Thursday, April 30, 2009

Storm The Bastille To Voice Ire Over Hummer Incident

For those of you who were outraged over the Hummer incident, in which a motorist and cyclist collided and the driver plowed through a group of the cyclist's friends who had attempted to keep everyone at the scene until police arrived, and in the process smashed bikes fleeing the scene, but was caught by the LAPD only to be let go with no charges or citations, now is your chance to do something about it. Storm the Bastille is going to amass cyclists and collectively voice their grievances over this incident, and the general lack of concern the LAPD continues to show in defending cyclists from homicidal motorists. For another update on this story, including a bizarre quote of the offending police officer comparing gun threats to lightsabers, check out Westside Bikeside's follow up.


This is not a unique problem to Los Angeles, police departments across the country routinely show bias in favor or motorists and against cyclists, often regardless of circumstance. This gets exacerbated in public perception of cycling by media reports that often slant even further bias on top of already biased police reports. Reading the book Bicycling And the Law, and following the blogs of various lawyers who have represented both cyclists and motorists revealed to me just how wide spread this problem is.

So if you can get off work, have flexible hours, are a student, or are part of the states growing unemployment numbers, get out there and make some noise tomorrow morning. If you can't make it, write your council person and let them know we won't stand for this, but do try to keep it civil.



Storm the Bastille

Red Line Station
Santa Monica Blvd & Vermont Ave
8:20am
Take the train to NoHo Red Line Station and then ride to

Van Nuys City Hall (L.A. City Council meets here tommorow)
14410 Sylvan St.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Joined That Bird Thing. Twitter.

When I think of twitter, like most any social networking services I think of bloated overloads of mostly useless data, much like the girth of pigeons at the Santa Monica Pier. I know a lot of bloggers use twitter, but I have been skeptical of it. And I rather dislike when I see people at all times of the day on their smart phones typing inane details ad nauseum, of course especially when driving, which can be deadly. I thought I would give twitter a chance though, and I do like that if nothing else, it is by design far more simplistic than the Facebook monster, and MySpace beast, both of which I have stopped looking at all together for the most part. Since I do not have a data plan on my phone, or even text messaging, I feel safe that I will not turn compulsive with it, and would like to keep it focused. If I do not "follow" you, please do not be offended, I want to keep this thing simple unlike my 500 whatever number it is friends on Facebook.

Mainly I want to use it to save time in a way. In the past if something small bothered me, like hey that motorist who cut me off on Broadways really sucks, I might have felt compelled to write a small essay with relevant photos. Now I will use twitter to jot down little things that spring up that I think are relevant to share, and save blog posts for larger ideas or posts where images and detail are more important. We'll see how it goes.

If you like my blog, and want to read my "tweets" too, here is my twitter page where you can read the single cell organism version of my thoughts. For RSS junkies (I know I am) here is the rss feed of my tweets.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My First Catagory 4 Race, Dana Point Grand Prix, A Race Of Dodging Crashes

I was under the impression a move up from the entry racing level Cat 5 to Cat 4 would mean things would get a little faster, but would also be a little safer with less rookie mistakes like poor cornering and unintentional wheel clipping. Well at the Dana Point Grand Prix on Sunday, with a monstrous field size of 130, (Cat 4 is usually a max field size of 75 or 100 for criteriums), and a course with several tight corners, the Cat 4 race turned into a carnage fest. For comparison, the Cat 5 racing at Dana Point was broken into 2 fields of 50.

There were 5! crashes in my race, several of which took down an entire pile of riders. Most of them I witnessed in front of me and had to avoid. One rider rolled the tire off his rim directly in front of me through a corner and wobbled before going down hard. I slammed my brakes and skidded my rear tire briefly, pulling a sharp corner and than accelerating out of the way with my knees poised to hop over the sliding bike on the ground if I had to. Meghan and my friend Eric (who took 5th in Cat 5 field A) were spectating from this corner, and I could sense Meghan's horror at the prospect that I could have gone down too, and the relief that she must have felt as I sped off unscathed. Not long after this I saw a rider take a turn too wide and plow into haystacks at the course edge and riders behind tripped over him creating a big pile up.

3478477911_f3907c3ea7
(An OC sheriff course marshell clocking speeding riders with radar gun, Photo By flickr User twowheelthuc)

Moving up through the pack was extremely difficult with the huge field riding wide and fast, and I took a lot of caution through the turns that were proving to be life threatening. The average pace of the race was humming over 25 mph, and speeds over 30 in some of the longer straights. Most of my field advancement came not through speed or power, but bike handling skills and caution as I managed to avoid every crash and speed up to take advantage of the break ups in the field. In the end, I avoided one last serious crash pile up on the final lap, as a rider careened into the haystacks on the last corner on the outside, while I took the turn on the inside. I pushed on to the finish for 26th place in a field of 130, a field which must surely have been nearly cut in half by the end from riders crashed out or dropped out.

