There is a theory, espoused by people who have nothing better to do than sit around and espouse all day, that the average cyclist crashes once every 4,500 miles.Not that I put a lot of stock in any espousers other than my own spouse, but I've been riding a bit gingerly lately, just in case.I hate to tempt the cycling fates, but it's been more than 4,500 miles since I've gone down, so I guess I'm about due.I usually ride close to 15,000 miles a year, so I should wipe out about three times a year. Fortunately - and I'm worried about what this might do to my karma, not to mention my bikema - I haven't had a bad crash in quite awhile.That's not to say I haven't had my share of wipeouts.Most of my memorable wrecks have happened during recreational road rides, not commutes.Once I wiped out about 30 miles into my first century, or 100-mile ride, as temperatures quickly headed toward the century mark at the Hotter'n Hell 100 ride in Wichita Falls, Texas. I donated several layers of skin to the Texas tarmac, but finished - looking like a mummy: gauze was wrapped around my right hand, right elbow and right hip, which helped to cover the gaping hole in my bike shorts.I also had a spectacular crash a couple of years ago at Lone Star Lake, when I casually rode through water spilling over the spillway. Little did I know that moss had grown under the water, making a super-slick patch of pavement that dumped me before I knew what hit me - in this case, the road, about 20 mph. I spit out the lake water, cleaned up the road rash as best I could and turned around for home. Every pedal stroke hurt more than the one before it.I've also "crashed" innumerable times due to my inability to clip out of my clipless pedals. I ride clipless on all my bikes; cleats on the bottom of my shoes attach my feet to the pedals, allowing for a more powerful stroke. The flip side is, it's imperative to remember to clip out when you come to a stop. Forget and you fall, hard, usually with plenty of witnesses to your incompetence.I've toppled in front of tough-looking guys, amused teenagers and cute women, aghast senior citizens and kindly soccer moms who pretended not to notice as I turtle, rolling on my back, bike held high with my feet still attached to the pedals.My only serious wipeout during a commute came about two years ago.I was heading back to work after dinner, making pretty good time down Peterson Road when I suddenly felt my right leg get jerked toward the spinning chain. I was on my fixed-gear bike - when the wheels turn, the pedals turn, no coasting - and my pantleg had become caught in the chain.On a non-fixed-gear bike, I simply would have coasted to a stop, extracted my pantleg and continued, but fixies respond adversely to having objects suddenly jammed in the drivetrain.I recall grabbing handfuls of brake to stop the bike, and I remember the back tire skidding along the pavement.I also recall thinking I simply might skid to a stop.But physics caught up to me, and in a split-second of amazing clarity, I remember suddenly becoming weightless as the rear tire came off the ground and I carved a beautiful parabola - still attached to my pedals, pantleg still firmly wedged between the chain and the chainring - over the handlebars headed directly for the pavement.I somehow managed not to hit the ground face-first and instead bore the brunt of the blow with my shoulder. And knee. And hip. And elbow. And ankle. But not my face.It was a total yard sale. Lights, reflectors and various parts flew off my bike, and I bounced before coming to an abrupt halt in the middle of Peterson Road.Luckily, there were no witnesses - nor cars in close proximity to run me over and finish me off. So I collected my parts, gathered up what had flown off my bike, checked out the awesome chainring holes in my pants and climbed back aboard for a painful ride the rest of the way to work.I still ride fixed, but I've become a bit more fanatical about cuffing the pantleg, especially now that the 4,500-mile mark has come and gone painlessly.
