a little while. One bolt crashed very close; the flash and sound, which were almost simultaneous, almost knocked me off of my bike.

And, boy, were drivers cranky! One of the things that amazes me in Houston is that almost nobody slows down when there is standing (or running) water on the roadway. This day was no exception. Drivers exceeded the speed limit, almost without exception, in spite of poor visibility and the risk of hydroplaning. My presence was most unwelcome, and a few speeding cars made that known as they roared past.

Soaked, and a little bit shaken, I decided to seek shelter at a restroom facility in the park. Of course, just as I approached the driveway to that building, the rain stopped. The rest of the ride passed without incident.

I suspect that the lower temperature helped me to feel relatively fresh when I arrived at the house. Since I was feeling pretty spry, I decided to go ahead and check tire pressure and fill up tires. When I went to fill the rear tire, I discovered that three spokes were broken on the rear wheel. I had already noticed that it was out of true.

So, the bike rack went on the back of the car, and the bike went to Bike Barn. Since the bike had been tuned a month ago, I had noticed that the chain skipped when on the small chainring, so I told Maxx, the mechanic, about both problems.

I was thinking that I might need to have a new 40-spoke rear wheel built to support my less-than-lithe body. Maxx said that several options came to mind and that he'd look it over, but he felt like there shouldn't be broken spokes so soon after a tune up, and that there would be no charge.

Unfortunately, the bike wouldn't be done until Wednesday evening, so I would miss my Wednesday commute. :-(

When I picked the bike up on Wednesday, Maxx told me that a screw had come loose on the chainring; tightening it stopped the skipping. The rear wheel got re-laced with heavier-gauge spokes. As far as I'm concerned, that's way above and beyond what they needed to do. Guess where I'm going to do almost all of my bicycle shopping from now on?

Bike Barn
12118 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77077

Due to two consecutive days of working at school until 10 p.m., the Friday commute didn't happen, either. Last night, I fell asleep in the recliner at around 7:30, and went to bed at around 9.

This morning, up at 6 and in the mood for coffee, I decided to take a ride. Cool air greeted me as I pedaled toward my favorite Starbucks. The bike rolled like it hasn't for awhile . . . of course, that could be due as much to a summer of almost daily rides as it was to the trued wheel. Yeah, right!

Nothing beats an early morning ride in cool air to enjoy a cup of coffee at sunrise! I hope that's a pleasure I can continue to enjoy for many years to come.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Sunday and Monday were my only riding days last week. Sunday was a coffee run and a cruise through the park. Monday was some of the best commuting ever; the ride home was overcast and cooler than usual, and I was at peace with the other roadway users!

Tomorrow, the students return to school. The last couple of weeks have been dress rehearsal for the real morning routine, which starts tomorrow and lasts until the end of May.

Will I ride every day? No. Commuting by bike three days per week is about all my body will handle right now. As the year goes on, more riding will probably make sense and feel welcome. I hope to end the school year riding at least 100 miles a week between utility and recreational cycling.

This isn't my first attempt at this resolution. Over the years, I've bailed many times. When that has happened, I've reflected some on why it happened. It all boils down to one word . . .


In a perfect world, I'd stay up late enough to watch the evening news and have some time alone with my wife, I'd leap out of bed at five in the morning, I'd do all of my ironing/food preparation/packing when I'm fresh, and I'd average 16 - 18 mph on the ride.

Yeah, that would be the life, wouldn't it?

Welcome to my world, as it really is, instead! Here's what I know I have to do in order to make the morning ride:

  1. Get sufficient sleep. Without at least seven hours of sleep (and I'm inclined to believe that 8 1/2 is my ideal), I'm brainless and tactless . . . two traits unbecoming of a good teacher or a good bicycle commuter!
  2. Fuel up! Being hungry sucks! When it comes to food, I have two rules: (1) I don't eat food that doesn't taste good; (2) I don't do hunger. I can take care of these by loading up at the vending machine between meals, but that gets expensive (not to mention fattening). So, I lay out breakfast the night before (and I eat half before the ride; half after) and make lunch and stash it in the fridge. I'm still getting the hang of planning sufficient snacks and such, but I'm closer now than when I first started my attempts at a bicycle lifestyle. What I eat is probably better detailed in a separate post. By the way, I include filling up my CamelBak as a part of my food preparation.
  3. Pack the night before. I've avoided doing that for any number of reasons ranging from my clothes getting more wrinkled to having to possibly unpack if I oversleep and run late. Since my clothes wrinkle some over the course of the day, I've decided not to worry about it. I'm going to keep a back-up set of work clothes ready for the occasions when I do oversleep; this violates another rule of mine (don't do unnecessary work), but I think that my Eagle Scout roots are going to win on this one, and I'm going to choose to "Be Prepared."
As time goes on, I'll probably expand this list. For now, this should get the job done. Time will tell . . .

