Here comes the Hun

January 16, 2018 Comments Off on Here comes the Hun

There is a nasty part of every day recently, and by recently I mean since about 2011, when it dawns on me that I have to sit down at the computer and write something that will offend enough people to get them to read the first paragraph, but not so many that I will be beaten to a pulp the next time I show up at a bike race or group ride or social mixer, raging inside at not being able to douse my soul in suds but insanely proud at resisting the call of the demon drink, like water torture infused with cocaine.

Today I pretty much knew what I was going to write about, which is a way of saying I had no fucking idea what I was going to write about because I am possessed by a mean bastard who waits until I hammer out the slug and then rips up the rails and sends me down a blind, bleeding, raucous, raw rabbit hole filled with mines, razors, concertina wire, and chocolate. I can handle everything except the fucking chocolate.

It was a simple story, really, about a bike racer whose nickname is “the Hun” not because he is an invading, one-man-horde of death and ruination, but because he is a Magyar, an Eastern European man born and raised in the Kingdom of Hungary, from whence the Huns originally were spawned and issued forth to ransack, pillage, burn, and upturn the citadel of Rome before giving into the weather, the art, the women, the boys, the poetry, and the wine, especially the wine, which, once hooked upon, turned them into the same soft and easily eaten cronuts of the emperors they’d only recently disemboweled and whose heads they’d set tastefully on bloody pikes.

I was going to talk about Attila the Hun and what a badass he is, and it was going to be complimentary and kind and a gentle revelation of a decent father and son, but what is the fun in that? Who wants a fucking fairy tale on the eve of MLK Day, when our Racist-in-Chief is celebrating the enslavement of a race by whacking golf balls, way over par and tipped in at the last minute by his lying henchmen who have stolen our national wealth and sold our fake democracy to the Russians? Who wants a happy ending, well, everyone who hasn’t been to China recently, I guess, and hasn’t seen that the iron fist of George Orwell has been increased 5,000% in size through daily workouts at Gold’s Gym and clothed in lululemon yoga gloves to make the rusty nails protruding from the knuckles look sexier, that’s who.

So, no happy story with a pretty ending for you today. It’s Tuesday and the job is in full meatgrinder mode, and even if you can’t keep your fingers clear, try not to stick your tongue into it.

This morning’s Tuesday Horror Story started on Sunday at noon at Telo, the world’s worst training crit ever. Even if you like wind and pain, even if you get wet and weak inside when you think about having someone stand on your left eye, nah, even then it was a shitty day. The whole idea behind moving Telo from Tuesday to Sunday was a stupid idea; “On Sunday there’s no traffic,” “We need a training crit between January and March, when Telo is SUPPOSED to start up,” and the dumbest fucking lie ever told, “It will be fun.”

Newsflash: Bike racing isn’t fun unless you’re doing the fake old supermaster jagoff World Championship 70+ ITT where you compete against one other idiot so that you can scurry home and brag that:

a. I’M A WORLD CHAMPION JUST LIKE PETER SAGAN and

b. I’M GOING TO PUT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STRIPES ON MY BUSINESS CARDS

For everyone else, bike racing is a nasty, painful, disappointing, sadistic exercise in masochism and deflation and delusion that runs aground on physics, physiology, and mental decrepitude, and nowhere are the shoals as sharp and shark-ridden as Telo.

On Sunday it was a horrible contingent of actual bike racers. Not fake-fuck posers who buy all the fancy shit and wear all the fancy clothes and wouldn’t get near a number and a safety pin for all the trinkets on Strava, but actual people who raced actual bikes against actual other people for no other reason than the misery and disappointment of physical and mental collapse.

Prime among this tribe of angry people was Attila (his real name), “the Hun,” (not). With a paltry field, we started, took the first lap easy, and began attacking. After thirty-five minutes everyone was ready to call it a day, a week, a lifetime, anything but “not over,” yet for all that it was not over. Jon Davy seized the exhausted moment, kicked it hard in its tender private parts, and Attila followed. By then the minuscule field of a dozen had dwindled to six, with various collapsed and beaten competitors doing lackluster laps, randomly hopping in and out, unsure why they were there or what they were doing.

Dog knows I don’t know.

