Friday, 30 May 2008

Bike Lanes - Part 1

I'm planning this to be an ongoing series. I'm sure there's enough material out there to keep me going for years.

I've long been troubled by the concept of bicycle lanes. Not because they are intrinsically bad. They're not. They can be very good. In a small number of European cities they seem to have been done really well. In those cities, they are all pervasive and excellently executed. Very often they provide total separation from other traffic uses.

Here in Australia, bike lanes are little more that a line painted on the road. Usually with no thought to engineering, safety, separation of uses or how the various road users interact at the point where they cross paths. Add to this the fact that once the line is painted there is never any thought given to keeping them free of debris or maintaining the surface. This means that all of the debris which falls on and is then pushed off the "motor vehicle" part of the roadway ends up in the cycle lane.

Perhaps the worst and most insidious effect of the bicycle lane is that it forms a view in the minds of many motorists that cyclists don't have the right to ride anywhere else. Sometimes this view extends to places where there are no bicycle lanes. The thinking goes something like, "There are bicycle lanes on other roads, so this cyclist should be using this road, then she wouldn't be in my way". Illogical? Yes!

Here lies a great deal of conflict. I frequently ride outside of a marked bicycle lane because it's just too dangerous to ride in it. The bicycle lane which randomly stops and starts because of road width changes or obstacles is often worse than no lane. The rider needs to keep merging into traffic which believes the cyclist is safely separated from their lane. Riding to work in the dark in a bicycle lane littered with obstacles, garbage, gravel from surfacing works, wheelie bins, parked cars, drainage grilles and a thousand other surprises is crazy. I'd rather take my chances with the traffic. It may work better if governments and bicycle advocacy organisations worked toward educating motorists and cyclists of shared rights and responsibilities. Instead they endlessly invalidate the rights of cyclists to use the road by emphasising bicycle lanes as "the answer".

I offer, for your pleasure, a picture of one of my favourite bicycle lanes. One I (dis)use every time I ride home from work. Note that the grille takes up the entire width of the marked bicycle lane except for 50mm (yes, I measured it). So what did the "cunning" designers do? Re-design the drainage? Change the style of grille? No. They just discontinued the white line for about 5 metres each side of the grille. That way it doesn't impede cyclists ride along the lane because there's no bike lane there. Genius! This is a busy stretch of single lane road, but the only safe way to ride it is to the right of the cycle lane, so as to avoid darting out into traffic to go around the drain. It's great for the abuse level.

Get in the effing bike lane you d!ckhead!!!


Thursday, 29 May 2008

With the lights out, it's less dangerous...

Today I had a terrible ride in to work. My ride in covers about 30km of rural road and 20km of freeway. That last 20km follows the Hume Freeway into the north of Melbourne's outer suburbs. It's busy in the mornings. The emergency lane is formally designated and signed for cycling. There's roadwork which has removed the emergency lane for sections of up to 800m. There's a small bridge with no shoulder at all. There are sign posted road work speed limits which mean that instead of flowing smoothly at 100 the traffic is mental, with half travelling at the signed 60 or 80 and the other half cutting in and out trying to do 100 between the concrete barriers.

That's on normal day. Today there was a heavy wet fog. Of course, not until I was already 10km from home. Wet enough that I couldn't wear my glasses and therefore couldn't see properly. So here I am riding along a freeway in the dark, in heavy fog with poor eyesight. The shoulder is intermittent and what shoulder exists is strewn with debris from construction trucks. As you may imagine I'm riding carefully and defensively.

So what is it that posses people to feel that the best way to impress their ego on the world is to hammer the horn just as they draw level with me. These are no warning "toot, toots". These are full on scare the shit out of this stupid cyclist HOOOOONNNKKs. This included 3 b-doubles. Are these peoples lives so empty; do they feel so impotent that the only way they can make any impression on the world is to scare the hell out of a cyclist with their 80 tonne trucks?

I'm just trying to get to work alive. Simple economics should inform them that I'm reducing the demand pressure on their litre of fuel. Why not give me a couple of extra inches?

As is my wont, when things are a bit tough, I turned to song. Smells Like Teen Spirit came to mind. I belted it out as I powered up that last long hill, to the accompaniment of truck horns.

This isn't commuting, it's performance art. Maybe I can get a grant for that new carbon baby.


Wednesday, 28 May 2008

A Close Shave

I've made a big decision. I'm not going to stop shaving my legs this winter. Normally about now I let things get a bit shaggy because:
  1. It's warmer
  2. No, one's going to be seeing much of them anyway
  3. It's just too much hard work to maintain
  4. Without hair or a tan I really fit my friend Michael's description as a hairless salamander.

All of this makes perfect sense, but it also marks a point in my cycling where I slow down, don't work so hard and generally slack off. So deciding not to stop shaving also represents a commitment to maintain my fitness. It always seems hard when I think about all of those dark, cold mornings and lacerating headwinds. I know that it won't be so bad if I take it day-by-day. It just takes getting my bum on the saddle and everything's easier from there. Often the ride in driving rain can turn in to one of the best. Nothing tunes me in to nature in quite the same way as being lashed by icy rain. I find it helps to sing.

