Brian's Rant

This is how Brian sees it.


      I decided to make a page for my friend Brian to express his ideas on anything to do with bikes. I know he can be fairly opinionated at times and I don't always agree with him on many subjects but I still think he has good thought provoking ideas. I am hoping this will open up some decision on what ever subject he rants on. If you have any thoughts on his rants please feel free to email me at smwillis@verizon.net and I will try and put it up.





Something Fishy in Union County.

So I wanted to have a follow up to my most recent (July, 2017) Open Records Act Request regarding the developments with mountain biking in Watchung, leading up to the May 18, 2017 vote to kill planned bike trails. You know, the trails they had already approved and voted payment for to contractor CME. However, currently, I am unable to report much, even though it has been well over a month since the OPRA request was first filed on July 10th, 2017.

The reason for that is that Union County has requested numerous and sundry extensions, one after the other, oddly enough, for some of the more recent documents requested which would have been the most easy to find – you’d think.

Then, after they said they’d sent everything, they sent me an email that claimed they had “forgotten” some documents, so they were sending them. Oops. Sorry!

Oops indeed… the documents included redacted emails that I had been previously sent over a year ago, when I filed an OPRA request regarding the posting of new no bike signs. At the time the emails – which appeared to show unelected county employees debating on whether to arbitrarily increase the penalties for biking in the park (still think the ban on mountain biking is based on an ordinance passed by the freeholders?) were redacted for “deliberative/consultant” reasons. There actually is a legitimate OPRA exception for deliberative matters, or things still under consideration, however, since the county has been claiming since at least 2014 that the ban on mountain biking on the park trails is based on an old 1983 ordinance about roads, sidewalks, paths, and not blocking cars, one has to ask, 1) Why would it be “deliberative” over three decades later, since the penalty is in the alleged ordinance, even if said ordinance never specifically says anything about mountain biking, and 2) What are unelected employees – some of them county police officials – doing deciding their own penalties, independent of whatever law or ordinance they allege bans mountain biking said when enacted thirty years ago?

Beyond that, of course, is a third question: 3) Even if it was legitimate for these people to be making up their own penalties in a secret pow-wow some thirty odd years after the ordinance they say authorized a ban on mountain biking was enacted, and twenty odd years after county employees created the ban they said was justified by said ordinance, in a 1995 backroom meeting, one is still left with the burning question: Okay, by some stretch, suppose it was still deliberative in early summer of 2016. It is now over a year later, namely mid-August, 2017. The issue of mountain bike access appears to have been decided from the county’s perspective in the intervening time, by the May 18, 2017 vote to kill the trail plan, and their redoubled efforts to point to the ban policy from 1995, allegedly justified by an ordinance from 1983, and scream “na na, no biking”. So under what universe, it what possible reality, are these emails still deliberative over A YEAR LATER?

Well, no idea if they actually are. See, the county sent me the same image that they sent in 2016, with the exact same handwritten note in the corner about the redaction. It may in other words not be that they redacted the emails’ contents for this OPRA request; it may simply be that they sent whatever they had lying about, which would be the already-redacted copy that was redacted for “deliberative/consultant” matters – over a year ago, in 2016.

Is it still something that falls under that exception today? Did it ever?

No idea. The government has stalled further, refusing to send me either an explanation, of the non-redacted emails. Instead, I received the following this evening, after the close of normal county business hours (at 5:13pm):

“The main OPRA counsel is on vacation, so I have forwarded your email to her supervisor, who advised me that a reply should be rendered by August 22. Thank you for your anticipated cooperation and patience.”

First, the county has several lawyers: An Executive County counsel, a first deputy county counsel, and a second deputy county counsel. Why could they not have just asked one of them? They can’t all be on vacation at the same time! Moreover, I sent this email before business hours last Monday, prior to 7am; why did they wait over a week to respond? If all they wanted to tell me was the lawyer was out of town, they could have done that the day I sent the email. Yes, they typically get a week to answer an OPRA request – but the OPRA request was from July, and that is the point – they still have not answered it fully.

Like everything else about the county’s anti-mountain bike policy, the more you find out, the more you realize there is something fishy here, and it isn’t Seeley’s Pond.


brian 8/17/17





The timeline: problems with the history of the Watchung mountain bike ban, according to the government.

According to the government itself, and what I have found out over the last three years of research and OPRA requests, there is very little about the ban that makes sense, and so many conflicting questions that trying to answer one only raises another. For instance: the county has said mountain biking was banned because it was causing widespread problems, but according to their ORA responses had never documented a single instance. While a defender of the ban could try and explain this away by saying that the failure to document an alleged problem doesn’t mean it wasn’t occurring, the question still remains, why not document something that would help your argument? At all? It is a good question. A defender of the ban could ultimately say, well, they never bothered to document it because the decision to ban mountain biking was done behind closed doors so no one ever figured they would have to explain it. That however still leaves another question: Why was a decision of that sort made behind closed doors? And so on.

Let’s look at the most basic question: When did the ban begin? There are actually at least three answers to that question, each contradicting the other.

“Mountain biking in the Watchung Reservation has dramatically increased over the last five years,” the Mountain Biking White Paper (see Appendix) begins. But the paper was written by Dan Bernier of the parks department in 1995, and according to the paragraph Daniel Bernier himself included in the 7-18-14 email on the subject in response to the first OPRA request, mountain biking had only being going on for two years in 1995, because up until 1993 the County enforced an “old ordinance” (later found to be the 1983 ordinance). This allowed Mr. Bernier to claim in the email that not only was the ban not new in 1995, its enforcement was simply being “resumed,” and therefore the freeholders didn’t act, there was no ordinance passed to ban mountain biking, and therefore they didn’t have to provide the material requested in the OPRA request.

However, if there was no ordinance passed to ban mountain biking, how could that old ordinance be about mountain biking? If the freeholders did not act to ban mountain biking, who passed that old ordinance, or was it enacted with the intent to ban mountain biking? And if it was, why does it not say anything about it, or bikes on the trails, and why did the county say that the freeholders did not act to ban mountain biking, when the action in question is clearly passing legislation?

However, the big problem is the timeline. In the OPRA response Mr. Bernier, and the county, said mountain biking was only allowed from 93-95, and that then the “old ordinance” was just “resumed”.

But here in the White Paper is Mr. Bernier, in 1995, writing that mountain biking has “dramatically increased” over the last five years. These words indicate that not only has mountain biking been going on for longer than the two years alleged in the 7-18-14 email – meaning that there was no earlier enforcement to “resume” -- but that it was also going on longer than the five mentioned in the White Paper. After all, the White Paper says increased, implying that the last five years aren’t the entirety of the mountain biking, but only its greater frequency. Presumably, then, it had been going on since whenever it began on its own, not just since 1993-95 as mentioned in the email response to the first OPRA request. Which is correct? Is either correct?

Further confusing the issue, on May 18, 2017, in an NJ.com article on the subject, the county said mountain biking was allowed from 94-95 (not 93-95 as in the 7-18-14 OPRA response email, or occurring until 1995, as indicated by the White Paper.) The county government was also said to have stated in the article that “it is unclear” why mountain biking was subsequently banned, something that makes one wonder as it was the county that banned it.

Obviously if Mr. Bernier opens the White Paper with these words about a dramatic increase in mountain biking over the last five years at Watchung, he regards them as important. Yet written in 1995, they clearly contradict the assertion that the “old ordinance” was enforced prior to 1993. Or the later, 2017 assertion it was enforced until 1994…which itself contradicts the 93-95 assertion. Obviously, the ban wasn’t being enforced prior to 1995, if mountain biking at Watchung dramatically increased going back to 1990, and people were riding even before then. Another blow to the idea that this old ordinance was about or enforced against mountain biking until the ban was made up in a backroom in 1995.

Then there’s the very issue of a White Paper; a “white paper” is essentially a paper to outline a proposed policy. If the ban began in 1983, with the ordinance, and mountain biking was only “allowed” from 93-95, or 94-95, then shouldn’t the white paper have been written in 1983? Why write a white paper arguing for a ban in 1995 if the ban was actually created in 1983? One could see writing a second white paper in 1995 to argue for re-imposing the ban – if that is what happened – but that still does not explain why none was written in 1983, if that’s when the ban actually began.

Also, the idea that the ordinance was arbitrarily suspended for several years in the 1990’s – whichever years you pick – doesn’t fit with much more recent county statement by Parks official Ron Zuber, who said explicitly in October of 2016 at a Trailside center public meeting in front of hundreds of people and local media, that the parks department could not just arbitrarily ignore or enforce legislation, that such a change must be initiated by the freeholders changing legislation. Yet, arbitrarily ignoring legislation is what the government says it did, either from 93-95 or 94-95 – according to the official line, which holds that the ban was authorized by the 1983 ordinance and enforcement simply “resumed” in 1995 after a hiatus of either one or two years, take your pick.

In other words, if you are going to claim the ban was authorized by the 1983 ordinance, you have to acknowledge it was arbitrarily ignored for some time if that was indeed the case – which means there is no reason the government could not arbitrarily ignore it now, if it wanted, and allow people to ride. You also are then left with the 1995 White Paper and its opening line which flagrantly contradicts the idea of any enforcement prior to 1995.

Conversely, if you look at it that the government, as Zuber said, cannot just arbitrarily disregard legislation, then you have to conclude one of two things; either the government was doing something it shouldn’t if the official 93-95 or 94-95 stories are true, when it temporarily stopped enforcing the ordinance, or enforcement was never “resumed” because it was never authorized by the 1983 ordinance, but instead created in a backroom in 1995 from scratch, and justified by repurposing an old ordinance about something else, namely, roads, sidewalks, paths, and not blocking cars.

This is an explanation which fits much more closely with the statement that “the freeholders did not act” and no ordinance was passed to ban mountain biking, that fits more closely with the contemporaneous opening words of the white paper, and the fact that the ordinance was from 1983 but the ban from 1995, and that ultimately fits more with the actual wording of the 1983 ordinance. It also doesn’t have as many self- contradictions as the 93-95/94-95 storyline. After all, if that is what really happened, why are there two time frames just for that one story – plus the different timeframe of the white paper?

Yet in the fliers, and other measures, including erecting signage, the Parks Department did everything it could to tell the public a three-part message: 1 - Mountain bikes are banned. 2 - It was done years ago with this old ordinance, so don’t blame me, and 3 – the reason we are enforcing it now is that mountain bikes were wrecking the place.

It was a unified message to cover a very sloppy and non-unified story that even now, nearly a quarter century later, the government still cannot get straight from one day to the next.

But rather than deal with these serious questions about how the government was conducting policy, the government just condemned park users – cyclists in this case – as miscreants and banished them. Bikers are bad! was the message, and the hope seemed to be if they just said it enough, everyone would believe it, and not look too closely or ask too many questions.


Brian 7/25/17



It doesn’t matter what the law says, they say – after quoting the law.

Going over some of my notes re: the issue of Watchung and mtb access in light of my recent pending OPRA request, I asm struck by the fact tha perhaps one of the most alarming aspects of the whole three year farce was the attitude, at the end, of some of the ban supporters, who for twenty years remained silent, then spoke up when anyone dared challenge the status quo, by essentially endorsing the concept of fiat government. Their approach can be best summed up by one individual who repeatedly posted on online news coverage of the issue under the name “Mike”. After he harangued cyclists who pointed out the ban was of questionable legality and that there was no legislation prohibiting biking on trails – quoting the 1983 ordinance in the process - - I politely pointed out that the very oordinance he was quoting never even contained the word trail, and all the associated problems.

His response was not to address the substance of the issue, but to dismiss my pointing it out as “semantics”, actually referring readers of his posts not to the text of the ordinance he himself quoted, but instead to a google result regarding paths and trails. (https://countywatchers.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/bikers-clear-path-for- watchung-biking/#comment-5902)

Essentially, his dismissing what the ordinance he referenced actually said as “semantics” boils down, in plain spoken English, to, “It doesn’t matter what the law says, it means whatever I want.”

It is not only ironic that a person making such a statement would accuse his opponents, i.e., those who want trail access, of being outlaws at heart, it is also frightening that this person, who while simultaneously posturing as the voice of law and order is essentially declaring, “It doesn’t matter what the law says”, seems to have no idea how absolutely beyond outrageous he sounds.

One such person is a minor curiosity. A handful, potential concerns. You get too many in one place, and you have fiat government and dictatorship.

It may sound farfetched, but that’s the point; there are bigger issues here than mountain bicycling. And sadly, these people do not see it. Down the road, we may all of us, bicyclist or not, have to deal with the consequences of their permissive attitude towards misgovernment and abuse of power, on issues of far more import than park access.


Brian 7/24/17



The intolerable acts of Union County.

With 4th of July just past, it is worth noting that one of the objections our forefathers had to English rule was what were called the “intolerable acts” -- a series of impositions pushed on them without them having any say, which directly impacted daily life. The same, for cyclists, could be said of Union County’s mountain bike ban, indeed, it might be appropriate to call the ban and all the peripherals surrounding it the “intolerable acts of Union County.”

It is important to keep in mind that the issue of mountain biking access in Union County, New Jersey – and Union County’s extra-legal ban on mountain biking at Watchung, created in a backroom in ’95 by the unelected without any public input or documentation of a single incident with mountain biking at Watchung, then justified sometime later by repurposed after the fact an old ordinance about roads sidewalks and paths and not blocking cars from ’83, which said nothing about mountain biking or even contained the word trail, then was expanded arbitrarily to all county parks in 2016, effectively creating new trail closures – is not just about cycling and bike access. It is also about government. In particular, it is about the nature of government – and those who support it.

The anti-bike people who presented themselves at county meetings opposing bike access claimed they were the “good guys”, that they were “concerned citizens” who wanted “a say”.

What they never told anyone is that they wanted to have their citizen input, in order to support the continuation of a policy that was created behind closed doors without anyone having a say, including those most impacted by it – the bikers who were banned – but also, everyone else.

If these people were willing to say, yes, the ban was bad government, let’s disregard it and start with a blank slate, and ask – should mountain biking be allowed, or should it be restricted? That would be one thing. The arguments raised against mountain biking might be no more valid and just as flawed, but at least one could say, they were proceeding in a legitimate, above-board fashion in terms of conduct.

But by supporting the existing ban, they are/were not just supporting the idea of restricting mountain biking, they are/were also supporting everything about the current ban – including its sketchy history, lack of legislative authority, the fact that it was created in a backroom by the unelected in an end run around our electoral process and its protections.

In short, Union County witnessed the amusing but sickening spectacle of people claiming they “wanted a say” so that they could support not only the idea of banning mountain biking, but the idea of government creating policy behind closed doors, without anyone having a say. THIS is what they were supporting and defending. The failure of these people to look beyond the results of a policy to how it was created and perpetuated, is not unique; across the political spectrum, from local issues to national ones, people are willing to look the other way for government malfeasance simply because they agree with the results. One has to ask such people: What happens when a policy concocted in a similar underhanded manner turns out to be something you don’t like? What objections will you raise to it? How can you object – since you support that very thing?

It is simplicity itself to say the only issue is whose ox is being gored – or, to use another canard, that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. The reality is that this sort of hypocrisy only enables governmental malfeasance, across the board. And it happens because people are not taught to think in broad moral principles. The issue to them isn’t the nature of government – it is, do they like this particular flavor, however arrived at? The fact that they and their interests could be the next victim of governmental overreach do not register, for them it is in another language; the citizen concerned about misgovernment, as well as bike access, might as well be speaking Swahili.

But the issue isn’t just about mountainbike access; it is about misgovernment. And we must remember that to confront this issue, we must not only advocate the truth about mountain biking, or cycling generally, but also the idea of the proper relationship between the government and the citizen.

It isn’t just that those supporting the current ban are ignorant of cycling and mountain biking; they are also largely ignorant of their birthrights as Americans. Or, they are okay with looking the other way for a policy conducted behind closed doors, without any public input, in contravention of the documented facts, because – at the moment – it agrees with their biases. Their attitude will be no defense when the next policy so concocted attacks some other activity, besides for cycling – maybe an activity they enjoy.

As Fourth of July is just past, it behooves us to remember as Americans what sort of country our forefathers left us. And it was not one where we were intended to meekly obey edicts made without citizen input, whether from unelected county employees, or King George. The opponents of cycling in Watchung have not just attacked cyclists; they have attacked all who are interested in fair and just government, including, potentially, themselves. It will poetic justice should their own interests one day succumb to the sort of conduct they condone in this instance against others.

It is up to us, however, who can see the true nature of the issue, to see that that doesn’t happen.

We aren’t just fighting for bike access, but for fair government policy for all, something that benefits not only mountain bikers, but all county residents – including those who hate biking.

The bike haters can thank us later.


Brian 0708/17




James Otis was right: No taxation without representation for Union County Cyclists.

As the fourth of July – known in more enlightened times by the more illustrative name “Independence Day” – is upon us, it behooves all Americans to reflect on our history, and on the many aspects of the American War for Independence, without which we would not exist as a nation.

Union County, New Jersey cyclists should pay special heed to the words of James Otis, a figure of the American Revolution who as early as the 1760’s was sounding the call for the need to be secure our rights from the injustices of the English monarchy, and called for everything from an end to warrantless searches by the King’s men, to freedom for black slaves.

Truly, in many ways, he was ahead of his time.

Although Otis’ most famous attribution, “no taxation without representation” may be something he never literally said, word for word, he helped put the idea in public consciousness as a concept. His actual words were, “The very act of taxing, exercised over those who are not represented, appears to me to be depriving them of one of their most essential rights; and, if continued seems to be, in effect, an entire disenfranchisement of every civil right.” Over two hundred years later, I can only say, “wow.” Mr. Otis hit the nail on the head.

Speaking of hitting, he paid dearly for his beliefs. Starting out as a loyalist appointee of Britain, he resigned his legal job – which included prosecuting regular people turned smugglers in trying to dodge Britain’s arduous Acts – and ended up representing colonials for free. In addition to giving up his livelihood, he ultimately gave his life; he was struck in the head by a loyalist with whom he had an argument; brain damage resulting from this injury forced his retirement from public life, silencing a voice that hundreds of bayonets in the hands of redcoats could not quell.

Nevertheless, two centuries after this brave orator spoke out in favor of freedom, and against misgovernment, his words have never been more relevant – especially to Union County cyclists. Property taxes in New Jersey are among the highest in the nation; county taxes take a sizeable sum from the pockets of wage earners in this state. Yet, in the most literal sense, cyclists have no representation in Union County, NJ. There is not a single place in Union County where we can officially mountain bike, in county parks we are forced to pay for; since in 2016, the county arbitrarily expanded its twenty year old ban on mountain biking in Watchung Reservation, created in a backroom in ’95, to all county parks. Cyclists, in a literal sense, are taxed – and do not receive the slightest consideration for the money extorted from them. We are, theoretically, represented by the freeholders – who lie to us for years, conspire against us, and squander our time and money – much as colonists in the 1760’s were theoretically “represented” by the government in England – where they were given no voice. We know how well that turned out.

The phrase “no taxation without representation” might be an abbreviated version of its actual historical counterpart; but the same basic message was never more true, whether the cry was levied against King George in the eighteenth century, or our so-called Union County government here in the twenty-first.

Happy Independence Day. May the freedoms we recall on this day somehow come between us and the depredations of our own county government, as they did between our ancestors and King George, over two centuries ago.

No taxation without representation, in other words, trail access!


Brian 7/03/17




THUGS?

In light of the recent shooting of a GOP congressman at baseball practice by a man who seems motivated by his political views, it is important to consider a recent editorial in the NY Post denouncing cyclists. The editorial, titled “NY’s Vicious cyclists”, characterizes cyclists as bullies, thugs, and even at one point explicitly compares them to the type of masked anarchists that tend to riot and throw bricks through windows because they disagree with a campus speaker.

The general theme appears to be, that cyclists are a small minority who seeks to reshape the roads to the detriment of everyone else – and they act like thugs, to boot. Given how cyclists have been characterized in the past – including the recent Watchung mountain biking debate, in which we were characterized as everything from hooligans at heart, animal killers, to kidnappers, one must consider the implications of these inaccurate statements – and they are inaccurate.

This isn’t to say there are not some rude cyclists, or that, at any public gathering, there might not be rowdy cyclists. But there are rowdy or rude people in every group. It is when, however, the entire group as a mass gets characterized thus, one must ask is it accurate. It is not.

What are the cyclists, after all, fighting for? Safe and legal behavior on the roads, largely. Yes, some argue for bike lanes or other infrastructure, but the most basic infrastructure we all share is the road, and it doesn’t benefit drivers or pedestrians any more than cyclists to have people driving carelessly, or drunk, or jaywalking into traffic without looking where they are going. In other words, the behaviors the cyclists in NYC seek to curtail should be curtailed anyway – they violate traffic laws, are unsafe, and it is to everyone’s benefit for them to cease, or be cracked down on. As to bike lanes, some designs are horrific, some are safe, but generally they occur on the side of the road – where no one in a car would be traveling at speed, anyway, unless they are incapable of holding their line, or unsafely passing on the right. In short, the “vicious” cyclists are not only not the thugs their critics make them out to be, they represent law and order, a desire for safer streets an end (or at least reduction) in complacency related to the bad behavior behind the wheel (or on foot) that endangers not only themselves but others as well.

Yet, by inaccurately characterizing cyclists as political thugs, such editorials risk not only undercutting attempts to make the roads safer, they risk making cyclists targets of the disaffected. It is because of the congressional shooter’s political views regarding the nature of the Republicans that he targeted them for violence. Such a thing could easily happen with regard to cyclists. Indeed, it already has, going back years. From sundry characters, from a Times of London columnist calling openly for the decapitation of cyclists by stringing wire across country lanes, to an editorialist in Arizona describing cyclists as “akin to unarmed Americans in Bagdad, at dusk”, the general message by those who do not want to share the road – or the trail – is, you are less than me, so I feel justified in using violence against you. And, to this shameful tableau we can add anyone who has ever been subjected to road rage by a small-minded driver. Maybe that’s you, or someone you know. Usually, if you ride enough, you encounter one sooner or later. I’ve experienced several. The one that sticks in my craw was a guy who passed me on the right as I tried to merge right to get back out of the main lane after going around a pothole a few years ago. The gentleman (and I use that word loosely) decided the situation was my fault, not his because of failure to pay attention and not pass unsafely, so he stopped his van and attempted to challenge me to fisticuffs. When I declined, he proceeded to chase me with his van, nearly running me over the edge of the bridge into the river below.

While this is simply one example, it is instructive. A healthy mentally normal person doesn’t try to kill or injure another just because they feel annoyed or delayed for a few seconds – or embarrassed by a careless maneuver on their part. But, when the culture is filled with portrayals of that individual – the cyclist – as a universal villain, such violence becomes much, much more likely.

The Post columnist should re-evaluate his premises. The cyclists he denounced as “vicious” and “thugs” are only arguing that we enforce our traffic laws and maintain some semblance of sanity on our streets. “I didn’t see him” would not fly if you shot someone with a gun or a bow – it should not be a get out of jail free card with a car. Indeed, if I was drunk or talking on my cell phone at the archery range, I would not only be banned from coming back, I would probably be criminally charged if someone was injured as a result. Yet, with cars, which weigh more than arrows (or bullets) oftimes we tolerate conduct we never would with other dangerous items. All the cyclist want to do is change that, so they are not at such disproportional risk from the actions of others.

Instead, by defending the lawbreakers who threaten cyclists, and denouncing the cyclists, such editorials make it more and more likely that someday soon you might be confronted on the road, not only by a careless driver or pedestrian, but perhaps by one with a gun as well.

Ideas have consequences.

We’ve seen what the consequences of delegitimizing your political opponents are – it can end in gunfire. But that kind of political rhetoric has limited appeal. Road use, however, is an issue for everyone. So what are the consequences of describing those who argue for responsible and safe road use as subhuman thugs who are at war with everyone else on the street?

And a better question might be, what are we as a society going to do about it? Politicians love to talk about gun control. How about instead we control our words. Yes, we have freedom of speech – but that is not to say some speech isn’t irresponsible. So do your homework and learn about a subject before spouting off. And – if, like that NY Post columnist – you have a beef, please consider the implications of what you are writing. Because even if you aren’t taking your words literally, someone out there is. And one of us will have to deal with him.


Brian 6/21/17




Blast from the past: old article on reaction to the ban at Watchung illustrates many of the errors in government policy haven't changed.

The old article is from the April 13, 1995 Star Ledger. I forgot I had it. What's interesting is that like any such, it is a post-ban article -- there was no coverage of the decision to ban us, because it was done in a backroom without public input. But what the article does say says not much has changed in nearly a quarter century.

First, cyclists were blindsided by the government decision -- nothing new there to anyone who followed the last three years of efforts to get bike access at Watchung, culminating in the May 18 2017 vote to change it's mind -- after approving and paying for mtb trails.

Second, at one point in the article the government says it was closed to mountain bikes because the trails were too costly to maintain -- but that 90 percent of the trail volunteers were reported to be bikers! Nothing new there, and of course those bikers probably no longer volunteer at Watchung, which might be why some of the trails look like something out of a post-disaster film.

Third, the government policy was said to be unclear and no one quite knew what they were going to do... there was even concern of the government confiscating bikes ridden on the road. The confiscation threat was related to an old registration requirement in the county code that no one enforces anymore an is as out of date as segregated water fountains -- and was back in the 1990s, as well. But more importantly, this has nothing to do with mountain biking, per se.

This of course is not a surprise; the fliers posted after the May 18 vote warning mtb is forbidden at county parks threaten impoundment of bicycles. We of course can conclude the reason the government never eliminated this regulatory deadwood is because they wanted to use it to enforce their anti-mountain bike provision. The fact that it only shows how ignorant they are of cycling seems lost on them.

Twenty years later, not much has changed.


Brian 6/10/17



Election 2017

The election is coming up Tuesday 6-6-2017, and several freeholders are on the ballot. They are two of the freeholders that actually voted against the measure to kill the mountain biking trail plan, and one has to wonder if that was not planned. However, allegedly pro-mountain biking or not (or simply having not voted in favor of killing the mountain biking trail plan) these freeholders are nevertheless part of the same system that lied to cycling citizens for three long years, and ultimately voted against mountain biking – after approving the trail plan and paying consultant CME for it.

That said, I would urge any cyclist (or just citizens concerned with fair government) to not vote for these people, but their opponents. Let us not allow Union County, NJ to benefit from its manipulations, lies, and larceny.

They have stolen the best years of our riding lives, the opportunity for future generations of cyclists, and three years of our efforts. Now they appear to have stolen the money paid the consultant as well. Let us not let them also have our votes.

Despite the Freeholders up for re-election being alleged mountain bike supporters, they clearly were not able to convince their colleagues to keep their word, and they are clearly part of the problem, saying one thing and doing another. We need a clear house, like Hercules washing out the Greek stables.

Make sure on Election Day you do not vote for any of the current Freeholders, however they voted on mountain biking. This county does not need any of them. What it needs is a clean slate and honest government limited to its just and proper functions.


Brian 6/6/17




Regarding the enforcement blitz that seems to have been oreolanned to occur immediately after the May 18 vote to kill mountain bike access in Watchung, it was noted that there were four police patrols as well as an ATV (forbidden bvy county ofr offroad use -- did he give himself a ticket?) over this past weekend in Watchung looking for cyclists.

Also by Monday they had designed, approved, printed and distributed a two-sided color flier at kiosks and trailhead maps in Watchung (and presumably other parks). Since the vote was not til late Thursday night, I am wondering how all this could have been arranged over Friday. And of course if it wasn't -- if, say, they had the lighted sign reserved or the fliers in the works or already printed -- it would mean they "knew" the result of the vote before hand -- hardly fair and open government.

Just some quick facts to give you an idea what all this is costing us here in Union County in order to keep people from going outdoors and having safe healthy fun:

The lighted sign: Some quick and dirty info ... Just to give you an idea what all this is costing us:

Wanco Mini Message Board Sign and Trailer, Solar and Battery Powered WVT3, Three Line $17594.00

(http://www.fleetsafety.com/wanco-emergency-message-signs-traffic-trailer-boards/) ; Similar to sign at Skytop. These can also go higher; same site had em for over 30k$.

As for the additional patrols N.J. police salaries rank highest in nation with median pay of $90,672 ... www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/09/nj_police_salaries_rank_highes.html
;
As to the police cars themselves: “city of Fairfield purchased four Ford Police Interceptor all-wheel drive utility vehicles earlier this month at a price tag of $105,960.” These are not dissimilar to Union Co. police suvs. (http://www.journal-news. com/news/mo...sing-suvs-over-sedans/c3aQRxlU5Y5g6iAwwM6jEP/)

But of course the ultimate cost is the lack of continued trail access, and diversion of resources from actually protecting the public. As one local rider noted on mtbnj.com, over the weekend a child on a bicycle was hit by a car three miles away while police were busy staking out the park for an anti-mountain bike campaign. Maybe, to put it mildly, these resources are not being utilized in the best way possible?


Brian 5/23/2017


"Mr. Chairman Bergen:

Chairman, for a long time many citizens have suspected that the government of Union county was not trustworthy. However, many wanted to believe it could be.

Starting in 2014, the county and its contractor CME promised myself and other mountain bikers park access at Watchung.

This wasn't some generic assurance. They personally looked across a table at myself and several other cyclists, shook our hands, and promised imminent access.

A trail plan was approved and tax money allocated and paid.

Anytime cyclists asked what was happening, we were assured access was just around the corner.

The freeholders as well, including yourself, repeatedly assured us at meetings that mountain bike access would occur.

Instead, on May 18, 2017, after three years of repeated promises, the county broke its word. The contractor will presumably walk away counting its money; cyclists and other citizens interested in fair government walked away only secure in the knowledge that they had been suckered.

I was very disappointed and angry at first, but now I want to thank you. I want to thank you because you have shown all of us exactly what you are and what you stand for. Union county residents have been given a glimpse of the county government's true nature, and will never forget it.

I want you to know that you have forever killed any good faith you will ever have with myself and many other cycling citizens.

I myself will not ever trust anything the county government ever says, on any issue, and shall make it my business to see that no one else who pays attention does either. This isn't just about yourself or the other freeholders, either -- it is about the county. Even should new individuals sit in those seats someday, they still will not be trusted. The word you have broken is not yours, but the county's, and the damage therefore extends beyond those who hold office to the offices themselves.

Next time you want public support for a project, park volunteers, or simply just want people to actually believe a press release, think of the moment on May 18 2017 when you killed your credibility and that of the county you represent. Think of all the people who against their last twenty years of bitter experience were starting to trust the county -- and what they think now.

Actions have consequences -- as do broken words.

For myself, the consequence of your actions is that Union county is and forever will be in my mind one of the last refuges of scoundrels.

Most sincerely,


Brian Matula 5/23/17"



The guys from JORBA posted this on mtbnj.com ... "
JORBA STATEMENT ON RESULT OF UNION COUNTY FREEHOLDER VOTE

We are deeply disappointed by the Union County Freeholders’ vote against mountain biking access at Watchung Reservation. JORBA continues to believe that there is a clear support for, as well as a space in, Union County for mountain biking.

Thank you to everyone who spoke out in favor of access, as well as to everyone who favored a compromise. We were encouraged by the comments of Mountainside and Summit mayors and councilman supporting a compromise. Special thanks to Freeholders Estrada, Mirabella, and Hudak for their unwavering support for mountain biking access at Watchung. They understand the clear benefit of adding this healthy activity and responsible user group to the Reservation. JORBA recognizes all of the legitimate concerns raised at tonight’s meeting, as well as at other stakeholder meetings, especially the need to implement sustainable trails at Watchung. We welcome a dialogue to address these concerns, and believe that agreement can be reached to mitigate them. Although we disagree with his conclusion, we also appreciate Chairman Bergen’s lengthy explanation of his vote against mountain biking access. His comments discounting the risk of legal liability, as well as cost and other issues, were a welcome check against some of the more extreme comments put forth by mountain biking opponents.

We disagree with Mr. Bergen’s conclusion that mountain biking would adversely impact Watchung. This position is not supported by the facts, which consistently show in independent, peer reviewed studies, that mountain biking has similar impact on trails as foot traffic, and much less impact than equestrian use. In addition, calculations regarding park acreage per mile of trails in Lewis Morris Park were inaccurate. We strongly feel that the addition of sustainable trails and committed volunteers would enhance the park, not harm it, and we stand by our offer to mobilize a considerable workforce if given access.

Nonetheless, there is clear support in Union County for mountain biking. The Freeholders noted that comments for and against mountain biking were evenly split, and that communications to them on this issue were in the thousands. This deep and wide base of support is also shown by the many passionate advocates who have turned out for every public meeting, been ready for volunteer trail work, and offered positive support for mountain biking.

The Union County Chapter of JORBA is committed to advocating for biking access. We will continue to support the Summit NICA team and its riders. We will also support the many Union County children who ride, including continuing our efforts to introduce underprivileged kids to off road biking through our national Trips for Kids Chapter.

We agree whole heartedly with the many speakers and Freeholders who stated that there is a place in the county for biking. Indeed, we are already actively pursuing other parks for suitable options, and intend to meet with stakeholders to create a new proposal in the near future. Given the deep well of support in Union County for this healthy and positive activity, JORBA is committed to redoubling its efforts for access.

Andrew Stillufsen

Jamie Meiselman

Chris Brawley

Union County JORBA Co-Leaders

Ken Seebeck

JORBA Executive Director

www.jorba.org


Brian 5/23/17



In my own town of Berkeley Hts., NJ, there is a fellow running for town council who has supported the idea of mountain bike access. This past two days, following the vote on Mountain biking at Watchung, I noticed several of his campaign signs torn out of local lawns. Reports are that a green van might be driven by whomever is responsible. I do not know if the apparent vandalism is motivated by anger at the candidate's position on the mountain biking issue or something else, but what I do know is that in America, you should be free to display a sign on your lawn and not fear damage or retribution from hooligans. This is the sort of thing that makes me glad I have taken a stand on this issue. As I have often said, this is bigger than just mountain biking. In this case, it may be about whether or not people can be intimidated by those who think they can physically impinge on what you do on your own property.

There is right and there is wrong, and on this issue, it is clear which side mountain bike opponents fall on. The threatening tactics of the opposition only make that abundantly clear.


Brian 5/21/17



On May 18, 2017, the freeholders voted to kill the mountain biking plan for Watchung Reservation in Union County, that they had already approved and paid consultant CME for.

I have been thinking on this long and hard.

The three freeholders who voted to keep their word and move forward with mountain biking deserve credit for their integrity, but for the others and as a whole, the Union County government had indeed proven itself no more trustworthy than in 1995.

What went wrong? It is simplistic to say people got angry at the idea of mountain biking there because they thought mountain bikers would damage the park or ruin its tranquility. That was indeed the sort of objection they raised – often taken to absurd levels, like one woman who thought we killed turtles, and another who was terrified we would track in an invasive seed – but the explanation goes deeper than that because this wasn’t really about mountain biking – it was about the ban.

The ban on mountain biking was imposed in a backroom by the unelected, with no documentation of a problem at Watchung, despite whatever anecdotes people subjectively remember, the point is they never documented A SINGLE INSTANCE of injury, conflict or damage. And the ban was done by misappropriating an old ordinance about "roads, sidewalks, paths, not blocking cars" that had nothing to do with mountain biking, and predated the ban by over a decade at the time, was never enforced against mt biking before 95, with no public input.

Those who opposed mountain biking access were not just opposing mountain biking at Watchung, they were supporting the ban. This by definition includes everything about it, including its suspicious history and the disgraceful methodology involved in its creation. In short, the opponents were not just against mountain biking – by opposing even a small challenge to the ban, like granting an exception to a handful of trails in one park, they were in favor of the misgovernment the ban entailed – and still does as long as it exists.

Unfortunately, so few seem to think in terms of basic principles that many probably never even thought about the issue except in terms of whether or not they liked the idea of mountain biking.

It didn’t help than many in government did not (and still will not) even acknowledge the history of what happened despite the fact that said history has been pieced together and ferreted out from their own statements and records in OPRA responses. Such a stance does not make for better understanding, to put it mildly – but it helps explain why so many people are against mountain biking, despite their own fallacious arguments, and why the government dragged its feet and then ultimately killed the mountain bike plan. The official line and false narrative it entails is conducive only to one view of mountain biking, and it is not positive.

Some local riders opined the vote seemed orchestrated; it would not surprise me, given what we know about the county and its trustworthiness.

Thanks to all who participated in the effort and may stay involved going forward, including fellow local riders from The Bike Standf in Scotch Plains, shop owner Steve Willis, and the folsk at Hilltop Bicycles in Summit, among others. If nothing else we have made it easier for the next generation of riders to finish the fight. Thanks especially to Mr. Seebeck of Jorba and and our two resident gurus at the Union County jorba branch.

I was told early on in the effort by some local riders that we would never win. However I believed it important to try. Even now I do not see it as wasted effort. Maybe especially now. There are times when speaking the truth is all you can do -- and therefore all the more important that you do so.

Rock on, ride safe.

"May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one." -- Malcolm Reynolds, "Firefly" (yeh I was a scifi geek growing up)


Brian 5/20/17


One of the guys from the local JORBA group has put together this overview of Watchung and the Bike issue. Here it is:

Crunch time in the fight for legalizing Watchung Reservation. Stilluf, Iggy, Ken and I have put together a FACT SHEET that we would like ALL OF YOU to copy and paste into your town (Union County) Facebook pages. We'd like locals in each town to paste these in your local pages, and also please answer any comments with facts and grace. Thank you in advance and hope to see many of you Thursday Night in Elizabeth. Here's the text:

Facts about the Proposed Bike Trail for Watchung Reservation

THE FACTS show that adding a bicycle trail to the Watchung Reservation will provide a safe, healthy family activity for Union County residents, and will benefit the ecosystem of the Reservation. THE FACTS on the proposal are as follows:

The Trail: The proposed bike trail is a narrow, “singletrack” style built according to the proven standards of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). These are the same standards used by the US Forest Service for bike and hike trails around the country. They are designed for easy maintenance, minimal erosion, and safe speeds. This trail will be designated “bicycles only” to eliminate any possible conflict between user groups on the trail.

Safety: There are dozens of shared bike/hike/horse trails operating around the state in NJ, including 21 trail systems that are maintained by IMBA-trained volunteers from Jersey Off Road Bicycling Association (JORBA). These trail systems have been operating safely for several decades. Injuries are no more severe than those of hikers, trail runners, or equestrians. There are no past or current lawsuits for biking injuries against any land managers in NJ, nor is there any legal precedent for such lawsuits.

Environmental Impacts: Multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that the environmental impact of bikes on trails is comparable to that of hikers, and substantially less than that of horses. To minimize environmental impact, the exact layout of the trail will be approved by qualified Environmental Engineers and Naturalists. The Master Plan for Watchung reservation also calls for the closure of multiple-miles of existing eroded, unsustainable trails. As a result, when the bike trail is completed and the existing poor trails returned to nature, there will be no net gain of trail miles in the Watchung Reservation.

Traffic and Parking: The proposed bike trail will have trailhead access at 9 different parking lots at Watchung Reservation. Bike trail usage studies prove that bikers use the trails at all different times of day and days of week, with typical usage time of 1-2 hours. Average peak biker cars at existing parks is 20-30 cars, thus anticipated additional parking lot demand at Watchung would amount to 2-4 cars per lot. Traffic impact of this car volume is obviously zero

Cost and Maintenance: The bike trail will be maintained by existing County Parks staff with the support of the Union County JORBA trained/insured volunteer trail crew. This crew includes over 100 dedicated Union County residents who are passionate about safe, sustainable trails. There is no additional cost to Union County to build or maintain the bike trails.

Community Opportunities: A bike trail at Watchung Reservation offers numerous opportunities to engage Union County residents in a healthy, safe outdoor activity. The NJ NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) now runs a mountain bike race series for middle-school and high-school students throughout the state. Many Union County children are participating in this race series but currently have no legal place to train close to home. Additionally, programs such as Trips for Kids (tripsforkids.org) offer the opportunity for underserved kids to ride trails, learn to work on bikes, and earn credit to receive their own bikes.

Please show your support for safe, healthy bike trails at the Watchung Reservation by contacting the Union County Freeholders here: http://ucnj.org/parks-recreation/paths- trails-greenways/watchung-reservation-trails-master-plan/

The Union County Freeholders will be voting on the bike trails issue on Thursday, May 18 at 7pm. Location: 10 Elizabethtown Plaza, 6th Floor, Elizabeth, NJ.


Brian 5/15/17




Upcoming vote on Mountain biking will show whether or not Freeholders keep their word.

The Union County freeholders have resurrected the measure to “disapprove” and kill all mention of mountain biking from the new trail plan for Watchung Reservation – after three years of repeatedly promising imminent mountain bike access.

The freeholders have a chance to do the “right thing” – to replace a policy hastily created behind closed doors nearly a quarter century ago, a policy even the county spokesman Sebastian Delia could not explain or defend when interviewed in a 2014 Star-Ledger newspaper article on the subject.

Winston Churchill once said that in politics there are no lasting enmities, only lasting interests. The interest of justice, fair policy, and good governance should outweigh whatever enmity some people have against mountain biking. This means voting “no” on the resurrected measure to kill the mountain biking part of the new trail plan, which was approved this past December and already paid for. This isn’t just about mountain biking – which, by the way, is the norm is almost every other New Jersey county park system. It is about just government policy. Moreover, given how the county has dragged this out over the last three years, it is also about whether the county government, from parks employees to the freeholders themselves, can be trusted to keep their word. Are they our representatives – or some kind of scoundrels? Given that from the parks department to the contractor CME to Chairman Bergen, they have all repeatedly promised over the last three years to allow mountain bike access, my question to them has to be, do they intend to keep their word, or forever shatter whatever fledgling faith anyone involved has developed in the integrity of Union County government?

If they vote to kill mountain biking in Watchung, after three years of repeatedly promising mountain bike access was just around the corner, it would not be some generic “politicians are dishonest” generalization; it would be a three year long incident, complete with many specific examples of how these people cannot be trusted as far as one might throw Watchung Mountain.

However, if the county votes “no” on this measure to kill mountain biking, and moves forward swiftly to keep its word and provide trail access at Watchung, the freeholders and others in government can stand proud, knowing they have helped undo a bad policy, imposed hastily in a backroom meeting over 20 years ago, and kept in place since, with no reason beyond the fact that no one had the guts to challenge it. If the Union county government keeps its word, once so freely given, they can be proud of the fact that they have taken the first step down a new road, one where policy is based on fact and citizens are not arbitrarily and unreasonably excluded from parks they pay for.

The vote is scheduled for May 18, 2017 – and I urge anyone who bikes, or is concerned about fair government policy, to contact their Freeholders from now until then. Or if possible, to attend.

For the freeholders themselves, the choice is simple: be seen as restoring faith in county government, or as proving correct every suspicion and second thought thinking citizens have long had, about the nature and ethics of those who govern Union County.

I stood in the freeholder meeting room when the Freeholders clearly stated they supported mountain biking and intended to allow it. Do those same people still sit in their chairs? Or have they become lesser men and women than we have been led to believe?

The future of the reputation of Union County is at stake here. This is beyond mountain biking. It is now about the very integrity of government itself, and those who hold its offices.

Can they be trusted? Or will they throw the concerns of mountain biking citizens and honest governance under the proverbial bus – along with their own decency and honesty?

We will soon find out.


Brian 5/12/17




Meeting report:
The April 20, 2017 Freeholders meeting contained a lot of focus on mountain biking. One of the JORBA people was there, as were several other fellow cyclists. All spoke, as did I. I was especially impressed with the point one rider made, about how having to go to other counties doesn’t just mean longer trips, but actually not being able to ride in many instances.

The anti-bike resolution which would have killed trail access was pulled from the agenda, but the bike haters were still there, most of them repeating the same hysterical scare tactics used before at the March 7 trailside meeting. One of them even objected to being called “scaremongers” -- as he scare-mongered. He objected to bike bashers being called “not in my backyard” types – when it is clear they view Watchung as their backyard. T’was repeatedly claimed bikes would “destroy” Watchung.

One older lady went on a long lecture about invasive species damage – none of the examples she gave were due to bikes. One woman bemoaned the potential damage trail construction could do – accusing us of murdering turtles -- and suggested the county “use drones, if you have to” to go after mountain bikers. Drones!

Drones? Why not send in the fifth fleet or the Navy Seals? Are we talking your fellow citizens on bicycles, or terrorists?

Clearly they see us as the equivalent of terrorists. Not cool, and frankly, not reasonable, either. I know you aren't supposed to say this about old ladies, but really, what is wrong with you? Were you dropped on your head as a child? Drones targeting cyclists? Get a darn grip, please.

Anyone still wonder why they seem like scaremongers? Sometimes you have to call it like you see it.

The bike opponents continued; bikers were dangerous, reckless, would ruin the trails. No one pointed out that according to government’s own records, none of this was documented in 1995, yet it was assumed to be gospel.

It was bizarre, disturbing, and hilarious at the same time. It was a theatre of the absurd. It was New Jersey politics. Perhaps the most absurd thing: there’s no reason it should take three years (or more) to build a dirt trail. This isn’t rocket science; it isn’t even truly earth science. It is common frigging sense and something every other county more or less manages to do. Are we that deficient here in Union County?

One more thing: the executive session at the end involved possible legal action against contractor CME. What this means is anybody’s guess but it can’t be good for trail access. We all know that people who get government contracts are politically connected. It is not cool, but hardly a reason to delay trail access. Cyclists should not be further penalized because of some government shenanigans.

Meanwhile, the anti-bike people seemed ready to take up torches and pitchforks.

20 years later we seemed to finally be having the debate we never had when the ban was imposed in 1995 -- but the anti-bike faction's knowledge of mountain biking seems limited to a 90's mountain dew commercial.

All of this over riding your bike in a park? Really?

It’s time for this circus to end: time for the county to put our money where its mouth is and finally give us access. To allow access to be delayed by false arguments and people who don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to cycling is not just foolish, it is not good policy. The time for fair government and fair access is always and always will be, right now.


Brian 4/22/17



"An open letter ot the Union County Freeholders:

It has come to my attention that there is a resolution pending that would kill proposed mountain bike access in Watchung Reservation. I must go on record as saying that this should not be allowed to happen.

As a citizen and cyclist who has been involved in the process of trying to get trail access for three years, I am well aware of both the nature of the mountain bike ban, and the issue of mountain biking at Watchung.

The ban itself has shameful origins, being created in a backroom by the unelected, in 1995, without, by the county's own admission in response to my OPRA request, without any public input.

Worse, the county said "it had been determined" that mountain biking had to be banned because of trail problems and user conflict, but could provide no documentation of any. When pressed in repeated OPRA requests they provided only a handful of news articles about mountain biking disputes at other parks -- one as far away as Connecticut. None were about Watchung. They also provided a trail study -- of two trails at South Mountain, a park in another county. Not only was this not about the situation at Watchung, it also post-dated the decision to ban us by almost a full year.

While there was never documentation of a reason to ban mountain biking in 1995, however, there is ample evidence now, 20 years later, and in the intervening years, that mountain biking is not a problem. Virtually every other county in New Jersey allows it to some degree, state parks as well. The NJ DEP, Department of Environmental Protection, even has links regarding mountain biking on its web site and endorses the activity.

I was there in February at Galloping Hill Golf Course when county officials and a rep of contractor CME promised mountain biking access at Watchung. However, in the intervening three years cycling taxpayers have watched as, time and again, the county failed to make good on the words it uttered. I was there at many freeholder meetings when Freeholders, including Chairman Bergen, said they supported the idea of mountain biking, and promised access by Spring of 2017. It is well into Spring of 2017, yet there is no access, Instead, freeholders appear to be considering a proposal to kill access by mountain bikers.

