Monday, September 23, 2013

tears for fears

I rode my bike yesterday.  Yeah, I know, no big deal, right?  I ride my bike about 250 days a year so why was yesterday special?  Well, I cried on the bike yesterday.  These weren't tears of pain, but tears of fear, and they caught me completely off guard.

I'm not sure why I was so affected by yesterday's ride.  I crashed a week ago (only my 2nd road cycling crash in 14 years, hit by another cyclist).  My only other crash was in 2002 when I was hit by a car.  I was very fortunate and my injuries were very minor (soft tissue damage) but it meant that I have only been on the bike twice now since the crash.  The first time on the bike, I felt fine mentally, except a bit of nervous energy when I returned to the site of the crash.  But yesterday, I was nervous even before rolling out the door.  I think the death, on Wednesday, of a woman about my age, riding on a road I've ridden at least a few hundred times, due to a collision with a motor vehicle, left me feeling a bit uncertain about my own safety.

I'm a super-defensive rider.  I like to believe I see and anticipate every potential risk.  I don't ride on roads that I perceive as dangerous.  I'm extra cautious when riding during twilight hours (because vision is limited).  I learned great tips for "thinking like a car" from Velo Girls sponsor Gary Brustin (  I teach participants in our skills clinics that YOU DON'T HAVE TO CRASH YOUR BIKE.  I believe that.  I've had close calls with automobiles pretty much every ride I've ever done, and yet I've kept it upright.  But suddenly, yesterday, I was very nervous.

Not a quarter mile from my house, a woman almost hit me while she was talking on the phone.  Two miles later, a man in a big white truck with jacked up wheels and NRA stickers all over the cab, intentionally tried to spook me by swerving into me.  When I rolled up to the red light, stopped next to him, he turned and laughed at me, then floored it and sped off.  As I started my first climb, I realized that the cars felt faster, closer, and more distracted than usual.  I kept asking myself "why do these cars need to drive so darn fast?"  I almost turned around at that point.  I just had a nervous feeling about being out on the bike yesterday.  And that's when I cried.  

And I don't really know why I cried.  I know plenty of folks who have died while riding a bicycle.  I know plenty of folks who have died while not riding a bicycle.  I know folks who've suffered severe, life-changing mental and physical injuries.  I've had plenty of close calls myself.  I've been the victim of hatred and violence while riding my bike.  Maybe my tears had nothing to do with riding a bike at all.

I decided that the worst thing I could do would be to call my ride short.  I needed to keep pedaling, to regain some confidence, to calm my nerves.  I made route decisions based on my mental state, avoiding certain roads that I knew would be busy on a Sunday afternoon.  I found myself being a bit more conservative than usual, controlling my speed a bit on my descents and being hyper-aware of blind turns.  I noticed a larger-than-usual number of bicycles with both front and back blinky lights (thanks in some part, I'm sure, to a fabulous blog post earlier this week by Mike Jacoubowsky of Chain Reaction Bicycles).  

And then, I chose a small climb I haven't ridden in many years.  It's a bit off the beaten path and I thought that would be good for me.  As I settled into my climbing rhythm, I felt a calm settle over me.  The road was deserted and lovely.  As I peaked, I had the most gorgeous view of the San Francisco Bay, Mt. Diablo (recently ravaged by wildfire) and Mt. Hamilton.  I regret not taking a photo, because the late afternoon light created the perfect contrast and depth on the bay and the east bay hills.

The rest of my ride, drivers seemed to slow down.  They seemed more considerate.  They waited to pass until it was safe to do so.  They gave me more room when passing.  Not a single car buzzed my elbow.  I received a few friendly waves and a smile or two.  And I started to realize that the number of automobile drivers who respect cyclists and want to share the road with us far outweighs the number of automobile drivers who might harm us (whether intentionally or unintentionally).  

And I finished my ride the way I always finish my ride with a victory salute as I rolled down my street, celebrating the fact that I made it home alive.  Yup, I'm always aware of the risk.  We should ALL be aware of the risk of riding a bike.  But I think, too often, we forget.  Or we hide our emotion as a coping mechanism, allowing us to continue participating in an activity that really is dangerous.  We forget, until someone is injured or killed and we can't forget anymore.  

I love riding my bicycle more than just about anything in the world.  And I've ridden a bicycle for 14+ years, longer than anything else I've done in my life: any job, any home I've lived in, any boyfriend, any anything.  Riding a bicycle makes me feel free!  Riding a bicycle clears my mind and helps me manage my life stress.  Riding a bicycle makes me feel that I can succeed at anything and has greatly improved my self esteem.  Riding a bicycle completes me.

