rare bird visits u.s., gets killed by car

It sounds like it could be a headline from The Onion, except that it’s true.

This past week, an ultra-rare Corn Crake, a field-dwelling bird elusive even its usual Eurasian range, showed up on Long Island in New York State, where there have been only two records of this species in the past 129 years, the last one in 1963. Two days later the bird was found dead, having been hit by a car, with fractures in both hind limbs and pelvis.

In America, where we live by the car and die by the car, no one is safe on the roads, no matter how unusual or rare you are.

Last week, partly in response to the recent terrorist act in New York City where a man drove a truck onto a popular bike path, killing 8 people and injuring 12 others, BikeSnobNYC author Eben Weiss penned an editorial for The Washington Post. His primary point is that an act like this will not scare NYC cyclists off the road because they already risk their lives in the face of vehicular violence every single day. He then goes on to name-check several NYC cyclists who have died on the road in recent years. While Weiss is speaking in particular on behalf of NYC cyclists, his point applies across the country. In 2015 alone, 818 U.S. cyclists were killed by vehicular violence. And it’s worse for pedestrians: in that same year 5,376 pedestrians died in motor vehicle crashes.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a cyclist, a pedestrian, or a rare bird. When people get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, whether intentionally or not, they weaponize themselves. In the wake of this most recent terrorist attack, discussions have arisen in New York about whether to ban motor vehicles altogether in high pedestrian and cyclist traffic areas such as Central Park. And while it’s unfortunate that it takes extreme acts like the one that happened in NYC for civic leaders to sit up and consider taking steps toward better protecting pedestrians and cyclists from automotive danger, at least they are now paying better attention. Let’s hope that it moves beyond just talk.


i like to see chaos subsumed into order. long grass growing tangled then trimmed. but only in certain places, like next to sidewalks, not in parks where i am walking. no, not there. not when i am sitting facing a field and the man comes on his mower, chasing me away, following me through the park, more and more mower men, an onslaught of men joined in mechanised noise and motion. that is what i don’t like. i like to see spread-out papers form themselves into a neat pile or disappear into the recycle bin. bare surfaces. something emptied and discarded. this is not a manifesto, by the way. this is just a monday morning [note: it’s actually now wednesday—ed.]. a morning i rode in rain. traffic altered my route and i passed the central police station, a thriving death star hive, battered tie fighters buzzing in and out from the flight deck, looking to crush, to destroy, to subjugate the populace, meting out their brutal mutilated form of “justice” with truncheons and guns.

last friday was a special day for i heard my first wood thrush of the year. o, how i love the ethereal songs of the thrushes! there is no sweeter music in the forest for me. i used to wake to their flute music every spring and early summer morning, but no more, no more. now, if lucky, it is the much lesser song of another thrush, the ubiquitous robin. not to disparage the robin, but his song is nowhere near as transcendent as the wood thrush, the hermit thrush, the swainson’s thrush…

yesterday i went to a class that was like jungian personality types but with colors and a few more bells and whistles. i am blue-green and my conflict sequence moves from green to blue to red. there are all these diagrams that look like someone made them with a spirograph. they are quite pretty but i don’t know how i feel about being plotted on a triangular graph. there i am…a black dot straddling the line between two types, far off from my fellows (in the group report, i am a clear outlier, there are no other dots near me). there i am…moving across the color scheme as conflict escalates, crossing axes with impunity. look at me go…

the musicality of everyday life

Day two of rain on my face. Harder rain, colder rain. Less enthused about it. Wednesday’s unraveling of the week’s semblance of sanity. Sameness shakes through the bones. What is today from yesterday and next week. Listen to epic chanting bands as blood pools in useless sitting legs. Message light on phone appears without phone ringing. It’s a mystery I don’t want to solve. Remember to stand and walk around. Vacate vocation. Evoke smoke. Dream a little longer in the morning, don’t let time thieves tear it away. Afternoons of fast guitar picking on taut strings of sudden tendons stretched and longing. I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t hear it. There is nothing here anymore.

