Thursday, December 13, 2012

Con-Sonar! CRAZY IVAN!!!

That line from the movie The Hunt For Red October has taken on new meaning for cyclists on Multi-Use Trails.  In the movie it is used to announce when a Russian submarine turned stopped and turned to see if anyone was following it.  In cycling terms, it describes when a pedestrian or runner does a 180 degree turn immediately in front of you without looking or warning.  

I don't intend this post to slam runners or walkers in any way.  I honestly do both and it is actually quite hard to remember to look and signal before you do a turn... especially when running.  You're thinking about 100 things and in your zone a bit... and the possibility of a cyclist coming up behind is not always top 5 on that list of things.  

This morning's commute involved the rare, and extremely dangerous Crazy Ivan executed by a large number of runners.  I slowed as I approached a group of 8 runners.  I rang the bell once from 20 bike-lengths back.  I rang it again at 10 and a third time at 5.  I then called out "passing on your left".  The MOMENT the words left my mouth, all 8 turned left into me.  

I don't entirely know how we all survived unharmed.  I flat-spotted a rear tire, grabbed a fist full of brake, made a strange noise and did a bit of agricultural exploration.  At least 3 of the runners did some fancy dance moves as I rolled through the middle of their running pack.  Two of them screamed.  None of us made contact.  I kept the bike upright.   3 of them rushed over to apologize.  No-one was angry.  There was no bad outcome out of the whole thing... in fact, two really good outcomes.  There are 8 runners that are a lot more aware of the need to look over their shoulder before doing quick changes of direction and I get to write a little about how to help prevent incidents like this.

From the cyclists point of view, it helps to warn early and often.  I try to warn twice by bell and once by voice.  If I get a wave on the first bell, I will forgo the second bell and just talk to the person.   It also helps to slow down a bit.  I know that interrupts people's workouts, but we shouldn't be pushing the speed envelope around other trail users anyways.  Think of it as an opportunity to accelerate and build some of that power in your legs.  You'll benefit next spring and live to see it too. ;)

From the runners point of view, it helps to be very aware of your surroundings.  Headphones are never a good idea on a multi-use trail.  I know walkers and runners (and cyclists for that matter) don't want to hear that, but it is true.  I hear people say they can hear cyclists approaching, but that is really impossible.  Some of us fixie riders are virtually silent unless we announce with bell and voice.  Additionally it takes the focus of your mind away from your surroundings.  That is the actual reason for having the headphones on... letting your mind focus on something other than the work that your legs and lungs are doing.  

All trail users need to keep a closer eye and more attentive mind to their surroundings on the trail.  I think we're all guilty of letting our guard down from time to time.  It is human nature and most of the time it doesn't hurt anything.  Now and then the situation gangs up on us and a lapse in concentration can contribute to an accident.  

Keep it safe out there!  

Happy winter riding!


Monday, December 3, 2012


One of these days the chip on my shoulder about law enforcement people who treat people with attitude rather than respect is going to get me into a lot of trouble.  Today was definitely not going to be that day. 

I was standing at the intersection of 15th and Penn. NW, next to the East White House Security Entrance, waiting for the light to turn green to ride the one block to my office.  I was doing so at the exact same place and relatively the same time as I do 5 or 6 days per week for the last 7 years.  I'd lined up to move with traffic rather than take the cycletrack.  I do that on purpose because I make a right turn in about a block as there is not a great way to safely and legally cross three lanes of traffic to make a right turn.  I feel, and probably am, much safer riding in the traffic lane and turning right from there.  

I'll take a little break from today's story and give you some helpful hints for dealing with law enforcement.  

These folks have a very difficult job.  They see some of the worst things that humanity dishes out.  That gets them quite a bit of respect in my book.  Here's what I suggest you do when a law enforcement person asks you to do something..... EVEN IF THEY ARE WRONG!!!
  1. Do what they ask you to promptly and respectfully.
  2. If you've got a smart comment to make, you're better off if you keep it to yourself.
  3. Don't be overly surly.  Just do what they ask and diffuse the situation. Be calm, relaxed and responsive.
  4. If the opportunity presents itself to talk calmly with the officer about the situation, then do so.  Be ready to listen to what they have to say.  Be prepared for them to not want to hear a word that you're saying.  It is best to do this AFTER you've finished doing what they've asked you to do.  They're more likely to listen, and you are less likely to sound like you're arguing with them.
Now on with our story.... 