As I said at one freeholder meeting, an error only becomes a mistake if you persist in it. The error of this ban, concocted hastily 20 years ago, in an end run around the electoral process, has gone on far too long. It is time for Union County to end this shameful ban and finally allow some fair park access so that Union County cyclists can enjoy just a small fraction of what citizens in normal counties take for granted as their right: The ability to use the parks they pay for.

I ride, I vote, and I am not going away."


Brian 4/14/17






"Don't move to Union County" -- unless they open the trails

A long while ago I wrote something observing that if you really bike, bike access may impact your decision on where to move, and that, basically, Union County – unless and until it finally goes through with providing mountain bike access – should be off cyclists’ lists. I even suggested that word of mouth leading to people choosing not to move to the county overs might be the only justice it ever gets for its mountain bike ban, which seemed to have been enacted in secret precisely to avoid anyone ever being held accountable.

Some people told me they thought this was a bit farfetched. Well, it has finally happened.

On a New Jersey mountain bike web forum, one rider put up a post regarding moving. The rider was considering Union County, but wanted to know if they were going to allow mountain biking anywhere or not first: “I'm looking to move to the area and the prospect of having Watchung open to riding is affecting the location.”

The thing is, if one person took the time to post something about it, you can bet a lot more people are thinking it. Why would you move to a place where something you do daily is not allowed? For those of us who were here before the ban, we got trapped by bad government policy that encroached on us. But for those seeking to move to Union County, they have a choice, and as this rider points out, being able to ride has a potential role in that choice.

The rider in question added, “I'm not prepared to give $14,000 in tax money every year to Union county and not have the ability to enjoy what that money funds.”

I think we can all say this is our position, as both cyclists and those interested in fair government policy. The lesson for the government is that policy has consequences whether you concoct it in secret or not. As time drags on and the trails are not yet open -- although it is now Spring of 2017 -- anyone looking to move to Union county might well be advised to steer clear until the trails are, actually, open. Or as one poster on the mountain bike forum advised the rider who made the original post: "Don't move to Union County." That sadly will be the advice of many riders until the government makes good on at least some park access. The sooner the trails open, the better, not just for cyclists, but for Union County as well.


Brian 4/05/17





Traffic and pedestrian deaths rise: why – and what to do?

An article in the Sunday, April 2, 2017 Star-Ledger on traffic fatalities (“Pedestrians killed by cars rises 25 percent”, Ashley Halsey III, Washington Post -- a Post article in the Ledger is now a trend) was alarming. It found that both overall traffic deaths, as well as people hit by cars when afoot, was up for the second year in a row nationally, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association, which did the study. In particular, pedestrian deaths were seen as skyrocketing up twenty-five percent between 2010 and 2015. “Pedestrians now account for 15 percent of all traffic deaths, according to the GHSA report,” reads the article.

The article suggested several contributing factors; more people driving ; likewise, they suggested texting or using smartphones or cell phones might play a role, as such devices have grown in use. What was telling though was that finally, they acknowledged that while drivers can be distracted by such devices, so could pedestrians.

Many drivers have horrible attention spans -- which you can see if you are a cyclist. If you bike, you know the dangers of the road, and try to mitigate them, usually by hanging more lights on your bike in the evening hours, wearing bright clothes or helmet, or even choosing a lane position that makes you more potentially visible. However, if the driver isn't looking, or thinking about what they are looking at, this is no help.

But likewise, if you bike, you have had encounters with careless pedestrians. Pedestrians who step across the street without looking, pausing, or making sure no one on a vehicle (bicycle, car, bus) is coming. Some of them are distracted by electronics or some other thing, but for many it just seems a learned habit of carelessness -- they do not look or take any care to ensure their own safety or that of anyone around them who could also be hurt if they cause a crash (like a cyclist not protected inside a car). I firmly believe a large part of this is how we treat pedestrians.

Unlike physically separating cyclists from car traffic, such as divided bike paths (not "lanes" if they have a physical barrier, as lane markings occur on the street), separating pedestrians from vehicle traffic -- both bikes and cars -- makes sense. This is why we have sidewalks separated from the contiguous road surface. And when there is no sidewalk the convention is often for pedestrians to walk against traffic, physically separating themselves by being not only off to the side -- because after all a bicycle could be off to the side in the same spot -- but by moving against traffic, not with it, something you are not supposed to do on a bicycle. However, this sort of separation leads to one not only being divided from the rest of the traffic, but no longer treated as part of it -- see what happens in New York where they sometimes have had physically separated bike "lanes" that are really paths no longer connected to the road. Since these "lanes" which are really paths are no longer part of the road, physically, the pedestrians considered them part of the sidewalk and invariably took them over and clogged them, leading to close calls and some accidents. Of course, the predictable happened, and the cyclists were blamed. Back in the Ed Koch days, after many bad experiences with divided bike "lane" paths, which also include being trapped in the "lane" and not being able to turn off when you come to your next turn without hopping a curb or climbing over a barrier -- unlike riding on the street -- many cyclists stopped using the bike "lanes" that were physically separated. They found that being trapped on a collision course with any obstacle (pedestrian, debris, etc.), unable to deviate from the lane to ride around it, or just turn off to go somewhere, and the increased nature of such dangers being higher because pedestrians were thinking the lanes were sidewalks, they decided no thanks.

But why did the "lane"-paths get taken over by peds? Simple: they were separate from the road, where the traffic is. So pedestrians didn't think there was anything wrong with walking willy nilly all over them. In other words, separating can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on context (separate foot traffic from vehicles, because they are not vehicles, do not separate bikes, as they are vehicle traffic on the roadway) but what it always does is remove that which is separated from the rest of traffic.

An interesting note on this is that when you are not talking of paved surfaces, mixing pedestrians and bike traffic to some degree becomes not only possible but works greatly. Mountain bikers and hikers – even sometimes horse riders -- often share the same trails, and have for years. But on paved multiuse paths, there are constant run-ins between pedestrians and cyclists. While it is worth noting that in literally all the ones that made the news, the culpable party appeared to be the pedestrian, the question arises, why is this? Whether it is some difference in attention span, the lower speeds of a cyclist on a dirt trail compared to on the road, or just overall less traffic in the woods than on paved bike-jogging path, the point is the only place I know of where mixing peds and bikes works is on the trail. Maybe, if some people really want to advocate building bike paths, they should look into why this is. In the meantime, however, mixing pedestrians and vehicles on pavement is always a poor idea, which is why you don't walk like a car – or a cyclist.

Likewise, separating bicycles like pedestrians is disastrous -- look at every kid you've ever seen riding the wrong way. How would he move out to go around a roadside hazard or make a left turn if he is going head on into traffic?

Back to pedestrians. It makes sense to separate them – but when they end that separation by entering traffic they need to think differently because then they are part of traffic. However this doesn’t seem to happen much anymore. Instead, in practical terms, pedestrians – separated from traffic -- are no more likely than the town planners who separated them in the first place to consider themselves part of the traffic interaction, but rather some distinct thing. This poses a problem because when they enter traffic that separation physically ends – but is still in their mindset! Well if you are not part of traffic why look for it? Why consider the havoc it can wreak on a road if you jump into it without looking? And so on.

This is buttressed by how we as a society attempt to address pedestrian safety; it is always to say to the rest of the people on the roadway, stop, slow, flashing lights! To some degree this is good but it can go overboard. They have even put signs IN the roadway, where they create a collision hazard for cyclists or cars trying to leave cyclists safe room when passing them, depending if the signs are in the centerline or the side of the lane. And all of this effort simultaneously tells the pedestrians that the world will stop for them. This is counterproductive and encourages people not to pay attention and consider themselves separate from the road or even the laws of physics. All of this by the way may be unconscious, but what it does is lead to a situation where actually, jumping out without looking for traffic is perfectly normal -- if you have been taught that the world will stop on a dime for you and leave you eight cents change. Coupled with any electronic distraction, this could be deadly, and apparently is.

Of course, a driver behind the wheel can do a lot more harm, but while many drivers’ attention is abominable, the pedestrian inattentiveness appears -- anecdotally at least -- more widespread. I couldn't say nearly every driver I see daily was using a cell phone or otherwise acting inappropriately -- maybe a third or a quarter of them. That's still too many, but compare it to the fact that if I actually see a pedestrian stop and look before crossing the street, it's so rare I actually make a note of it. I haven't seen any this week AT ALL. We as a society need to encourage both vehicle operators AND pedestrians to be careful, of themselves and others. It is nice this brief article mentioned both sides.

That said, I do have one major complaint about it, and as a cyclist, you probably would too: The article talks of pedestrians and drivers, but never mentions cyclists. What are we, invisible?

Apparently, and not just on the road, but also in the newsroom.

And that will have to change even before road safety will, because a lot of the things that endanger cyclists (or pedestrians, or anyone else not in a car) are not a big concern to drivers protected inside a giant steel carapace, and therefore, without consideration for the concerns of cyclists, there may never be enough momentum to overcome the inertia of our present situation and seriously address these issues, so all of us -- on foot, on a bicycle, or behind the wheel of a car -- can have safer, more efficient, and ultimately, more pleasant roadways.


Brian 4/03/17





There were several things to come out of a public meeting on the new Watchung Trail plan held March 7, 2017 at the Trailside Nature Center, but one of them was the amount of anti-bike sentiment held by a small segment of the population, chiefly those who live near the park and have for over 20 years viewed it as their private kingdom. To these people the idea of mountain bike access is frightening, largely because they are used to seeing the park as their own private space. This was never more evident than when a handful of them actually described parkland near their yards as their "backyard", meaning it, apparently, literally. However, it is not their yard, but county land we all pay for. While it is understandable these people are used to the way things are, it does not necessarily follow that the way things are is right, or wise, or fair. This was illustrated by the fact that none of them really tried to defend the ban on mountain biking, or the secretive way it was implemented two decades ago.

Given the amount of misperceptions about mountain biking that were voiced, perhaps more effort is needed to educate the public. However, given the degree of emotion (read, hate and anger) from the anti-bike contingent, it is hard to say how to accomplish that. Many cyclists came to the meeting prepared to explain and debate; the anti-bike people came prepared not to listen. The main objections weren't things like concern over trail use, safety, etc. -- things that could be addressed. They were ideologically motivated objections to the idea of even seeing a biker through the trees, even on a seperate trail.

At the end, some of the cyclists were finally given a chance to speak -- after over two hours of nonstop bike bashing. Hopefully, the county people present were able to take away which side was reasonable and only wants some fair access to the county's biggest park, where there is room for all, and which was hysterical and over-reacting to a threat to a status quo that was born in a backroom two decades ago, in an end run around the democratic process and the facts which should never have happened in the first place.


Brian 3/10/17





A Goodbye to a River.

There are many good things coming out of the effort to regain mountain bike access at Watchung, but I feel compelled to note that there is one thing that is not so rosy. That is the trail access we have lost.

As mentioned at the October Trailside meeting, contractor CME appears to have come up with not just a new trail plan for Watchung Reservation, but for the entire county. As part of that, when new “no bike” signs were posted, they weren’t just posted at Watchung, where they had been before the signs were taken down in December, they were also posted at many other county parks, where there had never been any. In short, although we should be gaining trail access at Watchung, we are losing it elsewhere.

The gain may be greater than the loss in terms of mileage; the trail at Watchung is supposed to be nearly 14 miles. That is massive amount of riding compared to some of the other tiny local parks, where the trails are only a few miles long. However, short or not, that loss still hurts, because some of us grew up on those tiny trails as much as Watchung.

Before I even had a mountain bike, I rode a tiny trail by the Passaic river. I used my bmx bike, even a stingray that I’d modified with lower gearing, stripped of fenders and chain guard, and fitted with knobby tires. I have many fond memories of riding those trails, then going across the road and following a section of narrow singletrack along the river all the way to the next town.

And of course, once I got my first mountain bike it became a regular haunt. I went to Watchung too, but this trail was literally a few blocks away; I used it all the time. I actually knew every nook and cranny. When a tree fell, I noticed it; when a rock was moved, I could tell.

I remember one day booking it along the trail on the other side of the road, along the river, way down near the town border, alongside the river, keeping pace with a huge bird with long legs that was taking off from the water like it was a runway. It is where I really learned to appreciate nature, a sort of mini-Watchung, really, and even after the closure of the bigger Watchung park, I still had that tiny park. There were no “no bike” signs there. There, I was safe from the petty politicking and bigoted views of those whose only reaction to what they don’t understand is to condemn it. Rarely did I see anyone else back there. I often saw tire tracks so I knew others rode there; sometimes I would see people walking dogs but rarely, only one or two locals who lived nearby.

One summer I built a set of stepping stones across a creek that bisected the trail, spending many hours at it. Now there is a wooden bridge there. The stepping stones are gone.

The trail has also been altered. The original trail head is overgrown and the first part of the trail has been moved far from its origin. At the other end, much of the terrain was altered by liberal use of a bulldozer, destroying some nice rises and a short steep climb I always enjoyed.

Still, I continued riding there. I rode after a relationship ended; it put a smile on my face despite my sadness. One day, I was laid off from my job after the company lost a lot of business and needed to cut staff. Rather than sit and mope, I got out my bike and rode to the trail. As I headed out to where the blacktop ended, my spirits lifted. Birds sang and sun reflected off the waters of the muddy river and for a short time, as the tires hummed, all was right with my world.

Now, there are at least two “no bike” signs on the trail. Oddly, the signs reference an ordinance at the bottom that regulates riding on “roads” “paths” and “sidewalks” but there are none of those listed on the big signboard map that’s posted at the trailhead, right next to the signs. Instead, there are only “trails”. Trails that have meant a great deal to me, despite being small and otherwise insignificant.

Had the trail been closed before, would I still be a cyclist? Would I have known those carefree moments in my youth, developed a love of the outdoors that remains part of me to this day? Would I be who am, or something less?

The answer, it seems, is obvious to me, and it is not good. Which is why, as glad as I am about progress at Watchung, I am saddened by the loss of my local, tiny trail.

I am also puzzled by the logic behind it. Why close it? What is gained by denying people enjoyment of the outdoors? I do not know.

I only know that the next generation of local riders have been denied what I had growing up, and that is very, very sad.


Brian 2/25/17





The Smashed Apple? NYC Mayor defends drunk driving on CNN.

Maybe he had too many Long Island Iced Teas? That could only be the first thought of sober viewers when Mayor DeBlasio of New York recently went on CNN and ended up dismissing drunk driving as a “minor” offense not worth taking seriously. The Mayor said that if Pres. Trump seeks to enforce his policy of cutting funding to cities that flout federal immigration law, he would challenge it in court. While it is not my intent here to debate immigration (or the new President), what is of special note to cyclists is that DeBlasio specifically said he would refuse to comply with immigration by not reporting illegal aliens stopped for "minor offenses". His definition of that explicitly included "grand larceny" and – wait for it - -"drunk driving".

"DE BLASIO: Jake… we’re not going to see families torn apart over a very minor offense. TAPPER: But is grand larceny or drunk driving a very minor offense? DE BLASIO: Drunk driving that does not lead to any other negative outcome – I would define it as that [a very minor offense]. That, I think, could be a good model for how we proceed as a nation."

A good model? Campagnolo save us!

And no he wasn't joking.

Okay, someone should tell Hizzoner that New York City has a huge cyclist population -- and they are often endangered by lawless drivers. Now, when presented with an opportunity to cut that danger -- turn over to the feds the names of people who should be deported anyway, under the law -- he says, nah, let's let em keep driving drunk.

To be fair, what he said was, when specifically asked if he'd class drunk driving as a "minor" offense, he said, well, long as they don’t hit anyone! I’m not making this up. So, if a guy drives drunk and manages not to hit someone, it's okay in the big apple (if they are illegal) -- but if he hits someone, then presumabbly it's a "serious offense". With all due respect Mr. Mayor, by then, it is TOO LATE -- someone has been hit! Drunk driving, like talking on the cell phone while driving, or speeding, etc., is often a pattern of behavior. Many offenders don't just do it once. So the same guy who you class as a "minor" offender might later hit someone... let's face it, this is a big deal. There is NOTHING minor about driving drunk! Especially, again, given the mix of city traffic, which often includes many bicyclists. Cycling Americans should not be put at increased risk of being hit by cars because a pol has a political axe to grind (nor should anyone else). This isn't even about immigration -- when you are talking drunk driving, it's about public safety.

For some, this issue will be about Trump. For others, it's about people breaking the immigration laws, or cities who look the other way for that (something that seems odd to me, but maybe I'm just old fashioned). To the guy in the street, whether on a bike, or in a car -- but especially if you are a bicyclist -- this issue is about none of the above. It's about not being run over.

Mayor DeBlasio had a chance to cut that risk dramatically by making a start at getting rid of a goodly number of drunk driving offenders. Instead, he said, "cheers" and wished them happy travels. Cyclists -- whether to the political left or right -- should remember this. Whatever you think of his politics, Hizzoner seems no friend of cyclists and road safety on this issue.


Brian 2/3/17





While I want to laud all the progress being made on the issue of mountain bike access at Watchung, I do want to address one major point, which is that a handful of people in the government can't seem to let go of the archaic and bizarre idea of people registering with the government in order to ride the trails.

This dangerous idea is without precedent for regular trail use (bicycling, hiking, dog walking etc.) at a local or county park. Yes, for hunting, or the county archery range, people are required to purchase ID and admission -- and this makes sense given they would essentially be shooting weapons. However, no county park in NJ that encourages biking (which is most of them!) requires you to register with the government. And there is no “argument” for such a thing that does not fall apart when you look at other parks, all over New Jersey, where it is not done and never has been.

With all the good work being done, just remember: as long as this idea remains fixed in the brains of a handful of government people, the trails will never truly be "open".

The first battle is recognizing mountain biking as a legitimate and healthy activity. That has been accomplished; the freeholders are on board with the idea. Next was a trail plan; that has been done; 14 new miles are on their way.

The final battle will be fighting to overcome the Orwellian idea that some park users are more "equal" than others, namely, by getting rid of the arbitrary and capricious requirement that cyclists register themselves with the government in order to use a public resource that should be shared equitably and fairly by all.


Brian 01/17/17





Recent news, old news – sabotage on trails shows bike bashers still a problem.

Recent news of sabotage at South Mountain in Essex Co. New Jersey, reminded one of the sabotage that took place at High Mountain. In a news article on that, there were some interesting comments, including one person who asked, regarding sabotage targeting bikes: ”Are mountain bikes allowed there?” The answer is in the case of High Mountain, yes, but even if mountain bikes were not allowed, how does a mentally normal person go from "someone's riding where there's a rule not to" to "I think I'll injure random people in the woods"? There's no moral equivalency there.

The irony is that that is how many anti-mountain biking folk justify such sabotage. "Oh, bikes are bad..."

Someone should tell them hurting people is bad. You know, stuff most of us learned by the time we were five.

But some people don’t learn, as evidenced by the fact that the trail sabotage at South Mountain seemed directed at bikers. In particular, someone posted a picture on the web of one of the wires they strung across a trail, and then a picture of their dog, a massive, unleashed Rottweiler with the interesting name of “Moses”.

The caption to the pic was a gripe about bikes “ruining” a trail, and a statement that “Got Moses on Guard.”

Apparently this guy is patrolling the park like an anti-bike vigilante…. And possibly sabotaging it.

Someone should tell him if he is so hung up on cyclists “breaking the rules” that there is a rule against unleashed dogs at most NJ county parks, including South Mountain. Someone should also tell him there is a rule against walking around with an attack dog and threatening people, or sabotaging the trails.

Just for the sake of argument, what does he think will happen if he encounters one of the bikers he hates? Sic his dog on them? Have it rip their throat out? Maul them to death?

Then you have the biker is injured or dead, the dog gets shot or put down, and the thug goes to prison.

I mean, what else does he think is going to happen?

And then there’s the sabotage. If it’s the same guy, that is also not only illegal, put also potentially injurious and deadly.

And he justifies this how? He doesn’t like bikes?

Yes, Essex County has a “no mountain bike” policy ---based on an archaic ordinance that was never actually intended to be about mountain bikes, but the wording does cover the activity. It is one of the very few places in NJ to ban what is otherwise a well received and accepted healthy outdoor activity. But who appointed this man judge jury and executioner? Especially since, rule or not, riding a bike is a relatively harmless activity. How do you go from that to threatening people with a Rottweiler and barbed wire? The answer is you don’t, not if you are even remotely all there upstairs.

Hopefully the police catch this evil-doer before his stalking the park with an attack dog and barbed wire hurts someone.

However, in the meantime, even if he is arrested, we still have to deal with the aspect of this and other such incidents that mostly goes unacknowledged; the supposedly “legit” side. While thugs stalking the woods looking for violence or sabotaging trails is illegal, supposedly mainstream, respectable anti-mountain bike advocates’ actions are not. Often they work within the system of government and laws, to lobby, shape policy, and otherwise attempt to do what the thugs and saboteurs do – but “legally”.

Sadly, these same people often lay the intellectual ground work for the zealots or wackos who would rather use barbed wire and spikes than the cudgel of government policy. Maybe we should consider that many times, the so called "respectable" mountain bike opponent has the same bully nature as his sabotaging brethren, he just initiates his force "legally". But it still amounts to the same desire to bar other people from using public lands -- usually out of a selfish desire to not share. In other words, in their heart of hearts, they aren’t all that different.

I bike, hike, and do other stuff. I cannot understand how one could want to restrict an activity just because they don't participate in it. I understand even less how someone could engage in sabotage or violence over it. But unlike many I do see the connection between the two. If this wasn't some totally random sicko but targeted at mountain bikers, as is so often the case, and seems so here, we have to consider that the perpetrator is not solely at fault. Some blame, morally at least, rests with those who are constantly trying to define mountain bikers as outside of acceptable society, thereby making us a target for those who go to criminal extremes along the same lines.


Brian 01/02/17





"A hand on the wrench"

The 12-11-16 Sunday Star-Ledger article was déjà vu all over again. The two-page spread on the closing of Efingers, a longtime sports store in Bound Brook, New Jersey, had a real punch, because I had just been there. Considering trying archery, I walked into the store shocked to see bare shelves and missing merchandise. An older gentleman at the counter helped me out, and explained they were closing. Then he called over another fellow, closer to my age, who was also very knowledgeable. I explained what I needed and my ignorance of the subject; he got some shafts, points, etc. and made up a handful of arrows right there for me, out of what they had left in stock. They had no bows, however, but the two people helped greatly with suggestions giving freely of their knowledge and experience.

What they really reminded me of was a good local bike shop, where the owner or mechanic knows his stuff and is not only someone who offers a valuable service, but a storehouse of information, much of it gathered over the years.

Some of that information and experience is irreplaceable. There are not a lot of new bikes being sold with downtube or friction shifters, for example, so a mechanic starting out today might only see them on used bikes, as repairs. But a mechanic who has been in the business for years may well have installed them or worked on them on new bikes and know more. Same for any number of other things.

While I am always learning about bikes, it has been a long time since I was a complete newb in terms of knowledge base. I have even been in some bike shops where it seemed I knew more than the employee! So going into Efingers to learn about another sport, in which I was a total newb, was eye opening. It only reinforced the importance of the local shop, be it your local bike shop, hardware store, or sporting goods store such as Efingers. An argument has been made, no big deal, just buy online.

That might work for some things, but as I’ve written before, it doesn’t work so well if you want the advice of the shop, or to try out the bike (or bow, or whatever). I could have looked at a hundred photos of bows online (and I did, of course), but no photo or even youtube video review will tell you how it feels in the hand, how it shoots, how the draw weight feels. Just like, no photo on Trek’s website (to pick on one big-name bike brand) will tell you how a bike feels in motion, the feel of the gearing it comes with, or even necessarily if it fits you. (Yes, some web sites publish frame sizes, but these measurements are so non-standard nowadays as to me more confusing than helpful. Sloping toptubes, theoretical toptubes, and the use of varying tubing materials and diameters, which make center to center measurements almost meaningless, don’t make guessing bike fit based on a number on a screen easy.

And, while theoretically the interweb could feature “chats” corresponding back and forth with online sellers, this will never be as effective or take the place of going into a store and having the folks there help you fit to or try a bike (or other merchandise).

I don’t know whether online sales are the culprit (or just a factor) in Efinger’s demise, although the increasing purchase of goods online was mentioned in the article on the store’s closing. But it is sad whenever the in-person access to knowledge and experience in any sport or activity is lost.

We have seen this as cyclists when bike shops have gone out of business, something that, sadly, has happened all too recently over the past years, both in this area, in downtown Somerville, in Union, in Madison or Summit. Yes sometimes another bike store opens in the same town, as in the example of Summit, or Madison, where Hilltop stores have replaced the Summit bike shop, and Sal’s old store on King’s Rd., respectively. And even if the store is not replaced with another, sure the knowledge of the long-time employees or owners won’t necessarily vanish; they may stay involved in that sport’s community as participants, post online, or even write a book.

But the ability to walk into the store and talk to them across a counter, previously available to each and every one of us, is gone forever.

And that’s a loss.

As the world moves more and more towards an online, digital approach to everything, let’s not forget the analog world outside your computer screen. There is a value to your local bike, or sports shop.

The internet may be wonderful for many things. But it is no substitute for a hand on the wrench, or the decades of experience guiding it.


Brian 12/02/16





The Forgotten "Alternative Option"

As progress is (presumably) made on an updated trail plan for Watchung, supposedly one with seperate trails, it pays to recall something that came out of my 2014 OPRA requests regarding the mountain bike ban at Watchung. (see included image of my very first OPRA request. You'll note the county's response was that they had none of the information to release, because "the freeholders didn't act" to ban mountain biking with legislation, nor were there any trails studies or other documentation of the situation at Watchung). One thing that few realize is that the 1995 closed door meeting where unelected employees created the ban actually did not mean that mountain bikers had to lose access to Watchung.

The first part of the decision was to close many existing trails to mountain biking. However, the second part was to develop “alternative” trails for mountain bikers to ride on in Watchung Reservation. A share plan grew out of this and was supposed to be implemented by 1996, but it was truly nonsensical, a mishmash of bizarre and contradictory proposals; one suggestion was cyclists pay a fee to get a pass, as if this was a private ski lodge and not a public park. The others weren’t much better. It was not a surprise no one attempted to implement this plan; it was intended, apparently, as window dressing, to trick cyclists into not opposing the ban. What is surprising is that few know about it. I had been studying the issue for weeks and never knew that they had promised to build other trails for the bikers to use – or that it had fallen through. But it is easy to see why it has been kept secret. A county that has a history of tricking people would not be well regarded.

Still, the issue of the forgotten alternative option is there to remind citizens that even in a backroom decision made behind closed doors, with no public input, the government was still concerned with mollifying the citizens. And although they sent out fliers blaming mountain bikers for trail ills and indulged in other sorts of scape-goating, at the end of the day, they knew all the things they were saying weren’t true. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have planned to allow mountain biking anywhere in the park, even if they didn’t go through with it, or intend to. And, of course, there’s the issue of that pesky 1983 ordinance. If it really forbade mountain biking in Watchung, then how could they offer alternative mountain biking trails – in Watchung? After all, does the ordinance not apply equally to the entire park? An objection might be, well, those new trails would be just for bikers. Perhaps (And maybe that’s why they were never built!). However, one is still left with many questions.

The primary one, of course, is if the citizens were tricked before into thinking they’d be let back into Watchung, and could they be tricked again?


Brian 11/19/16



A public service announcement to mountain bike opponents: Be fair to yourself and others: learn about the subject before taking a side.

When it comes to opponents of mountain biking trail access (such as in the situation with Watchung Reservation in Union County, NJ) there tend to be two types of people.

Type one is the person who might not have anything against mountain bikers, but, not engaging in mountain biking themselves, or knowing of the subject, has some general concerns about trail interaction, safety, etc.

Type two is the zealot, the person who simply thinks bikers are reckless, bad, evil, that we consume human souls or eat babies.

Obviously there is not much you can do with the zealot -- his opposition is essentially ideologically driven, so addressing any specific concerns he raises will not convince him. And in some cases he may flat out dismiss facts that he does not like or finds inconvenient to his narrative or ideology.

The first sort of person, however, is essentially not anti-mountain bike, but merely lacking in knowledge and context. And that is something that can be addressed.

If you are someone who has what you think are actual concerns about how mountain bikers can safely interact with other trail users, or if they will ruin the trails, or any similar concerns, then please, be fair to yourself and to mountain bikers: learn about these issues before taking a side!

I realize not everyone has time to research every issue. But if you care about mountain biking enough to take an opinion on it, please learn about it first -- and not just from the bike hating zealots. Talk to actual mountain bikers -- many of them are also hikers or road cyclists or engage in other activities, so chances are you may already know some and not be aware of it; you may just know them as roadies or fishermen or something else. Or stop by a bike shop. Mountain bike groups like JORBA have web sites with information, as well.

Generally speaking, what you are likely to hear about mountain biking is only the anti-biking side, so take some time to investigate the other view on the issue. It may put many of your concerns in context, and you may come to the conclusion there is no reason to oppose mountain biking trail access after all.

Again, I realize not everyone can research every issue. But if you care enough about it to take a side, please have the respect for others and yourself to learn the facts.

Thank you.


Brian 11/13/16



"According to what I have been told, the cops are ticketing mt. bikers in Watchung. Just a warning."




Brian 11/12/16


Misleading, confusing statements about Watchung obscure the truth.

Many good things came out of the October 20, 2016 trailside meeting on mountain bike access at Watchung Reservation, but one that puzzled me was the speaker from the parks department saying “I don’t know where anyone got the idea that there is no ordinance”, or words to that effect. At first I was troubled by this – then I realized it was a positive sign. That he even raised the issue of doubts about the ban’s legitimacy was an indication that those doubts are coming to light. Why even bring that up – unless you feel you have to? In this sense, rather than a call for us to buy trail access by helping the county whitewash the past, it seemed this statement might be a sign we are further along the road to a better understanding of the truth of mountain biking at Watchung, and therefore, ultimately, fair access for mountain biking.

Still, it also highlights one of the problems with the effort to get trail access at Watchung Reservation: that half the time no one knows what they are talking about, and the other half the time they are talking about the opposite of what they have said elsewhere. We need look no further than the fact that the new "no bike signs" posted this past August on trails in Watchung (and other parks) cite an ordinance about roads, sidewalks, and paths -- but are posted on what are marked on county maps, and have been for years, as "trails". In fact, in the infamous Mt. biking White Paper from 1995, defending the decision to ban us, parks employees go even further, saying much of the park's trail network consists of narrow winding single-track. Does this sound like paths or sidewalks to anyone?

Second, we can also look at the fact that Mountain Biking was banned by unelected officials in 1995 -- but the ordinance they say bans mountain biking on county trails (which doesn't contain any thing about mountain biking, or the word "trail") was enacted in 1983! (has the county invented time travel and not told anyone?) Also, in my original summer of 2014 OPRA requests, I requested the minutes of the meeting at which whatever ordinance banned mountain biking was passed, as well as everything related to the passage of an ordinance, such as notice published to the public and any commentary at the meeting. I received only the minutes, which means they either never complied fully with the OPRA request, or no notice was published, which makes the legality and proper implementation of this ordinance -- even if it not about mountain biking per se -- questionable.

Third, in the minutes from 1983 there was no indication of the purpose of the ordinance -- it wasn't even mentioned, being enacted in a block with other ordinances and buried between this and that number ordinances which were all enacted at once, with no commentary or debate about mountain biking. Even in 1983, when mountain biking was in its early years, if the ordinance had been enacted to ban it, there should have been some outcry from one side or the other.

Also, since we have no ideas of the intent of the ordinance beyond the ordinance itself, it is all the more important it be read literally and not said to regulate things that aren't even in it. So far as I know this is the only ordinance in the county code that never actually contains words referring to what it is alleged to be about.

Fourth, when Union County Spokesman Delia was interviewed for the July, 2014 Star-Ledger article on this issue, he confessed he had no idea why mountain biking was banned, and mentioned no ordinance or law. Similarly, is have the fact that when the county provided, in response to a December 2015 OPRA request on enforcement, the only ticket it admits to giving in the last ten years for mountain biking at Watchung, the ticket didn't contain any ordinance. In the spot for the ordinance or law violated, the officer simply wrote "bike". Was this because even he didn't know what the ordinance was? (it is also worth noting the officer – like county maps – correctly described the location as a “trail”)

And lastly, the county to this day seems confused. There are apparently paved paths in the reservation -- it lists on its own website that these are "trails" and says they are open for biking -- but they are clearly paved paths. Yet, paths and paved things like sidewalks are precisely what the 1983 ordinance *does* mention prohibiting for riding. So, the ordinance bans what it is not about, but you are allowed to ride where it clearly prohibits riding? Either these people are sloppy, or they are deliberately trying to make people think you can mountain bike in Watchung – then springing a gotcha “oh, these are wheelchair accessible and paved.” It’s worth noting that I first noticed this reference to biking trails that are not trails in the sense of the trails on the county maps which we all know and would like to ride, shortly after the February meeting at the Galloping Hills Golf course two years ago. When I first saw it I imagined it was progress. Then I read what it was really about and realized it was either misinformation or a desperate cry for a subscription to hooked on phonics.

Further confusion: Union County has created a mountain bike related web page. It has been blank for months, not a surprise, but what is a surprise is that under “status” that is also blank, no mention of a ban. Nor does the county parks main web page say mountain biking is illegal. However, their facebook page featured a post with a picture of some unkind fellow posting one of the new “no bike” signs and a statement that mountain biking was illegal. Why not on their regular web site (which never had any statement about mountain biking, and its park timeline never even acknowledged that it happened, let alone was banned in ‘95?) Do they not want people to see it?

And back to it being “illegal” – under what law? Yes the county policy is currently no mountain biking, even as they have promised since two years ago, to open some trails to mountain bikers. But the very 1983 ordinance on the signs itself doesn’t appear to be about mountain biking or the trails at all! And then we have the county’s very first OPRA response, where they wrote: “The freeholders did not act to ban mountain biking”. Yes, they mentioned “an old ordinance”, but wouldn’t that have to be passed by the freeholders? Which would imply that it wasn’t intended to ban mountain biking?

Some mountain bike opponents argue that looking at what the trails really are (not "paths" and "sidewalks") and what is actually in the ordinance (not "mountain biking" or anything about bikes on "trails" -- or even the word "trail" at all) is some kind of verbal trickery. Sorry, it is not. The words that go into legislation are very important. If they meant to ban mountain biking on county trails in 1983 with an ordinance -- instead of in 1995 by fiat in a backroom meeting – Union County had ample chance to put something about it in there. They did not. To allow the meaning and scope of legislation to be altered after the fact on a whim, without first amending or changing the legislation, undercuts the very reason we have laws at all. Meanwhile, the ambiguity inherent in this form of government, if you can call it that, means that to this day some don't know what happened -- or refuse to believe it.

And, of course, all if this ignores the fact that even if there were a law or ordinance, that doesn’t automatically make it right. Plenty of bad laws have actually existed. Think the Sedition Act, Segregation, and the Income Tax. But it is even worse when a bad policy is based on a myth of an “ordinance” that was never apparently enacted to ban what it is said to ban!

Ultimately, this is what happens when government decisions are conducted in secret. It has been a chore to find out what happened 20 years ago -- precisely because there is no clear legislation behind the county's no mountain biking policy. Combined with a decision made in a backroom by the unelected, and no documentation of the situation at Watchung at the time -- including any problem with biking there -- this raises serious questions about what is or isn't against the law. The answer to those questions seems clear: There is no law or ordinance on the books banning mountain biking.

Please note, I am not suggesting everyone go ride there while the signs are still up. Nor however am I saying do not. I personally have chosen to not ride there since the new anti-bike signs went back up, not because I believe there is a law, but because I am involved in the process of trying to work for trail access and have chosen to avoid confrontation. However, it is – or should be – a free country, so ride or don’t ride as you wish. Until they actually pass a law against it no one can call you a “scofflaw”

And hopefully the day will come when we can all ride without worrying about hassled. After all, this isn’t some horrible controversial issue. We’re talking about going out for a pleasant bicycle ride. What could be more simple?


Brian 11/7/16





Make sure to vote -- no!

Election 2016 is coming, and while the hype may be reserved for the Presidential election, right here at the county level another question is looming that all cyclists should find it easy to agree on: Paying for what you aren't allowed to use.

Once again, the ballot contains a public question on the Open Space fund and tax -- this time it is Question No.3. The question asks citizens to support extending the open space fund and tax as well as allow money to be used for debt service. While open space or historical preservation may be good goals, this fund has been abused in the past -- see my hometown of Berkeley Hs., New Jersey, where "open space" funds were used to tear down trees and put in a fake grass ballfield and parking lot, hardly what the creators of the open space policy seem to have intended.

But beyond misusing funds for projects that are clearly not open space, there is a more basic problem: county policy itself. As of right now, Union County does not allow mountain biking. This past August, when the county posted new "no bike" signs, they posted them not just at Watchung Reservation, where there had been some before, but at other parks that never had them, indicating the county is now making the ban a widespread issue. This means that any land that falls under the boot of the county government becomes closed to you as a cyclist.

While some in the county have promised to work to open trails at Watchung to mountain biking, nothing has yet materialized, nor have they moved to end their 20 year ban on mountain biking which was concocted in a backroom meeting by unelected officials, with no public input, and no documentation of trail conditions let alone problems with bikes on the trails at Watchung (the park for which this now county wide ban was apparently created).

As long as cyclists are not allowed to ride the trails in county parks, Watchung or elsewhere, we should not approve handing more of our money over to those who exclude us. If the county doesn't allow mountain biking, then let it do without our money as well as our park use. Hopefully (2017, as the county has said?) the time will come when this might not be as much of an issue. But for now, and until you can ride on the parks you pay for, make sure to vote no. If they aren't going to let you ride there, they shouldn't take your money, either.


Brian 11/3/16





Trailside meeting draws a full house to support mountain bike access.

The auditorium at the trailside center at Watchung Reservation was packed October 20th as mountain bikers and supporters showed up to hear about and comment on the new trail plan put together by consultant CMA Associates.

Some stand-out moments from the 10-20-2016 meeting:

“The bikes aren’t the problem. The county is the problem!” – hiker concerned over poor maintenance of trails and park in general.

“The points I’ve been making and other people have been making have been about transparency and access. I get what you’ve been saying about patience…. But I think we’ve been patient for about six years, or maybe twenty years. I hope that the message after tonight from every mountain biker here to the county is please give us a plan for getting this open, we’ve been waiting for twenty years and it’s only fair to open it up.” – mountain biker from Westfield.

“If you set the precedent that they can charge for access, even indirectly by requiring you to comply with a registration requirement, you risk gaining paid access to a few trails in Union County but losing free access to every trail in the state of New Jersey” – Brian Matula (me), biker, commenting on the suggestion that cyclists pay a fee and register their bike to ride in Watchung on trails they’ve already paid for with massive taxes.

“Why are mountain bikers third class citizens?” – citizen commenting on the fact that mountain biker trails marked on the map displayed at the meeting were the smallest allotted of the three groups of hikers, equestrians, and then bikers.

And the highlight: A young kid who opined that when he first saw the new “no bike” signs when his father took him to the park, he “thought they were a bad joke.” The innocent view of this young rider quite summed up how many people, seeing the issue for what it is, without the politics and nonsense that has become attached to it, would react to the idea of going to such trouble just to prevent people from getting outside and having fun.

There were only two people who spoke out against mountain biking; a runner who said he’s okay with bikers elsewhere, but at Watchung they’ve been rude, and a “trail steward” who said that mountain bikers talk about doing trail work but they haven’t shown up to help at Watchung until recently.

To the first, one can only assume he has had very bad luck to run into a few bad apples. Or perhaps poor people skills?

The second is actually amusing, because it actually helps the case for mountain biking.

Yes, by banning mountain bikers, you remove any incentive for them to help with trail work at a park they can’t officially ride. Why is this a surprise? And why does it make you contemptuous of mountain bikers? Would you volunteer to help at a park where you were banned? Bikers only helped out recently because that was when the no bike signs came down and people thought the county was opening the park; they didn’t before because they had no reason to. At an August trail work session for instance, over half the volunteers were cyclists. However, only days later, new no bike signs went up, a reversal souring any goodwill and discouraging any future trail work efforts by bikers, until they get park access.

But except for those two, the support for mountain biking access was the order of the day. And lastly, the room was full. Many people came from all over and spent the better part of two hours listening speaking up, and being involved. At one point the room was so crowded people were standing in the back. It was estimated there were about a hundred people at one point.

Thanks especially to Burt, Matt, Matt S., Tom, the guys from Hilltop Bicycles, Joe, and all the others I didn’t know who showed up. And thanks especially to Mr. Seebeck of JORBA, the Jersey Offroad Bicycling Association, who came from far away to be there and advocate for cycling access.

Now some questions that emerged:

First, what about the new no bike signs that were posted in places besides for Watchung, that never had them before? It seems CME was designing not just a new trail plan for Watchung but for the whole county, which would imply these new bike prohibitions at other parks are part of the same. This raises a concern: Could the plan result in a net loss of trail access rather than a gain? If we get access to trails at Watchung but lose access at every other place in the county, where there never were no bike signs before, that would not be a good thing.

Second, the contractor CME said they were seriously considering registration to ride in the Reservation, when the subject was brought up. This as I stated at the meeting would set a dangerous precedent and risk free park access at every other park, as governments are always looking for alternative revenue streams. And of course, under such a plan the trails will not truly be open, not in the sense of every other public park. Cyclists have already paid for these trails with their tax dollars despite not being able to use them for years; if anything the county owes cyclists back fees, not the other way around!

And lastly, when asked outright if they have consulted with other county park managers etc. to get information on how to implement mountain biking access, Union County’s Ron Zuber said they have not talked to park managers from other counties, like Morris, where there is mountain biking, in order to get advice. He said that since the next county over is Essex, and they don’t allow mountain biking at South Mountain, there was no point in asking other counties. Does he forget that Union County is surrounded by other counties besides Essex? With almost all the rest of the state allowing mountain biking, why look to the one other county that also has a similar backwards policy? Moreover, if they haven’t been pursuing this, what have they been doing for two years since the February meeting at Galloping Hill Golf Course (where we were promised the plan would be implemented in “a few months”)?

Also, Dan Bernier and some other long-time mountain bike opponents were at the meeting, although they did not speak or make presentations. Their continued involvement – especially since they were instrumental in imposing the ban twenty years ago in a secret backroom meeting of unelected employees – raises serious questions about what the county’s actual approach is to be on mountain biking going forward.

In short, though the public support for bike access was overwhelming, the county and its contractor’s progress is lackluster at best. While they may intend to follow through on promises to open the park, they either appear to be hesitant or stalling. Common sense alone should have prevented many of the above issues, chief among them the failure to ask advice from counties with mountain bike access: if you want to know about mountain biking, you ask counties where it is part of the program! With this in mind, thanks to all who showed up. There appears to have been a turning point in public opinion regarding bike access, but we still need to get the county itself to get moving.

It’s more important than ever to keep the pressure on the county going forward until the trails are open and we can all ride without looking over our shoulders.


Brian 10/23/2016





The fight for mountain bike access goes big: hashtagfreewatchung, t-shirts, and more.

The effort to regain mountain bike access in Watchung Reservation goes almost back to the time of the establishment of the ban itself in the 1990s, but it is only in the last few years that things really got rolling. While one local rider got involved as early as 2012-13, I came along fairly early as well, in 2014, when I read an article he prompted in the Star-Ledger; The article left me with questions; failing to find answers, I began filing OPRA requests; the rest as they say is history. At the time, I also had a handful of “free the rez” t-shirts printed; they were snapped up at my friend Steve Willis’ bike shop, The Bike Stand in Scotch Plains NJ, fairly quick.

That effort to regain park access is now widespread, however. The 8-18-16 Freeholder meeting was filled with many riders – nearly 30 or so – including myself. I knew almost no one there, which to me was a good sign: the push for trail access was becoming widespread. In addition, JORBA, the Jersey Offroad Bicycling Association, is involved, as well as local riders in Westfield and other towns. So I should not have been surprised that “free watching” has become a popular theme at other bike shops as well. In particular, the Hilltop bicycle shop has not only printed their own shirts arguing for bike access; they also have had bumper stickers made. They have also established “#freewatchung” – check it out. These are enthusiastic cyclists and they share my desire to make the world a better place by promoting – rather than excluding – cycling. They have made an excellent advocacy effort and I hope it will continue.


Brian 10/16/16





Forget what bikers allegedly did twenty years ago: what about now?

Why do mountain bike opponents fixate on anecdotal reports of a handful of rude bikers two decades ago? It is worth noting on any discussion on mountain biking in Watching Reservation, that is what opponents turn to: That twenty years ago, some people had bad experiences with a handful of riders.

Obviously talk of the Watchung mountain bike ban, including its inception twenty years ago, is relevant today, because it is still in place, and therefore still impacting citizens negatively.

But why is what mountain bikers did then still on the tips of so many people’s tongues? Anyone against mountain biking argues that twenty years ago, some bikers were rude. Maybe. The county government never documented a widespread problem, but let’s assume there were some bad apples. So what! What about what bikers have done since then? They don’t talk about the other states that allow mountain biking, or the other New Jersey counties. They don’t talk about the ban, or the legitimate questions about it. They only say “20 years ago mountain bikers were a menace”, or words to that effect. Why not talk about riders today sharing the trail safely in Morris county? Or those who rode in Watchung, during the period when the “no bike signs” were down? Some brave riders even still ride today; they do no harm, despite the new no bike signs, and no one really seems to mind. But this of course cannot be talked about. Only what bikers did decades ago matters. Why?

It’s taken a long time for me to realize why. They fixate on this period because, the sad truth is, these memories – accurate or otherwise -- are all the “proof” they have that mountain biking is bad; they are the only thing that conforms to their narrative. The fact that the county itself never documented widespread problems at Watchung pre-ban is something they overlook. We are supposed to believe it – because they say it. And as one anti-biking advocate recently illustrated, calling me nutso and suggesting I was “emotionally unbalanced” for questioning the ban, the mere existence of any alternative opinion is seen as so unreasonable to them that it can only be explained one way: if you think people can share the trail you are loco! Of course, denouncing your political opponents as wackos is very useful if your goal is to try and disregard anything they say. It amounts to trying to kill the messenger. But it does not address the compelling nature of the message, which is why those take this approach never address any of the issues raised with the ban, or the anti-bike approach generally. The fact is, opposing the mountain bike ban doesn’t make you nuts; it makes you fair. Fairer, anyway, than the approach of those who after twenty years of prohibitionist folly, aren’t even willing to try sharing the trail. Judging by evidence from all over the state, where bikers have no problems with trail access, the anti-bike crowd is on the wrong side of history. But they do not seem to know it.

Or maybe they do know it. Maybe that’s why they always bring up what may or may not have happened with a few rude or crude bikers twenty years ago, but refuse to acknowledge the many things that have happened since that show cyclists in a more positive light.

From doing trail work to safely sharing the trail with others, cyclists have shown over the last twenty years that we are perfectly able to share the trails. We do it in other counties; there is no reason we cannot do it here, in Union County. Suggesting this does not make a person insane. To say it does, seems to be the tactic of desperation.

The failure of the mountain bike opponents to look beyond their alleged bad experiences of twenty years ago is indicative, but not of mountain biking. Like their tactics of denouncing opponents, It really says more about them than it does about mountain biking.


Brian 10/06/16



Common myths about mountain biking and Watchung Reservation:

Mountain biking should be banned because it ruins the trails: Actually, it doesn’t. Numerous studies done over the years have concluded mountain biking is no more dangerous to trails than other uses, and in some cases, such as horses, other uses do more damage.