There's nothing better than riding a quite backroad after the rain has cleared, my skin still stinging from the cold, to see the sun poke through and mist start to rise from the road. This is often the time to see animals and hear birds at their best.

I'll see you out there on your bikes. You can always curse me when the weather gets horrid. Remember to sing!

The way I see it is that the worst case scenario is that at least my legs will look good.


Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Why Nancy?

I'm often quizzed about the name "Nancy". Why am I called Nancy, or Nancy Boy and why is it a name I embrace?

It has to do with rejection of the whole macho thing. It's about liking to be underestimated. A part of the ethos of cycling is about nakedness and vulnerability. Adopting, indeed reveling in the moniker "Nancy" is to claim that vulnerability. It affirms the value of the feminine, the effeminate, the homosexual, the outsider.

As a young racer, I got caught a couple of times in the no-mans-land of a solo break-away into the wind. It hurt a lot. I got a reputation for having a fear of riding into the wind and was taunted as by my friends as a Nancy Boy. I claimed this taunt and threw it back when I attacked them on the hills. With time I learned to love the label and wear it like a badge of honour. I've ridden with women and with men of 70 plus years, who not only run rings around me in terms of application and attitude but can pull down my nicks and dance around me calling nya, nya, na, nya, nya as cyclists. So having any kind of tickets on myself as a cyclist just won't wash.

So many of the men I meet up with on a bike might as well be driving a V8 muscle car or a monster SUV for all the humility they show. Every rider they see on the road is just another carrot, another chance to prove their masculine superiority. Forget it now! The yobo in his ancient 120Y Datsun can still beat you by a factor of 4 or 5. If all else fails, he can mow you down in cold blood. So if going faster or being stronger is a measure of your worth, give up now.

I'm not saying we all need to be Nancy, just that we don't all need to be Butch.


Monday, 26 May 2008

The King Parrot Creek Ride of Death

This Sunday, I looked death in the face and while I didn't quite laugh, I did vomit a little. It was clearly a case of my head writing cheques my legs had insufficient funds to honour.

I rode the Audax King Parrot Creek 200km Ride. This is one of the best routes I've ridden. It's varied and picturesque and a natural kind of tour. Not too contrived. I rode the first section with Kathryn who kept me honest and on the ball. The route was a little windy, but thanks to the great cue sheet, not hard to follow.

This section also includes the Humevale Road hill from Whittlesea to Kinglake West. Surfers can keep their perfect wave, this is the perfect hill. Gradual, constant, winding, quiet, without ever getting steep. Just the sort of hill to ride in third or fourth gear with a cadence of around 85 at about 17 to 20 kph. Nothing to over stress, just a good hard workout. Excellent. I reached the checkpoint elated.

After the checkpoint at Kinglake West I made my big mistake. Leigh went streaking by on the downhill and I saw my chance. Woohoo, what a lark, I'm tagging on. For the next 50km I did my best to hang on and take my turns. They were inevitably short and slow by Leigh's standards but somehow I hung in. At the turn on to the Seymour-Yea road we hit a series of hills, not so big that you'd call them real hills but enough to work hard over each. Toward the top of each I just started to lose contact with Leigh enough to have to put in a big sprint over the top to keep in touch. Three bike lengths at the first, then five then ten. At the top of the fourth hill my heart rate hit 187. I've never hit 187! On the downhill I vomited, twice. That was the end of that.

I limped in to Yea checkpoint 5 minutes behind Leigh and feeling very spent. After some of the miracle soup on offer, a salad roll a muffin, a biscuit and a couple of bananas I was feeling much better and I took off. Oops. Too much food, too quickly, sore belly. From here to the top of Junction Hill, a section I normally love, it was pure survival. This is one of my favourite training routes and pushing up the long tedious incline to the hill and then over the steep bit is a fun way to spend a morning. This day it was not fun at all. Somehow I made it over the top, only to be passed by Leigh and then Rodney who were both looking strong. Somehow, over the next few kilometres I started to feel better. On the 20km steady climb from Flowerdale back to Kinglake West I slowly picked up some pace 'till I felt ok again.

At the controlle it was cold so I put on my wind vest, sunk a couple of bananas and took off. Rodney flew past me almost immediately only to lose a tail-light on the descent and have to stop to retrieve it. Hitting 80kph on the beautiful smooth, open cornered descent, I was very aware of the thinness of my clothing. The tyre trouble I'd had during the week fresh in my mind. Still. what a rush!

The last 30km I pushed as hard as I dared 37kph average. Still Rodney left me in his wake. What a pair of legs. After those final two soul destroying hills on Yan Yean Road, I finally pulled in to the last check point. Leigh was a couple of minutes behind, having hung around to chat a while longer at the previous stop.

Ok, here I am, totally spent at the end of what should have been a wonderful day out on the bike. Instead I've made it into one of the hardest rides I've done. Why? Why not slow down a few kilometres per hour and enjoy the day? I've got to confess, I have no idea except that I really enjoyed every last pain filled minute. Next year I might just do it again and take it easy.... or not.