3478542967_75306bb6c7
(Pro Mens Race, Photo By flickr User twowheelthuc)

Apart from the disaster of more near crash experiences in a single race than all my 10 previous races combined, it was a fun day, and we hung around to see the full day of racing. This included a Pro NRC (National Race Calender) race of Womans 1/2 and Mens Pro 1. Full details of these races, won by Rahsaan Bahati of Rock Racing for the men in an explosive drag race field sprint, and Nikki Butterfield of Webcor Builders for the women, can be read over at Velonews. Other note worthy details; Floyd Landis raced in the main event with his Team OUCH, champion mountain bike downhill rider Brian Lopes had a fairly anticlimactic display of daring as he jumped off a cliff (more like a grassy knoll in the adjacent park), there was an In-N-Out truck (sadly no fries), and lots of booths and general activity including a half pipe with some young skate boarders, bmx riders, in-line skaters, and most awkwardly, some razor scooterers.

I'm just glad I am feeling fine today instead of treating flesh wounds. Future note to self, and any other new racers, perhaps it is best to steer clear of Cat 4 crits on short courses with tight streets if the field size is in excess of 100, it's bad news. Broken bones and mangled bicycle components are not worth the rewards at this level.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Breaking News: More Tales Of Gross Injustice By The Police After A Hummer Driver Attacks A Group Of Cyclists. Officer Let's Driver Go.

The forum thread on this topic has gone flying with comments and is hard to follow, but apparently a group of about a dozen cyclists were riding together in Downtown L.A. when a hummer hit a cyclist causing ankle injuries. Others of the group got in front of the vehicle to prevent the driver from getting away, but he plows through anyways smashing several bikes as the riders scatter to avoid being hit. Officer Cho of the LAPD catches the vehicle and the occupants all flee on foot but the driver is wrangled in. However Officer Cho takes the motorists side of the story wholly and sympathizes saying later "If it had been me with my family in that car, I’d have done the same thing, and I carry a gun in my car." The driver of the vehicle is let go with no citations, despite a carnage of wrecked bikes in his path.


This is gross injustice and we should not stand for this. Our safety depends on officers to enforce the law, not let maniacs roam the streets looking for groups of cyclists to smash for their twisted idea of a fun time. Apparently the occupants of the vehicle who later returned alluded to gang connections by telling the cyclists if they talked to the cops they would return "60 crips deep".

More complete coverage on WestSide BikeSide and details continue to emerge on the Midnight Ridazz thread. With stories like this, and a recent story of road cyclists in Ohio being tasered by an officer simply for riding on the road, after being told to get off of it, a not legally justified request made by the officer since they had a right to the road, is it any wonder cyclist and police relations are poor at best and out right seething at worst.

I hope this driver is brought to justice, and the officer demoted, fired, or at the very least reprimanded. It sounds like Los Angeles Critical Mass is going to make some noise at City Hall after stopping at the new ghost bike for a cyclist fatally wounded in Echo Park recently. Cycling activist super hero Stephen Box is also on this issue like peanutbutter on jelly, which make me feel better that something is being done about this. It's getting crazy out there, ride safe, maybe with some legal advice handy and hopefully around witnesses..

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Safe Cycling Tips: Why Santa Monica Bike Lanes Kind Of Suck And How To Ride In Them Safely Anyways

Bike Lane In Gary Vision

Many cyclists, especially ones with less "hardened" experience on the road, often assume that if there is a bike lane, like a driver in a car lane you should ride down the middle of them. Usually the arrow on the ground follows this assumption. However most bike lanes in Los Angeles, and Santa Monica is no exception, place bike lanes with a majority or even the entirety of the bike lane, directly inside what is commonly known as the door zone. This creates the illusion of providing ample space for cyclists, however at any time a latte sipping crack berry typing motorist can swing their door open with out looking, and completely shatter that illusion of space and possibly shatter parts of you if are unable to respond in time.

Car door collisions are a common source of fatalities and serious injury for cyclists. Door impacts come by surprise making them hard to avoid if you are deep within the door zone, and although they lack as much impact as being hit by a moving car, in a worst case scenario being doored can push or knock a cyclist into the path of oncoming traffic that is not expecting a flying cyclist to fall in front of them, which is where the real serious injuries, and worse, occur. In addition to the door problem, you also have to keep an eye out for the sudden dart out without signaling when motorists leave parking spaces, although these are easier to spot. Tell tale clues of a driver about to leave a parking space are brake lights, reverse lights, and the turning of the front wheels, or gasp, they might actually flip the knob so the blinky light can warn others of their intentions, but that is too hard for most people so don't count on it.

