Friday, September 30, 2011

Shirlington - Officially "Bike Friendly"

Bike Friendly Shirlington
New sign on bike trail near Shirlington - that one in the middle

A crew appeared today and installed the sign stating this is a "bicycle friendly community." (I realize I don't know if those signs stating the distances to various places were there before or not - I don't think so.) The sign faces the bicycle trail, as this picture mostly makes clear. There are several problems with this:

* The ones who need to hear this kind of thing more are the motorists in the sense of, "hey, don't run over the cyclists; this community is supposed to be bicycle friendly!" Ironically this sign is posted right at one of the worst crosswalks for cyclists in Arlington. Arlington is bicycle friendly, and by the way try not to get hurt crossing this street with cars zipping off 395.

* I suppose pointing this sign celebrating the League of American Bicyclists' designation of Arlington as a "bicycle friendly community" is fine but in the end, it's deeds not words. We aren't going to think, "oh yeah - Arlington loves cyclists because they put up this sign. We are going to think that because of useful things that the County does for cyclists (and their safety), which does not include the layout of this particular intersection (from a cyclist perspective).

It reminds me of socialist realism to have a sign proclaiming the glories not of today's reality but tomorrow's shiny future.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Washington Monument on Bike Commute

Washington Monument & news crews
During my morning commute -

As a result of the earthquake, apparently climbers were going to rappel down the Washington Monument to inspect it; as a result, camera crews came early to get positioned to shoot video and stand-up news interviews. Around noon they were still there . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bad Street Crossing for Bikes

Cyclist middle of 14th
Hoping traffic clears, then he'll finish crossing

This kind of thing is crazy - this cyclist, having seen this intersection before, assumes that the traffic pattern is the same every day. The cross traffic has the green light. Traffic from the left clears and then, usually, traffic from the right. So if you go out as he has done and wait in the middle, it should be possible to get across once the traffic from the right clears (without waiting for a green light, that is).

But what are motorists to think of this? They have the green light, and there you are in the middle of the road. There is no center island. And sometimes the traffic pattern doesn't work out and traffic ends up coming from both directions at the same time, and there you are, in the middle of the road with no place to hide.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Belgian Bicycles, 1910s (Photo)

Proving identity -- Near Diest (LOC)
Newly added to the Library of Congress Flickr collections online

Taken near the Belgian town of Diest, presumably during World War I. From the Bain News Service collection. As presented by the Library of Congress on its site, it isn't possible to "pull out" the images with bicycles much of the time, but users add tags in Flickr that help with that.

France -- Cyclists of Army (LOC)
"France - Cyclists of Army" - another Bain photograph

Austrian officers in field (LOC)
The Austrians had some bikes, too.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Team 7-Eleven, by Drake & Ochowicz (Book Review)

Team 7-Eleven:  How an Unsung Band of American Cyclists Took on the World - and Won is a new book about the 7-Eleven sponsored cycling race team that was active in the 1980s. The blurb description of the books is as follows:
Founded in 1981 by Jim Ochowicz and Olympic medalist Eric Heiden and sponsored by the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores, the team rounded up the best amateur cyclists in North America and formed them into a cohesive, European-style cycling team. As amateurs, they dominated the American race scene and won seven medals at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. As professionals, beginning in 1985, the team went to Europe and soon received invitations to the Tour of Italy and then the Tour de France, putting Americans on the podium in landmark victories that would change the face of American cycling forever.

Prepared with the enthusiastic cooperation of the team members and co-authored by the team’s founder, Jim Ochowicz, 7-Eleven is not only the most important missing piece in the story of American cycling, but the book that American cyclists have been waiting for ever since the 7-Eleven cowboys snagged that first yellow jersey.
The two authors are respectively a journalist who wrote about Team 7-Eleven (way back then) and Ochowicz, the team founder and manager (among other roles).

I am not an expert on pro cycle racing history, so I will confine my comments to fairly obvious stuff.

The book takes the obvious (and sensible) approach of presenting the story chronologically. The beginning focuses on Ochowicz and Eric Heiden - in the early years of establishing the team. Heiden's role was probably more important than Ochowicz since he was so supportive of the team and was a publicity and sponsorship magnet. The critical piece to launching the team was securing sponsorship from the Southland Corporation, which is described in some detail. (It was connected with Southland sponsoring building of an Olympic velodrome for the 1984 Olympics.) Finally in chapter 5 (of twenty) Ochowicz starts hiring and building the first U.S. 7-Eleven amateur team. The next several chapters describe the highlights of the amateur team's racing before the professional team was established, and the most prominent riders, such as Heiden and Davis Phinney. Chapter 12 segues to the building of the professional team that would compete in Europe starting in 1985 - it is the activities of this "senior" men's professional team, primarily when in Europe, that occupy the remainder of the book. Most of the narrative describes key team developments and critical race successes (and failures). The most well known race successes are covered in some detail, such as Andy Hampsten's Giro stage victory in the snow storm.

