Some things can be taught

March 6, 2017 § 22 Comments

How many times have you seen a group of cyclists spread all over the road like a warm breakfast? Judging from the rarity of organized, disciplined, 2 x 2 pacelines, you might think they are formations that only come into existence after years of practice. And you might think that the only people capable of riding mile after mile a few inches from their neighbors’ bars and a few inches from the wheel in front of them is the mark of a truly expert cyclist.

That’s what I always thought, mostly because the only time I ever saw functioning large groups ride like that they were composed of (accomplished) bike racers.

My club, Big Orange, had a Paceline 101 seminar yesterday. We all gathered on Westchester Parkway, and several of the club’s leaders put on the seminar. There were over forty riders. At least half had never ridden in a 2 x 2 paceline before. Most of the others had been riding for two years or less.

The Big O paceline, when I describe it, sounds goofy because of the silly names. Here they are:

Horsemen“: These are the 6-12 riders at the front. These are the only rotating riders. Their job is to:

  • Maintain steady power. Steady on flats, slower on hills, faster on descents.
  • Give plenty of room around road hazards. Give wide berth to cones, potholes, sticks, big rocks, etc.
  • Call out road hazards.
  • Pay attention to upcoming stop lights. Anticipate when the light will change by watching crosswalk countdowns. Avoid panic stops and avoid running the entire peloton through red lights.
  • Accelerate slowly from stops, remembering that everyone behind is still standing
  • Rotate in pairs. Get off the front if the partner wants off. Left side swings off to the left, right side swings off to the right. Keep steady speed when rotating off the front, flick elbow and take 2-3 strong pedal strokes as you move over.
  • Control the lane. The right hand rider controls positioning and stays just to the left of the fog line.
  • Control descents. This is the hardest part to master, requiring a hard effort to keep speed on downhills until the rear of the peloton has completed the descent. Riders at the front cannot slow down until everyone has completed the descent.
  • Steady ascents: Slowing  too rapidly at the bottom of the hill means those at the end of the peloton will accordion. Slow gradually while climbing and regroup after crossing the top. Gradually lift the pace again after the regroup.

Gatekeepers“: The two riders directly behind the horsemen. Their job is to:

  • Maintain steady power. If the horsemen surge, the gatekeepers allow the gap to open, then slowly close it.
  • Provide space for horsemen who have rotated off the front and are coming back in order to slot back in.
  • Prohibit the peloton from mixing with horsemen. The idea is that one group, horsemen, do the work, and the other group, the peloton drafts for the duration of the ride.

Buffers“: 1-3 pairs of riders, riding immediately behind the gatekeepers. Their job is to maintain steady power. If the group ahead surges, the buffers let them go, then gradually close the gap.

Peloton“: This is everyone else. Their job is to:

  • Stay on the wheel in front. Do not pass other riders. Do not fill in gaps ahead of buffers. Do not get out of formation to bomb descents.
  • Keep handlebars even with your partner. Formations stagger when riders are not even with each other.
  • Change lanes from the rear. When changing lanes, the rear of the peloton should move over first, after checking for traffic, and call out “Clear!” so the riders ahead know it is safe.
  • Anticipate slowing riders in front. When approaching rollers, give extra room ahead. Know the route!
  • Identify final rider position. Last place riders in the peloton should tell other riders “I’m last” if for some reason a rider is rotating all the way to the back of the group. Final riders should also take responsibility for being the riders who check first for rear traffic when getting ready to change lanes.

Before going to the Peloton 101 seminar, participants were supposed to have read this explanation of paceline riding. Once we assembled, a couple of leaders explained it all again in person, took questions, we did a practice lap around the Parkway. There was a lot of talking and some correcting, but no shouting or abusing or screaming. Everyone was told beforehand that we were there to learn, and told not to take anything personally.

Incredibly, no one did.

After the first lap we debriefed, people switched up positions, and we did a second lap, this time at about 22-24 mph. We debriefed again, questions were taken, and we rode a final lap “at speed.” After a final debrief, those who wanted to rolled with the group out onto PCH and practiced pacelining in the lane at speed all the way to Malibu and back.

Here is a link to a video that was taken by Cycling Savvy instructor Gary Cziko from the position of gatekeeper, with the horsemen teaching a first-timer how to rotate.

What amazed me about the practice was how quickly people got it when it was explained and they had a chance to practice. After the second lap the 42-person rotation was so disciplined that, sitting at the very back, I could see all the way to the front through the gap between the side-by-side riders. It was almost perfectly straight.

I wondered why it was so effective, and several things occurred to me.