I'm standing at that intersection, waiting to move.  My light is about to turn green.  There is a van stopped in the median, waiting to turn left into the White House security area.  I've left room for that person to drive around me and line up perfectly with the entrance.  I've also left enough room behind me so that if someone is coming out of the entrance, they can make a right on red turn onto 15th street southbound.  That's when I hear:


I hesitate for a moment... not sure if the man yelling at me is talking to me.  I cocked my head to see if it was.  The light turns green and I'm about to take off when he yells at me a second time...  "The bike lane is over there. GET THE HELL OUT OF THE ROAD!" followed immediately with a "You on the bicycle: HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!"  I stopped, turned walked to the sidewalk and faced extremely angry Secret Service Security detail person walking toward me who is now yelling and spitting mad.  While this was happening, the van that was waiting to make the left turn ran the red light and headed into the security entrance.  

A quick note about the legality of the situation... 

The officer was completely wrong.  As a cyclist, I can use the bike lanes if I want, but I'm also able to move lawfully with traffic.  The "TBLIOT" (The Bike Lane Is Over There) attitude is very common with drivers and law enforcement people.  It isn't always easy to get people to understand that there are some times when riding in the bike lane isn't the safest place.  For my riding, I tend to use bike lanes and cycletracks as often as possible.  Sometimes when making left or right turns off of a road, it is safer and PERFECTLY LEGAL to use the traffic lane.  

How did I do on my checklist from above??? 

I did item #1 from above.... probably not as fast as the officer would have liked, but I honestly couldn't tell who he was yelling at immediately.   I walked toward where the bike lane crosses 15th street.  I also did #2 from above perfectly, even though about 1000 smart comments came to mind sooooo quickly.  The guy followed me as I walked over to the place that is painted for the bike lane to cross.  I managed to do #3 from above pretty dang well... I tried to sound sincere and genuine.  It isn't easy because when someone yells at you in such condescending and disrespectful way, it is easy to get flustered and behave in a way that doesn't help resolve the situation.  Personally, I think that becoming overly formal is just as bad as being sarcastic.  Being calm, confident and respectful seems to work best for me.   With that all going for me I figured I might as well try item #4 from above.

Now back to the story.... 

I don't know if the guy finally recognized me (we have a good history from past encounters), but he actually let me talk a little as I waited for my light to turn. 

"I'm not trying to argue with you here, but I'd like to point out a few things.  It is legal for me to travel on the road as a vehicle.  The place that I was standing was selected very carefully and with a lot of thought.  Standing there allows vehicles from behind to make a right on red and NOT be blocked by me.  Vehicles turning left into the security zone can do so and miss me by more than 5 feet.  I dress very visibly on purpose so that I'm easy to miss.  When the light turns green, I am able to ride in the lane and I don't have to criss-cross with traffic to do so.  Standing where you suggested puts both me and other traffic at risk."

The officer listened, but wasn't going to respond.  He relaxed a bit and didn't look like he wanted to beat the crap out of me.  When I rode away, I crossed over traffic and headed down Pennsylvania Avenue in the traffic lanes.  I looked back and he watched me go.

I'm interested to see what happens tomorrow when I pull up to the exact same spot.
Be safe out there. 


Friday, November 30, 2012

No U-Turns on Penn -- Part Deux

Y'all may have read my post on the "No U-Turns on Penn" that I did about a month ago. Virtually on the month-aversary of that ride the Mayor announced changes to the motor vehicle code regarding U-turns across bike lanes that increase the penalty and should hopefully help with the issue.

Here's WABA's blog entry on it:

Which brings me back to one of the biggest challenges that any bicycle or transportation advocate has...  Enforcement. Many of you who know me have heard my rants on enforcement, or lack there-of.  I'll keep this short and sweet.

I firmly believe that a lot of the problems the DC area has between transportation groups (cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, people on pogo sticks) would be helped significantly, if not partially solved with better enforcement of existing laws on ALL OF US!  None of us behave particularly well if there's visible reward for behaving badly and few/no visible consequences for doing so.

