Archive for December, 2011

December 28, 2011

Wednesday Words: The Mental Effects of Cycling

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle, Scientific American, 1896

“[Commuting by bicycle is] an absolutely essential part of my day. It’s mind-clearing, invigorating. I get to go out and pedal through the countryside in the early morning hours, and see life come back and rejuvenate every day as the sun is coming out.”
James L. Jones, former US Supreme Allied Commander Europe, now Barack Obama’s national security advisor

“I’m a cyclist not simply in the sense that I ride a bike, but in the sense that some people are socialists or Christian fundamentalists or ethical realists – that is, cycling is my ideology, a system of thought based on purity and economy of motion, kindness to the environment and drop handlebars, and I want to convert others.”
Journalist Robert Hanks, The Independent, 15th August 2005

“To possess a bicycle is to be able first to look at it, then to touch it. But touching is revealing as insufficient; what is necessary is to be able to get on the bicycle and take a ride. But this gratuitous ride is likewise insufficient; it would be necessary to use the bicycle to go on some errands…Finally, as one could foresee, handing over a bank note is enough to make a bicycle belong to me, but my entire life is needed to realize this possession.”
“Being and nothingness: an essay on phenomenological ontology”? By Jean-Paul Sartre

“Few articles ever used by man have created so great a revolution in social conditions as the bicycle.”
US Census Report, 1900

A Zen teacher saw five of his students returning from the market, riding their bicycles. When they arrived at the monastery and had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, “Why are you riding your bicycles?”

The first student replied, “The bicycle is carrying this sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!” The teacher praised the first student. “You are a smart boy! When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over like I do.”

The second student replied, “I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path!” The teacher commended the second student, “Your eyes are open, and you see the world.”

The third student replied, “When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant nam myoho renge kyo.” The teacher gave his praise to the third student, “Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel.”

The fourth student replied, “Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all sentient beings.” The teacher was pleased and said to the fourth student, “You are riding on the golden path of non-harming.”

The fifth student replied, “I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle.” The teacher sat at the feet of the fifth student and said, “I am your student.”
Zen proverb

“I think one of the things that really separates us from the high primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.

“And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”

Steve Jobs

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December 22, 2011

A Solstice Post: Gifts I Give Myself by Riding in the Winter

  • Zero worries about whether the car will start in the cold and no windshield scraping–my motor doesn’t freeze up and I don’t have windows.

    NOT my bike, although I wish it were--it's a cutie!

  • Permission to eat my sweetheart’s delicious hand-grated hashbrowns for breakfast because I’ll be burning potatoes on the way to work.
  • The sound of my skinny tires hissing through a light frosting of snow on the ground.
  • My own breath warming my face behind the face mask I wear to block the wind.
  • The smell of woodsmoke in my neighborhood and whatever’s cooking at restaurants I pass in downtown, along with the smell of coffee roasting at one particular location some mornings.
  • The feeling of fellowship with whoever rode in the bike lane before me and left a track.
  • The childlike feeling of glee at being the first to ride in the bike lane and leave a track in the untouched snow.
  • The chance to smile and make eye contact with a cold-looking pedestrian waiting for the light to change at a corner as we share a closer contact with nature’s realities than the people inside vehicles.
  • The delicate tracery of frost on the black bike rack at work.
  • Rosy cheeks that require no Maybelline or L’Oreal whatsoever.
  • The sound of geese honking overhead (shouldn’t they be somewhere farther south this time of year?!) and unidentified little birds in the bushes.
  • The realization that cold weather just isn’t as—well—cold as people seem to think it is if you get out and move around a little.
  • The realization that fingertips that were cold when I began the ride are now warm thanks to the blood pumping through my veins because I worked on that uphill stretch.
  • The silence on a traffic-free side street.
  • A sincere appreciation for my warm house and a hearty bowl of soup at the end of the ride home.
  • An awareness of the difference between the soft black of a summer night and the crisp black of a winter night.
  • The joy of riding my bike.

With appreciation for the friends on Facebook who shared their own special winter riding experiences, a couple of which reminded me of items for my list.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • What do you like about winter riding?
December 20, 2011

We Get to Complete our Streets!

