When Athletes Commute by Bike

I commute by bike when I can, and blog about it sometimes. Lately I’ve seen a neat trend: celebrities talking about transportation. Not long ago, Brad Pitt was on The Daily Show, and someone pull-quoted this gem from him:

After looking at this (exhaustive) page of celebrities on bikes, it seems he isn’t the only one. But a lot of those look more like weekend cruises than commutes. Yes, but! Look at LeBron James:

LeBron James biking to work. Photo credit: @jacknruth

King James is jamming in traffic, on the way to work. Just like a regular guy! (Except for $16 million difference in our salaries, I mean.)

But that ain’t all, sports fans. Turns out that in 2008, at least, a large number of pitchers for the Baltimore Orioles were commuting by bike: “At last count, the cyclists include Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, Aubrey Huff, Brian Burres, Garrett Olson and Lance Cormier.”

The original story in the Baltimore Sun is unavailable, but coverage in Streetsblog said that Guthrie rode to Camden Yards six days a week during long home-stands (on Sundays his wife dropped him off after church). His comment:

“There are some side benefits,” Guthrie said. “It’s the overall idea of being outside and exercising instead of driving. I hate cars, I hate driving, I hate doing something I don’t have to do. For me to drive downtown is a waste of gas; it’s a waste of my time. I can ride faster than I can drive.”

I can’t ride faster than I drive, but I do like the idea of having healthy legs.

A Humble Suggestion to Improve Beaverton Transit Center

Trimet opened a brand-spanking-new bike facility at the Beaverton Transit Center yesterday. Plenty of the local mandarins turned out and speechified, and for good reason. It’s a nice-looking facility, with lots of secure, covered parking for bikes that requires a card for entry. There’s even a bike repair stand, some basic tools, and an air pump. The Westside Transportation Alliance toured it with an representative from Trimet:

I have two problems with this set-up. First, I’m not sure it’s necessary, and it’s definitely not what cyclists want.

In a post at BikePortland.org, Jonathon Maus talked to TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane about the project: “There’s only so much space on the [rail] cars, no matter how many hooks we put on there,” McFarlane said. “If we’re really going to have a lot of cycling access to the MAX system we need to have a different way to solve the problem.”

By a different way, Trimet means the way they prefer. Just last month, Maus summarized results from a large study in Los Angeles that concluded,

Survey respondents overwhelmingly said that being allowed to take their bike on the train influenced their decision to travel by bike and rail. Of the 477 people who responded to the question, 65 percent chose “allowed to take bike on train” as a factor that influenced their decision. (my emphasis)

Trimet could not have known about those survey results before breaking ground on its two-bike and-ride facilities (there’s another in Gresham). But they actually did their own survey in 2008, one which produced even more definitive results:

more than three-quarters (76%) cited that they needed their bike to reach their destination, and indicated that they were not willing to use secure bike parking at their boarding station instead of bringing their bike onboard. (my emphasis)

I like that Trimet surveyed cyclists like me, but it’s discouraging to give them such a overwhelming mandate to let us take our bikes on trains, only to see them ignored because limitations they describe only a few paragraphs later:

However, several factors constrain expanding existing space dedicated to bikes onboard trains. The principal constraint is the space required to serve the growing number of passengers at peak hours.

To recap: more than three quarters of cyclists told Trimet they would prefer to take their bikes on the trains, and Trimet responded by … building an expensive facility to encourage people not to take their bikes on trains.

My second problem is that the station is still poorly designed for cyclists and pedestrians. Let’s consider a use case of a cyclist wanting to take his train on the MAX to head eastbound, where downtown and Portland State University are. First, the cyclist must walk his bike on the platform:

I don’t dispute the rationale for this. If I were a pedestrian, I wouldn’t want to be broadsided by a cyclist. But once the cyclist has dismounted, what’s the next step? He needs a ticket. Here’s the problem: for all eastbound trains, the ticket machine is at the far end of the platform.

The eastbound Blue Line track at Beaverton Transit Center. Note the ticket machine on the far left (with the blue and white signs on it), far from where cyclists and pedestrians enter the station. The machine for the eastbound red line train is also at the far end of the platform.

