Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Deep Canyon

Last Saturday the clouds and rain finally gave way to clear skies for just enough time for the AIDS Life Cycle training rides to get on their way. Let me tell you, after a week of being strapped to a stationary bike at the gym, I couldn't have been more excited to get out and ride. The week of rain still caused some disruptions, though. We left our meeting point in Culver City a little late because we were waiting (in vain) for more riders to show up. We also had to change our route due to the closure of the Ballona Creek bike path. But all was well. The ride was much more challenging than the climb up Bundy two weeks before. We eventually made our way through Beverly Hills and up Benedict Canyon on our way to Mulholland Dr. At a certain point one of our ride leaders asked, "so are you all feeling masochistic or do you want to do the normal ride up." Being stupid, I nodded my head along with the others and we proceeded to ride up "deep canyon" for the last part of our climb. All six of us who chose this route suffered together, but I was having special problems that day. I recently purchased new biking shoes, and while I had no problems clipping out, I was having a some difficulty clipping back in. This was especially clear on the steep climbs where there just wasn't enough time to get the right footing. I eventually had to stake out enough space to go down first and then turn back up the hill. And the climb itself was extremely painful By the time I reached the final crest to see the view of the valley, I felt sick to stomach. That was "deep canyon." Never again.

We spent another hour or so riding around Mulholland which was great and totally frightening. There isn't enough space for all the cyclists who like to ride around up there and many of the expensive cars don't really know what to do with us. This is me at the corner of Mulholland and Encino Hills. While it isn't very flattering and you can't see the snow-capped mountains behind, it is evidence that I was there.

According to people who saw me later that day, I was beaming with happiness. Good day! Too bad Alina couldn't make it out with me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

bikes, money, and class

As is well-known, bicycling tends to appeal to a vast array of people. What tends to receive the most attention in the news-media (especially magazines), however, are the upper-middle class weekend warriors who shell out tons of money on their bikes and related gear. I hear stories all the time of people who spend upwards of 4K just for their frames. Damn! So when I encounter strange tensions and statements like the ones I referenced just over a week ago, I wonder how much it has to do with consumption and class.

If someone wants to go faster and be stronger, they probably have a fair amount of money that they are willing to invest in the sport. Racing and training isn't for the weak of mind nor the weak of wallet. And even the people who love their low-riding bicycles spend time and money fixing them up. That's just how it is. And just this weekend, I spent a fair amount of cash on new shoes and pedals. (My wallet didn't exactly cry, but it wasn't happy.) For this reason, this discussion about fixing up used bikes made me exceptionally happy. It's wonderful to see people from within such a consumption happy hobby talking about sustainability an using a bike to its full extent. Hurrah!
And in regards to the larger point about class, I clearly have much more to consider here. I'll post again once I've thought about it some more.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lost Weekend

I never though this blog would lead to my first quote in the LA Weekly, but it did just that last month. Further proof that my bicycle is getting me more fame these days than my research. I really need to google myself more often.

In other news, I missed a 60-mile ride to Palos Verdes to do the good work of my union. All is not lost from a biking standpoint: my pitch for donations yielded some results. Yay for donations! I also managed to squeeze out 22 minutes of time on a stationary bike at school before they announced they were closing early for the holiday weekend. Boo! And I was so entertained by watching CNN pundits discuss just why Hillary Clinton won Nevada by 51%. Sometimes I wonder if the constant stream of commentary ruins our political process.

Tomorrow I am in for yet another day of unioning. I wonder if I can work in a ride after it's all over. I've never so anticipated the end to the weekend. I blame my bike.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Riding at Dawn

When the alarm went off at 5:20AM this morning, I thought it was a joke. Alina hit the snooze button and we eventually rose from my bed at 5:30AM. Two days ago I heard about a bicycle training group that does morning rides during the week called shifting gears. They were formed from a bunch of AIDS Life Cycle riders (back when it was called the California AIDS Ride) who wanted to continue their training after the event was over. The only problem (is it a problem?) with their Tuesday rides is that they meet at 6:15 and start riding at 6:30AM. Ouch!