late rain world

The world was late today. I don’t know. I was late. But I wasn’t expecting the world to also be late. I had hoped for a leisurely ride in on mi bicicleta. Instead there were cars everywhere. An automotive horror show. Maybe it was the rain. Rain slows the world to a crawl. Like slow motion, creeping and crawling. Not me, though. I was pedaling quite rapidly, in fact. Bike commuting reminds me I am alive. Otherwise I might think I was a walking corpse. Or a dancing one. I’m skipping a meeting this morning. I don’t care. It empowers me. Robert Walser would skip it. Walser wouldn’t still be here seven years later, though. Walser wouldn’t have made it seven months. Seven weeks, maybe. More likely seven days. He’d be in his attic room writing his soul out on shreds of borrowed paper with a stolen pen. Oh, where is the rain crow. He migrated long ago. Now who will tell us when it is about to rain. I felt the cold rain on my face and knew I was alive. No more alive than last month or last week or yesterday, but alive nonetheless. 2013 dreams have been vivid so far. It’s like there is an arthouse revival series going on in my dream life. I’m liking it. There’s nothing else to report, I’m afraid. Raining, check. Biking, check. Reading Walser, check. No more rain crow, check. Not a corpse, check. Alive, check.

red light green light

Shifting synchronicity of traffic lights marks the vague change between these days. Whoa, that one is red this morning. I now recognize that yesterday has become today. Also, I think I’m wearing different pants. Speaking of today, it’s Office Olympics Day, an awkward afternoon-long opportunity to observe one’s colleagues caper with impunity in the insipid name of morale-building. Well, no amount of frisking about can rouse this drone’s morale. Even worse, OO is scheduled to start at the beginning of the usual lunch hour. Whose idea was that, I demand. Tell me, you fools. But it’s like shouting down a dry well of indifference.

This song triggers memories of driving back roads with my sister on the way to buy bootleg cassettes at the Sunday flea market. Poring over the endless rows of tapes by obscure bands, the excitement of finding strange new music coursing through me as the summer sun shines down. That’s really where it started, after all, this mystical journey down a jagged, thorny path leading from the dusty crossroads of early adolescence, a place where little acceptance was to be found. Of course it’s farcical to think anything was easier then. But as I gathered the tools of defense against a harsh world, enforcing my armor with sounds to yield lifelong comfort, the process prickled with the electricity of discovery. And these shocks, so intense in youth, temper as the years wrap gauze around us. I fear it’s the daily doing that does us in.

After the Olympics, which my team did not even medal in despite winning multiple events (team competitions are notoriously rigged at my place of employment), I leave early and walk out into a storm. Louder than bombs thunder strikes overhead. I duck under an awning hoping to wait it out before hopping on the bike to ride home. An Indian man stands next to me chain-smoking. More Indian men stream by, cigarettes in hand. Seems to be a gathering of sorts. Afternoon traffic builds like layers of crusted pus on an angry sore. People run from the rain. Building to parking garage. Building to parking garage. I grow impatient and take my chances. The rain falls on even as the sun violates the clouds. A sudden humidity clashes with cold rain on my hot skin. Drop, sizzle. Drop, sizzle. Red light, green light. Go.

city biking: where fun meets frustration

© S. D. Stewart

Early self-portrait of the author with his first 10-speed.
Note: Film developed poorly by the author at the time in his school’s darkroom.

