Saturday, August 30, 2014

The 2014 Moonlight Ramble

Before I review the ride, a note:
Three weeks ago today, I participated in the Moonlight Ramble, St. Louis' annual midnight bicycle ride through the City streets. Three weeks ago, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed teen, was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson in the City of Ferguson, Missouri, just a couple of miles West of the city in the heart of inner-ring St. Louis County. The past three weeks have seen the heart and soul of this community rent wide as we face questions and issues that have been deeply buried for a very long time. I have been simply unable to post here about the event because of the magnitude of pain and uncertainty in our metropolitan area - pain and uncertainty that has touched people nation- and even world-wide. Stability is returning to the community, but we have a long road ahead of us yet, and a great need for healing and change. In light of the stabilization, I am now comfortable posting my review of the ride, but I want to name what happened the same day as the ride, and in the days and weeks that have followed, and which will likely be part of our story for a very, very long time.

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First and foremost, this event was huge! If there were around 1,500 riders at the World Naked Bike Ride-St. Louis, there were easily three times as many at the 51st annual MR. 

The MR is a charity event that takes place at midnight around the full moon in August. The cost is $25 and nets you a participation number, tee shirt, and benefits Hostelling International. You can choose routes of varying lengths; our group choose the 19-mile route. You can read more about it here and here.

In our group, we had Jim, Mary, Monica, me, and Mike (below, L to R). We met up at Monica's home, about 5 miles from the race start, where we decorated our bicycles before heading to the race start (below). We then took off. The first couple of miles were so closely-packed that we went pretty slowly, but things spread out a bit as we progressed over the course. We rode through downtown, and into South City, through neighborhoods and Carondelet Park, and back through Soulard. Afterward, we rode to Uncle Bill's Pancake House, where we refueled while the sun started to peek above the horizon.

Honestly? This ride was on the short list of my favorite things I've ever done and I really hope to ride again next year and in future years. It was long, but I wasn't tired while riding - it was simply too exciting. That said, it took me about 36 hours to fully recover from it - I was exhausted both Sunday and Monday.

Here are some photos taken by my friends:

Also: You can read Mike's review of the ride here

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Share the Road

One of the craziest things about cycling as a community is how unified and how diverse we are, all at once. You can have the most buttoned-up professional next to the most counter-culture free spirit, and they will bond over the shared love of bicycles. We may quibble over the need for infrastructure or whether single-speed/fixie is superior to gearing that exceeds available digits, but generally, it's pretty exciting to get the reminder that there are other bike people out there, cycling on the same roads.

And yet...


As I've gained friends and found kindred spirits in my own little cycling circles, I'm also growing increasingly aware of just how much vitriol exists toward cyclists who dare to ride in the traffic lane. It's not a large portion of the motorist community, but some of these folks are pretty intense. Take, for example, the story of Keith Maddox, or this (now-defunct) Tumblr (archived records from the web, because it's apparently gone). 

There have been studies to show that as a nation, Americans are becoming more polarized and acrimonious. Is this because we're getting more informed about our positions? (The internet!) or because we can find our tribes so much more easily and convince ourselves that our position is not only right, but that it is absolute? (The internet!) I have opinions. Sometimes I have OPINIONS (all-caps opinions are louder, dontcha know) and I have made and strained friendships by sharing these on social media (THE INTERNET!). 

I definitely feel this way about the "who can use public roadways" debate that is pretty intense right now. I know I'm more keyed into it because, dangit, those roads go where I need to go, and all things being equal, I'd really rather take my bike to get there. But I don't really want to get honked at, yelled at, swerved at, or otherwise harassed along the way (that means you, hooters and's a little distracting when I'm also trying to make sure you're giving me my full lane, or at least 3' of space as you're passing me). It seems like people fall into a handful of camps:

(1) The roads are for everyone. Oh hey, because they are public. Also, Missouri law provides for the manner in which cyclists can use the roads, which begins with yes, they can use the roads. And no, they are never required to ride in a gutter or shoulder (though they may if they so choose). They only have to ride to the right when a lane is large enough to share with a vehicle who wants to pass them, and when the right of the roadway is free from debris, parked cars, or other defect that could pose a danger to the cyclist. So basically? They have every right to be right in the middle of the lane, just like the motorized traffic

This is actually the safest way to ride. You are visible and you are relevant to the other travelers around you, whether on bike or foot, or in or on motorized vehicles. You are more predictable because you can handle intersections and obstacles the same way that motorists do, which means they don't have to guess whether you are turning across lanes, or going straight through their right turn, and, if you are obeying stop signs and lights (which you absolutely should because that's also the law), then everyone moves together. For more information, check out this website, and maybe take a local class -- whether or not you personally ride. I'd love to see this education made available to every road user, regardless of their preferred transportation mode.

