Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Helmet laws: Use your head

Bob has put me on his list of people to thank for a great 2006.   Right back at you Bob, I enjoyed chasing you around the singletrack.  Thanks for making my race season exciting, but did you have to mention my uphill endo? 

In other news, The Salt Lake City Council is considering making helmets mandatory for all cyclists.  Read about it here

It’s a good idea to wear a helmet when you ride a bike but should we legislate it? Doing so will only discourage some people from riding.  Some of my neighbors occasionally ride to the grocery store and coffee shops three blocks away.  If helmets are mandatory they may take the car rather than search for their helmet for such a short trip, even though Mags proved that a crash is possible on the way to the store.   Other cyclists may not be able to afford the extra 30 bucks for a helmet.  Still others may see it as a government invasion into personal affairs.   

Bicycle riding is a behavior we should be trying to encourage.  We shouldn’t make criminals out of people who are doing something good for themselves, good for us and good for the planet.  That's why I’m pro-helmet, but anti-helmet law. 

What about you?  If you live in SLC, you can contact your city council member here to tell him/her what you think. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

December Fools Day

After three days of family and friends Mags and I were ready for our annual Christmas Day tandem bike ride.  Finally a chance to burn through all of those holiday goodies.  This year’s destination was the International Peace Garden right here in SLC. 

Mags and I weren’t the only ones with bicycles on our minds this Christmas.  Somebody over at decided to fabricate a Christmas Message by Her Majesty, The Queen.  Bloggers everywhere are falling for it.

This is what the Queen allegedly said:

…will our blessed Kingdom be hotter or is it facing an Ice Age, as the North Atlantic oscillator switches direction? We don’t know and both scenarios are plausible.  What we can do is become more self-reliant. It’s up to us restructure our lives in a way that we can survive strongly any of the shocks that will hit our country.

The bicycle can transport you everywhere, free from dependence from petrol, rails, pilots, etc. This is probably why so many people have started riding bicycles in London.

You can read the Queen’s real Christmas Message here.

No matter who really said it, the message rings true.  But are there really that many people riding bicycles in London? 

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


While Salt Lake City is planning to get people out of their cars and onto mass transit, Freiburg, Germany has given us something to aspire to

Meanwhile, we still have people in Utah who think we can drive our way out of this mess.  Check out this article from the president of The Sutherland Institute, the same group our buddy LaVar Christensen was writing papers for while serving in the State Legislature.   

Monday, December 18, 2006

<p><em>Life</em> is Training</p>


Mags and I just got back from four days of cross country skiing in Grand Teton National Park.  Her father came with us.  He is fitter than most 33 year olds I know, but he is about twice that age.  He may not be as fast as he used to be, but he more than makes up for it with enthusiasm. 

This morning when we woke up it was 22 degrees below zero.  It had warmed up to 12 below by the time we started skiing.  That’s the kind of weather that gets my father-in-law nostalgic for his childhood on the farm.  He tells stories about milking cows and baling hay that make my childhood chores seem like mere nuisances, something to get out of the way so I could watch Saturday morning cartoons.  There is a common theme in all his stories: work and play weren’t separate activities.  Both occurred at the same time and in the same place.  He still has that farm boy approach to life.  He’s never done a ‘work out’ in his life, but he’s still fit enough to ski with us at 6,000 feet and in subzero temperatures. 

Most of us didn’t enjoy the luxury of growing up on a farm.  Instead we have something called free time.  Some people fill that time with fun activities that keep them fit, but most still separate the two.  There are others who just sit on the couch.  Exercise has become work, and entertainment has become sedentary. 

This is the time of year that a lot of my cyclist buddies are starting to get out their trainers.  These are the little contraptions you attach to a perfectly good bicycle to make it immobile.  It allows the cyclist ‘work out’ to his heart’s content, while getting absolutely nowhere.   He never has to leave the house or the comfort of his television.  Pedaling on a trainer lends itself to lots of clich├ęs; spinning one’s wheels, going nowhere fast, an exercise in futility, and a hamster in a cage, are four that come to mind. 

Here’s another: It seems as much fun as watching paint dry. 

The reason anybody would want to do this is unclear to me.  I suppose they haven’t learned the art of layering their clothing, or haven’t discovered the thrill of both wheels drifting through a turn on an icy road.  Maybe they just don’t have any cross country skis. 