The two authors clearly know the subject extremely well and had the cooperation of most if not all of the important team members. Since this was Ochowicz's team, it is probably not surprising that certain more unpleasant subjects are not really covered - in reading this I was reminded of military regimental histories prepared by unit historians. Generally everything covered is given a positive spin - not to say that failures or bad days aren't covered, but . . . One technique is to have negative commentary attributed to other parties - it isn't the authors saying that in their early European racing the 7-Eleven riders were crash happy cowboys; no, that was what the other riders were saying about them. And not to worry; after a few years the 7-Eleven riders matured. Some controversial subjects are simply left out, most notably the almost complete absence of discussion of use of drugs in pro cycle racing.

Whether because of the "authorized history" approach or for other reasons, the description of events is fairly flat; the examples of "wildness" are not very wild, and so on. Bob Roll, for example, is described as "eccentric" and the "team clown" but the included example of his idea of humor rather tame, particularly since one can read far more outlandish stuff about him elsewhere.

Who is this book written for? I'm not a big pro bike racing fan, but I know enough to understand basic tactics (about as much as I know about American pro football, I suppose) and it seems the authors are assuming at least that level of knowledge. For example, at one point a 7-Eleven rider manages to win multiple jerseys in the Tour de France on one day, including a "combination jersey" for best standing in all categories (different than GC) - since this category no longer exists, this is explained, but the subtleties of the other categories are assumed to be clear to the reader.

The book includes a fair number of both color and black and white photographs, chapter notes, a good index, a the senior men and women's team rosters for the years the team was active (otherwise there is little said in this book about the women riders), and a "where are they now" epilogue updating the lives of the main (men) riders.

In some descriptions of the book, it is noted that Lance Armstrong started with the successor team, Team Motorola, that took over this bicycle team after Southland ended its sponsorship - but wanting to know more Lance-history wouldn't be a motivation for reading this; he is only mentioned a few times in passing.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Closing Four Mile Run I-395 Underpass

395 Flood Danger
Approaching underpass to I-395 from Shirlington side, Friday commute

After considerable amounts of rain overnight, Four Mile Run apparently flooded the bike path underpass for I-395.  By the time that I arrived on my commute, around 7 am, I think the flooding was already gone but I chose not to investigate and rode around (the old way, over 395 on the pedestrian bridge and down Martha Custis).

In the evening the barriers had not been "officially" removed but someone had pushed them aside.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Wheel-Spam Comment Game

Spam Blog Comment
Example of a "comment" linking to a commercial tire site from Prolix

Apparently because bicycles have tires, Prolix (and some other identities that I think are the same person) regularly post "comments" that feature links to several different automotive tire sales sites. Because this blog is pretty low-traffic (900-1,000 page views per month, most from Google searches) it seems an utter waste of time for this person (or bot?) to be doing this, but we're only talking about my removing 2-3 comments per week, typically.

Does someone get paid for this? Presumably not on the basis of how many links are placed but rather according to how much traffic it creates. How boring.

Here the syntax is OK and the comment more or less makes sense (although this is the fourth or fifth time I've read "my very first comment on your site" from Prolix) but given the wording of some of the others, I'm doubtful the person doing this has English as his or her first language. Not that it matters, but it seems that much more crazy that somewhere in the world some person is searching for tire-related blogs in a foreign language to place phoney-baloney comments for car tires in Florida in order to make a living.

Cyclists with Guns Chase Car (Washington, DC)

Short Washington Post article titled "Bicycles open fire near Capitol Hill" - "Two people on bicycles fired shots as they pursued a car late Saturday in a Northeast Washington neighborhood on the edge of Capitol Hill, authorities said."

The police admit no understanding of the motive, but divine that "it did not appear to be a random attack." Their solution? "Officers will patrol the area and will give special attention to people on bicycles as well as to enforcing traffic regulations, police said."

The attention grabbing "near Capitol Hill" does not mean they were riding around the Capitol itself shooting guns from bikes - they were more than a mile from the U.S. Capitol.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bicycles to Africa

Once again, my Google news alert brings in an interesting item, a story about a Danish bicycle approach to providing developmental assistance through bicycles to Africa. There are various approaches to this that I am familiar with. In an earlier post about an article about the "Team Rwanda" cycling team there was mention that the attempt to provide bicycles suitable for that country was hindered by the high cost of getting the parts there.