I hate to admit it, but I've become covetous of a messenger bag.I know, I know. The thought of a middle-aged doofus like me pedaling away on a trendy, hipster fixed-gear bike with a trendy, hipster messenger bag slung over his shoulder is just too much. It's enough to give the whole trendy, hipster movement a bad name.But I don't want a messenger bag to look cool. I gave up on that a long time ago.I want a messenger bag for the simplest, most practical of reasons: to haul stuff.One of the challenges of riding a bike to work regularly is getting stuff to and fro, and messenger bags are some of the most elegantly purpose-built, bike-specific carriers I know.Luckily for me, my job doesn't entail a lot of hauling. Pens and reporters notebooks get stuffed in a pocket. Audio clips get saved to SD memory cards and pocketed. Pictures and large files get saved to the thumb drive I sometimes carry around my neck.Sometimes I have to lug bigger items, like a laptop. I have a laptop bag, and while it's fine for shoulder-slinging, it's terrible on the bike. It tends to migrate around the front at the most inopportune times, or it swings around to the back and bounces off the, er, saddle uncomfortably.I know the inherent difficulty in hauling stuff scares some people off from commuting, and I have to admit it can be a factor how and when I ride. I tend to accumulate things - documents, books, magazines, swag - at the office until I have enough to make a decent load in the dreaded laptop bag.I also load up when the weather turns and I've added layers. More layers equals more pockets. But that's not ideal, either, as is evidenced by the apple that fell out of my pocket the other night and rolled away down Lawrence Avenue. There are, I know, all sorts of ways to lug stuff on two wheels: panniers, trailers, racks, baskets, backpacks and the like. But I prefer to travel light, so I make do with the laptop bag when necessary, and I've gotten pretty good about balancing two grocery sacks - plastic for me, in this case - on the handlebars after late-night grocery runs.The other day I happened upon an unusual scene. Ahead I caught a glance of what appeared to be two or three cyclists riding together. As I drew closer, I saw it was, in fact, one cyclist riding with an extension ladder thrown over his shoulder. And to think I have the nerve to complain about shouldering a laptop bag.
Late one Thursday night (actually early Friday morning) about a month ago, I headed home from work.I made it a block, to Seventh and Mass., where I saw a woman, sitting on the corner, bawling. As I waited for the light to change, I debated whether to intrude. Finally, I asked if she was OK. Her reaction made it clear she wanted to be left alone - I wondered if, perhaps, she just had been dumped by her bicycle-enthusiast boyfriend - so I obliged.Two blocks later, I heard what sounded like a fight, and a big one. I couldn't tell exactly where the combatants were massing, so I pedaled on.About two miles later, in a quiet, residential neighborhood miles from the nearest nightspot, I caught sight of somebody in the roadway ahead. Cautiously I pedaled along and saw it was a young man who had stumbled into the median. He gazed up at a street sign, said, "Wow, man," and fell backward into the grass. I considered stopping to offer assistance, but he seemed to be in such a happy place, I rode on.Then about a half mile from my home, I came upon a car with the hood up. A strange glow came from under the hood. As I pulled up, I saw three youths tugging and pounding on the engine, which was illuminated by a cell phone. Again, I thought about stopping, but I know nothing about cars, so the most assistance I could have provided was the use of a cell phone, which they already had.So I rode on.First and foremost, this unusually eventful ride reinforced the notion that, for some, the weekend actually begins on Thursday. (You'll note I didn't say "Thursday is the new Friday," primarily because I detest the whole "is the new" construction. It's lazy. As in, "Green is the new black." What the heck does that mean? Green is slimming? AC/DC now sings "Back in Green?" or the Stones' rock with the equally anthemic "Paint it Green?" Johnny Cash is the Man in Green? I don't think so. Say what you mean. Rant off.)After I got home, though, I wondered if maybe I shouldn't have called the authorities. I don't feel obligated to ring up the popo every time I see something questionable, but I do feel I should help those in need.After all, the bawling woman could have been the victim of some crime, and the dude passed out on the median could have needed medical assistance. The guys working on the car could have used a tow - or maybe they were trying to steal it. I don't know.I have called five-o before, once to report what I thought was a building on fire - the alarm was sounding, after all, and I smelled smoke - and once to report a fight that seemed to be turning into more of a riot.But I've also turned a blind bicycling eye to copulating couples, fisticuffs and more public urination than the free-range dog park sees in a week. I reckon that, because I take side streets whenever possible, often commute close to bar-closing time and ride relatively stealthily, I happen upon more scofflaws than most late-night drivers. And, more often than not, I don't get involved.Of course, if the violation were major, in my determination, I wouldn't hesitate to call in The Man, but a little public indecency never hurt anyone. At least, it didn't hurt me.Still, it's kind of a fuzzy area when to ring up the fuzz and when to let it slide.Bottom line, I try to put myself in the other's shoes. If I just wanted to have a good, public bawl, I'd want to be left alone. If I had too much to drink or otherwise consume, first I'd hope I wasn't alone, but if I wandered off, I'd probably prefer just to sit it out until I felt better. Or not quite so good. And if my car wouldn't run, I wouldn't want to be bothered by a guy who couldn't do a darned thing about it.
