Rides 3/26: Transition

I'm a few of these behind, but I don't think I'm going to catch up. I'll write about today, because it was warm and that somehow seems to validate the ink, whereas I've written about the cold days enough already. But I haven't written about warm days for months now and I feel I should mention that I wore shorts today. Shorts! I feel that I should also mention that tomorrow will be cold again, so this one spring-y day will recede back into the many winter days. So it goes.

Still recovering from the 'race' last night, my legs felt a bit gummy, which is to say languorous which isn't to say much of all. I took the city route down Pennsylvania and past the White House and out Pennsylvania on the other side. It's one of the more direct ways to go and except for the parts that are trafficky (namely Washington Circle), it's really not quite bad. There were potholes, but there are potholes sometimes. I gave up on Wisconsin at Volta, gave up on Volta when Volta ran out at 35th and eventually gave up riding the rest of the way to work when I finally got to work. At the driveway entrance to the parking garage where I park my bike, I did battle with a Lyft driver who found himself in the wrong lane before cutting back over to cut me off to stop short right in front of me to let out his passenger. Driving for a living, or even a part-time living, is a hard job and on a human level, I have nothing but sympathy. On a different level, the level that has to contend with being a bicyclist who has to deal with wayward drivers, it's frustrating. The more I think about the future of cars (whatever that is) and the future is car hailing services (whatever those are) the more I think that our built environment is completely unable to deal with addressing those demands. For example, the driveway to the parking garage is built with the idea that a driver will drive into it and then leave his car for the day, not the idea that a driver will drop off a passenger and then turn around. It's a different need entirely. So, in the future, whenever that is, maybe we should build driveways that make for better in and out and less in and stay.

We should also build more bike parking. Enough that it's not a big deal if people want to leave their bikes there forever. And maybe in the future, jerk bike advice columnists will cut people some more slack.

When is there a good time to mention that the song I was singing to myself this morning was 'Come Dancing' by The Kinks? Never? I see. Too late.

I took the trail home today, but not quite home first, as I had a lap to do. The trail runs downhill, but the headwind ran against me and it was a slog. Along the way, I saw spindly children- the skinny skinny types that even the narrowest of lycra hangs from their bones- in bicycle racing costume. RVC was on their kit. I know not from where they came or to where they were headed, but there was many of them, more than a dozen, and they were scattered out about the trail, stretching from tip to tail about a quarter of a mile. Bon voyage, spindly bike children.

I felt bonky on Rock Creek, but I was buoyed by Rudi, who pulled up alongside me past the volleyball courts on our mutual way to Hains Point, where we were to meet others to ride a lap of East Potomac Park in celebration of the sun and circles. (HP is not a circle, but 'laps' make me think of circles regardless.) We rode into the wind and away from it, but honestly, I can't tell you which direction was which. I begged off after one loop and took to the exit as Dave entered to catch the group and take my place. One out, one in. I headed to the fish market, but didn't buy any fish. I headed down Maine Avenue, a main avenue in SW and the surface, haven't been recently destroyed in the name of being soon-to-be repaved proved itself lunar and lumpy. It turned into M Street, which was better and that, via 11th and Potomac, more or less found me home.

Goodbye warm day. It was nice to have seen you. We'll meet again/Don't know how/Don't know when/But I'll know we'll meet again/

some sunny day

Crystal City Wednesday Night Spin on March 26, 2015

Alternative titles:

Note from the Underground
A Day at the Races
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
Spin City

I went down fast, but I sprung up fast too. I only skidded for a little, but it was for enough time for me to realize that I had in fact fallen, though not with much of a thud, and I was back on my feet and clipped in before I fulled assessed whether there was anything wrong with me and the bike. No time for that. I was falling behind. I think.

Stock markets crash for the same reasons bicyclists do. An asset becomes overvalued relative to its intrinsic worth. You get comfortable thinking that things can only go up. And then the bottom drops out. And you end up on the bottom. Recovery can come quick, but there are always lagging indicators.

When I fell I was maybe a few laps in. I had done the course a couple of times and was reasonably well acquainted with the layout of the underground parking garage that served as the setting for the fourth in the series of four Cystal City Wednesday Night Spins, a production put on by the Crosshairs Cycling Team and the Crystal City Business Improvement District. I had attended the first one, but only as a spectated. I spectated and speculated that I should return and after a two week absence, I came back, this time intending to race. It would be the first time in my adult life that I would pin a bib to myself with the aim of competing. My goal was to not brake any bones. At least, none of my own bones.

