If Cycling is the New Golf, E-Bikes are the Handicap

shimano-electric-assistImage – Shimano

One of the reasons that golf is so popular in business is that people of different abilities can play together. It’s also a good game for socializing because there is a lot of time to chat during the game. I’m not a golfer so what I’m going to write here may be way off, but the whole idea of the handicap is that you can have people of differing abilities play the same round and then compare scores afterwards. So, for business it’s the great equalizer. Could you imagine people going swimming together? ‘Hey Bill – what do you say we race each other over 400 meters and then talk about the Westco project?’. It’s not going to happen. Or – ‘Steve & Jane – want to play some 2 on 2 hoops?’. Well if the last time Steve and Jane picked up a basketball was at age 13 when they played a game of HORSE, there is no way that 2 on 2 game is going to be any fun for either side if they are playing some ex-college basketball players.

For the brief time that I was in Sales I quickly realized what a disadvantage it was not to be a golfer. If money is the engine of capitalism, golf is clearly the lubricant. A few years ago, the phrase, ‘Cycling is the new golf’ became popular around some corners of Silicon Valley – well not my corner of the stagnant semiconductor capital equipment industry – but certainly among the social media/killer app/Sand Hill crowd. I still never got this because the difference in endurance between someone who rides a bike once a month and someone who rides 2-3 times a week can be quite stark. I just can’t see the casual cyclist (dare I say Fred?) hitting the Portola Loop and climbing Old La Honda with a Cat 3 leg shaver. Fred’s going to get dropped on the first Strava climbing segment that is over 1/10 of a mile.

But the other day it dawned on me – the e-bike is the great equalizer – to use a golfing term – the handicap – that allows people of varying ability to participate in the same event. Now all we need is a good way to express that handicap. Is it the number of watts your e-bike puts out? Maybe you add your bike wattage to your actual wattage? Or take this number and divide by your weight so you could have a power to weight handicap?transformer-electric-bicycle-black-b2-blk-zzzzzby-color-black-e65_grande

Image – Genesis

Still the e-bike analogy seems pretty weak. Even a noob golfer must swing the club (actually a bunch more times than a good golfer), still must walk the whole course (or ride in the same cart) but the e-bike rider can’t feel the same satisfaction as the ‘traditional’ rider, can he? If you keep up with the group on your e-bike it’s not because you earned it, right? You just paid to keep up just like you had called Uber for a lift. Just like anyone, I hate getting dropped but it builds toughness – I don’t know if there is anything more humbling that I experience on a regular basis than getting back to the coffee shop 10 minutes after my buddies.

As humbling as getting dropped can be, it makes me want to work harder and it reminds me that there is ALWAYS someone better out there. Plus, isn’t toughness one of the attributes we want to get out of our athletic pursuits? If that novice golfer had a battery-powered exoskeleton that allowed her to swing more consistently and strike the ball harder would that be allowed on the golf course? Why do we think a motorized bike is OK but not a motor-assist for the folks lifting at the gym?

I don’t have a problem with folks using e-bikes out on the road. If it gets them out there that’s fine. If it allows them to commute, ditch the car and reduce pollution that’s even better. But if you’re in a competitive group ride (whether it’s a loop with your buddies or on a Century) be honest that you are on an e-bike – don’t try to disguise it. If you’re happy that’s great – just be willing to talk about your handicap just like the golfers.

Now that I’ve said all that – don’t even get me started on mountain bikes with electric motors. I don’t care what you call them or what rationalizations you come up with – they are motorized bikes and please keep them off trails that are designated for human power only.

Terrifying Two

I’ve had bike commutes from 6 to 20 miles before moving to Utah – some on narrow mountain roads around Santa Cruz and some on busy Silicon Valley streets both with and without bike lanes. I’ve ridden after dark on narrow 2 lane roads and some of my best memories are the ride back from Watsonville to Santa Cruz at 7 or 8 pm in the Winter with just a few cars on the road and a bit of a chill in the air. Larkin Valley on a crisp winter morning is particularly memorable. Even commuting this narrow road late at night wasn’t scary since the traffic was light and with my bright lights on I was probably more visible than in daylight. Plus I always assume drivers thought I was a bit deranged and gave me just a bit more room.

Larkin Valley serenity

Larkin Valley Morning

I’ve ridden busy Silicon Valley roads mostly with bike lanes but some without. Some drivers seemed unconcerned with my safety and drove too closely or pulled out in front of me but mostly I felt fairly safe. I think the reasonably large number of cyclists was a constant reminder to drivers that we were out there and although they might not have liked us they figured they had to accommodate us.