Mountain biking should be banned because mountain bikes were causing widespread problems at Watchung, specifically: Sorry, there is no evidence of this. Actually, mountain bike opponents might be shocked to learn that according to Union County itself, in an OPRA response, there was no documentation of the situation at Watchung one way or the other prior to the 1995 ban. If mountain bikes were causing such widespread damage at Watchung why did the county not document a single instance of it?

Mountain bikers are “bullies on and off the trail”: Not so, yet this sentiment is advocated periodically; in this instance, this very quote is from someone responding to the County Watcher’s website news coverage of the Watchung mountain biking issue. The irony is that it is mountain biking opponents – the very ones using this argument – that are attempting to use the cudgel of government to outlaw their fellow citizens. How does saying you don’t want to be outlawed make you a “bully”? Wouldn’t it be the person doing the outlawing that fits that description?

Mountain bikers disturb nature: Not more than non-mountain bikers. I hate to tell you but anything disturbs nature. The only way to have a purely natural park would be to fence it off and not let anyone in. However, since people on foot are allowed to use Watchung it makes no sense to exclude mountain bikers as they do not do any more harm.

Mountain bikers are irresponsible: Again, not true. Actually, as a general rule, they are more likely to do trail work than other trail users (at an August 2016 trail cleanup in Watchung, over half the participants were reportedly mountain bikers), and also are more likely to be prepared to help another trail user (such as several examples given at the 8-18-16 Union Co. freeholder meeting, of mountain bikers who helped out lost or injured hikers or runners.)

Mountain bikers endanger horseback riders: Not if both use some sense! It is common knowledge horses are large, potentially dangerous animals. Common cycling practice is to slow, stop, and wait if you see a horse. That said, in many places that allow mountain biking, the horses are acclimated to bikes; in Lewis Morris I’ve been told to ride past by the horsemen, and that their horses are “used” to bikes. I still stop just to be safe, however. But this brings up a point: if your horse is unusually likely to panic upon seeing another trail user, you may need a better trained horse.

Mountain bikers are rude: This is one of those arguments that is simply a waste of time to refute, but I address it because it comes up. Obviously “rude” is subjective and therefore meaningless. Moreover every group has a handful of asinine people in it. In short, “rudeness” is not a good standard for banning people from using a public park.

Mountain bikers are selfish jerks for wanting trail access: Again, like rudeness, this one is almost a waste of time to refute, but since it comes up quite often, here it is: wanting a fair and equitable government policy, or objecting to an unfair one, does not make one a selfish jerk. Or, are mountain biker opponents saying anyone who opposed segregation, and wanted women to have the right to vote, was a “selfish jerk”?

Mountain bikers are just a special interest wanting special preferences: No, we want what all other park users get, namely fair treatment, which would include fair trail access. It is not asking for special treatment to be treated fairly or equitably, or in other words, the same as someone else.

Mountain bikers don’t need access to Watchung because there are plenty other places to ride: No, there are not. There are other places one might ride, but they are all banned too. There is no where you can currently mountain bike in Union County, officially. In Union County, the government still maintains a policy banning mountain biking on all county parks.

Mountain bikers eat babies! No, we don’t. NOTE: This isn’t a real argument used by the anti-mountain bike contingent, but nevertheless this humorous example is in line with the general opinion they would like to foster about mountain bikers among those who do not know better.

Mountain biking at Watchung is against the law: Actually, no. It is currently (as of October, 2016) against county policy, a policy they have promised to end this coming spring, but there was never a law or ordinance enacted against it. The ordinance the county says bans mountain biking actually is about roads, sidewalks, paths, and not needlessly blocking cars. There is nothing in it which has anything to do with dirt trails in the woods or mountain biking. In fact according to the county “the freeholders did not act” to ban mountain biking, meaning legislation was never passed prohibiting it.

Mountain bikers can hurt themselves: This is certainly a possibility, but is hardly a reason to outlaw mountain biking; anyone can be hurt in any activity. Mountain bikers are aware of the dangers peculiar to their activity which is why they wear helmets and padded gloves and so on. Also most parks – including Watchung – have a variety of trails allowing riders of all skill levels to use them without being forced to try things they are not yet able to do safely. If one is concerned about accidents, the best thing they can do is make sure trails are free of debris, collapsed bridges are fixed, and the park is clearly marked, all things Union County in Watchung has not done. Nevertheless, despite the poor condition of many trails, riders are capable of using them safely, as shown when the no bike signs were down between December 2015 and August 2016, and ridership openly increased. If one wants to improve safety further, taking better care of the park – not banning park users – is the way to go.

Watchung trails cannot be opened to bikes right now because they are not safe: There are many issues with the trails being in poor repair, and subjected to the wrath of the elements, but despite their flaws they are used daily by hikers and others. If the park was really that dangerous that you could not bicycle in it, shouldn’t it be closed to all users, for safety sake?

Mountain bikers do not have good judgement and cannot be trusted to ride on trails: It is odd, but the same people who make this argument have no problem with mountain bikers driving cars to the trail or work, which weigh thousands of pounds and are much more dangerous than bicycles. Also, most people mountain bike as a hobby, which means they have a day job. They may be a doctor, a lawyer, a clerk, or a pilot. So you don’t trust them to steer a bicycle, but you trust them to operate on you, defend you in court, add up your purchases, or fly you to Denver? This argument is clearly fallacious.

The trails were not designed for bikes: This is in fact true, but also irrelevant and not a reason to exclude bikes; most roads weren’t designed for cars, yet cars are allowed to use them. It’s true; outside of divided interstates, most regular roads began as trails or game tracks. They eventually widened and then became dirt roads. Some were then paved at the behest of cycling advocates over a hundred years ago, when they began lobbying for smoother and better surfaced road infrastructure. Cars had nothing to do with it, but we let you drive on the road regardless. Why? It works, and to deny people access to the roadway based on the argument of what it was originally intended to be for is foolish if they can safely drive on the roads now. Well arguing from intent is just as silly with respect to the trails in the parks, but the one person who spoke out against cycling at the 8-18-16 freeholder meeting made that very argument. He said, “The trails weren’t originally designed for mountain biking.” Well guess what, the roads he drove on to get to the meeting weren’t designed originally for cars, but he made it there okay.

Mountain Bikers will ruin Watchung like they did 20 years ago: Not true. First off, once again, there was never any documentation of widespread problems 20 years ago. Second, nearly every other county allows mountain biking; they have not had widespread problems, either.

Shared trail access doesn’t work! That’s not what nearly every other county says. Actually, shared trail access works in most of the rest of the state and nation. Maybe they know something the bike-haters don’t?


Brian 10/04/16




Face of anti-mountain bike movement: not a pretty sight

This is an unusual one, inasmuch as it is more or less a direct response to an ad hominem attack by an anti-biking fanatic.

The purpose here, however, is not to engage in an internet debate with this individual, but rather to use his words for something constructive. Let’s analyze why he thinks mountain biking should be banned:

The following was posted on County Watchers website by someone who alleged that mountain bikers were “banned in Watchung Reservation over 20 years ago because hundreds of bikers literally overtook the entire reservation and ruined it for everyone else. This time it would be far worse. Despite their hollow promises of trail etiquette, these are bullies on and off the trails. They have plenty of other places where they can and do ride.”

As one might imagine there are many things wrong with this statement, starting with, by the county’s own admission, there was never any documentation of a widespread biking problem at Watchung in 1995, pre-ban. In an OPRA response the county admitted it had no documentation of the situation at Watchung one way or the other; it’s only source material was the questionable South Mountain trail study and a handful of news articles from the popular press about other parks.

As to “bullies, on and off the trails”, look at who is using the power of government as a cudgel. It isn’t the mountain bikers.

And lastly, there are no other places to ride; current Union County policy is a county- wide ban.

Nevertheless, this fellow went further, saying:

“Mike says: October 3rd, 2016 at 10:58 pm “Brian” – You sound an awful lot like Brian Matula, who appears in the above video. Your Bike Stand Rant page reveals a deeply troubled middle-aged man with 20+ years of pent-up anger against Union County officials for curtailing and banning out-of-control biking in Watchung Reservation.”

Needless to say, if this fellow read what I wrote, he could have taken away a lot more than he did.

He could have taken away the fact that the ban was implemented behind the scenes in an end run around the democratic process; that there was never any documentation of problems at Watchung; that the county has been misrepresenting the ordinance it says is about mountain biking, which clearly isn’t – for twenty years. There are a lot of things he could have taken away from what was written. Instead, what he took away from all the material was that someone who challenges the status quo is “deeply disturbed”. This sounds like the Soviet Union school of politics – label anyone who disagrees with the party line as a nut job. What’s next – “re-education camps” for bikers? What he omits is that anyone would be “disturbed” by unjust government policy – especially one perpetrated for twenty years, for no reason other than the biases of a handful of fanatics, such as himself.

And I mean fanatic literally. Let’s not forget, what outrages this fellow so is that I am objecting to a ban without basis, imposed in secret, and maintained for over two decades despite evidence from counties all over the state that mountain biking is safe and practical and allowed at almost every other park. Yet, after all that, at the suggestion of park sharing, he can only say: Sharing? That’s nuts! You must be a loon!

In contrast to the attitudes of this individual, regular citizens – both bikers and non- bikers – who have been informed of the situation at Watchung, have expressed incredulity. When discussing the issue I have been told everything from “that’s absurd” to “what the heck for?” when I mentioned that mountain biking is currently banned according to government policy, if not actual law. Yet, this absurd policy is lauded by those whose only response to legitimate criticisms of it, and the way it was implemented, is personal insults. They cannot dispute the facts, the sneaky imposition of the ban, or the conflict of interest, so they call names.

What makes it only a little more interesting is that they used my full one. I guess this was intended to scare me. Having once received an actual death threat on the telephone over a letter to the editor I wrote, I can say safely however that it does not.

Rather, in retrospect, I can thank “Mike”, because he was shown me what citizens who want decent park policy are up against. It isn’t pretty, but injustice never is. However, as Churchill is alleged to have said, if you have enemies it means you stood up for something once in your life. Thank you, Mike. I am proud to have you as an adversary, and all others like you. It says quite a lot about what I am trying to do, and about the legitimacy of the fight for park access.


Brian 10/04/16


Strange priorities: Union county is okay with illegal aliens driving potentially lethal cars, but not mountain biking.

Although supposedly working toward ending its twenty-year ban on mountain biking, many of Union County's cycling related rules and decisions -- beyond the ban -- indicate it often seems to lack an understanding of cycling, on and off road.

That is never more so than in the report that Union County unanimously endorsed the idea of giving drivers licenses to people in the country illegally. The road is a dangerous place - car drivers kill something like 40,000 other drivers a year. Factor in cyclists and others not in cars, it looks even worse. And worse for cyclists, many things that would only be a minor annoyance to car drivers can injure or kill them or severely damage their bikers.

So, you'd think anyone who really understood cycling would oppose making the roads more dangerous, right?

Guess Union county doesn't understand cycling, then. While current park policy does not allow mountain biking, the county is unanimously okay with illegal aliens driving potentially lethal cars on public roads. It was just last year, in May of 2015 -- well after the county had begun assuring cyclists it was trying to moderate it's anti bike policy regarding off-roading -- that they sent a message saying they do not care about cyclists being killed on the roads, by arguing we should give legal permission to drive to people who aren't legally in the country:

"Union County Freeholders Become First County in New Jersey to Pass Resolution in Support of Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants in Unanimous Vote Posted by Johanna Calle 284.20sc on May 29, 2015 Union County Freeholders passed a resolution urging the state legislature and governor to issue licenses to undocumented immigrants" (http://www.njimmigrantjustice.org/union_county_supports_licenses)

Obviously, although violating border laws every day by being here , not all illegal immigrants are "criminals" in the sense of violent gun or knife-toting thugs. But then neither are the thousands of drunk, distracted, or inept drivers who kill people in the U.S. We have a hard enough problem dealing with our own driver problem without importing more. Worse, by granting drivers licenses to illegals you are granting licenses to people whose defining legal characteristic is that they broke a legitimate, properly enacted law because it was convenient. Add in that many of them are going to be unable to read road signs or communicate with other road users and what you have is a recipe for dead people including obviously cyclists on the roads. “The Board of Freeholders voted on a resolution introduced by Freeholder Chairman Mohammed Jalloh by a unanimous vote. Similar resolutions have already been passed in Camden, Elizabeth, New Brunswick, Perth Amboy, Plainfield, Dover, and Bridgeton," says the web article referenced above. Moreover, this isn't an immigration issue; it's a law enforcement and, ultimately, road safety issue.

I have a unique perspective because I was actually involved in a road accident with an immigrant, albeit a legal one. She made an illegal left turn across my path and I was knocked over/run off the road into the ground. I ultimately needed shoulder surgery. At the scene she gave the police a non functioning phone number, a name that didn't match her papers, and an address she did not live at. It was only by dumb luck we were able to track her down.

Keep in mind, this was a legal immigrant. And, of course, we cyclists are expected to just live with an increased risk of being run over because oh, someone who came here illegally has a hard time getting around, they need a driver’s license.

Actually, they need to be deported, so then we don't have to worry about being even more likely to be run over.

Given how far Union County has gone to try and criminalize innocuous activities like mountain biking, even when the prohibitions against them are of questionable legal basis or even outright legislative fiction, one has to wonder why the same county government would vote unanimously to support the idea of rewarding dangerous lawbreaking and putting more people who are at high risk of causing a crash onto the roads? Again, despite assurances they are working with us on a mountain bike access plan, right now, today, they will not allow responsible citizens riding their bicycles in a public park.

If Union County follows through on its promise of trail access for mtb’ers, it will have taken over five years since citizens got involved. However, in far less time the county was able to unanimously agree, let’s let lawbreakers drive cars on our streets! That’s the wrong approach. Our county government should not expose cyclists and other road users to greater risk because we feel sorry for folks who broke the border laws.

And in the meantime, anytime anyone argues mountain bikes aren't a good idea in Union county, keep in mind what they do consider a good idea. Hypocrisy is a good name for it.


Brian 10/03/16




Meeting report, observations on silly bike bashers.

The 9-29-16 freeholder meeting went well. Other cyclists showed up, and more importantly, the freeholders appeared convinced of the legitimacy of mountain biking, a nice change from the latter-day approach of vilifying us as scoundrels. We have a time frame now, which the county never said before; they were always vague and therefore meaningless, as the last two years of dallying shows. However, now they are saying the trails will be open in Spring of 2017, so we all have something to look forward to in six months’ time. (This although does not excuse the last twenty years of the ban, nor the wasted time since the February meeting at the Golf Course, and still doesn’t explain the new signs saying no bikes. Why make 30 new signs just to take them down? And what about those trails in other parks besides for Watchung, where they put the no bike signs, that never had them until now? Citizens deserve answers to these questions even if when Watchung’s trails are opened they are wonderful to ride – that is still but one part of the big picture, and we don’t want to lose wide potential park access in exchange for a few trails in one park.) Nevertheless, having a time limit now is a help; the government can be damn sure we’ll be watching the clock!

Sadly, however, the vilification of mountain biking remains among some less informed individuals. This one post on the subject when it was covered by the County Watcher's website, for instance, is frankly sad, and unintentionally funny, at the same time, although it is also obviously offensive to most of us cyclists:

"It seems to me that the “me” generation has not matured one bit-bikers,skate boarders,walkers,baby stroller ,dog walkers,horse riders, motorized off roaders all want separate but equal access to public parks -and these so called self policing well meaning organizations can not control their members(or non members)-well documented by persons whom offer their services for free at two small parks nestled between union and kenilworth- bikers (those dressed like mercury) and vandalism are the two most biggest problems-joint use like joint parking does not work!"

Obviously, it is sad because this person can't see past their biases. The unintentionally ironic part is that they aren't just against bikes but dog walkers etc. Yet note that dog walkers, nor the other activities, are banned -- that status is reserved only for cyclists, at least for the next six months, and this person apparently wishes it would stay that way till the end of days. The irony is that if indeed everyone is an a**hole, and incapable of sharing, we should not just have bikes banned, we should ban everything, including you being able to walk in the park. Of course, that is assuming prohibitions are the proper way to deal with foolishness (which they aren't). But it begs the question: If sharing is so hard, why should it be bikers who are banned? Why not you? Or someone else? There is no answer; one arbitrary and absurd rule is just as silly as the next; would be as foolish to ban walkers as bikers. That said, again, the county apparently plans to open the trails this coming year so hopefully people like this will have to learn to share and maybe they will realize that we are not ogres.

Many of the anti-bike people however, whether they hate bikes on the roads, or the trails, often remind me of those racists you hear about from the days of Jim Crow. You know, the guy that would stand in a door and shout "segregation forever". That's the type of attitude I see -- a refusal to end an out of date and unjust policy just because it conforms to your biases. Denouncing your opponents on an issue for being "selfish me-me types" or "spoiled brats" for wanting to be treated fairly by government policy is like saying Jews in 1939 were a bunch of wimps because they got upset at a little forced encampment. There is nothing wrong with demanding just government policy and objecting to unjust policy does not make you as horse’s ass. However, characterizing people as asinine villains because they object to being unreasonably barred from a public place, or otherwise treated unfairly, *is* offensive.

Ultimately, perhaps some of these people should listen to their fellow citizens instead of trying to ban them, they might learn something.

Which reminds me -- The post ends with the writer opining that shared use trials do not work.

That's funny, because they work everywhere else except Union County. As I said when I spoke at the freeholder meeting, if you throw a dart at a map of our state, you'll probably hit a place where mountain biking is welcomed.

Maybe the rest of New Jersey knows something the close-minded prohibitionists don't? Or maybe the bike bashers know their arguments are not really true, but want them to be just so they can condemn others. After all, as the old saying goes, "the puritan's greatest fear is that someone somewhere out there is having a good time."

Hopefully by this time next year, we all will be. The jerks and trail Nazis will just have to live with it. And take my word for it, after twenty years of prohibition I can tell you, sharing is a lot easier to live with than being banned.


Brian 10/01/16




The ride was called on account of bombs.

No, that isn’t what happened. Actually, a planned ride into NYC was called off because the forecast appeared to threaten thundershowers, so instead I went mountain biking closer to home. However, although the thundershowers never materialized this Sunday, the bombs did, just before – two in New York and one in Seaside. One of the NY bombs didn’t go off – it is suspected to be a pressure cooker type similar to that used in the Boston Marathon massacre. My sympathies go out to the people of NYC and Seaside – and to Minneapolis, where a rampage attack may have also been a simultaneous terror act. But it is not just sympathy I feel, it is anger.

It is one thing for some Americans to disagree about road or trail use, and be against cyclists, either against sharing the road with us, or against trail access for offroad riding. It is bad enough that I might have be worried about a road raging driver, or some jerk who wants to close my local trail to mountain-biking. It is a whole other level of concern when I worry about riding into a place – another American city – because people are blowing up bombs and trying to kill folks in an act of terrorism. When the ride was initially cancelled, I was disappointed. After I heard about the bombs this morning, I felt a sense of relief. Relief, followed by sympathy, then anger. The anger is a direct result of the former two. I should not have to feel relief at not traveling freely to a place in my own country. I am ashamed that this was my reaction, as it seems cowardly, though reasonable at the same time. But that’s just it -- it should not have to be. Fear should not be a reasonable reaction.

But after such an attack it is. It is, because the “war on terror” has dragged on for far too long, and far too many innocent people have been killed, not only abroad but in such attacks ion American soil. We did not take fifteen years to win World War II. Yes, the enemy, being terrorists, is harder to fight with conventional methods, yet, the ultimate failure on the part of our war effort is not about mechanics or methods or weaponry. It is a moral failure. To spare the feelings of those who wish us ill – and in some cases their lives – we expose ourselves and others to prolonged conflict, and death. Is this sound policy? I would argue it is not.

But many can’t even see the issue that way. A century of philosophical mumbo-jumbo has resulted in an America that, although armed with a massive military machine, lacks moral certitude. Air missions report a few dozen bombs dropped. In WWII, hundreds or thousands were dropped on the enemy. A mission that involved twelve targets destroyed would be considered a poor result. Now it is trumpeted as a success. Meanwhile, many of our political leaders are unable even to name the enemy -- while the malicious and hateful grow emboldened by our lack of resolve, committing terrorism here, massacring civilians abroad and raising armies in what they have declared as a new caliphate, in Iraq and Syria – ISIS.

Withdrawing from the world – and from the conflict – in order to assuage politically correct sentiments as some of our leaders wish – even going so far as to release captured terrorists -- might not be so dangerous for us if indeed the conflict was confined to Iraq and Syria. But as we saw on 9-11-01, and indeed yesterday, if events are as reported, that conflict is not confined to some far off land overseas. It is here amongst us, in our towns and cities.

If ever our country needed real leadership, now is the time, but sadly it seems lacking from both political parties. We have many brave men and women in the armed forces, and what has happened is not their fault, and I am hardly criticizing their sacrifices. They do their best – within the limits political leaders put on them. Soldiers may win battles, but politicians lose wars. As that goes, I would rather we dropped a bomb on the terrorists than their agents and sympathizers blew up bombs here. And I would much rather that the terrorists were afraid to travel freely about their countryside, then we were about ours. This may not be politically correct to say – so be it. But instead, for now, the truth is the opposite.

For now, bombs go off in America, and people say to themselves “good thing I didn’t go for that ride today”. And that – as both an American and a cyclist – is a situation that I do not find acceptable.


Brian 9/19/16




Bike parking done wrong: Squiggly racks suck.

One thing I noticed while in North Carolina this past week was that many of the areas had outdoor bike parking. The place I was staying had bike racks (although I took my bike inside, obviously) -- but they would have been fine for temporary although not overnight parking. And the old civil war fort at the end of the island had bike racks, too.

The difference was, the racks at the fort were these fugly squiggly things that look like a wave.

If you've ever tried to park in one, they are absolutely impossible to use, with one exception -- if you are using as bike with a kickstand. This might actually make sense given the area is on beachfront property and a lot of people renting bikes for short rides, like to the store or to the beach, use cruisers that come with kickstands, or at least are usually designed to mount them. For those who don't know, this often means a plate on the underside behind the bottom bracket. However, while some people use beach cruisers many do not -- I saw a substantial number of roadies on my rides during the week, besides for myself. While it is possible to mount a kickstand on a bike with no special plate, it often damages the paint, or even bites into the stays, and frankly most of us avid riders don't do it.

Without a kickstand, however, the bike racks are impossible to use properly as the space betweent he sides of the rack into which the bike fits are far larger than the bike, allowing it to flop around like a dead fish. In other words, the rack may give you something to theoretically lock your bike to, but it doesn't hold it up, meaning you either get a chewed or scraped up frame or you have to find something else to do to park your ride. In my case, I managed to lock my bike to a small tree in front of the civil war fort while I went inside to scope out the exhibits, which is both silly and stupid because there was a bike rack there -- it was just largely unusable by more than half the people who bike.

Any bike-related improvements are a good thing. One could say that having a rack, of whatever quality design, is a step in the right direction because it shows people are thinking about bicycling. That is in some ways true. But if the rack is crap, what it really says is they are thinking about bicycling but still don't understand it. They need to think harder.

The traditional bike parking rack with upright vertical bars into which one sticks the rear wheel (like the ones used at the place I was staying) are much better than these squiggly junkheaps. The traditional rack has been around for a long time, for a good reason -- it works. Maybe people like the new ones, many of which are funny shapes, because they look less like a rack and more like some stylized modern art. Maybe. But if cyclists cannot use them, you are still left with no bike parking, and your back is just an expensive place for seagulls to perch and chill.

Bike related infrastructure should be based like anything else on sound mechanical principles. The traditional rack can fit every type of bike except some of the fattest tired fatbikes. The newfangled wavey, squiggly type can only fit bicycles with kickstands -- basically, cruisers and some cruiserish hybrids. In other words, one design accommodates like 90 percent of the different bike types out there. The other accommodates basically one type. Even assuming there are larger than normal numbers of cruisers because it is a beachfront area, you are still left with an awful lot of regular bikes. I saw about equal distribution between road and hybrids and cruisers with kickstands. And on some days I saw more non cruisers. If you can't actually park most bikes on it, it is not a good choice.

I'm glad they have bike racks. I just which they had thought of installing ones people could actually use. It is good they are thinking of cycling -- now let them actually think of it as more than a passing thought and actually put some brain matter into it.


Brian 9/13/16




A big problem: bike access and the wilderness act.

Imagine waking up and being declared no longer welcome in your favorite restaurant, your regular stores, or the café you’ve been eating at for ten years? Now imagine it can happen at any time, without warning, and you’ve got some idea of what things can be like for cyclists in the United States.

Bicycle access, just based on the numbers, might be one of the biggest issues facing cyclists and cycling advocates in the present day.

On the road, the cyclist has a longstanding legal right to operate his bicycle on pretty much any street, with the sometimes exception of controlled access interstates. And sometimes even there, there are exemptions allowing the bicyclist to use them, carefully, if they are the only direct route.

When it comes to offroad access, however, the situation is reversed. Cyclists are not regarded as being normal and accepted; they are regarded as an intrusion and something to be barred from using offroad trails. In many ways this is changing; it already has at most state and local levels, where bicycles are widely seen as an accepted outdoor activity. In New Jersey, bicycles are allowed in almost every county park system, for instance, with the notable exceptions of Union County, and Essex, which both seemed to have worked together on their anti-bike agendas back in the 1990’s.

At the national level however things are not so rosy. From The Carolinas to Montana, the federal government is closing trails left and right, literally snatching from under their wheels the very trails many Americans love and ride. The basis for this is the misinterpretation of the wilderness act to define bicycles as banned, in the same category as motorized vehicles. Never mind the Wilderness act originally was meant to exempt cycling as the bicycles do not have a “non-living power source”, i.e., a motor. Like in Watchung, where an old ordinance about sidewalks was reinterpreted to mean offroad trails in order to ban mountain biking in a backroom deal, at the federal level environmental agitators – many of them allegedly mainstream, respectable environmental groups – got the federal government to say the law meant what it didn’t say and vice versa, thus banning mountain bikes from wilderness areas. All wilderness areas. While a bill has been proposed that would return the wilderness act to its original interpretation and remove the default prohibition on bikes, in the meantime, the damage continues to be done. Americans are losing trail access at a rate which would be perfectly fitting for one of those scary disaster-effect-spread colored maps in an outbreak or alien invasion movie. Or a presidential election.

In fact, to truly get an idea of the extent of the losses suffered by American cyclists and those not even yet born, imagine this: picture a map of the United States in your head. The area of the U.S. closed to mountain biking via the current interpretation of the wilderness act has been described as larger than California. That sounds large but to many of us on the east coast it also sounds vague, an abstract description that conveys no real idea of size. So, picture that map of the country again. Now picture California picked up and dropped on the edge of the east coast. For us East coast riders, this amount of land loss would be like losing access in the entire eastern seaboard from New Jersey to Florida, as well as points inland.

Imagine finding that, as an American cyclist, almost all the entire east coast was closed to you!

Fortunately, most people’s local trails are not in wilderness areas. But that is no protection because the government and activist groups are expanding banned areas at an alarming rate. In fact, the trail doesn’t have to be in a declared wilderness area to be closed; some trails are being closed simply because there is a concern the area might one day be declared wilderness (!).

This massive land grab is a tactic worthy of many despotic regimes but not a supposedly free country like the United States, even more so since there is no real environmental concern here; like Watchung, no trail studies or other examination of the alleged harm of mountain bikes are being done, and no to little public input is allowed. In cases where there was public input, the government lied. In Idaho, for example, the government wanted to close some prime trails by declaring them within wilderness. Cycling advocates got involved and brokered a deal – or what they thought was a deal – in which the government would have an even bigger area protected, but not to the level of wilderness, allowing cycling Americans to continue riding. The government pulled a Darth Vader (“I am altering the deal; pray I do not alter it further!”) and switched back to the wilderness designation at the 11th hour. Result? Bikes banned.

Americans need to become more aware of the despotism and dishonesty being conducted in the name of “the environment”, especially cycling Americans who are already sort of in a minority and therefore need to make all the more effort to have their interests protected from being trampled underfoot by the federal leviathan. Whether you mountain bike or not, or even cycle at all, the issue here is one we can all relate to as Americans, or should be able to: the citizen versus the overreaching and misused power of the state.


Brian 9/08/16




Policy issue is about misgovernment, not mountain-biking.

The 9-5-16 New York Times contained a sad editorial titled “keep bikes off our wilderness trails”. Basically it was a defense of the 1980’s re-interpretation of the Wilderness act of the 1960s to ban all bicycles from wilderness lands. It is worth noting that the original wilderness act did not ban bikes; it banned “mechanized transport” as follows: "Mechanical transport, as herein used, shall include any contrivance which travels over ground, snow, or water, on wheels, tracks, skids, or by floatation and is propelled by a nonliving power source contained or carried on or within the device." 36 CFR § 293.6(a) (1973), formerly 36 CFR § 251.75 (1966)

Please note that bicyclists are living creatures. Thus, unless there is some zombie bicyclist outbreak we don’t know about, there is no way this could be intended to ban bicycles.

Much like efforts to close local and county trails, however (such as Watchung Reservation ) what happened here was the government, at the urging of a few special interests, misinterpreted a law to say something it wasn’t intended to. In the case of the Wilderness Act, which never banned bikes, for over three decades people have been told it said the opposite of what it did.

Prior to the misinterpretation of the law at the hands of anti-biking fanatics, the Forest Service looked at bike access at a case by case basis, which makes much more sense. Since the mid-1980s, however, a Wilderness designation has meant a de-facto ban on bicycle access.

One could say, who cares? Most riders will mountain bike at their local trail, in their home state or county or even hometown. Except – oh, wait, many of those, like Watchung, are closed, or threatened with closure, based on the same tactics, namely, saying a law or ordinance says something it doesn’t.

This is where one must take that New York Times editorial to task, for many reasons, but chief among them, the argument that “there are plenty of other places to bicycle”. No, there isn’t, not in a world where governments and special interests repeatedly change the meaning of laws after the fact to suit their exclusionary agendas, misquoting ordinances and laws in order to deny citizens access they have every right to.

The issue isn’t, is mountain biking good or bad for the environment. The issue is, the government, and a handful of agitators, are robbing citizens of time and park access. I was in the best shape of my life during the late 1990s, after the Watchung mountain bike ban was imposed. I will never get that back; I will never be nineteen again. Something was stolen from me by my government, and that is wrong. It is not just something that makes me sad; it makes me angry. I have been robbed, robbed of something irreplaceable which I can never recover, whatever the outcome of the current debate over mountain bike access at Watchung.

That is what the focus should be on these issues, from the county to the federal level, from an ordinance about sidewalks which the government of Union County misquotes as banning riding on “trails”, to the wilderness act being misinterpreted to ban bikes. The issue isn’t the environmental impact of mountain biking. The issue is the moral impact of misgovernment that denies access, unreasonably bans activities, and, ultimately robs citizens of something they have as much right to as the next guy.

Someday, all of these people will be called to answer for the fact that they cheated whole generations out of their park access. Meanwhile, citizens should avoid the false arguments and logical fallacies of those who have brazenly misinterpreted laws, and refuse to get mired down in debates over this or that environmental aspect of cycling. Instead they should put the focus where it belongs: The malfeasance of those who have misrepresented legislation for an exclusionary agenda. The issue isn’t about mountainbiking, whether at the county or federal level. It is about misgovernment.

"The fact that mountain bike opponents are so vehemently against the inclusion of mountainbikes in wilderness areas such as advocated by the Sustainable Trails Coalition is proof that it is a step in the right direction. As Churchill is alleged to have said, if you have enemies, it means you stood up for something once in your life. I encourage all cyclists and even non-cycling citizens concerned about fair government policy to write their congressmen and express support for the Human Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act mentioned in the article, which would undo the last thirty years of misgovernment and once again allow bicycles in Wilderness areas, as the writers of the wilderness act intended."


Brian 9/06/16


Court ruling, although well intentioned, risks lowering an iron curtain over government action.

You may have missed the article on the front page of the New Jersey Star-Ledger newspaper September 1, 2016. Crammed in the right corner, the location belied the importance of it. Titled “Ruling tightens access to records”, the article is about an appeals court ruling in a case where a reporter sought government records via OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request. The court ruled that the government could not only refuse to turn over the records, it could refuse to acknowledge if they existed. While in this case the court’s ruling seems well intentioned, focused merely on protecting the privacy of a person who was involved in a police investigation but never charged, what it risks doing is giving the government at every level – state, county, or even local – a greater ability to act in secret and without oversight.

The response was called the “”Glomar” response, a reference to the Glomar Explorer, a large ship the US secretly used during the cold war to raise a sunken Soviet submarine. During this, the U.S. government refused to acknowledge press inquiries, arguing that even acknowledging the situation existed would threaten national security. While that is quite reasonable when dealing with a secret sunken submarine, it has little bearing on most state level or lower open record requests. Generally the people filing these don’t want access to secret agent or submarine records, they only want information about what their government is doing in order to finish a news article, if they are the media, or a private citizen, they might simply want to know how a policy was formulated, or what a law is.

This was especially true in my case, investigating the origin of the Watchung mountain bike ban. Because everything was done behind the scenes without citizen input or review, no one knew that according to the county, the “freeholders didn’t act to exclude mountain biking” and it was unelected employees in a backroom meeting who came up with the ban, then decided to say an old ordinance that regulated riding on roads, sidewalks, and paths was about mountain biking on narrow singletrack in the woods! Even still, it took a month for the government to answer the question, and at the end, what did I find out? That the county imposed its mountainbike ban in what is largely and end run around our electoral process, and based the justification for it on an ordinance that clearly isn’t about mountain biking or the dirt trails in the woods.

To this day county policy appears murky. Now, twenty years on, they repeatedly assure mountain bikers they are working towards opening part of the park to mountain biking – but at the same time they make new no bike signs and plaster them all over the county.

Given this level of opacity on the part of the county government, the OPRA request is essential, because they do not operate in a clear and transparent manner. Anything that weakens the ability of the citizen such as you or I to say to the government, “show me the documents” is a step further towards an unaccountable government. Currently, the government is unaccountable enough – too much so, in truth. Many in the article agree. The lawyer for the newspaper is quoted as saying that now, "requesters and their attorneys are going to have one arm tied behind their backs". The concern is that this will be abused, allowing governments from state to county to local municipalities to start refusing everything. It is worth noting that current exceptions to OPRA already exist, usually for personal privacy. One such exception however is "deliberative" matters; if a document is part of a process that has not been decided on, they can refuse to send it or redact it. Already there are concerns this may lead to governments sitting on projects and not approving them after spending tax money, simply in order to avoid having to let the public see the information. This new technique, which has never been applied to state level records requests before, raises even more concerns, and very real ones, for those of us who have seen how some government decisions are made. The risk is one of an "iron curtain" (to use a phrase from history) dropping down, hiding governmental processes from citizens who are nevertheless forced to live with the results of those processes.

It is ironic then that the process used to deny the OPRA request in the news article was named after an issue effecting national security, since there is nothing that endangers that very concept, from the federal to the most local level, more than unaccountable government officials who can act in secret.


Brian 9/02/16






Conflict of interest?

One thing I Iearned looking into the origins of the Watchung mountain bike ban is that several names kept cropping up, on documents and in other sources from 20 years ago.

Daniel Bernier of the Parks Department of Union County is one. His name was on many memos and other documents, including the “expedite” memo where he actually told other county employees to hurry up implementing the ban, as the issue was beginning to gather “significant publicity”. (I don’t know what’s more alarming, that this was their approach, or that they felt safe putting it in writing). He also wrote a “white paper” denouncing mountain biking but provided no sources. They never did any trail studies at Watchung or documented the actual situation there back during the 1995 implementation of the mountain bike ban, but Dan Bernier seemed involved in a lot of it.

He was even quoted in my first OPRA (open public records act) request response in 2014 as saying bikes were wrecking the place – but of course proffered no evidence of this although that was part of the OPRA request.

Since Bernier seemed to be involved in the ban, I thought I’d see what I could find on Bernier. Who was this person who sought to take the best years of my riding life away from me? After reading some articles regarding his working on deer management, I realized he was representing himself solely as a consultant, even though he worked full time for the county (making salary over 100,000 of YOUR dollars according to the County Watchers).

His contracts with Essex, for instance, netted him $100 an hour according to an OPRA request to Essex County. While common sense suggests some of this work would have had to have been done during business hours, when he was on Union County taxpayers’ time, if for no other reason than that’s when the Essex County offices were open, the documents provided me didn’t say. And if you can’t prove he was doing it on county time, actual freelancing per se is allowed.

Another thing about Dan Bernier came out, however: He lives in the park.

That’s right, he resides at one of the deserted village buildings. In fact, reports are he recently got the county government to give him a sweetheart deal on some renovations, on top of the over $100,000 annual salary and hundred dollars an hour freelancing for another county. All of a sudden it becomes clear why Mr. Bernier might be so against mountain biking: He isn’t just a park official, he’s a park resident. He lives there. And who likes people biking across their yard? The fact that it’s not his yard, but a public park, illustrates why such arrangements are horribly flawed.

This is what is called a conflict of interest. No judge would be allowed to hear a case where he had an interest. However, Mr. Bernier remains involved in park policy – including the mountain biking issue – to this day. The recent open public records act request responses show him copied on emails regarding the posting of new anti-bike signs and even involved in determining where they are posted.Yet, this is a person who is incapable of separating his job from his private life because he lives in the very park he helps administer.

As long as he lives in Watchung, a public employee should not be involved in shaping park policy for Watchung. Unfortunately, Mr. Bernier is high enough up in the park department that he does not have the option – it is his job to do so. Which makes one wonder, why was he allowed to live there in the first place? Could it be whoever made that decision had never heard of “conflict of interest”?

Meanwhile, after twenty years of behind-the-scenes policy regarding the bike ban, Mr. Bernier is still living in the park, and helping to shape its policy, to your detriment, while you pay him for the privilege.

Is he doing this because he really believes mountain biking is bad for the park? Or because he lives there and doesn’t like bikes? That is one question. A more important and basic one is, who put him and us in that position, and what are they going to do to rectify it?


Brian 8/31/16




Beyond mountain bike ban, county’s bike policies are absurd.

Aside from its infamous and absurd ban on mountain biking, many of union county’s other bike policies are questionable. Two are standouts, because they both come up against our over hundred year old legal right to use our bikes on the road, and they are therefore indicative of ignorance of cycling, willful or otherwise. Generally, it is a bad idea to have laws or ordinances made by people who do not understand the subject they are legislating upon.

The first one is a registration requirement; any bike operated in county jurisdiction is apparently required to be registered in the rider’s town. This is surely news to most riders, for one reason: no towns around here have or actively enforce a registration requirement. Some towns did offer this in the past; rare exceptions may still do so, if you ask for it, but the policy, born during the “bike boom” years of the 70s, is as much a dinosaur as disco. There are several reasons for this; one, citizens felt they were being nickel and dimed to death, which makes sense – especially if like most avid cyclists you have several bikes. Just regarding mountain bikes, and then only those I actually ride offroad, I have five, right now. Also the only potential benefit was maybe recovering a stolen bike but there are now private bike registries that are much more effective and some companies also offer purchasers this option. It is infinitely better than involving the police, as well, as that risks making the registration issue not an option but a requirement, thereby jeopardizing a cyclists’ longstanding legal right to the road, whatever the effect on county mountain biking permissions.

And of course who is to say this silly rule would be limited to offroad trails? Might county cops not start pulling over road riders on Skytop Drive, asking to see their nonexistent registrations?

In conjunction with this is a requirement that where a path is provided along the road, the cyclist must use it, and not the road. Since most bike paths range from dangerous to horrific to just plain inconvenient, it is no surprise this isn’t enforced either. But both this and the registration requirement run up against the cyclists legal right to the road, longstanding since the 1890s. They may be archaic deadwood, but the fact that they remain in the law shows that Union County’s ignorance of cycling goes well beyond its foolish ban on riding offroad. Perhaps worse, for those of us who know anything about cycle repair, is a section that requires you allow cops stop you to “inspect” your bike, not only for the aforementioned registration (which for many riders simply can’t exist since their towns don’t require it and few would ask for it even if it is offered) but also to see if the bikes are safe.

This is where anyone who knows anything about bikes bursts out laughing. What the heck does some random cop know about bicycle maintenance or repair? Take the issue of braking mechanisms. There are many different types; a fixed gear hub, a coaster brake hub, a drum brake, a disc brake, a hydraulic disc, a cantilever rim brake, a sidepull rim brake, a v-brake, roller cam brakes, centerpulls… Most cyclists don’t even know how to work on all the different types, which is why bikes shops exist, but also, even some bike mechanics aren’t familiar with the more unusual brake types.

What is the chance of some cop, who pulls you over, interrupting your ride for no reason, being able to tell if your bike really is safe or not? Obviously none! This of course isn’t to say anything against cops – the average passerby on the street will probably be just as uninformed.

This is like appointing someone like me, who doesn’t follow football, an umpire. It’s a great way to get screwed up calls and delay the game, but won’t do much else. Well that is as silly as telling some guy who might not even know what a cantilever is to inspect those of a biker who had them installed by an expert mechanic who has been doing that sort of thing for, oh, years. Maybe – maybe – if the county wanted to pay for all the policemen to go to a bicycle mechanic class, or even pay a local bike shop to teach them. But good luck finding a local bike shop which is willing to teach people about bikes simply so that they may hassle riders, literally for no reason.

One wonders if the fact that Union County has so many pointless out of date ordinances on the books is the reason why the Union County code is over 200 pages, while neighboring Morris county’s code is less than half that, including cover and index. In other words, it isn’t just the county’s twenty-year farce banning mountain biking that needs to go; a lot of other stuff that actually is in the county code (unlike the ban, which was created in a backroom deal) needs to go. This would include the registration and inspection requirements for cyclists, which need to be deleted too. Just on the registration alone, the county code is clearly antiquated. To a cyclist, such an imposition is as offensive, and behind the times, as segregated drinking fountains – and just as deserving of being dumped into the wastebin of history.

What remains so ironic is that while people all over the world are trying to get more folks outdoors, exercising, and on bikes, Union County seems trapped in the dark ages where cyclists are concerned. It is time they joined the 21st century.

They can start by getting rid of rules that haven't been applicable in thirty years, if ever.


Brian 8/29/16




Union county claims to work with cyclists for trail access, then reposts "no bike" signs.

Some time ago, this past winter, the no bike signs at Watchung came down. However, sometime around August 13, 2016, new no bike signs were reposted. Why are they back? Was the county lying all along? Or is this some last ditch stalling attempt to keep riders out even while a new trail plan including cycling is drawn up? What happened to the 43,000 dollars paid to CME for said trail plan? Why was it never presented, the vote mysteriously cancelled? Why is the county, which promised to work with riders and in particular the Jersey Offroad Bicycling Association, not returning communications? Under what "law" are these signs posted? The signs quote at the bottom a county ordinance, part of the public safety code regulating bicycle riding on roads and sidewalks. This never had anything to do with mountainbiking or offroad trails, which is why it took an OPRA request in the beginning to find out if and why mt. biking was "banned" -- there is no law or ordinance on the books because as the gov't admitted in its OPRA response, "The freeholders did not act to exclude mountain biking". So what is going on?

(It is worth noting that it was not just replacing the signs at Watchung...signs have also been seen at other county parks that never had them before. They are the same as the Watchung signs. It is possible then that this is county wide, making it a much bigger deal than just Watchung, but also putting the lie to most mountainbike opponents' arguments that Watchung has unique aspects (horse stables, design of some trails, etc.) which they argue make it not good for mountain biking. Obviously such arguments are irrelevant to the other trails, where there are no horse stables, no trail use issues, etc. One such trail is a local trail that is less than a mile long. Really! They just had to take away every last little bit of access, didn't they? Sadly this part of the situation has nothing to do with Watchung, whatever you think of the issue of mountain biking there. It is just someone being a spoiled bully.) Hopefully citizens will protest this. I encourage all local riders to write the freeholders and demand fair park access -- not just at Watchung but everywhere, since the county seems to have made this a county-wide issue now. And perhaps to demand also that the county cease trying to pretend an ordinance that says one thing means another. I have filed another OPRA request – we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, there was a county freeholder meeting on 8-18-16 that went well. Enough cyclists showed up to fill what appeared to be nearly half the room. Several people including someone with a presentation from JORBA (a NJ mountain biking group) spoke to address the issue -- including myself. Although I was nervous about going up in front of all those people, and the trip into the county offices in Elizabeth was inconvenient, I felt it was important to go there and speak out against what is not only a policy that is bad from mountain bikers, but just bad policy, period, starting with the total lack of transparency.


Brian 08/21/16




Booby traps on trails: more here than meets the eye.

Recent news that booby traps have been found along a popular trail in New Jersey once again raises the specter of anti-cycling nonsense, and what it can lead to. The booby traps, including boards with spikes, barbed wire and ropes strung across trails, and shards of broken bottle, were placed along the High Mountain Park Preserve, according to the Wayne police department.

This isn’t new. In the past, particularly in the turbulent years of the 1990s, when there were a lot of attempts to exclude mountain bikers from public parks, there were reports of anti-bike zealots sabotaging trails in very similar ways. There have even been mountain bike opponents such as Mike Vandeman, a radical environmentalist out in California, who graduated from denouncing to attacking mountain bikers, first attempting to collide with them and knock them over, in turn blaming them for the crash, then, graduating to using weapons. In one incident he reportedly attacked a rider with an ice pick; in the other, a tree saw (!). The recent sabotage is probably not Vandeman’s work; he is out west.

However, ideas have consequences. Such acts are often born out of an ideological framework. The Unabomber was a radical environmentalist. The Oklahoma City bomber was extremely anti-government. The 9-11 attackers were jihadist. And, last but not least, past attempts at such trail sabotage, largely targeting bicyclists, were not random acts of violence, but deliberately directed at riders, because of the saboteurs’’ beliefs about cyclists.

This isn’t true only of dirt trails in the woods – nor just in the U.S. In a notorious case, an editorial in the Times of London, a writer named Parris began a diatribe against cyclists this way: “A festive custom we could do worse than foster is the stringing of piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists.” The column, entitled “What’s smug and deserves to be decapitated” (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/matthewparris/article2044185.ece) sparked obvious outcry from cyclists – and others who objected to jokingly talking of cutting off people’s heads just because you don’t like them. The outrageous thing was that this type of thing had been done, leading to severe injury, in real life, prior to the writing of the editorial. If it was satire, it was in poor taste. If it was a threat, or an admission of involvement in the earlier crimes (as unlikely as that may seem) that is not good either. [Note: The column was amended sometime after its initial publication with an “apology”.

Like many such apologies one must doubt the sincerity, since it was only printed after an outcry and seems at odds with what the writer freely wrote of his own accord. Contrasting the sincerely intense editorial with the mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry” leaves little doubt that even if, as he claims, the column was “It was meant humorously”, Mr. Parris’ true feelings lie along the lines of his editorial. For instance, under what circumstance would he even imagine that joking about cutting off people’s heads could be taken “humorously”?

But in any event there is a firmly established connection between the ideas such people believe and the actions they endorse and advocate – or commit. Just as the Unabomber engaged in his terrorism because of what he believed, so do people who sabotage trails (or English country roads) do what they do, because of what they believe – in this case about cyclists.

So, while we can recognize that a person might have a freedom of speech right to voice dislike of cyclists, we must also acknowledge that at a certain point this creates an atmosphere where such violence is likely. And, of course, advocating violence certainly falls far from the tree of first amendment protections.

