7/26/14

Rides 7/25: Pisco

On the way home, I was riding in the right lane downhill on Massachusetts Avenue and somewhere between Ward Circle and the intersection with Idaho Ave, a driver passed me in the next lane over at what I would have estimated to be about 60 miles per hour. I can't say for sure- it's just a guess and my handlebar mounted radar gun/net launcher (never ride your bike without a net launcher! What if another red panda escapes the zoo? Do you not want to be the hero whose handlebar net launcher returns the escaped animal to its proper and natural place, caged human captivity?)- but it seemed that he was driving very, very fast and far faster than the 'normal' 35 to 40 miles per hour that the speeding drivers go. He didn't pass me especially closely and I think there was at least three feet between us, but it was jarring and unpleasant nevertheless. I didn't say anything or even look over when I rode past him in my lane when he was stopped at the red light a few hundred feet up the road. What's there to say?

Really. Do I have any grounds to complain? Didn't I sign up for this? I mean, I'm the one who chose to ride his bike to work and I'm the one who should be well aware enough of how some people drive their cars. Shouldn't I just get over it because he gave me three feet and didn't crash into me and nothing really even happened?

I don't know. The thing about the current state of bike commuting, I guess, is that bicyclists who choose to ride to work are being asked to sign off on a social contract that desperately needs changing. There's a lot of "well, what did you expect?" to bicyclists who have the temerity to suggest that current conditions are less than ideal. Especially to those of us who are bicycling more by choice and not from a lack of other viable transportation options. You signed up for this. No one made you do it. Don't whine. If you can't handle it, don't do it. [This attitude doesn't just come from drivers. It's sadly the viewpoint of plenty of cyclists as well.]

Bicycling in DC is mostly fine and mostly boring and most of the conditions are safe enough and accommodating, even if not always deliberately so. It's get safer every year as more of us do it and as we slowly lurch to more bicycle friendly infrastructure. But a lot of the time, you're asked to ride three feet away from some drivers willing to go 60 and much like caged red panda, it doesn't feel natural and it certainly doesn't seem like it's in your best interest. I know that you can't always control for the actions of self-absorbed maniacs, but am I really supposed to be ok with road conditions that say, in effect, 'yup, you're gonna have to get over it"? You chose this. Did I?

Anyway.

East Capitol to Pennsylvania Avenue and wrong way through the parking lot that is the hyper-securitized Ellipse. Thereafter it was 17th to G. After coffee, I rode with friend of blog Jacques down G up then Water Street to Thomas Jefferson to M to Wisconsin and up the hill and eventually to work. The ride home was Massachusetts to 21st to L to 15th and then Pennsylvania and up another hill, through the Capitol grounds and down East Capitol. Tide goes in, tide goes out.

Have a great weekend everyone. I'm going to try to ride my bike, perhaps to tacos. Delicious, delicious tacos. Or what might pass for delicious tacos on the East Coast, a land of admittedly subpar tacos. Or maybe this is taco snobbery or maybe it's unwarranted taco humility. When did this become a taco blog? When was it not a taco blog?

7/24/14

Rides 7/24: The party wants a win

A brief and welcome respite from the summer heat and summer sun. The weather was March-y, but if March weather were put in the microwave for 45 seconds. You can have too much summer and it's nice to have a brief break before August strikes.

Anyone who has bicycled in DC for any amount of time knows to be true that David Plotz put into writing about a year ago: BMW drivers are not the best around bicyclists. As I rode down the hill, my head swiveled to see four BMWs menacingly (?) arranged at the base of the Capitol. And there was a man taking pictures, talking to the cars, beseeching them to look good in the crummy cloudy day.


Either this is a Bavarian motoring enthusiast's idea of "das beste" family vacation ever or this was some kind of weird advertorial photo shoot. As I circled around, I noticed that the license plates said something like "proud to be made in South Carolina." You can tell that a bicyclist didn't write the license plates because then they probably would've said something like "BMWs: Compared to the Civil War, not that bad!"

Not an awful on Pennsylvania and 15th and M, but not a great one either. I saw a bicyclist and a taxi driver and a few police officers and their police car and taxi cab and bicycle gathered by the side of the road by the National Gallery, but I didn't see an ambulance and I didn't stop to inquire as to what that all might've been about. We're someday soon going to get additional barriers along Pennsylvania and if the result of this is fewer u-turns and fewer conversations between bicyclists, drivers and police officers, we'll be the better off for it. Sometimes I wonder if the center-running cycletrack is really worth it and if maybe we'd be better off pushing it off to one side of the other. It might just swap out the u-turns for right- or left-hooks and maybe it'd create fewer conflicts with pedestrians, but there is something really special about riding down the center of a grand avenue with a great view (at least at one end). But would I trade the view for a more functional piece of bike infrastructure? Maybe.

Three feet to pass is a minimum. Just saying.