Some people, I know, get attached to their footwear.My dad, for instance, has a thing for shoes. I think it all stems from the size of his feet. If I recall, he wears a size-13 shoe, and as he explained to me when I was much younger, size 12s are everywhere, but 13s are a rare find.So I remember as a kid every time we'd be near a shoe store - running errands, on vacation, on the way to the emergency room - he'd stop and check out the selection, and if there were any 13s, he'd buy 'em up, no matter how hideous or impractical.Apparently, it's a hard habit to break, because he still does it today, and as a result has more shoes than any man I know.My wife, too, has a thing for footcoverings. She has more athletic shoes now than I've had over the course of my life. She has every kind of shoe imaginable: strappy, open-toe, closed-toe, oxford, maryjane, flat, heel, comfort, sandal : and just about every other style ever made. And each, of course, has to be in every color and hue imaginable.This I can live with.My take on shoes is slightly more - how do I say this? - sane.I have the precise number of shoes I need to keep my feet happy. I have running shoes, walking shoes, kickin'-it shoes, boots, a couple of pairs of dress shoes, a pair of casual shoes - and a bunch of old shoes I keep in the garage in which I mow. Like many guys, I refuse to throw my shoes away, just move 'em down the ladder, from every-day shoes to occasional shoes to wear-to-get-the-mail shoes to mowing shoes to gardening shoes to trek-through-the-sewer-overrun shoes.What does all this have to do with cycling?I'm about to retire a pair of cycling shoes, and it's killing me.I run clipless pedals on all my bikes, so I have to have cycling shoes capable of accepting the metal cleat in the sole. For commuting, I like to wear more comfortable mountain-bike shoes and cleats, because the cleat is recessed and I can walk around without skating on concrete and marking up the nice wooden floors all over the ground floor of the News Center, where I work.Anybody with at least one working eye can see I'm no slave to fashion, or even an indentured servant. But I don't want my kicks to stand out too much, and most mountain-bike shoes are either too "bike-y" or too "hike-y" to look anything like normal footwear.However, bike and equipment maker Specialized made a shoe that looked like a regular athletic shoe. Though it's black instead of my preferred white, I was drawn to its normalcy. Without seeing the metal cleat screwed into the bottom, few would know it's anything other than a regular athletic shoe.But my trusty footwear is failing. The other day, I broke the lace keeper on my left shoe. The keeper keeps the laces out of the chain; on the left (non-drive) side, it's not a deal-breaker, but the right side is about to go. The lining is shot. The sole has seen better days. In short, they're falling apart.My old friends are in need of replacement, and it makes me a bit sad.I figure I've put well more than 10,000 miles on 'em. They've been soaked, greased and covered in mud. They've ground out long hills and spun out down 'em. And as far as I know, Specialized doesn't make 'em anymore, and nobody, even on the vast Interwebs, has a pair for sale.I've looked at the local bike shops, online, eBay and Zappos. No dice. I've flipped through catalogs and Googled, and I can't find anything that compares.But I'll keep looking.Rest assured once I find their replacements, my trusty old commute shoes won't have to suffer the indignity of mowing. They deserve a flaming barge pushed into the ocean. Or at least the Kaw.
