Tag Archives: Cycling

The Night of 10,000 Moons: WNBR Portland

NOTICE: This post includes photos that may be NSFW. But why would you be reading this at work? Shame on you! But be sure to read this the minute you get home.

I WUZ DARED.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Which is why I was at Cathedral Park at 9:00 p.m. last Saturday, geared up and appropriately dressed for WNBR Portland. Which stands for:

World Naked Bike Ride

Officially, the WNBR is a protest against excessive use of fossil fuels and the far too many car-bicycle accidents. Lately it’s added body positivity as a theme, and indeed I saw all ages and all body types there, naked and not ashamed.

While it contains the word, “Naked,” WNBR is actually a “Bare As You Dare” event. Riders ranged from fully clothed to underwear down to birthday suits. I saw colorful hats and costumes, and lots of decorative patterns and slogans in body paint applied by on-site volunteers.

(Click to see full gallery from KATU.)

So how bare did I dare? Well, let me put it this way. I didn’t fly all the way from Michigan to Oregon to ride in skivvies.

A quick recap of how I got here: back in 2014, I was heading to Portland to visit friends, and mentioned this to a co-worker who lives there. “Oh, are you going to do the naked bike ride?” he asked. The what? Had to go look that up!

The 2014 ride had already taken place, but I told him I was open to the idea. He seemed skeptical – a bit too much. So it was on. For the next three years I would have other commitments that weekend. But this year, all the stars lined up.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

So what was it like?

NOTICE #2: I did not take a lot of photos of the event. It took all my attention just to keep my bike on the road and stay in the experience. But there are plenty of event photos from this year and previous years on the Internet. So I’ve heard.

In sum, it blew my mind from start to finish. There is no way I can fully describe everything I saw and heard. So here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • Walking past a bike shop near the park, its sign reading, “Open until 10:00 – Naked or Not” with several people inside already naked.
  • Feeling alone and awkward in a park full of 10,000 people. I was envious of everyone who’d come in a group. (I got over it when the ride started.)

Starting line. (And I’m up near the front.)

  • On the bike, surrounded by a visual riot of colors, motion, and bare flesh, which intensified as it got dark. Trying to take in everything around me but not focus too long on any one thing – or two 😉 – and dodging other riders doing the same.

  • Naked dancers on a bridge over the I-5 expressway, a long line of slow-moving cars passing beneath them. Both sexes participated, but frankly I think the men danced better. (One of those photo ops I wished I’d taken now.)
  • A bike towing speakers playing rock music with an odd twist. For example, a Bee Gees vocal track mixed onto AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”
  • Finishing with no idea where we were. No one knew! Finally, someone handing out after-party flyers told me. She asked how I liked the ride, and I quipped it was, ‘good training for Burning Man.” And she’d been there! I was naked, chatting casually with an equally naked woman about another event dedicated to self-expression. Surreal!

And here are a few other questions people have asked me.

  • Weren’t you uncomfortable riding like that?

A: Not at all. If you sit properly then other bits don’t get in the way.

  • What was the route?

A: It changes every year, and they keep it a secret for obvious reasons (except to the police, of course). This year we went through North Portland, mostly through residential neighborhoods, with some bars or retail here and there. We ended up at Woodlawn Park, and from there people hung out (sorry) or dispersed to the after-parties.

Just some of the action at Woodlawn Park post-ride.

  • What about traffic? Were there a lot of cars?

A:  The police covered the route and directed traffic, so most of the time we had the roads to ourselves and right of way at intersections. A few cars did make it onto our route (probably leaving their neighborhoods) but we just went around them. I don’t think they particularly minded.

  • And spectators?

A:  Yep, people turned out for much of the way, but the riders far outnumbered the spectators. I felt completely safe and even a touch superior! I’m out riding in the buff and you’re cowering in clothes on the sidewalk. Most of them just watched, but some waved and cheered (and we waved and cheered back). A couple women even returned the favor by flashing us!

Curiously, I saw entire families at the sides of the road, including kids of all ages. I guess if you want to teach them body positivity, that’s one way. It was Portland, after all.

I’d like to sign off this post with a request to all my readers: When you’re driving, please, please, please, be alert for cyclists, and SLOW DOWN and give them space when passing. I’ve ridden naked just once, but I feel naked (as in vulnerable) any time I’m on a busy road.

So please – be awake, be alert, and be sober. Or these clothes stay off.

NOTICE #3: If you were expecting any “nothing to hide” photos of me, sorry. Not that I had any taken (or would post them if I had), but they’re not yet back from the studio. I understand they’re still repairing their cameras.