We got to the meeting point much earlier than everyone else. Some of the regulars were a little late today, so ended up leaving around 6:40AM. (What is that, 15 more minutes of sleep?) All was good, though.It was cold. My fingers felt frozen, and it was dark enough that I should have brought a back light. But the ride was beautiful. Apparently, many cycling groups do their daily training that early in morning (who knew?) and at various points, the size of the cycling crowd felt comparable to a critical mass event. Of course if I said that to the speed demons passing us on the way to the marina, it probably would have started a scuffle. There is so much competition among cyclists...

The best part about this ride, though, was watching the sun rise over the water as we headed to the bridge at the end of Ballona creek. The water may be dirty, but it sure is pretty to look at when the sky is pink and orange. There were rowing crews on both sides of the bike paths. It was gorgeous and made the 5:30 wake up time almost worth it. Almost. Maybe I'll be able to pull off an early morning ride again on Thursday.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Life Cycle Training, Week 1

Saturday was my first official group training ride with the California AIDS Life Cycle folks. For a grand total of 28.5 miles, we rode from Culver City along Ballona Creek, through Santa Monica, up through Brentwood (along Bundy) to Mount St. Mary's College, through the VA, back to Culver City. Combine that with the ride to the meeting point and back, and my total for the day was almost 40 miles. Pretty cool. I discovered that I'm a strong beginner for a group cyclist. I keep a good pace, and I have good endurance. I can also climb steep hills (I did the last part of the Bundy hill 2.5 times!). Woo hoo!

I do have a lot of learn about riding in big groups. Since I am a commuter, I don't follow group rules very well. I'm not accustomed to stopping when it isn't absolutely necessary, and I am definitely not used to always yelling out signals and warnings to other cyclists. I am much more used to yelling at passing cars who are trying to run me off the road. During my worst 5 minutes on Saturday, I couldn't unclip on my right foot resulting in cutting off the ride leader. It was horrible. After he advised me to get used to alternating my feet for unclipping, I tried unclipping the left foot for the next stop sign. You can probably imagine what happened next: I proceeded to crash when I couldn't figure out how to properly shift my weight. When I replied that I didn't really hurt myself, another rider said, "But you hurt your pride." Ummm yeah...

After the training ride, we headed over to a training workshop where we didn't learn very much. Since I have already had my bike professionally fitted to my body (best decision ever!) and my only knee injuries have been a result of other activities, I didn't really learn much. It was sad. Most of what they talked about was common sports sense and the rest of it was so technical and performance-oriented that I can't see myself caring. Do I really see myself getting VO2 tested and strapping on a heart monitor?

My experiences Saturday did further elaborate something I had only vaguely perceived before: the huge cultural rifts within the biking community. I am a commuter which means that I don't care too much about speed: I'm happy to be outside and not using cars. Most of my decisions regarding gear have to do with practicality. Of the cyclists who ride on roads (as opposed to mountain-bikers), I am the extreme opposite of the weekend riders/warriors who drive their bikes to meeting points even if it is within 5 miles of their homes. I have also heard road cyclists complain about triathletes. I can't really understand this. Aren't they way more athletic and well-rounded than the rest of us? Whatever. The way I see it, the more people who ride the better. I also heard some smack-talking about bike messengers. Again, I am completely mystified. Maybe I'll better understand the more I take part in group rides.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ghost Bikes: Agents of Change?

Just two days ago, I was riding to a doctor's appointment when a woman in a Prius nearly ran me off the road. (This was near the intersection of Westwood and Wilshire.) I yelled at her as I almost slammed into her. I suspect she didn't hear a word: her eyes were clearly focused on entering the parking structure at the Oppenheimer tower. Minutes later my drive chain got stuck between two gears in the middle of the intersection and I felt like I was dead in the water. Talk about scary!

But this brings me to another point: ever since I started commuting by bike, I have noticed that a high frequency of my scariest incidents on the road involved Priuses. (Rarely do my fellow riders believe me on this one.) My doctor confirmed the point. She owns both a Prius and a Civic hybrid and said that Priuses have such terrible visibility that it forces safety-conscious drivers to be especially vigilant on the road. My favorite comment of hers was when she said, "I myself avoid being near Priuses on the road." I am wondering if Toyota is aware that their cars are so dangerous for their fellow vehicles in low emission. It makes me sad that their incidence of near accidents is so close to the other big offenders -- SUVs -- the polar opposite of the Prius in terms of political and environmental ideology. (Full disclosure: my partner and I will likely purchase a Prius in the near future.)