On the ride to work yesterday I ran into an acquaintance. We live in adjacent neighborhoods so I see him from time to time on my commute. I believe we first met years ago while I was volunteering at the bike collective. This morning we rode through the streets toward downtown, chatting and getting caught up, talking about our respective neighborhoods and dogs and the heat and how when dogs are hot they like to lie flat on the cool kitchen tile. We complained about the city’s well-intentioned but sometimes ineffective attempts at bike improvements. Case in point: the mini traffic circles on Guilford. What a failure they have been. Before they were even implemented I questioned their value. The circles replaced two four-way stop intersections on a section of road with light automotive traffic, with the idea being that cyclists shouldn’t have to stop at these low-traffic stop signs because it needlessly slows us down. Of course no cyclist ever came to a complete stop at them before, and anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional. But the idea with the traffic circle is that cyclists can just merge into the circle and continue merrily on their way. Sounds good so far, right? The only problem is that this is Baltimore and when you take a stop sign away, unless you replace it with a traffic signal or, say, a brick wall, the typical driver response is to then accelerate through the intersection as fast as possible without yielding to anyone. At least before, in theory, everyone had to come to a stop before proceeding through the intersection. Now there are just these wimpy Yield signs before the circles. “Yield” being a term largely absent from the lexicon of the average Baltimore driver. The other problem with circles is that they are only useful if you can see all oncoming traffic as you approach; if the coast looks clear, you don’t need to slow down quite as much and you can pass safely through the circle. This doesn’t work on city blocks stacked with rowhouses. You can’t see if traffic is coming until you are literally paused at the intersection. That’s why there were stop signs before! What good is a circle if you still have to get to the intesection before you can tell if traffic is coming??

To recap: what used to be two relatively safe intersections for cyclists to pass through with a minimal pause have now been “improved” to be two potential death traps requiring a complete stop to avoid being broadsided by motorists barreling down the cross streets. Thanks, city planners! As my friend joked this morning, that type of thing might work in Portland, Oregon where the concept of the considerate motorist is not yet a fossilized archetype, but this is Baltimore. It’s like the Wild West. No one follows traffic rules here. People routinely ride dirt bikes and four-wheelers on the street while doing wheelies (it’s actually quite impressive; here’s one video of about a thousand on YouTube [side note: watching those videos always makes me love Baltimore while simultaneously wanting to flee from it]).

While I am ranting, there is another problem on this stretch of road that was supposed to be corrected during this phase of “bike improvements.” Without getting into too many of the technical details of this particular section of the road, there was another cross street that previously did not have a stop sign. When approaching this mostly blind intersection, cyclists had to be extremely careful crossing through. While typically a low traffic cross street, it does get some use and particularly from city buses. As part of the bike improvements to this street, they installed a stop sign for the cross street. I was overjoyed until I saw that they had just tacked it onto an existing pole, not at the top of the pole where people can see it, but underneath TWO other signs!! Approaching motorists cannot see this sign because there is parking on that side of the street all the way up to the intersection, so the front parked car obscures the stop sign, which is only about 4 feet (1.2 meters) off the ground. This morning as I approached the intersection I watched a city bus blow right through the stop sign. This is a daily occurrence.

Finally, don’t even get me started on the dedicated bike lane they began feverishly constructing at the beginning of the year, only to mysteriously abandon work on several weeks later just when the project was nearly done. Long stretches of the lane remain riddled with ditches, effectively rendering it useless and forcing riders out into traffic on a road that used to be the safest one on this popular south-north commuter route.

As we rolled into downtown, my friend and I parted ways. I continued on my way to work, mulling over our conversation about some of the joys and pitfalls of cycling in the city. In my opinion, the best way to improve biking conditions in a city is to get more people out riding on the streets. That has happened exponentially in my time here. When I first arrived, riding in the city was still kind of a freakish activity, unless you were a bike messenger. Now there are hundreds of cyclists on the road during peak commuting hours. This is what will make it easier. Unfortunately to get this quantity of people on the road, a certain percentage of them need to be convinced that it’s already started to get safer and easier. That is where the city planning comes in to play. More bike lanes and bike racks increase convenience and safety. So I still applaud the city for what it’s done so far. I just wish the planners would put a little more thought into how they do things (note: if you’re going to half-assedly implement something, please just don’t do it at all…we’ll be fine, reallly), and whether what they’re planning is going to work right here, in Baltimore. Because it’s not just any city…it’s the home of Space Poe!

observations and updates

Life is full of contrast, yin and yang, often subtle, sometimes blatant. Saturday was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, while Sunday brought cold and rain. It was like living in two opposite climates in a single weekend. On Saturday we spent the day outside, hiking and visiting old friends. On Sunday we went to a soggy native plant sale and picked up a few more plants for the front yard. The cool wet weather continues today, ushering in the always jarring Monday Troll, having freshly clawed itself up the muddy embankment from its weekend under-bridge haunts. It sits on my keyboard now, all red gleaming eyes and slavering fangs.