Kudos to the Spokane City Council for the 5-2* vote last night to enact the Complete Streets ordinance. A round of applause and a bouquet of locally grown flowers for Kitty Klitzke of Futurewise, who rallied the troops, circulated the petitions, and kept reminding us when to write, sign petitions, and go testify. More flowers for everyone involved in the Safe and Complete Streets Education Coalition that worked to educate the citizens on why complete streets are the streets we need for everyone. And eternal gratitude to Councilman Jon Snyder, who led the effort that resulted in last night’s ordinance.

I had the honor of testifying at the Council meeting along with around 40 others who showed up in support.** I’ll share (an approximate version of) my remarks here to capture my little contribution to a piece of Spokane history.

I’m a resident of the City of Spokane. I drive. I walk. I ride the bus. I buy goods that are shipped here by rail, air, and truck. And I ride a bike.

I want to tell a story of my own transformation. In 2001, I moved back to Spokane and bought a house on a bus line, which was a deliberate choice.

In 2005, I bought another house. This one was on a bus line and within biking distance of my workplace.

What happened in between was that in 2003 the City of Spokane put a bike lane in front of my house and I started riding to work. Visible bike infrastructure is an important signal, particularly to women, that biking is safe and it is possible.

I only rode once in a while to begin with. And now, when 2011 wraps up, I will have driven my car alone to work a grand total of 16 days the entire year. Every other day of the year I biked or rode the bus.

Home-buying decisions like these are why in 2008, the National Association of Realtors revised their policy statement on transportation to say that transportation planning should include all modes.

And in 2009, CEOs for Cities released a report showing that homes with a higher Walk Score are worth more.

By adopting a Complete Streets policy you can simultaneously increase the value of the single largest asset I will ever own and yield more government revenue in tough times.

That’s the real estate rationale for Complete Streets. It also contributes to workforce mobility and safety, with safer interactions for all users, not just those of us on bikes or on foot.

Richard Florida, who is famous for his studies of the Creative Class, analyzed cities with higher rates of bike commuting and compared them to cities with lower rates. The cities with higher rates of bike commuting were more affluent, better educated, had more knowledge-economy jobs, were fitter, and were happier.

When you add this infrastructure you tell people it’s possible to choose a different way of getting around. Even if they only ride their bikes to a coffee shop on Saturday with a friend, that means less wear and tear on the streets. I’m pretty sure I pay for a lot more street value than I actually use.

Let me close with another story, this one about my dad. Someone testified earlier about not being able to bike or walk because his knees were too bad so he doesn’t think Complete Streets are for him.

When my dad was 92 we finally got the car keys away from him. I can tell you that he should have lost them at around 87. But without his car he had no vision of any other way to get around. The only form of transportation he could imagine was the single-occupancy vehicle, so when that was gone he lost his independence.

I hope that when I’m old and I shouldn’t be driving that I will be able to retain my independence much longer because I know how to ride transit, and I hope you have made bus stops more accessible by completing sidewalks and providing curb cuts.

Complete Streets don’t force anyone to change their mode of transportation who doesn’t want. But they invite us to consider different ways of getting around through design. Complete Streets are a good policy choice for all of us.

* Voting yes: Steve Corker, Richard Rush, Joe Shogan, Jon Snyder, Amber Waldref. Voting no: Bob Apple, Nancy McLaughlin

** Totally extraneous winter biking style note: I wore a knee-length wool skirt, boots, SmartWool tights and extra pair of thick wool socks, blazer, merino turtleneck, and ThermaSilk base layer under that. I got a compliment on the outfit and, “Are you riding home in that?!” per usual. I rode home from the meeting in 25-degree weather with a ski jacket, lobster-claw gloves, scarf, and face mask. By the time I got home (around 3 miles uphill) I was so warm I couldn’t stand it. Still riding!

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • A “complete street” is one that accommodates the various modes safely and provides for their needs. This doesn’t mean a bike lane on every street–individual design accommodations vary. Do you get to ride on any complete streets on your way to work?
December 14, 2011

Still Riding!

In case you wondered, yes, it’s still riding weather! Cold, sure, but the roads have been bare and dry. Sometimes the road is lightly frosted in the early morning so I allow for more braking time and don’t really lean into the corners, but other than that riding now is like riding in September or October. Actually, it’s drier! We had more wet days in the fall than we do right now. And this morning’s light frosting of snow? Easy enough to handle, as long as I’m gentle.