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Behind the Wheel

After three days of 20 mile rides in some of the highest heat and humidity of the summer, I needed a little more sleep this morning. Bicycling to work in a timely manner was out of the question.

Today, and the next couple of days, have me moving to multiple locations for inservice training. The organizers probably think that it's really cool that they're offering such a smorgasboard of learning opportunities.

I can't help but wonder if making it so that the majority of participants have no choice but to use motorized transport for the next couple of days is really necessary. But, after all, this is Texas, and driving is what we do . . .

On the way home, a quick glance at the speedometer showed me to be 15 mph over the speed limit. That's what I get for going with the flow of traffic. It also revealed how much less conscious I am as a motor vehicle operator than as a cyclist.

That's more than a little bit scary, don't you think?

Slowing down to the speed limit, I noticed that I was getting passed, a lot, at speeds comparable to what I had been driving. However, I also noticed that drivers pulled into the lane at about the same distance behind me as they did when I was riding my bike. Honestly, I hadn't paid that much attention to that before.

Here's a thought for an experiment: What if I slowed my car down to about 20 mph on my commute home? The three roads have posted speed limits of 35, 40, and 45 mph. I wonder what the reaction of other drivers would be compared to how they react to me as a slow-moving cyclist?

I'll have to try that soon and report back here with the results.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Going Uphill . . . Both Ways!

Today, I had a nice chat with the mother of a student that I tutor. She saw my bike propped up against a wall in my classroom and asked if I was a bike commuter.

"We'll see," I said. "I'm giving it my best shot so far, and it's working."

It turns out that she and her husband are avid cyclists. She started out mountain biking, then switched to road riding on the weekends.

We talked for awhile about the joys and perils of riding, bicycle accidents, and the importance of asserting our rights to the road when riding (because safety is more important than popularity).

After she left, I changed into my cycling gear, packed my bags, and began the 10 mile trip home.

This morning, on Westheimer Parkway, I rode into a headwind as I headed southwest. It probably wasn't much, but since I'm a big fella and my position on the bike is high profile, it felt like a big deal to me.

Turning eastbound onto Westheimer Parkway tonight, I began pedaling at a brisk cadence and was able to spin in a higher gear than I had either yesterday or this morning.

Then, when the road turned a little northeast, I ran smack dab into a headwind again! It lasted until I was descending the east side of the berm that borders the east side of the park.

For some strange reason, I started thinking about the "When I Was Your Age" speech. You know how it goes, don't you?

When I was your age, I didn't have it nearly as easy as you! I had to get up before the sun every morning, do my chores, and get to school.

And I didn't have no fancy school bus, either! I had to walk six miles, barefoot, in the snow, going uphill . . . both ways!
My karma account got a deposit today.

The light at Westheimer and Highway 6 appeared to be malfunctioning. When I first queued up at the light, I was too far back to make it through the intersection during the brief green light. Then, when I was sitting at the head of the line, the lights remained red for a couple of cycles on Westheimer while alternating between northbound and southbound traffic on Highway 6.

I noticed that the button for the pedestrian signal was beside me. So, I moved up onto the curb, dismounted, and pushed the button.

Sure enough, the light changed. I crossed as a pedestrian, walked to the next driveway, remounted my bike, and joined traffic from there.

So, if you were one of the drivers stuck for a few minutes this evening on Westheimer at Highway 6 . . .

You're welcome!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Taking Vehicular Cycling Out for a Test Drive

OK, first of all, is it goofy that I set up a blog, make one post, and then fail to post for four months? I'm thinking so . . .

Today was my first day back at work for the new school year. I've spent the summer riding on the multi-use trail in George Bush park building up my capacity to ride 20 miles a day.