In both door hazard and pulling out situations, an important clue mentioned in the comments which I also do my self (and am now retroactively inserting into the post using magic blog powers) is too look for heads through the windows. Although it can be tough to spot in long lines of cars, especially at night and of course vehicles with tinted windows obscure if anyone is inside. I hate tinted windows, even when I was a driver who only occasionaly rode a bike, but that is another rant...



Also be aware of motorists getting ahead of you and then cutting you off from the right, to park or to enter a driveway, known as a "right hook", since no one, I doubt even most police officers are aware of California Vehicle Code 21717, which specifies that automobiles are to merge into a bike lane before turning right, and NOT cut across the bike lane causing an unsuspecting cyclist to t-bone into the car if they are not given enough time to brake or avoid. This is how I got in my first and only accident with an automobile, luckily walking away with only a sprained thumb.

Most conflicts with motorists can be avoided while riding in the bike lane, if you assume the bike lane is actually only a few inches wide and at the far left side just before the normal lane of traffic. You may worry that being that close to the left side might get you hit from behind, but collisions from cars approaching from behind in the same direction are one of the most rare of bike collisions, and tend to be less serious since your momentum is traveling in the same direction. Also motorists can more easily see you riding in that position. In a few cases of exceptionally bad road engineering, where the entire bike lane is inside the door zone of even a compact car, the safest place to ride may actually by outside the bike lane all together.

By law you are obligated to ride in a bike lane where one is provided, but with exceptions for; leaving to make a left turn, avoiding a hazard in the bike lane, or passing another cyclist. To me a car door, even if it is not open at the moment, is a hazard in the bike lane because you can't always anticipate when it will open, and you should never assume a motorist is paying attention to what they are doing. On roads without bike lanes, motorists usually take more caution when opening a car door, because another car could fly by and smash their door, or a bus driver may rip it clean off, something some bus drivers call "catching a door". However since bike lanes tend to be lighter traveled, and the travelers in the bike lane are also lighter, and more squishy, motorists are more likely to not think twice before blindly opening their door since their self preservation is not as threatened. I seriously doubt any malicious intent on the part of most drivers, except perhaps some radio talk show hosts, but ignorance can injure or even kill just the same. A group working to combat this ignorance through web promotion and stickers formed last year called Anti-Dooring, if you are interested in learning more about the issue.

Now before I let you think that I do not appreciate the bike lanes being there, even if they kind of suck, let me explain why I prefer to ride on bike lane routes despite the short comings. Streets with bike lanes usually feel safer to me, particularly in Santa Monica, and I attribute the primary reason for this is more to do with the fact that people use the bike lanes, than any engineering of the bike lane it self. By creating a space that clearly defines that cyclists belong on the road, more people are empowered to ride there, and cyclists who are already comfortable on the road may prefer to ride there. This creates a stream, albeit still small at this point, of cyclists on the same road. Studies have shown in cites around the world, the most influential factor in improved safety for cyclists is more cyclists, since it creates a culture of understanding where motorists become accustomed to bikes being there, and look for their presence. However this sense of safety should not make you complacent, since anyone visiting Santa Monica from somewhere else without regular cycling, or a careless local, could be sitting in that car ahead of you and swing that door.

Santa Monica has also done a few other things right that other areas in Los Angeles have not, to make their bike lanes safer. First of all most bike lane roads in Santa Monica are on streets with only one lane of traffic in both directions, which creates a less competitive and more evenly paced rate of travel for most automobile traffic on the roads. This is also makes it considerably easier for cyclists to get over to left turn lane. Second of all, with a few exceptions, nearly all the bike lanes and routes are not on streets with bus routes. Anyone who rides Sunset Blvd. through Echo Park and vicinity can tell you what a death trap it can be at times riding the bike lane along a road with heavy and frequent bus traffic. By having a bike lane on Broadway, and a Big Blue Bus route instead on Colorado one block over, you eliminate the problem of buses cutting across bike lanes to drop off passengers.