After a couple more laps Derek Brauch sprang free, Greg Leibert followed, and as I waited for Josh Alverson to do something, anything, they rode away and that was that. Derek was finally dumped, Greg bridged to Jon and Attila, and they took turns attacking Jon. Attila got free and soloed for an ugly win, not as ugly as the wreckage and destruction that the Huns had visited on Rome, but close.

Afterwards everyone sat around in the heat, dehydrated, sunstroked, in shock at having done something so hard and stupid when, for a mere $45, we could have spent six hours on I-10 doing a real 60-minute race in Ontario with racers who were not only more real than we but also way smarter. The Hun didn’t care. As he has done so many times past, in road races and in crits, he came, he smashed, he won ten dollars and a loaf of bread, and he went home happy, the skins and heads of his victims stapled to his jerkin.

No one is sure if Sunday Telo will ever happen again. I hope it doesn’t. But in the meantime, the demon has let me out of his clutches and this particular post is done.

END

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The middle ground a/k/a FDR

January 15, 2018 Comments Off on The middle ground a/k/a FDR

There is a sweet spot in cycling for most people, located right in that middle ground between “pound” on the one hand, where everyone feels like they had eye surgery sans anesthetic, and “flail,” where you finish the ride and wonder, “Did I ride?” The South Bay’s Fun Donut Ride, or FDR, hits the sweet spot almost every time.

It’s a hard spot to find because any grouping of riders invariably attracts an outlier or two. The pounder whines because it was “too easy,” and the flailer moans because it was “too hard.” Of course no ride is right for every rider, all the time. But coming up with that Sweet Spot Ride, getting it started, and hardest of all, keeping it alive, is fiendishly hard to do, yet it’s precisely this kind of ride that builds community and participation in cycling. How to do it?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joann Zwagerman’s FDR.

Genesis: How the FDR came to be

I could give you the background of the FDR, but why? Joann has already done it for me. With a few edits and emendations, here it is:

Greg Seyranian had a South Bay ride called the Anti-Donut. I would show up week after week and pedal my ass off. It was mellow for them but it was totally challenging for me. I did my best to try and keep up. They never abandoned me and they always waited for me and I found that remarkable.

Once race season began and the Anti-Donut ended, I found myself looking for a similar ride. If you were a racer, you were on the Donut Ride. If not, you were looking for friendly people to ride with. Thus, the Fun Donut Ride, or FDR, was born. It is an inclusive, non pretentious, friendly, fun and challenging ride.

Maybe today is your biggest ride? Your first group ride? Your first FDR? Whatever it is, I hope you feel like you’ve accomplished something at the end of it even if it’s just eating your first donut with chocolate sprinkles in ten years and making a few new friends!

Thank you everyone for all your support! Ride on and be safe!

Exodus: How riders joined the FDR

As we all know, it’s fairly easy to start a ride. You tell a few friends the time and place, give them a general rundown of the route, and three of them show up. If you invite a hundred people, you can expect maybe four. Everyone does the ride, has a more or less good time, and then you do the ride for a couple more weeks, and participation increases a bit or stays the same.

Then comes the crunch moment. It’s the day for “your” ride. You’ve told everyone you’ll be there. But yesterday you got a bo-bo on your boo-boo, or maybe a boo-boo on your bo-bo and it’s feeling really ouchie as you lay there in bed with only thirty minutes to crap, air your tires, drink some coffee, pull a pair of shorts out of the dirty hamper, and scurry to the start.

What do you do? You roll over, of course! This isn’t your job! It’s your hobby! Those wankers know the route! You’ll be there next week anyway! Snxxxxxxxzzzzzzzz!

Of course your pals see it differently. They get to the start and you’re not there. They check their phones. They call you. Someone finally rouses you and you groggily text back, “Boo-boo on bo-bo, out.”

And guess what? You just drove a wooden stake through the heart of your nascent ride. Because for a ride to continue, the person who started it has got to keep showing up. It’s like being married, only far worse because at least when you’re married, rolling over and snoring is an accepted part of lovemaking. Requisite, actually.

What Joann figured out with the FDR was that if you’re cycling in the South Bay and you want people to commit to you, you have to commit to them. And that means a date, a time, a place, and a commitment to be there “til death do us part.” Week in and week out, the FDR went off with Joann present to shepherd her lambs, and it went off in some pretty extreme situations.

