Monday, January 31, 2011

One Wrong Turn....A Rant on Sweat

I went for my weekly grocery run this morning. By force of habit I went straight towards downtown instead of turning on Cumberland. (Are you an alcoholic if you instinctively bike towards the bars?) That was a costly mistake, because instead of turning around I decided to turn towards S.Congress and enter HEB that way.

I was huffing and puffing by the time I got to the grocery store. It was a greater distance than I thought, and hills to boot. It was pretty cold this morning, but I couldn't get my scarf and jacket off fast enough at the bike rack. I even went to the bathroom to wipe down my temple and neck, but HEB went green and had air dryers. Figures.

I felt very self conscious walking towards the back where the restroom was, I was sweaty and out of breath. My hair I'm sure, was everywhere. But I looked in the mirror and realized I had a healthy glow that was probably pretty attractive. I dried off in no time. It was all pretty much in my head.

Which brings me to this: one of the biggest excuses people have about bikes is that people will smell and be sweaty, therefore it can't be a viable form of transportation. Especially in Texas where its soooo hot. I have a little secret for these people. Everyone sweats in the summer here. No matter what you do. You go outside, your gonna sweat. I can't be the only one that gets out of my car with a sweat stain in the small of my back. I can't be the only one that feels that trickle of sweat down my spine as I wait for my A/C to kick in. I can't be the only one whose legs slide with sweat on my leather seats. You sweat on the walk to the parking lot, and you sweat on the 5 step trek to your front door. It's a part of life here, and I don't think I have ever been offended by someone because they were too sweaty.

Now on to smell. There is a difference between the smell of being outside, or the "puppy dog" smell as my Mom calls it, and the smell of not bathing for several days. I've smelled both, can't mistake one for the other. While one is mildly offensive, the other is a serious detriment to human interaction. One can be wiped away with baby wipes, the other nothing than a full dunk will do. Personally, I would wipe down after a bike ride to work not protect peoples noses but for my own personal comfort. I don't like the feeling of being sticky.

One thing that strikes me as particularly funny about this excuse is that American customs don't really allow you to get that close to people outside of your family. People generally stand three (give or take) feet away from each other. That cuts down on the number of people close enough to smell your distinctive essence. A wipe here and there, splash of perfume, and your good to go in the morning.

I think people are too sensitive when it comes to smell. The evidence I have for this are the ton of girls who wear so much perfume that I can smell it 10 feet away. Or even creepily, when I smell perfume and no one is around. The negative people that scream they couldn't stand to have their coworker come in sweaty from a bike ride need to take a chill pill. Body odor is unpleasant, true, but we all smell things we dislike in our daily lives and we manage to get on with it. It can be managed, and when summer comes around I'm sure I will find ways to deal with it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Holy Shit I Biked That Far?!

So it is beeutiful here in Austin Texas.  70 degrees, sun out, with a nice breeze.  I couldn't stay inside so I went for a pleasure ride.  I usually go north, but today I decided to explore some of the neighborhoods south of 71.  The thing I like about the area I live in is HOA (home owners associations) don't have an iron grip and so you can see funky houses, children playing on monkey bars in their backyard, and unusual gardens. In other words, the houses have personality.

So I was just riding around; the funny thing about Austin is they helpfully say bike lanes are ahead, but I had a hell of a time finding one.  I was following the helpful signs until one was just too messed up that I couldn't tell which way to go. So, the first part of my ride I had no idea where I was.  I ended up on South Congress, and turning south I made it all the way to Southpark Meadows.  That was about a seven mile ride. I'm pretty proud of that, despite the presence of bike lanes south south austin (what do you call that area?) doesn't enjoy as many riders.

Southpark Meadows is a huge new shopping center that has just about everything you could possibly think of.   I don't go there very often because there is nothing there I can't get closer to home.  The parking lots are huge though and I was nervous about going into a place that is obviously centered around cars.
 The funny thing is that South Congress has a very wide shoulder, I was under the impression I was already on the bike lane.
A very wide shoulder, but had quite a bit of debris in places


                                      
                    My final destination. I hadn't planned on it, but was halfway there so figured why not.
Wal-Mart bike parking. I was pretty impressed, I'm not sure how many bikes this holds but must be quite a few.  I was the only one there, so I had it to myself.  A lady commented on how nice my bike was with the red crate in the back. That's always nice.

Cycling at Night

I visited a friend today that lives on East 6th street. Naturally, I took my bike. The ride itself was alright, although this was my least favorite experience downtown.

When I was ready to leave he asked me if I wanted a ride home, that my bike could fit in his car. I was actually looking forward to riding home, but could tell he was seriously worried so I let him.