The bike lanes here aren't great, but they are better than nothing, which is unfortunately what most cyclists have to deal with in L.A.. Hopefully future bike lanes or any restriping of existing roads could nudge things a bit more in favor our safety, but if the new bike lane in front of city hall is any indication we will continue to see almost good bike lanes. Maybe someday we can get common sense legislation like Massachusetts has adopted recently to specifically target careless door opening with citations. In any case, ride safe out there, and see you in the bike lane.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Racing Update: Some Shots Of Me In Action, And I'm Cat 4 Now And Stuff

I've sort of been blundering my way through Category 5 (the entry level for men's road racing) with mixed results, so far not breaking lucky number 13th place, which I've gotten twice. I can tell I am getting stronger, but I still have a lot to learn about strategy and properly timing my efforts. I've been discovering what my stronger and weaker points are, and trying to get a little more serious in my training to balance my self out. My top end speed in a sprint is decently quick, but I can't hold it long enough yet to make a break if I go too early, and if I am too conservative I end up in a position with no clear path to blast off in the end. The fairly hilly road race this past weekend revealed I still have a lot of work to do on climbing.

It's all been fun though, and I enjoy pushing my self. I'll keep trying and hopefully I can get some top ten finishes this year, now upgraded as a Category 4 racer, where it actually starts to count for something. I think most people consider it a victory if you get out of Cat 5 without getting in any of the crashes it is known for, which I have been fortunate enough to avoid.

Here are some shots of me in action at the Ontario Easter Sunday Grand Prix:

Me Through The Turn

My Grimace Face

Me Going Off The Front A Bit Too Early

And a bonus special image of Meghan who also raced that weekend in the entry women's category. She was really stoked to hang with the pack for the whole race after being dropped in her first race attempt last year. She has gotten more serious about her training in recent months, and it showed in a world of improvement over where she was at a year ago. Go Meghan! Fwoosh!

Meghan Goes Fwoosh

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bike Lane Warfare In Downtown Santa Monica

not4cars

Recently a stretch of the parallel parking along Broadway in Santa Monica on the eastbound side before reaching Lincoln Blvd was red bagged for no parking. What happened because of this is that without the parked cars taking up space the bike lane suddenly was large enough to fit cars. Since automobiles in traffic dense areas fill any available space like a toxic gas, this meant drivers started using the bike only lane for through way traffic, which is illegal, as they inched and crawled in their gasping efforts to make it to Lincoln Blvd. Even though one block over at Santa Monica Blvd., which is designed for heavy through traffic, they could have got to Lincoln with considerably less congestion.

What this meant for cyclists is that they were forced to split lanes between congested cars with tight space, even though there is supposed to be a bike lane to ride in there separate from the cars. Not surprisingly many cyclists choose the ride on the sidewalk creating a different sort of conflict with pedestrians instead. This pissed me off like I hadn't been pissed in a while. When what little space we do get for dedicated bicycle travel get's violated, I take it personally.

First thing Sunday morning I called the Santa Monica traffic division to report the issue and they said they would send someone out. Later in the afternoon when Meghan and I were riding home from a day at the beach on our tandem, drivers were still abusing the bike lane space by driving right on top of it. As I maneuvered our land ship of a bicycle through the tight spaces and past all the cars, with my keen handling skills, Meghan speaking from the rear seat had a few words with the motorists driving in the bike lane, all floundering in the haphazard molasses of a Santa Monica beach day exodus.

One of the reasons more people don't ride bikes to get around is safety. It is always at the top of the list of reasons why people don't ride. How can we be promoting safe passage for cyclists when motorists drive right over our bike only lanes like it were their own? You don't see bikes taking over the car only lanes on the freeway... well not usually. If the next time I pass through downtown SM via Broadway this is still happening, I have some abandoned cones I've secured and I will begin taking traffic direction into my own hands. This means war.

Friday, April 17, 2009

C.R.A.N.K. Mob, Not So F.U.N. For Me Anymore

The Crowd

The debates about the growth and changing nature of C.R.A.N.K. Mob, the highly popular West Side social night ride, have been going on in the forums for quite sometime. I've been going to the ride since it's earlier days, posting numerous photo sets and having loads of fun along the way, but I have seen some things change, and not for the better. I largely kept my nose out of the debates and nay saying, and was hoping that what I perceived as a negative element growing within the ride might lose interest and go away or be discouraged by stepped up efforts of some to self police the ride. Unfortunately as was confirmed to me last month, the ass holes vastly out number the riders who give a damn, and I don't know if any amount of scolding or leading by example can really do enough about it.