So I’m fairly comfortable around cars in a variety of conditions. But I still surprise myself with the level of trepidation I feel every time I do my 2 mile commute to work. I finally understand the fear that others feel when riding in an unwelcoming environment. I also realize the importance of numbers – just having more bike riders on the road makes us all more visible and I think drivers pay a bit more attention.

 

2016-06-22 08.32.46

6+ Lanes Crossing under the Interstate

The main road to work is a 6 lane feeder to Interstate 15. There is a bike lane but speeds on the road are 40-50 mph and I’m just one lone kook in the way. In California, I felt like drivers actually acknowledged me and acted with some sense of caution. In suburban SLC, I feel like I’ve gone back 20 years where car drivers have all the rights and cyclists just need to stay out of the way.

Just past the highway overpass shown above is an exit ramp from the Interstate. Those lucky drivers have their own lane coming onto my road but that is right where I have to move right to re-claim my bike lane. I’ll slow down in my lane before getting to the ramp then signal right – sometimes people give me a break and sometimes they don’t. Then the next issue is the disappearing bike lane below (ironically right after the ‘Right Lane, Bikes Only’ sign where my bike lane disappears into a right turn lane right where the right-hand car lane behind me disappears at the same time. I’m not really clear what the message on the sign means since the right turn lane is clearly meant for cars. So I have the occasional idiot using the disappearing lane to pass drivers in the middle lane all the while my bike lane is being consumed by a right turn lane. So I carefully take the lane while signalling and just hoping people look up from their phones long enough to see me. Once I make the right turn I do a quick u-turn so I can use the traffic light to cross my busy road. The thought of using the left turn lane in this direction of travel would be suicide. So then I get to sit at the light for a minute or 2 and count the red light runners – there are always a couple.

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The old disappearing bike lane trick

So that’s it. Literally not even a 2 mile commute but it’s a hairy one.

In defense of Utah government, I do have to say that one of the pleasant surprises moving here is the large number of bike lanes on arterial roads and the seeming willingness to include them on new construction. However, as regular riders everywhere know, we rarely have continuous bike lanes and mixing uses on very busy roads is off-putting to many. A separated bike lane would go a long way towards encouraging others to get on a bike to commute and run errands. As the roads are today, the barrier is pretty high for many people – thus the low participation rates in Utah compared to California.

 

Somewhere New to be Annoyed

hillbillies

I’ve lived in California for over 30 years except for a 2 year stint in the West of England and now I find myself moving to the Salt Lake City area. I’m curious what I’ll find there for commuting cyclists. There seem to be a few long distance bike paths and a fair amount of bike lanes especially in the newer developments so I get the feeling that the folks in Utah are investing in some bicycle infrastructure as they expand. As a mountain biker I’m pretty well covered. I’m stoked to see quite a few trails in Corner Canyon just east of Draper very close to where I’ll be working. And of course, Park City is renowned for some 400 miles of trails and just a few hours south are Moab, Fruita and other destinations for mountain bikers.

Along the Wasatch Front, there is an Amtrak service as well as light rail that seem to run fairly frequently so that will give me some options for getting around. Still, I don’t see any dedicated bike/ped crossings over Interstate 15 in the Draper area so getting across may be challenging as the interchanges crossing I-15 are wide and very high speed.

Have you lived in Utah? Any comments on how cycling will compare to the Bay Area are appreciated.

When Seconds Count

use full lane get over it

awesome sign courtesy of http://cyclingsavvy.org/hows-my-driving/

Riding through downtown Mountain View the other night I had an encounter with an aggressive motorist who just couldn’t lose a few seconds behind me. I was ‘taking the lane’. It’s an expression that many of us cyclists know but I would wager that only a small percentage of dedicated motorists have heard. I started midway through one block as the road narrowed due to parked cars on either side. I signaled as I moved over and when he came up behind me at the first stop sign he honked a couple times. When I didn’t move over after leaving the stop sign he laid on the horn continuously. So at the next stop sign I put my bike down in the middle of the street and walked back to his car (yeah I’m one of those guys without a kickstand). His window was open so I yelled ‘The law says bikes have the right to the full lane’. His incredulous response, ‘The whole lane?’. ‘Yes – the whole lane – read about it’. I then walked back to my bike, picked it up and rode the 20 feet to my destination. His parting words, yelled through the window – I kid you not – ‘Share the Road’.

