Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ready for Anything: The Way of Urban Cycling in North America

Data from my commute, track from my wheel in the mud

While I enjoy conjecturing about what could be, or should be, or how things could be improved to make cycling safer or more popular, I find it useful to gather information about actual, current conditions, here and now, where I am, what I'm doing, analyze their impact on my riding, and take steps based on this empirical data to employ techniques appropriate to those conditions. 

Conditions change all the time. Destruction, decay, and construction change our cityscapes continuously. Routes vary based on many factors including traffic, time of day, time of year, weather, temporary closures, parades, weddings, funerals. The rider himself is also a variable in many respects: mood, energy, focus, awareness, distractedness, familiarity with the current locale and conditions. The bike also changes: different bikes chosen for different reasons, along with mechanical changes. The inexorable depredations of time and distance exact their toll on equipment, mind, and body.

One size will never fit all. One technique or riding perspective will not be universally successful, unless your method is to continuous learning, with a focus on flexibility and adaptability. The Jeet Kun Do approach to cycling. Different tools for different situations, with continuous improvement.

This approach is neither vehicular or infrastructure, or if you prefer, is either when it needs to be, and something else when conditions require something else.

Data, in support of this approach, or as examples of its application, shall be supplied in this blog. In this post, above, I've included a photo from a section of my commute along the canal, at the new tunnel under Goldwater Blvd. The tunnel itself is all I hoped for and more during its long construction, by the way: the designers and builders have put in place a high-speed conduit for safely flying under a busy street. 

From the segment where the pavement starts in the picture above, up to the segment on the other side where I ride several blocks on the street with no bicycle lanes, I am in infrastructure mode. Then I switch to vehicular. Prior to this dirt path along the canal is several miles of bike lane. Throw in the occasional sidewalk jaunt, parking lot bypass, and park shortcut  Different conditions, different challenges, different opportunities, all within the space of a few miles on one bicycle commute, all requiring different skills.

In the photo above, on the morning I cut the mud track that has hardened into a rut above, I was in rough canal/dirt mountain bike with fenders cruisemuter mode, then switched to "WHOA HEY MUD WOOO HOOO!" mode. I love mud. [attn. canal boffins: I try to avoid riding through mud on the canal path because it seems like an avoidable and possibly deleterious impact on the canal bank to cut mud ruts into it on a bicycle. Read on, please. And thanks for the tunnel!] It had been raining the night before, but the majority of the non-paved canal surfaces drains fast and does not get too sloppy. But this area of new construction turned out to be squishy butterscotch goodness when damp. Mud everywhere: tires, wheels, frame, fenders, bag, clothes, shoes, all over. I was moving right along when I hit it, and opted to ride the momentum right through to the pavement. No problem, a pleasant surprise in fact, and just one more piece of data to collect and analyze for future use. Am I an infrastructure or vehicular cyclist? For these 50 feet, I was a mud bogger. Yippee kay yay, look at me, I'm throwing up some roost. 

Learn it all, I say, something new all the time, and master as much as you can manage and more. Adapt to conditions as they change. Get ready for anything. Get up. Go ride.


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