Even more baffling to me is that some cyclists find they need some sort of outside stimulus while ‘riding’ on their trainer.  Well duh!  When you take away the mobility of a bike all you’ve got left is a machine that makes you move your legs up and down in a repetitive motion while you work up a sweat that drips all over your drive train.  Sounds like a medieval torture device to me.  Fatty wants suggestions for movies to watch when he’s on his trainer.  I suggest that watching the miles go by at 20 mph and 20 degrees F is more exciting than anything out of Hollywood. 

As an alternative to riding a trainer to maintain your fitness through the winter, I have a few suggestions: take up cross country skiing and keep riding your bike.  In fact, here is my complete winter training program.  It’s also my summer training program. 

1)    Ride to work. A bicycle is first and foremost a conveyance.   You should be riding yours to work.  If you live too far from work, consider moving.  Your health and well-being depend on it.  If you lack motivation, sell your car.  If you there isn’t a car around, you can’t be tempted to drive it to work.  Ride everywhere else you go too.  It the past two weeks I’ve ridden my bike to the video store, the hardware store, the library, out to breakfast and to a birthday party.    I even made a trip to Costco on my bike.  If you live close to some cross country ski trails, ride your bike there too. 

2)    Eat right.  Eat a whole grain hot cereal every day.  I’ve got a special blend of grains I’ll tell you about some day, but in the meantime steel cut oats will do.  Sweeten your gruel with local honey.  Oh, and drink chocolate milk after a long ride (carbs and protein), but make sure there’s no high fructose corn syrup in it.  And nothing slakes a racer’s thirst like an ice cold Cock’n Bull Ginger Beer. 

3)    Make it fun.  Even though Ryan owns a trainer, we still have a standing Wednesday night appointment.  It doesn’t matter if it’s road, mountain or choppers, if it’s Wednesday, we’re riding together.  Sometimes we even plan discussion topics for the ride:  “Have I got a story for you…but it’ll have to wait ‘till Wednesday.”  It’s not training if you’re having fun.  The closest thing to training we allow on Wednesday nights are one-legged races.  Try it sometime, unclick one foot from your pedals and seed how fast you can go. 

I should be charging you for insights this good. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2006



Some of you have complained that I was a little harsh on Wal-Mart employees in the permit I wrote for the Sandy store last week.  Looking back I can see how it could be construed that I think Wal-Mart employees are generally smelly and have poor hygiene habits. 

I didn’t mean that at all.  I think all people should be required to shower at least semi-weekly, not just Wal-Mart employees.  Those of you who have spent time in an enclosed space with me probably think cyclists should shower semi-daily.  That’s fine; I guess bicycle commuting isn’t entirely emission-free.   

I got the permit back from peer review today.  The reviewer said he got to condition #4 before he was sure it was a joke.  He signed it and told me to hand it in, as is, to our manager.   Oh, the possibilities…


In other news, my cyclocross performance on Saturday was a repeat of last week.  This time it was two flat tires, one on the first lap, a second on the third lap.  I was a little more prepared with a proper pit crew to help me out this time.  Fish and Ryan changed the wheels on my bike while I rode Ryan’s bike, so I didn’t lose as much time as last week, but changing bikes a total of four times in one race can't help your time.  I also had to ride on a flat tire for most of a lap to reach the pit area both times. That cost me a lot of time.  I finished eleventh out of thirty three. 

Finally, the other team I am on that is struggling is pulling itself together.  We’re going to get some coaches who know what they’re doing.  We’re going to be unstoppable. 

Friday, December 8, 2006


Tomorrow is the last cyclocross race of the season.  My results haven’t been too good this year, partially because I do dumb things before the start of races like decide to take off a layer of clothing three seconds before the director yells “go.” 

Last Saturday it was a flat tire that fouled me up.  It happened on the second or third lap.  I rode a lap hoping the slime in my tube would seal the leak, but pretty soon I was feeling my rim on every bump. 

I stopped to fill it with CO2, giving the slime another chance to seal the leak.  When I was about finished, Aaron and Fish, two members of my team, ran to me to offer their help.  Fish even had a spare wheel ready for me. 