So it’s been a couple of days now and I can’t help thinking about this. Mostly drivers aren’t that aggressive around here. I get clueless drivers, distracted drivers, but rarely threatening drivers. When someone is honking at you just a few feet behind your bike you can’t help but think that the next step the driver will take is to push you aside. If you drive a car please understand this.

Besides the obvious threat to me, I was riding in a fairly dense urban area where pedestrians are constantly crossing in the middle of the block and I would guess the average speed of a car is only 10-15 mph due to all the starts and stops. So even if he got past me he would be stuck behind another car at the next stop sign and I’d probably be riding HIS bumper for the next few blocks.

Here’s a street view shot of the stop sign where our ‘discussion’ took place. The blocks are about 100 yards long and at 7 in the evening there are cars parked in every available spot – sort of like you see here. It’s a 4-way stop sign so everyone should wait his turn and in the next block is a stop light where he will likely get caught again.

Villa streetview

So I have to wonder – How much time would this driver have saved if I hadn’t been ‘in the way’? This line of thought lead immediately to the realization that he didn’t care. He was doing something important and I was on a BIKE so I must not be doing anything as urgent. He owns a car to GET FROM POINT A TO POINT B AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE and I was interfering with his plan. So my not-very-fast-moving brain then thought, ‘I wonder if a sign could fix this?’. We’ve all seen the ‘Share the Road’ signs

share

And we see the occasional ‘Bikes May Use Full Lane Sign’ like this

Use full lane

However I realize that the problem with the sign above is that it implies to many motorists that it is an exception that applies only where the sign in posted. If they don’t know the law, how would they know that bikes are allowed to use the full lane when the cyclist deems it to be the safest option?

So my little brain then said ‘Maybe we need a new kind of sign posted at various places around the city’

That sign would look like this

full lane everywhere

A Few More Definitions for Cyclists



Chain: Archaic method for connecting the cranks and rear wheel of a bike to provide forward motion. Dirty and greasy and the subject of continual efforts for at least 100 years to find a better alternative. Yet chains continue to combine the benefits of low cost, efficiency and relatively good reliability and have kept most ‘improvements’ at bay – at least until the ‘string drive’ came along

2015-04-18 11.07.13

salsa vest

Vest (gilet in the UK): Probably the most useful piece of clothing to own. Keeps your core warm without getting your arms too sweaty as when wearing a jacket. Can regulate your temperature with the simple movement of the zipper in temps from 45-65F.

High-vis: The popular bright lime green color worn by middle-aged cycling club members and others who want to survive on the road even if it means derision by the roadies wearing all black.

carbon

Carbon fiber: Woven high-strength material infused with resin that lightens your bike and wallet at the same time.

Kickstand: Controversial piece of hardware attached to the bike that keeps the bike from falling over when parked. Most won’t work on high-end bikes because the attachment method can crush carbon or thin-wall metal tubing. Enthusiast cyclists wouldn’t use one anyway since it is a feature similar to high-vis clothing and a dividing line between ‘racers’ and everyone else.

Fenders (mudguards in the UK): Useful piece of kit that covers the wheel reducing the amount of water spray that hits the rider. Another item that serious riders disdain unless it’s the minimalist version (such as SKS Raceblades) that can be used during training but never in a race where there is a shared joy in suffering.

Use full lane

Share the Lane sign: Cyclists think: ‘I can use the lane’. Motorists think: ‘Those bikes better get out of my way’. The more modern sign ‘Bike may use full lane’ is becoming more prevalent.

Velominati: Keepers of ‘The Rules’. 95 somewhat tongue-in-cheek rules on how to be a ‘legit’ cyclist. It gets superfluous after Rule #5 which is ‘Harden the F*** Up’. How can you talk about acceptable clothing colors, tire colors, tan lines and the like if you believe in HTFU?

Driver’s Ed: Class where motorists can learn such useful phrases as:
– ‘I didn’t see him’
– ‘She came out of nowhere’
– ‘Those bikes go too fast’
– ‘Those bikes go too slow’


Singletrack trail: Narrow trails that mountain bikers long for. Typically 4 feet wide in California and 1 foot in Idaho


Right turn hand signal: The old-school way of signaling a right turn is by using the left arm and pointing it up like you’re asking a question. Made sense in cars about 60 years ago before turn signals but makes no sense for bikes since cyclists can just indicate with their right arm. No idea why we still give cyclists this option since the only car drivers who understand this archaic signal are probably too old to be driving anyway.