This is perhaps why the most telling post in response to the nj.com article on the NJ park sabotage is this one:

“I have no love for mountain bikers. They are an obnoxious lot who think the trails only belong to them. But what this person did is no joke. When I was in H.S. way back when, my chemistry teacher, who I liked, was an avid dirt biker. One weekend he went riding down in the Pines. Just as he was cresting a hill he caught the glint of a wire strung across the trail. He told me he immediately stood up off of his seat and the wire caught him in the chest and he went a** over tea cup into the side of the trail. He was really bruised up, walked with a limp and had a black eye. Had he not caught the glint of sunlight off of that wire, he would've been decapitated. I hope they catch this dirtbag before someone gets seriously injured or killed.” (http://www.nj.com/passaic-county/index.ssf/2016/08/dangerous_booby-traps_found_along_popular_north_jersey_trail.html)

While the poster must be commended for putting his biases about cyclists aside to look at the facts and condemn this dangerous sabotage, and similar examples, it is worth noting that it is often ideologies and biases of just that sort that lead to the sabotage in the first place! This is not about whether or not some cyclists are rude; there are rude people in every group. It is about an across the board denunciation of a group of people, in this case removing them from legitimate society and therefore opening them up to the very violence he condemns. Saying that one sympathizes with the idea, but condemns the act, is contradictory at the least when that idea is what leads to the act in the first place!

So, be careful out there on the trail, and let’s hope authorities arrest whoever did this sabotage. But don’t neglect the larger issue of those who brashly condemn cyclists, while ignoring the initiation of force against riders that this often leads to, either the direct violence of a criminal act like this, or the “official” initiation of the force by those who try to use government policy to attack and exclude cyclists, on the trail or the road.


Brian 8/14/16


Long term review: Talus 29er then and now.

Some time ago – a few years in fact – I got my hands on a Raleigh 29er from Steve at The Bike Stand. At the time I had this to say about it: “Big wheels roll over anything, feel like they take off quick, don't get stuck on bumps as easy as 26 or ever normal road 700's. Solid and nice-looking frame, simple graphics, Easy to use thumb shifters (not the crappy grip shift that these entry level parts used to spec) Mechanical discs stop well and are less hassle than high performance hydraulics. Entry level fork has real lockout making it rigid for around town riding or on smooth dirt; when not locked out it has some adjustment allowing you to make it stiffer. Upgrade worthy, IMHO.”

I recently had the frame rebuilt with new parts, taking the chance to build it up in a way more suited to my riding. The real difference is that the tires now have bigger knobbed tread, and the gearing is now 1x9. But the frame and upgraded fork were with me a long time, and the wheels are similar just a different brand. So… how would I review it today? The wheels: The big thing about a 29er (pun intended) is it’s 29-inch (700c) wheels. These are literally the only difference; every other difference, from handling, geometry, weight, or wheelbase, is tied to these wheels, because the bike is literally designed around them.…it has to be.

These are actually the same diameter as road wheels, just usually much thicker. Standard wisdom is that 29ers roll over things better, than smaller 26” wheels, and this was and is true. The wheels do indeed roll over rocks, bumps or other things easier than the 26” wheels I have on my other mtb’s. In fact, I was comfortable riding down, across, and up a dry streambed (the bridge had collapsed long ago) which I normally dismounted to walk over. Also, I found myself going faster than I had on the 26” over rocky trails on downhills.

In order to roll at all though, the wheels need tires! The stock tires were Geax branded small tread, with many more, but much smaller, tread lugs. The new tires, CST brand Patrols, seem to grip better; both Watchung Reservation and Lewis Morris, as well as a short trail by the Passaic river in my town, all the main places I ride offroad, have rocky and or rooted areas, rather than just hardpack; low-profile tiny tread though it looks cool on the stock Geax tires the bike originally came with, is just not as well suited to these surfaces. Tires with more “traditional”, larger lugs do much better – especially over loose rocks, which can be common in some parts of Watchung and Lewis Morris. The verdict? If you find yourself doing a lot of offroading switch tires. But keep the stock ones for the street, perhaps. Because the tires and wheels work so well, I mentioned I found myself going faster than normal. Not a lot but noticeable. I found as a result of this my forearms and biceps got wiggled like jello – and that is with an aftermarket, adjustable air fork (Rockshox Reba). I do run higher tire pressures – I feel safer doing so as I am not light – so maybe this is part of it. All I know is bouncing over rocks feels exactly what it sounds like. I would have expected bigger wheels with longer spokes to have more flex and therefore less bump.. or perhaps the bump is a result of the larger volume of air in the tire. Who knows? It may be I am just a wimp! All I know is my single speed with a cheap stock spring fork doesn’t feel as bouncy – but then that was a a 26” and I went slower on it. Bottom line, you will go faster, prepare accordingly (Now I think on it I could probably adjust the fork to compensate).

One thing to note is because of the taller wheels, the frames on the small end, like mine (I’m 5’8”) have a pronounced sloping top tube. This does help standover height, but even still on some real uneven surfaces, there are awkward dismounts or times you try putting a foot down.

Speaking of feet, the stock flat pedals are great for around town, but they stink for bumping through the woods on your favorite trails. They are lightweight, wide, thin, plastic platforms. But bumping over roots or rocks I twice had my feet shift. If you want to ride in platform pedals, get something that’s not smooth; many have teeth or tiny pegs in them for a reason. Secondly, get something metal; I somehow broke one, don’t even remember where or how. But it cracked. It was still rideable, but I took it as a sign and upgraded to metal platforms with teeny pegs to grip my soles’ tread. Even rebuilt with an aftermarket fork and different parts the bike is not light. Stock weight is 32 lbs – mine is 29.5 lbs. However, it is worth noting that one, I bought inexpensive wheels, probably akin to the weight of the wheels it came with, and two, it may be heavy on the scale but it is light where it counts – on the trail. When riding, the bike doesn’t feel heavy, even if it is. That is important, it means what weight there is is well balanced. In my case I helped this further with the lighter fork, but when Dirt Rag, a mountainbike magazine, reviewed the Talus 29er, they noticed the same thing, saying it rode like a lighter, more expensive bike.

So are bigger wheels better? Once everyone was paid to think so: the hype was, buy the big wheel! Now, 29ers are becoming more of a niche thing. Once, the bigwigs in the bike biz were telling us they were better than everything else. Then they realized there were sizing issues for smaller riders, and other concerns with the longer wheelbase, such as not being able to fit it in the back of my car, or that it feels less agile on narrow twisty trails. Hell, as seen in the picture, the 29er wheels are bigger than the wheels on this bulldozer! Then 650b came along (27.5”). This is between a 29er and a 26”. It is seen as the new standard. Truth be told, I wouldn’t advise getting a new wheel size just for the hell of it, unless you want or need a new bike. I don’t think the difference between 650b and 26” is worth ditching a bike you have set up for you, possibly at expense of great trial and error and aftermarket doo-dads. But if you do want to try something different, consider the 29er.

The verdict? You want an entry level real mountain bike and you want a 29er, try this bike. You will not regret it. Raleigh’s current model is slightly different, but this should give one some idea of what to expect, and Steve can order any new parts you want for it if you outgrow the idea of “entry level”.


Brian 8/09/16


Let’s trust our own eyes.

One objection of some people – like myself – to autonomous cars is, well, frankly, they probably won’t be able to do everything an alert person could. In the case of the man killed while in his self-driving Tesla, the car was unable to distinguish between the bright sky and the light side of a truck.

The article, one of several on the subject, opened with the somber sentence: “The U.S. announced Thursday the first fatality in a wreck involving a car in self-driving mode”. (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/ driving-car-driver-died-crash-florida-40260566) While this death is a tragedy, and I won’t say “I told you so” – I did tell you so. Yes, to put it in perspective humans kill far more people in car wrecks, but let’s not lose context while trying to find perspective; usually human wrecks are due to operator error; speeding, not paying attention, etc. In the case of the self-driving Tesla crash, the car was working perfectly – no operator error -- and it just couldn’t handle what, actually, isn’t an unusual situation; something against a background that it blended in with.

The apparent cause of this crash – a computer’s failure to differentiate between two things that might look similar to sensors or cameras, but very different to a human eye – should also be a wake-up call. Seeing or sensing is not recognition – recognition implies consciousness, something a computer does not yet have. Absent that, there will always be a lack of some ability in terms of dealing with dangerous situations – the computer may see better, and react quicker, but it cannot think or conceptualize.

The deceased’s Tesla might not have been able to recognize and brake for this truck, but hopefully the tragic crash will put some brakes on those who seem hell-bent on redesigning American roads and vehicles, often, it seems, with little concern for cyclists (Google’s self-driving cars were being tested on the roads for years before they even raised the issue of cyclists, and their computer animation showing a single car interacting with a single cyclist on an open road with no other variables or vehicles between them doesn’t reassure). Come to that, if it missed a truck, could it miss a cyclist? In a similar theme to the cause of this crash, I earlier in the year raised questions about a self-driving car seeing a cyclist – who was riding past a billboard with people on it, or several cyclists side by side, seen from a ninety degree angle, one behind the other. In other words, the same thing – how will it distinguish a moving road user from a similar or confusing background?

This technology may develop further, but right now I’ll still trust my own eyes, thank you very much.


Brian 7/2/16


Let’s look at the facts, people.

The TV in the store was on, a politician arguing for more gun control laws in the wake of the terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida, when I made a comment to the guy at the counter that politicians were as predictable as they are often foolish. A discussion ensued, with another customer – a little old lady who reminded me of my great aunt – weighing in.

“Well, I think there should be some regulation,” she said, “People shouldn’t be walking around with semi-automatic machine gun things.” I replied that actually, a semi-automatic gun only fired one shot at a time, very different from a machine gun. “Really? That’s not what I was led to believe by the TV,” she said. I also pointed out that actual “assault rifles” capable of multi-shot bursts, or fully auto fire, have been basically illegal to own since the passage of the 1934 National Firearms Act, in 1934.

“I did not know that,” she replied.

Hopefully, this one person might walk away convinced to question accepted misunderstandings, and learn some facts, about the subject, but it reminded me of how we as cyclists often get short shrift for the same reason --- people don’t do their homework. Theey react emotionally, steered by the media, and misperceptions. Just as many people are convinced that ten round magazines are “high capacity” in a world where most modern full size pistols hold at least fifteen shots, and therefore ten rounds is actually substandard, many non-bicyclists find fault with cyclists, not because a cyclist necessarily did anything wrong, but because they do not understand, and are not familiar with the facts at hand.

One can look at cases where people have jumped to erroneous conclusions, from denouncing mountain bikers as dangerous to the trail, to high profile pedestrian-cyclist collisions on the road, such as the Gladstone-Spring incident in Boston years ago, or the cyclist who was caused to crash by a pedestrian in Central Park in NYC a few years ago, who ultimately sustained fatal injuries herself. In all of these cases, those who know nothing about cycling, and the particulars of the incidents, steered the public debate. This accomplished many things, all bad, but did not foster a greater understanding of the problem, nor a solution. I would suggest that, like the little old lady who doesn’t know the meanings of the words she is using on the gun control debate, those who would inveigh against cyclists after a high-profile news incident take a few minutes to learn about what it is they want to talk about. There is a very real detrimental result when a debate is shaped by the ignorant, or misinformed.

For some this misinformation or ignorance might be the product of bias, and willingly accepted, but for those who really are curious as to “what happened”, try something new for once: look at the facts. You might be surprised what you see.


Brian 6/17/16




Road safety starts with enforcement; so does everything else.

One of the things that has become apparent reading news coverage of the pre-election hubbub, as I prepare to vote in the primary election, is that on many issues there is a lack of trust. Some candidates have proposed immigration reform; many people are skeptical. Likewise, with taxes; some candidates have proposed raising taxes; others, with replacing one tax with another form of tax collection. However, many people are skeptical; they fear that rather than simplifying the tax code, these plans will simply add another layer of headaches (indeed, it doesn’t take much imagination to picture the government creating a new tax on the promise of removing an old, then keeping both!). In short, the general theme – missed by most of the political class and the mass media – isn’t the merits or demerits of the various ideas (although some of them are pretty horrendous), but rather the skepticism many of us have that any of those ideas, even the good ones, would be implemented as promised, because of past failures – many of which persist to this day.

We should take a cue, and get a clue, because when the election and attendant hoopla are over, we will still be dealing with many local issues, and there is no more local issue than the danger lurking at the bottom of your own driveway, which has many parallels to national issues. That danger: traffic. Roadway deaths kill tens of thousands each year, and worse, behavior that threatens accidents leads to chaos daily. A lot of it can be attributed to the clueless and inept, and the solution to much of that lies in education of newer drivers. However, the thing we can all start doing tomorrow is simple: enforce the rules. There is a benefit in a deterrent effect, or there can be.

Yet, that isn’t done.

Consider, that when the issue of banning cell phones behind the wheel because distracted drivers were becoming a menace was first raised, some years ago, many (including a then naïve me) argued that no such ban was needed because the reckless behavior could be penalized under existing statutes.

Yet, as time went on it became clear it wasn’t.

In other words, the cell phone bans were as much an attempt to force the police to act as to outlaw the cell phone use on the roadway. Sadly it hasn’t worked. Now there is just one more law people could be ticketed for – and largely ignore. This isn’t to say it shouldn’t be illegal, but to argue that the credibility of those behind enforcement is lackluster. As an American cyclist, I watch news coverage of the election and think, none of these people has learned the lessons from the road. They keep making the same mistakes.

Before one can trust the idea of some new program or law, one must be confident existing ones are just, proper, and properly enforced.

If this is the state of our local roads, is it any wonder that many Americans – and not just cyclists – are skeptical of anyone who promises spontaneous reform of anything from taxation to immigration?

The solution to safer roads is clear; enforce the laws already on the books.

Instead, people who cannot manage to enforce the rules already on the books are content to pass new laws that are ignored as soon as the ink is dry.

We all know what the solution is. But no one will do it.

And I fear that is largely true about more than the roads. Government is like a tightrope artist; it walks the balance between making the rules necessary to safeguard citizens and their rights, and not infringing on them. We tolerate some restrictions because we see an overall benefit in terms of preventing malicious or careless or otherwise dangerous conduct. But when more and more laws are passed, and we find them flouted with impunity by the reckless or asinine, while the rest of us who would never do what the laws are against anyway are targeted for increasing restrictions… what are we to think?


Brian 6/7/16




Watch out for Tim.

News tonight that a pickup truck drove into a group of cyclists, killing five people in Michigan, has once again made the danger of reckless careless or malicious drivers front and center. However, it also highlights the danger of some members of the public -- and their attitude toward cyclists and death on the roads in general. (https://www.yahoo.com/news/deaths-reported-vehicle-hits-bicyclists-michigan-000424138.html)

Probably, if you are a cyclist, you are aware that not everyone appreciates cycling. Maybe you even have non-cyclist friends or people you know. Most of them, you would think, are not bloodthirsty, and would be just as shocked at the five deaths and other injuries caused by the driver in this case -- who incidentally, fled the scene.

You would in some case be tragically wrong.

While I usually don't read the "comments" under such news articles, unless looking for something to raise my blood pressure, I took a chance and clicked on the attached link. And lo and behold, the fifth comment from someone named "Tim" read, "Idiots on bikes probably wasn't riding single file like they should. No big deal !!"

In case you missed it -- five dead, and the non-cyclist driver's response is, "no big deal!"

Others replied in kind, one saying "five dead is tragic" -- but that if it was "five injured, I'd agree and laugh with you."

It is really too bad they don't do psych exams before issuing drivers licenses the way they often do background checks for gun permits. Because, these folks, who think injuring or killing half a dozen people is no big deal, are right out there on the roads with you.

They will remain so until we as a society finally decide that not only is killing people a big deal, but applauding the killing is also not something we should tolerate -- or, at least, enable, by arming those who applaud it with licenses to drive and perhaps kill someone else, too.

Next time you hear a driver griping about "rude" cyclist, remember these words. After all, some cyclists may or may not be rude, but cyclists don't kill five people in one fell swoop, and most of us do not applaud death and destruction just because we do not share another person's hobby, sport, or means of getting around.

In an ideal world, "Tim" would have his license revoked, the same way as perhaps the authorities would revoke the gun license of a person who published an endorsement or threat to go out and shoot five people, or cheer someone else doing so.

Instead, in this world, you are left with the fact that "Tim" -- and others like him -- will be rolling up next to you at the stoplight, behind the wheel of a car, totally convinced they have amoral right to kill you or half a dozen other people, because they had a bad day, weren't breast fed as a child, or didn't get enough hugs.

Ride safe -- and watch out for "Tim".


Brian 6/7/16




I saw this while riding today and had to take a picture, as I thought it captured the intended mood of this weekend very well. Memorial day may be mostly about barbeques and a long weekend for many (and for cyclists a focus is certainly the tour of Somerville, NJ, one of the longest-running bicycle races in the country), but what we so often forget is that the holiday also has a much more somber meaning. Please take time, then, even briefly, to remember the brave Americans who have died in defending this country. And, if you have a moment left, consider that with a yearly death toll of about forty thousand, our roads actually have a higher American casualty rate than many modern combat zones. My town is less than that… far less. So, imagine two whole small towns’ populations – or three -- vanished. Just a thought. Have a safe and pensive memorial day.

Brian 5/29/16


Friday night 2025: The future of our roads?
“Beer night” has been, for some years, an informal gathering at the local bike shop, where riders can come to share ideas, a snack, or an ale. So, what would Friday night be like in 2025? Here goes:

The large illuminated clock on the front of the bank building read five in the evening as Jack pulled up at a vacant looking building, then dismounted and wheeled his bike behind it, and through the back door. As the door closed, a sign on it caught the moonlight. It read, “No bots”.
“Glad to see you, Jack,” called Harry, handing him a beer. In the light Jack blinked. “Thanks.”
“So what’s going on?” asked another voice. It was Allen, a new guy who began biking out of The Shop – it hadn’t had a real name in years, since bikes were illegal – about a week ago.
“John got busted,” said Henry. “They’re sending him to the Bay.” This was a prison ship moored just off the coast.
“Anything we can do?” Allen asked.
“A few of the others were talking rescue, but we may be too late. Wait til they arrive, then we’ll see.”
“I never understood why people made it criminal to bicycle,” Allen said. “What started it?”
“Well,” Harry said, “Before your time, back in the early 2000’s, a bunch of companies were trying to develop the self driving car. They said it would be safer than people driving themselves.”
“If they wanted better safety why not just crack down on the bad drivers?” Allen asked.
“Good question. What they did instead was offer this as a wonderful new technology – with no downside. People were told the self driving cars would be safer, cheaper, more efficient – a laundry list of virtues.”
“The problem,” said Jack, “was that to really get all the benefits of the self driving cars they needed to just work with themselves. No old cars, no bikes. So they banned us with the Morrison Act in ’18.”
“All because people were too lazy to drive?” Allen asked. He popped open a beer.
“No, that was only part of it. See, the self driving cars were sold to people as a convenience, appealing to their laziness and unwillingness to improve their own safety. But the reality was the government, and the companies pushing the idea, had another motive. Control.”
“See,” said Jack, “if everyone is in a self driving car linked to a computer, than everyone is essentially in government or corporate custody. Everything you do is monitored – either to better market junk to you on infomercials tailored to your interests, or keep track of you in case the police need to arrest you – Heck the car could just drive you straight to jail! Additionally, the sensors and cameras all over all the cars provide a moving, constantly updating real time outdoor surveillance of every major American city and highway.”
“We thought we were so much smarter that the English because we Americans didn’t install CCTV cameras on lightpoles,” Harry quipped. “What we forgot is we got em on all our cars.” “So the whole thing was about a corporate monopoly and a police state?” Allen seemed on the verge of throwing up. “And we just let---“ “’Let’, heck, kid, the land of the free stuck its head in the noose with a great big smile and said, ‘pretty please, make it tighter?’ Eternal vigilance may be the price of liberty, but no one’s going to bother with vigilance when they could watch silly pet videos on youtube as their car tools around by itself to pick up groceries.”
“You guys all ready?” said Ben, as he entered the bike shop. He still wore his helmet and had just dismounted. Behind him, two military-style rucksacks in hand, were two others that Jack hadn’t seen in a long time. Both were loaded for bear and one had a wire cutters sticking out of his pack. “They haven’t transferred the prisoner yet,” the one with the cutters said.
“Come on,” said Harry. “Let’s go break John out!”
As they rode off stealthily into the darkness, taking a back route around the city center and its computerized sensors and cameras and lights known only to a few who still pedaled their own way, Harry turned to Jack. “You didn’t tell him the worst part,” he said.
“You mean the distributed intelligence?” Jack asked quietly, as he watched young Allen pedaling up ahead.
“Yeh,” Harry said. “A police state is bad enough, but when they programmed those cars and set them loose, each connected to the other, each learning – they created one of the holy grails of computers: artificial intelligence. And one of the worst nightmares. So now in addition to the government snoops, we’ve got a massive, disbursed collective electronic brain, evolving with no human control in the real world. Learning about humanity with no human input.”
“Problem,” agreed Jack.
“Yeh. What if it doesn’t like what it sees?”

The above was satire… sort of. There are serious questions about self driving cars and all the surrounding issues, from traffic safety, to AI (artificial intelligence), to privacy and continued road access for all (including cyclists!) that many are missing in the rah-rah push to rush them onto the roads – perhaps forever changing the nation as we know it, or the world.
Ride safe. While you can.


Brian 5/28/16




California Cyclist hit by police car, caught on camera.

Recent news that a San Francisco, California police officer hit a cyclist while randomly pulling out from the right side of the road once again raises many issues of road safety, but first, and foremost, let me get this out of the way: “What the %#@!”

I mean, while roadway accidents are so commonplace as to be more of a public safety menace than terrorism, what is normally considered violent crime (although I consider being run over violent as well), or many other headline-grabbing types of disaster, it seems that the only time anyone really talks about a roadway crash is when it is somewhat unusual. And getting hit by a police officer certainly qualifies, since they are the ones who usually enforce the law against others who are being unsafe, so you wouldn’t expect them to go around hitting people! However, if you watch the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eacBcZKSh7Q), that is what happened, and frankly, I am not surprised. It has been my experience that often police officers, although perhaps having no malicious intent, simply do not signal turns hardly ever. There are exceptions, but as a rule, it can honestly be said, policemen don’t signal turns. So it is no surprise that an officer, who says he was intending to turn right, pulls out to the left, across a marked bike lane, without looking for bike traffic and nails a cyclist, nearly killing him and ruining his ride on “bike to work day” of all times. What is a surprise is that it was caught on video, so thankfully there won’t be a rush to blame the cyclist, as is often the case.

Oh, darn, no such luck.

You see, worse than being hit by a policeman out of the blue (pun intended) is some of the public responses to incidents such as this, where no matter what the driver did, the cyclist is blamed.

Yes, there are jerks in every group, so presumably some of those who automatically, knee-jerk blame all cyclists are simply reacting to genuinely reckless cyclists. Maybe. But as non-cyclists how would they know which cyclists are reckless and rude and which are doing perfectly normal, legal things, which only seem odd to him because he is not a cyclist? I have seen asinine or careless cyclists in city environments, but I have also being riding since 1995 or so, including a decent amount of commuting by bike in the past, day and night-time, in traffic. And, of course, whether or not the non-cyclist is qualified to blame the person doing something he knows nothing about, or evaluate his conduct, that is beside the point in this and in many of these cases, because the cyclist didn’t cause the crash! The cyclist was doing nothing wrong and the driver ran him over, literally because the driver couldn’t take two seconds to be more careful. This is a common danger on American’s roads and it only made news because, 1, it was a cop that hit him, and 2, it was caught on video.

In short, the attitudes of some non-riders, whose ignorance in this matter, as others regarding cycling, is surpassed only by their certainty, are as frightening as any out of control or carelessly driven car. They know nothing about cycling – but are convinced they can sit in judgment of what any rider may do in any less-than-optimum circumstance (such as when a car moves at you without warning and you have no time to react). Or as the cyclist apparently said :“I am that cyclist. I am Tim Doyle I was going 25 mph. I had no time to react. The cop car was completely in the wrong. It cleaned me out and sent me flying 15 feet I have two broken ribs, a huge leg injury etc. I got out of SF General today at 4 in the morning. And some readers are saying I am at fault?”

While I try not to read posts to such news pieces, or even youtube videos, unless specifically looking for logical fallacies and nonsense, in this case I couldn’t help but notice that several ignorant people had posted responses blaming the cyclist, saying that the traffic light at the intersection in front of which he was hit was about to change, and so it was his fault the cop hit him sideways. Since he never got to the light and we never saw if he’d make it or not this is illogical. (which is why I why I had to smile at the response to that, a reader who posted: “25 mph is 37 ft/s. cyclist would have been well into the intersection during yellow. people suggesting he is not going to make the light need a science lesson”)

But beyond not being accurate, blaming the cyclist for whatever may have happened after he was hit also has little to do with the cop’s apparently careless actions – he moves left across the marked bike lane without any warning and hits the cyclist, sending him flying. Maybe, had the cyclist slowed down (for some random reason? Why slow down if you are going to make the light?) he would have missed being hit by the cop’s stupid move, but the cop still would have made the stupid move, which is the point. Police need to realize that just because they are in a marked police car, they are not above the rules; or conversely, for many, it seems they simply figure that being in an official vehicle means everyone will give them a wider berth. This is simply not always possible and doesn’t really make sense; when the lights on top of the cop car are not flashing, it has to obey the same traffic laws as your mom’s station wagon. As stated, many times police vehicles simply never signal turns – often (anecdotally) more than civilians.

It is my sincere hope that this guy heals okay and gets back on the bike. But it is one more reminder of the risks of the road, including a risk many may not realize: the risk of being hit by those who are normally counted on to protect you from attack.

It also highlights the risk of bike lanes: they are not magic force fields, and some of them are poorly designed (this one actually seemed good; it directed cyclists to the left of right-turning cars instead of keeping them along the curb, which many lanes often do – but this was negated by the cop moving left to go around a car and then try to make a right – until he hit the cyclist to his left!). At the end of the day even a “good” bike lane won’t stop a car from hitting you. In response to this fact, many argue for “protected” bike lanes that are separated from the road; these are actually more like bike paths, and have all of the dangers of some of those, with no real advantage: Where advocates might see “protection” the bike rider using it sees “confinement”. How is he to leave the lane to dodge an obstacle or make a turn? The sensible reaction to such things should be to argue that if a bike lane is going to be in place it be as well designed as possible. But the issue goes beyond this. After all, not all of us ride where there are bike lanes, and even if there is a lane it might not be where we need to be, or it might be blocked or unusable or as dangerous design no one would willingly utilize if they thought it through. In short, the issue is not just bike lanes but the overall street, which is where many of us still ride and where even those bike lanes (at least those that aren’t actually separated paths) are actually located. Ultimately the solution is better understanding of road use by all, including many drivers. This is where enforcement can underscore understanding. But it is hard to argue for enforcement when it is the police running you over!

And, needless to say, it is a reminder that there are plenty of people out there whose ire at cyclists is so out of touch with reality they need to really start looking at who gets driver’s licenses.


Brian 5/22/16




Police cyclist death should highlight dangers of the road.

5-12-2016 -- News today that a retired police officer cycling from NJ to Washington, DC as part of the Police Unity Tour to raise awareness of the law officers memorial was killed in a bike crash was the last thing I expected to hear. When the tour kicked off I listened gladly to the news coverage on 10-10-wins radio. I have always been in favor of anything that increases the focus on cycling, and let's face it, given how often cyclists seem to get short shift -- even by local police, when it comes to holding dangerous drivers accountable -- I've always figured the tour is a way for cyclist to make potential culteral inroads with those who enforce the road laws. The more of them that might see things with a hint of our perspective, the better, was my thinking. But, being cops, and being an organized ride, I never figured it was dangerous. In fact, I have jokingly suggested that it was the safest ride int he county; who'd run a cop off the road?

As of now, there is no sure proof what caused the crash; word is several cyclists were involved in a large collision. Whether a car driver contributed to this, or some other hazard, no one can say. But one can say there are major safety risks from careless drivers, bad roads, and other issues that definately need to be addressed. It is worth noting that Far Hills, where the police officer was fatally injured, is a popular cycling spot. I've ridden there many times, as have many others.

My condolences go out to the family of the officer, and his fellow riders. But it is my hope that at the end of the day his death is not in vain. Hopefully, this can be a focal point for those who care about road safety to latch onto, perhaps to try and improve things, for cyclists, and drivers and pedestrians. Drunks, people on the everpresent I-phone, and other careless road users may or may not have played a part into his particular accident, but they are a very real risk and the more that is brought home to people, the greater chance enforcement actually addresses the problem.

It is worth noting that when you or I are hit by a car, there is no news article and no outcry; but when this officer was killed the news was reported everywhere. Rather than bemoan this double standard, I sincerely hope in this case it can do some good, so maybe next year's Police Unity Tour -- or your next ride to the corner store -- can be safer.


Brian 05/13/16




No one should ever have to ride a crummy bike.

Make that a crummy department store bike.

Compared to walking, a bike from a big box store is better than nothing, but even if you go over it mechanically and grease the bolts, adjust things, etc. – which isn’t done by the store that sells it – you still usually are left with a below average bike. However, many defend the practice of buying these bikes, arguing they can’t afford a better bike from a bike shop.

To this I have to say, rubbish!

Tinkering with old and vintage bikes I have come across a variety of bikes that were once fairly costly, but now second-hand deals. Yes, they might need some work – take my latest project, a Univega Alpina 503. This bike reportedly retailed in the 90’s for over $600. A friend of mine scored it for less than $70, passing on the savings to me. Yes, it needs work. But not much. Compare this, however, to a Walmart bike. You get name brand components, standard sized rims for which you can easily get tires at any shop, and a solid bomb-proof steel frame that actually rides nice and will last and be worth fixing up!

(And here’s a thought – do you think anyone will be restoring that wallymart bike in 20 years?)

If unlike my Univega you look for a slightly more modern bike, you can find one that has more modern parts, often for less than you’d pay for that wallymart thing. A brief google search of “Walmart mountain bikes” online reveals bikes selling new for between $120 and $230 from Walmart. But on craigslist I have found relatively modern mountain bikes – say, those with threadless stems and v-brakes – for $195 for a Trek with front shocks, and $200 for a Raleigh M30, and a Specialized Rockhopper with front shock for $180. This is just a few. Looking around you can find more. Even if these used bikes need work, or a new tire, the point is you are still getting a much better quality bike than the department store bike – for not much more money, and in some cases less. (At this time I feel compelled to state that my friend’s bike shop, The Bike Stand, takes its own bikes in trade in, meaning you sometimes have used bikes for sale at a fraction of their new cost – with the added benefit that they have been professionally assembled and gone over to make sure they run smooth!)

In short, there really is no reason for anyone to subject themselves to a department store bike. Yes, maybe not all can afford or want to budget the three to maybe five hundred dollars you’re looking at for an entry to midlevel bike store bike. But do you have fifty bucks? Eighty? Maybe the between one and two hundred to drop on a department store rattletrap? Then, why not spend it on a nice used bike instead? One that will ride well, have quality parts, and last?


Brian 5/09/16


Two wheeled time machine.

I have a time machine in my garage.

I know that sounds outlandish, but it’s true.

It’s not built out of a DeLorean and doesn’t run on 1.21 gigawatts. Rather, it’s got spoked wheels and a chain. My time machine is a bicycle. Bear with me, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Back in 1995, when the ban on mountain biking in Watchung was being formulated, I was just starting out as a bicyclist. I rode a lot, on road and off – and some of that was at Watchung. When they began enforcing the ban a year or so later, putting up signs, etc., things changed. But then, a lot has changed since 1995-96. It has been twenty years. Who knows what happened to the girl I was totally mad about back then (maybe she did really go to college out west, and get into movie-making. Who knows?). If I still had the car I drove then, it’d have historic plates (1981 Ford – with 8 track player). And the world sure seems a whole lot more dangerous and messed up, what with international tensions, ISIS, and a contentious presidential election looming. Some things you can never go back to. I won’t ever be 17 again, or that thin (darn). The world won’t ever be the place as I knew it, a simpler and somehow less worrisome time, where everything seemed a little less messed up. No one can undo 9-11, or get us back to 98 cent cheeseburgers and good actual music on the radio. But, with the aid of a simple machine, and some old trails, I can, for a brief period of time when I choose, travel through time. It may look to bystanders as if I am simply biking, but the flux capacitor has nothing on my single speed or 1x9 setup. Lately there's been some buzz on the internet regardng Watchung Reservartion, largely because someone saw something I wrote about the no bike signs being removed by the county. Sadly, a few out there are still misinformed, thinking there is some ban on mountain biking at this county's premier park. So I'll reiterate: there was never any legally enforcable ban, i.e., a law or ordinance against mountain biking. There was a county policy to deter biking, but with the signs down I think we can safely say that's that, and good riddance. So, if anyone else wants to time travel, be my guest. Just remember, where we're going, you don't need roads! For now, I’m riding like it’s 1996, and loving every minute of it.


Brian 5-5-16


Compact road gearing – a brief history.

You may have noticed that many new road bikes lately are missing something: the third front gear. Modern “compact” drive trains, using a 110 mm BCD (Bolt circle diameter) are often thought to be new creation. So is the 110 mm BCD crank.

The reality is that 110 BCD cranks have been around for years, but most of the people who comprise the segment of the bicycle market that would actually notice that have probably never seen them. Why? They largely appeared on entry-level or inexpensive bikes and therefore did not come to the notice of those who would sit there with a slide rule (or nowadays their I-phone) and compute gear ratios. Nevertheless, for years they appeared on entry and mid-level bikes, especially those out of Japan. There were a handful of higher end cranks, but most were no-frills models appearing on bikes during the 1970s and 1980s. Also they appeared on a lot of early mountain bikes. Aside from more expensive models like the French Stronglight, the 110 BCD crank turned out of Japan was one of the few cranks that could fit the much smaller diameter gears used on home built off-road klunkers and later on store-bought mountain bikes. Some also ended up with additional holes drilled and threaded on the backside of the cranks spider arms for mounting a triple, or tiny inside gear. At the time, most roadbikes were running 52 or 53 outer chainrings and 42 inner ones. The most popular BCD, popularized largely by Campagnolo, was 144mm. Others used this pattern as well including Japanese makers. It is worth noting however that even 110 cranks, when they appeared on roadbikes of the era, used chainrings with the same number of teeth as their 144 counterparts; 52 or 53, 42.

It was sometime later that Shimano, a major Japanese component maker that more or less took over the mantle from Suntour, introduced its 130mm bolt pattern cranks. Suddenly you could run 39 tooth chainrings. 53 or 52 and 39 became normal.

With 130mm chainrings being the norm for Shimano, and Shimano dominating the road market except for Campagnolo (which switched to 135mm BCD) except for a few remaining small companies, anyone wanting a road double got either a 135 or 130 53/39. 110 cranks became an oddity, as far as road use was concerned. This meant, for all intents and purposes, you simply couldn’t fit a 2nd (inside) chainring smaller than 38 (as a practical matter 39 was the smallest generally available to most people anyway). So what to do?

Invent the triple! This had already been done to fit gears as small as 28 teeth on 110 BCS cranks whose spider arms and bolt circle could accommodate chainrings as small as 34 teeth. The smaller inner ring was mounted to threaded holes on the backside of the spider arms because it was too small to fit them. To install or replace the chainring you had to take the crank off the bike. You also needed a longer cage rear derailleur and eventually special front derailleurs were developed that helped shifting. Since modern 130/135 BCD patterns didn’t go any smaller than 38, this triple configuration as adapted to road cranks. So you had a 130 Shimano crank, for instance, with 53/39 in the outer and innermost chainring spots, respectively. It then had a 32 tooth “granny gear” or smaller chainring bolted to the back of the crank arms.

Triples immediately became the go-to option for many recreational cyclists especially before the advent of bigger diameter, lower gearing rear cassette selections. When your biggest rear gear is 25 and you have to ride up a 15 percent grade hill, having a tiny extra front gear is great. Triples for the road had existed before. Most had much more radically different gearing than modern riders have ever seen; 52/48/30-something combinations were the norm, the two “normal” chainrings being much closer in size because of the limited availability of special long-cage rear derailleurs at the time. But, though they existed prior to the move of the market, at Shimano’s prodding, away from 110 BCD cranks, they bloomed afterwards, because there was no other option after that for riders who didn’t want to have to completely replace their crank set and maybe also bottom bracket, depending on compatibility. In short, prior to Shimano, the road world was largely content to deal with being split; 110 for “regular” riders, 144 for “racers” – or anyone with a checkbook. Now, everyone wanted to ride cranks like a racer – and that meant the new 130 bolt pattern. And to run smaller than 38 on that you needed a triple. While standard double gearing became 53/39 (the 52 becoming less common), triple gearing stabilized at 52/42/30-something (Usually 32 or 30). The reasoning seemed to be that there was no need for a 39 if you had that granny gear. However, some cyclists modified their gearing. 52/39/30 would basically be a double with a bail out gear. Triples are useful, and bailout gear or not, they have the advantage of a “standard” (double) crank over a “compact” – higher top gearing. Meanwhile, their third “granny gear” eliminates the disadvantage of the “standard” crank set – the lower gear is also higher, making it harder to pedal up hills. But triples have disadvantages too. Three gears are harder to shift between than two. The innermost “granny” cog is so much smaller than the outermost cog, special front derailleur plates are needed. When integrated shifter/brake designs became widespread this necessitated a totally different left hand brake-shifter module for the bikes spec’ed as triples. And these “brifters” weren’t cheap. Triples were prone to more shifting problems, weighed more, and (horror of horrors!) did not look like racer’s bikes.

To try and deal with this the bike companies brought back 110 bolt pattern cranks and began running smaller than 39 “normal” chainrings – while slightly reducing the size of the “big ring”. The resultant combo is usually 50/34 – although for most riders 36 might be a better inside choice and less prone to spin out. Now, “compact” gearing is once again prevalent – in 2014 Shimano totally dropped triples.

But to see the compact as replacing the triple is historically inaccurate; triples only became as predominant as they did because the 110 cranks now used on compacts were pushed out of the spotlight by Shimano’s then-new 130 bolt standard. Worse, now most major makers are dropping triples from their road groups. This is a shame. Useful technology should not be abandoned in order simply to sell people new stuff. Yet the same folks who enticed riders to spend four thousand bucks on plastic bikes with squeaking press-fit bottom brackets (yeh, that didn’t work on the Lampert either) are now saying “ditch your triple, buy a compact!” I like compacts, because mechanically they are simpler. But I also see benefit in triples; the triple works for many users. Ultimately, it’s nice to have the choice! Maybe the companies are simply trying to save money by having all the cranks made the same; maybe they couldn’t afford to do both (especially since some of the triples might not sell, given how they are pushing the compacts. Nevertheless, it is sad to see the triple abandoned while it is useful; sadder still the see compacts being marketed as “the next new thing” – because they aren’t, and they too have an actual advantage, not just marketing value. I’ve ridden Sram and Shimano compacts both – both work great (but love that Sram!) To not offer a single triple offering is as disconcerting as to promote the compact simply as a gimmick, because it has a usefulness that goes beyond advertising hype. But that does not mean there is no use for triples, or that the compact is a “new” idea. They had 110 BCD cranks for over thirty years. And compact cranks were tried in 1995 on Trek’s 470 road bike, which sported a stock 46/34 gearing that year, with the 34 traded for a 36 the next. It stayed that way until 1998 when it went to a triple with 52/42/30. It was around the time of compacts that wide-ranging cassettes had come out – along with a shift to a larger number of gears, now ten or eleven in the rear. Many of these cassettes offer a range that reaches to the limit of most manufacturers road derailleurs – 28 or 32 teeth on one end, 11 on the other. The result is enough of a range that a bike with a standard 53/39 should now be as effective as a compact. Indeed, perhaps if such cassettes, previously only prevalent on mountain bikes, had come out earlier, there might have been no rebirth for the 110 crank. A 34 tooth compact inner chainring divided by 25, say the biggest rear gear of a common 12-25 road cassette, equals 1.36, or a one-point-three-six to one gear ratio. But a standard double’s 39 divided by 28 equals 1.39, which is not much higher. With a 32-tooth rear sprocket the gear ratio for the 39 tooth chainring is even less, 1.21 to one, making the 39 easier than the compact’s 34. Nevertheless, modern compacts are useful. But there’s a lot more behind them than the advertising jingles!

As for mountainbikes, they are going through a compact phase of their own with “1x” drivetrains using a single chainring. My own was retrofit this way and I am pleased with it, but that doesn’t mean it is the choice for everyone or every ride. My hope is that these new developments will open more options to cyclists. My fear, is that as new or sold-as-new technology takes the forefront, older tech will be phased out, leaving different, but the same number of choices, to no net gain. Hopefully we will see the former.

Brian 4/22/16




One (chain)Ring to Rule them All.

As you may have guessed from the title, I recently watched the Lord of the Rings movies. And then the next day, when riding through Watchung Reservation, it came to me that there are many similarities between Tolkien’s stories and my local trails. The first and most obvious is that like the Rings characters, I was on a bit of an adventure into an unfamiliar place. I’ve ridden Watchung lately, but only certain parts of it, and there are some areas that I was and am still discovering. Some of the similarities are good – impressive scenery, for example. Some similarities however are not so good. Here are a few of the more amusing ones I uncovered today:

Bad Bridges!

In the Lord of the Rings, there are numerous instances of dangerous bridges. Some are in horrible repair; others the scene of enemy ambushes. Fortunately there were no evil hordes waiting in the Reservation (unless you count the squirrels), however, there were several instances of sketchy crossings at which Gandolf would feel right at home. The bridge pictured here is one such. At one point it was a series of beams – only three remain, two going across and a third washed down the creekbed and broken in half. Even the remaining beams aren’t great; they flex with each crossing and the wood is deteriorated badly. However, bad as this bridge is, at least it is a bridge – or what’s left of one. Several places had no bridge, and it was left to me to find a way to jump or climb over.

A treacherous route through the mountain!

That’s a line from one Rings character, and it sums up one trail which is basically made of crumbling boulders. On some spots it’s flat and rideable; on others you can barely walk it, so riddled is it with huge rocks and fissures in the ground. In fact, when I first saw it, I mistook it for a rock-strewn streambed that had dried up.

The forest of creepy dying pines!

Okay, in the Rings movies it was the Mirkwood forest. Here in Watchung it’s the forest of creepy dying pines. The pine forest at Watchung actually is kind of cool – if you ignore the washed out, barely passable on foot trail which is not rideable for most of its stretch, and the creepy dying and dead pines, stumps, and roots which litter many parts of it along the trail. Don’t put a foot wrong while walking or carrying your bike – some of those dead pines have spikey broken off branches that would love to get a piece of you if you fell on them. However unlike Mirkwood there are no giant killer spiders, so that’s a plus!

The swamp!

In Rings there was a cursed swamp. Watchung has mire-like spots where some trails become impassable, making riders curse. No one knows why the county, which boasts of how good their trail maintenance is (uh, seriously? Are they using that Hobbit weed?), hasn’t diverted the water or otherwise tried to fix these reoccurring obstacles.

Two towers!

And lastly, both Lord of the Rings and Watchung have weird towers. The Watchung one just doesn’t have an evil army around it and a big fiery eye on top! However elsewhere in the park is an old concrete structure named “suicide tower” that local lore suggests has an evil history.


Brian 4/18/16




Cyclists just like others get robbed when gas taxes rise.

The Sunday, April 17, 2016 Star-Ledger, a major New Jersey newspaper, contained yet another article on the desire by some to tax the pants off citizens – specifically by raising the gas tax. Although this one was a news article, not an editorial – as were the last half-dozen pleas to rob citizens blind – it never questions the same basic premises. The assumption is that you me and the next guy are undertaxed because theoretically we might be able to pay more – or the government feels it needs more. This is kind of like the medieval lord saying to the serf: “Hey, we didn’t take all your crops, you have more than you need to barely survive, so fork the rest over.” Sorry, but that sort of approach has no greater moral basis now than it did in the 1300’s. Moreover, pragmatically, it won’t work.

And, as a cyclist, I have to ask, “what will this do for me?”

The answer is not much – except make me pay more for gas I wish I didn’t need in the first place, for no benefit. That’s right, none. Because the “transportation trust fund” may be running out of money, but sorry, that “trust fund” has zero, zilch, and nada to do with the local and county roads most of us ride on – or drive on. It may have some bearing on highways, but most local trips aren’t on highways. The roads we use every day – the ones that are in worst repair – are town and county streets. The “trust fund” is not relevant to those. So explain to me why I should be charged more to fix an interstate I don’t drive on, because I am not driving out of state regularly, and which I am certainly not cycling on -- while my own local roads remain riddled with potholes reminiscent of an IED training range. And that’s what gets lost in the shuffle. Many New Jersey cyclists do own cars, but look with no favor on the cost of them. My personal view is every time I gas up my car I am wasting money. Currently, state local and federal taxes already account for up to one third of the cost of your gallon of gas.

As far as I’m concerned, anything that doesn’t cut that cost is like rape and pillage worthy of pirates or latter-day marauders. And increasing it – well that amounts to, no pun intended, highway robbery. Some cyclists see gas price hikes with an approving eye, thinking they might discourage people from driving huge SUVs that often pass them unsafely or take up two lanes. This is foolish. First, the person who buys a $50,000 Mercedes is not going to be discouraged by and extra dollar or whatever for a gallon of gas. And the reality is if you look at the tax policy not in terms of how you think it will impact others, but yourself, you will see that we all lose with higher taxes when we get nothing for them. And that’s it. We’d be paying more for nothing – except maybe – if they changed their priorities which is doubtful – getting the government back on its financial feet. More likely, we will pay more and the government will continue to frit away the extra ransom, like some medieval lord in his palace.

And that, ultimately, is the issue. The government has spent itself into ruin and is now crying poverty. I suggest some of these politicians look around the state and nation and see what real poverty looks like. There is plenty of it, and surprise – a lot of it is exacerbated by government tax and regulatory policy that drives up costs and prevents people from saving or buying what they need. Ultimately, the responsibility is the government’s, not ours. Let them spend more wisely and within their means, like everyone else. If they have failed to do so, they must find a solution that does not impose on the citizenry – say, cut their own salaries, or some other programs. As to raising the gas tax, it’s a horrible idea. It wouldn’t help the roads I ride on anyway, and I shouldn‘t be forced to pay for some politician’s inability to budget. And I’d rather use that money for bike stuff. Who wouldn’t ?

Brian 4/17/16




Things I’ve learned from the woods.

This was I suppose, intended to be more of a standard editorial, in this case calling for better trail maintenance, certainly a viable topic depending on which trail you are talking of. In my research on Watchung Reservation, one of the things I found was that many people had found the trails poorly marked and not in great repair. And one of the first things I noticed when I returned to the park was that there were spectacular cases of both erosion and trail deterioration into what can only be charitably described as bogs, in some spots. But as this is Easter, let me start with a more positive note. You don’t have to be religious (and I am not!) to see the rebirth metaphor all around you, as flowers sprout and trees bloom – and, yes, as cyclists shed their winter gear and take to the streets and trails. On my “Easter ride”, then, several things occurred to me.

One: It is great to explore new things. I have been riding only one section of the park, primarily the same section as I rode before. With the no bike signs down I figured it’d reduce the chance of any conflict and have gradually begun exploring other trails. It’s mind-blowing. There is a whole world out there. So don’t get in a rut (pun intended). Find new trails, and see where they go. Just bring a map, if you can. Two: I learned very quickly that you’d be surprised what isn’t on the map. Three: When exploring a new trail, go slow unless you have an absolutely clear line of sight or have already been over it at least once. There can be large loose rocks, sharp sticks, and even drop-offs that are sometimes hidden by curves or dips in the ground. Today I descended one large hill and rode over a tiny bridge and up the other side; but the second hill had no bridge. There was a three foot wide creek running in a cut across the trail. Jumping it was not even a consideration; the banks were uneven and cluttered. I dismounted, found a spot where it narrowed and climbed over. But had I been going too fast this is one ride that would have ended badly, probably in a search and rescue. Going slower allows you time to see the scenery, too.

