Monday, May 3, 2010

Biking in the Urban Death Zone

I've been reading a lot about climbing Everest lately- and how one of the most difficult stretches is known as "The Death Zone".  Given my experiences biking to the train station some days, I feel fully qualified to climb Everest, completely confident in my ability to conquer the Death Zone!

This is because suburbanites are the deadliest drivers I've ever met!  They're embarking on an hour long journey from hell to get to work- so their commute has really just become another part of "getting ready" in the morning: cell phones, make-up, eating, etc. are all par for the course.  The one-mile straight shot to the train station on a 2-lane road with no shoulder and massive back-up thus becomes Uncle Toad's Wild Ride.

Here are some of my tips for making it work:
1) ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET!  You don't have to be hit by a car to get a head injury.  I have personally seen a guy who was riding slowly and capably, fall over sideways for no foreseeable reason!  When you fall on your bike, your hands are not really able to help protect you.  This particular guy hit head first on the pavement- had a terrible concussion, could not stand up on his own and had to go to the ER- a fate that would not have been had he worn a helmet.

2) Don't take the straight shot.  I veer off, and take a back route through a neighborhood.  This route is generally much safer- far fewer cars anyway.  Though, you do have to watch out for the endless march of school busses if you ride through at the wrong time (incidentally- what's with all these kids taking the bus?! The school is so close!  If more kids walked or rode their bikes to school we may not have a childhood obesity problem!) Ultimately the safe route is gained by trading mileage.  Instead of a one-mile ride, my ride is now 1.5 miles one way.  Not a huge addition of mileage, but I can imagine other instances where the mileage may be dramatically increased.  Doesn't matter to me though- i'd rather arrive alive!

3) When you feel your life is in grave danger- TAKE UP MORE OF THE LANE!  If a car is going to hit you while you're travelling, it is most likely that they will clip you, graze you on your side as they pass.  The more of the lane you take up, the less chance of them clipping you.  They are forced to slow down and travel behind you, or wait for an opening to pass you.  Otherwise they'll have to literally mow you down- in which case they hit your bike first and possibly your life is saved.  I also like this method because it pronounces your validity as a user of the road.  Bikes are legally allowed to ride the road- in fact it is usually illegal to ride on a sidewalk.  So go ahead, claim your space!

4) Put a basket on your bike.  I have a rack over my rear wheel, to which i mounted a milk crate with zip ties. This is a savior!  I hate carrying things in a back-pack- it scrunches my clothes and makes my back sweaty in the summer, and is generally uncomfortable.  Plus, what are you supposed to do with your designer purse?  The milk crate can hold a surprisingly large amount of items, including a couple of bike locks.

5) Save rubber-bands from your produce- they work great as "pants restraints".  Just slip around your ankles, over the pants- they won't get caught on the bike chain or water bottle holder, you won't look like a freak with your pants tucked into your socks, during colder weather your legs won't freeze from rolling them up, and if they break or you lose them, it's really no big deal- just buy some more broccoli!

6) JUST DO IT!  There's really nothing difficult about bike commuting.  It actually takes me the same amount of time to ride to the train as it does to drive.  Your first day you probably won't feel that confident, but by day 3 you're a friggin' pro!  You'll feel great riding past everyone in the morning instead of griping behind the steering wheel at all the moronic drivers! Plus there's no better way to show you are loosening oils addictive grips!

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