Wednesday, November 21, 2012

From Strange to Familiar

Brompton, Holliston MA
For the first time in a long time, I've been riding for transportation along routes that started out as uncharted territories. As it often goes, at first these routes seemed hostile, strange. Unfamiliar towns. Different patterns of motorist behaviour than what I'd gotten used to. But over time, the trips grew familiar, peaceful, and therefore unremarkable. This reminded me why I write so much less frequently now about transportation cycling than I used to: because nothing "happens." Whether my commute is 2 miles or 22 miles, nothing about the process is really novel anymore. With roadcycling, there is still the rush of going a longer distance, discovering a new route, learning a new skill, riding with a new group or partner. But with commuting, things have become automated. 

Most of all, I tend to forget the spectacle I make of myself when I - a woman in a long belted overcoat, knee high boots and a beret - ride a weird bike through areas where such sights aren't as normal as they are in Boston Metro. Drivers roll down their windows in freezing temperatures just to get a better look at me. No one has honked or gotten angry with me yet for being on the road; I think they are too stunned to.

The other day I was just riding along, heading homeward, when I sensed a car hovering behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw it was a white minivan. The sun was in my eyes and I could not make out the driver. I got a little nervous and moved over to the right encouraging them to pass me, but they kept hovering. Finally, the van did pass, only to pull over to the side of the road in front of me. A woman jumped out and started waving her arms wildly, beckoning me to stop. Out of the windows I could now see several children's heads peeking out. So I braked and put a foot down tentatively, hoping this was not some trap to kidnap me and harvest my organs. And the woman shouted "Oh my God, I just wanted to tell you I love your bike and your outfit!" She asked some questions about the bike and where I was going, and was stunned by my answers. What about a bike that could fit her kids? (Just two kids, the others in the van were the neighbours'.) Yes, there are those kinds of bikes as well, I told her, and described the different options. She was so excited, it was really quite marvelous. A little extreme to pull the minivan over to talk to me, sure, but I'll take it over driver hostility any day. What started out as being strange to her became familiar. These are good encounters.

48 comments:

  1. Feel good story, thanks :)kamoteQ

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  2. It's sad that nothing 'happens' on your transportations rides anymore. I know I bore my kids, daily, with a new story of some happening during my daily commute. Always something interesting, a new insight, or a complaint, or conversation. The moment I become 'automated' is usually the moment something happens....Last week I was sleepily pedaling in the early morning along my familiar and boring route when I heard a voice from a distance porch nonchalantly say 'you better watch out for that dawg'. I wasn't going to run over it...It was going to run over me! These unexpected encounters happen almost daily -- thankfully not the pitbull variety -- and immensely add to my day.

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    1. To tell the truth I am pretty glad that my commutes are uneventful, especially lacking in the pitbull variety!

      But of course the funny thing is that things do happen in reality. I observe my surroundings, I listen, I notice things. Somehow I just don't process most of it as a big deal, or blog-worthy. Mostly, commuting has become a calm rhythmical thing for me, that establishes some peace and order. Roadcycling is too emotional for that, so it's a nice contrast.

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    2. Now you know why my kids are easily bored with these stories...:) You're obsessed with cycles and this confirms I'm simply obsessed with riding. It's always eventful.

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    3. You are right that I'm not obsessed with riding. I do it all the time, but I also walk/breathe all the time. It kind of feels like that. Just a part of me, but not an obsession. I would not even say that "I am passionate about cycling." Only that "I cycle." Can't help it. Just do.

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    4. You are making me curious about this "emotional" thing, you have mentioned it before. Care to elaborate?

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    5. It's one of the few activities which bring excitement/joy, daily. It's a choice and a routine and a passion. But I know it's not for everyone :)

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    6. Mark - I think it must be a hormonal imbalance (or what the psychologist in me would say is a cognitive misattribution of the sensation of an adrenaline rush; same sort of thing that fools us into thinking we're in love at first sight). But yes, I get these bizarre outbursts of intense emotion when I am riding fast, usually with other people; tears have been involved! Maybe I need to write about this.