As for the gear and clothing, it’s about where it was a few weeks ago when I started adding the face mask to the morning gear. [Fashion tip: If you wear lipstick, don’t put it on until after you get to work if you’re wearing a mask.]

Take Tuesday’s outfit, for example. Or, well, don’t, because it’s a favorite of mine for its simplicity and ease of dressing, mounting/dismounting the bike, and moving around while feeling as if I look pretty good.

  • Under it all: A sleeveless undershirt and “bloomers” both made by Cuddle Duds. They’re not high-end long johns or merino wool, which I adore, but they feel nice and provide one more insulating area for warm air to be trapped. I don’t know the R value  ヅ(a measure of insulating power usually used in the construction industry).
  • Dress I’ve had for years: 70% polyester, 30% wool, with a turtleneck and short sleeves.
  • Blazer (some kind of PVC–fake leather–doesn’t breathe but does block wind on the parts it covers)
  • Crocheted wool stockings from Hub and Bespoke in Seattle (so cute!)
  • Shoes from The Walking Store
  • Ski jacket without the liner–just the outer shell
  • Scarf
  • Neck gaiter (to pull up so there’s no gap for the wind to sneak into between scarf and face mask)
  • Face mask
  • Lobster-claw gloves
  • Skullcap
  • Helmet with knitted wool ear straps
  • This morning I had a pair of North Face wind-resistant pants from Mountain Gear added on–more windchill going downhill fast on the way to work than going uphill slow on the way home!

This was just about right. I was warm enough on the way to work, and warm when I got home thanks to the uphill workout.

Temps? Oh, around 24 degrees or so when I left. Overcast skies, unlike yesterday’s brilliantly sunny 21 degrees. I’ve biked to work every day so far in December and the forecast isn’t giving me a lot of reasons to change my habits yet. We may get a touch of snow Thursday of this week but the forecast is sunny from then on straight through to Christmas.

How’s the riding in your neck of the woods?

Related Reading

December 8, 2011

The Yoga of Biking. Or, the Biking of Yoga.

Sunset with bike and person doing yogaEvery so often I go to the Friday afternoon flow yoga class at Spokane Yoga Shala taught by the uber-flexy Betsy Lawrence, founder of Belles and Baskets. It’s a great way to end a usually hectic week, including the ones I know will wrap up with me going home after yoga, logging on again, and working more just to make Friday night extra-special. (My job doesn’t exactly work in 40-hour chunks.)

Yoga is a great complement to riding a bike, since it’s weight-bearing exercise, builds upper-body strength, and stretches parts that get tight from the repetitive motion of cycling with moves like those hip openers you need after all that leg movement that keeps going forward and back.

The catch is it’s a 4 p.m. class uphill from where I work. Really uphill. As in, near the corner of 24th and Grand, which should definitely mean something to Spokane bike folk, Grand being a steep and somewhat busier arterial that runs past a hospital.

While I appreciate Grand having two lanes in each direction, making it easy for drivers to get around me, it includes a stretch just below the hospital on which (at least right now) I have to dismount and push the bike up the sidewalk because it is just too steep and there’s a dangerous blind corner.

So I don’t ride up Grand at all. Instead I basically ride home and then keep going because I live about three-quarters of a mile from the studio. This lets me take a really familiar route and one with less traffic.

It’s still uphill all the way from the time I leave downtown Spokane. There is literally nowhere that my chosen route flattens out and gives me a break, and it wouldn’t be any better if I went another way—only steeper and harder.

I pant and sweat (yes, I do occasionally sweat when I ride despite good-faith efforts to avoid doing so) and often realize that I left the office just a little bit too late to make it to class before it actually begins, because of course life always, always offers Just One More Thing Before You Go.

I’m going to be one of those late people—the ones who try to tiptoe in but make more noise being quiet than if they just brought along a marching band and handed out the maracas.