However, I knew that I was going to have to figure out how to deal with traffic on the three busy roadways that provide the most direct route from home to my place of employment in Katy: Westheimer Road (FM 1093), Westheimer Parkway, and Fry Road.

I don't know how I found it, but over the summer I read PM Summer's blog, Cycle Dallas. He espouses the practice of "Vehicular Cycling," a term coined by cyclist author John Forester to describe how bicyclists should behave in traffic. Forester sums up the philosophy behind his approach by stating that, "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles."

Reading about it is well and good, but when the rubber meets the road (cliche' intended), how do I deal with the prospect that I might get run off of the road. After all, I've been clobbered good by a car at least once in my life . . .

One lazy afternoon, while clicking links on Cycle Dallas, I came across this series of videos intended to demonstate how to ride a bike in Dallas traffic. Seventy minutes later, I saw, for myself, how cyclists could safely (and easily) interact with city traffic without having to rely on low-traffic roads or bike lanes to get around.

Still, I needed to experience it for myself, and I was still a bit scared.

I've ridden this route before; the last time was on "Bike to Work" day in May. My morning ride was consistently enjoyable, even in the dark, due to low traffic. When travelling in the morning, I tended to ride in the middle of the lane so that my reflectors and flashers could be clearly seen by the cars and trucks that shared the road with me (usually travelling at speeds well above the posted limit). However, on the return trip, I tended to hug the right side of the road (there is no shoulder) on the Parkway, and the gutter on Westheimer. I got buzzed a lot at 40 mph or more . . . not to mention a lot of horns and profanities.

Today, I decided on this, my first day of the new school year, that it was time to confront my fear of taking the lane on Westheimer Parkway and Westheimer Road eastbound.

Watching vehicles approach me from behind (I have a rear-view mirror on my helmet) at 50 + mph was unnerving, to say the least. At times, I could see that someone was going to have to wait to pass me because there was a line of cars on the inside lane. Still, every single driver crossed over into the left lane and passed me safely. The longest any driver had to wait was about 30 seconds.

When I stopped at the corner of Westheimer and Eldridge, all four lanes were full behind me. Once I crossed the intersection safely, I pulled into the nearest driveway, waited for that group of cars to clear, and rejoined the flow of traffic. My "delay" was less than a minute, I felt more comfortable, and I'm sure I generated goodwill amongst the automobile drivers that would have been waiting at least that long to pass me had I chosen to continue.

Did I have any negative incidents? Yes, three people laid on their horns (out of at least a couple hundred cars that shared the route with me). In the park, a constable passed me without incident, which validates my choice further.

It's going to take time for me to ride my evening route without anxiety, and I'm especially anxious about doing it in the dark once daylight savings time ends.

Somebody told me once that courage wasn't the absence of fear, it was the willingness to act in spite of it. So, I plan to undertake my own little act of courage again tomorrow.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Blundering, Blustering, and Bicycling

"Oh, crap!" I thought as I heard my alarm go off at 6 a.m. this morning. Today, I believed, was totally going to suck.

Today was the day that I was subpoenaed to appear as a witness in the trial of the guy that was responsible for getting rear-ended by a car while riding my bike a few days before Thanksgiving.

When I received the subpoena about three weeks ago, I was surprised. His insurance company had been in touch, and the claims adjuster said that the company would assume responsibility for all of my medical expenses related to the accident and for replacing the bike that got totaled.

I was also a little pissed at the City of Houston, my sprawling metropolis, for waiting until then to contact me. In fact, I've been a little pissed at the City of Houston, my sprawling metropolis, since the day after the accident. My reasons for that are a post in itself. Let's just say, for now, that I wasn't in the most receptive frame of mind for being summoned by the municipal court . . . especially at a time of year where I'm already up to my armpits in alligators with work obligations.

So, I got up, showered, got my daughter up and dressed, and let my wife have a day off from driving the kiddo to school. Stopped by Starbucks on the way back home to get coffee for my wife and me, then returned home and surprised her with the unexpected treat. I dinked around on the computer for another hour or so, changed into a suit, hopped in the car, stopped by Barnes and Noble for some reading material (I assumed that being a witness was like answering a jury summons . . . lots of hurry up and wait), treated myself to another cup of coffee at Starbucks, then made the drive downtown.

Houston, my sprawling metropolis, has an easily navigable downtown area. The courthouse was easy to find. The entrance to the courthouse parking, on the other hand, wasn't, and I wound up getting drawn way off course by taking a wrong turn in an attempt to circle the block and come at the lot from another direction.