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  3. Happens surprisingly often with a cargo bike. Had a guy give me his card the other day "my son works at Cantabrigian Mechanics, he needs to see that bike" (I think he has already).

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  4. Oh, on my rides, I'm always on the lookout for "road kill". Picked up a mallet, a hammer, a 4' level, a socket set, another socket set, a big crescent wrench, two pocket knives, one of those retractable bladed knives, a few bungie cords, a tube of grease (could not leave that to be run over, I eventually FreeCycled it). Rescued a cell phone from a rain puddle (dried, revived, returned) and a wallet that I think had been picked and discarded (still had student ID in it). Oh, and a nice cashmere shrug for my daughter, and a pair of (nice) wool-lined gloves that gave to my oldest son.

    Found an iPhone once, decided it must have fallen out of the car it was next to, and left it under the windshield wiper.

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    1. I have found and returned several wallets, regularly rescue bungee cords(you can never have too many), my husband is partial to tools that fall off trucks. I once found an iphone, but at first I thought it was just the red plastic from a car light and didn't register what it was until it has been run over too many times. I should have checked it out immediately!
      As for literal road kill, I have rescued an injured owl that I came across biking home, a squirrel that just got hit and took to the wildlife rescue. It is sad to see dead animals though, recently saw what I swear was a wolf and had to call authorities to take it off the road.

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  5. Great post.

    I know what you mean about nothing happening on a commute, but then again there is always that something that does indeed happen. Its just that its mostly on the inside. My mind wakes up, my body energizes, my imagination starts to flow, my sense of pride comes forward, my awareness of my neighborhood and community is renewed.

    Its all a reward each time I do that trip on my bike and its both unremarkable and remarkable at the same time.

    I love that you doing your thing out there was inspring enough for someone to actually stop and let you know. There's some sort of generality that says for every one person who speaks up about something there are nine who don't.

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  6. I'm pretty likely to stop and ask someone a question - that's how I got my best look at a Royal H a couple of years ago. You think you are obsessed and may be right but you aren't alone.

    Uneventful commutes are good commutes. And dogs chasing you are always bad times. I had one give chase this summer. Not pleasant.

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  7. Ah remembah when everyone in the blogosphere was hyper emotional regarding bikes and rides. "Shut up GRJ, these are our experiences! Stop with the reality check."

    Forward 4 years. "Yeah I'm bored." <--joke. kinda.

    A commute in a car is kinda like a commute on a bike inasmuch one tends to zone out and have thoughts. Just learned how to do that, in fact. I feel like a zombie.

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    1. I always forget things...lots of dumas drive too close and pinch me off on our bike. I am thankful to not have been hit.

      And...I hope you gave her a url to a cray-cray bikey mom giant bike blog. I'm sure she'd a been thankful for that, Jack.

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    2. Yeah, when people used to tell me 3-4 years ago that they'd space out on their commutes, I'd be horrified. "But how can you pay attention??" Now I space out and will easily do a 10 mile commute on a main road in a daze... while remaining extremely vigilant and executing fairly complex avoidance maneuvers. Even complicated processes can become automatised; the human brain, body and brain-body connection are super cool.

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    3. I made mistakes while in a hyper-vigilant mode, yet the ones I make now when not piss me off equally, as if I have no control over how I read situations.

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    4. Yep, and the more you practice, the more it becomes intuitive. I look at how natural my son is on a bike and marvel, but it's because his neurons were hardwired that way at an early age. I learned more gradually but have many thousand hours of practice... :D


      GRJ- yes! Thank you for reminding me.

      You said "one tends to zone out and have thoughts" It's true, especially once the day is under way.