Broken hand? No worries, Joann sagged in her Rage Rover. Broken wrist a few months later? No worries, Joann sagged in her Rage Rover. Ride founder overtrained and barely able to move? No worries, Joann either did the ride, sagged in her Rage Rover, or rustled up a deputy. And this last part, “rustling up a deputy,” has been a great innovation because the FDR’s success has led to its having two routes: A fixed loop around the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and a variable route that can venture pretty far afield. Having a deputy means that the fixed FDR route always takes place, and people aren’t left showing up to a ride where they are the ride.

Revelation: You can make an FDR, too

Joann’s FDR has brought a lot of people into cycling and now serves as a focal point for people who are looking for a regular ride–not too hard, not too soft–and for event organizers who want to get the word out about their event. From Phil Gaimon’s Cookie Fondo, to the Belgian Waffle Ride, to Rivet Cycling’s Santa Barbara ribs extravaganza, people in the cycling community recognize that FDR is there for the community as a whole.

This, of course, is how you grow the cycling donut, and then get to eat it, too. One rider at a time.

END

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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

It’s only a thousand meters

October 29, 2017 § 30 Comments

The fruits of thievery are success.

Velo Club La Grange has for years put on an intra-club race series. It consists of a 500-meter race on the track; you can use a road bike. Later in the year there is a 20-km TT on PCH; you can use your full TT geek rig. This is the only time you will use it all year, btw. The series finishes with the legendary Piuma Hillclimb. It’s about three miles long, it’s steep, and hard.

A small handful of people (think Trump hands) worry that bike racing is dying or perhaps dead. In the “old way,” it certainly is, by which I mean that there is no new crop of young people getting USAC licenses. Why would they? When you race bikes you will get hurt. Better to raise your kids in a safety cocoon than have them learn about risk, injury, danger, and reward.

At the same time, a number of race organizers keep chugging along, here to survive another day on the fumes of past participation, and on the super-charged fuel of the modern fondue ride, which is actually a great concept. You can charge people $160 to ride the roads they can ride for free, everyone wins, and if riders are ambitious and do the long course you can make sure there’s no water left at the last four rest stops.

But I digress.

Velo Club La Grange’s intra-club race series is a template for encouraging people to race, for developing and discovering nascent racers in the club, and for ensuring that the DNA of their organization as a racing club does not degenerate into a social media contest about whose bike is newest or whose selfies are awesomest. Being a free template, I stole it under cover of darkness and transported it, kicking and screaming while tied up in a burlap bag, over to Team Lizard Collectors HQ.

Of course some of the lizard collectors weren’t impressed. “Who needs a club race?” and “This will steal attention from my #socmed posts!” and “How in the eff will this promote my sock brand?” and of course “But I don’t raaaaaace!” were all valid and legitimate objections to the scurrilous suggestion that a bike racing club should have a bike race.

However, the Team Lizard Collectors board is composed, unfortunately, of bike racers, and with the exception of online porn nothing gets them salivating like the prospect of a bike race with trinkets. So they signed off on the cheap imitation of Velo Club La Grange’s Excellent Adventure, and a misbirth was born. Here was the plan for the Big Orange Galactic Championship series:

  1. 1,000-meter TT at Telo. No TT bikes allowed.
  2. Latigo hillclimb. Bring your secret motor, you’ll need it.
  3. 10-lap TT at Telo. No TT bikes allowed.

Several lizard collectors wondered about the 1k event. “It’s too short!” and “It’s too long!” and “It’s too easy!” and “How come I can’t bring my wind tunnel-tested TT rig?” and “But I don’t raaaaaaace!” were all valid and legitimate objections to the scurrilous suggestion that a bike race didn’t have to be so complicated that its inherent complications would create its demise and allow club members to go back to their normal business of lizard collecting and selfies.

However, here were the answers:

  1. Give people a short race and it will encourage them to try it out.
  2. If you think the kilometer is easy, please come show us on race day.
  3. TT rigs have ruined time trialing. They allow you to literally buy speed, they require redundant equipment, and they take one of cycling’s best and safest events out of the purview of the casual rider. TT bikes also make the safest, easiest, and least stressful discipline horribly dangerous for newbies by putting them on twitchy, deadly, unsteerable dorkbikes. Plus, TT rigs look stupid AF and are crazy expensive clothes hangers.
  4. Don’t raaaaaace? No problem. Come ride one thousand lousy meters with a number pinned on, and with your time being compared to everyone else on the same course on the same day under the same conditions, and forevermore you will be called a bike racer. It’s that simple.