Advertisements

Five Feet to Save Lives

It’s December, and it’s snowing, conditions when I normally put away my bikes for the year and dream about long rides next summer. Yet bikes are on my mind right now due to some recent and ongoing developments that could significantly improve cyclist safety and encourage more people to get on a bike.

The one I’ll talk about here is a proposed “five-foot rule” for passing. It requires a driver to provide at least a five-foot cushion while passing a cyclist on the road. While some drivers do this already (and thank you thank you thank you!) there are many who give less, or don’t move over at all. Those drivers are taking a huge risk.

Five feet may seem excessive to you as a driver, but to us cyclists it can make all the difference. Even if it looks like we’re in control, all it takes is a pothole or patch of loose gravel to make a tire slip and suddenly we’re right in front of you. Even a minor distraction can cause a cyclist to drift into the road. Is giving us some more room and slowing down for a few seconds really going to ruin your day? Not doing so has a good chance of ruining the day, and more, for both of us.

Ghost bike indicating a cyclist was killed here. Way too many of these.

“Ghost bike” indicating a cyclist was killed here. Way too many of these.

At the November meeting of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition  they mentioned this rule was under consideration by the Michigan Legislature and asked us to write our congressional representatives in support. I did, and was pleasantly surprised to receive this response from the office of Gretchen Driskell (GretchenDriskell@house.mi.gov):

Thank you for contacting my office to advocate for legislation to better protect vulnerable roadway users. I appreciate hearing from you on this critical issue.  

As a Michigander and a bicyclist myself, I was deeply saddened by the tragedy in Kalamazoo earlier this year. I believe it is incumbent upon my fellow state legislators and me to enact legislation that prioritizes the public safety and helps prevent such awful occurrences in the future, and I agree that Senate Bills 1029 and 1030 and House Bills 5002-5004 are meaningful steps toward this end.  

Senate Bills 1029 and 1030 were introduced on June 9, 2016, and are awaiting a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. House Bills 5002-5004 were introduced on October 20, 2015, and are awaiting action in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I encourage you to contact the committee chairs to urge them to bring these bills up for a vote, and I’ve included their contact information below for your convenience.

Even better, my hometown is not waiting for the state to get its act together. The Ann Arbor News reports that the City Council has approved a local ordinance adopting the five-foot passing rule for both pedestrians and cyclists. It takes effect in January. Under the ordinance, drivers can be ticketed and fined $100 for violating the five-foot minimum passing cushion. And the initial “if conditions allow” language was removed, which means if conditions don’t allow for five feet, the driver must wait until they do.

It’s not a perfect rule. It’s hard to enforce unless drivers are caught in the act. And there will be a learning curve just like with the new crosswalks, which I still see drivers ignoring. But it’s a start.

It’s sad to think that it sometimes takes an event like in Kalamazoo, with five cyclists killed and four injured, to get traction on improving bike safety. But I will not complain about the progress being made, and I hope this rule, along with other proposed measures like increased bicycle awareness in driver’s ed classes, are passed and implemented soon.

I’ll be writing about some other bicycle-friendly proposed legislation later. In the meantime, I encourage my Michigan cyclist readers to let the legislature hear your voices as well. Write to Rep. Driskell at her email address. And the committee chairs mentioned in the email are as follows:

Senator Rick Jones, Committee Chair
Senate Judiciary Committee
(517) 373-3447
SenRJones@senate.michigan.gov

Representative Peter Pettalia, Committee Chair
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
(517) 373-0833
PeterPettalia@house.mi.gov

Why a Helmet is Worth a Bad Hair Day

THIS COULD HAVE BEEN A MUCH DIFFERENT STORY.

Last week we camped with some good friends in the Empire area. One day we decided to take a group ride along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. The ten miles between Empire and Glen Arbor are pretty and not terribly difficult. But for one friend, it was a milestone. For the last couple of years he’s struggled with knee issues. Thanks to PT and regular workouts he’s much improved, but this was his first ride of any real distance in a long time.

Seven miles in, we stopped for a water break. As my friend dismounted, his foot caught on the bike frame and he went down.

His head smacked the pavement.

Hard.

This-is-not-good

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute reports that of all cycling-related deaths, 74 percent involved a head injury. And 97 percent of the riders who died were not wearing helmets. You might think, therefore, that if a First Rule of Cycling existed, it would be this:

WEAR A F***ING HELMET.

Hitting the trail! (Yes, I know, but he put the helmet on before we started.)

Hitting the trail! (Yes, I know, but he put the helmet on before we started.)

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. He was wearing a helmet, and it absorbed the impact instead of his skull. He was dizzy for a few minutes, but after some rest he was able to continue, and we completed the ride. He suffered a bruise to his ego, but his body is intact to ride another day.