After the ten minute ride to my place, he said as he got out my bike, "See, its in one piece, like you, which was my goal."  I looked at him and said, "You realize I've ridden home at night before, right?" His reply was "just because people do dangerous things and get away with it doesn't mean they should do it again and again."  I replied the fact that I've managed to get myself home in one piece more than once actually did mean something.

So, is cycling at night inherently more dangerous than during the day? My bicycle company sure thinks so, a bright sticker warned me not to, and it did take me a gathering of nerves to get out there in the "dark". (I put that in quotations because I grew up the country, and so I know what true darkness is.)  I see people out on their bikes at night all the time, going about their business like the sun was fully out. In other countries its the norm and not seen as dangerous.

I guess the biggest fear is that you're not as visible at night.  I get that, I have my  lights and use them at all times, even if its especially cloudy outside. That's a valid concern, but I can't help but think its not necessarily the night that makes cycling dangerous. It's the drivers who aren't really looking out for others.  And why aren't they? Because people don't cycle at night because its perceived as dangerous. So, the only way to get out of that vicious cycle is to get out there and just do it. Lit up like a Christmas tree if it makes you feel better.

Now he could just be worried because I'm a woman out at night by myself.  That's a whole other set of issues, but I'd rather be on my bike than on foot on any of those scary scenarios. My literature professor in college said something once that has stuck with me.  She said, "women shouldn't have to limit themselves to certain hours just because its supposed to be safer. You should have the freedom to go out anytime without fearing rape." The onus isn't on women to stay home to protect themselves from rape, cyclists shouldn't have to stay home to protect themselves from cars.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wipeout- Or the Worst Grocery Run Ever

So I had a few errands to run today around the 'hood.  Get my transcript for dream job-check. Go get groceries-check. Have bike fall over with my groceries in it- Check.

I was yielding to a car so it could pass me (a car was coming the other way and a truck was parked, so 4 vehicles trying to fit in a space meant for two) and that is when my nice little crate decided to give out on one side.  The weight of the groceries caused my bike to tip over, thankfully I suffered no scrapes.  Unfortunately I put on quite a show for the Austin Solid Waste Servicemen whose truck was the whole reason I had to slow down in the first place.  I do not handle that kind of adversity well, and a few choice words came out of my mouth for the universe.  (I kinda felt like the lady who walked into a fountain while texting, "Nobody came to help me! Sob Sob Sob.)

Anyway, thankfully I always carry extra zip ties and so I reattached my crate, transferred some stuff to my handlebars and hopped back on. I lost a pear and 5 eggs, but it could've been worse.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Biking in Heels

I tried biking in heels the other day after seeing pictures of women doing it all over the web. I know the old saying about a bridge and if everyone else did it, but I figured this would actually be useful to get used to.  Well I say tried, I actually did it and very well I would say.  I wore some tan boots with about a three inch heel.

So nothing life changing to report. It's just like riding in flat shoes because you usually use the balls of your feet to pedal, not your heels.  It's one of those things that sounds dangerous but once you get on you realize there really is not a big difference. It seems like a silly thing, but being confident biking in all sorts of clothing choices is important I think for this to become a real way for me to get around. I thought about carrying flip-flops with me, but that takes up precious cargo space.  (Really, if I carried everything that people thought was essential, not only would I need a crate, but a backpack and front basket too.)

Now I did take a relatively easy route through 5th to Dawson to the Ped Bridge, then the LAB, so I didn't have a lot of stops and such.  I did scare a runner on the roundabout (what do you call the circular thing that connects the street level to the bridge?)  I was going round and round the circular path and didn't see him; he practically jumped onto the concrete ledge.  I didn't mean to scare him, but I don't think I was going so fast that I couldn't stop.  Anyway, perhaps the city should put some more lights along that bridge and enhance visibility of pedestrians.  I bring my own lights because I have to, but the other day there was a whole exercise class out there blocking the entire width of the bridge (a substantial length-this isn't a bikepath).  They were gray blobs until I was right next to them because my light isn't designed to illuminate that much space. I guess the city figures that most people will use that during the day, but I know I'm not the only one out there at night/twilight.

 


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Time Myth

I haven't had too many comments from people about my getting around by bike, which hopefully speaks to it becoming more acceptable around here.  My friend did make an interesting comment the other day that I think speaks to a common misconception using your bike for transportation.

Now, I usually take my bike to H-E-B. (Grocery store) I hate grocery shopping, love biking so it evens out. I mentioned this to my friend, and her comment was, "Well isn't that kind of a long bike ride?"