Truth be told, I could do without the bugs in the teeth, the smell of dog food, the blood-curdling screams and the sting of pelting rain.But some of the sights I've seen and the promise of others has provided all the impetus I've needed at times to swing a leg over my bike and ride to work.This is the fifth in a five-blog series dedicated to the senses and how commuting by bike is a more sensual experience than driving. I consider the subjects of the four previous blogs to be more side benefit than reason to ride.There have been nights I've been dog tired and just about ready to climb behind the wheel. Never have I convinced myself to ride instead because I anticipated a spectacular smell or sound or feeling or taste, but more than once I've reminded myself of a spectacular, well, spectacle, and that got me pedaling.Not all visions have been motivational.Some have been downright inexplicable.Like the time I saw a man get out of a parked car wearing nothing but a jock strap and high heels, walk across the street and head for the outdoor basketball court. He had no ball (at least, no visible basketball) to play with. Go figure.I've been flashed (by men and women) and mooned (alas, only boys seem inclined to drop trou), and I've seen couples getting carnal. And I don't mean in the borderline-questionable PDA sense, either. I mean in the when-a-man-loves-a-woman-very-very-much sense.But the most memorable sights haven't involved other people.I've seen gorgeous sunsets and even prettier lightning storms.I've ridden beneath spectacular canopies of flowering trees (Bradford pear, perhaps?) and recall once riding along a trail along the Kansas River after a recent snowfall that was just about the most picture-perfect winter-wonderland scene I'd ever seen.I've seen dozens of meteors and, in fact, make sure I'm working on the nights of the major meteor showers each year just so I get a few extra minutes of skywatching in.One of my favorite sights is that of the constellation Scorpius. At one point I have to climb a moderately significant hill during my middle-of-the-night ride home, and about halfway up - at the right time of year - I can look up and envision the road and Scorpius merging, the scorpion's stellar exoskeleton creating a perfect extension of the rising pavement.By far my most memorable sight came a couple of years ago. I recall riding home and noticing an odd reddish glow to the northeast. At first I assumed it was light pollution from Kansas City, but the farther I rode away from the brighter lights of downtown, the more pronounced the glow. I stopped at an especially dark location and noticed the glow was changing, becoming a diaphanous sheen of reds and greens. I was mesmerized and hurried home so I could enjoy the northern lights from my own deck.I haven't seen the aurora borealis since and don't expect to anytime soon, but more than once I've reminded myself of that unexpected, awesome sight - and the fact I never would have seen it if I had driven to work - and consider myself lucky to have chosen to ride my bike.
OK, I've said since the start of this five-blog series on the senses that commuting by bike instead of car makes me more in tune with my environment.I smell more, hear more and feel more on two wheels than on four.But I have to admit, that theory breaks down a little bit when taste is the sense in question, because, for the most part, stuff isn't - or shouldn't be - flying in my mouth as I pedal along. Generally speaking.But there are a few tastes I wouldn't have experienced if I had been trapped behind glass. Most of 'em, I have to admit, were memorable for their unpleasantness.Like road spray. In any decent rain shower, the biggest concern isn't the rain coming down, but the wet coming up. And no matter how waterproof you think you might be, you're bound to get a little spray in the mouth. And you have no idea where that water has been. Or that asphalt.On the slightly more palatable side of the precip spectrum is snow. I know, I know, it's full of chemicals and acid and whatnot, but I can't help but ride with my tongue out when the big flakes are coming down.I've also tasted the beer and brats occasionally offered to me - though not frequently enough - by game-day tailgaters and balcony partiers. I dunno what it is about a seemingly harmless, slow, strange old guy on a bike that makes folks want to share their foodstuffs, but who am I to argue?I've tasted my own bile. At least, I think it was my bile. Have a vehicle almost broadside you at 30 mph and see if you don't throw up in your mouth a little.And more than anything else, I've tasted bugs. Not by choice, of course, and I'd never use them as a reason to commute by bike. However, they are an occasional hazard. I'm no connoisseur, but I find most to be totally flavorless. Of course, it helps that most bugs I snack on are small; it's not like I'm rolling around, shoveling Junebugs in my craw. And, from what I understand, they're almost 100 percent protein.However, I will caution that lightning bugs are just nasty. Tasting, that is. A couple of times I've found myself trying to send a glowbug back out the way he came, only to find myself choking it down anyway. They actually taste just about like you'd expect: chalky, with a big of a chemical aftertaste.But it's nothing that an offered brat and a beer can't overcome.