This post is not meant to slight the people behind C.R.A.N.K. Mob, organizers who are all friends of mine, they are so good at throwing fun rides, they are almost too good. Which is what attracts so many to the ride the first place, things like live bands, chalk drawing, wild costumes, great music and unexpected antics of hilarity. They also go more out of the way to promote safety than many other social rides, with efforts like Safe Mob, a crew of people who promote safety and hand out spoke cards only to those who deserve it, among other ideas that have been tried, but originally weren't necessary to keep the peace in earlier times. The problem is with the new type of riders showing up in mass, ones who don't care about anything, about common decency, common sense, respect for any one and especially authority, and certainly not the safety of their fellow riders let alone them selves.

Many of these new riders, all they care about is using the group as a cover to inflate their egos and think they are king of the world as long as mommy isn't looking. A few even use the group as a cover to try and shoplift, though they are liable to get tackled by riders who do care as we saw last month. Not to mention many of these new kids can barely handle riding their bikes, and when I see kids I really do mean kids, a lot of these new riders are really young. I was unsettled upon riding to one of the meeting points last month, and some kids on bikes asked if I was going to C.R.A.N.K. Mob, and I paused for a moment thinking to myself, these kids don't look like they have finished puberty, wtf! These kids could care less about the repercussions of their actions as it reflects on cycling. Cycling is something they are doing because it is the in thing now, and in the context of group riding a way to make them self feel superior. Three months from now maybe it will be skateboards again who knows, but those of us who still ride bikes will have to live with what ever fall out comes out of the growing conflict C.R.A.N.K. Mob has been creating with communities and law enforcement.

I miss the days when I could be chill and have fun on C.R.A.N.K. Mob, but now I feel as though attending means being baby sitter and being there to document police confrontations instead of photographing good times. It used to be there would be a handful of newbies, curious souls excited by the prospect of a rolling party. I would chat with them and give them tips about group riding and cycling in general. Now the newbies come in swarms of little gangs and they think they know everything already. Enough to even mock far more experienced riders by shouting things like only posers ride fixed gear bikes with brakes, of course in a shrill and not yet finished with puberty voice. What used to be thanking motorists waiting patiently at intersections and cross streets for the ride to pass, has turned into kids shouting obscenities and flipping off random people. This is not fun anymore, and it's attracting the wrong kind of attention and creating the wrong kind of vibe. Some totally cool, friendly creative people still come, they have always been part of the ride, and the reason I kept coming as long as I did, but they are getting out numbered.

Police Blockade Of Beverly Blvd

I've never witnessed such a massive police response to a group bike ride before as I did on C.R.A.N.K. Mob last month. While I wholly disagree with police violating proper protocol in their handling of the situation, bogus tickets and such, which I documented (creating my biggest spike of traffic on flickr ever), I cannot entirely blame them for doing something, anything, to respond to the mess. I cannot help but very seriously fear the possibility of some worst case scenario of a 16 year old kid riding intoxicated against traffic and getting killed, and the fall out such a tragedy would have. Always part of the appeal to big groups rides to me was the idea of safety in numbers. However, when the ride gets spread apart either by fixie kids driving the pace, or people hijacking the group in multiple directions, and dumb asses playing chicken in the wrong way traffic lanes, things could end in a very, very bad way.

Meghan already vowed to stop attending a month earlier after stopping to help a rider with a concussion, who was abandoned by her friends. I can't blame her after such a frustrating experience that has become far too common place on the ride. I clung on to the hope it could get better a little longer, and I always would do what I can to lead by example with my own riding, and frequent calling out to others, but increasingly no one listens.

On the last ride, just before the police blockade, an emergency vehicle was trying to get through, a scenario nay sayers of mass riding in general often envision as a problem. I always viewed this as a non issue since it's easy for everyone to shuffle over and get on the sidewalk, bikes are highly portable, and it was never a problem on other rides I had been on. That night however, after getting on to the sidewalk and seeing most people were just peddling there in the middle of the street blocking an emergency vehicle with sirens blaring, I started yelling at people to get over, and some others yelled as well. Sadly dozens and dozens of self absorbed ass holes continued to block the path of the emergency vehicle. This is utterly wrong, unacceptable, and no doubt played a part in the seriousness of the police response.

Alex Thompson hundcuffed for walking accross the crosswalk on a red flashing hand

Some riders took the police response, which included bogus tickets and excessive harassment of random riders, some of whom were behaving perfectly legally, out of context and made this into a us versus them issue. Making it into an issue of we were just out for a ride, why all this big bully police response for a bike ride? Well it wasn't just a bike ride, it was a moving disaster zone.