Last Friday I did this. I had plenty of time to think about how my usual Zen approach to bike time was failing me, about how you really can’t make up for lost time on a bike unless you’re riding downhill all the way or in far better uphill sprinting shape than I am and that’s certainly something I could consider working on, about the fact that I should either leave earlier or not even try to go to this class and just go home (since I’m going right by it) and log back on, about how tired I was going to be before even starting to do yoga and what a tough teacher Betsy is (totally in a good way).

I had texted Betsy before leaving the office to throw down a mat for me so I knew an empty spot awaited me. I had to go.

I got there late.

I locked up my bike and unloaded things I worried about leaving on the bike while it stood in the rack out front. It got later.

I forgot my water bottle and had to go back to the bike. It got later.

I changed my clothes. It got later.

I put some water in my bottle. It got later.

I grabbed my cell phone to make sure the ringer was off. It got later.

I got into class—late—and tiptoed (ha) to my mat right up front.

I jumped into whatever they were doing at the time and tried to get my monkey mind to shut up and quit scolding me for being late/later/latest. I started doing yoga, at long last.

About 30 minutes into the class I realized that statement was incorrect. I had been doing yoga all the way up the hill—or could have been. I didn’t need to see “riding my bike” as one activity and “doing yoga” as a separate activity.

The first part of a yoga practice involves movements intended to warm us up, and I certainly got more than a little warm going up the hill trying to push a little faster with each stroke.

When I start a practice session I’m also trying to quiet the mind and let the rest of my life fall away. There is nothing on my mat but the practice, ideally. The other things that I worry about will still be there when I step off and there’s no reason to give them my mental energy in this moment, when I can’t actually do anything about them. I will have more mental energy after the practice than I did before and thus be better at dealing with them so this is not “wasting time.”

So instead of worrying all the way up the hill about how late I was going to be and how disruptive that would be and how I should have left earlier and what a steep hill this is at this particular stretch and should I have tried to leave in time to put my bike on the bus and let them do the uphill work but then what if the rack is full and I still have to ride and-and-and-and—

I could have been doing yoga on my bike. Maybe next time.

And I had this “aha” moment before seeing this video that makes this much more literally true than I had imagined.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • What other things do you do in your life that you can do while riding your bike (safely!)? Compose poetry? Sing songs? Compile your grocery list for that stop you’re going to make on the way home? Spend time with your kids and/or your beloved?
December 4, 2011

It’s a Wild World

Not as in the song by Cat Stevens, which was pretty sad—wild as in “Look out! You might run over something dashing in front of you!”

This little guy is clearly thinking, "I can take her! I can totally take her!"

My ride to work and typical errand destinations are fairly urban. I start in a neighborhood just up the hill from downtown. But since Spokane has a wonderful network of parks and a river running right through the middle of downtown, I have my share of encounters with winged and four-legged friends.

The other day a squirrel and I faced a moment of decision together. It dashed out across the bike lane on Southeast Boulevard and made it to the center line.

A car driving up the hill the other direction made it momentarily crook its tail and consider dashing back toward me—clearly the lesser of two wheeled evils.

But a car coming up behind me sealed the deal concerning which lane held more threats, and Mr. Squirrel made it the rest of the way across safely. The speed of that squirrel’s urban decision-making process was pretty impressive, all things considered. (Cat Stevens actually does have something to offer here–the song includes the line “But just remember there’s a lot of bad and beware.”)

Coming home that same night, a beautiful black and gray tortoiseshell cat scuttled across Southeast Boulevard just south of the four-way stop at Fifth, dodging cars heading in both directions, with me saying encouragingly as I biked uphill, “Run, Kitty! Run for your furry little life!”

I asked via the Bike Style Spokane Facebook page what types of critters people encounter (alive or dead, although alive is more interesting). Squirrels hold a commanding lead, perhaps signaling their adaptation to the urban setting. The roster in order:

  1. Squirrels
  2. Cats
  3. Snakes
  4. Dogs
  5. Quail
  6. Turkeys
  7. Deer
  8. Skunks
  9. Moose
  10. Coyote
  11. In a tie at the end: Rabbits, toads, great horned owl, porcupine, nutria, raccoons, and geese.

Your Turn

  • What wildlife do you see on your way to work? (Aside from some of the drivers and pedestrians, that is.)
  • If your critter isn’t on the list above, consider voting in the question on the Bike Style Spokane Facebook page
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