Ride home was a quiet one with only a few points of interest and inconvenience. One was in the L Street Cycletrack, blocked by a BID pickup, parked by an employee set about the empty trash cans. Honestly, it's kind of hard to get too upset about someone parking close to the trash cans they're about to empty. But, it's equally not great to be allegedly given one lane on one street for comparatively safe travel by bicycle and then forced to vacate it because someone couldn't just park around the corner.


"Setting the gold standard." I'm glad FDR abandoned it. The only thing worse than hard money is running into the back of a hard pickup truck. The Golden Triangle BID is pretty good about bike stuff and this is the first time I've ever had this happen, so it's definitely more an aberration than the (Golden?) rule.

They didn't drop of copies of the newspaper near my office, so I rode an extra block looking to pick up a hard copy of the newspaper that foolishly decided to print what I wrote. I plan to sign a number of copies and hide them around the city. And then I'll tweet clues to their location and people can look for them and then when they find them, they can try to sell these limited edition, autographed copies on eBay or use them to line the bottom of parakeet cages or stuff them in their shoes after a rainstorm. Either way, really. I'm just happy to be providing a useful public service.

14th to I to 15th to Pennsylvania and back home the way I came, almost exactly. On East Capitol, I passed some people on CaBis and the first one yelled back to the next two: "Stay on the inside of the lines!" There was a sense of immediacy, but it's not like the lines are electrocuted or anything. They're just painted white lines. Maybe that's why there was such urgency. They're just white lines.

7/23/14

Gear Prudence

Read any good bike advice columns in any local alt weeklies lately? Me neither. But I did read the one that I happen to be writing for Washington City Paper under the title "Gear Prudence." Read it! Tell your friends to read it! Tell your acquaintances to read it! Shout "read Dear Prudence!" to every passing cyclist! There's nothing cyclists love me than being yelled at by strangers. And more importantly, write in questions. Please. I could make up fake questions, but who wants to read about how bicyclists can  peacefully coexist with pogo commuters every single week? I certainly wouldn't. Many thanks to the many of you who have thus far said kind things about this and even more thanks to the some of you who have already written in some great questions. To respond to the ones I've received so far, the answers are yes, no, yes, spaghetti (but not where you expect), Thursday and Dr. Octopus.

Having just read the above paragraph, you're probably wondering how I landed this column anyway. That's a great question! Maybe it has something to do with being the 37th most popular local bike blogger (polls don't lie) and you can believe that if you'd like. But maybe the story is a little grander. Maybe, after high school, I was a listless townie, resisting the urge to go to college, but also not drawn to a life working in the quarries. Maybe I became overly interested in Italian cycling culture and I, along with a ragtag group of compatriots, decided to enter the local big bicycle race against all of the fancy educated boys of the local newspapers. And maybe my training and my love of bicycles and some brief assistance by Dennis Quaid allowed me to best these snooty Washington City Paper riders in this bicycle race and maybe the bike advice column was my prize. Or maybe that's just a bastardized version of the plot of Breaking Away. Bellissima. In reality, the origin of the story in much more mundane. Each of the 12 Districts submitted two tributes... wait, that's not it either. In any case, I'm thrilled and honored and will do my best to continue to try not to do a terrible job.

But I have to admit, those first two responses did not come easily. In fact, I had to comb through dozens of totally real questions to get two that I could answer. So, in the interest of complete transparency, here are some of the questions and answers that didn't make it.

Q. Gear Prudence: I love pogo sticks!
A. Go to hell.

Q. Gear Prudence: I love bicycling in the city, but I'd like to find a way to get to work without sweating through all of my clothes. Does the all powerful Bike Lobby have a weather machine?
A. Nope. Just the ability to surreptitiously replace American flags atop New York bridges. Or not.

Q. Gear Prudence: Do you have any expertise on bicycles whatsoever? Aren't you kind of a fraud?
A. [sobs gently]

Q. Gear Prudence: You didn't answer my question about your qualifications. What if someone actually asks something sort of technical? You just going to make something up?
A. [deletes email, pretends not to have gotten it]

So, yeah. Once again, thank you all in advance for submitting some great questions
(email gearprudence@washingtoncitypaper.com) and thank you to the nine of you who read this blog and who will hopefully also read Gear Prudence. You're the best. Regular bike commute blogging will resume tomorrow.

7/22/14

Rides 7/22: The Great Gazoo and The Great Gatsby

Later than usual start today and I was surprised to see as many bike commuters riding well to work well after 9. At least I think they were riding to work. Maybe they were riding to buy new alarm clocks, having smashed in frustration the one they found to be broken minutes before and well after the time they normally awake. I very much doubt this as there seemed nothing especially frenetic in their pace and also, you'd probably just buy a new alarm clock from Amazon and have FedEx or UPS deliver it, the driver blocking the bike lane as he bounds to your step to drop the package. I'm sure there was a time of mom and pop alarm clock stores on every corner, but those days are long gone, but a feint [insert horrible alarm clock noise sound] of a bygone era.

