The good and bad of hands free laws

Just a short, simple observation for you today. I’ve noticed a good thing, and a bad thing, about the “hands free” or “no texting while driving” laws enacted across the country.

Good Thing:

Fewer distracted drivers on the road, looking at where they are going instead of LOLing the latest selfie from their bestie.

Bad Thing:

An increase in the number of people parked in the bike lane, having pulled over to LOL the latest selfie from their bestie.

 

 

… You win some, you lose some.

Neil Hanson, Author of Pilgrim Wheels

Pilgrim Wheels - front cover

Cyclist and author Neil Hanson has just released a book titled Pilgrim Wheels: Reflections of a Cyclist Crossing America. The book describes the first half of a somewhat-impromptu journey across the United States by bicycle. Having something of an interest in folks taking off on long distance bike rides, I decided to share a few responses to questions posed to the author.

What was the original inspiration for your bicycle trip across America?

I wanted to take a bike ride. A long bike ride. Hundreds of miles, just me and my bike. Why? No particular reason, it just sounded like a neat thing to add to the checklist of “fun and exciting things I’ve tried.” The idea became an adventure. An adventure to plan for and to move toward. A box to check off. Eventually, I was clipping into my pedals in Monterey, California, pointing south along the coast on a beautiful summer day, discovering America and me.

The trip didn’t take shape to be a journey of discovery. I wasn’t trying to heal from a lost job, or a failed relationship, or trying to discover myself. I just wanted to ride my bike a long ways, with a really open mind, to see how I did riding 100 miles a day, day after day.

But then things evolved a bit, and I began to discover more about me, about my journey, about the people I met. About America. It didn’t start off as any sort of pilgrimage or deep journey, but rather as a bike ride. But it morphed into this journey that discovered me, and a pilgrimage I didn’t really expect.

How far did you travel on this journey and did you deviate at all from the route you’d originally planned?

Total distance was just over 3300 miles, just under 125,000 vertical feet of climbing. My average rolling speed was 14.2 MPH, the lowest temperature I rode through was 35F, and the highest temperature I rode through was 119.

My route did evolve as I rode, sometimes due to road closure, and sometimes just because I felt like trying something different. This book takes me up to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, which is almost exactly halfway, though Kansas is probably where I deviated from my route more than anywhere else.

What surprised you as you began your journey across the country?

The first surprise was how easy the routine and the travel came to me. I joke a lot about how it was just riding a bike—climbing into the saddle and peddling—but that really is a great description. By the time I got to my second or third night out, I had just fallen into this nomadic routine that worked really well for me.

That little surprise also speaks to the nature of the adventure that this story represents. Too often, we think of adventure as some wild and wooly ride down some class 5 rapids in a raging river. While there were a few “wild and raging” moments I found along this road, the vast majority of what I classify as the adventure of this journey came from the steady nomadic rhythm that became my daily life, quietly pedaling through something completely unknown, discovering an interesting new person around the next bend in the road.

Are there any moments that stand out as being especially meaningful or emotionally transcendent as you travelled?

Beginning in the lush forests of Big Sur, climbing over the coastal range, then spending a couple of days drawn further and further toward the Mojave, really set me up for the depth and meaning I found out on my own in the deserts. Standing on the side of a deserted highway in the Mojave, not long after sunrise, feeling the power and vastness of the desert around me, swallowed in the silence, was one of those moments I write about in the book. Another was the afternoon ride through the heart of the Sonoran, mesmerized by the sensual dance of distant dust devils in the wind, fascinated by the cars disappearing into the shimmering heat of the asphalt in front of me as oncoming cars would appear out of that amorphous mirage.

If someone were to propose a trip like yours, what advice would you give him or her?

First, take the time to decide what it is you’re looking for in a ride. I really like the general route I took, although in hindsight, I probably would make some small changes. What I love about my route is that I was able to find some really fine roads to ride on, I saw a wide variety of landscape, and I feel like I really experienced the heart of American culture.

Second, I can’t stress fitness enough. Be sure you’re fit to complete whatever distance you’re setting out to ride. I’ve read several accounts of cross-country trips where a good percentage of the joy was lost until the rider slowly became fit enough to do the ride.