For every cyclist that needs a ticket for the eastbound MAX, they need to walk their bike the entire platform to buy one. Every pedestrian entering the station that needs a ticket to head eastbound needs to cross the platform, too. Now look at a map of the transit center:

The center is only accessible by Lombard Ave (unless you walk behind stores in an adjacent shopping center). So almost all the pedestrian and cycle access to the station–including people using the new bike park and ride–comes from the west, yet the ticket machines are on the east.

This seems like a small issue, until you multiply it. For me, it’s the same problem, multiple times a week. And I’m far from the only one using the station. In the video above, Trimet’s Colin Maher said that Beaverton Transit Center is the system’s busiest, with 18,500 MAX boardings each weekday, and 12% of those are cyclists. Unless my math is incorrect, that’s 2,220 cyclists who have to struggle every day with a poorly designed train platform.

Here’s my suggestion: Trimet, you spent $275,000 to build this facility, yet the positioning of your ticket machines is backwards. Please move at least one of them to the other side of the platform, the one where people actually enter the station.

Vegetables and Bicycles: The Red Menace

With the exception of a few oddball blog posts, I would call myself a fairly normal person. I work, I raise my kids. I enjoy books and movies.

At Christmas we enjoyed watching “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but I was distressed to find out later that according to the FBI, it’s a bunch of communist propaganda. One of its memos complained, “this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.”

George Bailey, suspected communist.

When I’m not being brainwashed by agitprop, I exercise by riding my bike and going to the gym. I try to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Apparently that also makes me a pinko. A red. A foot soldier in the coming socialist revolution. You think I’m exaggerating, don’t you? Think again, comrade friend.

When Rob Ford was sworn in as mayor of Toronto (despite various controversies including a DUI, and a sleazy social media campaign, and calling cyclists “a pain in the ass” and saying when they get killed “it’s their own fault“), he did a classy thing by having Don Cherry come and speak.

Don Cherry wore that pink suit, saying, “I’m wearing pinko for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything.” (Okay, maybe Ford is not so classy.)

Oh, we’re pinkos! I was badly misinformed, because I thought capitalists preferred the market to take care of things. You know, like the highway system:

(Er, wait. That is a big government program.) Well, never mind. Anyhow, the point is, if you use those socialist roads for anything other than cars, you’re a pinko.

Also, eating healthy food is bad. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sued the federal government for its health care initiative (remember: health care=bad; roads=good), because … uh … why was that, Ken?

if we cross this line with health care now—this unconstitutional line—where the government can force us to buy a private product and say it’s for our own good, then we’ll have given the government the power to force us to buy other products: cars, gym memberships, asparagus. The list goes on.

Oh, right. Asparagus. LA Fitness. Priuses. Balsamic vinegar. Mandatory subscriptions to Men’s Fitness. And that’s just not the Rush Limbaugh/Rob Ford/Don Cherry way, especially since it’s doubtful any of them could even fit in a Prius.

But Ken isn’t the only one keen to the left’s crypto-vegetarian agenda. Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia is onto them, too:

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said people in America are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. They want to give all the power to the federal government to force you to eat more fruits and vegetables. … This is socialism of the highest order!

Writing in Slate, Dahlia Lithwick lampooned “The dreaded broccoli uprising and other freaky GOP nightmares,” but noted that “a goodly amount of the conservative complaints about healthy food are thinly veiled slurs on women in general and Michelle Obama in particular.”

Despite the clear and present danger, I’m just going ride my bike, watch my subversive leftist Hollywood movies, and eat my broccoli. I might also write a couple of postcards to Ken Cuccinelli and Paul Broun.

The message? The asparagus is coming for you.

Bike Videos that Make Me Deliriously Happy

When Daylight Savings Time clamps down on us Sunday, it’ll be the end of my bike commuting for a while (since I’m leery of riding in the dark). But while my bike sits in the garage, I’ll be watching these videos to keep my spirits up.

The first one has the lamest title ever, “Lady on bike.” Which makes me wonder, did the person who posted this actually watch what she does on the bike? Anyhow,  It’s balletic, and plenty of times you’ll catch yourself going, how does she do that?

