Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My big beef with Seattle's Sacred Cow

Seattle holds its hills to be sacred. Read some of the cycling blogs surrounding Seattle and you might mistake our hills to be some religious experience. Whether its how the hills here build character and calves or how the hills here "cull" the "less dedicated" (paraphrasing), how much our hills add to the wonder of the ride, etc... You'd think that just going up Roosevelt Ave. would raise you to a guru status among those slow steel riders.
If you so happen to suggest that the hills could be made accessible in a variety of ways to the less physically able, or the less financially-able-to-buy-ebikes you'll hear a chorus of shouts that the hills are just fine how they are, its the responsibility of the rider to make the hill accessible to them.

And that's fucking bullshit.

We don't tell people they all need to buy 4 wheel drive to go on the road, we don't even tell people they need to buy cars that pollute less. But its the responsibility of the person on the bike to shape the roads to them.

That's a load of malarkey.  Trondheim is the number 1 bicycle city in the world [citation needed] and, don't you know, its got some hills that would make a San Franciscan shudder. But that didn't stop them from becoming number 1, instead they did this:

There's a toll, but I would rather pay a toll than try to save up enough to buy an eBike, or watch some old lady push her bike up Densmore. You know what's really heartbreaking? Knowing that there's people who'd love to cycle (I talk to them ALL THE TIME) but can't because the hills of Seattle are that big of a barrier. And no one listens to them.

You can say you have all kinds of barriers to cycling, but if you bring up hills you'd better be prepared to suck that up. Cyclist here don't care if you have shrapnel buried in your leg and you still want to ride, suck it up buttercup, because they'd rather see you give up than do what it takes to make the city accessible for you. After all, you'd just be another one of those slow riders and anyone who rides here knows that you'll get as much scorn for riding under 15 mph as you did for riding with training wheels. 

But until Seattle lets go of its ridiculous pride, its hilarious sanctity for endurance, and its petty love of being better than others, it will never be a bicycle town

Because everyone who says our hills are a barrier to that is RIGHT and we need to stop telling them that they are wrong. Because we can do better, Trampe lifts are A solution, but there's many solutions we can look at without putting the onus first on the cyclist. 

Because the onus should never be there first. Its always on us, as a society, to make cycling accessible for all. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Challenge...declined actually

Another week has flown by and I (and other cyclists) only have 7 days left in our 30 Days of Biking Challenge. Most cyclists are already looking ahead to the next celebration/challenge/group event at this point are either planning their routes or plotting their courses. After all May is Bike Month and I'd be remiss not to mention Cascade's Bike Month Challenge in conjunction with Unlock Your City and anyone with two wheels and a saddle are welcome.
But I have to admit, myself, I'm a bit burned out already. Don't get me wrong, its been a joyful month of cycling, and I've had nothing but positive interactions with other 30DOB riders, whether on Twitter or in the frightening dimensions of the Real World. However, I sort of feel I've lost my spark, and riding just isn't helping that.

You would think all of these challenges and group rides would make me feel better, but they don't. In fact, they make me feel worse. Most of the events or challenges coming up have prizes for most miles logged, etc.. and that sort of thing has always made me feel like a failure before I've even tried. I only ever voluntarily participated in things growing up that gave out participant ribbons, so at least you could feel like a part of the event. My parents had me participate in sports, like most children, and I hated it, like many children. My team would always loose and have nothing to show for it. Before you tell me that I gained character or muscle or whatever, please keep in mind that shit means precisely zero to an undersized girl who was always being told various bullshit she put up with gave her character too, so why sweat for it? I hated grew to hate anything competitive because it would require me to be "mean" or at the very least less compassionate than I am naturally. Put it this way, back north the girls and I would have a night where we played cards and gossiped, and we all took turns winning. That meant we would often purposely 'throw' the game, but the point of the get together was not to show which of us was the best at cards, week after week, but to have fun with each other. If this meant the zombies occasionally ate me, I was fine with it.

Its why I loved the Coffeeneuring Challenge and the 30DOB challenge so much, the reward for both of these is the same for everyone who bikes. For Coffeeneurs its a patch, you don't get a special patch for being the most special cyclists, you get the same one as everyone else who participated that year, and instead of becoming a trophy it becomes a badge of inclusive honor. For 30DOB challengers they know that they got a child a bike, each one of us is just as important to 30DOB as the next. There is no special pledge for recumbent or uprights, each of us have equal value to the cause. 30DOB takes droplets and turns them into a storm.