Bottom line:  This is a good thing.  Let's hope the momentum is enough to have this new code enforced.

Have a good weekend, y'all!


Thursday, November 29, 2012

My hands are cold!

Next in the series of entries on why we don't ride, I'd like to talk about an issue that I wish I had a quarter for every time I'd heard it.  Which begs the question, How do we keep our hands warm?

Layers help.  The Layers 101 post ( gives the basics of the different kinds of layers.  Those principles apply with keeping your hands warm too.  

Liner gloves are thin, stretchy gloves that work great as a wicking layer.  Fleece gloves work well for an insulating layer.  Overmitts work great as a wind breaking layer.  That combination of gloves can give you decent temperature range and let you ride DEEP into the winter for under $60.  That, however, is not the way most cyclists ride through the winter. 

Gloves seem to come more often in combination layers.  Many winter gloves combine all three types of layers into one glove.  That works well for many people, but doesn't really allow you to adjust well if conditions change during your ride.  If it warms up a little, you either sweat or take off your gloves.  

Since I ride all year, every year, I tend to collect a lot of different gloves.  I buy a new pair every fall and then retire an old pair.  That gives me a lot to mix and match as the years go by.  I tend to avoid the winter cycling gloves that are designed for very cold weather because they end up, as I describe above, making me sweat then freeze.  

What DOES work very well is having a mid-weight winter glove… something that I'd wear down into the mid to upper 40's, and when it gets colder, I'll add a fleece glove over the top of it.  I have a few pairs of fingerless gloves that have a little mitten flap that can fold over the fingers for extra warmth.  I have wool ones that I got at LL Bean when exchanging a Christmas gift last year.  I have a fleece set that I got at a running store.  If it is really cold, I use the mitten flap.  When my hands warm up, I unhook the flap and my hands can breathe more.  If it really warms up, I can take the fleece/wool gloves off and shove them in my jersey pocket.  

When it really starts getting and staying cold, I bring out the big guns.  When the morning commute is in the 20s or lower and the daytime highs don't get out of the low 40s, I use the Moose Mitts (  These are made by a little shop in Michigan and they are awesome.  When it is 20 degrees out, I can wear a light glove inside them and my hands are toasty warm.  When it is -20, I can drop chemical hand warmers into them and use a heavy glove.. perhaps with liners, and have a very good chance of keeping my hands warm.  They come for either mountain bikes or road bikes (with drop bars).  They are truly wonderful.
 Impromptu Moose Mitt fitting session on the W&OD Trail.

There is a product called Bar Mitts (, which are also nice.  They're made of neoprene and keep your hands nice and warm.  They have different ones for flat or drop bars, like the Moose Mitts.  They don't allow as much flexibility with how you grab the bars.  You're pretty much locked into using one hand position on the bars.  They are very warm and comfy.  They also work well with chemical hand warmers in them.  
A semi-interesting note about the Bar Mitts.  They have a warming label (obviously ignored for this photo) that warns that it is dangerous to ride no-hands with Bar Mitts installed. 

Hopefully that helps in your quest to keep your hands warm. 

Happy riding!


Saturday, November 24, 2012

How to stay warm: Layers 101

This may be a bit basic for folks, but I see tons of people getting it wrong, so I thought I’d write this up.

Layers are the key to keeping warm and dry. When we talk about layers, quality and type are MUCH more important than quantity of layers. More clothes is never the right answer unless you’re wearing the right KIND of clothes.

There are three kinds of layers: wicking, loft (insulation) and wind breaking.

Wicking layers transfer moisture away from your skin. They’re responsible for keeping you dry. They offer a bit of insulation too, but that is not their primary purpose. These are the first layers that you put on.

They can be as simple as an inexpensive base layer or synthetic long-underwear or as complex as high tech base layer where different zones of your body are covered with different thicknesses and textures of fabric to maximize warmth and moisture transfer. Wicking layers can be as cheap as a $8 technical t-shirt from Walmart or as expensive as $150 base layer.

Wicking layers can be used anywhere on your body. They exist for gloves, shirts, tights, socks and even hats.

