Thursday, June 26, 2008

Aren't you happy to get here safely?

I'm on the road at the same time and on the same route every morning. I see the same motorists day after day.

I know when the Crotch Rocket Kids are coming because their motorcycles have a distinctive high-pitched whine. These two guys ride to work together every day. They're normally in echelon and I think that's probably a good idea on a relatively narrow road.

There's Dinky Boy in an econo-box that sounds as if it's powered by a lawn mower engine. The car seems to be taller than it is long.

I saw Scooter Guy most mornings last summer, but I heard he was involved in a crash with another motor vehicle, and I haven't seen him since. When I arrived at work that morning, some co-workers were waiting out front to see if I was on the bike. They'd heard about the crash north of the base and were concerned that I was involved. I suspect there may have been some betting going on. I liked chasing Scooter Guy when I had a tailwind.

Black Helmet Guy rides a Harley. It makes the usual thumpa-thumpa exhaust sound. Fortunately, the bike is still equipped with original mufflers so it's not terribly loud.

White Helmet Guy rides a quiet Harley too. But he's a dick. He's blasted by me very close while laying on the horn. There's a problem with daily commuting – especially when our hours are the same. I watched for him on my way home one afternoon, and then hooked him as he was passing. He reacted by going over into the on-coming lane. I could hear him yelling but I couldn't make out what he said. (For those who may not know, hooking is an illegal maneuver in bicycle racing. Normally, it's done during a sprint when a rider is trying to pass. The leading rider does a quick wobble that forces the overtaking one to slow or change his line. Hooking can easily result in a crash. I would imagine that hooking could be considered an illegal maneuver under our traffic laws too, but I've never heard of anyone being charged with it.)

I saw something this morning that was simply mind-boggling. As I approached 46th Street from the north, the light was green but I knew from long experience that I'd never get through it. The dump truck driver behind me, however, was undeterred by the prospect of the light changing. Sure enough, well before we reached the intersection, it turned yellow and then turned red. The dump truck never slowed. The light had been red for at least a second before he got to the stop line. He barreled on through. Cross traffic had quite sensibly remained stationary when their signal turned green. But the truly amazing thing was that the dump truck driver applied his brakes in the middle of the intersection, slowing as he exited it to the south, and then immediately turned left into a diner parking lot. He was willing to endanger several lives in order to save a minute or two in getting to those biscuits and gravy.

It wasn't over yet.

Cross traffic started moving. I waited for the light to change. More cars and trucks were queued behind me. The light changed, giving southbound traffic a green. Again, I looked on in amazement as traffic coming from my left didn't slow down. Five cars and trucks ran the light well after it had turned red.

An all-too-common complaint from motorists is that cyclists don't stop for red lights or stop signs. It's beginning to look as if motorists won't be bothered with them, either. There's a huge difference between a 250 pound vehicle and one weighing 2000 pounds or more when it comes to a collision.

While I locked up my bike at work, another co-worker was getting out of his car in an adjacent parking space. “Aren't you happy to get here safely some mornings?” he asked. I gave him my usual boilerplate answer – that I'm more concerned with dogs and skunks on the road than motorists, and that the most dangerous part of the ride is the trip across the parking lot. But after watching the mayhem at that intersection, I'm not so sure of these pat answers.

Later in the morning, I saw a letter from Jerry Rink in the Tulsa World. He complained about encountering a bicyclist doing '5 mph in the middle of the lane.' He yelled at him to get over and the cyclist informed Rink that he (the cyclist) had the right of way. Rink had the usual bitch about cyclists restricting traffic, but went on to say this:

I'd have liked to run him aside if it weren't for the legal problems!”

I think there's clearly an implied threat. If Rink met a cyclist when there were no witnesses around, how could we expect him to react? Would he react as angrily to a tractor or a couple of motorcycles rolling along slowly? I'd suspect he would not, if only because a farm tractor could destroy his car, and annoying motorcyclists is a good way to acquire a large boot print in the door. Cyclists are fair game, however, because it's unlikely that we can catch him.

Motorists have a common assumption, sometimes called the universal law of speed, that presumes they can go as fast as they want to, whenever they want to, and that anything that causes them to slow down is inherently un-American, anti-social, and often times downright evil. Going slowly is a sin. Cyclists are big time sinners and their low speed causes other, presumably upright citizens to fall prey to the same lack of morality. Or some such bullshit.

A cyclist's relatively small size and obvious vulnerability makes harassment easy. I think that laws requiring a minimum of 3 feet minimum separation when passing a bicyclist is a good first step. South Carolina recently went further with 56-5-3445. It's a misdemeanor to harass, taunt, or maliciously throw an object at or in the direction of anyone on a bicycle. LINK (In Oklahoma, it's a felony to throw an object at a motor vehicle. No similar provisions apply to cyclists, however, since a bicycle is a “device” not a motor vehicle.)

An obvious question about these laws has to do with enforcement. In my experience, unless a police officer witnesses the offense, it's difficult or impossible to bring charges. That may be changing as more cyclists use small, unobtrusive video cameras like the Oregon Scientific ATC2K. I'm thinking about getting one, though not for pursuing scofflaw motorists.

Tulsa's Community Cycling Project

(Image from Urban Tulsa Weekly)

Urban Tulsa Weekly has a very complimentary article on the Community Cycling Project. Major kudos to both Sandra Crisp and Ren Barger. Here's a excerpt:

Two Wheels to Stand On
How a "bike kitchen" is helping the city's homeless get back on their feet


Most of us have cars and, though they might not all be as sexy, sporty or as nice as the Joneses, they still afford us the independence we need to live our lives, go to work and stand on our own two feet (rising gas prices notwithstanding).