The weekend yielded a few new first-of-year birds, including Northern Parula, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and one of my all-time favorites, WOOD THRUSH! How happy was I to hear their dulcet notes while walking the arboretum trails on Friday evening.

This morning as I rode past the parole and probation office, a young man crossing the street in front of me yelled “Gimme that damn bike,” not even pausing in his stride and with no more than a cursory glance in my general direction. I am always mystified by interactions like this (a more aggressive spin on the classic “Hey, lemme borrow your bike” scheme). Did this guy expect me to immediately dismount and hand my bike over to him? He made no threatening gestures nor did he display any inclination to take my bike by force. His instruction was delivered in a manner more akin to a casual aside than a strict command, although I found his tone reflected a savagery inappropriate for such an early hour. Likely on his way to meet with his probation agent, perhaps he was not in the best of moods and needed to make some desperate attempt to assert control over his situation. I was almost tempted to stop and give him the bike just to see what he would do. I’m sure it would not have been what he was expecting. Maybe he would’ve asked me to hold it for him while he went inside and spoke with his agent. I can imagine him in the office, highly agitated, imploring his agent to hasten the meeting along: “C’mon, man, can we just finish this up? There’s a guy outside who’s gonna gimme his bike and I dunno how much longer he’s gonna wait for me.”

When you live in a crime-riddled city like this one, you need to have a sense of humor about stuff like this. Otherwise you’d stay in your house all the time with the blinds pulled shut.

foregone conclusions foreclosed on

In the morning I ride my bike with reckless abandon. It is my time, sometimes my only time. Today I met a friend. These things happen, on occasion. We talked as we rode downtown together. Without a bike I’d be lost. When I step off the pedals, the next 8 hours blur past. [Sit and click. Sit and click. Clatter of keyboard.] My friend must leave again. Plans did not materialize. Alternate plans were made. But he must leave to complete them. It’s sad. He was glad to be back. And now he must go. It’s not easy to uproot and grow roots somewhere else. These things take time. I know. Sometimes you get lucky and it’s easier, but sometimes the soil is dead and grey. I hope he may return someday, though I may be gone if he does. I hope I’m gone. This city wears me down. My roots are dry and withered.

The other day Em Ell and I met a cat. He was outside our back door with a long-ago torn ear. He was small, grey and white with a narrow face and yellow eyes. A friendly cat. He rubbed on my legs and rolled on his back. I gave him food and water but he did not want them, at least not while we still stood there. He just wanted a little attention, like so many of us do.

I respect the subtlety of cats. It’s now been 8 months since cancer took my cat. It feels like much longer. Perhaps because I had lived for so long before her death with cats in my life. Now there are none underfoot and I miss them. A cat’s affection is a reward, something earned, not given out lightly. That warm, soft weight in your lap soothes much pain. And a litter box is such a tiny cross to bear in return. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to feel that weight again.

Outside is grey and raindrops fall. Inside I too am grey. Though I can’t rightly say why.

all weather bike commuting: what gear to get

I haven’t written about bike commuting in a while. Given its growing popularity, particularly in urban areas, I thought I’d share some of my tips on equipment for year-round commuting. Spring and summer bike commuting don’t typically require any special equipment, beyond maybe a light jacket on cool spring days and rain gear if there’s a downpour. While it’s nice that no additional equipment is needed, riding in warm weather is fraught with other difficulties. People often ask me in the winter how I can stand to ride in the cold. I always tell them I would much rather ride in the winter than in the summer. If you dress properly in the winter, you can always be comfortable on your bike. But in the summer, even if you were to ride naked, you’d still arrive at work a hot sweaty mess. There is no way to get around it, although using panniers to stash your gear as opposed to wearing a backpack or shoulder bag does boost the comfort level. Summer riding usually also necessitates a change of clothing at work. You’re forced to ride in shorts and t-shirts, which adds extra time to the start and end of your day, not to mention extra weight to your bag.