It's really not.  According to Google Maps, with the route that I take, it should take 14 minutes to get to H-E-B. Taking the same route, it would be 8 minutes by car.  6 minute difference.  My preferred route to H-E-B by car should take 9 minutes.

My point is, there isn't that big of a difference in trips that are that short.  Throw in the various variables like stop lights, heavy traffic and such it probably comes out pretty even. The total miles biked are 2.5 miles one way.  That sounds like a lot to go by bike, but it isn't.  Other places that are that close to my place are Target, my eye doctor, SoLa, Soco, and Sofi business districts that include a whole shitload of fun places to go.

Of course the further you go, the more the difference is.  It takes 24 minutes to get to downtown ATX by bike from my place, and I mean the part that actually has bars.  By car it takes 10 minutes, so by bike its a little over twice as long.  Downtown is one of those places though that I think it is much more desirable to be there on a bike though because of the parking situation.  Same goes for West Campus.

So that is something to point out I think if we want to get more people on bikes. "It doesn't take that much longer!" isn't a very catchy slogan but it could work.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Went Down the LAB

So I know they've had this bikeway for awhile, but I haven't had a chance to go down it.  Today, with its nice weather seemed like the perfect day to go for a ride absolutely nowhere.

Gotta say I loved it. I didn't feel "ghettoized" or whatever other things people say about separated bike infrastructure.  I would definitely like to see more of these in Austin, and hopefully if it hasn't been shot down yet, they'll make one along Mopac.  I don't usually have a reason to go anywhere near Mopac, but if a bikeway was there, I'd probably go just because.

The one problem I had was when I came to an intersection. The sign said to use pedestrian signal. Fine. But coming eastbound on the bikeway, the walk signal button is across the other lane at the corner of the intersection. So, when I wanted to cross I had to get off my bike and push the button, then hop quickly back on to make the light. Not a huge inconvenience, but something to think about as they design other bikeways.  Unless I missed something...

A perfectly lovely ride. I ended up being somewhere around Bookpeople, and had a nice convo with a young lady who was lost on her bike.  She had the coolest purple wheels that I was very envious of, and had actually seen earlier in my ride.  I really want to pimp by bike now.  Ok going over to bicyclemuse.com to see some inspiration. Oh shit they have helmets that look like caps! Oh they are a hundred dollars....maybe not.

Anyway my ride couldn't be all good, so of course I almost got into my first bike accident. Some dipshits were going the wrong way on a 2 way street of all things, and they jumped out from the sidewalk behind a parked car, so we couldn't see each other. We almost had a head on collision.  Me being my brassy self, told them they were on the wrong side of the road, just in case they were actually that stupid.  I got your regular teenage boy cheek, but I'm sure they wouldn't have been laughing if I was a car and had run them over.  This was in the downtown area so its not like we were in some secluded neighborhood. Oh, in case they read obscure blogs, I shouted, "Its daylight, stupid!".

Really though, this is something that I hope becomes rarer as cycling becomes more popular.  At times for our safety we have to bend the rules, but they had no excuse, other than they are teenage boys and think they are invincible.  I sincerely hope I don't open my Statesman and find because of their stupidity they've killed themselves.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Love Hate

A lot of the stuff I've read about cycling focuses on the feel good benefits of riding around on two wheels.  I enjoy those benefits even more because I hate the alternative.

I hate to drive.

No one has really said this, I don't think, as a reason for picking up a bike.  But I am one of those that loves their car, hates the drive. Driving for me is an activity that gives me a knot in my shoulder and fills me with undeniable rage when I feel my safety has been threatened by some idiot in a fast car.  It requires my utmost attention but at the same time can bore me to tears. I once had to drive from Round Rock to downtown for work.  On I-35.  Anyone familiar with Austin knows that commute would never be under an hour.

I went to San Antonio yesterday, and really had forgotten how enormous their highway infrastructure is.  Flyovers are stacked one on top of the other, sometimes four at a time.  It is strip mall after strip mall and access roads that make for a supremely unfriendly environment for anyone whose not in a car. This is especially true of North SA where everyone wants to live. I did see one guy on a bike at a busy intersection, waiting for the pedestrian right of way. I wanted to take a picture because it was quite jarring to see him surrounded by cars, but I was driving at the time.  He definitely has bigger cajones than me to take on SA traffic.

So I'm thankful to live in Austin that makes an effort to consider alternative ways of getting around.  Because if I truly had no other option, I might snap.

Austin Downtown Parking Meters

I think this new development could be the perfect opportunity to encourage biking downtown.