Saturday came and went, and 36 members from Team Lizard Collectors’ 300-member roster showed up to compete, several of whom were doing their first race and first time trial ever. Most impressively, four out of the club’s five board members raced; talk about putting your board where your organization’s goals are. Instead of organizing it so that everyone got a trinket by dividing the event into categories of age/weight/gender/astrological sign/religion, there was a women’s category and a men’s. That was it.

The event was a huge success. Riders came out who otherwise would not have. New riders raced their first race. Non-favorites whipped ass on the favorites. Certain people discovered an affinity for short, fast efforts, and with it they garnered real respect, not virtual kudos on Strava.

Best of all, the event shored up our club’s DNA. We’re a bike racing club, open to everyone, racer or not, but with a mission to increase bike racing and to give everyone the opportunity to learn about and participate in this awesome sport. If you run a club and haven’t yet put together one of these series, now might be the time. It’s a blast. And I’ll even loan you the burlap bag.

END

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Let’s play smashface

October 25, 2017 § 8 Comments

I don’t get suckered often, but when I do it’s always a big chapeau to the perpetrator. At the very least it solves my problem, for a day, of “What’m I gonna blog about?”

A few months ago I met Jason Hole in the Internet/Facebag way. He lives in Orange County and has a group of riders who coalesce around the slogan “Let’s Play Bikes.” The purpose, so I was told, is for people to get together and “have fun.” The weekly Tuesday ride, which leaves Bill Barber Park in Irvine at 5:45 PM, accommodates a wide variety of interests and abilities.

It’s “only about an hour” and it’s “flat” and it “regroups.”

Of course the above description should have sent screaming, blood-dripped shrieks of alarm raging through my head. “Have fun.” “Flat.” “Regroups.” These are all code words for their antonyms, “miserable AF,” “gnarly climb,” and “good fuggin’ luck, seeyalater or probably never.”

The moist and tasty little worm on the end of the hook was “Why don’t you come down and talk to us about bike safety, and then do the ride with us?”

Bike safety? Hell, yes. And followed with a fun, friendly, flat pedal for an hour or so? Perfection!

So we loaded up Kristie’s battle wagon and hurled ourselves into the teeth of the 405 at 3:15 on a Tuesday, and it was a full-on SoCal traffic porn show, bumper to bumper to bumper to bumper as we limped through the concrete freeway hellhole, saving the environment with our zero emissions bikes by putting them in the back of an 8-cylinder truck that got 8 or 9 feet per gallon. [Cue hypocritical smugness.]

We nervously gazed at the thermometer as we inched along. 107 degrees. And since we’d ridden that morning and had done a decent amount of climbing, we already knew that outside it was drier than C-SPAN.

Once we got to the park and met up with Jason, I noted a few key things. First, it was not only 107 very hot degrees, and it was not only sandpaper dry, but there was a howling, screeching wind. Naturally, I figured we’d be riding into it. But most disturbing? Jason never cracked a smile. Not a grin. Not even a tiny upturned corner of one side of his mouth. Long bike experience told me what I didn’t want to hear: This was going to be all business.

The parking lot filled, I gave my safety talk, and we rolled out, two by two. It’s true there was a wide variety of abilities, but it was also obvious that some of those abilities were decidedly on the upper end of the scale. And as I’d feared, we headed out into the wind. Huge dry, hot winds on an empty stomach and tired legs on unfamiliar roads with utter strangers will begin cracking your will to live immediately, and they did. Sitting second wheel my legs ached, and no matter how I hunkered they hurt. “Please let this end soon,” I prayed to dog. I was afraid to ask how long the ride lasted; it was clearly going to be a lot more than an hour. I didn’t hear anyone chatting. So much for the fun. The wind howled.

Once it got dark and my bottle was empty, and my tongue was sticking to my teeth, and my legs felt like they would fall off, Jason turned to me as we sat on the front together. “There’s a little hill here. You can go hard if you want to get in a workout. We’ll regroup.”