For my core, I’ve had very good luck with inexpensive base layers made by a company called Verge. They can be found for as little as $8 for sleeveless tops. Like anything synthetic, they tend to trap odors after a while. At $8 each, it doesn’t hurt to recycle them after a year.

My favorite for this time of year are made of merino wool. They’re soft, warm and have a very wide temperature range. They cost $40-80 each and are made by a variety of manufacturers.

COTTON IS NEVER A GOOD WICKING LAYER!  Cotton traps moisture and holds it.  Once your body warms up, you'll start to sweat, then you'll freeze.

Loft or insulating layers provide insulation. They create dead air space between your outer layers and wicking layers. Moisture must transmit through, but their primary source is to hold your body heat in. Winter jerseys often have a little fleece on the inside to provide loft. Microfleece can work well for this. Some jackets (soft shells) have fleece in them too to add loft.

COTTON IS NEVER A GOOD INSULATING LAYER!  Like I said above, it traps moisture and holds it.  You warm up fast and then freeze fast.

Wind Breaking layers are meant to keep wind and wet out while allowing perspiration to leave. Seems simple, eh? It isn’t. If they don’t breathe well enough, it is very easy to overheat, sweat and soak yourself… thus causing a serious danger of freezing. Most simply, vents are holes in high temp areas under your arms or on your back to let sweat and some heat out. More complex venting can be done using fancy laminated fabrics that keep moisture out, but let your skin breathe. Gore-Tex is the one that comes to mind most readily, but there are many other fabrics on the market that do this. The best jackets, vests, pants, gloves use a combination of high tech fabrics and simple venting to balance keeping warmth in and getting/keeping moisture out.

Wind breaking layers can be as inexpensive as a simple nylon windbreaker or can cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Same with tights, pants and gloves.

You’ll notice I have been talking most about keeping my core (torso) warm. While the layers really apply to most places on the body, the key part that I concentrate on is keeping my core at the right temperature.

Combination Layers: There are wicking layers that have insulation. There are insulating layers with wind/water breaking panels. There are wicking layers with wind breaking layers. I use them from time to time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bike Arlington Lights for Bikes

The end of daylight savings time always seems to catch some commuters by surprise.  They may be used to riding in the dark in the morning, but the switch to riding home in the dark seems to come as a surprise to some.  The amazing people at Bike Arlington ( realize this and schedule events that help people be visible and safe when they're riding. 

Monday was the first Lights for Bikes event of the season.  We set up at the intersection of Lynn Street and the Mount Vernon Trail near Key Bridge in Rosslyn, VA.  The goal is to help cyclists, runners and pedestrians be visible to each other and to cars.  Visibility is a HUGE part of being safe.

We gave away and installed hundreds of sets of lights… they are little flashy lights, red for the back and white for the front, that really do a great job of making a people visible.  The cool thing is that they also work very well when attached to strollers, dogs and running shoes.  In addition to this, we gave out information on riding safely and where to get more serious lights that will also help you see the road ahead of you. 

Reflective clothing is a big part of being visible.  Bike Arlington gave away reflective leg straps that not only help you be visible, but also keep your pants out of your chain.  Reflective bike vests were being given out to take visibility to the next level.  You'll hear me talking about visibility a lot in this blog.  It is one of the biggest problems that cyclists have when commuting at night.  

This year was much better for the Lights for Bikes than last!  There will always be people who try to ride past and have no interest in being visible… even when it is free.  Last year there were 30 or 40 who were much more intent on riding past, sometimes being quite rude about it.  This is understandable in some ways.  Some cyclists tend to be in their zone and don't want to be bothered.  When there's a big group of people taking up the trail installing lights, I can see how they would be very intent on getting through and on their way home. 

The cool thing this year was that I really only saw 3 or 4 people who were more intent on getting through the light than stopping to get free lights.  There were some folks who said they didn't need the lights… and they all were well lit and reflective. 

Bike Arlington is definitely not the only group that is doing this.  WABA is doing their "Got Lights?" promotion through their bike ambassadors over the next few weeks. The Crystal City Business Improvement District did a bike light give-away last week on the Mount Vernon trail.  You'll hear more about those as they happen. :D

Have a great week.  Be seen! 