C.R.A.N.K. Mob rolls again this Saturday, and I know there will be creative efforts to curb the problems and keep the F.U.N., but I doubt more than ever that anything can "fix" what the ride has become. I really do hope for the best, I'm eternally optimistic by default, but the ride as it stands now, I simply cannot attend or be involved with, and it takes a lot to shatter my hopes. It stresses me out to no end now, and it used to be my highlight of the month, it used to be the only party worth going to. I still remember the good times, but good things don't always last forever. I really think the best thing that could happen to C.R.A.N.K. Mob would be for it to die, just go away, and start from scratch. Do over, hit the reset button, game over, float away ephemeral like the dust of the asphalt chalk that so colorfully decorated where we had been if only for a day or two.

C.R.A.N.K. MOB

This post sat in my draft box for weeks, I really did not want to hit the publish button, but I felt that I could not in good conscience hold on to this. Some of the criticisms have been expressed in buried endless forum threads by various people, but it does not hold the same weight as a public blog post by someone known in the community. If the cycling culture in Los Angeles is to thrive, we have to be critical of more than just motorists, politicians, and the police, we have to be critical of our selves when necessary. Sharing the road is a two way street.



P.S. To the organizers, I'm sorry I had to go out like this, but I felt it had to be done. This is in no way meant to be personally directed, the outcome of rides has as much if not more to do with who shows up than who is doing the planning. I always had nothing for praise for C.R.A.N.K. Mob on this blog in the past, but I can't turn a blind eye to what has been going wrong lately any more. The forum discussions have always had a mix of the good and the bad sides, but the various blogs have generally reflected a rosier view and omitted many of the less desirable details. For those of us writing about bicycle issues, for our words to be taken seriously by those outside our own cliques, we have to tell the whole story.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What's Cooking In Long Beach

I came out to the Long Beach Bicycle Festival on April 4th, primarily to watch some criterium bike racing in a proper urban setting. Crits are usually relegated to out of the way industrial centers where not a soul moves on the weekend, and thus cheap permits for race organizers. I would have liked to join in the racing, but they did not have a race for entry level riders. So Meghan and I feeling in a transity mood, took the BBB 3 to the Green Line and finally the Blue Line to downtown Long Beach and walked to the race. It was also of interest to me to see how this event was to dove tail with the efforts to foster better cycling conditions in the LBC.

What made this a lot more notable than most races and bike events I've been to was the scale and scope that went beyond just racing. There were tons of people out to watch, many probably never having been to a bike race, and folks enjoying the food and booths setup along the Promenade. Bike advocates were advocating, my friends from Team Midnight Ridazz who are doing AIDS LifeCycle again were out fundraising. I picked up one of their t-shirts. Similarly to the Brentwood Grand Prix I raced in last year they featured in the middle of all the other races, a few kiddie races. Watching a mixed field of little kids, some of whom are out for blood, others out for a stroll, and on every sort of not made for racing bike, is quite entertaining.

Long Beach Grand Prix, Little Kids Race, To The Starting Line

Watching the Long Beach police and fire department only race was fun, but also rather sad. A core group of riders from the police force and fire department formed a peloton and basically left everyone else in the dust to be lapped multiple times. We took this opportunity to get some lunch at the wonderful little vegan cafe Zephyr, before the main event, the Mens Pro 1/2 race.

Men's Pro 1-2

Watching the pros and semi pro riders race was a whole different animal. They flew through turns and sprinted out of them like a whip. In the straights their tops speeds could be felt as the rush of displaced air fanned out at the crowd like a wave. In addition to break neck speeds, it takes endurance as the pro 1/2 race was the longest duration at 80 minutes. In the final third or so of the race, a 9 man break away formed that grew a respectable gap, and maintained it lap after lap to the finish line through focused paceline formation riding. In the end the break away had to break up to see who would take it, and John Murphy of Team OUCH, took the win with an impressive display of raw power.

The evening wasn't over yet, with a bicycle fashion show following the pro race, and most hilariously City Council tricycle racing following the fashion show. As live music play outside, in the adjacent bar the night's events were closed with Gold Sprints, the experience of which I wrote about earlier. The whole day was quite a lot of action, and I tip my cycling cap to the City of Long Beach for putting on such a top notch event for cycling, which included even more fun the previous night which I did not see. Also of note was a chance to hang out with The Epicurean Cyclist in his homeland and finally meet the woman who appears in all of his touring photos.

Long Beach Bicycle Festival Fashion Show
Long Beach Bicycle Festival Fashion Show Long Beach Bicycle Festival Fashion Show
Long Beach City Council Tricycle Racing

Long Beach has been embarking on some ambitious, by L.A. County standards, plans to improve cycling conditions and grow ridership. This includes bicycle boulevards, bike lanes, bike parking, and other improvements. I think Long Beach is a place to watch, and may very well out do Santa Monica in bicycle friendless in the near future, considering the lag induced coma that has been trying to get the LUCE process rolling. This event if nothing else proves Long Beach is putting cycling in the spotlight.



