Archive for August, 2006

Bike Thefts

The vast majority of stolen bikes on the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry seem to be either stolen from garages (and hence were unlocked within the garage) or were locked with cable locks. Masterlock also seems to be a common brand used for locking stolen bikes, although that may be because it’s simply the most popular brand. After reading of bikes being lifted over 8-foot fences and walls I get more paranoid about having my IRO stolen. I don’t bother locking either of the Schwinns in the bike room because I don’t care much if they’re stolen, so it’s not worth the trouble of having to unlock them every time I want to ride. And people tend to treat your bike roughly if it’s locked and in the way of their bike. If it’s unlocked they can at least wheel it out of the way.

First Fixie

Learning to ride my new bike, which happens to be my first fixed-gear. Stumped by toe straps which seem to have overly complicated buckles. Distinct lack of success in adjusting front brake. I need pliers, or a third hand. I am too miserly to get either.
But the bike itself is fun. Was a bit worried my gear ratio (46/15) was too high but it feels about the same as the ratio I keep on my road bike (a ratio which I’ve not changed at all for a year, meaning I’ve effectively been riding single speed for a year, which is easy in hillless Chicago).

Have had little time to get acquainted with it. But a couple of short practice rides have demonstrated that it is much easier to control the bike and to keep your balance at low speeds than it would be on a freewheel.

Also, the bike is so lightweight and maneuverable compared to my clunky, heavy old Schwinn. To both my clunky heavy old Schwinns (yes, I have two, a Continental and a Varsity). No having the brake cable imprinted on your palm after lifting the bike around. No getting brake cables caught on other bikes as you lift it through the crowded bike room.

Stopping doesn’t seem too hard. My main concern now is actually getting out of the toeclips safely, and learning the most convenient way to get my pedals into starting position after I stop. Of course the best solution will be to learn to do a trackstand, but I have to move house (and bike) in five days, and I doubt that’s enough time in which to learn a trackstand. I could of course simply walk my bike over to my new residence but that would be immensely silly. (Naturally, dying in a bike accident because I didn’t want to look silly walking my bike over to my new residence is not as silly.)

Critical Mass, August 2007

Scattered observations.

The negatives:

Massers who go out of their way to antagonise motorists. Riding right by their windows to jeer at them, weaving in and out of stopped traffic, etc. I think the guy with the loudhailer who makes snarky remarks (“too bad about your SUV”) in a non-aggressive manner is fine. But there are plenty who do show aggression and hostility.

Massers who drink and ride. There was a long discussion on the CCM listhost on how permissible this was. I would say at least that it is just as [im]permissible as drinking and driving. But maybe the massers who drink and ride think it is fine to drink and drive. Mettle to them, then.

Massers who litter. Self-explanatory.

Massers who ride on sidewalks. This is completely unnecessary and does not help our “cause” (insomuch as we have one, a perennial heated issue on the CCM listhost).

These negatives are not particular to this ride. Just things that I’ve noticed over the masses I’ve attended.

The positives:

The girl who rode naked. This seemed to have a generally positive impression on passer-bys. People who were formerly angrily frowning at the mass started laughing instead. But there were a few people who were shocked in a negative way. I particularly remember one family where the mother said “oh my god” with that disgusted look. Whenever people reacted in that way the massers chuckled amongst themselves.

Stopping for the ambulance. Granted, it took a few “leaders” to get the rest to back up and let it through, but it did happen fairly quickly. Same when some police cars that wanted to get through.

The route. Immense fun and liberation going down Michigan Avenue. Perhaps a tad too many small roads, but generally fewer bottlenecks than the April and May masses. I was not particularly excited about going so far north, and was afraid we’d end up in the far northwest, diagonally opposite the end of the city where I live. However, we ended on the lakefront, near the end of the lakefront bike path. This meant a straightforward, safe, and easy ride back on the bike path. Once again I am grateful that by sheer chance the university that I chose and love is situated so near the lakefront. Hyde Park is an unfairly maligned neighbourhood. If I ever live in this city again I will almost certainly choose to live in Hyde Park again.