Friday, September 20, 2013

An Open Letter To My Awesome Friends Who DON'T Ride Bikes -- part 2

For the benefit of my non-bicycle riding friends, I offer you some thoughts about how we ride our bicycles and why we do some of the things we do.  It’s important to understand that bicycles are considered vehicles under the law, and people who ride bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as those who drive cars.  Bicycle law has become part of the driver education programs in many states.  So, I’ll start with the law (which may vary from state to state) and conclude with some typical riding conventions that you may find useful to know:

  • Bicycles and automobiles are governed by the same laws in the state Vehicle Code.  Both must stop at stop signs and red lights.  They must travel in the appropriate lane for their direction of travel.  Bicycles are entitled to travel on all public roadways (including some highways) except where explicitly prohibited. 
  • Bicycles typically are NOT allowed to ride on sidewalks or crosswalks (especially in downtown areas) and it is actually quite unsafe to do so.  Sidewalks and crosswalks are designed for pedestrians with a walking speed of 3-4mph, not a bicycle travelling at 10mph or more.  Cars drivers do not expect to see bicycles here (especially traveling in the opposite direction of traffic).  One of the most common collisions between cars and bicycles involve bicycles on sidewalks.
  • Many states have instituted a minimum-distance passing law (ie the 3-foot law).  This means that a car must give a bicycle at least 3 feet of lateral distance when passing.  This also means that, to legally pass a bicycle, a car must move into the next lane (or cross the centerline, depending on the scenario).  As a car driver, this means you need to be acutely aware of oncoming traffic and possibly traffic behind you and should never pass on a blind turn or with a limited line of sight.
  • When a car passes a bicycle and there is a significant speed differential between the car and the bicycle, the draft created by the car can make it difficult for the bicycle to hold its line.  A bicycle can be sucked up into the slipstream of a car.  The wind created can cause a bicycle to wobble or fall.  So drivers, please slow down and/or move left when safely passing a bicycle.
  • Many traffic lights are timed for cars (not bicycles).  So, if you think a bicycle ran a red light, it’s quite possible that they entered the intersection while the light was still green and it changed as they rode through.  It’s happened to all of us (in cars and on bicycles) so please don’t assume that the bicycle rider ran the light intentionally.
  • If you want to let a bicycle rider know that you’re behind her, a soft, quick tap-tap of the horn is much more effective than a long, hard honk.  As bicycle riders, we’re often startled by car horns (they’re pretty loud when the car is right next to us) and this could cause a rider to swerve dangerously or lose control of her bicycle.
  • Bicycle riders may not be able to hear you on the road, especially if it’s windy.  This is magnified when a bicycle is riding at high speed.  Please don’t assume we know you’re behind us.  A good rider will glance over his shoulder intermittently to see if there are cars there.
  • Bicycles are entitled to take the lane for a variety of reasons.  This means they move from the far-right side of the road into the lane.  This may be the safest place to be.  There may be hazards in the bike lane or shoulder that a bicycle rider can see but that you can’t see in your car.  It may also be the safest place to be at a busy intersection where cars may be turning right.  In California, the law states that a bicycle in the lane should yield right of way if riding slower than the flow of traffic and there are five or more vehicles behind the bicycle.
  • On roads without a dedicated bike lane or shoulder, bicycles will ride to the far right of the lane.  The law states that bicycles should ride as far right as is practicable.  This doesn’t mean that a bicycle will ride in the gutter as that may not be the safest place to ride, especially because this may encourage cars to pass when there isn't enough room to do so safely, forcing the bicycle off the road.
  • If there are parked cars on a road, a bicycle should ride outside the “door zone.”  This is typically about 2-3 feet to the left of the parked cars.  If you are exiting your car on a busy street, make sure to look back to ensure you’re not opening your car door into the path of an oncoming bicycle.  Look way back, as the bicycle may be moving at a speed that places them at your door quicker than you’d expect.
  • On fast descents, a bicycle can safely navigate a twisty road faster than a car. 
  • Bicycle riders should signal their intention, just like cars.  This means using a hand signal when stopping or turning.  However, it’s sometimes unsafe to take a hand off the bar to signal, especially at high speed, through corners, or if the road surface is very bumpy.  Typically, a rider will signal for a brief time but then put her hand back on the bar, so if you don’t see us signal, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t.
  • Bicycle riders should ride in the appropriate lane for their direction of travel.  This means that a bicycle should not be in a right-turn lane if he's not turning right.  It also means that it’s necessary for a bicycle to merge to the left if there’s a dedicated left turn lane.  Both of these maneuvers can be a bit tricky to an inexperienced bicycle rider.  Please be patient as they learn and gain confidence.
  • Many vehicles, especially taller cars and trucks, have a blind spot on the right of the vehicle.  This puts bicycles at risk if they’re on the right side of the vehicle.  As a driver, make sure you look right before turning or merging right.  Also make sure to look as far behind you as possible, as a bicycle may advance rather quickly, especially at an intersection.  As a bicycle rider, we should not put ourself to the right of a vehicle that might be turning right.  Instead, merge to the left of the vehicle, into the lane, to avoid the infamous “right hook.”
  • Bicycles can go very fast.  On a flat road, a bicycle may travel at a speed of 10-20mph.  On a downhill, a bicycle can travel at speeds in excess of 30, 40, or even 50mph.  Please keep this in mind as you pull out into a road or turn left from opposing traffic in front of a bicycle.  The “left cross” is another common type of collision, especially dangerous when a bicycle is traveling at a high rate of speed.*
  • When interacting with bicycles on the road, please follow the conventions established for right of way.  If you’re at an intersection, don’t give the right of way to a bicycle just because you’re being nice.  It’s unsafe for a bicycle to take the right of way from you because other road users may not be aware of what you’ve done (and you may not be aware of other road users).  So, when you wave us through an intersection and we don’t do it, please don’t be offended.  We appreciate the gesture but it can be unsafe for us to do it.