Complete Photo Set On Flickr

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Another Wrong Way Cyclist, Noticing A Pattern

Faded Bike Lane Text

I encountered another wrong way cyclist (also known as Salmon by Bike Snob NYC) in the bike lane of Santa Monica's Broadway, this time on my way home from a training ride. I exclaimed loud enough to make sure he heard me, "WRONG WAY", to which he replied as we crossed paths, "okay". Maybe he didn't notice the arrows on the ground, or any of the other cyclists going the correct way. I take this issue pretty seriously, because I envision one of these guys running into some inexperienced but correctly riding person and them both getting laid down in the street with potential for further injury from oncoming traffic. Collisions head on with a car are also a distinct possibility, even in the perceived safety of a bike lane, and are far more likely (when cyclists ride the wrong way) and are also more likely to be deadly than being hit from behind.

As I pondered the ways of the wrong way cyclist, and what skewed sense of physics, distorted reality, and lack of concern for others floats inside their heads it occurred to me every wrong way cyclists I've seen, on any street, has been a man. Now men do make more of the cycling public than women, a topic unto it self which I may delve into later, but I don't think the gender split is enough to account for this alone. Is it that men are less likely to feel both concern for others and self preservation than women? Maybe it is just a statistical anomaly that I have witnessed 100% of wrong way riders being male, even though women tend to make up at least 20% of the cycling population. Has anyone else who has encountered or witnessed wrong way cyclists seen any who were female? I wonder..

Another observation made a few weeks ago was a different sort of breed of wrong way in the bike lane cyclist. Unlike most salmon I have seen who barrel down the bike lane playing chicken with anyone who happens to be riding correctly, and getting upset at anyone with the audacity to point out their incorrect behavior, this gentlemen seemed to acknowledge what he was doing was wrong and could cause conflict with other riders. When he saw me approaching he pulled to the side in between parked cars and waited for me to pass, before proceeding to go back to wrong way riding. Riding salmon is not justifiable in this case either, and could still result in a bike on bike collision if a cyclist made a turn onto the bike lane catching both riders at surprise. Traffic engineers sometimes design stupid things, but there are good reasons bike lanes have arrows.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Putting Villaraigosa In The Cross Hairs

I was expecting maybe some people to start believing my April Fools post with the Los Angeles Mayor praising bikes as transportation, but I was thinking by the end people would realize it was almost too good to be true. Also my linked sources led to photographs of fantasy figures like unicorns and leprechauns for those who check up on those things. A few more people than I was expecting completely fell for it, but I attribute that as much to idealism, something we all need more of, than just being gullible.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

There is a very good reason I targeted Villaraigosa with the post. He is at the top of the food chain in Los Angeles, and as such has the most influence to actually get things done and change priorities in the various departments and agencies that effect transportation planning. He's even had the ear of Obama on a few occasions. At the L.A. Bike Summit we had four amazing visiting keynote speakers from 3 different cities talk about progress they have made in advocating for cycling, and the challenges they still face. Dhyana Quintanar & Bernardo Baranda of Mexico City, Noah Budnick of New York City, and Eleanor Blue of Portland. All 3 of these cities have ambitious plans to improve conditions and ridership numbers for cycling, and all 3 of these cities have a Mayor that is on board and working with cyclists to make these cities better places to ride.

We can and should continue to make our voices heard with the LADOT, Metro, the City Council Transportation Committee and others, but until we have the ear of the Mayor, we will be getting the scraps under the table if that. Despite a direly lacking implementation of L.A.'s previous bicycle master plan, and the ongoing delay to craft a new one, according to Villaraigosa, "Los Angeles is on track to become the cleanest and greenest big city in America." Other mega cities like Chicago and New York have been stepping up commitments to improve conditions for cycling and growing ridership, where is the commitment from Los Angeles? We must demand that any government which claims it self green show support for cycling as an important component in a sustainable, successful and diverse transportation system. Adding another lane to the 405 and re-timing some lights on Pico and Olympic are nothing more than shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.

I wrote the fantasy post not to suggest it could never happen, but to make it feel real that it could. We have been making headway with City Council members, and it does seem cyclists are getting more noticed, particularly after the summer gas crunch. If you want the support of the Los Angeles leadership for cycling to become a reality, I highly encourage joining meetings, public events, and letter writing campaigns when ever you have the time to pitch in. Politicians listen to numbers, and since the LADOT does not count us in traffic studies (it's about moving cars, not moving people to them), we need to make our selves heard by every means possible.