Four: If you see a moveable hazard (and you can stop safely) stop and move it off the trail. Today I moved one large heavy tree limb that was pointing up ready to spear someone, and a handful of rocks that were easily as big as bricks, resting loose on the trail, points up. Yes, you might remember where it is and avoid it next time, but why not leave things better than you found them? Five: There is indeed massive erosion. Some sections of one trail were washed out in the center by running water. I had to dismount and hike up. I was able to ride back down, later, but only by shifting from one side to the other across perilous shallow sections of the washed out center. And a mistimed crossing nearly cost me a nasty fall. While any downhill section of trail is prone to such erosion, functioning as a gutter for runoff, if it is taken care of there is less damage. Also, many parks have made good effort to channel the runoff alongside the trail. No doubt this could be done here, as well. Six: In addition to the erosion are boggy sections. These become impassible for bikes and even people afoot when the mud or water is too deep. They occur naturally, where water fills a low spot. Often, these are the areas where one sees criticism of cyclists, as it is claimed cyclists going off the trail to go around them widen the trail and exacerbate the bogs. The truth is I do go around them – but almost always on foot, shouldering the bike. Why? There is usually not enough room. So if someone wants to denounce this, they aren’t denouncing biking, but hiking! Really. Moreover, while like the erosion, the waterlogged bogs may be natural (in terms of no one put the water there) manmade efforts can certainly avoid it. Often areas to the left and right are clean as a whistle and dry as a bone; why not divert the trail around these boggy sections? Conversely, one could put down some gravel or something to at least make it passable, so you wouldn’t have ruts and foot prints – or horseprints. Or try and direct the water away. While the trails are enjoyable in their current state, much more maintenance is needed, as well as, frankly, a better understanding of nature. If an area fills with water, there is a reason for it. Since you can’t tell the sky not to rain, the thing to do is try and manage the water and the runoff. Instead, the approach seems to be just assume no one is going to go to the park when there is mud. This might hold true for the days immediately after a monsoon style rain. However, these particular boggy spots persist long after the rest of the park is dry. Some of them never really dry out. Clearly the solution is not to tell people to avoid them but to fix these sections of trail. Part of what this tells me is that from now on, whenever someone raises the issue of bikes “damaging” trails, one should ask where this alleged damage occurs. If it is by a boggy section, then one could rightly respond by saying why hasn’t the boggy section been fixed? Blaming cyclists (or hikers or horsemen) for a poorly designed or maintained section of trail is like blaming a driver for a highway that was poorly designed by those who built it. He neither has responsibility nor direct control of it. Which brings up the final thing.

Seven: Most people are not ogres. Although many who argue against cycling offroad would have you believe that cyclists and hikers are natural enemies, something like the Sith and the Jedi, the truth is that most people you are liable to encounter in the woods while riding don’t care that you are on a bike. They tend to be either neutral, or friendly. While the snide, elitist, bike-hating hiker who wants everyone on two wheels labelled an outlaw does no doubt exist, I have to conclude they are more likely to inhabit activist groups and internet forums than actual trails. Let’s face it, there are jerks in every group, but they are usually a small number. Today, I have found the two hikers I encountered pleasant, and one of them even had a cute dog. Chances are, rather than looking to turn his hike into an anti-bike crusade, the guy (or gal) that you see on the trail is just out looking to have a good time and maybe learn something. Just like me or you. While it would be stupid and naïve to ignore that the cyclist is definitely being attacked culturally on many fronts, and there are people out there who would like to restrict us, that is no reason to not be able to enjoy your ride. Yes, as you appreciate the trail and the woods, keep in mind there are those who would like to take it away from you. But also keep in mind that is all the more reason to go out there and enjoy it now. And if you do see someone on the trail, show him that you aren’t an ogre, either. Smile and wish him good day. What does it hurt? Especially on Easter.


Brian 3/27/16




The debate must change

Some time ago, in a column titled “changing the debate”, I raised the issue of Wilderness designations and their relationship to mountain biking. That is, that since the late 1980s, when environmentalist lobby groups twisted the law around, bicycling has been forbidden in “wilderness” areas. What I wrote at the time was that the debate needs to change. Current trail-access issues for cyclists – either at the national level, with the Wilderness issue, or the more commonplace local or county level – are always structured with the cyclists on the defensive. The cyclist is asked to prove why he should be allowed to ride – as opposed to those wishing to restrict him, being asked to prove why he shouldn’t. This is no way to win any argument, and frankly, it tilts the playing field. Mountain bike opponents don’t have to say they are against bikes – just in favor of “wilderness”. It is true that the federal wilderness issue is different in ways from local issues of trail bans. However, by starting at the top – with the federal system – it would send a message to lower levels of government. Perhaps one could even get a federal law passed which would deny any higher government funding to states whose towns or counties denied access to cyclists, when other users --- say, hikers or horsemen – were allowed access to offroad trails: "’IMBA will not accept loss of access to trails on public lands where we have an organized local chapter and where other sustainable forms of recreation are permitted,’ said President and Executive Director Mike Van Abel.” This was the IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association) statement that was contained in an email this past week, but as I read further I found myself surprised. Despite the announcement that losing trail access was unacceptable, the email said that the IMBA would not be trying to change the wilderness act’s exclusion of bikes: “IMBA will not seek to amend the Wilderness Act of 1964.”

First of all, it doesn’t have to change the wilderness act –as originally written the act did not ban bicycles. What it has to change is the special interest-centered interpretation that began in the late 1980s – not coincidentally at the same time as mountain biking began taking off – that bans bikes. As I read, I got more alarmed. I understand as a bicycle advocacy group they can’t afford to offend potential allies. But it groups, like some of the environmental groups, are completely and philosophically opposed to bike access, then despite the fact they you both enjoy the outdoors, those people are not your allies, and the similarity is superficial. So what reason can there be for this? I don’t know the answer, but when an internet search came up with an editorial piece by a blogger called “the angry singlespeeder” (http://reviews.mtbr.com/letter-to-every-imba-member-from-the-angry-singlespeeder), I was alarmed. If even only a fraction of what he said was true, riders who trusted to IMBA have put their eggs all in the wrong basket – or at least, in a basket seriously in need of revamping.

And that might explain why some of the worst anti-bike arguments go unchallenged even by many bikers.

Looking at some of the responses to “singlespeeder” article, it is easy to see not only that bikers have a variety of viewpoints – but how much the false ploys of the bike haters has profited them, in the intellectual field of battle. In the war for the minds of the public, they are winning sadly. The first such ploy is the wilderness designation itself and it’s being tied to banning bikes. Radical environmentalists and other bike opponents have created a grotesque emotional package-deal, so that if one opposes the blanket bike ban in wilderness areas it is presented as challenging the wilderness act itself (not it’s false interpretation). As a result, many of the bicyclists responding, who being bicyclists, had a concern for nature and the outdoors, seemed convinced they had to choose between defending bike access and defending Wilderness areas from, say, strip mining or high rise construction. As one respondent wrote: “the "wheeled vehicles" statement is in the law, and allowing "wheeled vehicles" such as bicycles gives other user groups a legal right to challenge the law. I would rather sacrifice the ability to ride there, than possibly open a loophole that would allow ATV use someday.” Another said the same thing; preserving wilderness was more important than his access as a cyclist. The fact that the misinterpretations of the bike opponents are forcing people to make these false choices is frankly sad. The idea that allowing bikes would destroy the wilderness by giving an “in” to motorized machines or development is repeated several times. This is what finally prompted me to pen my own response, as follows:

Many people are missing the point. The argument that allowing mountain biking in some wilderness areas would open the door to motorized vehicles is moot inasmuch as mountainbikes are not motorized! The intent of the wilderness act as I’ve understood it (correct me if I’m wrong) was to preserve the wilderness. But why? Not just as a Kantian imperative, or as some botanical museum for future scientists to study, but for future (and current) generations of citizens to use for recreation and enjoyment of the outdoors. So ask yourself, as more areas of the U.S. get closed off to non-motorized, simple human use — bicycles in this case –who will be left to appreciate all that wilderness?

What is the point of preserving it if only a handful of outdoor user groups have access? I do not want to see these lands built up with Starbucks or high rises, nor strip mined or overtaken by motorized contraptions. I bike and sometimes hike. They are not mutually exclusive. Which cuts both ways. Yes the status quo allows some of the more strident environmentalist groups, and some of the more unwilling to share hikers or horse riders, to stay happy. But mountain bikers are also a large outdoor user group. Why should we get less consideration? I have been personally turned off by much of what I see from the environmental movement. So much of it is elitist and exclusive and alienates me — and I am not the only one as this article indicates. Ask yourself if instead of some far off trail somewhere, the trail at issue was where your ride every week. The one you might want your son or daughter to ride one day. Or grandkids. Yes, they could hike, but why limit their ability to appreciate the outdoors? I started biking as a mountainbiker as a teen. I am now in my thirties and a roadie who is slowly becoming a roadie *and* a mtb’er again. The metamorphosis was forced upon me initially when my local trails were closed by the county in a secret meeting by unelected government employees. Only recently thanks to the work of local riders did the county finally quietly take the no bike signs down. National access or lack thereof may not be conducted in the same underhanded way but I say if you want people to support protecting nature you also have to be willing to let them use it. And please don’t say because a mountain bike has wheels it’d be opening access to atvs or half tracks. Again, bicycles are nonmotorized. I for one have ceased supporting any preservation moves — I vote no on every local open space initiative and ignore any environmental sounding “help our cause” emails. I would have a much different approach if I didn’t feel each and every one of these people was not only treating me, because I bicycle, as if I don’t count, but as if I am worthy of contempt because I ride. I guess the question is, whose land is it? Ours, and future generations. So, do you want them to ever be able to see it close up? Or from outside a fence? (and yes, I know if they conceding to abandoning their bikes they might be allowed to hike in, but that isn’t the point.

Also, most bikes sold at shops are mtb’s. anything that hurts mountainbiking hurts cycling. And I am pretty sure cycling in all its forms contributes to a net benefit for nature — certainly for humanity. Or would you rather I drove to the store every day? Someone said something about IMBA seeing “the big picture”. I don’t think excluding any human-powered user groups is seeing the big picture. Sure maybe the current approach will preserve more wilderness — government never seems to get smaller, after all, that probably includes its acreage. But you and I, as cyclists, will never see it. And I say nuts to that. If people want to screw us and our future over, they are welcome to try, but I will no longer be a beggar to my own demise or that of an experience I find meaningful.

Think that covers it, for now anyway!


Brian 2/29/16




Ambiguous symbols make roads less safe: Or, the law of unintended consequences!

Some years ago, ironically on April 1st, New Jersey state law changed from “yield to pedestrians” to “stop for pedestrians”. While pedestrian safety has long been an issue – chiefly because many people, both pedestrians and vehicle operators, fail to pay attention to what is going on around them – and therefore the move might be emotionally understandable – who can argue with doing more to protect pedestrians? – it was factually unnecessary. A person who saw a crossing pedestrian and slowed their bike (or car) as they approached wouldn’t arrive at the crossing point until the pedestrian was already across; stopping therefore did nothing. As to everyone else – well, if you don’t see the pedestrian in time, for whatever reason, neither yielding nor stopping will be an issue, will it? But the proposal was popular, because – again emotionally – it sounded good. It sounded like the government was doing something. In times gone by, when people were slightly more honest, such proposals were called window dressing, not safety improvements. But worse than being mere window dressing, the change of “yield” to “stop” might actually have made the roads less safe, as an exchange this week illustrated. After nearly not coming to a stop soon enough for a pedestrian who leaped out into the street from behind the blind corner of a building, albeit in a crosswalk, I found myself stopped, with my window open and the pedestrian on the left side of my car. As she glared at me, I remarked: “Ma’am, you didn’t stop and look.” Which was true; she’d shot into the street pushing her shopping cart at full speed, looking straight ahead. Fortunately I managed to stop; but I could just as easily not. What if I have been four feet closer when she entered the roadway? Or on my bike? Indeed, on a bike, where panic stopping can lead to falls, I would probably have been forced to dodge, resulting in a potential mess of other variables – including hitting something else, or being hit by a car, while trying to swerve around her. Her response was classic ignorant-ese: “You have to stop.”

I replied, “I do indeed – when I see you. If that isn’t until you’ve landed in front of me, good luck with that.” It was only afterwards, after I arrived home and gone back out on my bike, that it dawned on me that she and myself were both speaking different languages. I have thought and considered about road use and road safety – largely because of my cycling background. I make myself aware of road safety and traffic issues. Consequently, I knew that the sign at the crosswalk meant “stop – for pedestrians in crosswalk”. But that understanding didn’t jibe with the woman’s response that “[I] have to stop.” Yes, I do – if I see someone crossing – or perhaps about to begin crossing (although that last is so subjective it’s always hit or miss, no pun intended.) But definitely you are supposed to stop if you see someone crossing. Just like for years, you were supposed to yield.

But neither – stopping or yielding – are possible if the person enters from behind a blind corner at speed. Since she didn’t see the incongruity here, what was going on? Was she that stupid? Or was I missing something? It was when I rode past another crosswalk and saw the “stop for pedestrians” sign it dawned on me. Rather than plain text, the sign incorporated a red stopsign-like logo. To someone uneducated about road use – namely, the majority of the public – that could be seen as a regular stopsign. And under this interpretation, the pedestrian’s words suddenly make sense. She doesn’t see a problem with jumping out wildly into traffic because she thinks I have to stop – not if I see a pedestrian crossing, but whether anyone is there or not, like a regular stopsign. As Homer Simpson would saw: “D’oh!”

Seriously, the state people who changed “yield” to “stop” probably didn’t see this coming. But then, neither did I. Simple context would argue that even if the logo looks like a diminutive stopsign, it is incorporated into a larger “stop for pedestrians” sign, the meaning of which is different from a standard stopsign, such as is found at a roadway intersection. Yet, context is apparent only upon reflection, and understanding. The type of person who is likely to carelessly leap into traffic is unlikely to have put much effort into either. Instead, they see the sign as, literally, an indication that the world will stop for them. The fact that their misunderstanding of this commonplace road marking seems absurd to the aware is beside the point; just as much so as the fact that, really, all they are doing is finding something to confirm their existing behavior patterns in their mind, and avoid questioning or learning. This is all true, but we are still left with the fact that the government, by incorporating an existing symbol – a stop sign – in a sign that does not mean stop, per se, has led to this. Indeed, if people think “stop for pedestrians in crosswalk” means “stop sign”, their leaping into traffic like suicidal flying squirrels suddenly becomes, not asinine and ridiculous, but quite understandable: so far as they know, every vehicle approaching them is going to stop, whether they see anyone crossing or not, so the fact that they are entering the street without warning is a non issue. This is where it becomes apparent that there is a better way to handle pedestrian-traffic safety issues.

Right away, we already do so much to try and mitigate pedestrians carelessness, we actually encourage it. Flashing lights? Signs in the middle of the roadway, or in the shoulder? Faux brick surfaces? He only thing that seems missing is sirens and ninjas repelling down from the rooftops. Seriously. All these myriad attempts to make drivers and other vehicular users (i.e., cyclists) aware of pedestrians have done is send a message to pedestrians that they have no obligation to be aware of anything, it’s all on someone else. So when someone like myself tries to offer a kind word of advice – with the idea of perhaps sparing the foolish or unwary a broken leg – the foolish and unwary feel unjustly set upon. How dare that guy expect me to be aware of my surrounding! Doesn’t he see the sign? Well, gosh, yes, I do the sign. But unlike you, I’ve actually bothered to think about what it means.

And what I’ve concluded is that both in terms of our overall approach, and the specifics of using the term and symbol for “stop”, results are less than stellar. This is just one more case where ambiguous use of a simple thing for two different and very different purposes has bred confusion – and unintended consequences.


Brian 2/19/16


Once again, cyclists are cast as rulebreakers.

A recent singletracks.com article on forty-odd mountain bikers who had their bikes confiscated by the Marines after wandering onto what the USMC says is a restricted area is the latest instance where cyclists are derided as scofflaws because they do not have superpowers. As numerous comments on the article clarify, the area was apparently not clearly marked. Okay, so the closed area is not fenced off or marked? So how are cyclists to blame for riding there, then? And more to the point, is this good security? I mean, if 45 guys in brightly colored jerseys can just roll on into a military base, something’s wrong. Yet, the same people who denounce cyclists hold them to a superhuman standard. On one hand we are scofflaws, a menace, a danger – on the other hand, we are supposed to be able to know everything and react instantly and with movie-hero reflexes. No, seriously. I mean, absent psychic abilities or superpowers, how else are a handful of mtb’ers supposed to know a given trail is closed if it isn’t marked? Absent some belief that cyclists are superhuman, how can we be blamed for not predicting what anyone will do at any given time? Lest one think this is an unfair exaggeration, remember we saw this in New York in Central park when local papers went on a jihad about “speeding” cyclists “terrorizing” pedestrians after a woman inexplicably stepped in front of a cyclist and the two collided. It wasn’t one article either. This is just a sample a quick internet search turned up the following:

“Cops crack down on speeding cyclists day after horrific bike ... nypost.com/.../cops-crack-down-on-speeding-cyclists-day...New York Post Sep 19, 2014 - The NYPD cracked down on cyclists in Central Park Friday in the wake of the horrific crash ... Using speed guns, The Post also caught six bikers in the park going over the 25 mph ... Cops crack down on speeding cyclists day after horrific bikecrash ... Injured Harlem gas-leak victim suing New York for $25M ... Ticket blitz on cyclists as family mourn mom struck in Central ...nypost.com/.../cops- continue-crack-down-on-cyclists-afte... New York Post Sep 23, 2014 - Cops are slamming the brakes on dangerous Central Park cyclists ... aPost reporter witnessed 67 of 69 park cyclists pedal right through a red ... well as a sign that read “NYC cyclists care” — put some of the blame ... Jason Marshall, 31 — who witnesses said was speeding on his $4000 Jamis Eclipse bike ... • …etc. There were literally dozens more, each as silly as the last.

Of course, it should be noted that the cyclist apparently did not cause the collision, he simply could not avoid the woman stepping in front of him. To this day no one knows why she stepped in front of him. But like the cyclists in California, who couldn’t magically tell where an open trail turned into forbidden USMC territory, cyclists in the Big Apple are denounced because one of them was not psychic, and could not predict that someone would step in front him. As you can judge from the absurdist headlines from the New York Post, which are not that far from the average media response to such an incident, the tendency was to castigate the biker for not having superpowers, and not being able to avoid an accident. In fact, a general attempt was made to make an accident appear to be some kind of cyclist crime wave. The reality is quite the opposite; the NY Post was manufacturing a crisis and slandering an innocent man. This is a loathsome thing to do in order simply to sell papers. When it is done in an attempt to sell policy – namely, a legal attack on cyclists – it is not just loathsome, it is incipient injustice. And keep in mind it was a manufactured crisis. The truth was much more mundane but should have been a wakeup call about actual carelessness; not “reckless bikers”, but the more commonplace carelessness of non-cyclists who don’t look for or notice cyclists – until it’s too late. Though the NY incident and the California one are separated by space and time, the gulf between them is less than a continent. They are as close as a few words, and some indignant-sounding mumbo about bikers who break the rules. This seems to be the non- cycling public’s first assumption in anything to do with cyclists. One is reminded of how Union County, New Jersey spent 20 years tricking the people into thinking mountain biking was outlawed at our very own Watchung Reservation, when in reality there was never any law or ordinance against it. Perhaps with this in mind in some examples people can't be blamed for casting cyclists as rule breakers -- they've been tricked. But the trickery goes beyond the NY Post or Union County's 1995-era park department. It seems to be a general misperception about cyclists, that we are all somehow hooligans at heart, whether on the road or in the woods. And that misperception has to change. It is in a literal sense a prejudice; a pre-judgment. Remember though that cyclists harm very, very few people compared to cars. So maybe all those self-righteous bike-bashers should look in their own mirrors. In particular, their rearview mirrors. Before opening doors. And use turn signals. And put down their phones and four dollar lattes. Well, it’d be a start anyway. After all, bicyclists don’t kill forty-something thousand people a year, that distinction is reserved for car drivers.

So if the non-cyclist is looking for “scofflaws” they don’t have for to look, after all.


Brian 1/23/16




Safety is in the balance.

Saw a neat video on trackstanding today, which made a good point: aside from showing off to passers- by, balancing in one place without taking a foot off the pedals can be a safety advantage, allowing one to get stop if necessary but then get going again quicker, and be in control of the bike all the while, rather than getting caught with a foot down, as it were. (http://www.bicycling.com/video/one-important-overlooked-reason-master-trackstand) For avid cyclists, there is nothing new here, but for the rest, picture this; two cyclists at stopsigns. One has put a foot down and is standing there on the ground. Another, stopping for a stopsign at a similar intersection, balances in one place – trackstanding. Oh no! From behind, a screech of a car trying too late to stop while going too fast! It is going to run over the cyclist at the stopsign. What to do? The cyclist standing on the ground has to either get his foot back on the pedals and fumble to get going, or ditch his bike and try and run afoot from the path of the leviathan. The trackstanding bicyclist still has his feet on the bike, not the ground; he can dodge to the side, speed up, or otherwise react as a cyclist, not as a pedestrian encumbered by a bike. And he is much quicker to do so. The video showed the person who trackstanded at the stopsign traverse an intersection two seconds sooner when they got going.

Mind you, trackstanding is not for every situation, and for many people might be difficult. But it’s worth noting that as one gets more experience riding it is a skill you should learn.

Also, what is a very positive development for cyclists is that beyond trackstanding, this video showed a potential shift in the approach to cyclist road safety. The trackstanding video talked of safety without bringing up the tired old saws of “separation” or “slower!”. All too often, cyclists are told that the solution to every safety problem under the sun is to somehow separate us from other traffic; the result is often lackluster and dangerous bike lanes, separate bike paths that go nowhere and risk collisions at every roadway junction. Alternatively, when these lanes and paths sprout their own problems, which often involved being taken over by pedestrians, who the cyclists are then accused of terrorizing, the proposed solution is to make the cyclists slow down to avoid startling the people who are blocking a designated bike path or bike lane. Let's face it, while many tired old canards persist for reasons, the truth is many bike lanes are horrid designs, and most paths are worse. And it is neither realistic nor acceptable to say to a cyclist cruising along at 20 mph "Well, just slow down to 5 mph and you'll be able to stop if some jerk cuts you off."

What a breath of fresh air then, for an article to talk about cyclist road safety, not in terms of us surrendering the road and removing ourselves, or going at a walking pace, but in terms of proactively asserting more control over your use of the road – in this case, by being able to negotiate an intersection more quickly, and maintain control over your bike even while stopped momentarily. The fact that in the example of the posited intersection, the traditional “wisdom” of “just go slower to give yourself more reaction time” or “use a bike path/lane” might actually lead to a collision, indicates how important such a new approach is.


Brian 1/21/16




It might be a rough road ahead for cyclists – and everyone else -- as government and industry push self-driving cars.

In the 1-14-16 Investor’s Business Daily article (“Self-Driving Cars, Safety Moving Ahead”, p. A4), it is reported that “the U.S. government is expected to announce a plan Thursday that speeds introduction of self-driving cars,” talking of a proposed joint venture between auto and computer companies and the government. This was just the latest in a long line of reports that mentioned the growing sense that self-driving cars are somehow inevitable. As a road user, and in particular, as a cyclist, one has to wonder where this will lead. Chances are, it won’t be anywhere good. An earlier New York Times news article on a “test town” created to develop driverless cars was over two pages long – and contained not one word about cyclists. This is typical of the consideration riders are likely to receive – which means the automated vehicles may be no more aware of us than the inattentive human counterparts they would replace!

Make no mistake, no one who promotes self-driving cars does so saying they want to control people, infringe on their privacy, enable distracted fools, or endanger cyclists – or other drivers. Yet all of these things are almost certain risks of what is being proposed.

Just a few short years ago, in 2013, the U.S. government was admitting self-driving technology was not safe or ready for widespread use. That approach seems to have changed to “full speed ahead”. There are a lot of problems with this, starting with self-driving cars themselves and how they would interact with other road users. This is especially a concern for cyclists. Will we be seen? Will the cars be able to react to us properly? The recent example of one of Google’s self-driving cars stalling because it was unable to identify a trackstanding bicyclist is a classic example. Drivers could definitely improve their skills, and human behavior can be unpredictable – but cyclists have a century of shared knowledge to draw on in how to deal with it. Meanwhile computer technology is so far behind biology, which has had millions of years of evolution, that it can’t compete. Eyes? A brain? Computer can only approximate. So you get a complex computer that could not identify a bicyclist trackstanding, while even the most inept driver could look at it and say, without trying very hard, “duh, it’s a bicycle balancing in place”. Yes, I know they have autopilots in planes. The difference is there is a lot less traffic at 30,000 feet; no one doing a k-turn, parking, slowing down, merging, crossing the street, or riding a bicycle (And even in those jumbo jets with autopilots, the pilot can still take control if he has to). Comparing the sparse conditions at cruising altitude for a 747 with a crowded downtown street or a county road is simply misleading.

Then there are concerns about privacy, and tracking drivers. Another risk is the self-driving cars could be hacked, or have computer failure. That’s to say nothing of the risk of corners being cut. The things may be built by the lowest bidder, etc. More alarming, is the idea of completely contained road “networks”, which is what many self-driving proponents ultimately want. One engineer in a Star-Ledger article longed for a future where all traffic signals were removed because self-driving cars wouldn’t need them. This of course should make a cyclist nervous – it overlooks what is obvious to any cyclist – not everyone is in a car! The fact that such ideas may be far-off or unlikely is small comfort, if present day self-driving cars are seen as eventual steps towards such an ominous and exclusionary goal. And back to the safety concerns. I ask anyone who supports self-driving cars: Would you want to ride a bicycle with them? Don’t mean putting along at 5 mph on some path or marked bike lane, but cruising at maybe 18-20 mph (or more) on a normal road, in traffic, riding alongside, with, and through the cars and other vehicles. The way most of us avid cyclists ride. I believe most people like myself would not want to have to be subjected to that risk. Yes there are many situations where, in a fantasy world, a self-driving car would be great. With a tired or drunk driver, if the car itself was safe to drive, it could save a life – just one example. But we don’t live in a fantasy world – we live in a real one, where computer technology can’t even mimic the natural processes we all take for granted, and the best “safety” improvement is not to abandon control of our roadways but to pay more attention and improve our skills.

But perhaps the most dangerous thing about this article is not the self-driving care themselves but the indication that the government is intending to work with companies and vice versa to foist such cars on Americans. Such cooperation leads to a dangerous place where the official agenda can steamroll over legitimate concerns and questions, whatever they may be. Right now, the self-driving car is being pushed as the solution to everything from drunk driving to plain stupidity. And so far, no one seems too alarmed by all this, for several reasons. The first is that the biggest risk is to those not in cars, such as cyclists, who represent a small group, and are often overlooked. And second, the self-driving concept would enable the carelessness that many people already feel entitled to. Having their cars drive them around so they can text more instead of pay attention seems a swell idea to them.

And lastly, few are worried because the self-driving concept appears benign; Although it virtually ignores cyclists, and depends largely for popularity on the foolish who want to be more distracted on the road, these potentially drastic changes to the American blacktop are being promoted under the mantle of “safety”, with supposedly good intentions. Someone should remind those concerned what the road to hell is said to be paved with.


Brian 1/15/16




Fighting the misperceptions – again

One of the biggest problems cycling has these days is the often uphill battle against people’s misperceptions of it. Following are some examples:

From the comments on an online review of urban bikes I stumbled across, I found a reader grousing that the bulk of the bikes had handlebars too low, resulting in a “debased, uncomfortable, hunched over” position that was “vulnerable to head on” crashes.

Having ridden normal road bikes for some years, which do have a forward position, I’m not sure what he means, I have never crashed head on into anything because I was leaning forward, nor do I feel debased or uncomfortable, although I guess I might if I was forced to use tri bars!

My thinking is the reader figured every “practical” bike should look like those 19th century style machines you find associated with Dutch riders in Europe, or perhaps a beach cruiser. What people forget is that both styles of bike are a product of the environment of their intended use. Neither is really practical for long rides on the road. So then why were they made the way they were made? The answer is easy when you consider the beach cruisers are often used at vacation spots, purely for recreation, often on paved paths or boardwalks, and the Dutch-looking bikes are a product of a culture where there are separate paths, often traveled at speeds so low modern American cyclists would fall into comas if you asked them to keep to them.

Another one from the same website: “Two thousand dollars for a bicycle? You folks have to be kidding, right?” He proceeded to tell folks he had a 30-year old Huffy he got second hand and fixed up which worked great, he used it everyday for riding 20 miles round trip to work. He then said, “anyone who would pay more than $100 for a bicycle must have some serious self-image issues.” Well, I think anyone who would pay more than $500 for a car is being taken for a ride by America’s “car culture”. But guess what, if you want a new car, or even a good quality used one, you’ll probably have to spend more than $500. Your personal opinion has no control over what they are sold for. The same goes for bicycles.

Sure, we’ve all scored “deals” – a bike that looks like it’s worth a fortune for under $100, or even a mere $20, at a yard sale. I have found cool bike stuff in the trash by the roadside. It happens. But it’s also a fact that there is no brand new decent quality bike on the market – anywhere -- that costs less than a hundred dollars from a store. There are department store bikes and their cost is more in keeping with that hundred dollar goal, but these are not “real” bikes. On one hand, anyone on a bike is a good thing, even if it’s from Kmart. On the other hand, these bikes are often poor quality and some are even unsafe. The one or two department store efforts at drop-bar road bikes are terrifying. To get grip shift shifters on a drop bar for one such road bike, the department store company specified a two piece drop handlebar that split in half at the clamp area and was held together by a single screw [shudder!]. No one I ever knew said “Hey, I bought this bike that cost more than a hundred dollars because I want people to think I’m filthy rich!” Many people who ride a lot, however – say, thousands of miles a year (3-5 thousand is about the low end of a really avid cyclist, especially if he is riding some for transportation as well as long sport rides) do have more expensive bikes, just like someone who golfs a lot probably has more expensive clubs than the occasional duffer. The reason is obvious: When you are going to be on a bike for hours at a time, you benefit from a better quality bike in ways a casual rider will probably never notice. But it’s even more than that because unlike with golf clubs, there is not just a quality of use issue, there is a safety issue. A golf club that breaks won’t throw you into car traffic.

In short, the sheer difference in miles means that “overpriced” bike pays for itself where a cheaper one might self destruct. My friend Steve who runs the Bike Stand bicycle shop told me a funny story once about a guy whose bike had a problem during a race and ended up with the pedals from a Huffy or somesuch. He was skeptical if they would hold up and the guy who leant him the pedals told him they had worked for him for years. The racer tried them and the supposedly durable pedals self-destructed in a very short time. The reason was obvious, the racer put more stress on the equipment in a day than the other guy had since they rolled off the sales floor.

Speaking of replacement parts, although many cyclist’s bikes might seem exorbitant to the average non-cyclist, or even casual rider, in my experience cyclists are frugal, often reusing old parts or cables. Many’s the time I was hanging out at the shop and a guy comes in and wants minimal work done, usually in an effort to save money. I myself used to run some bikes with only the upper half of the handlebars taped, so I could use one roll of handlebar tape to outfit two bikes (I don’t do that anymore). In short, if you think that the only reason to spend more than $100 on a bike is emotional or psychological, you are being unrealistic. Please, tell me where I can get a quality, brand new bike that will perform like my track bike, or my handmade road racer, for less than a C Note?

The answer is you can’t. Now if you want to consign yourself to nothing but low end second hand finds – or the very rare used deal, the kind where someone finds a nice lugged masterpiece with full vintage Campy for $50 bucks at a yard sale, something you might wait a decade to encounter, or never find – that’s your business. But for me the answer is obvious, buy the best bike you can afford if you want to spend more time riding, or enjoy the time you do more. As to the $2,000 mentioned, most entry level bikes – even some decent midlevel ones – fall under that amount. But I can tell you my mass produced Raleigh, with Shimano 105, a midlevel parts group, would have retailed for almost that if I got it today. Yes, to the novice this sounds like a fortune, but in truth this is not a high end bike. Good quality, yes, but it sits midway through the bike company’s lineup.

Why do bicycles cost so much? Well compared to other things they don’t. A car costs how much?

The cost of a “expensive” bike is readily understood if you look at the breakdown. If you order a new basic parts group – gears, cranks, brakes – you could be spending between $800-$1,000, or more. A high end road group could cost $2,000 or more. Then there are the wheels and the frame. Most people probably ride stock bikes, with what they came with. A few assemble their own. A fewer still pay for all new parts kits. But there are people who do. And usually, they are riding way more than the rest of us. While a large bike company could and conceivably does get the parts spec less than retail, the point is knowing what the cost of parts is makes the whole thing seem less unreasonable.

Speaking of unreasonable, why should bikes be singled out? Look at watches. Most basic quartz watches cost under a hundred bucks. Many cost less than $50. Now say you want to only look at mechanical watches. Your lower price limit jumps to several hundred dollars. Why? It is more complicated to manufacture them. Or cars. How come no one complains that you can’t get a luxury sedan for under a grand? To illustrate that many of these people really do know better, when the topic is something other than bikes, I am amazed when a guy comes into the local bike shop wearing a $5,000 Rolex with a bike he bought at Kmart for $69.99, and then complaining that it costs $6 for an inner tube. The priorities here are odd. You may not need or want an expensive bike, but there is no reason you should ignore the benefit of a good quality one, especially since you can see that all around you in other fields, such as cars, watches, heck even houses. You get what you pay for, and every type of merchandise has a lower quality and price limit. As for $2,000, again, go into any bike shop. Your entry level road bike will be $800-$1,000. Is it so hard to think a real good one would cost a bit more?

I personally think anyone who expects to be able to buy a brand new bike for the arbitrary figure of a hundred dollars or less has a logic problem. But that’s just my opinion!


Brian 1/11/16


Assuming you are buying an entry level bike, it will probably not have, or there is a good chance it may not have, sealed bearings. This means you should adjust the hubs. This is part of a good assembly. You have to put the hub in a vice clamping one of the nuts near the hub and use something called a cone wrench, and another wrench, on the two nuts on the other side. It usually only takes a moment or two but it will keep your hubs from wearing out prematurely. Not that, being simple, fixed gear hubs don’t last even if ill-treated; they often can. But why blow up a perfectly good hub? So, you need a vice and cone wrench. Second, you need a socket or big allen key, depending, in order to tighten the crank bolts. And a pedal wrench to install those pedals. Also, all threaded parts you are attaching should be greased. There there’s the drivetrain. I bought a Bianchi Pista a few years ago at a bike show in 2006. The shop that assembled it originally did not do a great job; Just riding out to my car, the cog came loose. Fortunately because it lacked a handbrake I was going very slow and was able to not fall. When I got it home I greased and properly tightened the cog and then the reverse-threaded lock-ring, using a chainwhip and a lock-ring took, respectively. These are two tools the average joe will not have.

I know, I should probably be more understanding of fellow cyclists just trying to get by, but what I worry about is that in their desire to save a few bucks they end up putting all the local bike shops out of business, so there is no one to properly assemble the bikes when they do arrive (or sell the tools needed, for those who have the knowledge).

Also, I worry that someone who thinks bike assembly is nothing more than throwing on the pedals and handlebars might be on the road the same time as I am. Given that bikes put together under this philosophy are as prone to parts falling off as the Millennium Falcon, I don’t want to be near one on the road – a likelihood that’s increased if this misperception is not corrected. So again, yeh, mail order can be useful, but let’s be realistic here, it takes more to assemble a bike properly than you think. As one person discussion the online bike retailer later posted to that earlier exchange, after another one said that a given bike would arrive mostly put together, “and they [bikes direct] also quite clearly state that you should check all of those parts to ensure they are tight enough, etc. as they often are assembled, but not adjusted”. This is true of any shipped bike, by the way, whether it is sent to a bike shop or a guy’s house. The irony is that the guy who buys it shipped to his house gets it, is thinking he got a deal. I know that’s the argument because I’ve often heard it. “I saved X,” they say. Some might have a gripe about not finding a fixie at their shop, or the shop wouldn’t order it, but most just think they found a loophole in the real world, a ,magic way of saving a few bucks.

They are simply seduced by the dark side, the online/mail order world’s claim of saving money by “cutting out the middleman” – the middleman being the local bike shop. The thing is, get real, one of the ways they also save you money is by spec’ing less expensive parts. This usually means less good quality. They are probably safe, but the bike might always be heavier and clunkier than a bike that would be ordered at your local bike shop. But that is not so much a concern as that also, it won’t be properly put together, unless you are a very good bike mechanic.

Don’t get me wrong, I think people should learn and within reason do their own repairs, assemblies, whatever, and certainly check that parts are tight, but what’s clear is that most of these people haven’t learned. Again, maybe I should be nicer to fellow riders – but this foolery isn’t helping anyone even themselves. Worse, by encouraging it they mislead others, who are similarly unaware, by repeating false information, such as telling people all you have to do to assembly as bike out of the box is throw on the pedals and seat! These are usually the same guys who will remark, “Assembling a bike is easy, I’ve done it over and over for my kids.” Maybe, but unless he knows bikes, chances are he did it wrong. And the same is true for that new fixie he orders. Unless he is basically a skilled bike mechanic and has at least half the tools available to your average shop, he may be in for a rude awakening. He ends up bringing the bike in, complaining about this or that that does not work right, and asking the shop he thought he was cutting out of the equation to help him out of his quandary. He usually ends up paying for a full assembly or rebuild, usually something in the neighborhood of a hundred dollars. So unless he save over that amount he hasn’t gained anything by trying to “cut out the middleman.”

At this point, it becomes apparent that the local bike shop, that middle man, was not just another layer of cost to a sale that could be just as easily done online, but that he is actually quite important to cycling, and the safe assembly of that bike in particular, that actually selling a valuable commodity all along, namely his skill and knowledge and the proper assembly of the bicycle.

Perhaps all new bikes should come with these words on the box: “Some assembly required – common sense not necessarily included!”


Brian 1/9/16


The end of an era: Facebook takes over FGG.

There was a funny scene in the movie silly action movie “Demolition man” where Sandra Bullock’s character offers to take the title character, who is a 20th century cop stranded in a future California, to a restaurant. He is shocked to be told it is Taco Bell, since that is not a fancy eatery. He is told that Taco Bell was the only restaurant that survived the “restaurant wars” and hence, every restaurant is a Taco Bell! Just like, it seems, every web site –even your favorite independent bicycling site --is becoming an arm of Facebook. Or at least dependent on facebook for usage.

At one point in time, I had a facebook account, briefly. Then I realized I never used it much, got annoying emails from would-be “friends” I didn’t know or want to, and that it was largely useless to me. In fact, I was alarmed that facebook hosted several web pages devoted to denouncing cyclists, including some that contained open ended death threats to kill any rider on the road. One such group had only a handful of members but over 30,000 fans, something that should make one think long and hard about who is given a driver’s license, and how pervasive the anti-cycling attitude can be. Facebook had been told of these sites, but refused to take them down, claiming lamely that since the threats were open ended, and targeted all cyclists, they were not specific and therefore not real threats. I am sure this would be a comfort to the next person to get run down. A t this point I was fed up with facebook, intellectually, but didn’t have a real practical problem with it beyond my disgust at its lack of ethics and spine. But the final straw came when I read some disturbing things about the privacy of facebook users and how it was treated, including something alarming about using facial recognition software on photographs. No thanks. This ended my very brief involvement with facebook. Both of us (myself and facebook) were happy when we parted ways. Neither missed the other all that much! Sure, there were some annoying things about not having a facebook account. It’s kind of like not having an automatic transmission in your car, or brifters on your road bicycle. Who these days remembers how to use a clutch, or downtube friction shift levers? Yet automatics and brifters have some advantages. For me, facebook had none. I already had email, a cell phone, even a portable laptop computer. But the main problem was signing in to websites for one time or brief usage. Facebook, because it was so pervasive, kind of like kudzu vine and cockroaches, was often utilized as a sign-in tool. No facebook? Forget posting comments to your favorite u-tube page, online news article about some issue, etcetera. However, none of these were big deals to me. As much as I might feel like posting something, it was not a big deal and not massively inconvenient. Then, I decided to revisit a website that I have frequented for years, since I was in college, the fixed gear gallery website. Back in the dark ages of my youth, I had gotten into cycling mountain biking and riding old ten-speeds, but it was in college that I really got into cycling. The fixed gear gallery site, along with Sheldon Brown’s webpages, provided a lot of the info that helped me assemble my first fixed gear, which was an old lugged Centurian, all black with a half-chromed fork. As I recall, the gearing was a frightening 48/16! Did I have a lot to learn! Still, over the years I frequented the site, and it became a regular thing. Not just about fixed gears, but cycling generally; I learned many things beyond my experience about cycling in other locales, and cycling incidents in the news, which were often linked in forum posts.

Then, after a few weeks not using it, I tried to log back on, but the screen name and password that I had faithfully utilized for the last decade failed to work. Instead I was directed to a page showing a facebook log in. To paraphrase Sandra Bullock, “all websites are now facebook.”

I do not know why the fixed gear gallery.com site has chosen to go to a facebook-utilizing log-in. I do know that this sort of thing is not going to make me rush out and sign up for facebook. That is probably that facebook would like, but sorry, it is not going to happen. What is going to happen instead is I guess I won’t be able to log into the website’s forum any more. This is beyond unfortunate. The discussions, postings, and general rambling that occur in such forums are important to advancing cycling, keeping interest in it alive, and sharing ideas. The internet, in that sense, is – or could be – like a larger version of the big room at the back of my local bike shop, where some of the regulars and my friend Steve can often be found, swapping ideas and parts. But if a free exchange of ideas is beneficial, what happens when that same exchange – in one town after another – is all taking place under the aegis of one entity (in this case, facebook)? Call me skeptical but that’s not a good idea. Likewise, considering facebook’s history of apathy when it comes to being informed it is hosting violently anti-cycling websites. I sent an email to the administrator of the site, Dennis, to ask what was wrong and why I couldn’t log in, but I fear the answer is simple: The website uses facebook now. It is almost as if facebook is trying to build an evil empire, making itself the key to everything, so that it becomes a daily necessity, something you have to participate in. As Darth Vader said, “Don’t deny your destiny--- join me.”

Sorry, Darth Zuckerman, you’ll have to build that evil empire on your own. I ain’t playing that game.

Meanwhile, someone should probably ask the fixed gear gallery site, especially given those aforementioned facebook pages threatening cyclists with violence: What publisher of a bicycling-themed site would willingly promote facebook? And no offense, but by using it as a universal login, that’s what you are doing. Worse, you are making sure that those of us who do not use facebook – even if we’ve been a participant in the site for the last decade – are locked out. Nice going.

For me, this is the end of an era. No more easily asking diff people all over the country, who ride in varying terrain, for advice on gear ratios, or answering questions about bike repair. No more links to neat or informative or (sometimes) frightening articles that, however you look at it, were important to read, and that I might otherwise have not seen. The website was useful in getting me involved in cycling as an adult, especially fixed gears. But if the password that worked for ten years isn’t good enough, I am not about to join facebook.

Ah well, at least I’ll have more time to ride!


Brian 1/06/16


Welcoming the New Year from behind bars

Handlebars, that is. The New Year has come ‘round, and in the grand tradition of “new year’s resolutions”, I figure I’ll welcome it by proposing a few resolutions of my own, as an American cyclist. First, I resolve to ride more. There are so many times you actually can’t bicycle due to such as being out of town on a trip, or at work, or what have you, that to not take advantage of the times you can is flatly criminal. If the day does not permit an epic long ride, then at least the bike can be used to do an errand, or even, in some cases, to commute. You can always find an excuse for a ride! On the other hand, the fact that it is colder than hell on a given morning is no longer going to be a valid excuse. I have warm clothes and lobster-fingered gloves!

Second, I resolve to ride better. Not so much faster, or quicker, but better. This includes not just obvious improvements, like being even more aware of obstacles up ahead on a road, or hazards on the ground, on a dirt offroad trail, it also includes an overall mindset. I already consider myself a safe and aware cyclist, and a fairly polite one, to boot, but there is nothing wrong with smiling at more people. As a rule I wave to other riders, even those, like guys on tri bars, teeth gritted into the wind, who seem unable to wave back. When riding offroad, I smile and say hello to other bikers or hikers. But perhaps I have my surly moments like anyone. I resolve then to have fewer. This would include not getting quite so frustrated with some of the motorists around me while bicycling on the road – or at least, acknowledging that getting frustrated with them will not improve their driving or awareness one iota. For some people, the force is just not with them!

Likewise, I resolve to no longer be quite so frustrated with non-riders who don’t understand cycling, either as a sport or form of getting around, or who think that a bicycle is a children’s toy. This would include those who genuinely don’t get it, and perhaps a few who automatically dismiss cycling as “not a real sport”. Instead, I resolve to try and helpfully pass on what information I can about cycling, so that maybe in the future they are less ignorant. And, ultimately, to balance any incipient frustration towards their ignorance with the realization that I should feel sorry for, not angry, at them. After all, they are missing out on some awesome stuff.

I resolve to be a little more tolerant of the guy with the $5,000 bike who can’t change a flat or doesn’t know what a limit screw is. After all, we have to start somewhere, it’s just his bad luck he started out with enough cash to buy the best, first.

I resolve to remember, whenever hearing about some shocking tragedy in the news, that these things are reported on precisely because they are unusual. There is no such thing as the malevolent universe principle. Disasters are not the norm, however much the headline-harping media want it to seem that way to sell commercials and ratings. Speaking of disasters, what a disaster it would be if I didn’t ride! I resolve to try and spend at least one moment per ride reflecting on how lucky I am to be able to bike, that the strange confluence of events and choices that led up to me being a “cyclist” took place. Likewise, I resolve to take the time at least once a ride to try and make something about the riding area better for the next guy to use it. Whether it is moving a hazard or debris off of the road, or picking up a fallen branch or littered candy wrapper from a mountain bike trail, if only a few cyclists made more of an effort at this, things would be even better for riders (and, at least with the debris, there would be far fewer rides that ended in swear words and possibly expensive repairs.)

Speaking of swear words, I resolve to try and not cuss off the next driver that nearly kills me, even if he is a total jerk and breaking some law like talking on a phone or running a stopsign (although I will probably be cursing inside). It often gives cyclists a bad image, as people see only the cussing, not the near-lethal foolery that provoked it. It is much more satisfying to do what I did instead with illegally parked cars causing me grief on one of my town’s main streets: Write a letter to the police chief and a cc the town councilman. A week later the offending curbside was painted yellow and fewer people seem to park there illegally.

Which leads me to the last resolution: Travel hopefully. No one knows what a new year brings, and although cynicism has a legitimate point, often one can accomplish more than they might think to improve a given thing. I don’t doubt that just on the one tiny issue of cycling, there is much progress to be made, from road safety to trail access, but at the end of the day, things do often move along. I don’t know what 2016 may bring, but I resolve to welcome it from behind the handlebars, with a big smile.