I'm not the sort who goes in for random drawings either if you're wondering. I've never walked away from one feeling good about it, although because my name is never called in those cases I think that's an issue of behavioral training more than anything. At least in a video game I don't have to care how the drawing might affect someone else's feelings, at this point if I ever won a drawing I'd be upset because surely someone else more deserving should get it. And yes, I know drawings are not based on that. I think it perhaps harps on that particular mental thrum that is tuned to fairness.

I have NOTHING against organizations that award prizes, nor should anyone despise someone(s) trying out and giving it their best shot. In fact, if I could, I'd be on the sideline of every race, but of course, I'd be cheering on everyone. Like even the other fans. I'm just not competitive myself. I don't ride for the miles or to prove anything. At this point in my life, after over twenty years of cycling, I'm pretty sure I've cycled to the moon and back, and since that's the nearest celestial body I was done counting miles years ago. As to proving that I'm the best or just proving anything, well.... I don't need proof, I'm far from the best at like, literally anything, I already have proof of that. The last possible reason, is for fun, and I get my kicks other ways.

May is a great month to bike, to see the place you live, but you don't need a challenge to do it. I was riding my bike pretty much every day before 30DOB so I can assure you the only challenge you need to accept is your own. Though I encourage you to unlock your city, ride all month, and tackle whatever challenge comes your way, don't feel like you have to do every biking event. In fact, I think I may very much enjoy being a bystander this May, because sometimes its not about the challenge at all, sometimes, its just about how much you love what you love.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Its about the joy not the miles

Here we are, halfway through #30DaysofBiking and I'm just now getting to really post about it. That's probably because one of the challenges of bike challenges is getting out of the saddle long enough to actually write about what's happened/happening, and its easier to reflect on the saddle when you're in it rather than when you're out of it.

For someone like myself 30 Days of Biking could easily become "30 days of Frustration" or "30 days that I'd rather not" even though everyone* was shocked that I would sign up, "don't you bike every day already?" I was asked no less than fifty times. The answer to that is a simple "no, actually, I don't usually bike every day," because I'm not required to leave my home on my days off. In fact, most days off I prefer to be AT home, not that I'm a homebody at all, but I miss my cats and its only been recently that my dog has been willing to get back on the bike himself. Not to mention my husband bikes to work and back everyday, which means he's not at all enthused about another ride later so I have to do any rides before he makes it back. Moreover, sometimes my job means I'll be at a different site that it might not be practical to bike to (one site, I can't even find the bike parking, another is just too far even for me), so that means after taking the bus home I have to construct some reason to ride my bike, which I want to point out cuts into the time I spend with my beloved cats.

I was aware there would be issues going into the challenge, so I girded myself with a personal challenge: Make Every Ride Joyful. It didn't matter if I went a mile or just up and down the driveway (which I've done quite a bit because have you seen how darn cute my cats are?) or if I went to the mailbox, or down the street to buy some goods from my favorite medical dispensary. All that matters is that I am in the saddle and happy to be there. If I can just be, I can be happy. For a lot of cyclists the posts about miles rode, or obstacles cleared, can be daunting, but not me, I'm not in it to prove anything more than I really like cycling. As a result, I've been in the saddle at least once these past fifteen days, and I believe I'll be able to complete it.

I'm probably not the only one thinking of the kid who got a bike because I signed up. Is she short like me? Does she chafe at constraints and long for independence as I did? Does she like to stand on her saddle and ride the dragonfly like I did? (okay, still do) Or is she a racer, born and bred to fly with the wind? I wonder how old she is, if she had poor parents like mine, lots of siblings she takes by bike to places, or few siblings and many friends. I hope lots of friends.

But throughout this tread of thought I always smile, even if the girl has different hair, different skin, different background, it doesn't even matter if the hypothetical she is actually a he. That kid was just like me at that age. Any kid I see on a bike I think, "just like me," as I pedal onward, "just like me, they hate headwinds," or "just like me, longing for two wheels instead of four," even those kids on saddled scooters, a.k.a balance bikes, I think, "just like me, can't wait to be free,"

There aren't a lot of activities that make me feel that way about my fellow humans. I often feel disconnected to strangers ever since leaving my small-but-amazingly-cool hometown. Other people's kids are just that, Other People, emphasis on their disconnection to me and connection to others. But when I see a kid on a bike that changes. Suddenly, they could not be any more like me if they had been created from a 3-D printer. Suddenly, they are just like me, complete with a need for warriors to stand up for them. Okay, warrior is hyperbolic in terms of writing to your local representative about transit options, going to meetings, etc.. but you get my meaning I'm sure.