First, it’s not complicated, but there are organizational elements that need to be explained. I learned to ride a paceline while doing it, making a mess of it, and getting yelled at. Being calmly instructed, gently corrected, and given a chance to practice takes most of the terror out of it.

Second, having roles with names is a huge help to beginning riders. Sure, “horsemen” sounds silly, but it is a defined word with a defined function, and when you’re doing your first paceline with a bunch of experienced riders and you’re so nervous you’re about to crap your shorts, it makes all the difference in the world to have words tied to actual functions and roles.

This nomenclature also makes new riders concentrate on what they’re doing, as opposed to riding in terror that they’re about to crash out fifty people. Even better, once people feel comfortable in one role, they can try a more challenging one, so they not only have a place, but they have the feeling of “moving up.” Roles also have the invaluable function of predictability, which is what safe group riding is all about. There’s never any question about where a horseman is supposed to be, and if there is, you can ask. Compare that to the amorphous glob of riders in which random people do random things for no apparent reason … or at least that’s how it seems to beginners.

Third, holding a more-or-less permanent position throughout the ride means you get to know the person next to you, and the relationships are what makes the experience fun.

Removing the mystery, sharing the knowledge, and teaching skills raises everyone’s ability, including the teacher’s. It also creates a vibe in which people want to excel. Best of all, this method includes riders of vastly differing abilities and solves one of the biggest issues of group riding for clubs, i.e., “How do you integrate slower riders with faster ones without either shredding the slow ones or making the fast ones go so slow that they no longer want to do the ride?”

Every club should look at its mission and if part of the mission is education, improvement, and making road riding more accessible to more people, then a program like this is a winner. Photos courtesy of Joann Zwagerman, Big Orange phenom who was responsible for organizing yesterday’s seminar!

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Time wounds all heels

January 24, 2017 § 25 Comments

It was with great pleasure that I read about the invasion of the wave snatchers at the holy site formerly marked by the masturbatorium erected by the Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch, and reputedly mourned by white pick-up kook, workboots surfer kook, Michael Kirst (known for his role as Deputy Sykes in the video blockbuster “Sisterhood of the Shewolf”), and of course Falling Off Surfboard Robert Chapman.

The big hammer that the surf community is swinging is the class action lawsuit combined with threatened action by the California Coastal Commission. If you are curious about the surfer kook gang that has made Palos Verdes Estates infamous for great waves ridden badly, here’s one handy link.

However, it was with great displeasure that I realized how long it has taken the surfing community to stand up to the violence and the bullies that rule the break formerly known as Aloha Point, but now rechristened “Taloa Point” after the courageous activist who has broken the color line at Lunada Bay and led the charge to open public beaches to, well, the public. Displeasure because it’s been a Thirty Years’ War, and when I look at how much effort and money it has taken, it makes me wonder what the prospects are for cyclists who dare to ride in PVE.

The police force, led by Jeff Kepley (also a defendant in the class action lawsuit against the Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch Surfer Gang), has still not issued a single citation for cars violating the 3-foot law, but has handed out numerous tickets to cyclists for running stop signs. That makes a lot of sense: Ignore actions by cars that can kill people and clamp down on victimless stop sign violations. Moreover, the police, ordered by the rampaging city council, have focused their efforts not on protecting cyclists and finding the person who killed John Bacon but on harassing legal group rides and shutting down legal protests.

If the surfer activism at Lunada Bay is any indicator, the fight for cyclists’ rights in PVE is going to take a long time. What’s worse than that is the city’s effective crackdown on cyclists’ efforts to educate the residents about the actual law and what it means.

Having taken a page out of the alternative fact playbook, the bike hating activists are relentlessly pounding home falsehoods, and the cycling community’s early enthusiasm has flagged. When it comes to endurance athletes, maybe we’ve met our match in the form of a few rabid, racist, bike-hating NIMBYs.

With a city council impervious to law, fact, or reason, with a raving minority of bike haters, a hostile police force, and falling-off-surfboarders like Robert Chapman bobbing around the rocks, the question of “What next?” is more than simply relevant. It’s a frontal challenge to our right to ride safely on the peninsula.

The scary reality is that most cyclists may simply be too flat fucking lazy to defend their rights to ride here. A whole bunch of dedicated people have shown up and advocated, but a whole bunch haven’t. When given the choice between showing up and doing a cool ride or fighting city hall, maybe it’s more important to more people to go out and do the big ride, clock the miles on Strava, hit the “like” button on Facegag, and ride somewhere else than it is to put in the time and effort to beat back the crazies. I mean, isn’t that why we have the president today that we so richly deserve? And isn’t there a saying somewhere … “No time to do it right, always time to do it over.”