The second one has a much better title: Awesome Senegalese bike tricks! This is not overstating it. And his tricks are totally different than hers. Not only is this guy mad talented on his bike, there are people playing groovy music live while he rides around. So the music’s good, and it’s clear these folks know how to have a good time, but what’s also neat is that it’s like he’s dancing to the music. On his bike. Okay enough rambling, just watch it:

Last, Danny MacAskill. 21 million people have seen this video, because it’s mind-blowing. Yeah, I know, I’ve gone from “how does she do that” to “this guy is mad talented” to … but even if hyperbole fails me, Danny won’t. If you haven’t seen what MacAskill can do on a bike, prepare to have your jaw fall off.

The Cyclist Who Waved at Trains

I was riding my bike home from work last night when I reached a railroad crossing, where WES was crossing.

(Wes reminds me a little of Daisy, from the Thomas the Tank Engine series.)

Anyhow, as I roll up to the railroad crossing, there’s a cyclist in front of me. And as WES rolls by, he waves.

It did not occur to me to wave. Then again, I wasn’t all the way to the intersection, and I had been in the saddle for 45 minutes, so I was more occupied with trying to keep my tongue from lolling out. But traffic was still stopped when I arrived, so I asked the cyclist if anyone waved back.

“I can’t see through the reflection on the windows,” he said. “But it seemed the friendly thing to do.”


He and I rode together, which means he rode and I slogged behind him. I noticed that for a guy who’s friendly to train passengers, he practiced the Idaho stop, even at intersections where, you know, the car to the side was there first.

I caught up to him at a large intersection, where he struck up a conversation, and asked directions. I rode with him a little more to lead him through a neighborhood, and then we parted ways.

When I got home, I kept thinking about him waving, and his comment about “the friendly thing to do.”

It was a friendly thing, but I couldn’t help thinking none of this would have happened if we weren’t on bikes.

I doubt motorists would wave. Not because they’re all unfriendly, but for the same reason the cyclist couldn’t see the train passengers’ reaction to his behavior — because of the reflection. And because motorists don’t usually wave to each other.

Plus, the only way that he and I ever have a conversation is if we’re on bikes. People in cars in cities don’t strike up conversations, and rarely ask directions of other motorists.

Which is another way of pointing out a fundamental difference between bikes and cars. In a car, you’re surrounded by glass and steel–walled off, as it were. On a bike, you’re in the environment. You feel the air (and unfortunately, the rain), you feel the slope of the ground and the bumps in the road … and you can talk to other cyclists.

PS – The blog title kinda sounds like a parody of a Stieg Larsson book, doesn’t it?

Cool Animation About Idaho Stop Law

Back in April, when the Oregon legislature was discussing the Idaho Stop Law, I somehow missed a Bike Portland blog post featuring this nifty animation about bikes and the stop law.

One thing I really like is how it points out the difference in power generated by a cyclist vs. the amount generated by a car. After you’ve seen the video, think about all the “traffic calming”–such as speed bumps–that has to be done because cars are so overpowered.


Fulminating against the Local Fish Wrap

The Oregonian, Portland’s big daily paper, laid an egg the other day when covering a proposed change to Oregon traffic law regarding cyclists. It’s so bad, in fact, you can’t even grasp the subtleties of the proposal. (BikePortland does a much better job.)

I was so disgusted at the newspaper’s coverage, I posted a response on the O’s public blog. If you have a minute, wander over there and add a supporting comment, eh? (Login required. It’s free.)

Bikes are Better than Cars: Reason Umpteen

So there I was on the way to work, sawing away in the bike lane. I was passing some bushy trees (or tree-ey bushes), and dangling from one of them was a plastic Safeway bag. Ahh! The scourge of plastic bags!

The bag was all billowed out in the morning breeze, and at about shoulder level. But what the heck was it doing in a tree? Not good. So, while still cruising along at 15 mph, I reached out my right hand and snagged it. Then, without even slowing down, I stuffed it in the bottle holder pouch in my backpack.

Yes yes, I know I’m a treehugger and all that. But just try doing what I did while driving your car!