The Baisikeli Company in Denmark - "Baisikeli" is "bicycles" in Swahili

The Baisikeli company has a model that does not give the bikes away but sells them.
Baisikeli works towards developing the bicycle industry in the developing world. Bicycles are important in poor areas because with cheaper and better transportation opportunities, people living in poverty can increase their income and get access to education and health care.

In Denmark, Baisikeli collects used bicycles and ship them to Mozambique and Sierra Leone where they are repaired and sold. All expenses in Denmark are financed through the two bike shops in Copenhagen; so all the money earned in Africa can be reinvested in developing the workshops into producing their own bikes.
This is quite different than a model that gathers cast-off bicycles, ships them to Africa, and gives them away. Also, since they are (I think this is correct) primarily shipping bicycles that they have themselves used in their businesses, the types of bicycles sent to Africa are of fewer different types.

Baisikeli - cykler for et bedre liv from Henrik Mortensen on Vimeo.

Alas, there is nothing in this world that is perfect - in looking around on Flickr for photos related to Baisikeli, they seem to have gotten into a problem with a Dutch company that claims they copied one of their cargo bike designs for a bike that is rented to businesses in Denmark for three years and then will be shipped and sold in Sierra Leone and Mozambique.

baisikeli copy of workcycles fr8 bike
The (apparent) Baisikeli copy of the Workcycles bike

I am sympathetic to the Workcycles complaint that "the unique frame geometry and structural elements have been copied to the millimeter, while about a dozen cosmetic changes have been made to dodge legal protection" but put off by the remark that "it also happens to be very crudely made, unlike our real Fr8." If the Baisikeli people could have gotten permission to use the design that would have been a better approach but one doubts that a bike built to the Workcycles standard would be useful for this business model in Africa for various cost-related reasons.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Complex Landscape of Bicycle Safety

My Google "news alert" for news items on the Internet about bicycles brings a strange collection of cycling safety-related items this morning.

A short article in the Economist takes the lesson from commuter cyclist Michael Wang's fatal accident in Seattle (actually, from three recent fatal cyclist acidents in the Seattle area) that, "with a very few exceptions, America is no place for cyclists" because it isn't safe - "dying while cycling is three to five times more likely in America than in Denmark, Germany or the Netherlands."

The article concludes that traffic calming, dedicated cycle tracks, and stop lights and traffic laws that favor cyclists work together to create a safer environment for cycling. Portland, Oregon is given credit for following this approach while Seattle flunks - "Nearly 6% of commuters bike to work in Portland, the highest proportion in America. But in five out of the past ten years there have been no cycling deaths there. In the nearby Seattle area, where cycling is popular but traffic calming is not, three cyclists have been killed in the past few weeks."

Meanwhile a Danish design award, in the category of "play," was given to the Hovding "airbag helmet," from Sweden. (I did a short blog post about this helmet earlier when it garnered attention for its unusual approach.) The designers of this "helmet" (that inflates on impact from a collar) won 100,000 Euros! The problem this "helmet" solves is that, "people would rather get hurt than mess up their hair." And a typical helmet may be "too sporty" for the rider's particular sense of style. The theory is that a significant number of these helmet-refuseniks will then buy these 500 dollar helmet-substitute collars (that appear to require recharging, among other issues). Some statistics related to head injuries and fatalities in western Europe are tossed in to support the need for this product. (For the same countries that the Economist says are safe.)

The Danish design committee seems completely at odds with the Dutch cyclists interviewed in this 2011 video who were asked about cycling and helmets - they seem to regard their everyday cycling as entirely safe, and most state they would refuse to wear helmets if required to (much less a rechargable helmet-like collar that costs as much as ten helmets). They are asked when they started cycling (typically, at age three-four), why they use a bicycle for transport (a not-very-surprising list, from "good for the environment" to "less expensive" etc.), how many days per week (typically five to seven), and "why don't you wear a helmet." The answers to this question are much more varied, but do include "because I look like crap" but also (my favorite) "because only Germans do that" and "it's safe without" and "it's very safe."

The last question is whether the person would wear a helmet if it became required by law in Holland - the typical answer is "no" with some explanations such as "you really don't need one" and "you (the typical cyclist) are not traveling very fast." One commented (after indicating she would follow the law) that "I don't think I would ride so often then." (The Australian doing the interview also asked if a Dutch cyclist, visiting Australia, would follow their helmet law - but the answers weren't so interesting to that one.)

This is a somewhat disjoint post, I realize - but then so is much of my thinking about this topic. No more disjoint than the reality of cycling safety, I suspect.