      When I was working from home, I would get up at five thirty to ride a beach and forest ring route around the Semiahmoo peninsula, and the aim of the ride was to clear my mind, and focus my intention for the day. It was I was all alone, no traffic to speak of, no people but for a few dog walkers.(I love my life) I used that time to meditate, to set goals and to empty my mind. I'm total crap at it, but I always made time to try.

      Then I got a job in the financial district (blessed be!) and moved to the city, where I have a sweet commute, so I don't get up early to ride anymore - seems we're endlessly, ever, and always busy!

      In my busybusybusyness I dropped my morning meditation when I stopped riding around White Rock. I've ridden everywhere I go for decades now,but there is a big difference between a commute and a meditation.

      Thank you, grounded dood. It's as though I've found an old friend again.

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    5. I zone out when cycling and doing other things, like running (I can't remember how I got through that intersection) and knitting (when counting - 1 2 3 ... Conversation ... 248 249 250 , right number but I carried my share of a conversation and still got it right). I think our brains are pretty good at multitasking.

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    6. not that there's anything wrong with "hyper emotional" bike rides or writing about that! some people are inspired by that and want to read about it. why do we have to keep defending that?

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  8. Funny thing: my wife and I have been riding our bikes to a small farmers' market every Saturday for about three years. Nobody ever noticed or cared. Then, last weekend, four different farmers left their tables to come ask questions about our bikes and how we ride. We live in the South -- most of the farmers are pretty conservative. I'm wondering if transportation biking is starting to move into new social circles? That'd be awesome.

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  9. That's beautiful and encouraging. Although the van trailing was a little creepy.

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  10. Veloria wrote "the human brain, body and brain-body connection are super cool."

    Very true. And I think the bicycle is a machine that is just about perfect for exploiting and extending that connection. I wrote a very brief essay about the subject years ago called Bicycle Brains.

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  11. I love it!! You inspired someone today, Velouria, and that's magical. One more person on a bike is one less in a car, which is always a good thing.

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  12. Awesome to hear that you still have your organs!

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  13. 'Most of all, I tend to forget the spectacle I make of myself when...' Oh, I think you're quite aware of the spectacle! :)

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    1. Nah, we get used to ourselves. Plus where I live there are so, so many spectacle-ar woman riding bikes, I really look downright normal in comparison.

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    2. The blog and thousands of photos suggest otherwise.

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  14. Eight years in to my cycle only commute, I still notice a lot of things on the way. Businesses fail, new ones move in to take their place. The city is always messing with street and street control designs. The dogs and their walkers change.

    Somewhat deaf, I've always tended to ignore unsolicited communications. Tat hasn't changed on the bike.

    I do tend to think about a lot of non-cycling stuff. Curious thing is I often forget completely what I was thinking when I get to my destination, only to have it come back to me on a later ride. As if there is a cycling train of thought separate from the rest of my life.

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    1. I relate to this: trains of thought that only happen on the bike.
      I also notice the flow of businesses and the ever-changing streetscape. It's odd to think that I go places that most of the people in my city don't even know exist, yet I know them like the back of my hand.

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  15. Yes, there's a lot of organ harvesting going on this time of year. MUST HAVE STUFFING!

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  16. I never get so used to my commute that I don't notice a flock of birds, new roadkill (ugh), the sun shining just so on a tree, a barn, cows in a different part of the pasture, etc. It's often the little things that are the highlight of my day.
    But I tire of weekend rides in the same places...so I set a goal: pedal in 5 minutes to this point, etc. Often it's the physical exercise that I crave, so just getting out is the point as opposed to mandatory transportation, which I presume is the difference from you, Velouria.

    How wonderful that you've inspired someone...I bet that made your day.

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  17. You might want to consider expanding your passion to include Vespa scooters. They have all of the aesthetic appeal of bicycles, plus some of the power of a car while retaining the joy of two wheels. Check out the 946 which will debut in a couple of weeks:

    http://vespa946.com/index.html

    Here is the general site:

    http://www.vespausa.com/

    I hope this does not break any posting rules.

