Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

19 April 2018

Will A Ride Report Lead To A Better Bike Lane?

On this blog, I have lamented the poor planning, design and construction of too many bike lanes and other kinds of bike infrastructure.  Some of you have suggested--and I would agree--that it is in large part due to planners who don't understand cycling because, by and large, they don't ride themselves.

If someone doesn't ride, the only accurate information he or she can receive about riding conditions and the needs of cyclists will come from other cyclists.  Of course, the best information of all comes in "real time":  In other words, from records of cyclists as they cycle rather than "snapshots" of who passes through a given point at a given moment.

At least, that seems to be the thinking of transportation planners in--you guessed it--Portland.  They have just signed an agreement with Ride Report, a local tech startup, to share user data with them.  The company's free smartphone application automatically tracks trips and gives users the ability to immediately rate the route's safety, whether it's great, mixed or not so great.

Of course, this cannot provide complete data:  The city has no plans to mandate it for cyclists.  Still, it would almost certainly provide more useful information than taking counts at 280 intersections, as Portland currently does.  Such counts cannot be done continuously and require trained volunteers--who, no matter how good they are, don't always collect precise information.  Moreover, the apps could collect information from cyclists who don't have the time or inclination to attend planning meetings.  

Ride Report says that the data made available will be anonymous.  According to its terms of service, however, it may share demographic data like age or gender if the user agrees, though such agreement is not a requirement for signing up to use the app.

Make what you will of that promise.  As far as I know, no executives of a certain social media company I won't name are involved in the project!

18 April 2018

A Thriller Or A Juicer?

My uncle, who was as much a card-carrying liberal on social issues as anyone I've known (Having spent much of my life involved in the arts and the academic world, that's saying something!) nonetheless refused to watch any movie in which Jane Fonda, a.k.a. "Hanoi Jane", appeared.  

The question of whether you can appreciate the work of anyone accomplished in his or her field--whether in the arts, sports, science or any other area of endeavor--knowing that the person did something immoral, unjust or simply out of line with your values, is certainly not new.  I know otherwise well-read people who will not touch Ezra Pound's Cantos wrote because he was an anti-Semitic Fascist and refuse to have any truck with movies, TV shows, books or other creations from folks who are--or whom they believe to be--immoral or politically incorrect.

Likewise, there are erstwhile fans who gave up on bike racing because of the doping scandals.  This phenomenon was, I believe, most pronounced in the wake of Lance Armstrong's fall from grace.  With all due respect to Greg LeMond, Armstrong was probably the first modern "American hero" of cycling. At least, he was the reason why many Americans paid attention to the Tour de France, if not to bike racing as a whole.  But even Europeans admired and respected him, however grudgingly, if for no other reason than his "comeback" story.

It would be one thing if current and former fans directed their ire solely at him.  Since he was stripped of his titles, however, it seems that some have given up on the sport.  Many more, though, look at every victory, and every current and rising star, through a lens tinted with suspicion.  It's hard to blame them, though the problem of doping pervaded cycling--and sports generally--long before Lance seemed to spring from his death bed to the podium.

So, when Alberto Contador announced his retirement from racing a few months ago, fewer tears were shed than when Bernard Hinault, Eddy Mercx, Jacques Anquetil, Fausto Coppi or even Miguel Indurain called it quits.  That, even though, among those riders, Hinault is the only one besides Contador to have won all three Grand Tours --Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana-- more than once. (Mercx and Anquetil each won the Vuelta once, while neither Coppi nor Indurain ever it.) Even though nearly anyone who has followed the sport will say that he was one of the most talented riders of his generation, they are not as sorry to see him go as they were when previous winners of the maillot jaune and maglia rosa left the scene.

Contador in the 2005 Tour Down Under

Contador, though, wasn't just a cyclist who won races.  He pedaled with gusto, and raced with panache.  Probably the last cyclist who won with such style was Marco Pantani, who won the 1998 Tour and Giro-- and whose "juicing" spiraled into abuse of other drugs, including cocaine, and led to his death five and a half years later. The way Contador rode was often described as a "dance", and he recently admitted that in his final Vuelta --which he won--he would "attack exactly when I felt like it" instead of "calculating everything".  You might say he had his reasons:  After all, he was riding his final race, and it was in his home country.

He was indeed thrilling to watch.  Should we remember him for that--or for the titles he lost and the ban he incurred from his drug use?   

17 April 2018

World Bicycle Day: 3 June

The past decade or so has seen efforts to promote cycling as a viable form of transportation, not to mention recreation.  Such efforts have included everything from the establishment of bike share and earn-a-bike programs to the construction of bike lanes.

The latter, along with other bike infrastructure, varies widely (to say the least) in the quality of conception and construction.  One hopes (or at least  I hope) that planners will learn from their mistakes or be replaced by folks who understand cycling.

Nearly all of the work I've mentioned, though, has been initiated locally--usually by cities or independent organizations.  There have been few initiatives on the county, state or national level here in the US or in other countries.

That may change.  One of the most influential worldwide organizations is making at least a token effort to promote cycling around the globe.

That organization is none other than the United Nations.  On 12 April, at a Regular Session of the General Assembly, a resolution was discussed.  It was adopted by a consensus of the 193 member states.

The resolution declares 3 June as World Bicycle Day.  The purpose of that declaration is, according to a UN press briefing:

[to] emphasize and advance the use of the bicycle as a means of fostering sustainable development; strengthening education, including physical education, for children and young people;  promoting health; preventing disease; promoting tolerance, mutual understanding and respect; and facilitating social inclusion and a culture of peace.

What the UN is saying is, in essence, that cycling can help to achieve some of the organization's stated goals.  I think they're right. (As a longtime cyclist, I'm a totally unbiased observer, right?)  Things like peace, sustainability and respect for each other's humanity seem all the more important in the days after the missile strike in Syria and a report that the Gulf Stream is the weakest it's been in more than a millenium and a half.