Brian 1-5-16




Study doesn’t just show a shift in cell phone use, but a need for increased penalties or enforcement

Imagine if you picked up a newspaper and read of a study where more than half the people surveyed said they ran red lights. Your first reaction if you are like me would be, are they nuts? Your second would probably be something like, where are the cops if they really are doing that all the time? You might even wonder who would even admit to doing such a thing, whether they did or not? These are all the reactions I had to a report in last week’s Investor’s Business Daily on an insurance study, in which people admitted doing unsafe and illegal things with cell phones while driving. To be fair, the attention paid by drivers to their surroundings is important to everyone on the road, but it is especially important to cyclists, who are not protected by an armored steel shell in the event someone crashes into them.

For this reason I was relieved to read that “State Farm survey released Dec. 8 said [cell phone] use for talking was going down”. I was less relieved when I finished reading the description in the newspaper: “While people were increasingly surfing the web”. The report summarized the trend as follows: “From ’09 to ’15, use among those surveyed for talking fell from 65% to 51%. During that period, texting while driving rose to 36% from 31%” and “accessing the internet jumped from 29% from 13%” (“Phone use in autos shifting”, IDB, p. A2, 12-14-2015).

Where to even begin assessing this is hard to say, especially after passing a single car collision today where a driver, for no apparent reason, appeared to have driven off the road into a post. Perhaps it is enough to state that replacing one dangerous distracting behavior with another is not improvement, and to note, as well, that distracting behavior can be dangerous, not only to others, but to yourself, as well. Such as if you were to drive into a post!

Perhaps one should also wonder at how much effort is being spent on enforcement if more than half the people are using a cell phone while driving, whether to talk or type. Seriously, where are the policemen? If more than half the people carrying guns were using them recklessly, there would shortly be some serious legal repercussions. Perhaps it is time we starting treating cars as the equivalent in terms of the danger they can present, especially since misuse of cars already claims more lives than misuse of firearms, probably because misusing a gun has a serious penalty, while misusing a car does not.

One might even wonder, who are these people responding to this study? What type of person would even admit to talking or typing while driving in the first place, even if they do? This is the last and most alarming aspect of the study; it suggests that not only is enforcement against these infractions so lax as to be no deterrent, but also that the people doing it don’t even realize or think they are doing anything wrong, or that would make other people think less of them. The reality is, that is a cultural change that must take place over years – but enforcement could literally begin tomorrow. Increasing the penalty, as well as frequency of its application, would probably help. A person driving a $40,000 car and gabbing on a $400 I-Phone is probably unlikely to be phased by a small fine; they might pay it and keep driving recklessly. Confiscating a cell phone, on the other hand (along with all the data on it!) might well deter behavior that can injure or kill. Clearly, whatever minor penalty, seldom enforced, represents the status quo is not enough.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but there should be no circumstance under which half the people answering a survey should be able to say they risk lives by driving unsafely and violating legitimate common sense road laws.


Brian 12/23/15




Go see for yourself: There is no substitute for hard data
Politicians, talking heads, and self-appointed “experts” on local and national issues should all take a cue from the bike world. They might actually learn something. All too often, conventional wisdom seems to be simply repeated assertions. While there is a use for facts provided by others, however, often there is no substitute for going right to the source, to the actual real thing, or hard data. Take the case of my recent bike project, a vintage Kona mountain bike I was putting back together. This was an unusual steel frame; although twenty years old it is lighter than many current aluminum bikes. According to Bikepedia, the 1995 model had a 27.0mm seatpost diameter. According to Sheldon Brown’s website, it had a 27.2mm seatpost diameter, although the later 1998 model was, according to Brown, 27.0mm.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that as many who work on bikes know, you can’t usually eyeball a difference in one tenth (or two) of a millimeter. But part of the problem is also that both websites, bikepedia and the late Sheldon Brown’s site, are “trusted” sources, used and relied on not only by myself, but many, many cyclists worldwide. Yet, they each say something different. Obviously it is either 27mm or 27.7mm, but not both.

What to do?

Well, when competing authorities provide differing information, the thing to do is double check the facts for yourself! I got an allen key and took the seatpost out of the bike and examined it. Lo and behold, it was marked 27.2 on the side. A caliper confirmed the measurement. This is not to knock bikepedia, generally; its website is often right. But in this case, it seems it was not.

The point is, even reputable people or sources can sometimes be mistaken. Therefore, often there is no substitute for seeing for yourself.

A lesson that might benefit many beyond the field of bike mechanics, if they were to pay heed.


Brian 12/21/15





The signs are down, and I’m thinking the trails are open.

The other day I noticed that for the first time I could remember in recent years, the “no bikes on trails” signs were all gone from Watchung Reservation. I noticed this first by accident; then, made a deliberate effort throughout the remainder of the week to confirm it, looking for signs at various trailheads as they emerged by the road. All of the no bike signs were gone. .

The first thought I had was, does this mean the county has ended its two-decades of pretending mountain biking was banned? .

Back when I first started looking into this last year, I found out via OPRA request that the county never actually passed any law or ordinance banning mountain biking. Or as the County put it, “the freeholders did not act” to exclude mountain biking. What did happen was a handful of unelected employees decided, in a backroom deal in March 1995, to ban mountain bikes on their own, even though they had no legislative authority to do so. For this reason, much of the ban’s implementation was conducted in secret. The county has spent twenty years misrepresenting an old part of the county code from 1983 as banning mountain biking, repeatedly misquoting the ordinance as saying “trails”. If you read the ordinance, it’s about roads, paths, and sidewalks, nothing that would make anyone think mountain biking. It doesn’t even refer to offroad trails at all! But that’s the point. Even on that one ticket they admitted in an OPRA request this month that they gave to a mountain biker (the only ticket provided in a request for any going back ten years) there was no offense listed on the ticket. In the space for the ordinance number or infraction, the county policeman simply wrote “bike”. .

And, of course, after promising at a 2-24-15 meeting to work with mountain bikers to reopen the park – even hiring consultant CME Associates, to design new trails and paying them over $40,000 – the county just stopped talking to the mountain bikers. The $43,000 trail plan – which was supposed to include mountain biking – disappeared into a black hole. .

Now, almost a year after that February 2015 meeting between a handful of riders representing every mountain biker in the county and CME and four County officials, the likelihood of there being some big grandiose park opening ceremony – or even a press release buried on page 14-B of a local paper – seems slim. .

The manner in which something begins can often provide a clue to its ending. The ban, being extra-legal, was imposed in secret, suggesting its creators must have known that what they were doing was not above board. One document provided in response to an early Open Public Records Act request was a memo from April 13, 1995, in which a county employee stated, about mountain biking, “This issue has begun to garner significant publicity in the last few days. I would therefore, ask that you expedite this request as much as possible in order to heighten awareness of the [1983] ordinance.” .

In other words, he was afraid that people were finding out what the County was up to, and wanted to preemptively eliminate any opposition with misinformation. It is not certain which is more worrisome; the misrepresentation of the ordinance, or the desire to rush it to the forefront, to curtail “significant publicity.” Perhaps this is even why they didn’t list any offense on that ticket; they didn’t want someone looking up the law and saying, hey, this doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with mountain biking. .

By the same token, perhaps even if the county were to cease its mindless prohibition, they might go out of their way to keep the dissolution of their policy as low-key as the implementation of it was back in 1995. .

A policy created in the shadows out of necessity because it went beyond where the government was authorized to go, would naturally be removed in the same way, with a minimum of fanfair. Or, as my father, who has some knowledge of these things, told me: “No one in government – not just this, but any level of government – is ever going to just admit they were wrong, about anything, if they can avoid it.” His suggestion: If in fact the government decided to cease pretending mountain biking was illegal, they would make sure to do so in a way that would not open themselves to criticism. No new trail plan, no public statement. They might not even tell us if they were opening the park. Others, including my friend Steve, who runs The Bike Stand, more or less concurred with this assessment. Well, taking the signs down and just hoping no one notices qualifies, I guess – if that is in fact what happened. .

Then I think back to that meeting. I don’t know which one it was, but one of the county people there – probably either Sanchez or Zuber – said something where he admitted, “What happened years ago was wrong.” But note he was admitting this in a closed door meeting. .

Not for the first time, I am wishing I was carrying a recorder on February 24th, because if in fact the signs were taken down by the county – and the fact that they seem to have been consistently removed, even from out of the way trailheads, indicates it likely wasn’t citizens taking things into their own hands, or even a car knocking down a roadside signpost by accident– that is going to be all the admission of wrongdoing we are going to get. .

Nevertheless, in a choice between trail excess and an admission of wrongdoing by authorities, I’ll take trail access every time. Although the exact reason for the “no bike signs’” sudden absence is unclear, local riders should not look a gift horse in the mouth. The only conclusion I can draw … well, the signs are all down, so I’m thinking the trails are open.


Brian 12/13/15


Ticket to ride?

No transparency and improper documents – such as this ticket which lists no actual infraction -- make finding the truth difficult, to put it mildly As Union County’s apartheid against mountain biking at Watchung drags on, despite having already hired a consultant and paid them over $40,000 to design a new trail plan, which was promised to include mountain biking, it is worth examining the only ticket Union County will admit to giving in the last decade.

I received the ticket and some related information as part of a 12-1-15 OPRA request to the county, in which I basically wanted copies of any tickets they’ve given to people for riding in Watchung. I would have been interested in any tickets given since they began excluding riders 20 years ago, in 1995, but to keep it reasonable I said for the last ten years. Turns out they provided only a single ticket, which was given on March 15 of 2015, well after the county said in a Star-Ledger article the previous year they were working with mountain bikers and the group JORBA, to recognize mountain biking, and well after the meeting had with the consultant, CME, in February of 2015, where one county official tellingly admitted, referring to the exclusion of bikers: “What happened years ago was wrong”.

What is also telling is that at that meeting, no one talked of having to repeal any ordinance in order to make mountain biking “legal”. Apparently none of the four county people present actually ever believed mountain biking had been prohibited. This fits with known facts; last year, I filed several OPRA requests, trying to find out what, if anything, is keeping us out. I found out there actually is no law or ordinance against mountain biking; unelected county employees decided to exclude bikers in 1995 in a backroom deal. They have since tried to justify this by misrepresenting an old ordinance from 1983 as banning off-road riding, repeatedly misquoted it as saying "trails" in contemporaneous communications! The ordinance 115-14G, actually talks instead of roads, paths, and sidewalks, nothing that would lead anyone to believe it applied to mountain biking. Yet although the word “Trail” appears nowhere in the ordinance, guess what location is described on the 3-15-2015 ticket given to the mountain biker: “Foot trails/ bridal trails”.

The reason for the prefixes are obvious; if they said simply “trails”, someone might say, why not biking trails, too? But the county seems content to not only ignore that mountain biking was never actually outlawed, only prohibited in an extra legal manner; it also seems intent on pretending it never happened at all. (Go to the county website and look at it. There is no mention of mountain biking one way or another even in the history of the park section, although it was ongoing for at least a decade, until 1995, and sporadically since. In fact, the website doesn’t even say that according to the county you can’t ride there.) It is worth noting however that the ticket said the location was a trail, not a path or sidewalk.

One could go on; the “notes section” said “refusing to exit the trail” and other things, once again referring to trails – even though the ordinance the county has been saying banned mountain biking doesn’t apply to trails or even contain the word.

But, of course, how is the ticketed rider to know that? The ticket never cites any actual offense.

Rather, in the box for “offense”, no ordinance number or law is given. Instead, the officer involved simply wrote “bike”, followed by “eject mountain bikers”. Who has ever heard of a ticket issued to a citizen without an ordinance or law being cited on the ticket?

Well might the county have good reason for failing to list any actual infraction; the ordinance it’s been pretending banned mountain biking for two decades doesn’t even contain the word “trail”. Nevertheless, by failing to actually identify the ordinance the rider was charged with violating, the county police denied him the ability to actually look it up and see if it did, in fact, say what they said it said. Had he been able to do so, he would have been in for a rude awakening. What is interesting is that although the ticket lists no actual offense, the “NJ automated complaint system” printout the county sent me, attached to the ticket, did list a charge: 115-14G, or “operation of bicycles in designated areas”, part of the public safety code of the Union County Code. This regulates riding on roads, paths, and sidewalks but says nothing, as stated, of trails or mountain biking. Anyone reading the ordinance with a clear head could in no way conclude that it was intended to have anything to do with mountain biking. It is about what it says it was about – roads paths and sidewalks. Which raises the question, if that was the ordinance the rider allegedly violated, why not put it on his ticket? Perhaps no one wanted him reading the text of what he was charged with, and risk him realizing that the ordinance for which he was charged was never meant to apply to what, exactly, he did.

One has to wonder if anyone ticketed for riding in Watchung was ever told exactly what ordinance it was they were allegedly violating. To that one must ask, is this fair, or legal? I asked one attorney, who said that if confronted by a ticket that did not have an actual ordinance or offense on it, the ticket would be regarded as not properly filled out. The Lawyer's response? "If it was me I'd ask for the thing to be dismissed".

Also, keep in mind this ticket is from 2015. The county has been pretending mountain biking was illegal since 1995. How many other tickets like this have been issued? I requested the last ten year of tickets but only received this one; yet one finds it hard to believe this was the only ticket given in the last ten years. Ultimately, like so much about Watchung Reservation’s extra-legal prohibition, we may never know, because the truth has been deliberately been hidden. To what end, is anyone’s guess.


Brian 11/08/15



How not to build things

It's sort of axiomatic that the simpler something is, the less there is that can go wrong. So one would think if the goal was to improve safety, one would simplify rather than complicate an intersection. Yes, of course, if you actually wanted improved safety. If however you confuse slow and dumb with safe and smart, you will be in favor, as the governemnt of Berkeley Hts., NJ, is, in favor of all sorts of dangerous, silly designs. Take the case of the driveway tot he shopping mall at the corner of Springfield and Snyder Avenues (see image). For years this was a wide, simple driveway. It allowed ample room for a car, or truck, or for a bicyclist to turn alongside a car. It was simple and easy to use.

Then, when the town decided to install an unnecessary traffic light nearby, the decided at the same time to permit changes to the driveways and the mall. The simple wide driveway was narrowed by bunker-like concrete things, not only necessitating a more accute, sharper turn by a motor vehicle, but also meaning said motor vehicle would have to drive much closer to the cars parked in the parking spaces in front of the store, as going around the protruding bunker left him almost no extra room. The danger of course is that if someone is backing out of a space (or a passenger is walking behind their car) there could be an accident; it is common knowledge not to drive or ride close to parked vehicles. Also, the narrow opening makes it harder for cyclist to conduct themselvesd alongside cars. An interesting side note: it was found that the bunkers made the driveways too narrow to admit a fire truck, meaning if the building ever catches fire, the firemen will have to drive around the block to get in the parking lot, and even then may not be able to access the front of the building at all.

Now, deciding that this wasn't unsafe anxd silly enough, whoever is behind this menace has put an island in the middle of the driveway, narrowing it further! My tiny Honda hatchback is 65" wide, or a little over five feet. Even though I came to a stop before turning in (not advisable on a 35mph road like Springfield Av., but the island leaves little choice; expect rear-endcollisions to become a fairly common occurance, a boon for local trial lawyers, I barely fit! The driveway on either side of the islan d was barely wide enough fro my car, say, about six feet or so. I litarally had six inches on either side.

There is simply no way that a bicyclist could, except with the best of luck, even think about going intot he driveway alongside car traffic, as is his legal right and as has been the practice at this intersection for years. In fact, since most people around here drive cars much bigger than my tiny Honda, chances are they can barely fit through b y themselves. And what about in winter, when the driveway is narrowed by plowed slow? For that matter, who makes a plow small enough to fit through the opening? I have never seen a full sized snowplow that is that narrow, most are much wider than my Honda.

Clearly, this is an instructive demonstration in how not to build something. The simplest idea is still the best. Needlessly complicating an intersection is asking fro trouble, be it your building burning down cause the fire truck can't get in, to some one getting hit by a car on a bike, to cars rear-ending each other or backing up into a main road.

Please, engineers out there -- learn from these fool's mistakes. Let's not see a repeat of this sort of three stooges construction routine. American cyclists, and all other road users as well, deserve safer roads, not roads that look like they were built on a drunken dare by someone with a serious case of myopia.


Brian 11/18/15


Changing the debate

From the singletracks.com bicycle website's email blurb came the following warning: "In the 517,000-acre Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, a usage debate is at hand. The proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness would inherently prohibit cyclists on nearly 10,000 acres of land, limiting opportunities for exploration via human-powered transportation (aka bikes) in this scenic and remote area of PA." Not just PA... been to Watchung lately? Though surrounded by counties and even state parks that recognize mountain biking as a legitimate, healthy, outdoor activity, Union County residents are still after twenty years denied their place in their county's premier park. Although no ordinance banning mountain biking was ever passed, and the "bicycles prohibited on trails signs" you see in the park have no legal authority, according to the county's own records obtained via Open Public Records Request (they came up with the ban in a secret backroom deal, with no public input, then pretended that an existing ordinance about sidewalks regulated dirt trails in the woods, specifically misquoting the ordinance to say it said "trail" when it didn't), many don't want to take the chance -- especially, as with like all extra-legal government action, there is no way to know in advance what would happen if someone stopped you, because there is no law you can look up to see , is it prohibited, and what the penalty is. The result: Union county riders go to other parks, fleeing like refugees for an afternoon in Morris and other counties.

The problem is not just the long drives (something that becomes absurd when you think that many opponents of cycling cloak their objections in words about being concerned about bikers ruining nature... yeh, and driving for forty extra minutes doesn't pollute?), it is also that these other parks then become crowded. This past summer, I spent much time at Lewis-Morris in Morris County. On weekdays it was largely quiet; one could literally hear birds fart. One day I rode for several hours and didn't see a single other human being. Some days I'd see one or two other people, but infrequently enough that it was a rarity, worth noting. Weekends, however, it looked like Great Adventure on coupon day. In one case I actually witnessed a minor fender bender in the parking lot, which had become so crowded a Mazda Miata (!) could not fit. And on the trail it was just as crowded. Not if you went off in certain directions, but some loops and routes you were in constant action to avoid this or that, or sometimes, out of necessity and safety, stopping.

While a park exists to be used, if it gets too crowded there are certainly issues, ranging from it not being as fun, or nature-like, to concerns about the increased likelihood of collisions, to a possible need to do more maintenance, sooner. It is nice that, at least, refugees from Union County's extra-legal, twenty year farce excluding mountain biking like myself have somewhere to ride, so I am grateful for Lewis Morris and other such parks. However, my gratitude does not prevent me from acknowledging that as a policy, forcing all Union County mountain bikers to go elsewhere is not a good thing. It is not just a question of the unfairness of the ban, of its total lack of legislative authority, or the fact that it was concocted in secret and based on a lie rooted in fear of what people didn't understand, and a base, primitive desire of some of the more bullyish sort to tell others what to do. It is not even the inconvenience to local riders like myself of having to drive for over half an hour when there is a great big park we already pay for within bicycling distance. It isn't even the extra pollution and car traffic this creates, on those particular roads. No, the big problem is that Union County is basically dumping all its mountain bikers into surrounding counties' park systems.

In order that Union County maintain the status quo of the park, Morris county park users have to deal with more traffic, more park users, etc. From a governmental perspective, Union County is the winner, at least it's government is; they avoid having to admit and correct a past error (the mountain bike exclusion), and Morris County deals with the increased user-ship, costs, etc. While I don't want to do anything that would jeopardize my ability to use other county parks, seeing as the main one in my own county does not appear to be run by people with sense, I could easily see Morris County's board of freeholders taking an issue with being expected to accommodate all of the mountain bikers in Union County, simply in order that Union County avoids correcting its policy. One would wonder if at some point Morris co. would send Union Co. a bill for park maintenance, emptying rubbish bins in the parking lot, whatever. And ultimately that's why the issue is not just about Watchung -- or Pennsylvania. It is about fairness.

It's not just that these policies of trying to exclude bicyclists are not good for bicyclists, it is that they are not good government, as well. Bicyclists have been here for over a hundred and twenty years. Mountain biking, although comparatively new, has been around for almost 40 years -- if you put the point of origin with the proto-mountain-bikes that they started making in the late seventies. We aren't going away. We will remain a consideration, and to just ignore that, or pass laws -- or pretend you did -- will not change the reality, that cyclists exist, even if they sometimes appear invisible to those who formulate policy. One good thing about being somewhat mechanically inclined is you can see how things work. You can analyze ideas the same way you could analyze bike parts... and guess what, fault assembly in ideas is just as frequent as faulty assembly of bikes by shoddy stores. It should be obvious that an idea which is unfair to local residents, will, if it impacts other counties or governments, also result in unfairness. You can determine what is to come by what it is based on. So it is not just that banning mountain-bikes in Watchung was not just an imposition on mountain bikers who used Watchung; it creates other concerns for everyone else, including possibly other counties dealing with the overflow, radiating grief.

The solution is not just to oppose prohibitions like the one at Watchung, but to change the thinking that such things aren't going to have an effect. It is like the politician who knows threatening to tax some product, or group of people (this year it's "the rich") will be a crowd pleaser. So he plays to people's envy and proposes to tax the pants of them! Next thing you know, the same politician is complaining that tax revenues are actually down, because people changed their behavior to avoid the tax, including what many have done which is move out of state, taking jobs, and economic activity, including revenue, with them. Mountain bike bans are like that too, and like any other government policy, they have an impact on the people; but the people, you and me, are not static. We react. In the case of Watchung, most of us went somewhere else to ride on most days. How much of the massive crowds that made the normally tranquil Lewis-Morris Park look like the frenzied lair of a Mall Santa on the morning of December 24th is attributable to the Watchung exclusion of mountain biking? It is hard to say. But one thing is certain; the fact that the park does sometimes get so crowded, is definitely an indication that we need more places to ride, not less.

Which comes to the idea of declaring that land in Pennsylvania "wilderness". A "wilderness" designation prohibits all vehicles, even human powered ones I wonder if they would also ban wheelchairs? If so, could they be sued for discrimination? And if they don't ban wheelchairs, how can they ban bikes, a wheelchair is similar in general construction, being made of a tubular metal frame and having small thin wheels. It is not more destructive then a bike -- but then, a bike is not more destructive than a wheelchair. So if they aren't about to ban the handicapped, how can they attack cyclists? (this may never even have come up as most single track is too narrow for wheelchairs, which are wider than bikes, but it makes you scratch your head). Because the banning of bicycles is implicitly part of the wilderness designation, no one has to actually denounce against bicycling; all they have to do is support a wilderness designation. This enables bicycling opponents to appear to be "for" something, rather than simply against bicycling. It makes them more appealing and gives them a political edge. And, it allows them to make a bike ban part of a grotesque package deal. Many people who might favor a "wilderness" designation because of concerns about, say, strip mining, will have nothing against cycling, but they get basically tricked into supporting a bike ban as part of the overall process. Some have suggested that a way to avoid this is to alter the law regarding "wilderness" to remove the issue of banning bikes. I agree, it's about time.

But a similar change also has to be made to the mindset of people who even put us on this path. When did riding a bicycle in a public park become controversial? We aren't talking something horrible of violent or immoral, we are talking about going for a pleasant bike ride in the woods.

It's time to remind people of that -- that, ultimately, banning or trying to ban off-road cycling is not about some big grand issue like "the environment" or "saving the earth" or even "safety!". The people who propose it are not really for anything, all they are about is simply keeping you from going outside and having fun. One could also add that while some are misguided, many are simply self-righteous so-and-so's who think they have a right to tell others what to do. The same description could be applied to any bunch of killjoys, or any bully.

If cyclists and others concerned with the issue can make that the face of the anti-mountain-biking policy -- not some high minded environmentalist with lofty goals, but a small-minded grump with a tolerance deficit, it will go a long way towards changing people's minds about mountain biking, by default. Because it will truly change the debate, to where it should have been all along, not citizens trying to explain why they shouldn't be outlawed, but the government trying to win the very uphill fight to try and justify outlawing them. It will put the issue where it belongs, not on mountain biking, but on those who want to ban it. After all, it is the one making an assertion who has the burden of proof from a logical standpoint. You say cyclists are horrible and should be banned? Prove it. Rather than have cyclists constantly on the defensive, this would put the ban-happy prohibitionists in the position of having to justify and explain every accusation, assertion, or claim. Rather than a rider having to try and prove that he should be allowed to ride, let someone who wants to ban mountain bikes try and justify it. Like most prohibitions, they won't be able to. Prohibitions are popular with many because people fear or at least are uneasy about what they don't understand. But the same lack of understanding that makes them willing to ban the target of such animosity also puts them in a position of knowing little about it. To use the analogy, how many literate people really approve of banning books? Perhaps if more people understood mountain biking there’d be less tendency to propose banning it. But we can start by setting things right in the big picture, starting with, this isn’t about mountain biking, it’s about people trying to ban mountain biking.

So to the new face of those who oppose mountain biking, we can say a small-minded grump with a tolerance deficit -- and little understanding of what he is trying to prohibit.

Ultimately, whether in Pennsylvania or Watchung, I look forward to the day when if someone proposes outlawing perfectly normal behavior, people ask "why?", he goes away.


Brian 11/06/15


Less driving, not enough tax, says the government

According to an article in the Nov. 1, 2015 Star-Ledger (“Millennials ease off the gas”), people are driving less, leading to less tax revenues.

In typically close-minded fashion, the Ledger sees only the bad in this, namely, that the government is claiming it no longer has the money to fix the roads.

The article says, “Standard & Poor’s said millennials nationwide are driving far less than older motorists… and that when they get behind the wheel are generally in smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.” The article then blamed the reduced mileage and/or fuel consumption for lost gas tax revenue. Let’s be clear. Although the gas tax in New Jersey is less than some other states, taxes – state, federal, and local – still make up one third the price of your gallon of gas. That is far from a small bite to one’s wallet. So despite annual cries of poormouth by the government, at it’s varying levels, and allies in the media, the problem is not that people are paying less tax, the problem is what the government does with the money that it does collect.

One could go on; the “lost” revenue is offset by less pollution and less wear and tear on the roads, if people are indeed driving less, or driving smaller vehicles, so shouldn’t that at least partly balance out? Yes the government has less money to spend fixing potholes, but wouldn’t there also be less potholes? One might even take exception to the concept and terminology of “lost” revenue, which make it sound as if the writers – or those who put the ideas in their heads – think that the government has some innate claim on all money in private hands. Indeed, how can the government “lose” something it never had?

The article complains about “sharply reduced gasoline tax revenues, not only in New Jersey but nationwide, cutting available funding for the Federal Highway Trust Fund.” This is not new; over the last two years the Star-Ledger, alone, has published at least five pieces calling to tax the pants off its readers, specifically by raising the gas tax. All of these articles and editorials called for raising the tax burden, none called for making the government spend the money it does have more wisely. Much of the money we are told goes to road repair is shunted off into the general revenue fund, to be spent on who knows what.

Also, few have pointed out that the Highway Trust Fund is basically irrelevant to your local town and county roads, where most of us bike, drive, or walk daily. Moreover, the government is not poor; tax revenues dropped by just over 36 million dollars from 2004 to 2014, according to the Star-Ledger newspaper. That sounds like an awful lot of money, and it is, but not nearly as impressive when you consider that this difference was between $566.8 million and $530.4 million. All of a sudden, as big as 36 million dollars sounds by itself, it seems as if the government still has a lot of money and if you look behind gas tax or transportation or highway funds, to the general revenue, you see a government that, from your local town council, to the state, to the national level, is obsessed with taking on more tasks and more responsibilities, when it cannot handle those to which it is already obligated effectively. Local downtowns that don’t fix deteriorating sidestreets spend money on faux block-looking crosswalks to “beautify the downtown.” The state and federal government are no better; whatever you think of the current administration’s policy on health care, housing markets, or banks, one has to ask, without rancor, how can a government that cannot meet federal highway obligations, which are a basic, everyday safety matter, think it can properly run whole industries, be they financial or medical?

Back to your local streets, some of the potholes of which are particularly hazardous to cyclists. The answer isn’t to fork over more money to the government, it is to insist the government use the money it has wisely. The solution is for citizens to get involved, and not tolerate broken streets and infrastructure. Call in or write your local government, most of them have a public works department. Be polite, but be firm. In my own town it took many emails to get a response, and then they only fixed one hole, and forgot to clean up all the debris and rocks. So I sent more emails, eventually even suggesting they remind their employees that post-job cleanup is part of finishing the task. You wouldn’t leave tools or debris lying about at your work, would you? No, and these guys shouldn’t either. Bottom line, the holes got fixed. But the difference between this approach and that of the Ledger is that it puts the burden where it belongs, on the government that has forcibly removed money from citizens pockets. Once the tax money has been taken, the citizen no longer has no control over what is done with it. It is therefore unjust to ask him to pay the bill, literally, for what the government did or didn’t do with his money after taking it.

In fact, one could go one step further and not only say, call or write your governments and remind them of roads that need fixing, but one should also tell those same government that you as the citizen shouldn’t have to do that. These towns have public works departments, and in small NJ suburbs, they are hardly engaged in big building projects daily. The result? Downtime, which is often suspected to be spent in idleness. Perhaps rather than hanging out at local eateries, as was observed in one small town, the public works people could cruise the streets, making notes of which are in what state of repair, so that they don’t have to wait until a citizen happens to notice the problem and then calls them. Ultimately, to put it in simple terms, we don’t need to pay more taxes, we need the public works employees to take shorter lunch breaks. But this isn’t new; again, the Ledger has written on the subject before: the Ledger’s pro-gas-tax-hike editorial, in the 4-11-14 Star-Ledger, makes claims and arguments that are largely unrelated to most daily driving, let alone cycling: I am not driving out of state every day, so I am rarely on an interstate, nor do I use the Pulaski Skyway. And I am certainly not biking on I-78! So the repair of the skyway or the state of the "Transportation trust fund" is, basically, irrelevant to me. I do bicycle frequently on local and county roads, and drive, but money allocated to fix highways and bridges -- usually the bridges that go with the highways -- have nothing to do with that directly. Earlier articles included one on January 5, 2014 in the Ledger, then again on March 16, 2014.

As to the goal of "getting the gas tax to a more reasonable level", the writer of one editorial, a Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson, state Assembly Speaker) would have readers believe this means raising it. Raising taxes when you have enough money to start with, however, and waste it, is not reasonable. Moreover, in grousing about “lost” revenue the government never got its grubby hands on – and which would no doubt have been as squandered as the rest – the Ledger misses the benefits of the fact that not only did the government collect thirty million dollars less, people drove six million miles less! The benefits of the government having less revenue are hard to see at first – if one views the world as the Ledger does, but they are real, and can be described simply: cutting back bloated government. Like anyone with a reduced budget, they must prioritize, and cut waste. Some have said many of the government’s extraneous programs are not “waste”, which may be true, but compared to the issue of road safety, many of them are hardly of life and death importance; some are even incompatible with the government’s just and proper functions. The financial constraint of a smaller budget might help move the government to impose limits that might otherwise be politically impossible to get off the ground. That said, however, it will take the firm hand of the citizenry to force them to make the hard choices, since the first reaction of the government, and it’s boosters like the Ledger, is to plead poverty, not failed priorities. The reality is, this is an opportunity to fix the problem that has led to unrepaired roads in the first place, by fixing the system that gives the government our money, with no accountability in how it is used (or not).

Towards the end of the article the Ledger even hinted at this, saying that perhaps a new system would have to be designed, but the Ledger’s focus was still on getting the money the government claims it needs, not addressing it’s misplaced priorities that have led to the problem. Let’s be clear, the problem is not that the government is broke, the problem is what it does with the money it has now. In that sense, any attempt to find a way of increasing revenues, from raising taxes to some new funding scheme, would be throwing good money after bad. What has to change is the beliefs of those in office, and perhaps some of the rules they operate by. And we can start with the assumption that the rest of us should be forced to pay for their mistakes.

The benefits of less driving are even more obvious; less people hurt in accidents, less wear and tear on the roads, less time wasted in traffic, less pollution, etc. and something that, as a cyclist, one can appreciate, which is, more time to do other things. Like ride.


Brian 11/02/15


Disturbing as it is, media coverage of car fatalities may do some good.

Lately there seem to have been a series of high-profile, tragic roadway crashes. Negligence, or deliberate attempts to cause harm, seem to be involved in many. Earlier there was a case where a man tried to kill a passing motorcyclist with his car; he ultimately ended up being arrested. Before that, a teen driver turned into a police car, causing a collision which killed others. And, although it received only fleeting mention in the media – more so on the internet – who can forget the drunk driver who got arrested after posting a picture of her crime on social media? Like the infamous video of that texting woman falling into a fountain, this more than anything else demonstrates the impairment of inebriation: You posted your crime online? If someone’s judgment is that poor, whether from drink or anything else, they really shouldn’t be driving! Then, recently, a woman who may have been drunk drove into an Oklahoma parade, killing several people and injuring many more. One of the dead was a small child. Too often, road safety in this country is a “sleeper” issue, passing under the radar.

Gun crimes lead to talk of new laws, many of them intrusive and with questionable value in preventing crimes. But, at least, although the “solutions” offered are often just political pandering, at least, one could argue, the issue is one that is discussed. With people killed by car drivers, however, there is no discussion, no outcry.

Indeed, no one seems to even take the most basic steps – such as enforcing all the laws on the books now. This is why many states felt compelled to pass laws banning cell phone use; the existing laws against careless or reckless driving were not being enforced, and neither were the ones against mental impairment – one could argue the mental impairment of a cell phone user is analogous to that of a drunk, or someone on medication that has a negative effect on their reaction time and attentiveness. So now we have laws against cell phone use – that aren’t enforced, either. Instead of enforcing the common-sense rules that already exist for the road, people do nothing. To cyclists, or a handful of careful drivers, perhaps, the issues of road safety are an issue; but most people are not cyclists, and most drivers can barely bother to pay attention, based on what you see on the roads every day. Classic example, people driving too fast or too slow for conditions. Most people know speeding can be dangerous, but what about the guy driving at 20 mph in a 35mph zone with nothing in front of him but autumn sky – a more common occurrence? It may seem merely annoying, but think -- does he even see the speed limit sign as it slowly rolls past his windshield? While it could be this person has some other reason for driving 15mph under the posted speed on the road, the fact is, if he is oblivious, what else is he going to miss? Will he see a stopsign? A double yellow line? Me on my bicycle? (This is why inattentive driving, by the way, should be addressed. Yes, the guy going too slow is simply a nuisance for other car drivers behind him, but it is a symptom of something much worse; if he is pulled over for obstructing traffic and at least informed by the cop that he needs to pay attention to his surroundings, he might be more likely to see that stopsign. Certainly, doing nothing will allow him to move along in blissfully unaware tranquility, wondering why car drivers are honking at him, or bicyclists frantically dodging him, until one day, in a particularly egregious moment of mental disconnect, he kills someone.) The same could be said for the drunk – like the person who drove into that parade in Oklahoma.

If you want a steadily worsening problem, the guaranteed way to achieve it is to ignore the problem. This is what we have been doing about road use, largely because to address the issues that impact safety we would also have to address many “quality of life” issues too, things that might not kill you, but are a nuisance. However, right now more of society is in the category that is participating in the nuisance than the other way around. Imagine if people were forced to put down their cell phone or their Jim Beam and pay attention to the roadway. Oh, my gosh. How horrible! After all, this wouldn’t just reduce the number of fatal wrecks, it would also improve efficiency, potentially reduce stress, wasted time, excess pollution lost in traffic jams that no longer occur, etc. We can’t have that now, can we. Who wants less stress, less pollution, less grief, less death? It’s more important to start early on that booze binge, or text or call your BFF on the cellular phone while still driving.

That, of course, is the problem. It does seem more important to many people. Note that for most people, drinking and driving has been widely accepted as a problem, and there has been much done to crack down on it, but, like that fatal crash at the recent parade, it still occurs. Texting or talking on the phone – or other obliviousness-inducing impairments – are still regarded as harmless, and as something normal. As any cyclist could tell you it is not safe or normal, and the conduct it leads to is very dangerous. But because cell phone use or general obliviousness is acceptable in other public contexts – at a bus stop, walking in the park, etc – many take it for granted that it is okay behind the wheel. For these people, it really is more important to make that phone call than make sure they don’t kill someone, or improve road efficiency, stress, pollution, etcetera. That is why – as sad as stories like this Oklahoma crash, or the earlier such incidents are – one is glad to see they are at least getting news coverage.

Maybe, if enough people see what happens when a car is misused, there will be a push for stricter penalties for misuse. If enough people see what occurs when you are not attentive, maybe there will be a push for penalizing distracted or inebriated drivers. And, to be fair, we already do pretty good with the inebriation, although some exceptions still occur, as in the parade example. But it would be well to remember that if the driver was impaired by a distracting phone call, she could just as well have done the same amount of damage. To use the analogy, if you run a stopsign and hit a family of four, it doesn’t matter to them if you were rushing to the hospital with your pregnant wife in the back seat, or simply trying to download a ring tone and not looking where you were going. They are still dead.

And that death is what people need to see. It is tragic these crashes occurred; but it is good that they are being reported on. To many people, 40,000 traffic deaths a year – or 109 people killed per day – is too abstract. It goes over their head, or sounds like mere theory. When you see a real person who has been hurt or killed, it becomes real. Already, car misuse – intentional or accidental – kills more people each year in this country than violent crime, terrorism, or natural disasters – the “holy trinity” of high profile media coverage. So it is high time people saw this wasn’t just numbers or statistics, but real people. Seeing the news reports on these cases, one can say that for once the modern media’s tendency to play to emotions is potentially useful – so long as, as with some issues, it does not do so to obscure the facts. Because the fact – the reality – is that people need to see this. They need to see what the consequences of complacency are, and what maintaining the status quo means, in human terms.

Disturbing as it is, that reality may be what we need to move past apathy into productive response to this problem, before it gets worse.


Brian 10/26/15


Follow-up: Driver Charged for hitting motorbike on purpose

"Police say 68-year-old William Crum was behind the wheel of the car, he is sharged with two counts of aggrevated assault." (http://my.xfinity.com/video/Driver-charged-for-swerving-into-motorcycle/548584515638/Comcast/Today_in_Video/?cid=hero_sf_TIV) Fortunately, it seems, authorities thankfully do not share the views of some people, who would have people believe that deliberate hitting folks with your car is no big deal. The police did the right thing, and now the matter goes to the courts, though I would hope they'd also take his license away too.


Brian 10/21/15


Disturbing video not as disturbing as talking heads’ endorsement of violence

The recent video of car in Texas deliberately sideswiping a passing motorcyclist and sending the two riders flying has “gone viral”, appearing on the internet as well as the evening newscasts. This should be a teachable moment for anyone concerned about road safety because it focuses on a risk known to bicyclists but often overlooked by the non-riding public, namely, malicious drivers. Although few in number, genuine cases where cars are deliberately used to do harm are an increasing risk – primarily because so many people fail to take them seriously. For instance, see what happened with the case of the car that hit the motorcyclist.

As shown on Fox News 10-19-15, the video, taken by another rider who was some distance behind, shows a motorcycle passing cars on the left along a country road. As the motorcycle is about to pass a white car, the car quite clearly moves to the left, over the center line, and hits the motorcycle, sending the riders flying. The driver, later confronted about hitting them, says “I don’t care”, repeatedly, then attempts a lame excuse of saying he was “stung by a wasp”. Of course, if the driver was stung, and swerved by accident, the movement would have been much less deliberate then the out and back swerve shown, which appears almost carefully calculated. He also would have probably acted surprised by the collision; that he did neither, combined with his repeated assertion that “he doesn’t care” that he hit two people, indicates the move was deliberate. Taken in totality, what you have is a guy who was annoyed at a passing motorcycle – so he decided to try and kill two people.

While it is worth noting that the motorcycle passed in a no passing zone, and was ticketed for it, what is lost in the debate over the incident is that merely witnessing what may be a traffic infraction does not give one a right to try and kill someone. That however is what some have said, although not in such plain language. The Fox News commentator condemned the attack, but her guest, a Ted Williams, defended the driver unabashedly, saying despite clear evidence of the car carefully swerving into the riders, and then back into lane, and the driver’s total lack of surprise, which one would expect with a deliberate act, that there is no way to know this was on purpose. When asked about the repeated “I don’t care” remarks, he basically changed the subject and said “the driver said he was stung by a wasp,” an excuse hardly fitting with the particulars of the crash or its aftermath, but that is besides the point; he did not address the driver’s “I don’t care” remarks because they indicate the driver acted deliberately. Instead, he put the blame on the motorcyclist, and argued that the motorcyclist, by passing in a no passing zone “assumed the risk”. So there was no mistake, when the commentator asking him incredulously if he was defending the driver, he was, of course he was defending him. Yes, he assumed the risk of potential accident, by passing in a no passing zone -- not of someone trying to murder him, or his passenger. In point of fact, the risk of passing in a no passing zone is usually of a head on collision. There was no risk from the car to his right – until it moved over and hit him. Moreover, since Mr. Williams is so hung up on the motorcyclist’s infraction of going over the double yellow line to pass, one should remind him that the driver of the car went over that same line in order to hit him.

The fact that Mr. Williams appeared on T.V. in a suit and tie, looking respectable, rather than like some wild-eyed lunatic, is sobering, because beneath his banal words are endorsement of attempted murder, based on incidentals. Yes, someone should not pass in a now passing zone. But that is incidental to the crash, which was caused by as deliberate act on the car driver. Maybe, the car driver even had a right to be angry at the motorbike passing improperly. But having a right to feel angry and deciding to murder someone are two different things. Most people get angry at this or that; relatively few commit a homicide. According to Mr. Williams logic, however, one is entitled to try and kill a man just because one perceives he is violating a traffic rule. According to this logic, should drivers aim deliberately for anyone crossing the street when not in a crosswalk? Should cyclists scratch the sides of cars that block bike lanes? Should drivers hit cyclists they perceive as “in their way”?

And that’s what seems to be lost on people like Mr. Williams, who sees no shame in defending on T.V. a man who appears to be the face of malicious road use: Perception is subjective. If you open that door, who is to say who will be targeted? Plenty of people are ignorant of traffic laws; others see everything through the lens of their own convenience. Mayhap the guy who is talking on the cell phone will decide he should run you over because he’s late for work. This is not a new thing for cyclists. Over the years there have been cases where drivers have assaulted cyclists across the country for perceived infractions – and, surprise, in many cases the cyclists were actually doing nothing wrong; the only infraction was in the driver’s head, born of impatience or perhaps a genuine ignorance of road use, or some other hobgoblin of little minds. From a physician in California who put a man’s head through his window because he was angry that cyclists were riding two abreast, to a gunman in one of the Carolinas who shot a cyclist in the head in front of his wife and child because he thought that by bicycling with his kid the rider was “endangering” him, attacks of this sort do happen. Worse, when they occur, people often end up endlessly debating the particulars. Half the time people are willing to take the side of the mad doctor of the maniac gunman. While most of these people would probably never actually shoot someone in the head themselves, what does it say about us as a country when so many of them are willing to defend him?

That is more so here because instead of some angry anonymous person posting comments to a news article – where such defenses usually appear – this is a prime time, televised defense by a respectable, articulate guest on the nightly news. If one dismisses this as “no big deal”, slickly defending the malicious driver as Williams has done, they risk inaugurating an era of violence on our streets. Already too many are killed in accidents; malicious conduct has been growing largely by default, because it is not punished seriously as it should be. But what Williams proposes would codify that laxness into policy; it would declare open season on anyone you think is doing something wrong.

Williams is able to urbanely sell this snake oil on national television because the targets are usually motorbikers, or bicyclists, or someone else besides for the average guy in the family sedan. He seems to have convinced people that the damage of this “so what” approach to attempted murders will fall conveniently, out of sight and mind, on that ubiquitous “someone else.”

But we are all someone else to someone else, and that is precisely why we should not empower the ignorant to use violence to enforce their biases on the road, but enforce the laws fairly and equitably.


Brian 10/20/2015


Online sales model is not good for cycling?

Recent reports that Trek Bicycles intends to adopt a direct marketing – style sales strategy should be alarming, because it could have negative consequences not only for your local bike shop, but also for cycling in general.

According to Bicycle Retailer, In a first for a major U.S. bike brand, “Trek Bicycle will begin sales of complete bikes to consumers via its website in late September. Bikes will be shipped to the brand's retailers — not direct to consumers — for assembly, and retailers will receive a service commission on each sale” (http://www.bicycleretailer.com/north-america/2015/08/03/trek-begin-online-bike-sales-%E2%80%94-dealers-will-assemble-bikes-and-get-service). The article outlines a plan where the customer will choose what he wants online, and it will be sent to the shop to be assembled. It claims the dealer, only receiving “a service commission”, will make “80 percent” of his or her normal markup on the bike sales. The article further states, quoting Trek President Burke, “the bikes would all be shipped from Trek's warehouse to fulfill each order, and would not be taken from a dealer's existing inventory. Trek will ship them at the same level of assembly as other bikes shipped to dealers.” There are many problems with this, so addressing the basic one first, it is, size and bike type. While many avid experienced cyclists no doubt know what they want and what size bike, wheel size, gear ratio, etc. they need, many novices are liable to choose bikes based on advertising or flashy photos, and end up with a bike ill-suited to their use; picture someone ordering a full carbon time trial bike and then complaining they can’t fit fenders and a rack for commuting. Or someone buying a tall bike when they are short. Speaking of sizing, with frame tubes of many diameters for many different materials (steel, carbon, aluminum, ti) to say nothing of compact frames and sloping top tubes, sizing is very difficult. In addition to buying the “wrong” bike, a customer could well buy the wrong size bike. In fact, even avid experienced cyclists could make this mistake, if buying online, because the measurements are no longer standard, and you cannot try on the bike for size via a computer website. When either of these things happens, who will deal with it? Say the customer wants to return the bike (even though he never took it out of the shop, it’s a return in terms of sale). Trek may refund him his purchase price. Or offer to exchange it for another model.

But the customer doesn’t know it’s the wrong bike, or wrong size, until it’s assembled for him to try and look at. What does this mean? Well the bike shop owner has to disassemble it and then repackage it. Even if Trek sends him another bike for the customer to take, and he gets paid his “service commission” for that, he is still out the cost and time of the initial assembly and disassembly of the bike, the packaging of it, and possibly the return shipping. Keep in mind the experience of anyone who has ever bought clothes online. I recently ordered two pair of bicycling shorts. Although one of the two sizes did actually fit me (and note I ordered two sizes because buying online, I could not try them on beforehand), I chose not to keep it because it had so much padding it didn’t feel right. Had I handled the shorts in the store, I could have told immediately that the padding was too much for me and never even ordered one pair, let alone two different sizes! Now imagine what happens when that mistake is made with a complicated machine that has to be assembled by the shop to which it is delivered. Even if the customer gets a refund from Trek, or an exchange, what about the assembly and work the bike shop did to put it together and adjust it?

At the local bike shop, one often hears customers call up and say “you have a wheel?” Many of them are unable to identify exactly what they need; the response in almost always the same. The shop says, “You really need to bring it in so we can look at it and make sure you are being sold the right thing.” How is a whole bike any different?