I handed over twenty bones to the registration table about 2 minutes before the race would start. Andrew Jackson- kill the bank, Trail of Tears. I didn't register in advance, so the process of signing up with frenetic, mostly because I hemmed and hawed when I got there, unsure of whether I'd actually muster the facsimile of courage and extroversion needed to actually go through with it. When the B race ended, and the course was opened, I took a few practice spins. I took them slowly. They seemed ok or at least ok enough for me to go through with what I had set out to go through with, competing in the C race (categories 4/5, novice, children, commuters, bike advice columnists). I frantically filled out the registration form/waiver and my handwriting proved even more illegible than normal. But they typed my name in the computer and they give me a bib and one of the guys there helped me with the safety pins. Safety first.

I use the term 'competing' loosely. I certainly didn't set out to win anything or really to beat anyone. That's for the best because I didn't win and I'm not entirely sure I beat anyone either. I don't think I'm an especially fast bicyclist, nor an athlete who really trains for things. By virtue of bike commuting, I do benefit from spending a lot of time on the bike, so I had that going for me. I wasn't looking to break any records and even surpass any personal goals. But I did race and it went something like this:

pedal, pedal, pedal, brake, turn, pedal, brake, brake brake BRAKE, pedal, pedal, breathe, breathe, pedal PEDAL PEDAL repeat

The falling down part was extra. The course had at least two long straightaways, one by the start line and one by the finish line. I wiped out when turning (or trying) to turn onto the finish line straightaway. But then I popped back up. Recovery. But I could tell I bumped my knee some and there was at least some road rash, if not blood. I didn't look down to see if there was any blood. There wasn't any blood. There's only a little bump and not even any bruising, so all things considered, I would recommend that if you must crash in an underground parking garage criterium style bike race, to do it that way.

The rest of the course, aside from the straightaways, were a series of turns, demarcated by the concrete support poles and red tape. Red tape is very Washington. These were the parts that gave me the most worry, as my bike handing lacks the level of confidence you need to really whip through these parts on a smart line. Over the course of the 20 laps or so, I tried to take inside lines and I tried to take outside lines and I tried different approaches and I tried pedaling through and I tried braking and I tried pedaling and braking simultaneously. I shifted my weight, as I could, or left it alone- really, whatever seemed right. I wished I had kept a notebook of my various approaches. I don't know how long the circuit was or how long each lap took. A few minutes? Time is a construct.

There was a level of self-preserving conviviality on the course. Racers would call out 'inside' or 'outside' depending on how they planned to pass. I appreciated that and I mimicked it. Imitation is the sincerest form of the flattery.

There were spectators. They cheered and loudly. There was some cowbell. There was exactly as much cowbell as there should have been. Calls for excess cowbell would have been rebuffed. Some spectators, those who knew me, would scream 'SHAAAAARRRRRROOOOOWWS!" as I rode by. I appreciated that. It is no small thing to be associated with the world's least effect bike markings.

I wore bib number 33. That's Larry Bird's number. The Hick from French Lick. He was sycamore and I'm equally wooden. Before the start of the race, when Taylor was adjusting my bib, I expressed to him my desire to not die. He assured me that I wouldn't die. Before the race, I had thought of Dante and his descent. Dante went down seven circles in the Inferno. I went down four levels in a parking garage and rode twenty circles. He had Virgil. I had a Surly Cross Check.

There were other racers on the course that I remember and many more that I don't, either because our encounters were so fleeting or because I was thinking of other things, like staying upright and pedaling with aplomb. I think everyone had fun, or at least I hope they did. I'm not sure the results of posted yet, but I don't think that really matters to anyone, or at least I don't they don't.

There were photographers. Grit your teeth before the flash. Give him the action shot he's looking for. Snap. Look. Delete. Probably.

I think if I had to do it again, I would. I don't know if I'm committed to the idea of signing up for more bicycle races, either in underground parking garages or outside of them, but I can definitely see the allure, even if your goal isn't really to win or even prove your fortitude, physical, mental or otherwise. A race is a closed system and there's not much really going on outside of it. What matters most is hitting that turn or sticking to the wheel of rider in front of you or turning over the pedals with as much ferocity of you can muster and time truncates to a series of segments. One segment done, move to the next. Next one done, do one more. Keep it up until they let you stop. There is not outside beyond the segments. There's especially no outside when you're not outside. The interiority is the draw. And this, for me, is diametrically the opposite of how I normally approach bicycling. As a commuter and a sometimes flaneur (french for someone who wears flannel), for me, riding a bicycle is primarily a tool for engaging with the world around me- its novelties, its quirks, its changes. During the race, the bicycle became the means of tuning it out. That has a certain kind of appeal.

I didn't sleep great last night because my legs hurt. Not from falling, but from excessive use. I still rode to work this morning, taking again the bike that served me well last night. I plan to put the fenders back on tonight. I don't want the bike to get any ideas.