Speaking of dangerous road conditions, the Ghost Bike project is finally getting some widespread attention, not for the project itself but for how it has inspired Portland, Oregon to become even safer for bicyclists. The recent surge in bike-related deaths in the city, which in the past may have caused me to doubt the city's level of safety for bicycles, have contributed to an increased level of activism and awareness within the city's cycling community. And what a result! After the high profile death of an LA cyclist at the corner of Santa Monic Blvd. and Wilshire last year, there was a lot of anger and awareness. It pales to the activism and awareness that produced results like Portland's.

It makes me genuinely jealous. Can you imagine a clearly-designated space for cyclists to wait at intersections like Portland's "bike boxes" in major cities around the country? Surely such a move would help with visibility problems and an awareness that there are bikes out there. What I especially like about the article is its frankness in discussing the type of driving maneuver that causes the most accidents: right-turns at red lights. It was certainly a right-hand turn that produced my scary moment just the other day... So, when is moving day?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

I normally don't make resolutions, but since I have made some clear goals for 2008 (many of which are related to cycling), I'd put them in the most appropriate place.

1. The AIDS Lifecycle

For years I have promised myself that when given the clear opportunity to participate in the 7-day, 545-mile ride from San Francisco to LA to support AIDS-related services at the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, I would take it. This year, I have no reason to be stuck in LA for the first week of June, so Alina and I are taking the plunge. Why not? We were already planning to make a bike tour of California. We already ride around Southern California for various social events. And we have an activist streak that makes this event ideal. If you feel inclined, please support me (emotionally or financially) on my lifecycle homepage here.

2. Finish the Majority of my Dissertation

This is a self-generated goal designed to allow me to live my life in approximately 18 months. I want to finish my PhD before I turn 30. To do that, I need to defend and file my dissertation with enough time to receive my degree and walk in June 2009. Goals don't accomplish themselves, so here is my mini-goal for 2008. To do that, I need to have a real writing schedule and a clear plan. It's all in the works (and incredibly private), but here's the public component. Please hold me to it if you catch me blogging in excess.

3. Bike More Whenever Possible

I'm pretty sure resolution 1 and my general habits in LA will take care of this resolution, but so will doing the sort of things I did yesterday. For New Year's Day brunch with my family, my partner and I rode down the coast to Long Beach. Sure, I wasn't quite ready for a lengthy power-ride (we finished around 46.5 miles in total), but it was great to remind myself that these things can be done even when one has spent 5 weeks away from the bicycle. I've always taken the saying "spend New Year's Day doing what you want to do all year" to heart and I think riding around in a relatively car-free Southern California on New Year's Day was a great way to do it.

It helps that the City of Santa Monica has installed more bike lanes around town in the last month. Those simple lines of paint (and the accompanying reduced vehicle traffic) encourage me in very direct ways for my daily life.

Speaking of encouragement, I've heard a rumor that one of my best friends is moving to Topanga either today or tomorrow -- get this -- without his car. He's also training for the Solvang Century ride, so I will be gaining another cycling buddy. Awesome!

4. Reduce My Injury and Illness Frequency

This kind of goal can only be accomplished through care and persistence. Perhaps some professional guidance as well. (I'm wondering how expensive that will be...) For quite some time I've noticed that my body doesn't respond well to sudden bouts of high-impact activity. That sort of activity stopped well into my 20s. Take my recent knee injury, or the infamous bout of wrist and elbow injuries that started around the time I finished my MA Thesis nearly 4 years ago. For over 7 years, I've noticed that the only way to keep my illness frequency down is to be good to my body. It's just common sense, but well worth noting.

5. Lose 5 Pounds of Emotional Baggage

Kind of speaks for itself and I think it is way more practical than the fitness goals that drive gym memberships up during January. Anyone ever notice how long that influx lasts? Right. Losing 20 pounds of fat is not a very practical goal for January, but I do think working on how one emotionally reacts to the world has a small chance of actually succeeding. Also, I think the bike-related and diss related goals will help with this one.

That's all for the public resolutions. Happy 2008 everybody!