Our group wears helmets on every ride, and when our kids were growing up, we insisted they wear them too. To me, it’s a no-brainer, so to speak. And yet there are those out there who argue against their use. Among the claims this article makes are:

  • the accident rate goes up when people wear helmets
  • when cars pass cyclists, they give helmeted riders less room than non-helmeted ones
  • requiring helmets discourages more people from riding bikes at all.

And CNET reports here that a brain surgeon says if you’re hit hard enough by a car to kill you, a helmet won’t do you much good. Perhaps so – but last week’s situation didn’t involve a speeding car, or any speed at all. He fell from a standing position. Without a helmet, we have no doubt he’d have been in the emergency room, with potential long-term consequences.

Every year I see many helmetless riders on the Heritage Trail, or the Betsie Valley Trailway, including entire families with small children. I can guess at their mindset. They’re on vacation, released from stress, riding slowly on a smooth, flat trail with no motor vehicles allowed. What could happen? Well, one young guy panicked and slid right off the trail when I announced my presence behind him. He was okay, fortunately, but elsewhere on the trail he could have struck a fallen log and taken a nasty spill.

And people fall off bikes for less reason than that. I’ve fallen many times, usually when I can’t get my foot out of the clips during a stop. I’ve managed to avoid banging my head (thanks, Aikido) but I have that foam and plastic insurance policy up there just in case.

And if you want to participate in one of our local triathlons? Experienced riders and no drafting allowed. What could be safer? Yet you’re not leaving the transition area to start the bike portion without a fastened helmet.

Yep, we check!

Yep, we check!

Yes, one reason is liability, but if a helmet is so useless, what’s the point? Other than all the evidence (like here) that wearing a helmet reduces the severity of injuries. Guess I forgot.

Yes, I know I shouldn’t tell you what to do. And I can’t make you wear the f***ing helmet. Why should I even care what you do?

Because if you’re reading this post, you’re one of my readers, which makes you special to me. And I want you to stay alive and healthy so you can keep reading my posts.

So go out for that ride, and wear the f***ing helmet, okay?

Ride Silent, Ride Strong

Last week I took part in the Ann Arbor Ride of Silence, a three-mile group bike ride through the downtown commemorating the five cyclists killed and four injured in Kalamazoo earlier this month. The mood was very similar to the “Boston Strong” group run in 2013; subdued, but with a strong undercurrent of positive energy as the community came together in support.

A2 RoS - Gathering

Tim Potter, the race organizer, told me the turnout was far higher than he expected. By my rough count, there were over two hundred cyclists. Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor was there, and spoke briefly about the need for drivers and cyclists to share the road safely.

A2 RoS - Starting Out

We had a police escort, but even so the route presented a challenge, both to the cyclists and the drivers downtown during rush hour. The size of the group meant that it took over five minutes to pass through the intersections, and I’m sure many drivers felt inconvenienced as a result. I felt bad about that, but not enough to quit the ride. The nine riders in Kalamazoo struck by an out-of-control pickup truck were inconvenienced permanently.

You can read more about the reason for the ride here. And here you can read a letter of thanks from a Kalamazoo cyclist that Tim read out loud.

A2 RoS - State Street

And now I must editorialize.

Reading the articles about the ride on MLive, I was surprised at the number of negative comments. Some of them questioned the need or ‘purpose’ of the ride. And some adopted the ‘blame the victim’ angle by criticizing cyclists in general for breaking traffic laws, e.g. riding through stop signs. Yes, some of that happens.

But the Kalamazoo cyclists were doing nothing wrong. What happened to them was entirely the fault of someone who’d decided that society’s rules about driving responsibly didn’t apply to him. If the victims had been in another car (he’d sideswiped at least one) or pedestrians (he just missed a guy coming out of a store), no one would be talking about how “that group” was to blame in any way. This anti-cyclist attitude concerns me. Why does it have to be seen as “us versus them”?

Ghost bike. Way too many of these.

Ghost bike. Way too many of these.

I ride over a thousand miles a year, so far without trouble. I do my best to be visible and to obey traffic laws. And yet I’ve been buzzed by cars and startled by people who think it’s funny to yell insults or bark like a dog as they roar by. I also know people who think that cyclists don’t belong on the road at all, and have told me how annoyed they get with those damn bikers getting in their way.

MDOT_share_the_road_sign_419309_7But cyclists have a right to the road in Michigan; it’s the law. And they deserve to have drivers treat them with the same respect as they would other vehicles on the road. That includes defensive driving principles that we all learned in driver’s ed. Slow down and give the cyclist a little space. And be sober when you get behind the wheel. Is that too much to ask?

I will continue to ride the roads. And I encourage anyone to take up cycling. It’s good for you. Ride strong, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and everyone.