Monthly Archives: July 2014

Inspiring Group Rides: Assets to Our Communities

Group rides are the primary medium for the development of cycling skills and forging new friendships around bicycling.  You can visit any good bike town and walk into a bike shop and ask where the group ride meets.  There’s gotta be one.  The benefits group riding returns help towns develop greater bicycle friendliness.  Group rides increase the visibility of bicycling, encourage people to ride, and inspire bicyclists to ride more and accelerate the improvement of bicycling skills.

The Saturday morning show and go ride in Flagstaff has been the staple for my training the last ten years.  When I moved to Flagstaff in August 2004 I bought a full suspension mountain bike from Absolute Bikes.  The public lands that ring town in every direction were so enticing I spent all my time stringing rides together like spokes on a wheel emanating out from Flagstaff exploring as much open country as I could on dirt forest roads and singletrack.  I would spend all day riding carrying a backpack loaded with provisions.  I thought I was in pretty good shape.  But when I showed up for the group ride they applied some checks and balances to my perceptions.  I got dropped like an anchor weight.  The test of fitness and measure against other athletes the group ride fosters is a great way to prepare for competition.

People are social animals so riding with others adds a whole new dimension to what a bike ride can offer.  My favorite aspect of group rides is meeting new people!  That is as exhilarating as the ride!  Outside of work bicycling is one of the best social mixers.  It is like a Saturday morning dance party on a bike.  People of varying skills, backgrounds and abilities mesh and synchronize moving to the elevating rhythm of the wheels turning round and round.  Because it is an inclusive and open invitation, anyone can show and you meet college students, newly arrived families in town, visiting athletes, doctors, lawyers, engineers, hippies, public employees, you name it, it is a relatively complete cross section of the community.  The conversation is very diverse and stimulating, and since our windows are always down, you can pick up streams of words you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to.  It is very inspiring riding side by side with people from diverse backgrounds.  Anyone can ride a bike and just about everyone does.  I’ve met so many interesting people through biking and made long lasting friendships.

The support and sharing elements are what the Flagstaff group ride excels at.  If somebody gets a flat or has a mechanical we’ll try to help and often times there is a sharing of repair tools and labor (or, everyone will smilingly supervise you as you perform the labor).  The other day I saw a rider dressed out in an old Grand Canyon Racing jersey and shorts from the team I was on back around 2006.  I asked him about the uniform and he said Jim gave it to him.  The sharing of resources and assistance to new and enthusiastic riders is customary.  Jim has won so many jerseys over the years he has to make room for the new ones in his closet anyway.

The education and training a group ride delivers is second to none.  If you are training for a race or charity ride or event that involves riding with other people, the group ride is the best place for your to prepare.  You can build skills in a friendly environment and watch the master level cyclists to pick up best practices.  You may be able to download free coaching advice by asking curious questions.  Trying to follow faster wheels when the pace picks up is an excellent way to train.  Just be sure to heed your limits and don’t get in over your head.  If you can’t hang on this week then let your body rest and recover and try it again on the next ride.  You’ll be surprised how riding with other people will make you stronger.

The inspiration may be what draws me the most.  Flagstaff attracts riders from all over and many high level folks come here specifically for the benefits of the altitude since we are at 7,000 feet above sea level.  And the riding courses are world class as well.  You can ride for sixty miles out Lake Mary without encountering a traffic control signal, though you may have to slow down for elk herds bounding across the road.  You can meet and ride shoulder to shoulder with Olympians, pro cyclists, world class triathletes, world class mountain bikers, accomplished riders from other parts of Arizona coming up for diverse training, and local super stars.  The favorite part of it for me is the diverse mix and never knowing who my dance partners will be for any given Saturday!  I love riding with my Flagstaff neighbors who happen to be excellent bicyclists.  They’re superstars to their community, top performers at work, and after they finish the Saturday morning carbon free vacation from their front doorstep, they’ll return to that same doorstep changed having traveled substantially but without having driven  a mile.  They’ll return to the home where they belong reenergized, and  they’ll light up the life of their sons and daughters and spouses, and be recharged for work.  I find the group ride very inspiring, and  owe all my successes since I moved here to the road, the people, and the strength I draw from riding on that magical threshold where things come together, people know you and say just the right things for that day, and somehow little by little you become a better bicyclist, and a happier one.