After years of bike commuting in all kinds of weather, I can now look at the temperature and precipitation outside and know instantly how to dress. After much trial and error, I’ve narrowed down my equipment to the bare essentials. I’m sharing my list below. Cycling equipment is absurdly overpriced, and unfortunately not all of it is good quality. When possible, non-cycling specific equipment can be used for economic reasons. That said, certain cycling-specific gear is either a real necessity or at the very least an added convenience. Keep in mind that these tips are for cycling in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. (chiefly during cold weather since as noted above warm weather does not require much in the way of additional gear). Also, everyone is different. For example, I know that I need to wear a skull cap that covers my ears in temperatures below 55 or my inner ears will start aching. I also have very little fat on my fingers so my hands are particularly susceptible to the cold. These are the types of things you discover about yourself after long periods of year-round biking.

Note: all temps listed are in Fahrenheit.

Insulated socks– Warm socks are essential. We lose the majority of our body heat through our feet, hands, and head. I typically wear them when temps drop below 40 or so. I’m a vegan so I don’t wear new wool. If you scout around you can find warm non-wool socks. If you don’t have ethical issues with wool, though, you can’t beat it for warmth. Get enough pairs that you can make it through a full week of cold weather commuting without doing laundry.

Bottom base layer– I wear a base layer under my work pants when temps drop below freezing or, if I’m wearing thin dress pants, below 40 degrees. I’ve found that long underwear is not worth skimping on when it comes to quality. Discount outdoor gear outlets like Sierra Trading Post are good places to look. I found some nice lightweight pairs on sale and stocked up. As with socks, make sure you have enough pairs to get through a full week. And don’t put them in the dryer! They may shrink and it will shorten their lifespan.

Top base layer– With winter riding, layering is key. It’s often a lot colder in the morning than in the evening. You want to be able to adapt so you remain comfortable. Underneath my outer jacket, I wear an old Pearl Izumi winter zip-up jersey that ML found cheap in a thrift store. I wear this when temps are below 40. If it’s warmer in the evening I stash it in my bag and just wear my outer jacket. This does not have to be a cycling-specific piece of clothing. Any kind of lightweight and close-fitting insulated top layer should work.

Jacket– I have two jackets that I alternate between for bike commuting (I also have a rain jacket that I use–more on that later). One is a very lightweight cycling windbreaker that zips up into itself and even has a belt you can use to carry it around your waist when out on a long ride. This is probably my favorite piece of gear. It’s so versatile. The sleeves even zip off! In my opinion, it’s worth spending some money to get something like this (Nashbar and Performance are two good places to look for discount and clearance cycling gear; best time to buy is near season-end). I wear this probably 75% of the time I need an outer layer for any outdoor activity, not just cycling. It works on cool spring and autumn days on its own and can be paired with my insulated jersey for colder days.

My other jacket is for the coldest days, typically below 35 or 40. It’s not cycling-specific and was not very expensive. I bought it at an outdoor store. It’s got an attached hood and it both zips and snaps up the front. It zips all the way up and, with the hood, covers my neck with plenty of breathing room. It’s not waterproof and it’s only slightly more insulated than my windbreaker, but it’s a little longer and works really well as an outer layer for winter riding. I also use it for winter hiking, dog walking, etc.

Head coverings– I have two head coverings that I use. One is a lightweight neoprene skull cap that I use three seasons of the year, any time the temps are below 55 (see note above about my ear problems). The other is a fleece balaclava that I use in one of two ways. When it’s below 35 or so, I’ll wear it around my neck to keep my neck warm and have it available to pull up higher over my face if needed. When it gets down into the mid to low 20s I’ll wear it as intended, pulled up over my head in combination with the skull cap. These two items don’t need to be cycling-specific gear, but make sure that they will fit under your helmet before buying.