I told them I was OK and set out on another lap but the slime didn’t seal and I was feeling my rim again within minutes.   I stopped and tried to inflate it again, but it was no use.  I decided I was done and walked to the parking lot. 

Fish wasn’t around with the spare wheel but Aaron was there and he offered me his mountain bike to ride.  It is his backup bike in case he gets a flat tire. 

I rode the rest of the race standing up on his mountain bike because the seat was about three inches too low for me.  When the burning in my quadriceps was too much to bear I sat down until another part of my thighs burned, then stood up again and repeated the process.  I didn’t care, it was a short race.  Fish and Aaron were there cheering me on so I rode hard, had fun, crashed once, passed lots of riders and finished 16th out of 27. 

It’s nice to be on a team.  They pull you up when you’re down.  They back you up when things go wrong.

I’m on several teams; my cycling team, a bowling team, and my section at work is kind of a team.  Another team I’m on is down right now.  Things have gone terribly wrong.  Teamwork is give and take.  Push and pull.  Scratch and be scratched.  But what do we do when part of the team won’t seal?  Head for the parking lot?  The team has been through a lot and we are strong. 

It’s a long race.  I'm going to keep riding. 

Monday, December 4, 2006

Moral dilemma

Some of you may think I have nothing better to do than ride my bike around all day and think about stuff.  While that sounds like an ideal life, it does run the risk of being somewhat one-dimensional.  So to hedge against that risk, and to support my [cycling] habit, I work at a government regulatory agency.  It’s bliss. 

Life at the agency was moving along bureaucratically until last week when I was confronted with a moral dilemma.   I had just parked my bike in my cubicle one morning when I saw on my desk a paper with Wal-Mart letterhead.   It was a request for a type of operating permit.  It was assigned to me. 

I hate Wal-Mart.  I’ve said it before and I’m sure you’ll read it here again.  I see Wal-Mart as a microcosm of everything Americans have to be ashamed of, namely over-consumption of land, food, oil and cheap plastic crap from China.  Perhaps I should have recused myself from this project on the grounds of pre-conceived biases, but I am a professional and believed I could handle this accordingly. 

Last year, residents of the City of Sandy, Utah voted to allow development on an old gravel pit within the city limits.  Sandy is a suburb of Salt Lake City, so when I say ‘development’ I mean ‘building big-box stores’.  Now I had the permit application for that Wal-Mart store on my desk.  Was this my chance to slay the giant? 

The first thing I did was call Ryan, my moral compass.  He happens to be a resident of Sandy, but he won’t tell me how he voted on last year’s proposition, citing the sanctity of the secret ballot, among other nonsense. Let’s just say he never takes Sunbelt Brand granola bars when we ride together. 

Ryan is a pragmatic guy.  That’s why he works for Corporate America instead of the Bureaucratic Sow like me; something about needing to earn enough to support a family.  Anyway, pragmatic Ryan said I have to grant Wal-Mart the permit if they qualify, which they do, but he suggested a few conditions I should put in the permit to offset some of their emissions. 

So I this is an excerpt from the permit I wrote for Wal-Mart:

[We have] determined that this source of emissions meets the requirements for a [permit] as long as the following conditions are met:

  1. The above referenced equipment and associated processes are operated as specified in your Registration Request.

  2. A spur to the store from the existing light rail line in Sandy City shall be constructed.

  3. All goods sold at the store must be produced in Utah or a bordering state.

  4. The sale of NASCAR paraphernalia is expressly prohibited.

  5. All employees are required to bathe semi-weekly to prevent significant deterioration of indoor air quality.

  6. Covered bicycle racks shall be provided within in 30 feet of each entrance to the store.

So my question for you, loyal reader, is should I submit this permit to peer review with these conditions included? Or should I take them out?  Understand that there is no way it would ever make it all the way out our door and into Wal-Mart’s grubby hands with all of those conditions, so submitting it would only be a personal statement of my deep-felt convictions.   Best case scenario is that the career bureaucrats above me think a bit about the consequences of some of the permits we write.  Worst case scenario is that I get canned and have a lot more time to ride my bike.   

So what would you do if you were in my shoes?   I’m worried sick over this whole thing.  Please help me so I can get back to bureaucrating.