Please feel free to share this list with your friends!  This list is not comprehensive and I welcome any additions you'd like to share in the comments section of this blog.

You'll find the first part of this series here:

*I’ve been writing this post in my head for the past week.  After putting the words down on paper, so to speak, I learned of the death of a bicycle rider on Skyline Boulevard in Woodside on Wednesday, due to a collision with a van turning left in front of her. My thoughts are with the family and friends of Joy Covey.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

An Open Letter To My Awesome Friends Who DON’T Ride Bikes -- part 1

A quick scan of my Facebook friends list will reveal that I have a lot of friends who ride bikes.  But I also have a lot of friends who don’t ride bikes.  My newsfeed includes lots of bike updates but also theatre updates from the 15 years I spent working in professional theatre and higher education, with a large concentration of my theatre friends living in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC, and other metropolitan areas.  Interestingly, these are all areas where there are also large populations of people who ride bikes.

From time to time, one of my non-bike friends will post about bikes.  Typically it’s a rant, often expressing frustration at the erratic behavior of bikes, riding dangerously, or slowing down their drive because they’re “in the way” on the roads we share.  I often respond, trying to be rational and educational, not emotional, and hoping to enlighten these non-bike friends (and their friends who may or may not ride bikes) about the world of cycling.  The response is typically positive.  Hopefully, I’m able to help my friends understand bikes a bit more and to be safer drivers with respect to sharing the road.

When I started riding a bicycle in 1999, I became a much better car driver.  I saw the road in a new way.  For the first time in my life I SAW bikes on the road.  So, dear friends, let me share some thoughts with you, because I know all my friends are AWESOME and want to be the best darn drivers they can be!

Since I can get a bit verbose, I’m going to start with my most important take-away.  Simply put, we are not BIKES, but rather we are PEOPLE who ride bikes.  We are mothers and wives, sisters and daughters.  We might be your co-worker or your best friend.  Someone LOVES us and would be very sad if we didn’t return home from our bicycle ride.  And when we throw a leg over the bicycle, we are VULNERABLE.  Our safety depends on our ability to co-exist with other road users.  When a collision between an automobile and a bicycle occurs, the bicycle NEVER WINS.  Oftentimes, these collisions result in injury and sometimes death, as well as damage to our little tiny bicycles caused by your big huge car.

I’m the first to agree that there are some very BAD bicycle riders out there.  There are riders who IGNORE the law, who behave erratically, and take undue risks.  There are also riders who DON’T KNOW the law and don’t know how to be safe, predictable riders.  But there are also riders who are considerate, follow the law, and respect other road users.  So please, when you get angry with ONE rider, don’t transfer that anger to ALL riders.

When you rant on Facebook or other public forums, you’re sending a message to all who might be in your audience that bicycles are not okay.  When you make an off-handed comment, perhaps trying to be funny, that “you should hit him and teach him a lesson,” you’re encouraging violence and (heaven forbid you ever accidentally hit a cyclist), setting yourself up for criminal charges (yes, twitter feeds and FB posts have been used to incriminate drivers who have hit bicyclists).  And when you post your displeasure with bicycles, you’re encouraging others to share your anger.  You’re making it okay for us to HATE.  You might be condoning violence.  You might be responsible for one of your friends to road rage against a bicycle in the future. 