Third, I’d recommend thinking hard about the “style” or riding you want to do. Do you want to be fully loaded and self-sufficient or minimalist? One of the things I noticed in the accounts I read of other cross country trips was that sometimes folks didn’t think this through a lot. It’s easy to overlook, and my “pack” dwindled considerably as I rode, learning more as I went about what minimalism really meant. Too often folks burden themselves with lots of gear, mostly because that’s their “vision” of touring on a bicycle. Many of them then end up spending a fair number of nights in motels anyway, and eating at diners.

How has this journey changed your impression of our country? Do you feel the same about America as you did before you decided to bicycle across the mainland?

I grew up in Kansas, a product of Midwestern kindness. So I pretty much expect most people to be kind and generous. Even with that as a starting point, I was continually humbled and heartened at the generosity, kindness, and true concern that I encountered from people across America. Sure there were some rude drivers, along with a few other exceptions, but generally I was overwhelmed by the goodness and camaraderie people shared with me. From the young woman I met at the airport in Monterey to the old rancher who pulled over and gave Dave and me ice cold water on a 100+ degree day in Kansas, the goodness in people warmed my heart.

Are you working on a sequel to Pilgrim Wheels? If so, what can you tell us about it?

Pilgrim Wheels takes the reader up to Medicine Lodge in western Kansas, and the next book will take the reader from Medicine Lodge out to Annapolis on the east coast. From the time I left the Big Sur coastline in California, all the way across the western half of the country, I was nearly always riding in some form of “The West.” The landscape varied from semi-arid to deep desert, the air was always dry, the views and landscape big and sweeping.

But Medicine Lodge is where that changed. I swept down into Medicine Lodge out of the big Medicine Hills, with vast views across landscape that is iconic American West, and emerged riding east into increasing humidity and rich farmland. From that point all the way to Annapolis, the journey took me through various forms of the “Old America,” one made up of lush farmland, deep woods, humid air, wide rivers, and more history.


Neil Hanson - Author Photo
Pilgrim Wheels: Reflections of a Cyclist Crossing America can be found on Amazon.com, other online book resellers, or your local book store. His personal website is http://neilhanson.com/.

An award-winning author and native of Kansas, Neil Hanson received his B.A. in Psychology from Kansas State University and has worked as a carpenter, mason, truck driver, waiter, cook, bartender, landscaper, furniture mover, salesman, ranch hand, draftsman, manager, and executive. At one time, he owned a trucking company and has held positions at the corporate level and as a consultant for financial services, logistics, and defense contracting firms. He is currently employed as project manager at Kaiser Permanente. An inveterate traveler, Hanson has visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Italy, Mexico, and Canada, and has traveled through all fifty U.S. states. Besides being avid cyclist, Hanson also enjoys walking, gardening, birding, hunting, fishing, and reading. Hanson is the recipient of three 2010 EVVY Awards from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association for his first nonfiction book, Peace at the Edge of Uncertainty (ISBN 978-0982639108). He currently resides in Centennial, Colorado, which he now calls his permanent home.

UC Denver doing cycling behavioral study

ucd_rgb_h1The University of Colorado Denver is engaged in a study of cycling behavior on the roads, and has created an online survey to help gather data. Lead by principal investigator Dr Wes Marshall, the survey asks questions about your driving habits, cycling habits, and opinions on both.

The survey was mentioned in a well written discussion in a Washington Post article about why cyclists may be motivated to ignore, bend or even break traffic laws – a good counterpoint to another article from the same publication basically arguing that bikes should be banned from the roads.

My one concern about the survey, however, is that the title itself seems to imply an inherent bias. While it did not influence me (that I know of) using the title “Scofflaw Biking Survey” seems a bit too biased for an accurate cycling behavioral study. And for those prone to more subtle input, the URL is worse: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1885930/bikingbad.

 

Are Brilliant Bicycles really Brilliant?

1932316_929536510407999_5379744506276974419_nBrilliant Bicycles web page is full of some video and imagery of folks doing the kinds of things I love – riding some beautiful looking bikes. While there is no text yet indicating the details of their products, they seem to be crafting beautifully adorned steel “city style” bikes – similar to San Francisco’s Public bicycles. Their twitter page lists them as from New York and Los Angeles (but don’t confuse them with the Brilliant Bikes out of the UK). They have all the standard social media offerings one would expect of what appears to be a brand new bike brand just launching. So I went searching for more information.