(2) I'd prefer the bikes didn't slow me down, or rode to the right or on the sidewalk, but otherwise I'm okay to share the road with them. I think a lot of riders who are hugging the right edge of the roadway must at least hope that most drivers feel this way, judging by their behavior. If I just make myself irrelevant enough, I won't upset anyone... 

For so many reasons, this is understandable behavior, but it actually makes everyone less safe as a result. Motorists pass too closely, leaving little or no margin for error, and the risk of conflicts at intersections skyrockets (cyclist continuing straight while a vehicle to its left is turning, pedestrian conflicts, unpredictable behavior by the cyclist), and really, you're not slowing anyone down much at all... most reports suggest that it takes approximately 10 seconds to pass a cyclist when you practice safe and predictable riding techniques. Are we really getting this upset about a ten-second delay?

(3) Yay, bikes, but you don't belong on the roads at all. That's what sidewalks and bike trails are for. My taxes pay for the roads for cars. Law, practice, and reality disagree with just about everything in this position. The practices that marginalize your presence and relevance in #2? All the worse when you're on a sidewalk, because then motorists don't look for you at all at intersections or driveways. You're practically invisible here. Also, riding on sidewalks is generally illegal in city centers, so it may not even be an option. Finally, you're a risk to those who are walking on the sidewalk. Also, fuel and other taxes dedicated to motorist infrastructure: (a) don't pay but a sliver of the gargantuan costs of road construction and maintenance and (b) most cyclists pay some taxes and are at least part-time motorists, so they are likely contributing as much as any non-rider. Which is all to say: not enough, but all the while creating significantly less wear and tear on the road than heavier motorized vehicles. So they are actually helping by not being a car. But whatever. 

I have no beef with multi-user paths. In fact, I love them (yay, Grant's Trail!), but too often, they don't really go anywhere, or you need roads to get between them or to access them. So yay, please DO build more, and I'll use them, but suggesting they should be used exclusively would be like saying cars should only be allowed to operate on freeways. How do you get to the freeway? What if you need to go someplace the freeway doesn't go? Roads. The answer for both of us.

(4) I hate bikes and we all secretly want to hit them. See the Keith Maddox link, above, and maybe take a second to question whether it's worth the energy to maintain this ire and frustration. If you say something like this publicly and then hit a rider, it could be seen as motive or premeditation. Even if you think it, what is it that so disconnects that human and his or her preferred mode of transportation from being a human worthy of compassion, or at least his or her safety or life? You're not threatening a bike (two wheels, some rubber, maybe a little carbon and steel, but no heartbeat), but the rider (heart, brain, goals, family, just like you). And then, okay, let's say that you really would prefer to ride, free from interference from anything slower. Okay. Get involved and do something positive about it. I may not be a champion of all bike lanes, but I'd much rather see you advocate for every road to have a dedicated space for cyclists (even if it's only used to get out of your way from time to time) or meaningfully-connected multi-use paths, than to encourage or threaten violence.

At any rate, this is all especially relevant to me right now. Last week, a story blew up in the area about an altercation between the Mayor of Sunset Hills and a Fenton-area triathlete who was riding his bike and was injured. You can read more about it here, here, and here.

I am saddened, again, as support for running cyclists off the road reaches higher decibels so close to home. But I'm also hopeful. To return to the very first sentence in my post, the cycling community, however diverse its individual members may be, is capable of coming together and doing really lovely things, like riding around naked for fun. Or learning about this amazing city and it's neat little neighborhoods. Or celebrating birthdays

Or standing up for the local cyclist and the local cycling community. This morning, about two hundred local cyclists gathered to support the cyclist and to demand better from the motorists with whom they share the road. Because we all have the right and the responsibility to use them safely, and the obligation to share them with one another. And we all deserve a little peace. And, as Mother Teresa and this lovely rider's jersey note: 

"Peace begins with a smile." Photo credit: Wes Ridgeway

Interesting discussion about my CyclingSavvy course review here.
(Link contains repost of my review.)