I would like to reiterate my gratitude to those who made this series of races possible. The bike guys and the parking garage buys and the guys who were there selling wine and the guys who were there selling pie and all of the people who raced and all the people who watched. Robert Putnam may say that we're all bowling alone, but I don't think he's ever been to a bike race in an underground parking garage in Crystal City. Unless he was that old guy who passed me that one time. Not going to rule that possibility out.


Rides 3/23: Shillelagh at the Donnybrook

Moths. They can eat your winter clothes. So, really, when you think about it, it's just great that the winter weather persists, as does having to keep wearing heavy wool well into March. It keeps away the moths. How's that for some positive spin? Unconvincing? Yes, I thought so too.

I spent a goodly time this past weekend cleaning the Ogre, thereby freeing it from the salt, dirt, gunk and grime that clung to its parts. Some of the parts so freed are the parts on the bike that move and in so moving, help give the bike its movement. That these parts are now clean plays no small part in the bike's better functioning overall. Cleanliness is next to go-liness. Some people are quite good at keeping their bikes clean, and therefore go-ly, but I lack such persuasion, convincing myself instead that a thin coating of dirt dissuades thieves and/or Tusken Raiders from absconding with my steed. Also, I am dreadfully lazy. And a bit hydrophobic. Perhaps it is I who is the Tusken Raider.

I took advantage of the bicycle's improved performance by taking a route that afforded a greater amount of open road and steady pedaling, which is to say, having a few blocks without a stop light. I pedaled away. I pedaled and pedaled and pedaled. And a man on a hybrid bike pedaled right past me, as if to express his disapproval is my earlier having pedaled past him. Or maybe he just liked pedaling even more than I did.

I met up with the Official Wife at 23rd and E, having to make an exchange of something she left at home for a toasted coconut donut. Quid pro donut. I suppose quid pro cronut would have also been acceptable.

Thereafter, it was the usual way to work. There were some inconsiderate people on bikes, on foot and driving cars. There were also some considerate ones. On the way home, there was also a mix of considerate and inconsiderate people and others among them who were neither considerate nor inconsiderate, but somehow on the cusp of both. A lot of it is situational, but it also comes down to decisions. There are always choices. And it's people who make them. Like the bicyclist who rode through the red light, only to stop before the crosswalk and the other bicyclist, who instead of just riding in front of her, rode behind her and then said something, maybe in response to something she said, but maybe not, to the effect of 'well, you ran the red light' and then she definitely said something in response, though I didn't hear it and they might have jabbered still, but I missed all that too because who has time to stop and listen to strangers argue. Other than me normally because I'm quite nosy and conflagrations, no matter how petty, pierce the mundane. It's really quite early in the season for bike commuters to be jabbering at each other over infractions both real and imagined, so I suppose you could say that #bikeDC is really performing above average. Or you could say that maybe everyone should just relax a little and be a little less willing to engage in pointless bickering. EVEN WHEN SOMEONE DOES SOMETHING WRONG. Like, even then. Even when you see someone do something really obviously wrong and bad, shrugging away a minor inconvenience is really expurgative (might not be a word) and maybe even good for the soul. He who rides a glass bike shouldn't throw stones and all that. And if you do ride a glass bike, that sounds fucking sweet.

Bikeshare riders asking for directions. I don't mind, but maybe that means we need more signs.

When I got out of the grocery store, I saw Will, who was with his son, Martin. Will had previously inquired about the Ogre, he needing to replace a bike that was damaged, and I had meant to meet up with him to let him take it for a ride, but failed in this, and so Martin and I stood together on the sidewalk as Will tooled around the Safeway parking lot, putting the Ogre through the paces one puts a bike through when test riding it in a grocery store parking lot. We will, Will and I, but maybe not Martin, who is quite young, get a beer some time. We will in spring.


Rides 3/20: The Return of the Snowgre: Snowgre Rides Again, Part II- Snowgre's Last Ride

Snow. It's not unheard of to have snow in March around these parts and in some ways, the fluffy white stuff is more agreeable to bike commuting than a steady cold rain. But that's like saying brussel sprouts are preferable to kale when all you really want is pizza. I want pizza. Both in the metaphorical sense where pizza is a stand-in for delightful spring weather and in the more literal sense where pizza is a delicious food and I'm writing towards dinner time.

There weren't many bike commuters about, but the usual bunch (well, as to whether they're usual or unusual, I've leave to you) were at coffee and from coffee was a trip with Rootchopper down G Street before we parted ways and he rode back into the Commonwealth and I remained steadfastly in the District. At least, I tried to remain steadfast, but more likely than not, I was steadslow. I don't have a speedometer. I remember riding up Wisco, but don't remember much in the way of details. I remember riding down Massachusetts and screaming 'GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!" as the snowflakes, no longer fluffy but somehow prickly instead, snuck under the brim on my cap and over the top of my coat, to find landing places on my bare face. I wanted to look down, so as to create a less accommodating angle and deny the snow prickers their prey, but in so doing I would've taken my eyes off the road in front of me and generally speaking, one ought not do that. That is, one ought not do that if he doesn't wish to ride into the back of a parked car. Which I didn't want to do, having already done that once on a very cold day in a previous winter along the same stretch of road. Snow. I'm over it.