If you become a member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, which helps fund full time advocates who crunch through the political process, or if you just sign up for their newsletter, you will get periodic e-mails with events and action alerts. Sometimes I pass action alerts on through my blog, but sometimes I don't have a chance to and they are sometimes on short notice. Membership doesn't cost much and is good for a 10% discount at some LA bike shops, but if you are short enough on cash you are worried about how you'll pay for the next inner-tube after it's been patched too many times, than at least sign up for the newsletter if you would like to get more involved.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Long Beach Goldsprint

Long Beach Bicycle Festival, Goldsprints

This Saturday, I got my first taste of Goldsprint racing at the after party of the Long Beach Grand Prix criterium race, part of the multi-day Long Beach Bicycle Festival. I'll go more into the whole day's events, and the real (USAC Sanctioned) races later, but for now, it's the racing on rollers in a bar that is most vivid in my head. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Goldsprints are a race between two riders on bikes attached to rollers hooked up for distance feedback. It's existed in some form for almost as long as there has been bicycle racing, but the modern day revival of the practice grew out of messenger culture. It's generally setup as a tournament of 1 on 1 races of 500 meters, all out fast as you can. Since the rollers have low resistance, it's all about smooth fast cadence more than raw power. Racers start and stop when the MC tells them to, and during the race they have no gauge of how they are comparing apart from audience reaction, since the screen showing progress is displayed behind the riders.

Meghan and I both gave it a shot, although I hadn't really anticipated doing this after having just eaten a huge dinner to prepare for a criterium race the next morning. I was a little concerned about the having just eaten tons, but how could I resist. In my match up I spun like crazy, apparently in the lead for the first 3/4, but then my opponent closed the gap and we actually proceeded at exactly the same rate to the finish, for an exact tie according to the computer. The crowd was going pretty nuts over the course of the match, but it all became one blur as I focused on nothing but spinning. So we went for a round two tie breaker, but the combination of insane intensity and food did not sit well with my body and I lost the second round. During the next 15 minutes or so I was more worried I was about to lose my food, teetering at the cusp of throwing up. It was a pretty rad experience though, very worth the sick feeling and yet again staying out late before a race day for me.

Big props to the new shop Long Beach Fixed Gear for organizing the pain.

Me Racing Goldsprints
[Me looking all serious and spinning fast and stuff]

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Just In Case Any One Didn't Catch It, Yesterday's Post Was An April Fools Joke

Although it was fun to write the news I wanted to hear even though it didn't actually happen. Maybe I will report on the future inside my head sometime again. Who knew Villaraigosa could bust some mad air on his BMX bike. Live the dream.

Villaraigosa

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Villaraigosa Finally Acknowledges The Importance Of Cycling To Sustainaible Transit, And Promises Budget Commitments To Get Projects Started This Year

Although the mayor has shown some support for certain public transit projects, (namely the "Subway To The Sea") he has never really rocked the boat in funding or planning priority for automobile transit. In a surprise move he announced this morning that in response to volatile fuel prices and growing traffic woes, "...alternatives to car trips need to be given serious attention, and serious financial commitment by the city." Elaborating further, he spoke on the need for safe routes for cyclists, improved pedestrian crossings and other incentives that have been shown to grow cycling and walking trips in other cities such as Portland Oregon. "I promise the numerous, and growing population of cyclists in this city, the new bicycle master plan will be secured funding. It is absolutely shameful the conditions we accept as bicycle routes today in some parts of L.A., and that will change."

He then touted his successes in the passage of Measure R and of the coming public transit projects that will boost mobility across Los Angeles. During this portion of the press announcement, he must have mentioned his favorite project, the Subway to the Sea, at least 6 or 7 times. In regards to the coming Expo Line, reiterating his new commitment to cycling, he assured worried cycling activists that the planned adjacent bicycle path, much like the Orange Line, would be constructed with the laying of the tracks and that if Metro could not set aside the funds for the necessary study, the City of Los Angeles would secure those funds.

Finishing off his statements he expressed the importance of these projects and the funding for them with a remarkable acknowledgment of the staggering costs to the the city for car trips and the potential for encouraging alternative modes to save money, and improve quality of life in the long term.

I have to admit with Antonio's past of rarely even acknowledging that cyclists exist, this about face change of priorities came as a complete shock. I only hope that this commitment is real, as it is of course the actions that speak louder than words. Perhaps with Mayors of New York, Chicago, and Portland all making significant commitments to cycling, he finally decided to join the party in that pursuit of a "world class" city. It's about time.