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Thinking Like a Mountain

Dive in to get this business growing.  There is a lot of important work to do and I need your support to seed my first efforts. crowdrise help me lift off.  I have had nine donors so far.  THANK YOU!  If you have been on the fence now’s a good time to give.  Bicycle Yogi Consulting (BYC) will quicken progress in growing the mode share and improving conditions for bicycling.  Education and advocacy has relied largely on volunteer work until now.  I’ve been tailoring my services menu based on feedback I get from bike professionals and everyone I meet.  I am developing a business plan and have a substantial resume of accomplishments to date.   Please fund me during this start up phase while I further develop the market for consulting services, build strong partnerships and onboard business sponsors to contribute to BYC’s long term development.  BYC keeps all the important components connected, builds trust and lasting relationships through our consistent presence and ability to work without political constraints.  Bicycling will grow tremendously from dedicated efforts, a united voice, and a steady representative presence for lobbying, education, training and a strong and persuasive voice for advocacy.  Please contact me and let me know what needs to get done so that I may work on your behalf.  Thank you!  –Mark Aasmundstad

At Home on the Road

Today was a special day.  The last day of the Tour de France, but more immediate in my life, it was a beautiful rain touched Arizona summer day filled with conversation, bicycling, and friends.  I started out the day with Macy’s Costa Rican coffee and breakfast with Mai.  I rode over to Louis’s for his Champs-Elysees party.   While Louis was introducing me to his dog named Buddy, Buddy pressed his soft furry head to my leg.  Right, you’re Buddy!  Then I met the whole family and was handed a hot plate of food.  I said I’m trying to lose weight but they said you’re training today, you’ll need this.  Right!  We watched the Tour’s final stage with Corky and talked about ways to better support bicycling here at home.  The conversation, coffee, and special drink with orange juice were so good before I knew it I had to fly to keep my training commitment with Eric.  That was an awesome party for a Sunday morning.  Thank you Louis and Louis’s family!

Eric is training for the Tour of Colorado.  We met at Late for the Train Coffee and I said I’m game for whatever kind of workout.  On our way out Hwy 180 we crossed paths with Shawn, who told me he was almost hit by someone’s trailer the other day on this same stretch of road.  So close he was shaking for the rest of his ride.  Hard to tell why it happened (they forgot they were towing a wider trailer or did not see Shawn) but a related point came up with Corky earlier in the morning, and would come up with Eric later–if motorists were cross trained as bicyclists prior to drivers licensing,  a stronger connection between people would be forged that would bridge the gap of understanding across mode types.  Better training creates stronger mutual understanding and enhances reciprocal respect.   For bicycling to seem alien to anyone is not normal, but we are encountering a regular insensitivity for bicyclists.  I am working on Bike Yogi Consulting to implement action plans to change this.

Eric wanted to do two eight minute power efforts during a ride up Snowbowl Road.  He has a power meter on his bike so he could dial in the efforts and hold them exactly at the threshold he wanted to train.  I never use a power meter so this was a new kind of workout for me.  I learned efforts on the slighter grades felt harder for me than the same power output on the steeper sections.  This is basically because I’m a climber I’m guessing, and I naturally want to push harder when the mountain is pushing harder against me.  The first interval always feels kinda cruddy, especially after a day of relatively hard training the day before.  The second interval felt better.  My body must have flushed out some of the lactic acid and other leftovers from yesterday during the first effort.  We filled up our water bottles at the resort thanks to AZ Snowbowl’s complimentary cooler.  I told Eric I got married at the Grand Canyon four years ago and loved coming up here, looking out there, and remembering that turn in my life.  He had a wondering look on his face.  The paths are many, enjoy the one you’re on!  We descended and he said let’s climb it again.  Yeah, an easy one would be great.  Then Eric said same routine.  Oh mercy.  It was good gulping down all that pure blue mountain air a second time.  We kept the same power up over both runs and all four intervals.

Between efforts in the middle part of the climb we discussed ways of building a better understanding with drivers of what bicyclists’ experience.  We hear a lot of people lamenting that bicyclists are riding too far left or over the white “fog” line, but most often there are excellent reasons.  Most bike lanes and shoulders are not regularly maintained and glass, steel wire from burst tires, other puncture hazards, bad pavement, rocks, deceased animals and miscellaneous debris can cause a crash or blow out a tire.  Wind and wind gusts from passing vehicles can push one off the road.  Those “right edge” hazards are the number one hazards for bicyclists.  Motorists don’t necessarily think about that.  Riding too far right reduces one’s visibility, leaves bicyclists vulnerable to squeeze passes, and creates more lateral movement when cyclists have to move over to pass slower cyclists, runners, walkers, parked cars, and avoid road hazards.  The number one rule for bicyclists is to ride a predictable line.  If the pavement is not consistently good towards the right, one cannot ride there without creating a weaving in and out pattern to avoid the hazardous spots.  Motorists can help by developing a default disposition for respecting a bicyclist’s position in the road, slowing down, and navigating a pass only when it is safe to do so.  We are all the same, simply people using the road to get to somewhere important to us.  There are no classes, or priority categories.  We are all one.  When we act as equals, and treat one another as equals, we all feel more at home on the road.  This is good.