The city of Austin is considering extending the hours for metered parking in the downtown area to midnight and on Saturdays.  The city council claims that this to encourage turnover for parking spaces, but of course they are looking to get a cool 3 million in the process. A lot of people are getting steamed about paying up for something that used to be free.  Others are curious about whose going to police all of these spots, and where their salaries will come from, of course.

I say sidestep the future no win situation of parking downtown and ride your bike.  As far as I know, bike racks are still free. I'm not the only one thinking in this vein, from the Statesman blog comments comes Pat:


Why charge six days a week? Anywhere in the city limits, seven days a week 24 hours a day, those meters should be collecting money, period! People whine all the time, ride a bike, take the bus or just walk to those areas that a parking meter is open for money collection.

While I think he is being facetious in the first part, his solution is practicable, in my opinion.  Of course there comes the naysayer:

Pat, our taxes pay for those roads. Ride a bike? Are you nuts?, it’s freezing out there. And when it’s not freezing, Austin is to hot to ride a bike. We all can’t work at a sandwich shop. Now, get back to work. I’ll take a turkey sandwich, on whole wheat.


First comes the taxes argument, which I think others have admirably taken apart and shown how utterly off the mark it is. (Question: How come no one thinks of taxing pedestrians? They use the roads too and don't pay those nasty buggers.)  The rest is spoken like someone who hasn't swung their leg over a bike since they were seven.


I recently biked downtown to the Kung Foo Saloon off of 5th street and something.  At night. When it was cold.  Now, this was on a like Tuesday night at eight, so my experience might not be typical as if you went on the weekends, but close enough I say.  I parked my bike right in front of the bar.  When I was done with the date at around eleven, I biked home.  My date had actually walked from his place on West Campus.


So, we both did what Pat said and got home safe in one piece.  I for one, was not cold as I was wearing this thing called a jacket.  Obviously, if your going downtown to get dead drunk because its your bachelor/21st b-day/got a new job party, then you shouldn't bike.  You can still get a DUI on a bike.  


But if you live nearby and are up for it, I think its a legitimate option.  Save money, stiff the city of Austin, and work off all that beer you had.  Win Win!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Austin Texas Bike Map

Having gone a few exploratory rides I think I have found some of the easiest ways to get to my favorite destinations.  However, I was curious to see where all of the bike lanes in my area actually go so I downloaded the bike map from the city.

I was surprised to see that their suggested route to get to South Lamar from Banister was to go through Del Curto road.  Now, I realize it is very likely that I am the only one who wants to get to south lamar from my location on a bike.  But this is perhaps the stupidest way to get to s.lamar as far as danger and hills.  Not only does Del Curto not have a shoulder, but it contains a sharp curve with bushes that obscures traffic ahead and a hill that must be a bitch to go back up.

It makes me wonder if anyone actually came and evaluated these roads or if it was just someone behind a desk saying, "Oh, well S.lamar has a lot of traffic so I will color code it red." (Bike routes are color coded as far as traffic and other dangers are concerned.)  Hopefully this is the only case of misguided advice on the map, because I want to expand my bike travels to other parts of the city that I am not very familiar with eventually.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Brrr!!!

It's a little cold outside today, and misty on top of that.  I almost let it deter me from going out on my bike, but after hearing the Pennsylvania governor talk about the wussification of America, I decided to take out my iron ovaries and hit the road.  Plus, I was only going to the doctor's on Hwy 71, which is maybe a 15 minute ride from my apartment.

I bundled up in gloves and a hat, and that kept me pretty warm.  I hit up banister to 2nd to 1st, then across the hwy and decided to take the sidewalk to the office building.  The other day there was another cyclist on the actual access road, so I rode behind him figuring safety in numbers, but I had no such companion today. I know some people frown on riding on the sidewalk, but I feel on those access roads its sometimes a better bet.  I'm always conscious of turning vehicles on my left and cars waiting to get on the access road.

I must say that it was a little tempting to get closer to the cars and get warm off the exhaust. But I find that its a bad idea because having driven a standard car myself, I know there is a tendency for standard cars to quickly go back before being able to go forward.  It happened to me today, and I was glad I was off to the side. A part of me got scared for a second, having heard the numerous stories about cyclist harassment here in Austin.  Thankfully, nothing happened.