Similarly, any warranty issues may be a thorn in the side of shops who try this business model. Why gets stuck with the cost? And even if Trek reimburses them the financial cost of “an assembly” for the bike that doesn’t sell, will it adequately cover the cost of that shops assembly? Some shops do better assembly than others. A well done assembly is much more labor intensive and involves adjusting all the bearings, brakes, and shifters, to name a few things, in addition to greasing parts. Can a shop that takes the time to do this kind of quality assembly make do with what Trek might pay? Keep in mind the article, in speaking of sales, alludes to dealers making “80 percent” of what they now make on each bike. Since the markup on bikes is fairly small – 20 percent or so – eighty percent of that is hardly reeling in the cash. Factor in costs for which there may be no reimbursement, or reimbursement not commensurate with the quality of the assembly or work, and it looks bleak. Which brings up another thing:The article says that “Trek will ship them at the same level of assembly” as the bikes it currently ships. Currently, however, no bike that is shipped to any dealer of any brand is actually “assembled”, at any level. Yes, the only things not attached are usually the front wheel, pedals, seat, and handlebars, but if all the dealer does is attach those he was not properly assembled the bike. A bike usually has a minimum of eight different bearing surfaces that need adjusting out of the box; 2 for each wheel, the bottom bracket, and the headset. Even though some modern bottom brackets are non-adjustable, this still leaves the wheel and headset. Plus setting up the brakes, adjusting the shifters, and greasing the headset, seat clamp, and other bolts. Also, one has to check that the wheels are true, etc. There is a lot more to this than just throwing on the front wheel, pedals, and seat! This is to say nothing of the occasional repair if something goes wrong, as sometimes does; a bolt that gets stuck, or a nut that wasn’t sent and the shop needs to search its inventory for a replacement. In other words, by saying the bikes will be shipped at the “same level of assembly” Trek is saying two things; the first is that the bikes won’t be assembled at all, merely put together to fit in the box, as they now are. And the second is that, perhaps, they don’t think people will catch onto this. People may not catch on, initially; as said, quality of work varies; some shops don’t do a full assembly. Maybe, Trek is counting on that, and figures, since they are expanding their margin by not doing a full assembly, although they undoubtedly charge for one, they can live on eighty percent of the same. However, shops that do indeed do it the right way will not prosper under such a scheme. And therein lies the big problem, because in addition to Trek, other companies are considering this same business model, including Giant, another major player in the bike industry. Perhaps the flaws of this approach can be summed up in Trek’s own words: “dealer.”

Your local bicycle shop may indeed be a “dealer” for certain brands, but if it is a well-run shop that is just one of its many functions. It is also the place that assembles the bikes for sale, something that no other “dealer” does (Does a Honda “dealer” have a car factory hidden around back? Does a Sony “dealer” wire up circuit boards?). But more: The local bike shop not only goes beyond the title of “dealer” in what it does to assemble and sell a bike, it is also a place that does repairs, that is a clearinghouse of local information of places to bike, etc. Each shop is also shaped by its local environment; cities will probably stock more folding bikes; windy places more time trial bikes, seaside communities more beach cruisers, or rentals. Oddly enough in one part of the article, Trek head Burke addresses this, saying repairs are important and that “I've never seen a store that did a lot of service go out of business," he said.” Which should tell one that he knows bike shops are more than just “dealers”.

Repairs, local knowledge, local markets for particular types of bikes -- all of these are peculiar to the particular shop, and its market. Central planning is always a bad idea, whether it is a company trying to tell its business partners what and how to sell, or a government trying to micromanage a whole industry. The flaw is obvious; in each case, one entity is trying to make decisions that are better made by individuals thousands of miles away, who each know more about what they need and want than some far off guy at a desk. Or in a boardroom. But the use of the term “dealer” tells one that Trek is blinding itself to this flaw, because they are thinking of the bike shops only as their “stores”. What they are forgetting is that the local bike shop is more than a “dealer”: It is the face of cycling, a storehouse of knowledge, a impromptu clubhouse for local riders, an advocate for bicycling. And, let’s not forget, it is also a business. Which brings one back to the statement that dealers would be making about 80 percent of their current margin on these bikes. Can a business continue to offer the current level of quality work for less than the current level of pay? Who will do 100 percent of the work for only 80 percent of the money? More importantly, why should they?

Add in the fact that online sales deny consumers who could benefit from it the advice and knowledge base of their local shop, and the other problems with this sort of thing, and it is not good for the bicycle business, or its customers. Which means, it is not good for cycling.


Brian 10/12/2015


Tragic crash highlights dangers of the road

In a recent case which made plenty of headlines, two high schoolers were killed when the driver of their car, another teenager, hit a police car. Yet, what should be a focusing point for concern about road safety – in particular, how people – especially younger people, with little experience – are driving, is simply reported as a “sad story”, a “human interest tale” of the more tragic sort.

While it is a tragedy, it is a tragedy that – like most accidents on the road – was one hundred percent preventable, if the preliminary reports are to be believed. All the driver needed to do to avoid the accident was not crash into the police car.

Worse than the missed chance to highlight the dangers of the road, and turn a tragedy into a teachable moment, is the insistent “passive voice” used in the articles on the subject. One example: “Kylie Hope Lindsey, 17, and Isabella Alise Chinchilla, 16, students at South Paulding High School in Paulding County, west of Atlanta, were killed late Saturday when a Nissan Sentra in which they were passengers collided with the patrol car, the state patrol said Monday.” (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/two-georgia-teens-killed-crash-state-patrol-cruiser-n435181). While as far as that goes, this statement is not actually incorrect, it puts the emphasis on the car, not why it collided. Read literally, one could walk away thinking the car was steering itself, or perhaps was possessed by a poltergeist. As in “Nissan Sentra in which they were passengers collided with the patrol car”. Of course, the car did not crash into the police vehicle by itself, just like a gun doesn’t jump up and shoot someone on its own because it is bored sitting around in a sock drawer all day.. It had help – the person who was using it. In this case, the 18-year old driver.

While no one yet knows (and may never know) why this young man trying to make a left turn drive into the path of the police car, what is known is that the behavior of many drivers on America’s roads are dangerous, at best. At worst, some of them behave as if they are maniacs run amok. While genuinely malicious drivers are rare, inattentive or careless behavior is so commonplace that when a crash occurs it rarely raises eyebrows outside of the immediate circle of family and friends of those involved. Which is why one should take this tragedy and use it to focus on the driving of younger drivers, who are often at greater risk of accident due to a variety of factors, from lack of experience to a youthful belief in invulnerability. In the past, in attempts to improve safety for younger drivers, the State of NJ instituted “graduated driver’s licenses” in which the young driver gets a beginner license that only allows them to drive at certain times of day, keeping them from driving late at night or with large crowds in the vehicle. Sadly – but not surprisingly – after these procedures were introduced, studies found that accident rates for teen drivers increased, not decreased. Why? When they eventually got the full, unrestricted license, they had been driving for a year (or more, for those who had a learner’s permit) but had virtually no experience in these situations. Yet, because they had been driving for a while, many no doubt thought they could handle it.

Ultimately, patterns learned early in life stick with us. Basic everyday behaviors are hard to change once set. A person who never learned not to put their elbows on the table at age five will probably do so as an adult. And a teen driver who never learns to pay attention, read the road, and be aware of their surroundings and act accordingly, will carry these behaviors into adulthood. Which means, despite more safety features than ever before built into modern cars, and many more decades of experience in road policy to draw on, our country will still be suffering 40,000 largely preventable car deaths when these children are having children.

The thing to do is base policy on fact, not feelings. If a program like the graduated licenses does not work, be prepared to accept that and change it. Or discard it. If there is a problem with careless driving, ticket the drivers. No one likes a ticket, but it is preferable to being killed or killing someone else. One finds it hard to fathom how in a story on someone hitting a police car, no one raises the basic question that, police cars being fairly visible, could this have happened to anyone else on the road, from a regular guy in a sedan to someone on a bike? And from that, to raising the question of what we need to do to teach drivers as early as possible that actions have consequences, and reality and physics are much stricter than local traffic laws or their enforcement may be.

A teachable moment, like these two young victims, has passed us by. As a cyclist intimately acquainted with the dangers of careless driving, I wonder how many more such headlines we will have to see before my fellow Americans are moved to abandon their inertia on the issue in favor of constructive action to try and solve the problem.


Brian 9/29/15

Report that Self-Driving car stalled for over two minutes in the middle of the street because of an inability to figure out what a trackstand was reinforces the problem with robo-cars

According to a recent article, Google’s “self driving” cars were unable to figure out what a track standing bicyclist was. Most drivers, however, even those who do not recognize the term trackstand, would be able to tell by looking at it what it is; a bicyclist balancing in place. According to the article (http://time.com/4014538/google-car-bike/#4014538/google-car-bike/): “According to a report in The Washington Post, one cyclist in Austin rode up to a stop sign at a four-way intersection and started track standing as he waited for the Google car to carry on. …he explains that the car apparently detected his presence and stayed stationary, struggling to work out whether the rider was moving forward or not” The article elaborates:

“’it finally began to proceed, but as it did, I rolled forward an inch while still standing. The car immediately stopped…

I continued to stand, it continued to stay stopped. then as it began to move again, I had to rock the bike to maintain balance. It stopped abruptly. we repeated this little dance for about 2 full minutes and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection. the two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop, I guess trying to modify some code to ‘teach’ the car something about how to deal with the situation.’”

This only highlights the difference between a human road user and a cumputer or robot: the computer or robot is not capable of thinking.

It is because of this that self cars are a potential menace. They are likely going to be incapable of dealing with cyclists in many situations -- this is one example. While one can argue about whether or not they are safer than a drunk or a texter, they cannot compete with an alert competent driver because they cannot think. Moreover our entire system of traffic laws is predicated upon personal responsibility (even if it is not enforced enough). You cannot have responsibility without having someone who is, at the end of the day, responsible. I picture trying to navigate a road with robo cars and shudder. What is to deter them from killing me? And not for nothing, but does anyone think that the programmer is any more likely to be a cyclist than the current poor drivers he seeks to replace? Notice in this example, the self-driving car, although operating in “robo mode”, had two people inside it – most likely the testers – who were attempting to make changes to the programming to account for trackstanding. However, the production vehicle will not have programmers inside ready to fix every inability to deal with a common sense situation, one more difference between a self-driving car and a human driver. The human driver because he can think can learn. The self-driving car needs a programmer – and the production models won’t have them.

This incident is amusing but highlights why the self-driving car trend is alarming. Let’s face it, plenty of drivers with poor depth perception are flummoxed by balancing bicyclists too, but usually only momentarily; and, if needed, you can wave them on, if they don’t get it. You cannot do that to a robot; it does not understand hand gestures and waves any more than track stands.

Movie goers in the 1990’s laughed at “Johhnycab”, the autonomous robot cab in “Total Recall”, for his ability to understand only directions given in a strict format. When Quaid, portr5ayed by actor Arnold Swarzenegger, is chased by villains, he flags down the cab. But Johhnycab refuses to start moving without an itinerary – despite gunshots and Arnold’s urgent pleas to flee. A computer’s inability to adapt, or think, is ironic or funny in film. It is not a laughing matter on a real road where someone can be hurt. Of course, “Total Recall’s” fictional robo car didn’t end well either; it exploded.

In short, self-driving cars are short on what matters most, a mind in control. If you think about it, we don 't even have self-driving, engineer-less trains. Why? Because even on a track you need someone in control. Trying to picture these things "sharing the road" with me makes me want to puke.

What's really frustrating is the desire to enable laziness. Oh, it's too hard to learn to drive right. Oh, I need the time to talk on my cell phone or do my hair! These are actual arguments that have been made for driverless cars. Really. Sorry, if you want that sort of thing hire a f-ing limo, man. A computer is not capable of thinking or making judgment calls. Sure, some drivers aren't either, but until you get a computer that is, driverless cars are a cop put, and a dangerous one.

If they ever build a computer with consciousness, then I'll consider the issue, but I don't see that happening and even if it does I'm sure it won't be on the civilian market... certainly not used for cars!


Brian 9/22/15

“Pedestrian poles” indicate a problem with how local governments understand the road

You may have seen them in some local towns in New Jersey; signs mounted in the middle of the street along the center line, warning of pedestrians crossing. Or signs or posts placed on the edge of the right lane, typically by a crosswalk. To most drivers they are only a minor annoyance. To cyclists, however, they are a big problem.

The first most obvious problem is that the sign in the center makes it impossible for a car to move over to give a cyclist any extra room while overtaking him. But by themselves these aren’t so bad; the bicyclist, at least, isn’t forced to swerve into the center of the lane, into the path of cars that are blocked from going around him or giving him room. But now you add “pedestrian poles” positioned along the shoulder or edge of the right lane – right where you are often riding on your bicycle. What do you do? You move left to go around the pole – and now you are in the path of a car, that can’t similarly move left to go around you, because there is a sign along the center. These signs and poles, and other such features, which create a tunnel effect, significantly increase danger to cyclists.

The first danger is that the “pedestrian poles” are in their line of travel. I’ve had to knock some aside with my forearm, and although they are only plastic, they hurt. If you hit one, you could fall and be injured. If you go around it, you have to go to the left – there is little room on the right. This puts you moving into the path of possibly overtaking cars And, as stated, many localities pair the poles with center-line signs – so if you do move over to go around the stupid pole, you stand an even greater chance of being hit, because cars can’t move over to give you room. Recently, Union Ave in nearby New Providence was repaved – something sorely needed. After it was repaved, however, the local government dumped a sign in the middle along the double yellow line and then put two orange poles on either side of the road, several feet from the curb – right in the middle of where a cyclist would be most likely to ride! Basically, these things are a symptom of many local governments’ failure to understand the road dynamic – and the fact that that dynamic does include bicycle traffic. How else do you explain hey put them directly in the path of where you will probably be riding? (see the included photo). If they thought about cyclists at all, or considered them, they would not put posts right in the middle of where someone is liable to be biking!

Similarly, if they thought about cycling at all, they’d realize anything that creates a tunnel effect, reducing maneuvering room on the street, is a bad idea, which means they’d realize those center-line signs actually make it more likely that a driver will sideswipe a cyclist and or pass too close for safety.

But beyond the fact that the specific dangers of these things inordinately impact cyclists – and what this implied about the local governments’ understanding of road use, including cycling – there is a bigger issue, one that does not just impact cyclists but all who use the road. And that is, signage has traditionally been located off the edge of the road for a reason. If we at this juncture are witnessing local governments that think dumping objects in the middle of the street makes it safer to navigate, they obviously need a reality check beyond their awareness of cycling.

If there is a concern about pedestrians being struck at a crosswalk, by all means put up signs – where signs have been posted for hundreds of years – off of the road surface, which typically involves poles mounted outside the edge of the roadside. In fact, given that many pedestrians seem as clueless as drivers, and often jump into the street without looking, why not post signs not only warming traffic of pedestrians, but pedestrians to look for traffic – cars, buses, bicycles… And of course, the signs can be put where signs have traditionally been put – on poles, not in the middle of the street! This has been done for a long time for a very good reason: It works, and it doesn’t block the road.

Instead, in myopic attempts to try and increase “pedestrian safety”, local governments’ are dumping solid objects into traffic flow and endangering everyone else, to no perceivable gain for pedestrian safety that could not be accomplished by a normally mounted sign.

Maybe they realize these things make the road more dangerous, but simply hope that will reduce speed and therefore any pedestrian fatality. If so we have a new low; in the name of safety, the governments would actually be making a road knowingly more dangerous, in the hope that it forced drivers to go slower.

But what about cyclists? This is where one realizes that view gives these people too much credit, and quite frankly, even if true, still leaves one with one unavoidable fact; even if the motive is to force drivers to slow by dangerously narrowing the road and try to help pedestrians, what about cyclists and how these measures negatively impact them? No answer. Silence. Why? Because even in this last analysis, all the towns’ posited reasoning reveals is one, a contempt for actual safety, and two, a continued ignorance of cycling. Indeed, the ignorance of cycling – and broader traffic principles – seems to be the common trend here, no matter what explanation one tries to make fit the facts. Seeing as cyclists have been road users for over a hundred years this ignorance on the part of people whose very job it is to take care of the roads and therefore whose job it is to know all about road use, is alarming. No matter how you see it, you are left with a town that thinks dumping things in the middle of the street improves it.

Clearly it is not just the poles that need to be removed; many municipalities would do well to completely overhaul their public works departments and town governments, and hire instead people who can try to focus on ways to improve safety that are less likely to cause accidents than not, for all road users.


Brian 9/21/15


Trendy “innovations” leave much desired

People are remarkable creatures. We are always inventions new things. Yet, not all new inventions are a success. Similarly with all applications. To see an illustration of this, look at a lot of this year’s new bike offerings.

Many companies are offering road bikes with mechanical disc brakes; some are offering only road bikes with disc brakes. While disc brakes are a useful invention, they aren’t for everyone. There are several possible reasons for the news disc-specific road frames. One is that they foresee the bikes attracting riders from mountain biking, where discs are more popular, and who might feel more comfortable with them. Or perhaps the bikes are intended for foul weather – the only real advantage to discs, as they stop even if your rims are foul or wet, unlike caliper rim brakes. And maybe they simply figure that the disc brakes will make the bikes look more aggressive, thereby attracting people whose eyes light up at the idea of being their very own Mad Max, the sort of people who might dismiss a regular road bike as “wimpy”. Or like many things – in particular the utilization of 650b rim sizes on most mountain bikes, rather than a handful – it is an attempt to create a market for something. How do you sell a bike to a guy who already has a mountainbike, a road bike, a track bike and a cyclocross bike? You invent something he doesn’t have, be it a 650b wheel mountainbike, or a disc brake roadbike. But the aspiring road rider who wants a traditional road bike is left out in the cold. This is a shame because although disc brakes have an advantage in rain or mud, traditional caliper brakes are adequate for most road riders and also easier for the rider himself to service (or assess if it needs servicing). Also, one forsees the unwary going down a fast hill on a disc-equipped road bike and doing a superman headfirst over the handlebars when they hit the brakes with the same force as their old caliper brakes. Clearly there will be a learning curve, even for those riders who are not left out in the cold hoping for rim brakes on next year’s models. Fortunately, Raleigh offers one bike with sidepulls, but it is an entry-level machine, with parts that experienced riders will want to upgrade.

This isn’t to say that disc brake roadbikes, or 650b rims, aren’t useful. But they are useful only in certain situations. A road bike intended to see some dirt riding might benefit from discs, mainly because traditional calipers probably won’t have the clearance for the wider tires it will use. So on some of the new “gravel” or “any road” bikes, this works. But on a traditional road bike it is about as useful as an udder on a bull.

The same could be said for the 650b trend. Sizing smaller adult mountainbikes has become a lot more creative with the advent of 650b (also called 27 and a half inch) rims. Instead of progressing in height from 20”, 24”, 26”, 650b (27.5”), and 29”, bikes now go from 24” up to 650b. The size jump from adolescent to adult bike is two sizes, effectively. While riders who shop at knowledgeable bike shops can and still do get properly sized, this poses an issue at the small end of the height spectrum, especially for younger riders getting their first “grown up” bike. In some cases, if one is an in-between size, he or she might have to wait longer to buy the bike; they might not be able to ride it until they grow into it. The same problem occurs for adults of smaller stature, but the difference is waiting won’t do them any good. 650b rims, like disc brakes, are useful – but not for everyone.

One could go on. Whatever happened to shorts with a normal amount of padding? Why do I have to buy shorts that make me feel as if I’m sitting on a pillow? Or curved toptubes? Yes, they look cool on pro-riders bikes, but then, pro-riders don’t have to carry a frame pump to fix a flat, they have a whole car that follows them around with spare wheels and bikes and ten guys shouting “allez!” Ever try to mount a frame pump on a bike with a curved top tube? Oh, I guess you could put it along the seat tube, but then you lose one water bottle mount. Or use a co2 cartridge. Except why should I pay for co2 when air is free? Where are fender eyelets? Clearance for wider tires?

Why do I now have to have ten gears on my rear wheel? Seven was okay. Eight was better. Nine isn’t bad. But with ten, I’m never in the right gear, I’m constantly fiddling with the shifter. I understand that racers benefit from more gears, each with its own narrower range, but what am I racing, the bus? The sunset? Oh well maybe it is part of a plot to force us to buy more stuff by making our drivetrains wear out prematurely, thanks to all the extra shifting back and forth.

Speaking of drivetrains, Shimano’s high end road cranks now have a weird lopsided crank arm. It not only looks fugly, it makes it virtually impossible to modify your own gearing, and chances are within five years no one who shelled out the dough for one of those will be able to find replacement rings. If you assume that with the exception of the “fred” with more dollars than sense, most guys buying a high end road bike are probably riding a lot of miles, the prognosis becomes worse. Look at buying a whole new crank in a few years or less.

Please, bike companies, have some common sense. Innovations are great, but trendy ones leave a lot to be desired. A bike is meant to be ridden, and anything that makes that harder is not progress, no matter what it says on your quarterly report.


Brian 9/17/15


Studies – without context -- don't help road safety

Many seemingly well-meaning “safety” studies are misleading, because they fail to answer basic questions, or worse, present incomplete information without context. The old newspaper expression is who, what when, where, and why. Often called the “five w’s”, it is intended to reinforce the importance of specifics when reporting on something that happened; in particular, to point out the things it is necessary to include in order to tell the tale. Or as Wikipedia puts it, “questions whose answers are considered basic in information-gathering.” Of course the inverse is also true; lacking this information , there is no narrative, no knowing what happened, and therefore, nothing to tell. Similarly, with bicycle accident data, and those safety studies.

The Sept. 4, 2015 issue of Investor’s Business Daily had a brief blurb on a apparent surge of cycling injuries “Bike accidents are on the rise among riders over 45 years of age as more older riders take to the roads. A UC San Francisco study based on a nat’l bicycle injury survey for 1998-2013 found that hospital admissions for bike related injuries doubled in that time.” (page A2) This however says nothing about the cause of the collisions. It is like the reporting common in the New York Post, which gins up scare stories of pedestrians endangered by “reckless” cyclists – and then leaves out any and all information about what actually caused a given collision.

Yet, to many, all they need to know is that they “read it in the papers”. The result is that although such articles are useless as a source of information, they can and do sway public opinion, often to the detriment of road safety and people everywhere, cyclist or not. The same is true of “studies” that provide no context or other detailed information. Simply reporting that more people were injured while on bikes doesn’t tell one why they were injured, and therefore, is useless as a means of trying to find a solution. If they crashes because they didn’t use lights at night and hit things, a crackdown on drivers will not help them. On the other hand, if the cause of many of the crashes was that they were hit by careless drivers, holding “light your bike” seminars will not solve the problem. The danger of such studies, is that they give incomplete information – data with no context.

All one can conclude from this reported study is that “bicycling is dangerous” – hardly a message likely to encourage ridership. But the danger may not be from bicycling, per se, at all; it may be due to lack of experience, distracted drivers, or roads that are in poor repair. The time period mentioned, 1998-2013, covers the emergence of the smartphone, and the emergence of electronically distracted driving as a widespread new behavior. Was this – not cycling – the cause of the injuries? Likewise, there are far more people driving that there were in the past, so simple increases in the number of motor vehicles on the road could be at work – if cars were involved in any of the bike crashes. It may be. Or may not. That’s the problem – one can’t tell. If the problem is, for example, texting drivers hitting cyclists, then reporting it as a “danger of cycling” is misleading; the danger is one of careless driving. Misreporting it not only hides the problem, it ensures that no measure will be taken to correct it, because the focus instead will be on bicycling. But of course, no one knows if texting is the reason – to use one example – although it is something that is dangerous enough that it has been banned in many places, for fear of it leading to collisions. However given the time frame referred to one in the study, which coincided with the modern cell phone explosion, and then the emergence of the smart phone, it would be negligent to not consider it – and a thousand other potential explanations. The problem is, people reading a newspaper article don’t have time for a thousand different potential explanations. They rely on the reporter doing that work for them. The reporter, however, can only report what he was told. So either the reporter didn’t think it was important enough to go beyond “there are a lot of bike accidents”, which is hard to believe, or the people who did the study didn’t provide that information – also hard to believe.

But hard to believe are not, there it is – a non-story that helps no one, informs no one, and raises more questions than it does answers.

No doubt this study – and the reports of it – are well intentioned. But good intentions are not enough. A researcher conducting a study – and a newspaper reporting on it – are professionals, and should be expected to produce something more informative than a New York Post bike-bashing diatribe. Instead, one is left with the narrative of “bike accidents are on the rise” – and left to wonder at the cause. Many will no doubt fill the void the study and report failed to provide with their own biases. This will hardly help the problem.


Brian 09/08/15


Speaking the truth

Recently, at the local bike shop, the discussion turned to local police officers who ignored road infractions, leading to such instances of danger as people abandoning a landscape trailer in the middle of a 40mph road (that was zoned as no parking, and blocking the only hydrant within hundreds of yards, to boot). I was making the point that in failing to enforce the laws, the local officers actually encourage more of this behavior. At this point, one of the guys present said, “I know all that, but what do you propose to DO about it?” The sad truth is, there’s not much I can do about it, right now.

However, thinking on the issue later, it dawned on me that while citizenry cannot often force sudden change, even when it would be to the good, they can and should work to spread and articulate better ideas, ideas that would result in an improvement from the status quo. What do I propose to do about it? There is little I can do. But what would I propose? Well, since most local law enforcement activity in small towns deals with roadway infractions, I would propose a law requiring local police to review such laws yearly, and maybe, say, every few years, take a simple written test. Those who flunk would not be penalized in any way, but would be given lessons to get them up to speed. I might even propose changing the law suit rules so that a police officer could be held liable in a law suit if they fail to discharge their duty. Right now, they can do nothing, and even if someone dies, there is no legal comeback. Maybe I’d argue for some measure to encourage enforcement – cutting funding, if infractions are ignored, etc. But more to the point I would argue that beyond what you do or propose to do, it’s what you say that matters. This is the inverse of the normal expression, which is intended to express the dictum that “actions speak louder than words”. While that truism is, as most are, generally true, in this case most actions – like changing or passing a law – cannot be done by one individual. They will need a group or community effort, and thus, effective communication of the ideas involved to move people to action. The effort to remove Union County’s extra-legal ban on mountain biking in Watchung Reservation, for instance, seems to have stalled; it appears the county did not meet with us riders in good faith. A vote on a trail plan was cancelled; I have heard nothing for months. Short of storming into the county offices, there is little I can do, but that does not stop me from telling anyone who will listen about the ban and how it was improperly implemented and why it should be undone. Why? Saying nothing is a surefire guarantee it will remain in place!

Spreading the word may be all I can do at this stage, but I intend to do all I can, even if that is it. Moreover, while it might take months or even years to effect a cultural change with respect to road safety (or mountain biking in Watchung, or anything else) that does not mean you you shouldn’t speak up. Such discourse might not be a solution in itself, but without it, no solutions would be found, and worse, there would not exist a cultural atmosphere in which questioning the status quo and looking for solutions was even possible.

This is true not just for road rules (or Watchung) but other facets of local government. One example that sticks in my mind is something that occurred in my hometown of Berkeley Heights. A friend of mine put a sign on his lawn protesting the government seizure of Standford Drive, a local street which was seized by the government in what many people, including yours truly, thought was misuse of imminent domain power. Many people put up “vote no” signs to oppose it, and many were torn down, despite being on their own property. But my friend’s sign was not paper; it was homemade out of wood and metal. The result was the vandal who had ripped up almost all the other “vote no” signs (who many suspect was connected to the town government which of course wanted people to vote “yes”) could not tear it. Instead, he settled for dousing it with gasoline and setting it ablaze on my friend’s front lawn, in a fit of violent intimidation worthy of ISIS.

My friend remained undeterred by this violence, because he felt if he went silent, there would be one less voice arguing for truth. He was not a politician or philosopher; yet he ended up getting involved in local politics. That burning sign was a lesson to him – and to me. I remind myself of it whenever I feel that, as was suggested the other day, simply voicing dissent serves no purpose.

On the contrary, there are times when simply speaking the truth has never been more important. And these are those times.


Brian 08/27/15


Driverless cars – again!

The New York Times article (Aug. 10, 2015) titled “In bid for Driverless Cars, Open Roads and fake towns) was a massive two-pager, complete with photos of the aforementioned “fake towns”, where would-be carmakers are testing “self-driving” cars, automobiles guided by sensors and a robot brain.

The article not only highlighted the testing of the vehicles, but the incestuous relationship between business and government that often results in things not in the best interest of the citizen, but rather the connected.

To test the cars, the vehicle is required to have a driver in it, who although a passenger, can theoretically take control if “things go wry” (although by then it may be too late, but I guess it’s better than nothing). Tellingly, however, the goal of these tests is to produce vehicles where the driver has no control… the exact opposite of current safety requirements.

Audi argued the test driver would be more alert if he kept occupied. The result? They wanted to make it legal for the driver to watch movies while the car drove. “States generally have regulations against putting moving images on navigation screens, because it could distract drivers and cause a crash.” In this case, however, Audi engineers proposed “make it legal for the driver to watch movies while the car drives itself”(!) Another proposed exception to the law: “”allow driverless cars to be built without rear view mirrors. Their argument: They create fuel wasting air resistance and autonomous cars do not need them.” Maybe. But their driver-passenger would, if he had to take over operation of the vehicle. This gets lost in the shuffle.

What also gets lost in the shuffle: cyclists. In this massive two-page article, there was not a single mention of cyclists, although there was a picture of a crosswalk, so presumably the self-driving cars are being tested to determine their reaction to foot traffic. So why not bicyclists? The answer is obvious and goes to why this is a dangerous, insidious trend, not some technological boon – the programmers of the cars are as likely to be unaware of cyclists as the average clueless drivers their inventions would replace. The result is any improvement for safety for cyclists is likely to be less than profound. It may likely be worse; the amount of hard radar- or sensor-reflective material on a bicycle is small, and they are often alongside cars or other traffic, which would provide very cluttered feedback to the sensor, even if the car is programmed to look for them. Simply put, a computer can only see what it is programmed to see and capable of sensing. We have yet to design a computer that can compete with the human senses, or the human brain.

While some may argue a self-driving car will be safer than a drunk texter or a drag-racing teen, there is no way it can compete with an alert road user. And there is tremendous danger to cyclists and others who are liable to slip through the cracks of this potential new system.

The very fact that car-makers are buying exceptions from the law in order to try and cram their vehicles onto the road even at this early stage is ominous. If they need exemptions from the law just to get the test models on the street, what rules will the production vehicles fail to comply with?


Brian 8/14/15


Full of sound and fury – and signifying nothing: Earphone debate a distraction from real road safety issues for cyclists.

The email update, which I had forgotten signing up for some time ago, was from “active.com”, an outdoor / cycling themed website. It contained blurbs about various articles. One caught my eye. It said, “Bikes and Headphones: Do They Mix? Are You Out of Your Mind to Wear Headphones While Cycling?” The article claimed to answer in the affirmative, saying “Despite its obvious dangers—not hearing traffic, sirens, horns, bike malfunctions, etc.—not wearing headphones while cycling is still not a universally accepted convention within the cycling community.” And whining that only Florida and Rhode Island make it illegal. One assumes that Florida and Rhode Island have absolutely no incidence of drivers doing anything careless, ever… either that, or there is a serious priority problem in how they allocate finite police enforcement, because despite the article complaining about cyclists who cannot hear the road, you can hear the road while riding with headphones – if they are not too loud. (http://www.active.com/cycling/Articles/Bikes-and-Headphones-do-they-mix.htm?cmp=276&memberid=85460140&lyrisid=45269396) The article eventually admits this, pointing out “According to a 2011 study conducted by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, a cyclist's response to auditory signals while listening to music with earbuds worsened significantly in 68 percent of cases. This means two out of every three who wear earbuds while cycling cannot hear sirens, automobiles honking or cars whizzing by them in traffic.” However, the article then confesses the study did find that listening to music at a moderate level, which they mentioned via the example of only using a single earbud—“did not affect a cyclist's auditory perception.” Presumably this would hold true for any reduction in volume, whether it is halved by only using one earphone, or reduced even more by riding with the music at a moderate volume. Well, duh! This is worth a whole article? While clueless ipod users are indeed a concern, cyclists as a rule have the ability to be much more aware of their surroundings than say, drivers. And that goes beyond not being enclosed. How many drivers have ever bothered to time the delayed green functions of traffic lights on their daily route? Or know where all the potholes are? What boggles my mind is that anyone can argue for a law against headphones while riding -- used wisely -- while no one takes issue with cars that have soundproofed cabins, hermetically sealed windows, or radios and cd players. I mean, you are already at a disadvantage in terms of hearing the road in a car due to its enclosure...now you are driving with the stereo on? You can't hear anything! Yet strangely no one thinks that drivers listening to their stereos is a safety issue. Maybe they should. But since no one has yet proposed outlawing car stereos, or soundproofed cabins, or driving with the windows closed tight, it is rank hypocrisy of the highest order to inveigh against riders wearing headphones set to moderate levels. Let’s be clear – it is potentially dangerous to ride in traffic if you cannot hear. But as even the above article admits, simply wearing headphones does not mean one cannot hear. Moreover, what the article does not address is that most of the hazards of the roads come not from simple “accidents” but from blatantly careless, reckless, or illegal behavior. Rather than grouse that a given cyclist was listening to Metallica when a driver cuts him off and hits him, the focus should be on the driver who cuts him off and hits him. This sort of thing is similar to the helmet debate. While one should ideally always wear a helmet, simply for the extra protection it provides, a helmet is not usually causually related to an accident. Invoking “the helmet debate” in any bike crash, except for solo wrecks, is misleading and pointless because the cause of the wreck is what someone (usually a non-cyclist) did, like run the rider over, not that the rider wasn’t wearing a helmet when struck. Speaking of helmets, one has to question also what the article means by headphones? The article has a picture with the headline – of a guy riding a bike while wearing big huge padded headphones and no helmet (it is doubtful a helmet could fit over the massive headphones, which remind one of Vietnam era helicopter pilots). Obviously these would be ill-suited for safe riding. This is hardly representative of the avid rider. Let's all use common sense. Yeh some fool blasting load music -- in headphones on a bike, or in his car -- can't hear the situations around him. But not all people blast the music to atomic levels. I often ride with headphones, typically set to a moderate volume if I am on my own. I can still hear cars coming up to pass or other things. I can time overtaking cars by sound.

It is worth noting that I do not use headphones on a group ride, when I can expect to have to hear a fellow rider’s spoken words over wind noise -- such as in a paceline. Nor while mountain biking, where it is important to hear potentially oncoming bike traffic or peds on a narrow trail. Both these conditions are very different than listening for cars, the main hazard on the road (pedestrians are a distant second, and the odd wrong-way bike rider (you shouldn’t encourage him by calling him a cyclist) a much more distant third).

Articles like this, by merely raising the issue, confuse the issue of road safety by misleading people and lump all riders in the category of a handful of clueless fools. Perhaps next active.com will write an article against trackstanding, because everyone knows that a trackstanding rider is unsafe, he can tip over! (Note: I do not endorse a denunciation of trackstanding. Trackstanding is perfectly safe… in certain circumstances, a qualifier that seems so lacking from so many “safety” debates, this included).

Worse, while such articles, arguments, and discussion amongst cyclists are relatively harmless, they risk attracting the attention of non-riders, who in the time honored tradition of American legislation could propose scape-goating laws designed to do nothing but impose the myopia of the ignorant on the knowledgeable (see those reported headphone bans in Florida and Rhode Island, which somehow do not also have similar bans on car stereos). At worst such articles risk encouraging such legislative foolery; at best, such articles risk a “blame the victim” attitude on the part of non-cyclists every time a rider has a run in with a law-breaking or careless driver or pedestrian. That is what such a focus risks occurring.

Or worse, it risks creating a double standard that holds people on bicycles that weigh 20-odd pounds to a higher standard than drivers in fifteen hundred pound cars – who, by the way, kill 40,000-something people every year in preventable accidents.

If they decide to make an issue out of oblivious car drivers, I will gladly consider debating the issue of riders with headphones who cannot hear the road around them [which is hardly every rider with headphones]. But given the blind eye our culture turns to death mobiles on the road, and careless conduct by everyone but cyclists, generally, that isn’t happening any time soon. So what is to be done? Careful drivers and cyclists alike will simply have to use their own judgment, as to what is best in each situation. This hardly seems like such a horrible thing. I’m sure experienced, competent road users are capable of managing their lives better than busy bodies, legislatures, or cell-phone addled Audi drivers.


Brian 8/14/15


The answer is in the question.

Came across a gem today while surfing the web, from someone asking, “Why can't you buy bicycle wheels/rims at most "Regular" stores? "Regular" stores refer to places like: Costco, Walmart…” (meaning, of course, not bike shops). This drew my attention because earlier in the day I ran into a guy with a brand new department store Schwinn – no grease anywhere, but the point is, the quality of the bike’s assembly was horrendous. This seems to be what happens when you get department stores involved with bikes, because they either don’t have the right tools and trained mechanics, or sell the customer a bike in a box – and the customer isn’t a trained mechanic either, and probably has no more the right tools than the kid at the store.

The internet poster then mentions that these same stores often sell other things – bikes, bike seats, innertubes, helmets, etc., and asked, since they sell these other things, why not rims: “why do you have to go to some designated bicycle shop (where of course the rims cost $100+ each). I understand that they have to be strong enough to support the rider's weight. and I get the fact that you definitely want a quality set of rims. But bike shops can sometimes be out of the way, in terms of distance from one's residence. Why can't rims/wheels be sold in the above retailers?”

The answer to the question is in the nature of the question. What is the question about? Department stores. What do department stores have? Sales departments, emphasis on sales – and departments. They may carry bikes or some bike equipment, just like they may have a tool section, a housewares section, a t shirt section or an electronics department with shiny gadgets. But does the department store fix tools, stitch up torn shorts, or repair electronics? The answer is no, so why would they do it for bikes? Their business model is based around selling, not fixing. For that you’d need a tool shop, a tailor, etc. And for bikes, a bike shop.

But you just want to buy the rim! Not have it installed! Problem there, and to see why, look at what it is they do carry. Why is it department stores sell these things – but not rims, cables, cable housing, spokes, hubs, bearings, axles, etc.? The answer is obvious: Because they aren't bike shops.

Department stores and stores like that will sell locks, helmets, sometimes even inner tubes, pumps, etc. But these are accessories -- not parts. The stores have no interest in stocking and selling mechanical parts precisely because because they know most of their customers, who are not likely to be avid cyclists, will probably not be able to install them -- not have the knowledge, or tools, or both!

Note exception of the tubes, as the originally posted question asked, "these retailers SELL bicycles,tires,seats,inner-tubes….?" Again, everything except tubes and seats is an accessory. Tubes are indeed a part. But they are probably the cheapest part to make, and the only one the average joe public which constitutes their customer base in likely to know how to remove! And the seats are usually brought to the bike shop, where, when people find out how much it’d cost to install them, they start to get the impression that they’d been had. Or they install them themselves... and end up riding in positions that would try the patience of the type of old school mystic who walks on hot coals and nails.

Basically, the only parts they sell are the tubes, which they figure most people could install, and seats, which many end up taking to bike repair shops – but which they find worth selling because a seat is, after all, very personal, and people love to buy what they perceive is a cushier or prettier looking one. But actual moving mechanical parts? Rims, hubs, brakes? Sorry. No market for it, and frankly even if such a store bothered to stock them, would you want to use them?

Unlike the typical “average” department store customer, the avid cyclist is likely to know a bit more about installing or removing parts; he is even likelier to have bike specific tools such as cone wrenches, etc. So he might be able to install a rim if Wallymart or Acme sold one. However, he's likely to know that the quality of the parts spec'd on dept. store bikes is often as sub-par as their assembly. So why look to buy a rim at such a store? They aren't likely to stock it, since they sell what are essentially disposable bikes anyway, and if they did stock one, yeh, it'd be cheaper than a bike shop rim, but also so much lower quality I'd not want to risk riding it. Also it would not be adjusted prior to sale, which would mean it might be out of true to start with, and the bearings in the hub will, like the tape in an old mission impossible episode, self destruct.

As to the price mentioned, is this guy paying $100 for a rim, or a wheel? Most basic rims do not cost $100, but then the rim is only the actual round part of the wheel, not the spokes or hub. Perhaps he means the whole wheel when he says rim, which is much more likely, but then one has to ask does he mean rim or wheel? Perhaps before asking, he should make sure he is using the right terminology. Which brings one to the last part of his question: “bike shops can sometimes be out of the way, in terms of distance from one's residence. Why can't rims/wheels be sold in the above retailers?” There is no law preventing them from being sold at such retailers. It is that such retailers don’t want to be bothered because they do not see a market for it. Part of this is that even if they can get cheaper wheels, they will not be able to compete with bike shops. Some bike shop work isn’t great, but department store mechanical skill (or lack thereof) is legendary. Even if you could “save” twenty bucks, would you buy wheels that are probably adjusted poorly? So, back to using the right terms. It’s not that parts can’t be sold at department store. It’s not as if the bike shops are threatening to beat up department store owners who decide to stock parts.

Department stores have a business model based on quick, cheap sales – not a long term relationship. Often the quick comes from rushing through tasks –like bike assembly – that could have safety implications if done wrong. And oftener, the “cheap sales” are cheap, not because the retailer is kind, but because the stuff is lower quality to start with, and bought in bulk – which often allows the store to request specification changes to cut costs. If you could buy your rims at Wallymart, you might indeed do that. But when they break, or go out of true, or the non-adjusted bearings self-destruct in a clatter of metal debris, who will fix it? Wallymart will only offer to sell you another sub-par bike. So you take your broken wheel down to the local bike shop, which you have fond memories of from years ago, but haven’t been to in decades, since the shopping center got built on Route 22. And then you wonder why the bike shop isn’t there. Or why it charges more money than the department store. The answer is that it is offering a service the department stores do not operate.

But look at the last part of the question, the lament that bike shops are often “out of the way”. This is a comment that was mirrored by several customers at my local bike shop in one day, who all asked more or less the same thing: Where are all the bike shops? Or: How come there aren’t more bike shops around? Why do you think that is? I’ll give you one hint. And it’s that this person is even asking about buying rims at Wallymart.


Brian 7/23/15


Not cheap, never was

As a cyclist, one of the things I typically do is note any cycle-themed media. One of my go-to things in the local paper on Sundays has, therefore, been the comic strip Frazz. This humorous strip’s main character is a cyclist, and sometimes the strip employs a cycling theme.

What was sort of funny though was when I checkout out a few of the old cartoons on the web – yes, technology like the internet is occasionally used for productive purposes! – and saw that readers had posted responses. The cartoon in question showed Frazz shouldering a roadbike with a busted wheel, and immediately started questions from posters about potholes, road bikes, and even, the cost of a bicycle, as well as leisure riding vs. “racing” or faster road riding.

I guess my favorite one was the post that began “Why do people who bike like Frazz use such fragile bikes? A pot hole wouldn’t phase a mountain bike….”.

In answer to your question, I’ve come to the conclusion that most road bikes should probably come with slightly wider tires; I run 28s on several bikes and love them. But although bigger than the 23mm tires normally supplied on new road bikes, they will not withstand passively clunking into a crater. But for that matter, neither will mountain bike tires. Perhaps on a fat bike – extremely low pressure, high volume tires, some as wide as car tires – you could easily do this. But even a conventional mountainbike, with 2” wide tires, could flat, or ding a rim, or even cause the rider to fall, if he does not ride properly over a hole. It is all about how the rider balances, distributes his weight, etc.

What was perhaps more interesting was how this post, and then several other posts, sort of meandered around to dismissing road riding entirely, or the idea of actually getting what you pay for. To wit: One was discouraged from cycling by road bikes that had a “bent over” riding position he deemed uncomfortable; the same said lately more upright bikes had attracted his interest but that “but $350 is a bit much for a bike. I did quite some thousands of miles with a $100 wonder.”

Well, I had seen the reaction of those posters on the cartoon website before, so it was no surprise. What was a surprise I guess was the derision against road riding. By all means, if you are uncomfortable on a road bike, ride something else. But if you are going to ride for, say, 50 miles or so, a roadbike is really more practical than a comfort cruiser. I mean, if you aren’t comfortable with it, fine, but at least acknowledge that is has a purpose, and does it well.

It also might not hurt to acknowledge, with the issue of prices, bike manufacturers, bike shops, and so on, don’t give bikes away. If that guy got a used bike and took care of it, it is quite possible he only paid $100; I’ve ridden many miles on older bikes, many purchased at yard sales, or otherwise got second hand. Some cost a hundred bucks; some cost twenty, some cost nothing. I rode in my youth on a 1970s Gitane made of nice Renolds 531 steel that I found in a curbside rubbish heap and rebuilt. But there is no way anyone is going to get a brand new, quality bike for a hundred dollars. It just is not feasible. You might be able to get a Wallymart bike for that price, but good luck putting “some thousands of miles on it” without the thing self-destructing and sending you into orbit around the far moon of Saturn.

Hanging out at a bike shop, I’ve seen the reaction of “sticker shock”, and to be fair, this guy’s isn’t all that odd. People who last rode a bike as a kid, come in and gasp at the price. There are several reasons for this; first, a kid’s bike will almost always cost less than an adult bike; fewer gears and other features, less material used, etc. Also for many of these people their childhood was long ago and prices have all gone up. Even if they did ride as an adult, however, perhaps putting on “thousands” of miles, as this gentlemen claims, the fact remains many of them have pidgeon-holed the bicycle as some sort of exception; a toy, or a piece of exercise equipment. Somehow the same folks who would not balk at paying a normal price for a TV or a couch – or a car – are shocked that a bicycle will also cost them an equivalent amount of cash. This is often illustrated by someone who, like the gentleman in question, has been away for cycling for years. Yet it never ceases to amaze me. No one likes to pay more, but how many people go to their car dealer and say, “17,000? That’s too much, I want to be able to get a car for the same price my grand daddy did before WWII.”

Actually, that’s not an accurate example: decent quality bikes were never cheap. My Cannondale R300 which I got used gratis, and built up, would have cost almost $800 in 1998 – 17 years ago. In 1978, the year I was born, a Schwinn Superior – the renamed Sports Tourer, could be bought new for $229.

Think about that. In over thirty years, the price has only increased a little over a hundred dollars. But the bike you might buy now is a lot better than that bike from 1978. It is lighter, more comfortable, and has more and easier to shift gears. There are two ways to look at this; the prices have not gone up much; or, conversely, a decent bike (the Schwinn mentioned was not a high-end racing machine, but simply a basic recreational roadbike) has always cost a bit of money.

Think about what a bike has to do. It’s lightweight – but strong enough to support many times its own weight at speed, over years of use at varying speeds. The wheel of a bicycle – with its thin metal spokes, each tiny, but together, strong enough to support the weight of bike and rider – is as much an engineering marvel as any suspension bridge.

And you want to be able to get a new one for a hundred bucks? It would be nice – but it wouldn’t be feasible. Shipping production overseas has already given people a deflated impression of actual cost. If most of our bikes and bike parts weren’t manufactured by serfs in Communist China, that $350 bike might cost $500. Keep in mind, that Schwinn from 1978? It was built here. In America. Hey, dude. I know it’s not cheap. But let’s face it, it never was.


Brian 6/22/15


Destruction as improvement: Local town makes roads more dangerous, in the name of "safety".

A while ago, hearing that the town government in my hometown of Berkeley Hts. planned to totally mess up the county road that was also the town’s main street, as well as a massive shopping complex that takes up a huge corner adjacent to said road, I sent the following to the now defunct “independent Press”, the local newspaper. It was a letter to the editor and began: “The decision by the town government to locate a traffic light at the intersection of Lone Pine Drive and Springfield Avenue (CR 512) will mean more traffic, delays, and accidents. The traffic light a block away at Snyder already backs up to and past this location during busy times of day.

By increasing traffic congestion the government increases the risk of accidents to drivers, as well as pedestrians and cyclists and anyone else.”

Then, for a while, nothing happened. I figured that, good, common sense had prevailed and people realized that just because a project involves a traffic light does not mean it has anything to do with road safety. Of course, there was the fact that the light was initially proposed because of a planned hotel -- which is now not being built.