Translation: “I’m going to kick your ass starting here.”

I glanced back and noted that our group was in tatters, a long string of shrapnel-ized blinky lights strung out for as far back as I could see. About that time Jason, who had clearly been waiting for this moment, turned the screws and I went magically from tired to completely on the rivet. The hot, dry air fried and dried my throat so that my breathing sounded more like whooping cough than athletic exertion. The gradual 1-mile climb was into a biting sidewind, so it guttered instantly. At the moment when it felt like things couldn’t get worse, some dude who’d been hiding the entire ride and was fresh as new tea leaves sprinted up the side, leaving everyone in his wake.

I grabbed his wheel, reasoning that with a huge surge like that we must be near the top, but near obviously meant different things to different people. For me, “near” meant “any second now,” but to him it meant “another 500 yards.” He rode me off his wheel and I glanced back to see that even in that short distance the remnants were nothing but little firefly dots behind. Two other riders closed the gap and whizzed by just as we hit the end of the climb, proving the old adage that cycling is a sport of conservation, and the other adage that course knowledge is everything.

The regroup consisted of high speed attacking descents that shelled everyone. Kristie and I wound up alone, thankfully with a tailwind, and one by one passed little patches of people who looked like they’d seen a ghost, or an army of ghosts. We didn’t know the route and guessed our way back to the park. I guess the regroup was going to happen the following week …

We got back around nine, utterly spent, dehydrated, and covered in salt. The bikes were almost too heavy to lift out of the battle wagon. “Wanna play bikes?” Kristie asked.

We laughed and laughed and laughed.

END

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Sock it to me

October 23, 2017 § 37 Comments

The first time I met Diego, he must have been around fourteen. His dad Joe had brought him along on the Man Tour, a ridiculous odyssey of geezers riding five days from San Jose to Los Angeles, flatting, falling, complaining, getting indigestion, getting road rash, getting saddle sores, getting achy, and having the best time this side of a fresh box of Depends that we were ever going to have.

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Diego’s signature move each day was to collapse on a bed, unable to move, where he was essentially force-fed enough nutrients to make it through the next day. We were old and our prostrates were leaky, but we were still able to cover more ground faster and recover quicker than a little kid.

A couple of years passed and youth put age in its place as Diego became one of the fastest riders in SoCal, eventually landing a spot on the Hagens-Berman team and planning for a career in Europe. Along the way he became an Eagle Scout, because, you know, why not? More important than any community service or academic achievements, he also set the KOM on the Switchbacks here in Palos Verdes. Way, way more important.

After a brief stint in Belgium where the distance from home, poverty wages, brutal competition, lousy weather, unfamiliar food, and daily risk of life and limb convinced him that SoCal wasn’t so bad after all, Diego came home, put the $12k bike racer dream out to pasture, and embarked on a new  venture–his clothing company, Base Cartel. The ethos behind the clothing, in addition to quality construction, is a design aesthetic that focuses on the sights, sounds, and cultures of Los Angeles. Not being a designer myself, and only vaguely an imported Angeleno, I’m not sure what that means, but his stuff certainly looks great.

I can’t otherwise comment on Diego’s bike clothing line other than that it looks sharp and the people who wear his kits say great things about it, people who are pretty critical when it comes to cycling apparel. I can tell you that bike riders and bike racers in the South Bay love to support a hard-working young man whose business is community based and devoted to all things cycling. It’s refreshing to see a small business flap its wings and get off the ground, supported by friends, family, and personal relationships.

What I can comment on are Base Cartel’s socks. It was well over a year ago that he gave me a pair of his Pro Mesh socks to wear. Of course, even if they had fit like a plastic sandwich bag and felt like sandpaper, I would have gone ahead and purchased a couple of pairs to help the kid out. But I wouldn’t have bought more than thirty pairs for my own personal use, and I certainly wouldn’t have bought over 500 pairs to give to friends and as prizes for the La Grange Cup if they weren’t amazing beyond any words.

Pro Mesh sock, how can I describe thee? Thou art soft and comfy beyond any reason or rhyme. Thou grippest my toes in a loving embrace and leave nary a chafe or raw spot, no matter how tightly I lace down my shiny white dancing shoes. The first few times I wore these socks I thought, “They’ll be falling apart after the fifth wash. No way that anything this delicate and soft and smooth can last.”

