Tuesday, December 21, 2010

If You Aren’t Bleeding, You Aren’t Trying Hard Enough

One of my favorite mantras that I use to motivate myself and Jakob is, “If you aren’t bleeding, you aren’t trying hard enough.” I can’t remember when I heard it for the first time. It might have even been childhood. It seems like I have said it forever. Anyhow, today I was definitely trying hard enough. It has been quite awhile since I last crashed the bike. I ended a long crash free streak last week with my fall on the ice. This week it was another slippery surface. If I keep telling these stories I’m going to gain a reputation as a real klutz.

Like the day with the ice, I hadn’t really expected to encounter any adverse weather conditions. Actually, I hadn’t for the entire trip to work. It was a standard, overcast, cool and cloudy winter morning. I was enjoying the traffic level of downtown. The university’s finals were last week. The students were all now on Christmas break and the last 2 miles of the commute had far fewer cars than usual.

The best part of the ride was playing with a dump truck for a couple miles. He passed me just before having to stop at a red light. One of my favorite games is trying to stay with any car that passes me for as long as possible. The light turned green as I was approaching the back of the truck. All vehicles leave an area of disrupted air behind them. If you can get into that space, you can ride without any wind resistance. A bus, or dump truck, leaves an even larger area behind it than a smaller car. For the next mile I was able to draft behind him at a surprisingly fast pace. I always stay to one side and remain ready for them to suddenly stop. A face full of dump truck would not be the way to start a day off right. Unfortunately, our paths eventually separated and I had to face the wind on my own for the rest of the trip.

As I pulled into the parking lot at work, I let my traffic vigil down and began to relax. I have to ride across a large parking lot before making the final turn down the hill into the underground garage I park the bike in. The lot is a well maintained, freshly coated field of asphalt. Any moisture on the ground makes it extremely slippery on the bike. I hadn’t encountered any damp areas on my way in though so I was not expecting it to be slick. Fresh off of busy traffic filled roads, I often speed through the lot and lean hard into the final corner heading down the ramp into the garage. As I leaned into the turn this morning, I noticed the layer of morning mist covering the asphalt. It was about that time the back tire started to slide and down I went.

Of course I didn’t do this when nobody was watching. There was a vehicle coming out of the garage at the time and another one pulling in behind me. Like last week, it was another very graceful fall. Luckily, one of the rare skills I have is a tendency to wipe out in a well controlled fashion. I went down on my left hip and knee like I was sliding into a stolen base. I don’t think I was on the ground for even a full second before popping back onto my feet. Both cars pulled up with open windows to make sure I was alright. I was disappointed with myself that I missed another golden opportunity to jump to my feet and yell, “TADA!” One of these times I will remember. Instead I said, “I’m good, that happens all the time!” All the time might be a slight exaggeration but it sure seems like it the last 2 weeks.

The only damage done was a small abrasion on my hip and on my knee. The strange thing is how I managed to scrape the skin off both places without tearing a hole in my thin polyester pants. Tomorrow I think I will take that last corner a little slower.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

First Snowfall

Winter has finally arrived in full force. Monday morning was a crisp 6 degrees with wind-chills reading in the negative. There had been flurries of snow throughout the night before but I didn’t see any accumulation on the road from my window. I thought the only hurdle of riding my bike to work would be dealing with the cold.

After 3 years of riding I have, piece by piece, collected all the technical clothing that I would need to be comfortable in just about any temperature. It’s possible to wear too much clothing even when it’s below freezing. Then you end up sweating like a pig which can lead to chills later or just feeling suffocated and weak for the entire ride. The converse is not putting enough on and finding yourself any where from chilly to suffering in pain and wondering about frostbite!

At this stage in the game I am pretty good at choosing the right articles of clothing for any given temperature while working out. If I were to sit still on the side of the road for an extended period however, I would most likely freeze to death. A mechanical failure of the bike would probably require picking up the bike and jogging to my location so that I didn’t freeze to death. On the bike, 6 degrees with a -8 wind-chill requires:

Heavy wool socks
2 pair of micro fleece pants
3 layers on top - Polyester base layer, heavy fleece 2nd layer, thin nylon windbreaker
Convertible mittens over thin wool glove liners.
Fleece hat.
Fleece scarf neck tube thing that I hate.
2 pair of neoprene booties over cycling shoes.

Snug as a bug. Well, almost. I should have worn a wind resistant layer on my legs. The wind-chill, combined with the wind of riding, had the front of my legs freezing and tingling. A much longer ride would have made me worry about damage but for the 30 minutes to work it was an amount of suffering that I could deal with.

My face was comfortable for part of the ride. After 15 or 20 minutes the following always occurs: The scarf tube thing catches all of the moisture that you are breathing out so the scarf and your face end up wet. Then you get too hot and need a fresh breath so you pull the stupid scarf tube thing down. Then, if you are bearded like I am, your beard which is wet from sweat freezes solid and crunches and cracks every time you move your mouth.