And, we tend to take that independence for granted most of the time, except when the inevitable wear and tear or a mechanical malfunction grounds us for a few days until the repair shop restores our autonomy.

For many of Tulsa's homeless, though, lack of transportation is all that stands between them and self-sufficiency.

"That's a big issue for the homeless," said Mack Haltom, associate director of Tulsa's Day Center for the Homeless, about the role of transportation in rehabilitation.

"There's plenty of work for folks, but city buses don't always get them where the jobs are," he added.

That's why Haltom and many of his colleagues sing the praises of the Tulsa Wheelmen bicycle club's Community Cycling Project.

"It meant the difference between working and not working, in many cases," said Gloria Dialectic, a Day Center caseworker.

As CCP coordinator Ren Barger explained, the program provides bicycles, including all the necessary equipment and a full day's worth of safety training, with an entire year's worth of service thrown in--all absolutely free of charge.

Prospective benefactors can contact Barger at


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tulsa Tough

It's been an interesting weekend.

Saturday, I was to work providing mechanical support for the Tulsa Tough on the century route. Jordan and I were to be in Ochelata. First, I forgot my box of parts and supplies. Oh, I had the tools, pump, and work stand, but no spare tubes, cables, etc. A quick call to Mike Schooling remedied that, though Mike did call me a dimwit but in a nice way. As it turned out, the only business we had was inflating a pair of tires. Jordan said he needed more 'action.' I think that sometimes the best action is no action.

Then the Ford's charging system light came on. I figured my alternator wasn't charging sufficiently, but the light went out on the way home. I thought that meant it charged the battery - until the engine quit a few miles later. Apparently, when the light goes out, it means THERE ISN'T ENOUGH VOLTAGE TO RUN THE IDIOT LIGHT ANYMORE, YOU IDIOT!!! It says this in the manual but it's in very tiny print. We called my friend Wade. He came up to US75 and SH20 and picked us up. I took the battery out since I had lots of tools on hand, and brought it home to charge. Then Lyndsay and I went back up there in her SUV to install the battery and bring the car home.

I can be thankful for one thing, though, and that's the fact that the system could have shut down somewhere out west of Ochelata where cellphones and radios don't work. We'd still be out there. It's the definition of desolate.

I gave serious consideration to hiding in the closet with a pillow over my head for the rest of the evening.

Sunday morning saw better organization. I transferred my equipment to Lyndsay's Blazer, being certain to include the parts box this time, and checked the map for the third or fourth time to be sure I knew how to reach the Keystone VFD. Jordan originally wanted to go along. He was to help me with the rest stop, then after it closed, we'd go to the start of the Tulsa Townie. He wanted to ride it with the kids he'd met at the BikeEd events. But he had a going-away party for a friend last night. All that free floating teen angst kept him up very late, so he couldn't find the energy to get his eyes open this morning. I pushed off alone.

At the VFD, we set up the sun tents and arranged tables. We iced down the drinks. Our amateur communications volunteer (sadly, I've forgotten her name and call sign) came over to tell us that a storm was bearing down on our location accompanied by 70mph winds and golf ball size hail. With a wary eye on the dark, ominous clouds, we hurried to finish setting up the rest stop. One of the firemen opened the truck bays and we hustled to move equipment inside. Last to go would be the tents. We collapsed the first one, but before we could get the other one down, the wind picked up and the hail arrived.

Sure enough, golf ball size hail stones slammed into the tent and the ground. A few were closer to baseball size. Big hail stones are very dangerous as they fall at one hundred miles an hour. These things can kill you.

So we were afraid to leave the dubious safety of the sun tent, at least until lightning was less than a mile away. Then the idea of standing directly under a bunch of aluminum tubing seemed just as precarious as the hail. One of the volunteer firemen put his helmet on and ran to the firehouse. Others put folding chairs over their heads. I used a clipboard.

We waited for the storm to pass. As soon as it did, we went about clearing off the twisted wreckage of the tent and began to anticipate the arrival of the first riders. It was not to be. The radio net announced the approach of another line of storms. The century riders were diverted east along the 100K route rather than west toward us. Most of the group decided to go backward along the route in order to look for stragglers and see if any assistance was needed.

The rain arrived along with high winds. Some low-lying areas were flooded and debris covered much of the road in places. I encountered a lone cyclist, Neal, who'd been separated from his group and somehow had continued west rather than east. Neal is from Enid. He was riding his first century. We loaded his bike into the Blazer and drove toward Tulsa. If Jordan had accompanied me, there wouldn't have been room for Neal and his bike. So it was a perverse sort of blessing that Jordan stayed home.

Driving was an adventure. At times, visibility was only a few feet and we crept along at a bicycle pace. Once, it was so bad we had to pull off the road and wait. I thought to put the Blazer inside a bay at a car wash, but apparently I wasn't the only one with that idea. Every bay was occupied.

And I did something very stupid. I drove through a flooded area, one that was probably too deep to cross safely. If the Blazer had stalled, we would have been in deep, um, water. I kept the engine revs up and we got through it.

Neal was on the phone with his wife. We met her in a parking lot and moved the bike to her van. They were off.

I drove home through gusty cross winds, the Blazer rolling from the wind forces. My neck and shoulder ached with tension. A cup of coffee and two ibuprofen were very welcome when I got home.

The weather caused the organizers to cancel the Tulsa Townie – the kid's event we'd been working toward since April. And most of the races were canceled except for the final three, I think. I would imagine that between the downed tree branches and other debris on the street, it would take some time to clear. Also, those police officers who were going to accompany the kids were likely re-assigned to emergency duties.

I'm looking forward to going back to work so I can get some rest!