Overall a pleasant ride.  I saw two others on their bikes today, and I'm glad I wasn't the only one bold enough to go out in cold, misty weather.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Getting Started

I've always liked cycling.  When I first lived in Austin, my then boyfriend and I would ride our bikes from Riverside to the snow cone place on Barton Springs.  That damn snow cone was so much better when it was consumed after huffing and puffing in 100 degree heat.  Thinking back on that, we were pretty crazy.  But, we would go all over south austin in the heat and we would have a good, if sweaty time.  That is, until our bikes were stolen over Christmas break.  In my initial research, I found that it is unanimously recommended to have a U-lock.  Too late. After that I moved to San Marcos, where it is difficult to get around on two wheels, especially where I lived. That university is difficult for anyone without two working legs to get around, even though they do try with a bike cave.  So I didn't bother to even think about getting a new one until I moved back.

So I got a bike.  It's definitely not a cool bike, but it works for me.  Buying a bike is kind of like buying a car in that what is right for you depends on what you want to use it for.  It took me awhile to piece that together from several slightly helpful sites. (Everyone wants you to get THEIR kind of bike)

And then I figured it would be a good idea if I learned the special rules for riding a bike around Austin.  OMIGOD.  I had no idea there was such a debate going on in the cycling community as to the best way to deal with traffic.  Through my research, I think I fall in the camp that rejects Effective Cycling.  I learned some good tips though, especially on the types of collisions to expect and how to avoid them.  That is always my primary concern; getting hit by a car is probably always on my mind when I'm out.

Here is a good website I found that explained the dangers and what to do: http://BicycleSafe.com/
The diagrams are especially helpful, as well as his no nonsense advice about how "following the law" isn't always gonna keep your ass in one piece.  Because of this, I feel a lot more aware when I'm out on my bike, and thankfully I haven't had any close calls yet.

I saw the recommendations to get the LED lights, and that made sense to me so I went ahead and got them.  I haven't gotten any reflective arm bands and such.  That is a little too much for me, but if they made a jaunty reflective beret, I'd probably get that.  Those damn lights were a hell of a lot harder for me to put on than it should've been. The front light mounting hardware was too big for my handlebar, so it was pretty useless facing downward.  I tried Kleenex (don't ask me why) to try and make up for the difference in widths.  Finally settled on rubber bands, which have worked out so far.  I'm sure it would make any bike mechanic laugh.  Also, I lost a nut on my back light one night so I finally MacGuyvered it and again used rubber bands to attach it to my bike.  So far so good.

I have had to deal with the annoying drivers who honk at you for no reason.  This makes me want to get a bell but at the same time I am determined to get used to the honks and show no signs of having heard them.  So far they have made me jump in my saddle, but I don't want to give them that satisfaction.  I also dream of giving them the finger but I don't want to scar any children that might be in the vicinity so I won't.

I then went and got the requisite accessories. I bought a U-lock and a cable lock, even though I see most bikes with just a U-lock around here.  I saw at Whole Foods the other day that they had experienced several bike thefts, so perhaps its not such a bad idea to have both. I mean, that place is always jumping so if your bike is stolen there.....that is probably just my paranoia though.
    I picked up a Austin woman magazine yesterday at Planned Parenthood, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it had an article on how to get started with cycling. Unfortunately, it was for someone who wanted to bike for fitness, and wanted you to get a lot of expensive clothes and gear to get started.  I ride in my regular clothes, like most people I see out there. I should've known it would push the nice stuff considering it seems like a magazine that is geared towards those who have a lot of disposable income. That is a problem I've encountered when trying to figure out the necessities, everyone has their own long laundry list, but I only have so much money to throw at this bike thing.
So far I carry my u-lock and my cable lock, and a front white LED light and a back red LED light for night riding.  I invested in a top notch bike lock, but the rest is from Target. That's it. I'm thinking about adding in some tire stuff in case of a flat, I think I have some lying around here somewhere from my first foray into bike riding.  I also stole ( well is it really stealing if its next to the dumpster?) a crate from behind a liquor store to place on the back rack of my bike.  That is sooo much better than hauling stuff around in a backpack.  I'm sure I'll really appreciate it in the summer.

So, after all that, I was finally ready to cycle.  It actually was more time and effort than I thought, but it has been well worth it.

Mission Statement

Haha ok so maybe the title is a little ambitious, but I really just wanna state why I started this.  First, its January, and as a student I still have a week before I'm required to do anything or be anywhere. It's dreary as an English moor outside. Second, I have found little on the bike blogs around Austin that give me the info I want.  Most are geared towards those who want to wear spandex and bike thirty miles for fitness. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't do spandex.

I bought my bike because I wanted to get from point A to point B.  A simple enough prospect that had me spending quite some time on different websites trying to figure out the best way to do that.  All the different suggestions for the right kind of bike, and the needed accessories, and the debate between EC and blah blah had my head spinning. So this will chronicle my adventures on my bike as I try to get comfortable getting around ATX on two wheels.