Comfort on the ride really wasn’t that big of an issue. The highlight of my first true winter ride this year was discovered as I came around the corner heading into one of the busiest intersections of my ride, Ingram Mill and Sunshine. There was a gigantic sheet of ice across the middle of the road. It stretched from curb to curb and was some 20 feet long ending right at the crosswalk. The intersection itself was clear but getting through the ice to it was going to be the problem. The ice had formed in a depression in the road, the cars had melted the snow flurries and then the water had refrozen. A night of polishing by passing cars had left a shiny, mirror like surface standing in my way.

The light was green at the moment but it was late into the cycle and was about to turn red. If I sprinted, and happened to make it across the ice field, I would make the light safely. However, if I lost it on the ice going over 20 mph it could get ugly. Since there were no cars behind me, I decided to take it slowly and just wait through the next light cycle. I only made it about 5 feet onto the sheet of ice before the back tire lost its traction and began to slide.

It all happened fairly gracefully. The bike spun sideways. I leaned back and found myself sitting upright and sliding on the ice with my bike between my legs. I stood up and gingerly worked my way to the edge of the ice field to wait for the light to turn back green. Bike shoes are not made for ice walking. The cars sitting at the red light waiting to cross the road probably enjoyed the show more than I did. As their light turned green and the cars began passing, I got many smiles from drivers.

In the end, bike and body are fine, pride was slightly damaged. Many people might decide this is the time to start driving until the weather is cooperating more. I interpret this as the time to prepare the snow bike. She is a hearty beast with a studded front tire. She will plow straight through the fiercest of winter conditions.

(more pictures of Snow Bike)

Week of December 6 - Bike 80, Run 18

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Letter to the Director of Transportation, Springfield Public Schools

Rick Emling, Director of Transportation
Springfield Public Schools, Transportation Department
1600 East Chestnut Expressway
Springfield, MO 65802
Fax (417) 532-0545

Dear Mr. Emling,

The City of Springfield prides itself on being a bicycle friendly community and was recently named a Bronze Level Bicycle Community. I was not feeling that friendliness on the morning of Monday, December 6, 2010, at approximately 7:45 a.m. While traveling north on Ingram Mill Road, I found myself mere inches from possibly being killed by the driver of the No. 7 Springfield School Bus. I ride my bicycle to work daily and have done so for the past 3 years. I ride over 4,000 miles a year and in the past have generally had very safe interactions with the Springfield School bus drivers. I take responsibility for my safety and ride in a high visibility yellow jacket. I have a flashing red taillight. I obey traffic signs and wait my turn in lines. I signal my turns and try to follow the law.

I haven’t brought this incident to your attention with the hope of causing trouble for the driver in question. I would like to use this opportunity to solicit your help in educating your drivers with the law related to bicycles.

At the time of this incident I was riding on the right hand side of the northbound lane of Ingram Mill Road, less than 1/2 mile north of Glendale High School. I was riding approximately 18 inches from the gutter seam. I do not recall the distance the bus was from me when it began its pass but it began moving back into my lane of travel shortly after the door passed me and well before it was safely beyond me. As the rear bumper passed me it was no more than a couple of inches from my handle bars. This space between us was only there because I had began braking and moving closer towards the curb as the bus was squeezing me into the gutter. Had I not braked and evasively moved, I would have been struck by the side of the bus.

I would appreciate it if you would bring this incident to the driver’s attention. If it were a simple oversight regarding the length of their vehicle, then perhaps more training is in order. If this potentially deadly pass was for any other reason, then perhaps more training regarding the law is necessary. I would remind the driver that according to Missouri Revised Statutes § 307.188, bicycles have a right to be on the road. Contrary to many road users understanding, the law does not say bicycles must ride as far to the right as possible. It says as far to the right as is safe. It further instructs that if the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle, that a bicycle may use the full lane.

I would also point out that according to Missouri Revised Statutes § 300.411 and § 304.678, the burden to pass safely is on the overtaking vehicle. It states that drivers “...shall leave a safe passing distance, when passing the bicycle, and shall maintain clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.” If a standard is necessary to understand what a “safe passing distance” is, I would direct your attention to a bill currently in the Missouri House that will most likely pass as it has in numerous other states. It will require a passing distance of no less than 3 feet.

I could almost understand a driver becoming upset if I were holding up traffic unnecessarily and stacking up a line of vehicles behind me because I was riding to slowly. However, that was not the case in this particular situation. As you may know, Ingram Mill is not a narrow road. There was more than ample space in the center of the road for the driver to negotiate a safe pass without even having to slow down. For the sake of safety, I would remind the driver that if there was not ample space to pass safely, it is the passing vehicle’s duty to wait until it is safe to do so and not to attempt to squeeze through.

There is plenty of room to share our roads, and they would be much safer for all of us, if we would just show a little courtesy for those around us. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Jim Phillips


Week of November 21 - 48 Bike, 15 Run
Week of November 28 - 64 Bike, 17 Run