Their Facebook page is filled with eclectic and decidedly artsy cycling related posts, Continue Reading »

Life is a crit, not a stage race

There are so many clichés about it. Buddhism and Hinduism both teach the concepts of the circles we travel through the course of our life. Bands have devoted entire albums to the concept. And for most of my life I thought this was all total crap.

I always looked at life as more of a meandering journey. To me, life was like a stage race. Each day is different. Sure – there are general categories. Some stages are for sprinters, like first love: long hours waiting and preparing in the peloton until a final, quick culmination in sheer joy for a few, bitter defeat for others. Some stages in life are long grueling climbs punctuated with decisive, strategic attacks (*ahem* my professional life). Of course the climb is then followed by blistering fast descents where your tires are barely holding on to the edge of the tarmac – sounds like high school to me.

10683671_709453322442017_4224128923658989640_o Continue Reading »

Cycling through a midlife crisis

car-n-chick

Hey – you better not scratch the paint!

When I was a kid I actually looked forward to having a midlife crisis. I’d have a societally accepted excuse to buy a dangerously fast car and hook up with a young blond (of course at that time in my life ‘hook up’ loosely meant getting to second base.) Those of you that have followed this blog over the years may be surprised to know that I actually was quite a motorhead when I was younger. Classic American muscle cars were my thing. And I poured ridiculous amounts of money into making sure they would suck up as much gasoline as possible. All speed limit signs read “As fast as you can go and still keep it mostly in your lane.”

But I digress…

Somewhere between then and age 40 – which is when I’d always planned to have my midlife crisis – that passion for cars switched to a passion for bicycles. Well – first I bought a Prius in a lame attempt to somehow atone for all the carbon I’d dumped into the atmosphere drag racing on the streets of my home town through high school. That pretty much cured me of the fast car midlife crisis cliché. Instead, my first step in my midlife crisis was to open a bike shop. It failed. And being the silver-lining guy that I am, I’m kinda glad. In an effort to recover from the debt incurred running a failed, unprofitable bike shop I looked for expenses to cut. One of my larger monthly bills was my damned car payment.

So instead of buying that incredibly fast car, I did just the opposite and became car free.

Turns out I was right in line with what I was supposed to be doing. For me part of the point of a midlife crisis is to reset the clock and roll back to a mental attitude of half your age – hopefully taking along some of the good wisdom with you. It is the realization that, yea, I probably did waste my youth, but that doesn’t mean I need to be a boring old man. Many people lament “Gee, if only I could go back then knowing what I know now.” Well that is exactly what I planned to do.

And what does that have to do with being car free? Well, turns out the people that are chronologically half my age don’t much want to drive either. With improvements in health care and quality of life, more and more people are doing things in their 40’s that were previously reserved for those in their 20’s. Since 40 is my new 20, I’m off to do slightly reckless things in the pursuit of happiness, with just a slight tinge of older wisdom. In my case doing something new means, among other things, riding one of those funny bikes with knobby tires and squishy forks on dirt. And getting faster on the road. I ditched the car addiction, but not the addition to speed.

And the tempered with wisdom part? Well, that involves watching guys like this and realizing “That looks like a ton of fun – but you guys are fucking nuts…”

Are Police Electronic Device Laws Justified?

California, like many other states, has laws on the books to control the use of electronic devices while riding. As in most (all?) jurisdictions with such laws, there is an explicit exception for operators of emergency vehicles – which on the surface makes sense to most. While the intent of this exemption makes sense to me, a recent case has caused me to seriously reconsider the implications of an unrestricted exemption.

It started when former Napster COO Milton Everett Olin Jr. was struck and killed by a LA County Sheriff’s patrol car. It later came to light that the officer driving the patrol car was responding to an email using the laptop in his car at the time he struck Olin. The driver was later identified as Deputy Andrew Wood. Lawsuits were filed, questions were raised and details came out. Based on the wording of the law, LA county district attorneys declined to file charges against the officer.

23123.5.  (a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text–based communication, unless the electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voiceoperated and hands-free operation to dictate, send, or listen to a text-based communication, and it is used in that manner while driving.