Oh, how inconvenient!

In Singapore, of course, one shouldn’t be surprised to find people arguing that street protests should be banned because they inconvenience other people. I tried to point out in the comments that if anything cars inconvenience other people orders of magnitude more than street protests do. Yet strangely no one would even think of banning cars. I don’t think anyone took my argument seriously. Whenever one starts on a tack of pointing out how bad cars are, nothing registers, because they assume you’re some sort of ecological fanatic. Yet it seems clear to me that pointing out how bad protests are is even more ridiculous. It is on par with those letters one often sees in the Straits Times forum where people complain about some incourteous behaviour by various strangers. I can imagine very few periods in history where street protests were a disruption to people’s lives anywhere near the order of magnitude of the disruption cars bring to our lives. This recalls various ridiculous disputes that Singaporeans somehow manage to make quasi-national issues. For example I remember a flurry of articles in the Chinese newspapers once about neighbours hanging their dripping laundry above one another’s. This somehow managed to become a big issue reflecting on some fundamental problem in our society (it being the Chinese newspapers you can safely assume they’re lamenting the gradual increase in selfishness and decrease in Asian community values). It’s an “air-conditioned nation” indeed. We can’t even bear the thought of having a 1/100 chance that our commutes home today will be held up by a street protest! Our lives revolve around beating our neighbours in the laundry war!

It also recalls my mother’s obsession with grabbing the best parking spaces on our road. MInd you, there was never a shortage of parking spaces. She just thought that some were more shaded and/or less likely to be scraped by passing traffic than others, and if she had to settle for an inferior space when she first arrived home, she’d keep a hawk’s eye out for when the neighbours vacated a superior space, and would make my father go out and move the car when that happened.

Here’s a reasonable conjecture: the number hold-ups caused by traffic accidents far outnumbers the probable number of street protests that are large enough to hold up traffic. I don’t think we would even have to count the “normal” peak hour traffic jams. In any case those are predictable and presumably street protests are not (though certain big ones like on Earth Day or other similar anniversaries could be).

Of course, when there are no other struggles in our air-conditioned lives, the little battles mean a lot. Psst. What about those big global struggles? Or, you know, things like truth, justice, meaning? Well, those are for silly idealists.

The trick, I always tell myself, and indeed sincerely believe, is to make it a habit. Not so long ago I thought that riding to the Trader Joe’s on Clybourn for groceries (a 1 hour+ ride compared to my usual 5 minute walk to the Co-op) was an elephantine task. Indeed, the first time it felt like an elephantine task. I was exhausted. I thought I’d hauled a ridiculous load back. I thought I’d put up with awful traffic on North.

Now, after more experience riding on city roads and a couple more trips to Trader Joe’s, it seems routine. North is not too scary; the drivers more or less expect cyclists on North and don’t do anything rash. The traffic is a little heavy, but you’re only on North for five minutes or so, really, before you get to turn into Wells, which has a bike lane. And after Wells you can take a bunch of small side roads with light traffic.

Next intend to explore the North Branch trail. That’s even further away than the North Shore Channel Trail, so I’ll need an early start. NSCT took a round trip of 5 hours today, although that included the hold-up at North Avenue beach. Estimate around 8 hours needed for the NSCT. Actually I don’t know how long it is. 8 is probably too optimistic.

Back to the original topic. Making things a habit. Until April this year I’d also balked at the idea of cycling on the lakefront path at night. Safety concerns, mostly. So far have had no problems except for once getting stoned by some adolescents. Suspect racism, but who knows. Fairly substantial police bike patrol there at night, which is nice. Won’t cycle to the southern part though. Even in daylight I avoid that part, not because of safety concerns, but because many parts are strewn with broken glass. If I get a flat there at night I’ll be a sitting duck for muggers, laying my pump and backpack out like that.