Riding through Hurricane Sandy

Random Co-Worker: "Tell me you didn't ride to work today!?!?!?
Me: "I didn't ride to work today." (With an obedient look on my face.)
RCW: "You're lying!!!"
Me: "Yup!"

That Conversation happens a few times per day, every time there's any kind of bad weather.  The one exception to that was the Tuesday after Hurricane Sandy.  It wasn't that the storm had eased much or that I didn't ride to work.  It was that I was the only person in the office. 

Is that safe?  Is it wise?  Yes and no.  Riding through anything without consideration for safety obviously isn't wise.  There ARE conditions in which  I will choose not to ride.  Monday, at the height of the storm was one of those times.  Driving rain and winds gusting to 60mph isn't safe to ride…. though I did go out for a few minutes on the mountain bike just for grins. 

By Tuesday, the rain was as hard as ever, but the winds had dropped to 20-30mph.  There was no-one else on the roads or trails.  I had plenty of light, plenty of reflective gear and many years riding in all kinds of weather.  I also had no power or internet at home and a lot of work to get done. 

How do you ride safely in bad weather?  Practice, practice, practice!!!  The key is to start riding in light rain storms to get the feel for how the bike handles and what it feels like.  This teaches you to learn your route…  You need to know where you can find cover and safety if things get bad quickly.  You also learn what your bike does in water, mud, wet leaves, snow or ice.  You need to learn what equipment works too.  I'll certainly talk about that stuff in future posts.

What should you watch out for when preparing for your ride?  Check the radar and weather report.  Often the leading edge of a storm has a rather severe squall line with high winds, lightning and heavier rains.  Let that pass before you start your ride.  Get a feel for what the seasonal storms are like before you attempt going out into a storm.  Lightning, flooding and hail are three things you really want to avoid at all costs.  If any of those things are in the forecast, then we're all probably a lot safer staying in. 

Be safe and wise and have fun.  :D


Saturday, October 27, 2012

No U-Turns on Penn

I'm not going to keep up the advocacy stuff at this pace… I promise.  That goes for the blogging too. ;)

Friday morning was a cool opportunity to do a little advocacy of the best kind… the kind that involves riding.  Honestly I'm best when I let my legs do the talking. 

The Pennsylvania Avenue Cycletrack is a little different from many that we see in the city.  Basically there are two lanes of bicycle traffic (one going each direction) and they run down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.  It is a cool set-up that avoids a TON of pesky problems that previous bike lanes in the area had.  It is an area that has many people trolling for parking, jumping multiple lanes to make turns and doing right turns on red with questionable judgement.  The center lanes go a long way to solving those problems.

The Penna Ave. Cycletrack, however, does create a few problems.  Drivers are a bit freaked out by having bicycles in the middle of the  road, for one.  Cyclists don't always make turns onto and off of the cycle track in a a legal and predictable manner.  Illegal turns by EVERYONE cause issues.  Pedestrians are a bit clueless about expecting cyclists in the middle of the road… especially the adorable, wide-eyed tourists.  What used to be a great place for people to temporarily park their cars is now taken up by bicycle traffic.  People forget that and park there anyways.  Last but not least, illegal and unplanned u-turns can be deadly to cyclists. 

There was a LOT of trouble with u-turns when the cycle track first went in, but after 6 or 7 months, it died down a bit.  For whatever reason, the problem has gotten a lot worse in the last 6-8 weeks with many accidents and close calls being reported.  I honestly don't know if this is a perceived change, or if the accidents and close calls are just now getting talked about more.  Either way, something needed to be done.

A friend pointed out to me earlier this week that a group called The Assembly ( was going to have a little event to shed light on the problem, get signatures on a petition and generally increase awareness.  Just my kind of gig. 

We had between 40 and 50 people show up, put signs on their bikes and ride the Pennsylvania Avenue Cycletrack during rush hour.  We were joined by 8 or 9 of DC's bicycle police officers.  WABA ( had a good bunch of people out, including a bunch of the bicycle ambassadors to collect signatures and talk to people.  The Monkey Wagon (A really big stereo piled onto a bicycle trailer) was out blasting tunes and being pulled by a new friend Jordan.  It was festive and effective. 

