Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bikelash: Riding Around the Mud After Storms

Bike path mud, September 8, 2014. The swirly loops are Nature's spirographs, I guess.

During the morning ride on the day that we received more rain in a few hours than we in the Phoenix area normally receive in an entire season, the superabundance of water was an inconvenience to me in some ways, since it was pouring down and required additional rain gear and some additional time, on the one hand, but on the other hand, there were fewer cars out, since by the time I had started everyone had seen the videos of the cars drowned up to their roofs in the low spots on the freeways, along with the mad running washes and the record rainfall totals already at drive time, and had chosen to hunker down instead of driving in.

Since it wasn't a very windy storm, and also lacked the dramatic thunder and lightning typical of most of our monsoon storms, the dominant sounds were of water falling and running, a relentless, soaking sound all of us heard everywhere, for hours that morning.

The next day, large parts of the city resembled this: mud everywhere, root and standing water

Even during the storm, as water ran everywhere, too deep and fast for the limited drainage systems to carry it away in real time, mud, dirt, and debris flowed along with it. It wasn't possible ride around it since bike commuting was more like swimming through it, but afterwards, by afternoon and in the following days, "ride around it" became the dominant need over and over, to negotiate the streets and paths and avoid what the storm left behind. I heard the squelchy sound of my tires finding this stuff over and over. As much as I tried to avoid it, my fenders still got caked with it, my frame spattered with it, my pannier bag covered with it. Minor inconveniences, at most.

Clean-up on aisle...OK on all aisles. The dried track on the left is mine.

All this riding around mud and debris got me thinking about that theme. Ride through anyway, come what may, get all dirty and have sticks and debris jam up into my fenders along with the mud? Or, take a little more time, slow down, plan out the detour, study the situation before riding on? I chose the second, most of the time, and it was so simple and easy that I wouldn't have even posted these photos or blogged about it. Like I mentioned, a minor inconvenience.

When I saw this video this morning, via a comment on Facebook from Scottsdale Transportation planner Susan Conklu who also appears in it, I was struck by how important it is to try to avoid stereotypes and pigeonholing whenever you seek dialog and progress on important issues.

For example, I identify myself as a cyclist because I commute by bike and also try to squeeze in some fun rides on the weekends, but, I also drive a car. Not very often, perhaps once every week or two, but I do drive. Since we sold our excess cars and decided that one car would be enough (that link goes to the story of doing that, a post I'm kind of proud of) for our family of four, taking care of daily transport needs by bicycle has become more and more a reality for me. I bought a Burley Travoy trailer which makes it actually kind of fun to haul stuff around. I've become a snob about Carradice bags and have dabbled in other saddle and handlebar bags. These practices and trappings mark me, increasingly, as an enthusiastic member of the bicycle tribe. I suppose I am.

This identity equips me with certain reflexive reactions when I encounter bikelash. I've written before about my thoughts on the typical reactions to bicycle commuting as bound to be filled with blood, sweat, and tears, even here and now where I ride in this car-centric metropolitan area. But I've also found, and I agree with the video below, that the most productive approach to these bikelash reactions is to treat the conversation as one about people, and better transportation, rather than us vs. them, bikes vs. cars, death/pollution/steel vs. health/environment/flesh. I drive, too. I know what you mean. I'm a father and husband, too, and sometimes I serve as taxicab driver to transport the family unit to ballet practice, on roadtrips to grandma's house, on cross-country excursions to Yosemite and Zion and Havasupai, and so on.

It's possible, based on previous experience, to look ahead in the dialog, see the us vs. them mud and debris coming up in the conversation after this divisive storm. I take a little more time, slow down, plan out the detour, study the situation before riding on. I take steps to ride around the mud, to steer the conversation toward people, and better transport for all. Inevitably, I'll still end up getting a little dirty, with some mud splattered on waxed canvas and some sticks jammed up inside my fenders, but that's no big deal. These long, soaking rains refresh and renew the earth like calm, long dialogs between two people over a cup of coffee change the world for the better. Like commutes after rains, these dialogs never seem to take the straightest path, but they usually get me home, after a while.

Talking About Bikelash In Your City from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.


  1. "...people, and better transportation..." and there you have it!


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