But I digress … a new educational protest is in the works pending completion of some very cool t-shirts currently in production that will help residents and car traffic understand and apply the law. Date/Time TBA–hope to see you there!

bmufl2

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No expletives were harmed in this protest

January 16, 2017 § 56 Comments

Yesterday we met at Malaga Cove Plaza and rolled out our fancy new Bikes May Use Full Lane signs as part of our free speech demonstration. We held up the signs for all motorists to see, so that they could learn about the law and so that we could exercise our right to free speech.

By my rough estimate, more than a billion cars passed by, or perhaps it was a thousand or so. Many waved, a few showed the finger, and one sympathizer of the Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch and Robert Chapman stuck his head out of the window of his rusty pickup and screamed, “Cars first!”

I pleasantly shouted back, “State law!”

He screamed, apoplectic, “Fuck you! Cars first! Whiny faggot!” summing up perfectly the grounds on which a tiny handful of people oppose the law.

The best car was a house divided, where the sour driver husband grimly shook his head and gave us a thumbs-down, while his wife enthusiastically smiled and gave us a thumbs-up. I bet she has a happy pool guy.

The great news is that standing at the intersection with a concise, easily seen statement of the law works wonders. The not-so-great news is that if you’re holding up an actual traffic sign that hasn’t been approved for installation by the city, the PVE PD will come up and threaten to cite you for violating CVC 21465. We had a civil and brief discussion with the police, who told us that it was free speech if our signs were made of cardboard, but not free speech if they were actual traffic signs. The statute doesn’t say this, of course, and we pretty clearly have the right as part of a demonstration to hold up whatever signs we want, but since the point of the protest was to educate motorists rather than be led away in chains, and since it was lunch time, we ended the protest without being fined or arrested. #winning

Our next and expanded intersection education campaign is already in the works. Thanks to all who honked encouragement, the cyclists who rode by and grinned, the entire Surf City Cyclery Team who yelled as they rode through, the high five from Gussy, and the advocates who showed up to help educate the city’s motorists.

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Deb’s throw a leg over ride

January 14, 2017 § 23 Comments

Debra Banks was hit by a drunk two years ago. Her ordeal was detailed in an earlier post here. I don’t know very many people who could have gone through what she endured and come out on the other end still wanting to ride a bike. But she is tough, randonneur tough, Paris-Brest-Paris tough, and for her there was never any question of whether she would ride again, only the question of when.

Everyone who gets hit by a car suffers from some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder. Getting back on your bike is only partly physical. It’s hugely mental. So when Deb told me that her doc had cleared her to ride again, we swapped emails, figured out a day, and I drove up to Sacramento so that we could commemorate this monumental event.

We left LA bright and early. I had never been to Sacramento before and was looking forward to all the mountains. We got there around noon and headed straight for an awesome coffee shop that Yasuko had found on the Internet. “You sure this place is good?” I asked, making a mental note of what seemed to be no mountains anywhere.

“It’s got a very good rating,” she said. “It’s called Estellle’s bakery. Itsa most famous chocolate croissant and we eat light and a coffee and still be hungry for dinner.” I wondered when I had never not been hungry for dinner.

We parked in downtown Sacramento across from the capitol. Sacramento is an amazing blend of gritty and funky, and it reminded me of Austin in the 1980’s, when the tallest building was the capitol. Sacramento has that feeling of pre-gentrification, where the funky and the gritty are creating the magic that, in a few years, will attract the burned out yuppies from the Bay Area who will kill it.

We got to the famous cafe and it was out of business. “I guess it was too good for its own good,” I said.

Down the street was the Capitol Cafe, a run down diner was part of a business empire that included the Capitol Bar on one side and the Capitol All You Can Eat Salad bar on the other side. It was a true cafe, where you could eat a full meal for a few bucks, and everybody knew everybody including the crazy vet nursing a cup of coffee and telling each customer that “Jesus is lord.”

Freed from the necessity of an appetite-saving croissant we decided to save space for dinner with a cheeseburger and fries, and Yasuko chose the diner’s equivalent of a croissant, which was a BLT. We would still have plenty of room for dinner if dinner were served at midnight.

We left the cafe and headed for the dumpster-filled alley that abutted the parking garage just in time to witness two homeless dudes get into a fight. It was kind of unique, because one of the guys coudn’t walk well and had a big wooden cane. “Someone’s going to get hurt,” I told Yasuko.

The cane-holder began the scuffle with the obligatory “you motherfucker” and hit the other guy on the shoulder so hard that his backback fell off.

“You’re the motherfucker,” the other dude said, and moved over into our line of sight so that we could see him fully, which is when we realized that this was going to be the fight of the the century because he had a cane, too. It was the Charles Sumner caning where both parties were armed.