And just like SOME riders are bad, there are many car drivers who are bad:  law-breakers, distracted drivers, aggressive drivers, etc.  Heck, there are SOME bad people in every social situation.  Maybe you have a co-worker who snaps his gum all day long.  But does that mean that ALL your co-workers are annoying?  Or that girl on the bus who wears too much perfume?  That doesn’t mean that ALL girls who ride the bus are inconsiderate.  So yes, there are definitely SOME people who ride bicycles irresponsibly, but that doesn’t mean that ALL people who ride bicycles do so.

The number of people who ride bicycles is steadily increasing in the United States.  In addition to riding for recreation, more and more folks are using a bicycle for transportation: commuting to work, running errands, forgoing the car for a short trip.  And many municipalities are creating safe infrastructure for bicycles and cars to co-exist on city streets, as well as educating both car drivers and bicycle riders how to co-exist safely.  Bicycles are here to stay, so it would benefit all of us if we approached our road use with patience and an understanding of how bicycle riders approach co-existing with you in your car.

Tomorrow, part 2 of this post will cover lots of great information about how we ride our bicycles (legally), common riding conventions, and how you, as a driver, can learn how to co-exist with bicycles in your daily driving.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Are You Really Hungry?

I've learned so much about nutrition in the past decade.  But I've learned even more about the power of our mind in the past couple of years.

I recently had an amazing 10-minute conversation that somehow concluded 3 hours later with one of our Velo Girls sponsors, Mae from LadyParts Automotive Services.  Each time we get together, we start out talking about business and end up having deep, meaningful, thought-provoking conversations about feminism, health and fitness, religion, nutrition, dating, philanthropy, empowering women and girls, you name it!  So as our conversation segued naturally from one topic to the next, we started discussing nutrition, lifestyle change, and the influence of emotion on our eating habits.  I thought I'd share some insight with those of you who might have an interest in this topic as well.

I went through a pretty significant weight loss between 2009 and 2012.  This was the second time in the past decade I've had this experience, and I fully intend for it to be the last time in my life I need to lose weight.  I hit my goal weight in July 2012 and have been able to maintain that weight (and lose some body fat) since then.  The last time I went through weight loss, I started gaining it back as soon as I had achieved my goal weight.  As I think about why this time it will "stick," I realize that in addition to transforming my body, this time, I transformed my mind.

As women (and some men, too), many of us struggle with emotional eating.  We use food to self-medicate.  We eat when we're happy.  We eat when we're sad.  We eat when we're stressed.  We eat to celebrate life.  We eat for a plethora of reasons that have little or nothing to do with nutrition.  So, if you find yourself craving food even when you know you're not physically hungry, I suggest you ask yourself these questions:

"Are you hungry, or are you really thirsty?"

"Are you hungry, or are you really bored?"

"Are you hungry, or are you really tired?"

"Are you hungry, or are you really stressed out?"

You could add to this list, but you get the idea.  We often eat, not out of physiological need, but out of emotional desire.  So, if you're trying to maintain healthy nutrition, learn to become mindful of when and what you eat.  Don't go to the refrigerator when what you really need to do is go to the gym or finish that tough work project or take a nap.

I've invested much time in the past couple of years learning about emotional eating and food addiction.  Of course, this leads to learning about other addictions as well.  I read an article recently that outlines the dopamine effect of reward-based behavior.  In short, that positive reaction we have eating, drinking, taking drugs, etc, is a response to the 2nd exposure and there is diminishing return to subsequent exposures, which is why addicts need more exposure to obtain the same initial uplifting effect.  Using food as an example, the first bite does very little for you, but the 2nd bite is the one that satisfies your cravings.  And each bite after that doe not significantly enhance that effect.  In other words, if 2 is good, 3 isn't better.  But, for those people who have addiction, the desire to have 3, 4, 5, or more is overwhelming in their need to feel good.

As Mae and I continued to discuss lifestyle change and nutrition, she told me she was amazed that I seemed to speak of food as such a positive thing.  Many folks who struggle with over-eating, food addition, being overweight, etc, view food as the enemy.  But I view food as fuel.  Food provides the physical and mental energy for me to function:  to think, to ride my bike, to feel strong and healthy.  And quality food, filled with lots of colors and textures, will help me stay healthy and happy.

I referred several times to eating beige food, so Mae asked me what I meant.  In short, we should strive to eat colorful food:  lots of fruits and vegetables.  We should limit the beige foods (breads, pastas, gravies, etc).

So, five tools that may help you shift your thinking about food:

#1 -- Are you hungry?

#2 -- Be mindful of the 2nd bite.

#3 -- Food is energy that allows you to function optimally, both physically and mentally.

#4 -- Fill your plate with lots of color.

#5 -- Food is not the enemy.  Food is a positive and necessary component of life!  Put the good stuff in and you'll get the good stuff out!