But in addition to a softness and form-fitting nature that makes you want to snuggle with them between the covers, whisper sweet nothings into their cuffs, and bring them pancakes in bed, the socks are crazy tough, no, they’re Wanky tough. I don’t know what the secret sauce is that they pour into the Base Cartel socks in China or wherever the socks are brewed, but it is at least one part frog’s wart for every cotton/polyester fiber. That’s how magical these things are.

Of course, knowing that you’re supporting locally grown talent adds to the comfort, too. As it should.

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END

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Big City, Bright Lights

October 21, 2017 § 18 Comments

Where you sit in the roadway or the shoulder while pedaling your bike is up to you. I simply hope you’re doing it with a lot of lights.

After the recent smashback here in L.A. from cager trolls and the pitchfork peasants who were enraged that a safer, cleaner, cheaper, sexier, healthier, happier mode of transportation might slow them down fifteen seconds on their one-hour commute, it has become even more evident that cyclists themselves are riven. Lane control advocates shrug at the loss of bike infrastructure; they never wanted it to begin with, beyond sharrows and BMUFL signage. Infrastructure lovers are heartbroken and trying to rally themselves for the next big beating, like kids shuffling into dad’s bedroom knowing he already has the belt off.

I’m happy to report that there’s a solution. We lane control advocates should stop poking a thumb in the eye of the infrastructure lovers. We should stop sharpening our rhetorical sticks, hardening them with fire, and jabbing them into the tender fallacies of those who want more things built in roads to protect bicycles. We should let them go about their business.

In fact, I’m happy to give infrastructure advocates all the rope they want. They can take it out to Playa del Rey, Manhattan Beach and Palso Verdes, do their advocacy, show up at meetings and present factual data, but when they do, here’s a pro tip: Don’t do it near any trees with sturdy, low hanging, horizontal limbs. Because when the pitchfork peasants see your bike infrastructure rope, and understand that it’s a threat to the hegemony of their cages, they will know what to do with it.

Rather than poking holes in the infrastructure lovers’ arguments, we should make common cause with them in this way: Tell them, without judging, that while we’re waiting for the amazing infrastructure that will protect us from cagers (for example, the Santa Monica bike path where no one ever gets hurt by other bicycles and where no bicycle has ever run over and seriously injured a pedestrian), we will all take the fuggin’ lane while lit up like Christmas trees. This includes the infrastructure lovers.

bmufl_car

And then, after my cremated ashes have been dispersed by the winds of time, been blown to Jupiter and are circling its outer moon, eventually, I say, when the great infrastructure project is completed such that it has constructed those supremely segregated, superbly striped, sexily signed, perfectly protected, and beautifully barrier-ized bike path/lane/road/highways to cover every alley, every back road, every country lane, every cul-de-sac, every county road, every byway, every dirt road, every highway, every city street, every parking area, and every other possible place where cars and bikes might possibly be at the same place at the same time, then we will be able to have another discussion about whether bike infrastructure is better, safer, preferable, cheaper, more efficient, cheaper to maintain, more popular, and more conducive to expanding cycling than following existing traffic laws and exercising lane control in a lawful manner.

‘Til that happy day when The Infrastructure Saints Go Marchin’ In, however, let’s all take a deep a breath, swallow our ideologies, and take the fuggin’ lane. Lit up like Christmas trees, of course. Mirrors optional.

END

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Science won’t save ya

October 20, 2017 § 45 Comments

For a brief blip I saw salvation in the offing when I contemplated autonomous cars. “What,” I wondered “could be dumber than a human behind the wheel of a two-ton, speeding steel box?”

“Nothing,” was the obvious answer. “Certainly not a computer.”

Next, I read an online article in Consumer Reports about crash avoidance systems in cars and felt even better. In addition to replacing the dummy behind the wheel, sciency things were going to turn the driving over to an inanimate thing that didn’t text or drink lattes or scream “Faggot!” or live on Via Horcata. Bicyclists would only benefit.

