5/23/11

Bike DC and Ride in 5/23

A few disjointed thoughts on yesterday's Bike Arlington DC before I regale you with my usual banalities (Wilson Boulevard! Key Bridge! Blah blah blah!):
  • The Course. A big part of the allure of the event is getting to ride where you can't normally ride, limited access highways. And that was neat. But after a while, it was only so neat. I thought that the course was maybe a bit too hilly (both up GW Parkway and over by the Airforce Memorial) and this created some logjams and potential conflicts between cyclists of differing levels and demeanors. I would have liked to bike in DC more, but so it goes. I found it pretty amusing how many people stopped on the TR Bridge to take a picture. Um, you can bike on that bridge all of the time. 
  • The Rest-Stops. If I don't want to grab and go and would rather mill around and eat my Cool Ranch Doritos (actual rest-stop fare), that's my right. Don't shuffle me along. I'll go at my own pace. Also, I would have appreciated a formal rest-stop at the turnaround at the top of the GW Parkway at one of the scenic overloooks. I also think it's safe to declare the Airforce Memorial rest-stop to be a total disaster. It came at the top of a long hill at the entrance to the Memorial, but participants were told to "keep going" and turn into the Memorial's lot. You know what was there? Nothing. There was no organized turnaround or even any directions as to what to do. So you had people who were looking to continue with nowhere to go except into a big crowd of people who were looking to stop. It was chaotic and pretty unsafe. This was really disorganized and I sort of hoped that the organizers would have done a better job.
  • The Crowd. 4000, which is a lot. And the group was very, very varied in its composition, both in terms of who was riding (little kids! yikes.) and the mentalities of the riders. Here's the perspective of From Wheels to Bikes 
  • Beyond the Key Bridge the bike traffic became quite heavy - the bikes only had one side (two lines) of the divided highway, with bike traffic in each direction confined to one lane (with cones down the middle). Round about now I began to wish for more common sense and more common courtesy from my fellow riders. As we climbed, relatively slow moving (bicycle) traffic filled the entire single outbound lane. Some people riding uphill nonetheless impatiently tried "on the left" when what they meant was, "you're in my way; I want to go faster." Some crossed over into the oncoming lane (for bikes - usually a lane of traffic in the same direction) to pass the entire column, then pull in with the other riders (who would more or less have to let him or her in).

    Some riders barreling down the GW Parkway on the return side presented a more intimidating picture - here there were some people whose cries of "on your LEFT" really sounded like "OUTTA MY WAY or I may run into you."

    Now this sounds like chaos, but probably it was one in 250 or less that was acting in this way, but when you have thousands of riders on a few miles of road, 1-in-250 makes an impression.
    So yeah, you had those people. I think that there's a willful schizophrenia in planning an event like this. The idea is to get as many people out on bikes as possible, so you need to draw your once-a-year recreational cyclists AND you're every weekend superbikers and rather than try to define the event as a "fun ride at a leisurely pace," you avoid classifying it and just let each participant decide for him/herself what BikeDC means. Saying that the event is not a race isn't exactly the same as saying get over yourself and deal with going slower than you normally would.
  • The Official Wife. She rode the whole thing on a 7 speed Cruiser, which I found to be tremendously impressive. She's ridiculously competitive (she's probably trying to beat you in a contest you don't know you're participating in against her right now) and very much held her own. We also rode there and back, so she put in around 35 miles on a bike that's not meant to be taken that far. Major dap.
  • Other Stuff.  There's probably other stuff that I'm not mentioning that I should. I wasn't crazy about the amount of space given to bicyclists on parts of the road. You'd think that splitting a two lane highway down the middle would be sufficient for two directions of bicycle traffic, but it did feel pretty tight in places. I don't think that u-turns are an especially effective way of turning around groups of bicyclists, but I guess the organizers hands were tied given the nature of the course. If you ride a fixie, you have to wear a white t shirt and have a calf tattoo. Overall, a lot of very boring bicycles. I opted to ride the Haul, which is slightly more stylish than you're average hybrid or entry level road bike and I was glad that I did.
  • Would I do it again? Probably, but I can't say for sure. I'm glad that I did it once, but I think I like smaller group rides better. It was a beautiful day and we got to ride on some roads that are normally inaccessible, and that's fun and all, but I'd rather participate in a ride that I could do on a normal day and repeat if I liked it rather than just ride in a big loop on a highway where I can't ride a few hours later. In my opinion, one of the more fun things about traveling by bicycle is the realization that you can actually get somewhere by bicycle! Is this an endorsement for the City Explorer Ride? Probably.
As for today, it was a good day. A perfect Washington spring day, in fact, which means intensely pollenic with 99% humidity. I don't consider myself an overly perspiring person (though how can one judge [in a way that won't get you arrested]?), but I just can't imagine riding any amount of distance on a bicycle in my work clothes and arriving in a way that would be close to presentable or even comfortable.
I saw a guy and four kids on their way to school this morning. Each kid was pushing themselves along on a scooter and the man was dragging all of their backpacks and stuff in a wagon. I thought that was kind of cool, though the four kids on scooters reminded me of a very inchoate motorcycle gang. Menacing.
I thought that the trails and bridge were pretty well peopled with people on bikes, so maybe something from Friday stuck. Or maybe it was just the usual crowd. I think it's hard to tell to what extent a Bike to Work Day has impact in the short-term.
There's a guy who commutes by Segway that I see frequently. I wonder how long it'll be before Courtland Milloy starts railing against Segway lanes.Good thing we shipped Gabe Klein to Chicago.
I saw a bumper sticker on a dump truck that read "You don't know what it's like unless you ride" or something like that, but the exact phrasing escapes me. I wish it didn't because it seems important to accurately represent the statement in all of its nuance, but basically I think the idea is accurately conveyed. I got the impression that it was about motorcycles rather than bicycles (as an enginist, I can't but see the world in terms of an engine/non-engine dichotomy) for some reason, but it seems equally applicable to both. I'm going to skip the part where I give a long-drawn explication on my thoughts surrounding this statement and write instead that yes, empathy is important but it's not the sine qua non of better environment for bicycles, nor anything more than a sufficient condition.
For most of my ride, I experienced the distinct pleasure of not having any cars behind me. I more than recognize (if this is even possible) the need to actually share the road (in a good way) and I'm fairly obliging about moving over to let a motorist pass, but it's still a nice feeling when you can ride your bicycle without thinking a motorist is bearing down on you. This is especially pleasant through Georgetown and Burleith where the streets are shorter (and narrowed) and punctuated with stop signs.
When I got to work, I parked next to the most superlative bike ever. Superlative in the sense that the bike's makers made sure to have descriptions of its greatness all over the bike. For example, here's the top tube:
Is your bike newer? I don't think so. You can see my sad Cross Check in the background, feeling not new. All it has written on it is the name of one of the seven Duffs.
And here's this:
Simply better. I think that the rider of this bike either lacks modesty or is easily persuaded. Or both. Awesome.

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