Gloves– During winter riding, keeping your hands warm is one of the most important considerations, and the hardest to accomplish. Finding the right gloves for cold weather riding took me a very long time. While some people can get by with just wearing regular insulated winter gloves, this is one piece of gear that I always purchase cycling-specific. I currently have two pairs of gloves: one lightweight pair for 3-season riding in temps below 50 or so, and one insulated pair for deep winter cold riding. I’ve had a harder time finding a lightweight pair that I’m happy with. They always seem to fall apart much faster than their price tag should allow for. Last year I bought a new pair and sprung for Giros, thinking they’d be better, and they started falling apart before the year was out. What you’re looking for in this type of glove is adequate padding on the palms, breathable fabric on top, and sufficient wrist coverage. Most have some type of Velcro wrist closure. Examine this closely to see if it’s sewn well; it’s a common spot for gloves to fail. Also, if you have no qualms about using leather products, gloves with leather palms will probably last much longer than the synthetic crap I’m forced to buy.

My deep cold weather gloves are of the “lobster claw” variety. These keep two sets of fingers together on each hand, while the thumb is separate, with the idea being that your body heat will help keep the fingers warm. Since my fingers emit virtually no body heat, these only work for me within a certain temp range. Once it gets down into the upper teens, my fingers are still cold and aching when I get to work. Gloves are a rather personal piece of gear so you have to find what works for you. But if you are like me and your hands get cold easily, don’t skimp on this equipment.

Rain jacket– I bought a relatively inexpensive rain jacket from an outdoor store. It’s not just for cycling; I use it for any occasion where I’m out in the rain. Make sure it is waterproof, not just water resistant. There is a big difference, believe me. Lightweight ones are better for cycling because of the layering theory noted above. Versatility is key. You want to be able to use it in warm rain and cold rain (and sleet and heavy snow). Hoods are optional; mine zips on and off, which I like because the hood tends to block my peripheral vision while riding so I leave it off. By its nature, rain gear is not breathable, so look for a jacket that has vents. These are typically under the arm and zip open so you can at least get some air circulation while riding.

Rain pants– Waterproof pants are essential if you’re going to ride in the rain. Cycling-specific ones are helpful. I think mine were only about $20 from Performance. They have Velcro closures at the cuffs as well as zippers to allow for easy-on, easy-off over your shoes. There are also reflective bands at the cuffs. Like most other outerwear, rain pants should be lightweight, especially since by nature they are not breathable. It’s also easier to fit them in your bag when not needed. I also have a pair of insulated waterproof snowboarding pants that I found dirt cheap at a thrift store. I may have worn these once or twice while riding in the snow but they really aren’t necessary. If you’re wearing a base layer, work pants, and lightweight rain pants, you should be warm enough in most cold precipitation in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Shoes– Shoes are a very personal piece of gear. What type you wear also depends on what types of pedals you ride. I use toe cages on my pedals because I don’t like to mess with changing my shoes at work. I won’t discuss clipless pedals here since I don’t ride them to work, although I will note that there are plenty of cycling-specific shoe covering options for those who ride clipless. If you use cages, make sure whatever shoes you use fit into the cage. They need to be fairly narrow at the toe. I like skate shoes for bike commuting. Every 2-3 years I buy a nice pair of dressier Vans that I can wear at work. They have a hard rubber sole that is perfect for the type of pedals I ride and they are typically narrow in the toe. They are also made really well and hold up for a long time.