The first dude (MF 1) steadied himsef after hitting the backpack dude (MF 2) and while he was regaining his balance MF 2 counterwhacked the shit out of him, dislodging  his styrofoam box of leftovers from his hand and spilling them onto the street.

“You motherfucker I’m going to kill you,” screamed MF 1, but by now both MFs realized that the dislodged backpack and the spilled salad kind of canceled each other out and there was an opportunity to avoid further foodshed by simply cursing some more and declaring victory, kind of like an imaginary sprunt victory at the  beginning of the third traffic island on the NPR.

We went back to the car and drove over to Deb’s place, taking the scenic route through east Sacramento, which was jam packed with the three horsemen of the gentrification apocalypse: Craft breweries, hip coffee shops, and Trader Joe’s.

We got to Deb’s and were joined by Mark, Darrel, and Kim. A sumptuous feast was served and we had the most amazing evening doing that weird thing that people used to do a lot but never do anymore. We sat and talked. For hours.

“Is it weird meeting people you only know through the Internet?” Darrel asked.

“Not any weirder than meeting people at a party for the first time. The only difference is that with Facebag friends you already know the fake stuff about their lives from their newsfeed and can go straight to what’s real.”

One of the real things was an awesome Wankmeister sculpture welded by Darrel for me as a gift, and other real things reminded me of the violent collision that had brought us all together: The shoes that had been cut off Deb’s feet in the first of countless gruesome procedures that had begun the process of cobbling back together her shattered ankle, shoes she had glued back together and planted with flowers, or the medieval external brace that had been bolted into her shin and was now a vase.

We talked and laughed late into the night, which for cyclists meant 10:30.

The next morning we drove over to Davis, where Deb and Mark broke the sad news: “There are no mountains here. It is a pancake flat valley. However, it’s super cold in the morning.”

We met up with Drew and Tuesday and rode out to Winters, where we stopped for good coffee. The day was spectacular and clear. This was Deb’s third ride and we talked about the mental and physical barriers to getting back on the bike because a lot of people simply never do.

A lot of it has to do with risk tolerance but more than that it has to do with the nature of what you require in order to live your life. For some people it’s the very existence of the risk that gives life its bite, that makes life something more than a tasteless oatmeal that you chew unenthusiastically until you reach your expiration date.

I’m inspired by people who get through to the other side, friends like Deb, like Marvin Campbell, like Chris Gregory, and so many others who get badly hurt and are able to get back on the horse. It’s partly a question of toughness but much more a matter of courage, a willingness to face fear and to power on through to the other side.

We finished the ride and were joined by Paul Thober, Darrel, and Kim for lunch, after which we selfied and got in the car for the seven-hour drive home.

Maybe that seems like a long way to drive for a two-hour ride. But to share a few moments with people like Deb, well, I would have driven twice as far.

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Coming soon to a Palos Verdes Estates near you!

January 12, 2017 § 48 Comments

Since the city of Palos Verdes Estates has decided not to install the Bikes May Use Full Lane signage recommended by their traffic safety commission and traffic engineer and supported by hundreds of cyclists, law and common sense, we’ve taken matters into our own hands.

img_0612

Who knew that you could purchase ten honking, big-ass CalTrans-approved BMUFL signs, the real steel deal, for a mere $362.81? And that you could order them online?

We did, and we did.

Join us this coming weekend, and weekends throughout 2017 as we take to the four ingress/egress points of Palos Verdes Estates and hold up signs to educate motorists about the right of bikes to use the full lane, and to stress that all motorists (including Garrett and Cynthia Unno, Robert Chapman, Michael Kirst, and that Zaragoza lady) need to “CHANGE LANES TO PASS.”

The city council can — and they have — locked the chamber doors to public dissent.

But the streets are still free and we’ll be out there helping to spread the word.

Join us!

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Dying for fun and profit

December 14, 2016 § 21 Comments

The whole idea of a die-in to protest the lame Palos Verdes Estates city council’s refusal to plant five bikes-may-use-full-lane signs seemed like a great idea at the time.

But there I was, lying in the formerly warm grass, breathing in the sweet scent of my youth, when some bug crawled up my nose. I was just about to scratch it when up came the photographer. Play dead or scratch? Scratch or play dead?

The photog clicked and walked on. Then I scratched like hell. I guess the press was worth it … we got a nice write-up here and then again here. And the battlefield kind of looked like this:

fullsizerender

The best part was watching the six body-armored, body-cammed PVE police milling around as if a bunch of prostrate old people might erupt at any moment into a mob of hobbling geezers intent on fomenting insurrection. As I lay dying, or rather dead, I heard lots of encouraging honks from passing motorists, and the protesters holding up signs reported countless thumbs-up, but frankly, being dead sucks and after 45 minutes I was ready to start living again.