Fuji Suncrest, 1987 – 2008

Fuji Suncrest, 21, Beaverton, died Oct. 28 of acute frame fracture.

A remembrance will be held tonight, after dinner, over a few beers.

The Fuji was first in the possession of a bicycle shop owner in Watsonville, Calif., where he used it as a high-end mountain bike.

In 1989 the shop owner sold it to a college student, who used it as a mountain bike and as an all-purpose commuter. The student added a Blackburn rack to the bike, and rode it continually from 1989 until 1992, in place of a car. Much of this commuting was on the UC Santa Cruz campus, and some of it consisted of, arguably, one of the best 3-mile commutes in the world: down West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, Calif.

ATIS547, via Flickr

West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, Calif. Credit: ATIS547, via Flickr

The bike was a stalwart companion, despite impressive misuse including mountain bike crashes such as one at 25 mph, and a spectacular one off a bridge into a river.  On more than one occasion, the bike carried the student and his friend home on the rear rack, when his friend was too drunk to see straight.

In 1992 the Fuji moved to San Francisco and then to Palo Alto, where it served as a light-duty commuter and weekend mountain bike.

From 1996 until 2000, also known as The Dark Years, the Fuji sat mostly dormant in a garage in Oklahoma City, an inhospitable city for bicycling.

In 2000 the bike moved back to Santa Rosa, Calif., where it was fitted with slicks and served as a short-duty commuter.

In 2004 the bike moved to Beaverton, Ore., and in 2006 began a second era of bike commuting. The commuting started out as relatively short-hop: a 3-mile ride to the train station, then a 1.6 mile ride in downtown Portland. For close to two years the bike humbly and safely conveyed the same owner on commutes and trips around town, even as he added clipped pedals and fenders (a necessity in a city as rainy as Portland), and the seat post clamp wore out, the rear axle failed, and the bottom bracket broke.

By this time the bicycle was older than some of the mechanics that worked on it. Yet these mechanics never looked contemptuously at the bike. Instead, they typically nodded, impressed at the durability of the grizzled old warrior.

In the summer of 2008, when gas prices rose and Johnny-come-lately bike commuters flooded the trains, the owner began riding the Fuji the entire trip between home and work. Once again, despite being heavy and old, the Fuji performed without complaint, even as more of its components started to fail.

On October 27 in the evening, the bike conveyed the owner the entire 13 miles from work to home, carrying him along a rough path buckled by tree roots that runs down the Willamette River, across the carved-up pavement in the Corbett-Terwilliger area, up steep hills west of the river, and out through West Portland and Beaverton, a trip that includes two wooden bridges and numerous speed bumps.

The next morning, after a ride into work on a cool autumn morning, a fracture was discovered in the chain stay, near the rear derailleur.

The bike will be donated to the Community Cycling Center, for parts.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you take good care of your own bicycle.

How to Improve Your Commute

I commute to work by bike two to three times a week. After a couple of years of relying on the MAX (Portland’s light-rail system) for part of the miles, this past summer I started getting adventurous, and riding the whole way. With the help of the Bike There! map, I plotted a route, refined it a couple of times, and then I was off.

While there are all kinds of advantages to riding to work (fitness, happiness, saving money on gas, polluting less), I brought my camera along last week to show the two best parts.

Looking west

This is the Oregon Electric Railroad Right of Way Path, a 1.2 jaunt between a rec center and a street. It runs between properties, goes past a park and a golf club, and is just freakin’ gorgeous.

A bridge on the path

A bridge on the path

There are some nice roads in Portland, but I defy you to find something nicer than this on your way to or from work. But wait—there’s more! After about four miles of riding along with cars, I drop down to the river, and last week this is what I saw:

Bike path along the Willamette River, looking north

Bike path along the Willamette River, looking north

A little foggy that morning, but you get the general idea. That’s Hardtack Island on the right. A little farther up the path (I was headed north), I turned around and took a photo of the view looking south:

And a little farther still, I couldn’t resist this shot:

It’s not all that beautiful, of course. But it’s worth asking yourself whether you’d like to see something like this (above), or something like that (below):

The Marquam Bridge in Portland

The Marquam Bridge in Portland. Photo credit: Auraleius, via flickr