(b) As used in this section “write, send, or read a text-based communication” means using an electronic wireless communications device to manually communicate with any person using a text-based communication, including, but not limited to, communications referred to as a text message, instant message, or electronic mail.

(c) For purposes of this section, a person shall not be deemed to be writing, reading, or sending a text–based communication if the person reads, selects, or enters a telephone number or name in an electronic wireless communications device for the purpose of making or receiving a telephone call or if a person otherwise activates or deactivates a feature or function on an electronic wireless communications device.

(d) A violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a base fine of twenty dollars ($20) for a first offense and fifty dollars ($50) for each subsequent offense.

(e) This section does not apply to an emergency services professional using an electronic wireless communications device while operating an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in Section 165, in the course and scope of his or her duties.

The district attorney’s report concluded that:

Wood entered the bicycle lane as a result of inattention caused by typing into his MDC. He was responding to a deputy who was inquiring whether the fire investigation had been completed. Since Wood was acting within the course and scope of his duties when he began to type his response, under vehicle Code section 23123.5, he acted lawfully. Although the MDC inquire and response were not of an emergent nature, the law does not limit officers from using an electronic wireless communications device in the performance of their duties to situations involving emergencies.

MDC is defined in the report as “…a laptop computer that is mounted on a stand in the center console area of the vehicle.” So basically, yes the officer violated the electronic device laws has detailed in CVC 23125.5, but clause ‘e’ of that statute exonerates him.

The frustration for me comes from other parts of the report that detail the officer sending text messages to his wife “…while at a stop light.” That usage is NOT exempted by the vehicle code as it was not done in the course of his duties as an officer. However, the message he was responding to “in the course of his duties” was, in retrospect, not a pressing one. The law as written and enforced seem to have lead to a feeling of general unconcern from the risks the laws were intended to address. By allowing officers this exemption they have no reason to fear accountability for any actions taken involving electronic devices while driving. In theory an officer could type out an entire email about an upcoming precinct party (in the line of work) that has nothing to do with serving the public, cause a wreck and have no accountability. That just doesn’t seem right.

I’ve come to believe it is high time we change the electronic device laws so this exemption is applicable only to emergency situations. Our emergency responders are equipped with a wide array of communications devices – including radios and cell phones that can be equipped hands-free. These are paid for by taxpayers to assist these people in serving the public. This would seem to make it exceedingly easy to get ahold of an officer without using communication means that require them to remove their eyes from the road or (worse yet) put their hands on a keyboard while driving.

 

Attacking Bike Thieves

bait_bike_stickerBike thieves suck. Plain and simple.

A recent article on Gawker tells the story of one unique approach to the problem – public shame and fear. But does this approach actually work?

San Francisco Police Department has been using this approach for some time now in full force. Part of their active approach involves the deployment of bait bikes – bikes locked up around the city with GPS tracking devices in them. This program has been coupled with a PR campaign run in conjunction with the nonprofit Safe Bikes in an attempt to erode the brazen attitude of serial bike thieves. Local cyclists have snapped up the free stickers, placing them on their personal bikes. This proliferation serves as a constant reminder to bike thieves of the presence of the bait bike program.

Only time (and statistics) will tell if these programs have an impact on the alarming number of bike thefts occurring here in San Francisco. Until then, of course, the best action to take is to learn how to protect yourself and your bicycle.

Pacifica woman to marry her bike

20140201145400-Semester_on_Cycle_generalI know… it sounds like one of those annoying meme-style headlines. “This Pacifica woman to marry her bike – and you won’t believe what the honey moon will be like!” But this is actually something that someone is actively promoting. I know that the anti-marriage equality crowd has been warning us for a while that gay marriage will lead to marrying animals – but marrying a bike? Well according to a campaign recently posted on indiegogo, that is exactly what Lisa Nelson is trying to do. Continue Reading »

The fastest bicycles in the world

Optum Time TrialistSpeed and competition seems to exist in some form in all of us. I’m willing to bet that even the most casual of casual cyclists has, at some time, felt the urge to go faster than someone or something in their vicinity. It seems to be a universal constant. For some, that urge is a lifelong passion, and those folks have come up with amazing ways to make the bicycle go faster and faster. Continue Reading »