The way home saw me riding through Glover Park and Georgetown (and Burleith. I didn't forget you, Burleith.) and down to M Street and over to L Street and eventually down to 15th. I really wish the transition from Pennsylvania to L was a bit easier for bicyclists, but it's pretty much just a matter of getting over into one of the left lanes, which would be fine if you didn't have to cross two or three travel lanes from the right side in order to do it. This is why I normally do some kind of maneuver that involves waiting for the light to change red and making a left turn in the crosswalk, but it's suboptimal and also maybe sometimes I don't always wait for the light to 'technically' turn red and end up doing something wonky that might involve riding on the wrong side of the street towards oncoming traffic. Admittedly, this is bad. I don't worry so much about it from a safety perspective (it's pretty predictable and the sight lines are pretty good), but it's a pretty egregious bit of lawbreaking on my part and sometimes I feel pangs of guilt, not so much about the lawbreaking as the egregiousness. I guess what I'm trying to say is that there should be a bike flyover ramp over Washington Circle, so I could be spared on making this left turn. Put it out to bid, pay the $50 million. That's the only practical solution.

I don't really remember any details about the rest of the way home, except for its lack of flyover ramps. It might have been cold. I believe I was wearing a gray sweater. I remember being in a bit of rush, for all the good that ever does. You barely even notice getting home two minutes earlier and you can easily make up for the time if you get home two minutes later. What are two minutes? Barely no time at all.


Rides 3/18 and Rides 3/19: sameness

It's been cold the past two mornings. Not cold for March, but still colder than I want it to be. It might even snow tomorrow, but let's keep tomorrow's problems in the future and dwell on the problems of the past few days, which, conveniently, are already over. Problems included:

- the aforementioned cold

- the lack of bike parking at Stachowskis, where I stopped to pick up sandwiches for dinner (and, as it turns out, today's lunch). I locked up to the bus stop sign and that's fine in that it gets the job done, but I always feel unwelcome at businesses that don't have actual bike parking. This didn't stop me from buying a giant meatball sandwich, but it also didn't stop me from mentioning to the person that sold me that sandwich that the shop should have bike parking. I will continue to mention it to them each time I purchase a sandwich there. In fact, if I have to buy a giant delicious meatball sandwich every single day for the next three months and thereby mention that they should get a bike rack each day for three months, I am willing to fully commit myself to this cause.

-I ended up on 14th Street after L Street on a stretch through downtown that doesn't have a bike lane. It is essentially pointless to try to ride a bicycle on 14th Street through downtown during rush hour. This is because we've given over the entirety of the road space to cars and then at rush hour, we fill the entirety of that space with cars, and then we have six lanes of cars and nowhere for a bicyclist to fit. So, I ended up waiting in line and/or riding illegally on the sidewalk where I thought I could do it without being too much of a jerk. Long story short: convert all of the roadway to six lanes for cars, fill with six lanes of cars, and then you not only have impeded the way for drivers, but also for bicyclists. I think there's an obvious solution: a seventh lane for cars!

- "I'm not here to make friends" is the cri de couer of the reality show contestant, but it's also my mantra in the morning, especially as it relates to when a bike commute pulls up right next to me and we're like 3 inches away and I refuse to look over because I fear that if I turn my head, even a fraction, our noses will touch, that's how close we are. I love bike commuters. But I will start eating garlic for breakfast if you don't back off a little, ok?

- Chainsaws. There's a thought experiment I do sometimes and it goes like this: what if instead of a driving a car, you were walking, but you were carrying a chainsaw. And that chainsaw was on. Would you round the corner without looking? Would you go so fast that you couldn't stop in time if something unexpected happened? Would a non-chainsaw holder be expected to wear a reflective vest to alert you to his presence? Or would the expectation be that since you're the one holding a chainsaw, you'd kinda be responsible for not just wildly flailing it around and losing control of it. Sure, a chainsaw is powerful. Sure, a chainsaw is a useful tool with a valid and important purpose. I wouldn't begrudge anyone chainsaw use. But if someone's chainsaw 'jumped the curb' and 'accidentally' cut off someone else's limb, would we all just like 'yup, chainsaws. what can you do?' Or might we think that the operator of the chainsaw bears some responsibility for ensuring that this doesn't happen? And if and when it does, might we say 'hey, this is a real problem!'

So, those were the problems. They weren't that bad, even for problems. Bike commuting remains the best.