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    1. Neo-Vespas are hella-lame. Let me get an actual p200 or, with all this ethanol, possibly a Stella 4stroke. Shifter-scoots are much more awesome than twist-n-go.

      But enough of this internal-combustion madness. Veloria, I'm impressed that you took your encounter with an outgoing nerd so graciously. Imagine the gall, flagging down a stranger to get some advice on how to ape their style. Makes me thankful, this fourth Thursday in November, that my style is so danged unappealing.

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    2. Vespas! As a child, I loved seeing Italian women ride them through Rome with what looked to me like reckless abandon. Beyond that meh. The colours are nice, but I prefer to see bikes in those colours.

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    3. Interesting. I wonder to what extent aesthetic tastes are associative; that is, to what extent our perception of the visual beauty of an object is shaped by the individual and collective stories we have about it. During the Mao period, Chinese farmers used to write poems about the beauty of tractors, and they were heartfelt, not just propaganda.

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  18. After a lifetime of night-time bike riding, and 30 years of using lights at night, I have finally started to wear additional LED lights on my helmet. I can tell a big difference in how drivers notice me sooner. Even if you don't wear a helmet, perhaps there is a stylish, tasteful, convenient way to get some blinky lights up high?

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    1. Most helmet lights I've seen (including the one I have for late night road rides) come with a headband attachment that allows you to wear it directly on your head, sans helmet. However I do not feel as you do about the usefulness of these lights for the purposes of visibility, especially in blinky mode. For me, the helmet/headband light is most useful as a flashlight for reading directions or working on mechanicals when stopped in the dark. But this is one of those can'o'worms topics with 3 opinions per every 2 persons involved.

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    2. B&M makes a helmet mounted LED array called the Topfire. Peter White has them. These are squarely in the "be seen" category rather than the "see" category of lights. They are a great visibility enhancer, and they have a fun space-alien look about them.

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  19. I found it hard to ignore the 3 deer that crossed the trail a few yards in front of me yesterday. They even stopped to stare at the strange creature with bright yellow fur and a steed with glowing bright eyes. Made my day, it did.

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  20. As you add to the distances you go, what have you done about the issue of not being able to make repairs? Did you not post that you don't have the strength to fix a flat tire?
    Please read this as concern rather than judgement.

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    1. I can actually fix a flat tire; it would just take me a very long time.

      But to address the question at large, think of it this way: What would *you* do in the event that something were to happen that you could not fix on the road? Torn tire, bent wheel rim, broken pedal, sudden onset of tummy flu, etc. I mean, it can happen right? Well you probably have an emergency plan - be it cab money, or a spouse/friend you can call if absolutely necessary, or walk to the nearest transport station. That's how I think of mechanicals that I could not handle. It's just a matter of degree.

      The way I see it, the key is to be responsible and not impose the burden on others. Can't fix your own mechanicals? Don't beat yourself up, you can still ride. But make sure to ride puncture resistant tires, check your brakes and things extra-good before you set off, know where the closest bike shops are along your route, and always have cab money if all else fails.

      I should also add that there are different tools and some of them are easier for people with hand issues to use than others. I keep meaning to write about this, coming up.

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    2. Driving a car, when the distributor went, I was F'd, and had to call a tow truck. I know, most people carry tools and spare distributors with them when they go on a drive, but not me. Years ago I blew an engine, and had neglected to bring an overhead hoist, wrenches, and spare bearings, so again, F'd, call for a tow. Happily, that time I had a spare bicycle in the back of the car, so I could ride off until I found someone with a phone (this was back in the dark ages, when we used tin cans and string).

      So I don't see the problem. If something fails and you lack tools, call for a tow. If you're really worried and need redundancy, you should ride a cargo bike with a couple of Bromptons in the back just in case you need them.