Saw a Redline 925 being ridden on the lakefront path today. Envious, even though I’m getting an IRO Mark V, which supposedly has better street cred. Suspect that part of the reason why I’m getting a fixie is for street cred. The other part is that I’m depressed and need some new object to fawn over, after having exhausted fawning over my Mountain Hardwear softshell jacket, which thanks to good weather has not even been tested. And that was after having exhaused fawning over a new hard shell jacket which I certainly didn’t need, and the new Montrails which I even more certainly did not need. This should be a stern warning to myself never to scoff at the mentality of the typical female who loves shopping.

The Air and Water Monstrosity

More on today’s ride to the North Shore Channel Trail. The north side beaches were absolutely clogged with gawkers for the Air and Water show, which is apparently some military display thingy. The section along North Avenue beach was absolutely impassable by bike. Well not absolutely. On the way there I somehow managed to weave my way through at limping pace without getting off the bike. On the way back I made it about 80% of the way before giving up and getting off to push. On the bright side it appeared that the rest of the lakefront path was more deserted than usual. 31st St beach, which is usually clogged with obese people who insist on walking or simply just standing in the middle of the path, was practically empty. The bridge that the path has to go over when bypassing Navy Pier, so often a lesson in steering your bike through a sea of oblivious, slow-and-randomly-moving flesh, was reasonably passable.

Started feeling rather hostile towards the whole concept of the Air and Water show. I am certainly not a humanitarian, so I can’t pretend that I hate it because (like the 2-3 protestors I saw in Bush/Cheney masks) it embodies aggression and whatnot. I hate the crowds it brings. I hate the way the crowds behave like the bike path doesn’t exist. I hate the piercing screams the planes emit. I hate how even cyclists raise their eyes to the sky, thus dangerously not looking at what’s ahead of them, at the planes. I hate the excited radio commentators whose inane emissions are broadcast all along the lakefront. But surely those reasons are completely personal and I can’t pretend that my hatred is morally superior to the gawking admiration of the masses.

North Shore Channel Trail – first encounter

I did write that Chicago was bicycling heaven compared to Singapore. But the suburbs are most definitely not. Biking heavens, that is. Decided to try the North Shore Channel Trail today, which entailed riding from the south side all the way to where the lakefront path meets Lawrence, then riding inland to the start of the Channel Trail. Not a pleasant ride inland. Lawrence has a bike lane after the junction with Western, but the parts before that have heavy and aggressive traffic, and one section was being torn up prior to re-tarring, forcing me to take a detour. Much relieved to reach the start of the trail, so I could let my mind think about something else besides how to keep out of the way of charging metal boxes.

Trail was a disappointment though. First part was quite promising; shaded path through quiet neighbourhood, zebra crossings where it intersected with roads, well-maintained path. Then at one point one had to make a U-turn to continue on the path, which switched to the other side of the river at that point. I was confused for a moment because I couldn’t imagine why one would have to U-turn to cross the river. Turns out that the only bridge that crosses the river at that point is a traffic bridge. There is no bridge for the trail itself. So one has to join the metal boxes again, for about 20m, before getting back on the trail.

The trail deteriorates after that point. First a section consisting of concrete slabs with plenty of cracks on and between them, some of them wide enough to catch a tire between them if one is not careful. Bumpy ride as well. As we head further north on (roughly) the boundary between Evanston and Skokie, the path changes back to tar, but now there are traffic junctions every 200m or so. Huge traffic junctions. My momentum never gets to its optimum level; after a while I just gave up trying and let myself take a relaxed pace, because it’s frustrating to find your best pace and then have to brake 30 seconds later to wait at a traffic junction. One cyclist who was behind me for a while preferred not to stop completely at junctions, but instead did small circles on the sidewalk until we could cross.

Does not help that the cars at those junctions seem to drive more aggressively than city drivers do. One driver blasted his horn to high heavens at the car ahead of him just because the latter was not proceeding as quickly as the former would have liked.

Another fulfilled suburban stereotype: there really are no sidewalks there! There was the trail on one side of the road, so walking to places is still in principle possible, but nothing at all on the other side.

Didn’t get to the end of the trail in the end, due to being bored by monotonous scenery and depressing traffic junctions. On the way back, got off Lawrence just after Western, frustrated by heavy traffic, and turned south into Wilson, which was much better and also led straight to the lakefront trail.