We went over to the city council meeting with a sizable contingent of about twenty people and spoke our allotted time telling the city what we’ve been telling them for a long time now: BMUFL signs are legal and a great step in improving roadway safety. Mayor King glowered and the council grumpily listened to speaker after speaker castigate them for their hypocrisy and bad behavior.

However, it was easy to see that the city council wasn’t going to be swayed by a couple dozen fake dead people and declamations at the lectern. As with their capitulation to those who engineered the dismantling of the Lunada Bay Boys’ fort and masturbatorium, the only things that are going to make this city council change its tune are:

  1. Relentlessly bad media.
  2. Litigation.

The litigation part is of course coming, and it is going to hit like a tidal wave in the form of some biker who gets hit and killed or catastrophically injured. The biker will hire a lawyer and the lawyer will sue the city for its negligently dangerous road design. The city will have been shown to be on notice due to the minutes and video of the council meeting refusing the recommendations of its engineer and traffic safety committee, and part of the multi-million dollar settlement will include installation of the signs.

All it’s going to take is another dead cyclist or two. Real ones.

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Save the kids on foot, kill the kids on bikes

December 10, 2016 § 2 Comments

There will be a die-in on Tuesday, December 13, from 4:00 to 5:00 PM, at the Malaga Cove Plaza. If you’ve ever been hit by a car or know someone who has, this is the time to come and show solidarity with the dead, catastrophically injured, and all others who’ve suffered simply because they decided to legally ride a bicycle on the street.

The goal is to encourage the four members of the PVE City Council to erect Bikes May Use Full Lane signage per the traffic safety committee’s engineering recommendation.

Of course, not everyone wants to put on a fake bloody t-shirt and drape themselves over their bikes in the posture of a cadaver. For those who desire to make their concerns heard orally, there will also be a city council meeting later that evening at 7:30 PM. At the city council meeting, you’re encouraged to submit a separate speaker card for every single item on the agenda. The city council really encourages participatory democracy and appreciates it when people speak in detail about issues they confront.

There is however one key item on the city’s agenda that you should definitely speak up on.

This is Agenda Item #9, consideration of traffic safety committee’s recommendation to install a crosswalk for kids walking to school. This has come up twice before the traffic safety committee, just like the recommendation to install BMUFL signs. But I digress. But not really.

As with the BMUFL signs, the traffic safety committee considered the special snowflake NIMBY arguments against doing something for the safety of small children, then went ahead and recommended what anyone on a committee named “traffic safety” would recommend: Slap down some paint to protect children crossing the street.

This item, approved by the traffic safety committee (just like the BMUFL signs!) now goes before the city council for a vote (just like the BMUFL signs)!

This is your opportunity to speak on this issue and point out that the city council has the same obligation to immediately take steps to protect pedestrians that it has to protect bicyclists. In case you wonder why PVE kiddies and their parents are getting chubbier and chubbier, take a look at this photo:

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Yup. Few of these people live more than a few minutes away from school, but would you really stick your kid up that pedestrian gauntlet of death? Here’s what THAT looks like:

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Aside from the dig by the city of Palos Verdes Estates at low-rent Rancho Palos Verdes by leaving the “s” off its name, note that the low-rent RPV streets have pedestrian sidewalks, just like parts of low-rent RPV have bike lanes.

Fancy PVE, however, hates anything that detracts from its rural charm, you know, the rural charm of being in a city of 15 million people. That’s also called the “unicorn fart” charm, and can be found in the same location, i.e. Delusionland. So, no street lights, no sidewalks, minimal pedestrian crosswalks for kids, and not one single BMUFL sign. Part of rural charm means hitting people with your car, doncha know?

But back to the city council meeting. You need to put in a speaker card for this issue and remind the city council of the following:

  1. Safe streets shouldn’t have to wait for the completion of the city’s Unicorn Fart Master Safety Traffic Plan which still has no timetable or funding.
  2. Kids walking to school in safety is a good thing.
  3. Kids riding bikes to school in safety is a good thing.
  4. Caving in to safety-hating NIMBYs over logic, sound engineering, and common sense, is a bad thing.
  5. If you want a healthier PVE, get people walking when they’re young.
  6. If you want less traffic congestion in PVE, get moms and dads walking to school with their kids instead of driving them in Buffalomobiles.
  7. If you think that dead road users is a bad thing, put up the fucking BMUFL signs already. Dead bikers are just as bad as dead pedestrian children.

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