When its somebody else on a bike, recumbent, fixie, foldie, roadie, upright, fatbike, bakfist/cargo, or hybrid, they are like you. Even if they ride differently, they are like you. In the community of cyclist we run the gambit of the Kilometer Queens and Lycra Kings, to the box store biker who got their ride with their last hundred bucks. We don't always agree on things like lights, to what gear to wear, and oh my gosh you want to see a community turn on itself like piranhas? Bring up helmets. I dare you. I mean respectfully bring it up, the crazy will happen on its own. Or headphones. Now that debate will spark some ire everywhere (I'm on the pro-headphones-at-a-volume-you-can-hear-others-at camp, which is very small and scrappy). The same cyclist who cries in vehement agreement when you bring up bike racks will turn into a troll when you bring up shedding that reflective vest. Yet, all of us, from the handkerchief-on-the-ankles to the gel gobbling racer are really and truly the same folks. We may vary in how we ride, or why we ride, frequency, models, shape, age, and gender, but we are a community unlike the motorist.

We are the same because we made that choice. We didn't get into our cars today (if we had them), we didn't walk if we were able, we didn't bus though that was, and always should be an option. We bought a vehicle, deliberately, and the vehicle needs us to be its engine. You chose to be a cyclist, which is a conscious choice in this country.

Perhaps someday biking will be as ubiquitous as car ownership, perhaps someday motorists will have to hold 30 days of driving. Perhaps, one day, 30 days of biking will turn into another challenge, driven by the common nature of biking. I'd like to live in that world. Where ever kid is just like me at that age, where biking is the norm, where we are all just the same and find joy at last in our differences (probably the only way I'll ever look forward to a lumin debate). Until we are all cyclists you'll just have to accept that when I see you on the street I'll smile, and attempt to wave or ring my bell to say 'hello friend!' because we are so few I that would not have even one of us discouraged.

Ride how you want to ride, my friend, whether that means the wind in your hair and stories in your ears, or all lights on and, yes orange! on your chest. Don't let someone else's opinion keep you from what makes you a confident cyclist. Sure I say orange is for convicts not cyclist, but what does your heart and mind tell you? Ride how you want to ride my friend, but don't discourage your other riders. Let them proclaim their love, discuss respectfully if you disagree, and in the end if you can't agree on the topic, at least finish it by agreeing on the fact you both love to cycle.      

Study after study concludes the more cyclists there are, the safer all cyclists are, so please, do me, and yourself a favor; don't forget the joy in your ride, don't take the joy away from others. And, above all, get on your bike and ride, because that, if nothing else, will make a safer world for a child.

Isn't that alone worth riding for?

*everyone being every person I know who doesn't have a bike or doesn't bike as often.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Riding like we did when we were kids

     Oh my, so much to catch up on! First cycling with my childhood friend on the streets of Shoreline, and my time in the human cage known as a car, then the wedding (pictures! Eventually!), and of course, beginning my first year of 30 Days of Biking. No more news on the LINK rail yet, but if you've attended one of the recent meetings in Shoreline I'd love to link to your post about it.
    When we were kids my friend Susie was just a kid I babysat, then a cooler-than-average-kid I baby sat. When we became adults we found we had so much in common, and continue to this day. She flew down, which shows just how much she cares since flying ranks higher than going to the dentist in things Susie hates. Of course I had to push the limit by getting her back on a bike. We used to bike as kids, we biked everywhere, because there was no way I was going to walk with all of those kids, and also I wasn't going to carry anyone older than three.
   She was so nervous, probably because I made her wear a helmet. We didn't grow up wearing helmets in Alaska, and it sort of gave her the impression that it might be dangerous, after all they wouldn't tell us to wear helmets here unless it was dangerous here, right? She giggled when I went over signaling, and proper strap wear. I set her on Pinkie Pie, who is a stable upright stead, the equivalent of a gentle mare to help her get back in the swing. I pointed out they wouldn't have the expression "like riding a bicycle," if it was something you could forget. We set off for the mall and before we got to the next street she was terrified. I turned us off Meridian N to 162nd, it leads to 1st eventually, but through a suburban neighborhood rather than the main road.
    She explained she really couldn't go any further, biking next to cars was terrifying for her, she was a mom and couldn't risk her life like that. She couldn't see how I did it. I begged her not to give up, and picked a closer destination, the Dollar Store (this is a novel treat for Alaskans) and turned her toward the Interurban trail. She had to push her bike up Densmore, complaining all the while how out of shape she was, I had to resist the urge to mock her for using a truck. Its not fair, but it biking in Alaska is not for the faint of heart. Furthermore, as a mom she had limited time, but she spoke with real desire to bike with her son over the summer. She flinched every time a car passed until we got to the trail.