Regular readers of my blog (hi, mom!) know I'm in the middle of a five-blog series about the senses, specifically how commuting by bike is a more sensory experience than driving ever can be.This entry deals with touch, the most obvious of the senses to be affected by trading a ton of glass, plastic and steel insulation for the open air.I'm touched every ride in a way I wouldn't be if I were ensconced in my climate-controlled four-wheeler.I've been touched by the extremes of temperature - I've commuted below-zero and over 100 degrees.I've been snowed on, sleeted on, hailed on, drizzled on, rained on and frozen-rained on. The only form of precip I've not ridden through is hail, but I figure it's only a matter of time.I've felt the effects of a 40-plus-mph wind. As a tailwind it's a joy, a pain as a headwind and a real danger as a crosswind.As an aside, the weather can be a bike commuter's worst enemy. Maybe that's why I'm such a fan of The Weather Channel (and, of course, Sunflower Broadband Channel Six's own crack weather staff; Sunflower Broadband is owned by the World Company, which also owns the Journal-World). If I were told I could watch only one channel every time I turned on the TV, I'd opt for TWC over any of the ESPNs or even the Playboy Channel. OK, the ESPNs, anyway. I've been pelted by sand and struck by rocks, brushed by leaves and whacked with branches.Once I felt a drink bounce off my head, and I've felt everything from coins to cigarette butts plunk off my body, but most motorist missiles thankfully miss their mark.I've been high-fived dozens of times - everybody loves the goofy, slow, old guy on the bike after a few drinks - and felt a hand on my, er, um, seat, a few times.I've felt my face on pavement (rider's error), and more than once I've felt - physically, with my hand - cars as they pass just a little too close. I've even pounded on one or two when I felt especially endangered.Lately, I've felt a chill on my way home at night.I can't remember feeling anything, except maybe remorse, when I'm behind the wheel of my car.
One night a few years ago, I was cycling home on the only real hill between work and my house.It's a relatively steep hill, and I was grinding along in the dark. There was no street light; my headlight provided the only illumination, most if it pointed not far ahead of my front wheel.About halfway up the hill, I heard a sound off to my right: Something was running alongside me in the growth on the side of the road. By the sound of things, it was big, too, but the hill was steep enough I couldn't accelerate away. I pedaled on, daring not to glance to the side for fear of angering whatever it was that was crashing through the underbrush. I made it home without being swallowed and shared the story with my kids the next morning at breakfast.Normally, they tune me out, but this time my son, Brooks, looked up from his breakfast with wide eyes and asked, in all seriousness, "Was it a giraffe, daddy?"Truth be told, it probably was a field mouse or maybe a rabbit, maybe even a coyote or dog, but in the dark and quiet of the early morning, sounds become magnified.I'm convinced cyclists get to use their senses more than motorists trapped in their cages of metal and steel. This is the second in a series of five blogs dedicated to the senses: hearing.I've heard all sorts of sounds on my bike I never would have heard had I been behind the wheel.I've heard owls hooting and coyotes howling and people moaning. I frequently hear (and cringe at) rabbits' claws scrabbling over asphalt.Once I heard a blood-curdling scream. Seeing a flickering glow, I backtracked and found the terrifying scene of the Boardwalk Apartments on fire. Scary stuff.I've heard revelers reveling and boozehounds boozing and brawlers brawling and crooners crooning.I've heard lots of disparaging comments directed at me simply because I'm riding a bike, but I have a theory on that. After a recent blog in which I related some of the funny things motorists have said to me, someone posted a comment that maybe my bike skills weren't up to par if I was subjected to so much verbal abuse.I did a lot of soul-searching after that one. Snarky, anonymous comments tend to turn me introspective. After looking deep within, I decided the problem wasn't my bike skills (of course not). It's just that because I'm riding in the open air, I hear every comment directed my way. In my car, I say things about lots of people I encounter, both good and bad. But they rarely hear my comments - and I'm glad - because both of us are ensconced in glass and overwhelmed by radios and engine noise.On my bike, there's no escaping it.My all-time weirdest sound came just a couple of weeks ago. Again, it was late (actually early), and I was just a couple of blocks from my home when I heard a small-engine noise.At first, I thought it came from a scooter or motorcycle, but I realized that wasn't the case. It came, instead, from a chain saw.Now think about that for a minute: Why on earth would anyone need to fire up a chain saw at 2 a.m.? Had it been windy or stormy, I could understand someone needing to clean up some debris that threatened the house, but it had been clear and calm for days. I considered tracking down the source, but decided against it. The specter of Texas massacres danced in my head, so I high-tailed it for home as the sound rang out into the night.
