Thursday, February 19, 2009

$&#@!* CARS!!!!!

One day this week, I was running late, so decided to take the short route to work. It certainly gets me there quicker, with only one problem to contend with - the traffic. Hence the principal reason I normally choose to ride a route that is nearly twice as long.

Everything was going OK until I merged onto Warwick Blvd, the main thoroughfare to and from the shipyard. At the time of morning I'm riding, Warwick is bumper to bumper with shipbuilders in their gas guzzlers, rushing to find a parking place. I take the back streets for the lion's share of the route - unfortunately there is a quarter mile segment of this route where getting on Warwick is inevitable.

This particular segment has a shoulder that's lined with parallel parked cars. To keep from getting doored, I am forced to ride further in the right traffic lane. I'm sure this annoys drivers who think they own the road and no one else has a right to be on it. As I was tooling along, I glanced in my mirror and noticed headlight just behind. Due to traffic in the other lane, the driver was forced to slow down and ride behind me for a full 2 seconds. The large SUV then pulled alongside me and just as I was adjacent to it's rear wheel, I noticed the front right turn signal blinking. I instinctively grabbed the brakes just as the SUV made an abrupt right hand turn in front of me. "What the H E double hockey idiotic blankity inconsiderate so and so..."

I considered following the SUV into the parking lot and confronting the driver - yet I've been riding long enough and cut off so many times that I knew exactly how the encounter would go. We would exchange un-pleasantries - the driver would have no remorse and stand firmly on the principle that "bikes have no business on the road in the first place".

I gave a wave of displeasure and rode on, shaking my head in dismay, taking deep breathes to calm myself. I realize that drivers are not attuned to look for cyclist.
  • I accept the fact that cars will pull in front me - simply because they didn't see me, despite the fact that I wear bright reflective clothing and my bike blinks like a Christmas tree.
  • I accept the fact that drivers will get right behind me and honk - startling the heck out of me.
  • I accept the fact that drivers will zoom by and occasionally yell at me to get off the road.
  • I accept the fact that drivers will make obscene gestures at me for taking up space in their world.
  • I accept the fact that drivers will occasionally throw things at me - actually that's not true - I don't accept having things thrown at me - but it happens all the same.
  • I accept the fact that girls will pass by me, scream and giggle in ecstasy at my rock solid, lycra clad body - actually that never happens - but if it ever does happen I can accept it.

However, when someone pulls up beside me, knows I'm there and turns into me - a move that could well have squashed me like a bug had I not taken evasive maneuvers - well that's a pretty hard thing to brook.

So why do I tell this story? Well for two reasons really. First - I guess I just need a place to vent. Secondly - I hope that it serves as an important lesson to my readers. That lesson is that the number one thing to remember when riding a bike is "RIDE DEFENSIVELY".

  • When you're approaching a side street where a car is waiting - assume it will pull out in front of you.
  • When a car comes around you from behind - assume it will turn right in front of you.
  • When a car is backing out it's driveway - assume it will back out in front of you.
  • When a car is facing you and making a left hand turn - assume it will turn left in front of you.

You will find yourself slowing down more than you need to - but trust me - one day - one of the aforementioned assumptions will be come a reality - and you'll be glad your hand was on the brake.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I lost My Bell Today

Tonight as I rode across the small foot bridge that spanned the canal in Huntington Park - something seemed out of sorts. I don't know if it was some physical sign that alerted me or something deeper, more esoteric - but I knew something was missing. I instinctively reached down and grabbed my stem and immediately ascertained the significance of my loss. My bell was gone. Oh - the base was there, but somehow the nut that held the bell in place had worked loose and fallen away and the bell had followed suit. Earlier as I unlocked my bike, I hung the cable on my handlebars instead of tucking it away in my messenger bag. The cable must have rubbed against the bell and worked it loose.

It wasn't a huge economic loss. I couldn't have paid more than $5 for the thing nigh on 20 years ago. However - it was nigh on 20 years ago. 20 years of riding to and from work. 20 years of dinging. 20 years of sending forth its cheerful tone to strangers, friends, fellow cyclist, pedestrians, squirrels, cats, rabbits, dogs and Lord knows who and what else. Sometimes I would ding out a familiar tune or two. Sometimes I would just give it a ding just to let it know I was there. Sometimes I would just give it a ding to make sure it was there.

If it be true that every time a bell rings an angel gets its wing, then that bell hath filled the heavenlies with flight. I've heard that bell ring so much through the years that there is no doubt that were I to hear it among a multitude of bells, it would be but a moment before I sifted through the cacophony of dings and embraced it.

As I brought my bike to a stop and pondered my loss, there was no doubt as to my next course of action. It did not matter if I were caught in a torrential downpour - I was going back for that bell. It did not matter if a blizzard threatened to engulf me - I was going back for that bell. It did not matter if a tornado bore down upon me - I was going back for that bell. It did not matter if the footbridge was lined with flesh eating zombies - I was going back for that bell.

I slid the light off my handlebars and slowly walked back to the bridge. As I swept the light back forth, words are woefully inadequate to describe my elation as the beam reflected the metallic blue gleam of my bell. I rushed toward it in the dark and cradled it in my tender hand. I continued to slowly traverse the bridge and what to my wondering eyes did I behold but the very nut that for nigh on 20 years held my bell in place. I placed my beloved treasures in my pocket and made my way back to my bike.

Immediately upon arriving home, I put my bike in the repair stand, took a beer from the frig and reattached the bell. Satisfied with my handiwork, I exited the garage. As I turned off the light and just before I closed the door - I heard it. It was a familiar ding that I thought I would never hear again. The garage was dark and empty. There was no one present to flick the hammer and ring the bell. Yet it's unmistakable ding still echoed faintly in the dark. I can't explain it - I don't even care to. All I know is - my bell was lost and now it was found!!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Weather Forecast

I have a very effective method for determining if the weather for any given day will be suitable for commuting to work. When I am ready to leave for work - I go outside and check the weather:
  • If it is raining, I do not take the bike to work!
  • If it is not raining, I take the bike to work.

This method has been serving me pretty well over the years. I've only gotten caught in inclement weather a handful of times.

I used to use more sophisticated means like actually checking the weather forecast. However I found myself missing out on perfectly suitable days for riding. I would check the forecast - It was calling for rain - I would skip the bike - A drop of rain never fell - I felt bad for not riding. I can't count how many times that scenario played itself out.

Last week was a perfect example. The forecast called for winter storm warnings for at least 2 days. Had I heeded these forecast - I would have skipped riding on those days. As it turns out - I was able to ride all 5 days last week. Mind you - it was cold (most days in the 20's) - but it was dry. First of February - I guess I can't ask for anything better than that.