My navigational error took me down a neighboring street which was designated as a bike route. Houston, my sprawling metropolis, has a number of designated bike routes throughout the city. Some have what passes for bike lanes in these parts (another topic for a blog post); some streets are low traffic routes that are wide enough to accommodate bikes and cars side-by-side. This particular street (Dallas, in case you're interested) was the first one I had seen designated with "sharrows." I wonder if I'll be seeing more of those around the city over time.

Temperatures today were unseasonably cool for H-town. I thought, "I wish I were out riding today instead of doing this."

Eventually, I found a place to park, entered the courthouse, passed through security, went upstairs, and sat down in a very crowded courtroom. I took out a copy of Bicycle Times (a brand new quarterly magazine from the publishers of Dirt Rag), pulled out my reading glasses (being of that age), and started reading. My reading was interrupted several times by the bailiff checking to see if all of the subpoenaed witnesses and all of the defendants were present. I noted that the man responsible for my accident hadn't arrived yet.

After about 20 minutes, I was called to the front along with two women about my age who were also witnesses. A young, female attorney asked the three of us if any of us had been involved in the accident. I said, "Yes, I wound up flat on my back on the pavement when it happened."

"Oh, my God!" one of the women said. "You're the guy who was on the bike." The other said,"It is you! I've wondered since that day if you were all right." The first added, "Obviously, it looks like you are." I thanked them both for their help that day and for appearing as witnesses on this one.

They asked what I remembered. I told them what I remembered before and after being hit . . . especially when I tried to get up and a woman had screamed, "Don't move!" at me.

One of the women replied, "There were several of us screaming that. We feared the worst and didn't want you to wind up paralyzed." The other nodded in agreement. I told them that the first thing I did was move fingers and toes, and when they moved I decided that I was going to be OK.

The attorney told us that the defendant had "accepted responsibility" for the accident, would be serving probation, and that we were dismissed.

My thought was, "thank you City of Houston for screwing up my schedule." Then I thought, "Well, at least I get part of the day to goof off!"

On the way back to the car, I thought that since I wasn't going back to work, my daughter wasn't out of school for several hours, and the day was sunny and cool, I should think about going for a bike ride.

By the time I got home, I was hungry and tired. I had a sandwich, read a little, and fell asleep in the recliner for a few minutes. When I awoke, I thought it might be nice to just hop on my Giant Cypress in jeans and a t-shirt and take a short ride.

During my nap, the wind had picked up. The Cypress tends to be slow; with a head wind as strong as the one I was looking at, I'd hardly get enough miles covered in the time I had to make it worthwhile.

My daughter had given me a couple of ankle straps for my birthday. So, I wrapped those around my pant legs, hopped on my Specialized Cross Trail, and took off.

A strong wind, with some pretty stout gusts, blew from the NNW. Even with the increased gearing options on the Cross Trail, it was going to be a slow ride.

A woman pulled up beside me as I waited at a light to make a left turn. She asked me if I was going to be turning in the traffic lane. I told her I was. She told me that she was headed for the entrance to an apartment complex about halfway down the block on the left. I told her I'd turn and pull over to the right as quickly as possible so that I'd be out of her way. She waited behind me for me to get from the left lane to the bike lane on the far right. I said a quick prayer of thanks for her thoughtfulness.

Riding was every bit as slow as I thought it would be. When riding west or north, I had to gear down quite a bit; I didn't feel like hammering at all today.

I rode a trail around an earthen dam on the west side of town. A lot of wild flowers were planted on the berm. The other day, I noticed some pink flowers (that I don't know the name of) and some Indian Paintbrush mixed amongst the grass and fire ant mounds. Today, I noticed some Bluebonnets and some thistles. Had I been riding at my usual speed, I would have seen them anyway, but I don't think I would have enjoyed them at much. While admiring the flowers, I hardly noticed the substantial headwind (except when a monster gust would hit me).

An hour later, I had ridden a grand total of eight miles. Since I only had a couple of hours to ride, I turned around.

The return trip took 23 minutes, and that included sitting through a couple of lengthy stoplights and a crosswalk full of kids coming home from school.

Oh, yeah, and I made my first entry in this blog.

It turned out to be a good day. I'm grateful.