For rain and snow, you have a few options. Especially in rain, though, you need to consider how to keep your feet dry. Trust me, it really sucks to have wet feet for most of the day at work. One of my friends bought cheap rubber pull-ons that fit over his shoes and go a little higher to cover the ankle. These are nice because you can just fold them up and they fit nicely in your bag. I have a pair of galoshes that work the same way, except they’re too bulky to transport. I used them a few times for cycling but they don’t fit well enough in my toe cages and in general are too unwieldy for riding. I now mainly use them for shoveling snow and other snow-related activities. I like that they fit over my shoes, so if I’m going to a friend’s house or something I can take them off when I get there and still have regular shoes on. So buying them wasn’t a total loss.

Recently I bought a pair of Palladium boots, which is what the French legionnaires wear. They are ankle-height, lightweight canvas and rubber, and fit well in my toe cages. They’re not 100% waterproof (although Palladium does make leather ones that are); however, the rubber covers the entire toe and up to the start of the laces, which is the area where the majority of the rain hits my feet. They’re also professional enough to wear to work. So now I use these when it rains. As with most of my cycling gear purchases, I made a choice that is both versatile and comfortable; I can also wear these while birding, as well as in casual settings. I’ve missed having a casual pair of boots to wear so I’m really happy with these.

Note: These boots are not sufficient for riding in steady rain but work for intermittent showers, misty conditions, etc. Having canvas uppers, they will soak through in heavier rain, and even quicker if you ride without a full front fender. However, they do dry fast. It’s also a good idea to keep a spare pair or two of socks at work just in case. Even if your shoes get wet, changing into dry socks can make a significant difference in comfort. Another tip: I have found that the fastest way to dry out shoes is to use newspaper. Crumple up as many balls of it as you can fit inside each shoe. The newspaper quickly absorbs the moisture, thus drying out the inside of the shoe. Replacing the newspaper at least once during the process can speed up the drying time. The newspaper can still be recycled as usual. Depending on how paper recycling is collected where you live or work, you may need to flatten it out first and allow to dry before bundling for pick-up.

That’s about it as far as clothing. To recap: dress in layers; make sure your head, feet, and hands are appropriately protected; acquire lightweight waterproof gear for rainy days; and try to purchase versatile gear that you can also wear in other everyday situations.

2014 Update

I recently started riding BMX-style pegged platform pedals for commuting and I love them. I can’t sing their praises enough. This has significantly freed up my choices in footwear, which previously have been limited. Platform pedals became an option for me because after nearly a decade of commuting on a fixed gear bike, I have now switched back to riding geared. Those who ride fixed know that it’s unwise to ride without pedals that keep your feet secure, either through the use of clipless pedals or toe cages. But now that I’m riding geared again, it’s not an issue. It’s still been a very long time since I rode platforms (probably since BMX riding as a kid) and I am giddy with the freedom they give me. These Redline pedals are the ones with replaceable stainless steel pegs, which serve to keep your feet from moving around. They work really well at that.

As I wrote above in the original post, finding shoes to fit in toe cages is always difficult, especially for wet weather riding. Shoes also tend to get chewed up pretty fast, especially when using metal cages. On the other hand, the platform pedals only come in contact with the soles of the shoes, which keep the uppers of the shoes in better shape over a longer period of time. They also allow for use of rubber overshoes or other bulkier waterproof footwear during wet weather riding. I’m stoked about no more struggles to get my boots in and out of the cages. While the Palladiums I mention above did fit in the cages, it was not always a flawless experience to ride in them. Not having to think at all about where to place my shoes makes a big difference in enjoyability of my commute.

I’m now riding a 1986 Schwinn High Sierra mountain bike on my 8-mile round trip commute. I bought it to use as a winter commuter, but I like it so much I may ride it year-round. It’s not exactly light compared to my fixed gear (an old steel Trek road frame), but it’s still surprisingly fast and absorbs the shock of the many road hazards along my ride much better than the Trek did. Plus I can more easily hop curbs when necessary. I’d always heard that these old mountain bikes make excellent commuter bikes, and now I know why.