Plus, a friend of mine who flies giant commercial airplanes seemed to think that airplane crash avoidance systems were a predictor of how cars might eventually operate. Airplanes don’t run into each other (much), and that’s because they have some sciency stuff that keeps big, fast-moving objects from hitting other fast-moving objects, such as the ground. “Why don’t they just stick airplane sciency stuff into cars and be done with it?” I wondered.

The frightening answer is that airplanes don’t use sciency stuff at all to avoid collisions. They use acronyms. Big, long, complicated, similar-sounding, confusion inducing, memorization-defying acronyms that scramble up the English language into a foul sounding soup of letters that do nothing but bring on a migraine when you try to commit them to memory. TCAS, PCAS, FLARM, GPWS, TAWS, SV, and OCAS are the acronyms that work in airplanes, along with the actual spelled-out word of “radar.”

More about that later, but about the time I started worrying about the acronymization of car driving, I ran across this gem on the Tweeter: “Semi-autonomous BMW Will ‘Fight Driver’ to Deliver Close Passes to Cyclists.”

“Huh?” I thought, so I clicked on the link and learned that my pilot friend was right. Airplane crash avoidance systems will indeed be the template for semi-autonomous cars, with the overwhelming problem being the word “semi.” In other words, the technology that will make cars safer will ironically require much better driving skills. In a society where there is a race to the bottom in every conceivable metric for driving skills–physical fitness, situational awareness, mental response time, physical response time, behind-the-wheel training, alertness, familiarity with the vehicle and its handling characteristics, patience, a safety mindset, heightened concern for vulnerable road users–we are suddenly going to be presented with vehicles that require all of those parameters to increase, and increase drastically.

Should work well in a rapidly aging society filling up with crotchedy old blind farts.

Heightened user skill makes sense, because crash avoidance systems in commercial airplanes operate in an environment of highly trained pilots who are continually tested, re-tested, and required to pass regular physical exams. No multiple DUI pilots at United, folks, and you gotta have that 5th Grade reading level, at least. As the article above emphasizes, “The key to autonomous vehicles is training, training, training. The skill of driving must be robotic before the software can be developed. The skill of driving is being eroded and this can be seen every day.”

Training? For U.S. cagers? For the idiots who throw shit at cyclists, drive while severely impaired, blame the victim, recall elected officials who support road safety, troll pedestrian/cycling advocates, and who are routinely given a pass for carelessly killing bicyclists? Those assholes? Train them how, exactly? With a rolled-up newspaper and a cattle prod to the testicles? If you think adding bike lanes brings out the rage, wait ’til you tell Joe Q. Driver that he has to actually possess driving skills before he can go rampaging down the freeway. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Every piece of technology that relies on a smarter, better, more experienced and well-trained U.S. driver is operating on a massively flawed assumption, because U.S. drivers aren’t simply horrible, I’ve always contended that they aren’t drivers at all. They are pointers. They start the car and point it, unable to do even the most basic emergency maneuvers such as brake or turn without skidding. The minute that operating the vehicle transitions from point to maneuvering, 99% of drivers are f-u-c-k-e-d, or rather the bicyclist/pedestrian in front of them is.

As a cyclist who almost got clocked yesterday by a fully autonomous idiot who decided that the No. 1 Lane was inconvenient, and he’d rather whip into No. 2 without checking any mirrors, I can tell you that in Los Angeles drivers are older, meaner, angrier, more stressed, stupider, less skilled, more impulsive, and nastier than they were even ten years ago. Thanks, Obama.

And it’s not just my anecdotal experiences. The dumbphone has crazily accelerated the trend, making the “semi” half of the semi-autonomous car nothing more than an airbag dummy for all the crash avoidance systems that have to rely on drivers who can perform at least some minimal dum-dum maneuvers, such as, say, not switching off the autonomous systems.

Fortunately, virtually all of the problems with distracted cagers, and with systems that require cager responsiveness as it concerns cyclists, can be minimized or eliminated entirely by taking the fuggin’ lane. Even the most rudimentary systems will significantly brake if not completely halt when the object (we’re “objects,” folks) is directly in front of them. Close passes and clipping will happen to gutter bunnies, but not to Christmas Tree riders smack in the middle of the lane.

So there it is. The dumbphone dummies are taking over. You’ve been warned. Science won’t save ya. But takin’ the fuggin’ lane WILL.

END

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