Kudos to Dave A. and his daughter who rode all the way up Snowbowl Road on their bicycles together, and then rode back down.  How old is your daughter Dave, nine?  That was amazing and inspirational to share the road with you today!  Way to go!

 

Mt. Evans race report, aka, community group ride!

Confused looks greeted me at the mailboxes this morning on the Flagstaff community group ride.  Wasn’t I supposed to be racing today at Mt. Evans in Colorado?  Yes, I was.  But why was I here?  First let me sing praises to the Mt. Evans race, and second I’ll tell you why it was good that I was in Flagstaff today.

Mt. Evans is the highest paved road in America, and they run a race up it!  You begin in Idaho Springs, Colorado off of I-70 just west of Denver, and over 26 miles climb through various life zones, past high conifer forests, skirt beautiful alpine lakes, leave the gnarly bristlecone pine trees–the oldest living tree species on earth, some individual trees were alive when Jesus walked the earth–in your wake, go past where trees can’t grow anymore, and summit around 14,200′ with a herd of mountain goats chomping on tundra casually observing all the strange spandex visitors on a fine July morning.  It is an awesome race, the pilgrimage for passionate hill climbers.  The views from the top, oh my!  You should do it at least once.  They also have a citizen’s ride, a non-race, but no matter what event you do it is a guaranteed challenge just to make it to the top.

I’ve done it four times.  The first year as a category 3 (bicyclists enter racing as a category 5 and progress one category by one category, cat 1 being the most “advanced”) I was beaten in a sprint at the finish by an Australian junior rider who took the inside line on the last hairpin curve.  If I had only developed craft in addition to my strength.  But such was my state as a strong Cat 3.  The second time I raced as a category 1 or 2 but did not improve upon the time I had posted as a category 3.  What is all this hard work for I wondered?  I did however get to start the race with Tom Danielson and Scott Moninger that year and be on the wheels of greatness.  I think Moninger did his best time ever at the age of 42.  The third time I finished fourth and posted an improved time.  Yey.  The fourth time, last year, I was just coming off a vacation to Montana so my performance stunk.  But I had an awesome road trip with my hero Drew and received a solid grounding in the school of high altitude racing.  Plus last year the Pikes Peak hill climb was the day after Mt. Evans, and we did that one too.  Back to back 14’ers.  Always fun to do new courses.  Every trip has been worth it.

But this year I simply had too much work to do and need to keep my racing in balance with my other life objectives.  That’s OK because the community group ride in Flagstaff was just spectacular.  The US national champion was with us again fresh off a pro race and more victories and teaching us all how to focus on quality training while riding for camaraderie and good fun with an eye for helping each other learn and grow.  The local community guys were inspirational and uplifting, and super strong.  It doesn’t get any better than today.  All this without driving a mile.  Plus, Jim says I have two more years left.  I’m thinking three.  Mt. Evans, I’ll be back.  In the nearer term the race focus is on the next goal, Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs on August 24th.  That is another incredible hill climb that begins at 9,000′ and goes to the top of America’s Mountain to over 14,000′ in around 12 miles.  It is very steep.  Today was a great day of preparation.  I belong to the best bicycling community in the United States.  Thank you Arizona!

 

Your Love for Lake Mary Counts

The next two weeks Coconino County is counting bicycle traffic on Lake Mary Road.  The data will be used as part of a grant application for funds to resurface and widen sections of Lake Mary Road and Mormon Lake Road so that they are better accommodating for bicycle traffic.  You’ll see the strips cast across the bike lane just north of Lower Lake Mary.  Make sure you ride over the strip and be counted!

I ran into the county transportation planner, Tim, on my Lake Mary bike ride yesterday while he was placing the counting strips in the bike lane.  Tim has had past success receiving grant funds to resurface and widen Lake Mary Road from Stoneman Lake Road to the junction with Hwy 87 at Clints Wells.  It is a smooth and safe shoulder out that way if you get a chance to do a longer ride and travel further away from town.  With the section from Stoneman Lake north to Lake Mary improved, and the Mormon Lake Road loop improved, the Flagstaff region will be further along the way to providing the facilities deserved by the world class health-minded community that resides here, and will better serve Olympic, professional, and local masters and recreational athletes that currently recognize this as one of the best places to live, train, and vacation to in the nation.  Thank you!