(Note: This post is consistently the most visited page on my site, which I find amusing considering how infrequently I write about bikes on here. But I also find it very encouraging that so many people are obviously either already commuting year-round or considering it as an option. Keep riding! And feel free to leave comments or questions. I’m always happy to talk bikes.)

commuter rant

As a long-time bike commuter, I have always prided myself on my ability to keep all senses on high alert while traveling between home, work, and anywhere else I choose to ride.  My 360° awareness and accompanying quick response time are what keep me relatively safe on the streets.  But now I am weary.  I am weary of asinine drivers.  I am weary of ignorant pedestrians.  I am weary of the need for this constant vigilance.  Take this morning, for example.  I approach a red traffic light.  A car waits at the light across the intersection.  The driver does not have her turn signal on.  I am headed straight.  The light turns green almost immediately, and so I push off into the intersection.  At the same time, still without signaling, the driver turns left into my path.  I dodge to the right in order to avoid being hit, yelling out in frustration.  As she completes her turn, the driver reacts in outrage, yelling at me, “What the fuck?!”

So, let’s review.  We are facing each other at an intersection.  Neither of us is indicating an intended turn, which means that we would both have the right-of-way to proceed straight without pausing.  Now, if she intended to turn she should: (a) indicate her intention with her turn signal, and (b) wait for me to pass through the intersection before executing her turn, as I have the right-of-way.  The fact that I am on a bike is irrelevant to the traffic law.  A bicycle is a moving vehicle equivalent to a car in this state and thus should be yielded to in the same way that other cars are yielded to when they have the right-of-way.

If I had to guess, I would say that if I had been driving a car, this driver would have yielded to me, because if she hadn’t, she would quite likely have been hit, especially considering that she didn’t have her signal on.  But because I was on a bike, I was, what, a non-entity, not a physical threat to her car, and therefore not worth yielding to?  She had to have seen me.  My body language indicated that I was going straight through the intersection.  But instead she chose to ignore me, and then reacted with hostility toward me when I was merely exercising my right-of-way.  What’s more is that her hostility seemed so genuine.  How can I expect to survive on the streets when drivers believe their horrible driving practices to be right and true?

The bottom line is that I’m tired of deconstructing incidents like this.  They didn’t used to bother me as much.  But I don’t feel like it’s getting better out there.  You would think more cyclists on the road would mean more awareness among drivers.  But that awareness is either not coming, or it’s approaching with the speed of cold molasses.  A common argument stated by the trolls who post comments on bike safety articles online is that cyclists shouldn’t get treated like regular traffic until they start obeying all the rules (stopping at every stop sign, etc.).  To that I say, why would I wait at a stop sign (or red light) if I can proceed safely through it ahead of other traffic?  Is it better for me to wait there with the automotive traffic, and then risk being hit by a driver eager to cut me off?  I have to think about what’s safest for me because I’m not surrounded by two tons of steel.  And from my observations over the years, I’ve determined that the safest thing for me is to stay ahead of traffic whenever possible.  It’s quite obvious to me that most, if not all, drivers do not want me in their way.

Basically, I feel invisible on my bike.  And it’s not just the drivers ignoring me.  Pedestrians don’t hear I’m coming, and they never look before crossing the street, anyway.  Maybe they would look if they heard something…I don’t really know.  I see them walk out in front of cars without looking, too…I guess maybe they just have a death wish.  And even if they do look at me, they still walk out in front of me half the time.  I don’t know what it is.  Do they misjudge how fast a bike can travel?  Do they not realize that getting hit by a bike hurts?  Maybe they wouldn’t die or be paralyzed, but I guarantee they’d suffer some injuries.

Bike commuting used to be fun.  My trips to work and back were usually the highlights of my day, times when I felt truly alive.  Now, I am more likely to dread those trips.  The city streets are alive with danger.  If it’s not a car hitting you, it will be a roving band of teenagers attacking you and stealing your bike, or just practicing some act of random violence upon you.  For the first time, I’m starting to really wonder if it’s worth it.  How can I just enjoy riding my bike if I think everyone is out to get me?  If it were just my imagination maybe I could learn to fight it.  But the proof continues to manifest itself all around me, and I can’t just turn away.

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