Many thanks to The Assembly and WABA for making this happen.  Tons of thanks to those who came out to ride.  It was fun to see some familiar faces and people that I love showing up for these things.  Y'all make me happy.  It was definitely good way to spend #fridaycoffeeclub time. 

Rock on!


Friday, October 26, 2012

Official Bike Advocate: Day 1.

I've been a bicycle advocate on some level for about 4 decades.  The words, "We should go for a bike ride!" have enthusiastically left my lips pretty much nonstop in the last 40 years.  A bicycle advocate does more than go for bike rides, though.  They help others go for bike rides.  I've been doing that just as long. 

I finally made a change in my life to be a bit more official about it.  I've been waiting for life to mellow out a bit to give me breathing room to add some advocacy work into the mix.  It isn't happening.  I tried to help out Bike Arlington with some stuff and the day I was supposed to show up I got stuck on a project and at the first break I got for the afternoon I looked up at my watch and realized it was 9pm… a full 3 hours after I was supposed to help out.  It was embarrassing and not at all nice. 

It was also a cry for help.  I needed to balance my life out a bit.  That night I signed up for Bike Ambassador training with Washington Area Bicycle Association (  It's a group that tirelessly works to make Washington, DC an AWESOME place to ride a bike.  They touch it all.  One thing they do is recruit people to be Bike Ambassadors.  I looked at the description of what a Bike Ambassador does, and it read like the list of things that I do every single day on my bike.  Maybe I could make a difference in a more formal way and still not beak my brain at the same time???  We'll see. 

Jump to Day 1… otherwise known as Yesterday.  4am call with a colleague in India about some requirements for a project I've been working on.  5am coffee, cats fed, and kitting up.  By 5:30 I'm rolling across the Fairfax County Line into Falls Church on my way to NW DC to hand out Bicycle Maps and support WABA's membership drive. 

I got there before Megan, the person I was shadowing this morning, so I got the coffee.  We talked, handed out maps and got some people interested in WABA.  We were both amazed at how few people stop at stop signs in DC… both cars and cyclists.  Time flew and we''d run out of maps, so I hammered south through the city to get to the office. 

Ride home was mellow.  I was exhausted.  Met a guy standing next to his bike with his arms crossed, looking at his bike with disdain.  Jammed chain… really badly jammed too.  I popped off the quick link, opened the chain and got it back going in under 2 minutes.  Dude had been trying for 30 minutes with no avail.  He was VERY happy to not be walking home.  When asked, what can I do to thank you?  I replied, "Go out to, read a little, and if you like what you see, join!  We have a membership drive going on right now.

3 minutes later, I met a guy standing next to his bike with the wheel off and trying to remove the tire with a stick.  That wasn't going to work… ever.  Si I stopped, loaned him the tools to change the flat while I prepared the tube and checked to make sure the rest of the bike was oky.  Gave him the WABA pitch and sent him on his way. 

The Grimy Handshake ;)

In all, I guess I really like fitting a little more formal advocacy into my routine.  Not much has changed… now I get a fancy t-shirt. 

With luck we got some new WABA members yesterday.  It wasn't for lack of effort and enthusiasm. 

Rock on, folks!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

I love going to the dentist!  Not sure that's ever been said before.  I think the reaction to that statement isn't too far off from people's reactions when I say that I love my commute!

Now that I've hopefully got your attention, let me back up a little.   Welcome! 

I decided to add a little different focus to my blogging, so this is my newest adventure on the interwebs.  My existence for the last few years seems to have revolved around improving my relationship with my bicycle(s) and helping people improve their relationships with theirs.  We all have reasons why we don't ride.  I'd like to help get rid of those and help you see some awesome reasons why you SHOULD ride. 

The focus isn't limited to commuting.  Mine certainly isn't.  I picked that title because "I <3 my commute" is such a great contrast.  Not many people can use "love" with "commute" with a straight face.  I can.  I can't wait to move from home to work and back again.  While not the only highlight of my days, it is always one of them.

So let's get rid of some reasons not to ride and find a way to leave the car at home.

I'm looking forward to this conversation.

Rock on!