Thinking about Bike Lanes!

Bicycling is sustainability in motion, and bike lanes are designed to encourage people to choose bike riding by making it more comfortable.   There is more to bike lanes than casually meets the eye, however.  All road users benefit from increased mindfulness of how bike lanes impact the interactions of different kinds of transit modes on the shared road.

The most dangerous interpretation of bike lanes is viewing them as separating out bicycles from motor vehicle traffic.  Bicyclists are still part of traffic when a bike lane is present, and the lane doesn’t protect them from a conflict, especially from a distracted, impaired, or emotionally disturbed driver.  Bike lanes sometimes accentuate conflicts stemming from traffic flow at intersections, from adjoining driveways, and can lower visibility.  Motor vehicle drivers can be lulled into thinking they don’t have to be on the lookout for bicyclists as much when bike lanes are present, but safe passing laws and share the road guidelines still fully apply.  It is convenient for motorists to believe that bike lanes segregate out slower moving bicyclists from due considerations from traffic moving in the general travel lanes, but bicyclists still have full access to the general lanes and often times their safety depends on maneuverability and access to general travel lanes.  Thinking that bicyclists are limited to the bike lane would be like thinking multiple passenger vehicles are locked into a “High Occupancy Vehicle” or HOV lane—another type of preferential use lane specified in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)—which would be totally absurd.  Multi passenger vehicles can use any lane depending on their needs, and so can bicyclists when circumstances necessitate.

Bicyclists can’t assume that if they stay in a bike lane it guarantees their safety.  For instance, the bike lanes on San Francisco St. and Beaver St. north of downtown Flagstaff are adjacent to parking zones.  Bicyclists should not ride in the bike lane if it subjects them to the possibility of an opening car door.  These parking spots have high turnover, doors open all the time, and no one looks back until they are ready to climb out of the car!  Around intersections and driveways bicyclists should be extra careful to be visible.  Butler Avenue is a great example of a busy road that includes a bike lane with lots of driveways and intersections where bicyclists and motorists should be on heightened alert for one another’s safety.  Another area of conflict occurs when a right hand turn lane is engineered to the left of a through bicycle lane. This practice was prohibited by the MUTCD in 2003 but Flagstaff still has several of them.  The one I notice all the time is on the university campus where northbound University Drive intersects with West University Drive.  Bikes can go straight but cars have to turn right, as University Drive becomes a dedicated bike, bus and service vehicle route.  Bicycles going straight should not remain in the bike lane, but should merge left into the general lane well before the intersection to prevent conflict.  Here’s a picture of this intersection.  Markings on the road must be coupled with careful thinking and education as well as adaptive, cooperative, real-time interpretive skills to make the road a safe and healthy driving environment.

Bicycle lanes sometimes decrease sight lines for other traffic to see bicycles, and create a wider visual span for drivers to scan.  As a bicyclist, moving left into an open general purpose travel lane increases visibility and can provide a safer berth away from vehicles looking to drive out onto the busy street from intersecting driveways.  Be extra cautious when a vehicle from the opposite direction is turning left across your path.  If you are in a bike lane they may have a harder time seeing you.  Sometimes we scan for car traffic but forget to look for people.   Bicyclists traveling in a bike lane need to watch for adjacent cars traveling in the same direction that want to turn right.  Cars often times pass a bicyclist before wanting to turn right, but did not anticipate the speed of the bicyclist to make the turn without cutting the bicyclist off.  This is referred to as a “right hook” and is common crash type in city driving, and is very dangerous.  Never position yourself as a bicyclist in the danger zone adjacent to a car turning right at an intersection or into a driveway.  If a car passes you then turns the right blinker on, yield and let the car turn right, and forgive them for misjudging and for failing to yield the right of way.  Be adaptive, avoid danger zones, and carry a diplomatic poise.  It is challenging for everyone on busy streets. Be prepared to maneuver for safety, including sharing the bike lane, and leaving the bike lane when a situation calls for it.  Bicyclists can feel comfortable using the general purpose travel lane when it is safer knowing confidently that you are a regular part of traffic and your needs are fully included and respected.