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  21. I have been taking bikes apart and putting them back together for forty years. The bikes are simple, overbuilt, reliable old bikes. I fix anything that seems out of sorts right away.
    The riding is mostly on paved farm roads, so I need to get myself home. I could end up with a long walk some day.
    I think it was in 1981, I had a crank arm break. I got home by coasting, pedaling with the other foot, and walking.
    I quit using Look pedals because I did not want to be 20 miles from home without being able to walk.
    I carry 2 new tubes, tire tools, a piece the park tire boot material, a Zefal pump, and 4,5,6 allen wrenches. Since I don't go by stores I usually don't have money, and no phone. In the past I have realized that the pump was not on the bike, so I went straight home, though I rarely get flats.
    I will be interested in your tool report.

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  22. I wonder what I look like riding? I know I get second glances, smiles and women often checking out my attire. While I rarely get flagged down for my fashion sense, I apparently have a reputation in the area as the lady who dresses stylishly while cycling-not in spandex or lycra day glow.
    There is a woman up my road with the minivan and kids, not too many. She has started road cycling this year as well as running. Maybe training, I haven't asked. But, she gets in her minivan and drives to the bottom of the dirt road, parks, gets on her bike and goes for a ride, not even very far. She rides much less on a 'road' ride than I do in regular commuting. She gets all decked out in 'cycling clothes'
    goes off, comes back, puts bike in minivan and goes home. Why not bike the whole way? We bike on the dirt road, even with skinny tires. I am waiting for the day when she realizes she can also incorporate riding into her routine and even get her kids involved. Currently she drops them off at the highway to catch bus, picks them up at the bottom of the road from the bus, so they are getting no exercise.
    I bike in rural areas and sometimes do get stuck unprepared with a flat. I have walked home quite a few times with bike. If lucky I catch the bus, which my husband refuses to do so he has had some very long walks.
    I think the most amusing is when I a walking my bike up my steep dirt road, almost home and someone stops asking if I want a ride. Many a time I have been stuck with a flat, forced to walk, and not once along the busy highway does anyone stop and say hey there, need a hand?

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    1. HeatherNovember 22, 2012 4:15 PM
      I wonder what I look like riding?

      Several years ago when I was still an office slave and commuted some 15 miles W-E across town to my slave's cubicle, I'd sometimes ride south on the Rio Grand bike path to catch the W-E crosstown express. One winter morning I was decked out in wool knickers, long wool socks, old clip'n'strap Vittoria sheepskin-lined winter shoes, retro knit jersey, custom cycling from littlepacketdotcom -- in all my finery I clambered onto the bus and the driver asked me in all seriousness: "Are you going to a party?" I blushed and mumbled something and swore that from then on I'd wear lycra.

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  23. I find even quotidian rides to the grocery store, the PO back and forth to Mom's, on routes travelled thousands of times, all much more interesting than when driving the same errands in a car. And, I am much less impatient on a bike than in a car -- or perhaps I'm just a lot slower. Each ride becomes a small adventure (“when you ride a Rivendell”: should go into marketing). But I've had the occasional surprise: circa 1972, 11th grade, riding an early home-built to the American school some 8 miles from our house in Nairobi, the entire area at the time covered with hundreds of square miles of coffee (our family breakfasts involved Taster’s Choice and Coffee Mate in the middle of some of the world’s best coffee and excellent dairy) -- riding along trying to beat my previous time and almost falling off the bike when a large, white antelope jumped from the coffee on one side of the road to disappear into the coffee on the other side. Just a couple of years ago, very late winter or early spring, riding along ABQ's river bike trail and coming around a bend to almost ride into a pack of some 8 or 10 coyotes -- I yelled and sprinted at them, and they all glanced up casually, looked at each other, shrugged, turned, and ambled away. Many herons, geese, ducks along same Rio Grand bike path route. Oh, and at least two snakes doomed to be road kill under my wheels each summer -- suicidal ground squirrels more rare. Not to mention inhaled gnats, flies in ears, etc.

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