 The first shot is her on the streets, the second and last on the trail 
I look and I can barely tell its her and not myself. There's a few differences, but it looks a lot like I did years ago. Helps she's wearing my flannel, helmet, and kerchiefs, but that grimace? Yep, that was my own bike-face years ago. Really not even that long ago. I was not a confident cyclist when I came here, and it took a lot for me to have the courage to take the lane. I'm not really all that confident either, but I feel that way with a real beginner to 'vehicular cycling,' which is bike speak for 'riding next to cars with no protection like you are a car' and is not for those with poor nerves. Susie felt better on the trail, but not much better on the greenway. When I asked why she pointed, "The cars are still right there!" and that there was nothing to stop them from entering the greenway. Nothing, but the law.
I assured her we were fine, and we rode onward, completing our journey, shopping, and of course, gossiping. We had a cigarette before we took off, snickering that while we were dumb for smoking we weren't as dumb as the guy smoking next to the propane tanks. On our way back she marveled I hadn't given up the habit. I wish I could turn up one eyebrow like my grandfather, because I totally would have as I replied, "lung resistance training,*" and waited for her at the top of the hill leading back to the trail. At the top I assured her I would seek healthier habits if she did, and we laughed hard enough to need to catch our breath.
I wished we had more time, that the ride was longer. That we still rode together. Compared to other cyclists I'm practically a fair-weather type. If I'm not feeling physically up for it due to a myriad of conditions, I don't (this has presented a challenge in feeling the 'joy' in 30 days of cycling, but more on that later). But in the eyes of my friends, my family, and my coworkers, I'm so hard core I could do the Tour de France. This is because many of my friends don't cycle at all, my family that does bike uses motorcycles, and my coworkers can only vaguely recall the last time they rode. Moreover, I look fairly healthy enough, so to them I'm perpetuating a stereotypical cyclist; young, fit, white, and a "special" bike, and confident in her abilities.
But I'm not a stereotypical cyclist. For one thing, I'm only half white at best. I'm not that confident. At least, not when I ride alone. When I'm with someone else I'm totally confident, the more people, the more confident I am. I'm practically Wonder Woman on a group ride. I sound confident, but when I'm alone, I'm not. I'm so scared I'll get hit and there will be no one to call for help. I'm scared the person who hit me won't even know they did so, and I'll be a ghost bike. I'm scared I'll die in the saddle and Ben will never ride again because he won't be able to look at a bike again. That he'll buy a car and forget it ever made him happy too. I'm afraid of others, who, if I died biking, would never take it back up, or begin at all because it is too dangerous.
My bike isn't special. Okay, no that's a lie, my bike is special, its so special it had to be in my wedding somehow because I love it so much, but that's all that really makes it special. There are hundreds of folding bikes out there (hopefully not a hyperbole) and many that I know have more gears than Scamper, many made with carbon or titanium, many can carry more pounds and many are built to be faster. And most cost far far more than Scamper. A basic model of folding bike, with the basic number of gears. It is in fact a rather humble appearing bike if you know techs and specs, and let's face it, not even that many in the cycling community would know offhand Scamper wasn't a top teir kind of folding bike.
Its these things that make me the truly stereotypical cyclist; young, nervous, cheap bike, This is what the cycling community sees as the typical cyclist. The middle aged men in lycra, and the young racers? That's what the outside sees as the typical cyclist.
The only thing that makes me really stand out is not owning a car or having a licence, which most cyclist do, even the ones you can't peel out of their spandex.
A lot of progress has been made in changing how we cyclists are seen, even as we cyclists change. We move from being children just gaining independence, to adults who bike for so many reasons. I've gone from a traffic avoiding rider to someone who rides beside cars with no more protection that a stripe of paint, if that at all. Am I scared? Yes. Do I want better? Absolutely. Because I know now that I should have never changed, I should have stayed scared like Susie and the infrastructure should have been built with us in mind, instead of forever putting us in some subgroup whose needs must be "special interest" instead of perhaps the most non-partisan issue ever.
I hope Susie rides more, but I'm not going back North anytime soon to ride with her. But the Interurban is just a little more special for me in the meantime, its a place we rode together, and, just for old time's sake, I did the 'ol drangonfly maneuver, where we laughed, and, just for a moment, I could feel the girls we were riding with us.

That's all for now (surely you didn't think I'd be able to cram all that in the intro into one post? Dude, tl; dr) In the meantime, if you're going to make the pledge do so now, its closing soon!!!!

*a quote from Sister Sprocket from the Kickstand Comics