Bike lanes can work against a cooperative atmosphere if they are seen as lessening the requirement for sharing and respect, decreasing the need for good judgment, used to insist upon a rigid territorial mind set, or viewed as a justification for the attitude that faster traffic has priority on roads.  The best way to maximize the benefits of bike lanes for all is to recognize their limitations, use them with caution and active critical thinking, and to be considerate to the different needs of all types of traffic on the roads.  Bike lanes are designed for better including bicyclists in the road environment, not for marginalizing or prohibiting them from being legitimate traffic.  The solidarity all users feel to cooperate to create a safe and healthy environment on our shared roads remains a total commitment and one requiring our complete attention.  A bike lane does not change that.

 

Resources:

Where to Ride on Arizona Street Smarts  http://www.azbikeped.org/chapter2a.asp

Check out the League of American Bicyclist’s position on right to the road for bicyclists

http://bikeleague.org/content/bike-law-university-mandatory-use-separated-facilities

The Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety urges bicyclists to prioritize safety when making lane decision choices:

http://www.azgohs.gov/transportation-safety/default.asp?ID=16

Bicycle lanes are one type of “preferential use lane” described in the MUTCD.  Other examples are HOV lanes and bus lanes.

http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009r1r2/part2/part2g.htm

http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009r1r2/part3/part3d.htm

A special thanks to Justin P. and all the work he did to improve bicycling in Flagstaff

Lone Tree road update

I’ve been corresponding with local planners in Flagstaff regarding summer construction and bicycling improvements, and am writing this post to provide an update on developments on Lone Tree Road.  On northbound Lone Tree Road just north of Zuni, and on southbound Lone Tree Road just south of Pine Knoll, a bicycle symbol was set by the markings contractor in the shoulder after the pavement was preserved with a chip seal coat, but the shoulder is too narrow to qualify as an official bike lane.  The City of Flagstaff emailed me yesterday indicating this marking was a mistake.  They are not intending on widening the shoulders into bike lanes.  And the bike lane marking was deemed too difficult to remove without damaging the pavement, so they are just going to let it deteriorate over time I guess.  Sounds subversive, but we should assume our City is genuinely encouraging bike friendliness.  The City has installed nice “share the road” signs up and down Lone Tree road which help raise driver awareness that the lane is too narrow to be safely shared by a car and bicycle side by side.  So overtaking drivers must slow down and wait until there is no oncoming traffic to move over into the adjacent lane to safely pass bicyclists with the recommended passing distance of five feet from the outermost point of a vehicle, including mirrors and wide trailer tires, to the outermost left point on a bicyclist.

As a bicyclist, where should you ride on Lone Tree?  Bicycles are a regular part of traffic when riding on the road.  Anybody can ride this way and be confident.   For the driver of a car it takes increased concentration to negotiate around slower moving vehicles.  One may understandably therefore desire for bicyclists to be riding as far onto the shoulder as possible, but this is not the safest way for bicyclists to ride.  Riding too far right can be hazardous to bicyclists.  Plus squeezing yourself right as a bicyclist can open up the option to a passing motorist of trying to squeeze by you even if there is oncoming traffic, which can result in a sideswipe or a scary too close pass.  Generally bicycling curriculums teach one to ride where the pavement is good and the road is swept clear of hazards such as sand, cinders, dirt, gravel, and free of other surface irregularities.  The law instructs bicyclists to ride as far to the right as practicable, not possible.  Most of the bicyclists I see error on the side of riding too far right because they are afraid safe riding behavior including proper lane positioning will be interpreted as discourteous by passing motorists.  Ride where you feel comfortable and safe adapting to the conditions around you, and don’t compromise your safety for the convenience of speeding traffic.  You are an equally legitimate part of traffic.  You are not required to rush or go faster to be respected.  Bicyclists are allowed to use the general travel lane in the direction they are traveling in.

We all feel proud when seeing our neighbors out riding a bicycle and accomplishing things in life with pure human power.  It isn’t an easy pleasure but it is a deeply rewarding one, a super fun one, that is deserving of much respect, garners the admiration of our healthy minded community, and inspires others to bicycle!  It is a satisfying feeling knowing that you can connect parts of your life together by bicycle, work and home, home and school, errands and trips for fun.  Further resources on “where to ride” on the road include our own Arizona Bicycle Street Smarts publication, which is truly excellent.  Another excellent instructional site is Cyclingsavvy.  Enjoy your bicycling, Flagstaff!  You deserve it!  Many thanks and huge kudos for the city and county planning, engineering, law enforcement and maintenance teams that keep our roads safe and accomodating for all the diverse types of transportation modes people choose.