One of the biggest benefits to cycling is - and I'll try not to get too Zen here - the sensual connection to the world.Trapped in a car, in a climate-controlled, micro-filtered cabin, behind sound-insulating steel and glass, motorists tend to be isolated from the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings around them. Sometimes that's not such a bad thing.But there are things I never would have seen or heard or smelled or tasted or felt if I had been in my car instead of on my bike. And there have been a few things I've seen or heard or smelled or tasted or felt I wished I hadn't.This is the first of five blog entries dedicated to each of the senses. The sixth - my ability to talk to dead people - is unaffected by my means of conveyance.I'll start with smell.I definitely smell more food on two wheels than four. From the fragrant downtown eateries to my neighbor's brownies, a bike commute during nice weather can be a savory experience. On game days, Eau d'Tailgate is the odor of the day. And the late night/early morning after a big - or even small - game can make whole city blocks reek of spilled beer. Oh, the humanity.I love the smell of honeysuckle and Bradford pears in the spring, the crisp leafy smell of fall, the acrid burn of summer and the tingling promise of snow yet to fall.I know the wind is out of the north when a big part of my commute is tainted by the smell of dog food from the plant on the industrial side of town.I've smelled carloads of young men and women doused in perfume and cologne for a night on the town.I've smelled the river and the water-treatment plant and roadkill.I've smelled rain, too many times.I've smelled incense, but have yet to smell a pine-fresh air freshener hanging from a rearview mirror.The oddest smell? One night a couple of years ago, a car pulled alongside, and the passenger window went down. The driver leaned over and blew out a cloud of smoke before driving off. I thought it odd, then realized it wasn't tobacco smoke I smelled. I've smelled weed plenty of times before and since and will again, I'm sure, but that's the first and only time I can recall it being directed at me.
I was riding home from work one night a couple of years ago, and a pickup truck pulled alongside.It was after 1 a.m. and rainy but not yet raining. I was trying to get home before the skies opened up.The truck pulled up and slowed down to match my speed, and as the window went down, I braced myself for what I just knew was about to come spilling out.The driver leaned over his passenger, and I started looking for someplace to ditch the guy if it got too ugly."Hey," the driver said, and I visibly stiffened. "It's about to rain. Why don't you throw that thing in the back and I'll give you a ride home?"Normally, when a motorist seeks to make contact at that time of night, he/she isn't so friendly. I politely declined, since I was almost home, and the man waved and shouted, "Stay dry, my man," before driving off.I'm so accustomed to all sorts of foul utterances directed my way when I'm commuting by bike, I tend to tune most of it out. You can only hear "Get off the #&^@ing road" or "Get the #&^@ off the road" or the ever-popular "Get the #&^@ off the #&^@ing road, you #&^@ing #&^@" so many times before you become deaf to it.But not all communication directed my way is profane or even vitriolic.In fact, sometimes it's downright funny.I distinctly recall riding home the night of KU's commencement. A car pulled alongside, and the passenger matter-of-factly said: "Dude, school's over. Get a car." I laughed out loud.Sometimes, the comments aren't so clever. Just the other night, a passenger frantically rolled down his window to bellow, "Man, your light is sooooooooo bright! Hahahahahahahahaha!" Normally, I don't respond, but this time I did: "You should see my wit." "Your what? What did you say to me?""My wit. You should see how bright my wit is.""Your what? You want a piece : "The rest was lost as the car pulled away.Last summer, I pulled up next to a car at a stoplight. Inside were four topless - alas, male - youths. The one in the driver's-side rear leaned out and said, "Dude, somebody stole your car.""Dude," I replied, "somebody stole your shirt."But my all-time favorite exchange came last summer, when I was struggling up a particularly steep hill, particularly slowly.Again it was late, and as the car pulled up, again I feared the worst."Man," the passenger said, good-naturedly, "maybe you should consider doping just a little. You're slooooooooowwwwwwwww."