Ride In 12/12

I looked my superbikerliest today, on account of the bike pants I donned, and a couple of things happened. One was that when I asked a college-aged woman if she was ok as she stood aside her bike staring quizzically at her front tire, she said "You probably know a lot about bikes, obviously." I don't, but that didn't stop me from saying "Of course I do. I'm the 37th most popular DC bike commuter blogger! Don't you know who I AM?" (What actually stopped me from saying that is being grounded in reality. Somewhat.) What I did say, unlike an actual superbiker who would never leave the suffer zone to willingly help someone, is that I would look at her bike and try to help if she told me what was wrong. She told me that it seemed like the front wheel wasn't turning. She said that once before it "wasn't in right," so checked the quick-release and it seemed to be positioned correctly. I then looked at the brakes (since that's another thing...?) and they didn't seem to be scraping against the front tire. She then suggested that maybe nothing was actually wrong and her progress was being hindered more by the climb up Massachusetts than a mechanical issue. Since my progress is hindered while riding up Mass every day, I assented that this might be a possibility. I asked her where she was going and she said "somewhere by Sibley Hopsital" and I gave her, unbidden, some directions and then I left. I wonder if she made it and what obvious mechanical problem I missed. The takeaway from this story is that it's really easy to look like you know about bikes without actually knowing much (I did take Tool Academy, after all).
My other "revelation" today was about the Mary Poppins Effect. Timely, consider WABA's Women Bike Forum is tonight. Almost as if I have some volition over the things I think about during my ride. Well, the revelation isn't so much about the Mary Poppins Effect, which isn't real, as it is about the Lance Armstrong Effect, which is. The Lance Armstrong Effect is likewise about perception, but unlike the unreal MPE, it's about negative perception. I think the more be-lycra-ed (not a word, barely a concept) one is, the easier it is to be perceived as an "other," someone not just looking to get around town, but someone who's looking to race around town in a kind of aggressive and brashly athletic sort of way. The Lance Armstrong Effect (there's apparently other Lance Armstrong Effects, some that have to do with cancer recovery. I'd change the name, but I'm pretty sure that Lance Armstrong is the only recognizable bicyclist to most 'muricans) is one of a deliberate distancing and one that creates assumptions about bicyclists, assumptions to which even I fall prey (see "superbikers"). When you see someone decked out in bike gear and on a presumably fancy and expensive-looking bike, you assume that they know what they're doing and what they're doing is ably piloting their vehicle in a kind of sporty and aggressive (in that they're "racing") way and that you don't necessarily need to be delicate around them because it's all one BIG COMPETITION and the goal of the COMPETITION IS WINNING and that WINNING REQUIRES WHATEVER IT TAKES. In short, by having the external appearance of a hyper-competent athlete suggests a skill set and level of ability that belies the bicyclist's own vulnerability on the roadway. Do I think that people should stop wearing lycra? No. Wear what you want. It's a free country and you should do what makes you happy. But do I think that we should all (and drivers especially) stop making assumptions about superbikers and stop allowing those assumptions to shape their actions and behaviors? Yeah, I guess so. (Oh, and the other part of the Lance Armstrong Effect, wherein the cyclist himself adopts the posture of an arrogant, self-righteous prick- yeah, don't do that either. It's unbecoming.) Feel free to flay me in the comments if you take offense. It's just a working theory.
I decided that I work take 7th today instead of 15th and it worked out sort of fine. The bus/bikes only lane on 7th is treated like a joke by far too many motorists. But only bicyclists break the law, so I must be misunderstanding something.
Every building from the Convention Center north of 7th should be, on average, about 4 stories taller. Better living through density.
I saw the father-son combo on R again today. Looks like they're sticking to it during the winter. In fact, a lot of bicyclists seem to be sticking to it, at least on the dry days. At least five road by at the intersection of R and New Hampshire. I wonder if they ride through Dupont or turn onto 18th or what. I'm assuming that the majority are heading downtown, but I don't know how they'd get there. I'm always amazed at the willingness of other bike commuters to take routes that seem totally crazy to me. I guess I'm just risk-averse.
One last thing, unrelated to my commute. I'm collaborating with Bike Arlington on an "epic" post on bike parking at Arlington grocery stores. For the completists out there, look for it soon. Don't worry- I'll link to it, much in the same way that I never miss an opportunity to link to manfredmacx.com so you can buy buttons. Here's the deal with that: I've sold out of the initial run and I've had to order more. The first batch should be arriving tomorrow (or maybe today) and I will get them out in the mail soon thereafter. Please email me (talesfromthesharrows@gmail.com) if you want me to hold onto yours, or for an extra $20 to WABA, deliver them by bicycle to your home/office while wearing a tuxedo. Don't think I'm joking. I will do this. Thank you for your continued support.


  1. What do you call the effect when I, for the first time, pull my older daughter in a trailer? I had a truck follow me for two blocks despite adequate (Even legal) space to pass, and it was NOT because I was going at a speed he was likely to be happy with. And then this morning, pulling the empty trailer, I got a wave from a cyclist going the other way on PA Ave, which has never happened in a year of using the cycletracks.

  2. I don't know what that should be called. The duckling effect? I've heard mixed stories of kids in trailers. Sometimes it makes drivers better, sometimes not. I think, though, that it's a more obvious signal of vulnerability (much like the societal sexism that undergirds the MPE) that might suggest to drivers that they be better.

  3. I think there should be a metric for when you are justified wearing Lycra. I definitely look superbikerly, but my commute is 12 miles each way, including a Cat 5 hill (I'm shooting for the polka dot jersey in the Tour de Fairfax County)...so I feel justified. But when I get back into the city on my ride home, I stand out amongst the besuited (?) and beskirted (??) intracity commuters. So maybe you need 50 points to wear Lycra...you get 5 points per mile traveled, plus 5 points for every 100 feet of elevation gained. I'm sure there's a much mathier (?) way to do that, but I nearly failed the one math class I took in college. So once your points total is verified, you get some sort if license to wear Lycra on your commute. Maybe something as simple as an "L" endorsement (indicated by a gold star with an L in it) on your TFTS button.