Most of the way up Wisconsin, I remembered to live the fiction to which I aspire and pretend that I'm the kind of colleague who buys pastries to bring into the office for his close coworkers. Doing nice things for people is the worst kind of self-regard. Stopping for pastries has everything to do with my trying to be a nice person and nothing to do with my debilitating croissant addiction. I stopped at Patisserie Poupon where the women behind the counter have assuredly never, ever been dad-joked about pardoning and mustard. The sign outside looked like this:

Preferred patisserie of Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog 
The pastries looked like this:


In other news, I really should get a cargo bike.

The ride home was the usual throughout downtown, but at the base of Capitol Hill, I decided to take a wending route, aiming for a different grocery store from my usual one and I rode through real Capitol Hill on streets on D Street and E Street and then maybe G Street, but never F Street because, as everyone knows, F Street is bad luck because George F. Washington hated his middle name and that's why you never ever hear anyone refer to him as George F. Washington, both out of respect for the founding father (#ff George Washington) and because of the curse he placed on the street that shares the first letter of his hated middle name that no one ever mentions even though it's totally real.

They've within the last few months added some outdoor parking on Potomac Avenue in front of the Harris Teeter and it's much easier to lock up outside than ride into the parking garage.

Of the two songs I remember having stuck in my head were "Do you really want to hurt me?" and "Someone to watch over me." I guess I was thinking about safety. Or something.

7/21/14

Rides 7/21: Scandalous Cupcakes

"Heroin," he said and that caught my attention. Then it was marijuana and strip club and an incinerator and "$100 million dollars printed by the Federal Reserve." This was at 7th and Pennsylvania and after the rambling man crossed the street in front of us, eyes still locked on us or nowhere in particular, the bearded cyclist, with a beard that looked like that of an Assyrian king, in front of me took out an ear bud and looked back and asked me "what?" I told him that there's drugs and money being burned in an incinerator behind at strip club. He said "ok" and put his ear bud back in. Then from the sidewalk the rambling man said "that's why your taxes are so high."

Otherwise not much of too much excitement on the rest of the way in, except being told to ride on the sidewalk downtown by a construction worker attempting to direct a reversing dump truck into where I would've ridden otherwise. I did ride on the sidewalk, but only for 10 feet. I guess I could've stood my ground and insisted on my rights to the road, but if there's one rule above all to which I assiduously adhere, it's my urban cycling tip #1: don't fuck with dump trucks.

It seemed like maybe I could've gotten to work faster than I did, but I definitely don't think I could've made it home any faster. Not because I was going particularly fast, but because I didn't feel great and I don't think I really could've ridden with any more effort than the minimal effort that I mustered. I might have a little head cold or maybe I was just a #ugh from a long day at work, but it was definitely slow going and I was definitely subprime. I thought about stopping for a Snickers at a CVS, having been so a won over by lifetime of advertisements from Big Candy Bar and the alleged palliative powers of the product, but I pushed through the urge finding myself halfway home and most of the way home soon enough.

It seems strange that pedestrians continue to not die gruesome deaths under the wheels of cyclists in the plaza in front of the White House, where there's not markings or sidewalks or any semblance of traffic laws, but just a big mix of people on bikes and on foot all going a million different directions. It's almost as if the likelihood of a cyclist causing harm to a pedestrian, while certainly real and certainly having had occurred in  instances, is overstated and while perhaps annoying, maybe people on bikes just aren't as dangerous as people in cars and maybe this doesn't have anything to do with the people themselves but maybe the fact that one is 20 pounds and goes 15 miles per hour and one is multiple tons and goes much faster. Sometimes I wonder if we can 'pay attention' our way to an end of people get hurt by car drivers and I definitely think that more attentiveness be a huge boon to safety, but I just don't know if you can ever put things that big and fast and powerful so close to people in an urban environment. Maybe some thing just aren't meant to go together, like peanut butter and sardines.

Some bigwigs get to park their cars on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 14th and because of this buses can't turn from the right lane and have to turn from the next lane over and then drivers in the next lane over get blocked by the outswinging bus and then always somehow a taxi ends up driving in the bike lane. If you introduce a taxi in Act I, it's driving in a bike lane before the play's over. That's just the way it goes.

Rode up the House side of the Capitol. That was different. DC is still not a State, so that's the same. Though the President is 'for it'  nowadays and I'm sure once he closes Guantanamo and passes comprehensive gun control, we're next. Now might be a good time to segue into my sometimes calls for you to sign the Tim Krepp for Congress ballot nominating petition, which I will bike to you on my bicycle or your bicycle if you lend me your bicycle. I will not steal someone else's bicycle and ride it to you on that pilfered bicycle because stealing bicycles is wrong and it most likely also won't meet my Very High Standards as far as bicycles go.

East Capitol is the opposite of a slog. It might be the best street in town. It's flat and the houses are pretty and there are trees and bike lanes. It's like drinking some lemonade after housing some Funyuns. If you swish it around a little, it can clean your teeth. In a way, at least.