Yet, they went ahead. Just when it seemed the nonsense had been forgotten, suddenly, out of nowhere, one day I tried making a turn off Springfield Av. Into the shopping center on the corner. The driveway was blocked. The next day, going through the shopping center, I found them building a curb across a traffic lane – which left me no option but either to dismount and walk in the wrong way through the remaining traffic lane, which was one way, or ride the wrong way. Going all the way around the entire complex through the one traffic lane they left open, or needless subjecting myself to the traffic light at Snyder, then trying to find an unblocked entrance on Springfield Av., was not a realistic option.

I dismounted and walked to the post office that first day. I have not been back since. I’ll go somewhere else, where I do not have to go out of my way to access it.

And that appears to be the problem. The construction in the corner shopping center is related to the town deciding to put in that long-fear traffic light. In doing so they are closing off driveway, traffic lanes, etc., and forcing all traffic to go through the tiny one and a half lane sidestreet on which they are placing the light. To locals who frequented to post office, local stores, and other locations in the shopping mall, because it was convenient, the shopping mall is now no more convenient to navigate than the main street will be once it goes from 35mph posted speed limit to nauseating stop-and-go. This is what happens when people equate slow and dumb with safe and smart.

Forcing people to line up in their cars, subjecting bicyclists to greater danger of being sideswiped or hit while alongside, and creating more air pollution as they idle, and making all those drivers that much more frustrated, so that when they all do start moving they are more liable to screw up, get in a road rage, or simply fly off the handle – this is great transportation policy, if you goal is, how do we make the town as unsafe and hard to navigate as possible.

Worse, the stop-and-go traffic on Springfield Ave as construction crews closing the driveways to the shopping center worked at the edge of the roadway, necessitating a lane closure, was so appropriate. It was a nice preview of what we can all look forward to if that light gets up and running.

Perhaps it will just be an inconvenience. Then all we’ll have is bored, hogtied motorists sitting angrily in their gas chambers, burning through their life’s savings, flipping their dashboard dials and thinking about how the old days before the traffic light were so much better. Perhaps some of them might extrapolate beyond needless traffic congestion to other issues where government screwing around has negative effects, and realize that their idling cars are a metaphor for everything from job growth to savings.

Or, perhaps, rather than an inconvenience, the traffic creating by this menace will actually hurt or kill someone. Part of me hopes that doesn’t happen, but part of me is thinking that if such a tragedy has to occur, please god at least make it someone on the town council who caused the traffic jam!

However, in the meantime, whatever will happen to the drivers trapped in their cars, I still have to try and find a way around this obstacle the government has created. If need by I may have to ride the other way up Snyder, cut through side-roads, and come back to the downtown – on the other side of the traffic light.

And that is of course saying it all. The government’s new traffic pattern is so egregious, I would rather ride over a mile out of my way to avoid it – and uphill, too.

The town should be prepared to suffer the consequences of its absurdity. This is what destruction as improvement looks like -- where there was a perfectly good street, town "improvements" have destroyed it's usefulness. I may not be the only one avoiding downtown thanks to what they are doing. I feel sorry for all the businesses who will lose their livelihoods because people are avoiding them and the main road they are on, but what do you expect when you turn a 35mph road into a parking lot? Indeed, the irony is that the same government that created this monstrosity is always talking about how to “help” local businesses. Someone should tell them making the street the businesses are on so difficult to use smoothly that people avoid it, is not helping.


Brian 6/20/15


Making progress on cycling in NJ – but how much?

A recent article in the NJ Star Ledger’s new “Ledger Local” section (intended to replace the local newspaper, the Independent Press, which went out of business) highlights the benefits of cycling, and some improvements being made around the state. “Take your bike for a spin in the borough” points out that New Jersey was rated number 11 by Rutgers Voorhees Transportation Institute for cycling – barely making its list of top ten states. The article then talks about some local improvements, including markings in Morristown which warn drivers that bicyclists “may take full lane” if need be, on a road that is multiple lanes in each direction with no discernible shoulder. As I commented at the time, unlike many lackluster bike lane designs, which create a convention of separation that can lead to accidents, by making drivers and riders alike complacent, the Morristown signs are a big step forward, in that they simply state the obvious about traffic interaction for cyclists with cars on the regular road – which is where most of us ride, unless we are mountain biking.

Despite the good news – the article claims a moderate increase in NJ bike commuting, for example – all is not well. The Voorhees study and the article itself seem to have somehow bought into the packaging of bicyclists and foot traffic together. If this is their guiding philosophy it cannot fail to have negative implications for any cycling improvements they attempt, for keep in mind, bicycles are vehicular road users. I don’t know anyone who walks at 20 mph, for instance. Or crosses a street by going into the left turn lane. Or feels compelled to wear a crash helmet when afoot. While this seems like common sense, enough so that pointing it out may seem snide, when I hear or read of things like “NJ Bike and Walk coalition” I have to wonder. While neither a bike nor a pedestrian have engines like cars, they are certainly very different in not only how they interact with other traffic, but also the types of infrastructure they can use. See what happens when a footbridge along a dirt trail in the woods is only built with hikers in mind; in my own town, this led to bridges with stairs, which means you either have to have the skills of Evel Knievel or dismount and walk your bike over them.

If the bikes and pedestrians are simply grouped together because they are not cars, that is one thing; in that case we could call this group the “anything that isn’t a car” coalition. But if they are grouped together because people think the two are somehow the same in how the operate and what they require to use a public road, they could not be more wrong. The error is a common one by novices; mixing pedestrians and bikes seems to make sense to those who don’t know better because they are only looking at what the two are not, namely, automobiles. But from “experts” who seek to improve cycling on NJ streets, this sort of thing is not excusable.

Moreover, while it would be nice if New Jersey did in fact earn a “number 11” spot in terms of its ranking as “bike friendly”, when I read that announcement, I had to wonder what roads the raters had ridden on. I’ve ridden through Chatham Borough – which the article lauds as one of the better cities and towns to bike in. The main road through town is crowded with curbside parking, the drivers seem perpetually distracted, and all in all, it is like biking through a cleaner version of Manahattan – with shorter buildings. For that matter, my own town, which is only several towns removed from Chatham, has some roads so riddled with craters they look like ISIS training ranges and bomb testing spots. Indeed, what happens when you leave those one or two areas that have bike lanes or signs and go out into the rest of the state? Many local roads in my town are so badly crumbled one must ride in the middle of the road; in other cases, lax attitudes by local cops lead to illegal parking where it is neither allowed nor safe, forcing cyclists to go around oversized landscaping trucks by going over the double yellow line on a 40 mph road.

And lastly, from local government officials charged with maintaining the streets, to the general public, it seems that while many people like the idea of bicycling as an abstract thing, when they have to deal with an actual cyclist, they have no more tolerance than they did years ago.

Make no mistake, articles like this are a step forward. But encouraging cycling – and safe road use generally – is not limited to painting a bike lane on a road somewhere, or putting up a handful of clever signs. It involves completely understanding the road dynamic – that traffic includes cyclists – and then acting on that knowledge. It is a lot easier to put up some signs than it is to make sure the streets are adequately paved, parking regs are enforced, and distracted drivers – who pose an inordinate risk to riders – are punished adequately to deter their behavior rather than encourage it to be commonplace, as is now the case. It could be a wonderful state for cycling, this New Jersey, but it takes more than simply nice slogans and a few gestures to make that happen. This is not to diminish any progress that has been made, but rather, to point out that there is still a long way to go before one can claim any actual “progress” significant enough to make any difference to the daily cyclist.


Brian 6/12/15


Walmart bike autopsy:

Well a friend of mine found a "single speed" that he wasn't interested in so I got it. It was a Mongoose, aluminum frame, almost too big for me, but because of the sloping top tube I had okay stand over. I decided to take it home and try to turn it into a "real" bike by tweaking it, and or upgrading with parts from my junk bin. The frame looked solid. Also, it was an opportunity to do an “autopsy” on a Walmart bike. I’d never gone over every part on one before, never had reason to, although I’ve worked on some name-brand bikes that were poorly assembled by bike stores. It was an eye opener.

First thing was, most of the parts were poor quality, so even had they been adjusted right and greased, I’d still probably choose to swap em out. The handlebar was steel. The hubs were no name – something called “quando” (Italian for “when” – same word in Spanish except with a “c” not “q”…maybe the idea is, “when will my wheels work right”?), and the cranks were steel with a stamped built-in ring. Then there was the assembly. Nothing was lubed or greased and both wheels were shot – so wobbley they barely turned without hitting the frame. Might be able to true, but probably not worth it; I have a nicer pair I can use. Plus these things are drilled for schrader valves. Also, I'm not sure I trust the threads on a wheel that was specked with a no name hub by wallymart.

Okay, put on my own wheels.

Took off the brakes to work on the rest of the bike; they were so poorly attached the pads did not line it with the rims, and they were not adjusted so that they would not stop.

Then there was the seatpost. No grease (none of these bikes are ever greased) but even when greased the mtb style quick release was incapable of actually tightening enuff to clamp the seatpost from moving. Ug! Replace the qr with an allen bolt.

Then the stem. The thing was never greased and the topnut on the threaded headset seems to be a tighter fit than a normal 1" -- more akin an old-school Schwinn or old school bmx. But the stem was a standard one inch quill. Typical of poor quality parts spec – the parts didn’t fit well together, if at all. Result? Some time with a hammer and block of wood, no dice. Finally after an hour of elbow grease and liquid wrench, got the stem out, fighting equal parts rust and no grease, and too tight nut, all the way. Replaced the topnut with a nicer one that was the right internal diameter and greased the threads on the top of the steerer tube.

Replaced the now banged up stem and the clunky steel bars with my own stem and bars.

Now I have to see if I can get the bb and cranks off. I might keep the stock bb, and use my own cranks, but I still have to take it out to grease it or its becoming a permanent inhabitant of the frame.

Lesson learned? These things are death traps. Since it cost me no $, I figured I'd put decent parts on it, fix it up, and make a nice non-ferrous beater for bad weather riding or errands. Maybe that'll still work -- I got enuff parts. But for a newbie or anyone who had to go out and actually buy these parts, or have the work done by a mechanic.... add it up. Results of Walmart bike autopsy: Bike needed new wheels (or adjust hubs and true rims), new crank, pull the bb and grease, adjust headset, replace topnut of headset, replace qr, remove and grease stem (or replace)... and this is just for starters … and you're looking at more than the bike costs new in repairs.

I guess what I don't understand is why anyone would buy one in the first place, having autopsied one and seen how poorly it was assembled. Also, it makes me sad to see a bike -- even a "bike like object" from a dept store -- mistreated so by an alleged assembler. Like those puppy mills people always object to, these things aren't cool.

Ah, what was I thinking? Was i just figuring: Oh, let me try and help that poor forlorn bike? ... not worth it. But a learning experience. I'm glad I did it because it makes me feel so much better about my bikes, which are put together right!


Brian 5/21/15


The devil in the details

There is an old saying that “the devil is in the details”. Whether its stories of reporters rigging pickup trucks to explode, proven allegations being dismissed by the media as “mostly unsubstantiated” or some other “oops” that totally brings into question the issue of credibility, details are important.

That is never more so than in the case of bike parts and safety concerns – especially if someone has gotten, or could be, hurt. So it was with Trek, whose bicycles were in the limelight as a result of a tragic accident. A quick release (QR) skewer came loose on the front wheel, the loose level flipped down past 180 degrees, and got caught in the wheel. The bike rider was thrown from his bike and had serious spinal injury. As tragic as this accident is, one must remember, it was an accident, in the oldest sense of the word: user error.

But at first, everyone thought there was something wrong with the bike that caused it. Knowing most quick releases are mechanically the same, I wondered if this bike had some oddball gimmick. Nope. A standard quick release – that was not properly tightened. Why? Who knows. Maybe it had gotten caught on something and pulled partly open. Maybe the place the guy bought the bike never showed him how to tighten it right. Who knows. I have seen plenty of QR levers not tightened properly, so this is no surprise, sad as the outcome was.

What is a surprise is why the issue quickly became the levers, not the fact that it was not used properly. Partly, this was due to the media leaving out the “devil-in-the-details” of the incident; partly, I think, no one wanted to suggest the poor guy might have contributed to the cause of his injuries. Whichever, it led to a focus on quick releases – mirroring an earlier outcry some years ago that actually had riders fearing a misguided prohibition attempt. While that fortunately never materialized, there is as little to be gained now, as then, in blaming inanimate objects like bike axle levers. It might be better to focus on the fact that some shops and all department stores fail to show their customers how to tighten a QR properly.

I make sure to mention this to new riders, and also have them try it. But at the end of the day it’s about making sure a product is used right, and safely. That is ultimately the job of the products owner and user – with the help of the store he bought it from. Since some stores don’t do a great job of educating their customers in QR use – just like some stores do poor assemblies – perhaps that should have been the focus. But uneasiness about suggesting user error led to a focus on the object, not the use – and tilted the direction of the discussion before all the facts were in. Now, fearing negative publicity, Shimano is recalling those quick releases.

It is always easier – especially easier on lawyers – to blame a product. So, like the scapegoat of biblical times, cast into the wilderness, the “old” quick release is deemed now to outmoded, in need of replacement, etc. Or as Shimano, the maker of the QR’s, said in a statement regarding the recall, the Trek’s with front disc brakes were going to have any QR levers which opened more than 180 degrees replaced with those that do not. As Shimano puts it, “Shimano's Quick Release levers made of aluminum do not open more than 180 degrees from the closed position. However, Shimano's Quick Release levers made of steel can open more than 180 degrees from the closed position, and Trek's recall includes bicycles equipped with Shimano's Quick Release levers.” Tellingly, they say, “Shimano's Quick Release levers made of steel do not pose any risk of injury when they are properly tightened and closed as instructed by Shimano in its instruction manuals and other materials such as a tag that accompanied the product.”

While it would be nice to have a QR that wouldn’t catch in a disc rotor (or hub flange, or anything else) if it gets loose, let’s not forget the problem is still that the QR was loose. Yes, moving forward it would be nice to have QR levers that – paradoxically, like the old-school Campy steel ones – do not open to beyond 180 degrees. But that still does not address the issue of user error and the broader issue of educated consumers. Maybe having quick releases that won’t reach your disc brakes is an improvement, but ultimately, couldn’t even those cause some problem if you leave your wheel loose? At some point simple technology is no substitute for awareness, and an educated cycling community. The best way to prevent the whole problem is for people to know how to use their equipment and check it periodically to make sure nothing is loose, busted, or not right (And the best way to do that is to make sure your local bike shop is a good one!)


Brian 5/16/15


Stand up or shut up
While it might not seem like it, the near-tragic attack by gunmen on a free speech “draw the Prophet” event in Texas has a lesson for American cyclists, as well as many others.

While some might have found the idea of violating as Islamic taboo by drawing images of the Prophet offensive, what cannot be lost in the cries of “you asked for it” from the media is that, no matter how much someone’s feelings were hurt by the idea of someone exercising their free speech rights, they were their free speech rights. And in this country, you don’t kill people for doing something they have a right to do – as the gunmen planned before being stopped by police in a gun battle.

Or do you? Well, you shouldn't ... but some do. Fortunately, terrorist rampages are not a common occurrence in the U.S. – although they are an increasing concern to some. Violent death on the road, however, is much more commonplace, and cyclists, as road users who are not protected by the armored carapace of a car, are at particular risk in a collision with thousands of pounds of steel.

When you add in that in some cases, these collisions are not accidents, but deliberate attempts to hit cyclists or scare them off the road, you are left with an alarming fact: A maniac who might kill you for his religious persuasion may be someone we all denounce as a terrorist, but similar maniacs everyday are comprised of your coworkers, neighbors, and others. They don’t look fishy and they don’t wave AK-47s. But they are just as willing to kill because you hurt their feelings, by doing something you have every right to do – use the road.

Some years ago, at an otherwise obscure newspaper out of MSU in Michigan, a student writer named Zac Coleman penned a piece titled “bicyclists need to stay on the sidewalk.” The screed was a diatribe against cyclists using the roadway, as one could tell from the title, but it opened and ended with a plain threat to hit any cyclist he came across (in addition to containing many admissions of reckless or careless driving by Mr. Coleman).

In response, careful road users, cyclist and driver alike, wrote in to complain about the brazen threats and illegal conduct flaunted in the column. One would think it would end there, but the reader response to the backlash was chilling. One typical example: A writer opined that he never used to have an opinion of cyclists one way or the other, but now that the cyclists were all speaking out against being threatened, “their pushy, in-your face attitude” has turned him off. Wow. That seems a lot like the mainstream media response to the Texas shootings – a token denouncement of the gunmen’s violence, followed by telling the gunman’s targets that “they asked for it” and chiding them not to be so loud in asserting their rights.

Fortunately, cyclists in this and many other cases were not cowed, and continue to ride the roads as they have every right to do. For this, many are denounced, threatened by short-sighted drivers, or otherwise hassled, simply for going about their business. Many cycling advocates – not unlike the sometimes controversial woman who helped organize the Texas drawing contest – are often accused of provoking anger at cyclists. “I know you have a right to do this,” is the subtext of such accusations, “but do you have to be so loud about it?”

Perhaps, in a kinder, gentler world, there would be no need to loudly state, “this is my right!” (unlike auto drivers, for whom use of the road is a privilege, bicyclists have had a legal right to the road since the 1800s). However, as nice as that would be, we do not live in such a world, but this one – a one where the refusal to respect the right of cyclists to use the roadway can provoke violence as sure as the refusal of some to acknowledge that Americans don’t wish to surrender their freedom of speech to avoid offending a religious taboo.

Whatever you think of the cartoons, or the organizers, they put their money where their mouths are. And risked their lives to do it. To many that may seem needlessly provocative or extreme, similar to criticisms of the Texas event. But remember, that a right which is not exercised, is one that will eventually atrophy and fade away. Or be ripped away by the intolerant and small-minded, as nearly happened in Texas, to our freedom of speech – and as has nearly happened over the years on local roads all over New Jersey. Heck, a few years ago some bigots actually advocated banning cyclists from some local roads because speeding drivers did not seem able to interact safely with them!

To oppose nonsense like that you cannot be meek or unafraid to speak out. If that offends some people, too bad. The alternative is far worse, and only emboldens those who would use force to accomplish their goals – be it with guns, as in Texas, or their bumper, on the roads. Sometimes, there is no need to do something just because you are entitled to do so. But the time to refrain from actions you are entitled to is certainly not when someone threatens to take that right away from you.

Rather than be tricked into a kinder and gentler approach of minced words and pulled punches, American cyclists need to heed the lessons of Texas and speak up as loudly as necessary on behalf of themselves and their right to the road. The stakes are too high and a weakened voice does not make for a stronger argument. This isn’t to say one should be gratuitously rude, or offensive. But if the choice is between someone else’s offense and your safety or rights, do not cede the moral high ground to the belligerent or threatening. If you do that, you may be in a position of proving the old adage; stand up, or shut up. And a cycling advocacy that has been scared into timid silence out of fear of “offending” someone who might mow them down, is not going to be effective at anything, any more than a free speech advocacy that was actually afraid to exercise said speech for fear of being “offensive”.


Brian 5/15/15


The importance of “getting it right”

Today, on my way home I encountered a local with whom I had earlier in the year discussed the Central Park Collision, where a cyclist and a pedestrian crashed, leaving the pedestrian brain dead. At the time, she seemed unable to understand how it is that the bicyclist would not be able to stop. I put it down to simple empathy with the woman who died – the pedestrian – and left it at that, as it didn’t seem I’d be able to convince her to believe in physics.

To be fair, no one knows why the woman – Jill Tarlov – collided with the bicyclist. What is known is simply that the bicyclist apparently did everything he could have to avoided someone suddenly entering his path – and it was not enough to avoid a crash. Yet, when the same person today harangued me on the subject, I became all the more aware of why it is important that the news media get it right when it comes to even fairly non-complicated stories, like traffic accidents. And, conversely, the danger that comes when they get it wrong. Words like the NY Post’s “a speeding cyclist ran her down in a crosswalk,” to quote a January 22, 2015 piece, are not just free speech, but, to quote 18th Century author Thomas Dequincy, when published, they become armed according to circumstance “with the power of extensive mischief”.

That is never more true than in this case. Tired, having nicked my hand working on a bike, all I wanted was to go home, rest, and veg out. Instead I was confronted by an acquaintance trying to argue that “cyclists are dangerous” and the rider in the central park crash was the one at fault. I listened, initially, intending to be polite, but the longer I listened the more alarmed I became. She started by assuming “you should always be able to stop” – a nice idea but an unrealistic one and one that guarantees you’ll blamer the cyclist, when some fool runs out in front of him and he cannot, in fact, stop. She ended by making the bicyclist, as a road user, responsible for everyone else around him, from the sensible to the foolish, yet absolving all of these from any responsibility of their own. Right around when the woman was arguing that the bicyclist was going 45 miles per hour and not looking where he was going, I finally said, “where did you get all this?” Her answer made me feel lightheaded “That’s what the newspapers said!” This is why it is more than ever important that the media get things right. There will always be those who have some strange view incompatible with the facts, but twisted or biased reporting can only increase such, and make it harder for those with no knowledge of their own, who depend on the news coverage, to be swayed from reality. One such misguided person is simply a curiosity. A hundred could be a lynch mob – or any other such rush to judgment. The media rarely have an interest is truth beyond selling papers, but they can do tremendous damage when they do not get it right. In this case, it may be impossible to ever convince this woman that a person who carelessly enters traffic may sometimes get hit – and that the solution is not to denounce the traffic – namely, bicyclists – but for all of us to be careful and as aware as we can of our surroundings.

Misinformation can ultimately lead people to act on the wrong information. As with the efforts to blame cyclists, this not only avoids addressing the actual problem that caused the crash (a pedestrian not seeing / reacting to a cyclist in traffic), it also ends up setting up the cyclist for perpetual blame, because he could not predict whatever unsafe thing someone else does next. This will not lead to better road policy, to put it bluntly.


Brian 5/07/15


Special treatment for connected DUI offenders is Abad idea

According to the 4-26-15 Star-Ledger newspaper, Pedro Abad, the officer who in the March 20 wrong-way crash on the Staten Island Expressway, was drunk. The paper was repeating and NBC report that said the young officer had three times the legal blood alcohol limit. The crash was caused when Abad drove the wrong way down the Expressway and hit a tractor trailer head on, injuring himself and another passenger, and killing two others. Though authorities haven’t officially released any blood test results and are refusing to confirm or deny the officer’s reported drunkenness, there is one thing that cannot be denied; impaired drivers are a danger on the road and one especially of concern to cyclists, who can be seriously hurt or killed if hit by a car. That is true whether the impairment is mental, such as a driver distracted by a cell phone, or chemical, such as driver who in drunk or high. And while distracted drivers using, for instance, i-phones, has become an increasingly common occurrence, drunk driving – the old-fashioned form of impairment – is still an issue.

It is especially an issue for officer Abad, who was in a total of eight accidents prior to his wrong way crash, including two of which resulted in drunk driving charges, in 2011 and 2013 (the 2011 charges were thrown out after one lawyer failed to disclose information to another, but there was never any dispute that he was drunk, just a dispute about legal procedure). Despite all that, he was allowed to carry a badge and a gun. And when he ultimately resumed driving, he drove head on into an 18-wheeler and killed two people. What is alarming about this for those of us who are concerned with safe road use, is the issue of special treatment. Was he given breaks because he was a police officer? One expects officers of the law to be held to at least the same standard as those they police, but it has to be asked; how was a man who was not legally competent to drive a car, entrusted with a gun and badge? And, when he once again drove, of course, he killed two people – two other officers, in this case.

Yet, nearly half a year – five months – after the fatal crash, no charges have been filed and the public is left to wonder two things; how many drunk cops are there waving guns, and two, how many people are there driving who shouldn’t be? Linden officials – where Abad was a policeman – refused to comment on the reported blood alcohol but did state that his actions didn’t represent the rest of the department. One would hope not. But one is still left with the fact that with eight previous crashes, including two DUIs, this is a man who should not only not have been driving, he should probably also not have been given a gun. It is worth noting, however, that it is the car, not the gun, with which he killed two people.

The tendency of an institution to cut breaks for its members is understandable, but it is not right and it is something we can no longer allow. A drunk cop is a danger to himself, the public, and other officers. And the same is true for a drunk driver – even if he is a cop. It is no comfort to the families of the two men who died that this individual was allowed to remain armed, and on the roadway.


Brian 4/2715


The pro difference

Marketers like to talk about the “pro” difference; use the same chain lube as the famous racers in Europe! Run the same disc brake pads as the downhill champ! Wear the same shorts as Missy Giove (well, hopefully not the same shorts….)

All of this makes great advertising, but it contains a grain of truth. These people are professionals, meaning they have expertise enough in their field people pay them money to do it... and do it well. The implication for marketing, is that if you use the same lube, brake pads, or shorts as a pro, you might be as fast, cool, rich, etc., too! The reality is that the average recreational rider will probably not be able to compete with a professional racer, no matter what they use or wear. But, they will benefit to some degree – negligible or otherwise – from using better gear. And of course there is the psychological benefit; they feel better.

What gets lost in the shuffle when we pooh-pooh the marketing jargon as basic psychobabble, however, is that grain of truth: Professionals are different than amateurs. This is why, for example, the airlines don’t select their pilots from passengers in coach.

Just like pro racers and pilots, mechanics also have a specific skill set, and there is a tremendous difference between them and amateurs. And while a poorly maintained bike won’t send you falling for 30,000 feet, like a plane piloted by a passenger, it could cause you to fall – albeit a shorter distance. This is why it’s important to have a professional work on your bike.

But the bicycle is a deceptively complex invention. It looks so simple… until you get to the details. Like I did earlier in the week when as a favor I worked on two bikes for a family friend.

The bikes were a study in contrasts; one was a road bike, that had either been sold by or worked on by a good quality shop, possible even my friend Steve’s place The Bike Stand. His signature grease – or something darned similar – was everywhere. This bike was easy to go over. The hubs spun smoothly, the gears worked, the bolts easy to loosen and tighten because the threads had been lubed. It had some wear, perhaps user adjustment; I tweaked the brakes and tightened a loose headset and greased a few things, where the existing grease had thinned from age.

The second bike was from a Sporting Goods store, which shall remain nameless. It was a name brand bike, like the roadbike, but the only things greased on it were one bolt on the threadless stem (which had five bolts) and the pedal axle threads. The back hub was okay; the front was so gritty it barely turned by hand, it had never been adjusted. Neither wheel’s quick release was greased on the threaded end. One of the headset bolts and one of the water bottle cage bolts were so rough – thanks to not being greased – they turned with extreme difficulty and I was afraid of stripping the threads. I had to tighten the crank bolts, too. The seatpost was not greased and the seatpost bolt – a quick release as this was a mountain bike – had never been greased and was coated with rust. I greased everything, adjusted the hubs, and installed the new parts that the rider wanted. But I walked away with a whole new appreciation for the difference between a professional job – and an amateur one.

Please, consider, when buying a new bike, that the differences that you might not notice at first glance, between the bike assembled by a professional, and someone else (such as a sporting good store) are tremendous.

Do the right thing and go with a professional job.


Brian 4/25/15


The traffic dynamic

Saturday, 4-18-2015 – a beautiful day to be outdoors! I was riding home past a store and as I passed the building, this woman with a shopping cart runs right out in front of me. She was too close for me to stop safely, but not far enough away to dodge, thank goodness; as I tried to stop I also steered behind her, and that’s when a second woman ran out, blocking the line of travel of my evasive action. I doubled back, then continued onto the wrong side of the street, wide in front of the first; I just missed her, emitting a startled exclamation as I passed.

As I swung back to the right side of the road, having narrowly escaped death by shopping cart, I hear one of them yell at me, “we’re in a crosswalk!”

Ah, yes, the crosswalk. Marx was wrong; religion isn’t the opiate of the masses, the crosswalk is. It seems wherever there is one a good percentile of the populace go into a stupor. What so few seem to remember is that a crosswalk is painted lines on the ground, not a magic field or invulnerability. Which is why “pedestrians have the right of way” doesn’t mean is that you can just jump in front of someone like a lemming. The first one was just far enough away for me to dodge her, although not stop safely (and that’s my call, by the way. If I think I can stop, I’ll try. If I think I might fall or crash by slamming on the brakes –I’m going to dodge you instead.) But the real danger was the second one. When she entered the roadway – without looking or even stopping, at a near sprint – I was even closer, and going a tad faster, as I had assessed the spatial relationship to the first pedestrian, picked a course, and set myself up to go behind her. All things she might have seen if she had paused at the edge of the traffic lane, and looked. The question is, why didn’t she? While only the Shadow knows what lurks in the hearts of men (or women with shopping carts), I can make a fair guess; she saw the other woman in front of her, and figured, that as long as someone else was in the crosswalk, the entire world would come to a standstill.

If the crosswalk was magic, this might work. But not in the real world, with moving variables all over, including bicycles, who might not be able to magically stop when someone jumps in front of them. But that’s just it; there ARE more types of traffic than just cars. Including bicycles. Which, frankly people often don’t think to look for – an error that needs to be corrected. The only real way to minimize such close calls, or the accidents they sometimes cause, is to be aware of reality. This means really understanding, conceptually, what “pedestrians have the right of way means” – and it isn’t a blank check on stupidity! Also, it includes being aware of road conditions. And this includes the varying, many-faceting nature of the traffic dynamic, from people walking, cars and yes – even bicycles.

Sadly, our approach to pedestrian safety in this day and age is simply to try and hang more chi-chis at road crossings. From faux brick crosswalks (as slippery as real brick when wet) to flashing lights, the focus is varying attempts to make people more aware of the pedestrians. At some level this is all well and good, but it overlooks one thing: The pedestrians also have to have some awareness of others, as well. Pedestrians must also be aware of vehicles operators (including bicycles). This includes not stepping in front of them! Yet, ensconced within the seemingly officially-encouraged narrative that they had no need of paying attention, I am quite sure those two walked away from the incident totally sure they did nothing wrong, learning nothing from it. Perhaps they even walked away thinking I was one of those “reckless cyclists” so often denounced in the newspapers after any ped-bike run-in.

And that is the saddest part of the incident, because it means for them, this is going to an unchallenged assumption that leads to continuing careless behavior. Ignorance begets ignorance. Let’s all of us who use the roadways also use our brains. Because let’s face it, sometimes these mishaps don’t have such harmless endings. To paraphrase an old saying, if you think education is painful, try colliding with ignorance.


Brian 4/21/15


The safe trail user, and the tool

One of the things I realized, offroading at Lewis-Morris today, was that even people I was predisposed to like could be jerks. In this case, that included both dog-walkers and fellow mountain bikers. I was only a little bit into my late morning ride, just getting warmed up as I headed down a narrow trail and came to a bridge. Ut-oh. The bridge was blocked; two guys with dogs, standing on it, talking.

Of course, it wasn’t much of a bridge to start with. The “bridge” was a series of planks going over a tiny creek. The edge was half a foot higher than the trail, and the thing had no guardrails of any kind. I wasn’t about to try going around two guys with dogs while crossing it.

Best case scenario, I fall into the creek and get banged up. Worst case scenario, I hit one (or both) of the dog-walkers. Real worst case scenario, I could hit one of the dogs. Yes, as you might guess from that line, I love dogs. Very much. So much so, that I am predisposed to like anyone who has a loving mutt. Dogs are, after all, good judges of character. Just a few miles back I had stopped to say hello to a lovely Golden Retriever named Bridget. Now, I stopped so I wouldn’t hit the two fools who had stopped to talk in the middle of a bridge with no guardrails on a narrow trail, and put a foot down, trying to figure out how to proceed. Riding was out of the question. No way was I going to try riding over the bridge. Two people it might handle; not three, plus two healthy-sized dogs. Visions of myself, or one of the poor dogs, sent to the doctor office made me wince. Well, I never liked the idea of a cone around my head, either. I dismounted, lifted bike onto bridge, wheeling it along on foot. “Excuse me,” to the first dog-walker, as I squeezed past, a friendly “hey there!” to the dog, which prompted a wagging tail – not the dog’s fault his owner positioned him for suicide-by-bridge, after all, no reason not to be friendly to him. The dog was a yellow lab and like most of his kind mild-mannered, but he looked at up at his owner with a knowing look as I passed, as if saying, “See, this is a bad place to stand – people are coming back and forth through here, and it’s narrow and has no guardrail.” I was almost over the bridge. I said a sort of mumbled “excuse me” to the other guy and his dog, then heard tires on dirt and stepped off the bridge and quickly to the side. I nearly fell over my bike. Instead I started to stumble. The I was sort of run off the trail, half falling into a huge bramble patch, thorns and all, just as two guys on mountain bikes with oversized “fatbike” tires whizzed past me, then past the two dog-walkers who had stopped unwisely on the narrow bridge. Mercifully, no one was sent to the doctor. Or the vet. But I realized several things, one of them the aforementioned jerk potential. In this case, that jerk potential applied to mountain bikes as much as dog-walkers.

Let’s be clear, the dog-walkers should not have stopped to talk on the narrow bridge, rendering it dangerous to ride past on. But what were those two riders thinking? Part of this was my own annoyance at being the comic relief; a guy tripping over his bike and landing on his bum in a thorn bush is not nearly as funny as it sounds – if you are the guy. But part of it was the fact that they could also have nailed the two fools on the bridge. Yes, said fools shouldn’t have been sitting on the bridge blocking it – but we bikers are supposed to be smarter, right?

That’s kind of what got me about it: how hard would it have been for those two riders to brake, dismount, walk across – maybe passing on some choice advice to the two guys blocking the bridge, like “hey, can you talk somewhere else?” Bottom line, I dismounted, walked around, and tried to act as if I had sense, since the two fools jawing on the bridge sure weren’t acting like they had any. And then two fellow cyclists come along nearly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. For the guys on the fat bikes to come blasting through the other way did two things – three if you count me basically being run off the trail into the brambles. One, it made me realize that some bicyclists can be jerks, too, just like some dog-walkers. This was a depressing realization, chiefly because I am predisposed to like cyclists, just like I am predisposed to like anyone with a dog. Why? I, myself, am a cyclist! And second, it made me realize that since so many non-cyclists aren’t careful, it is all the more important that we are.

Look at what is the most likely outcome of such incidents. If the actions of these two riders bothered me, a fellow cyclist, than chances are the two old guys with their dogs would be even more likely to blame the cyclists. Never mind they set things in motion by standing in the middle of a narrow bridge on a trail busier than usual (the nearby parking lot was so packed people had to turn around and leave). The morons standing in the middle of the bridge are most likely to react by denouncing the cyclists – not their own folly at standing in the middle of the bridge. And they are probably not going to limit their denunciation to those two particular ones. I know better than to put all the blame on the riders … Yeah they basically ran me off the trail, but that can partly be put on the dog-walkers; the only reason they sort of ran me off the trail is because I was dismounted to go around the two geniuses on the bridge. Yet, I keep coming back to, just because the people with the dogs were jerks, does that mean the cyclists have to be jerks too? Think of all those places where cyclists are denounced – from Central Park’s pavement, to dirt trails at other New Jersey mountain biking spots, there are many people who are ready to believe if you put a helmet and cleats on a guy, he turns into a savage. This is nonsense, of course. There are jerks in every group. That doesn’t make all cyclists bad. In fact, even mentioning the few “bad apples” on bikes is something I’m often loath to do, out of concern it may be taken out of context and used to reinforce an anti-bike bias by the shortsighted. But it must be mentioned, because out of this sort of silliness comes an opportunity. Which is, let this be a teachable moment.

Rather than respond to pedestrian foolishness with spite, as these two riders did, be the better man. Dismount, walk past the idiot blocking the bridge, then mount up and ride again. Buzzing him will not make the point you want to make about your right to the trail – it will only reinforce in his mind, or others, that you are just as foolish as he is (and you might run another cyclist off the trail in the process, one who is just trying to get past the two human-shaped obstructions). Instead, show that you are smarter two absent-minded or self-centered walkers who decide to block a narrow bridge on a busy trail. Don’t be shy; feel free to tell them to move. But by your actions, you’d also be telling them who is really the safe trail user, and who is the tool. And that message is the most important of all.


Brian 4/13/15

Big Box Bikes

The first picture you can see the wheel is on backwards, the second the cranks are both facing the same way, and last the fork is on backwards.

 


Your local bike shop vs. “the department store”

Stumbled across a gem the other day while searching a mountain bike forum for gearing tips as I tweaked my single-speed mtb. A person asked, if department store bikes are such poor quality, why do they sell so many, and then asked, how come bike shops sell fewer? The implication is that the department store bike is a better deal. It may cost less – but is it a better deal? This is an oft-asked question, so let’s look at the answer.

The answer is that the department store bikes are cheaper – in initial purchase price. But businesses neither raise prices because they are mean nor lower them to be kind. The dept. store bikes are less expensive because they are made more cheaply, not because the dept. store is generous to its customers. But the difference isn’t obvious unless someone knows about bikes and the department store sure isn’t going to go out of its way to point out the difference between its wares and local bike shops.

The difference is immense. To get a bike made cheaper the parts that come on it are often poorer quality. This can be something as simple as that they are simply heavier and not as cutting edge – or it can mean they use either non-replaceable nonstandard or no-name parts, or something as significant as the parts actually having a shorter lifespan or not working as well. Then there is assembly. A bike shop has mechanics and the proper tools. A good bike shop has great mechanics. A department store has an underpaid kid with no bike-specific tools and no mechanic.

So why do department stores sell so many bikes? The answer is that they are cheaper – initially – and the downside is often hidden, or around the corner, in terms of future repairs or rebuilding. Also, not being an avid cyclist, such a customer may see “bike” as "kids toy" not "vehicle" or "serious sporting gear".

Another quote from the same fellow, defending the practice of patronizing department stores for bicycles, said, “support the community? ... i'm not going to use that excuse to pay more than double of what i'm hoping to pay for an item. would u pay double to buy ur teenage son a car if there was a "local-community based" car distributor selling u only $50k cars?”

The reality is this is a false comparison. The difference is that comparison is flawed; a fifty thousand-dollar car is a high end car. The bikes denounced as too expensive are hardly so; wallymart and others like it, by selling so many substandard bikes, have convinced people you should be able to get a complex machine built with many moving parts, on which your very safety depends, for a hundred bucks or less. I believe the appropriate response is not printable here, but it begins with a incredulous exclamation and ends with a question mark. As in “what the…?”.

If you use the wallymart price point as the "entry level" starting point, you might well be convinced that a “normal” priced bike is the equivalent of a $50,000 luxury sedan. But only because you are comparing it to a jalopy – to continue the car analogy. If you do that, you are selling yourself and cycling short, because those bikes aren't entry level, they are below entry level – often barely functional. This is especially true with children’s bikes, and a parent may figure that spending anything beyond the basics on their kid’s bike, when the kid is going to outgrow it in a year, is a waste of money. That may well be true – but you are still left with the fact that many department store bikes do not rise to the level of “basic”. Also, your local bike shop’s bikes are not that much more expensive, especially when you consider a good shop (like The Bike Stand) takes its own bikes in trade in, so you could not only by a used name-brand bike for about what you’re saving on that wallymart special, but you can trade it in towards another bike when your kid outgrows it.

If you want to use the car comparison do it right. Would you buy your kid the cheepest possible car you can get -- even a rattletrap death box that's falling apart or unsafe? Or would you buy your kid the cheapest car you can get that is safe, decently made and put together right? Like most people, I don't want to pay more than I have to. But I also realize that there is a lower limit beyond which the quality is not only poor, it might be unsafe. Your local bike shop, on the other hand, is selling you a safe bike, a well made and properly assembled bike, and, more importantly, they are selling you their knowledge.

A while ago I wrote something about “supporting your local bike shop.” With all due respect to that fellow who sarcastically quipped, “support the community? ... i'm not going to use that excuse to pay more than double of what i'm hoping to pay for an item”, I would suggest that while no one wants to overpay, paying a normal price for a normal bike is not overpaying. And you get the knowledge of a competent mechanic, and a shop that cares about cycling, cares about the sport (or activity or mode of transport if “sport” offends you). More importantly, that shop also cares about you – they want you to come back and buy a helmet, a light, maybe the next bike, if your kid outgrows it, or one for yourself. Some shops – Steve at The Bike Stand is one – have sold bikes to more than one generation of local families, with regular adult customers who have been coming there since they were kids. That’s part of what you lose when you “save” your money at the department store bike section. At the bike shop, you have a relationship. At the department store, you just have some bloke at the cash register waiting to sell you another poorly assembled rattletrap that won’t last more than a year or two, when the current one breaks.

So in short, I guess I am saying, yes, “support the community” – by supporting yourself and starting off right, with a safe bike that will last and be fun to ride. It’s a free country, but it’s also in your own interest to go to the local bike shop. You lose more than you save by going to that department store. Don’t sell yourself short.


Brian 4/10/15

"Time to share"

As my friend Steve at the local bike shop observed, “Vox Wednesday, March 25,2015 states "Bicycle face": a 19th-century health problem made up to scare women away from biking." Wow, that’s pretty weird, but about what you’d expect from any orthodoxy when threatened by something new.

Yet, yesterday’s orthodoxy is often today’s bigoted view. Which is why it bothers me to see so many people who still are opposed to mountain biking in Watchung. As far as I know, unlike myself, these people have never spent a month wading through OPRA requests and government documents, so they don’t know all the details of how mountain bikers and other have been the subject of an extra legal hoax masquerading as a ban for twenty years. Judging by how many of them think mountain biking is dangerous or destructive (or claim to), they also probably aren’t aware that, when forced to respond to an Open Public Records Act request on the subject, the county was forced to admit it had no proof of problems with mountain biking; it had no documentation of the conditions at Watchung one way or the other.

In short, many of them actually don’t know the facts of what happened. Yet, those who know the least seem to oppose their fellow citizens’ use of the park the loudest.

The fact that some may have a general point when it comes to some complaints, such as one objection that “someone could get hurt”, is beside the point. There can be accidents anywhere. On the news this morning it was just reported that a plane that recently crashed in the mountains in Europe on the way to Germany was crashed deliberately by the first officer after he locked the pilot out of the cockpit. If true, this was a horrible act. But just because a pilot can deliberately crash his plane, do we cease all air travel? With mountain biking, that there may be a pragmatic concern about safety, or sharing the trail, or anything else, ignores the wider context, namely, that most other parks have solved such problems and share the trails safely between hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. Look at Lewis-Morris, a wonderful park and an example of what Watchung Reservation could be… but one that is 45 minutes away, in another county. Thanks to the envious and short-sighted, driving for 45 minutes in order to ride your bike in a park is policy. Hopefully, it is a policy that will change.

We here in Union County are surrounded by people with parks whose policies are inclusive and make sense, yet in our own county, the ignorant and intolerant continue to insist we should be banned, even while after twenty years the ball starts (slowly) rolling on the realization that the park could be better. It is unfortunate that there are still a lot of people who don’t like mountain biking. But you know what, there were a lot of people who didn’t like civil rights, too, or mixed marriages, or equal rights for women, too. Sooner or later people realize singling out their fellow citizens for exclusion and repression is simply not fair.

Hopefully, someday, the idea that mountain bikers should be excluded will become as quaint – and discarded – as the fear of “bicycle face” was in the 19th century .


Brian 03/26/15

“Dumb and Dumber?”

Revisiting the issue of cell phone use as a road distraction – amongst other things – was a timely article in Investor’s Business Daily newspaper (IBD, Feb. 23, 2015, p. A10). The newspaper article, in the “Internet & technology” section, was titled “cell phone habit is seen as making us dumb and dumber.” This is no news to American cyclists; we’ve been dodging “celled out” drivers for years, often with dangerous results. A fifteen hundred pound metal box powered by a series of small controlled explosions – with no one paying attention to where it is going – is one of those things you can only list under “this will +not end well”. Same with people jumping into the street while downloading a new app.

The article is both a reminder of the problem, and a welcome indication that others besides for cyclists are growing aware of the problem. That problem isn’t getting better, as evidenced by a study reported on where college students surveyed spent “almost nine hours a day” on their phones. Worse, the news article said, “Dependence on smart phones has made many people oblivious or even in denial of the dangers of using them in some situations, such in cars or even walking on a busy street.”

The article then describes that not only drivers, but pedestrians can be a danger to themselves and others: “He literally walked right into the intersection”, the article says, describing one cell phone user who “never even looked up” before stepping into traffic. Less than reassuring. Which is why the article includes a mention of the "look" warnings painted, according to a yahoo news blurb, two years ago at some of NYCs more trouble-prone intersections. To that news piece's credit it includes bicycles in it he description of traffic pedestrians sometimes collide with, showing at least, an awareness that we are part fo the vehicle mix on the roadway. Then again, they also included horse-drawn carriages...

Even less reassuring was one part of the IBD article that gave people advice on dealing with their cell phone “addiction”, as if it was a drug, or cheap booze. One can only conclude, however, given how many people risk their lives and those of others daily in order to use their phones, that perhaps for some it is as serious a problem as either.

As a cyclist I’m glad to see the issue getting play in the media. But it’s got a long way to go until awareness of this problem is where it should be.


Brian 2/25/15

Progress in Morristown.

All too often the focus here seems to be on what is wrong. That’s appropriate given the many obstacles American cyclists face and the many ways in which everything from policy to infrastructure could be improved. Yet even some of the supposedly well-intended improvements are lackluster; bike paths unusable for cycling at any real speed, bike lane markings that become blocked by foot traffic or send cyclists into the path of turning cars and opening doors.

It is thus nice when some real progress is made, as I’m happy to report. One of the feelings you used to get riding through Morristown, NJ is claustrophobia. There is a lot of car traffic, pedestrians who jump out in front of you, basic urban chaos. At times, riding there felt like navigating a maze that had no room for you. So it was heartening to see some of the signs posted on the main street through downtown, leading to the Morristown green. They said simply “May take full lane” and had a picture of a bike.

This is a simple concept. Normally, on a standard-width lane, a bike can share the lane with a car. The road in question however was two lanes in each direction and the lanes were barely wide enough for small sedans. In such a situation a cyclist may often have to move out into the lane to avoid getting squished. However, so many drivers are unfamiliar with cycling law, or simply in a hurry, that they can respond to this with angry or even dangerous behavior. The sign is a simple solution; it explains what is already enshrined in the road rules, that although convention is for slower moving traffic to keep right, and cyclists to share a lane with cars, they are allowed to take the lane for safety.

Unlike lackluster bike paths and blocked bike lanes, this improvement is simple; it informs drivers and makes it easier (and hopefully safer) for cyclists to ride. More importantly, unlike paths or special lanes, it addresses the issues of the regular road, which is where most of us ride.

Good job, Morristown. Progress is a beautiful thing.


Brian 2/23/15

There is no app for that

According to an article in the 2-18-15 Independent Press, a local NJ newspaper, a drunk driver, texting and with her children in the car, crashed into another vehicle and flipped her own, leading to charges ranging from endangering the welfare of a child, DWI, and texting while driving. While it is nice that authorities are taking this crash seriously, and pressing charges, and the damage could have been worse – the foolish driver and two children apparently sustained only minor injuries despite ending up upside down in the middle of the street – there is one part of the article that makes one wonder. That is the part where the article describes the drunk, texting driver as flipping her vehicle over after she “struck the rear of a legally parked vehicle.”

In other words, she was so impaired – either by her drinking or texting – or both – that she hit a stationary object.

The accident took place on River Road, and in my experience most of River Road is no parking, so I am not clear on what the newspaper means by “legally parked”. But beyond that, the driver who hit the parked car should not have been drunk or texting. It is her fault she hit a parked vehicle while impaired. And that parked vehicle, located to the right hand edge of the lane, would be in the same position as a cyclist.

As a bicyclist, texting is not just the minor annoyance it is to drivers, with occasional risk – it is a frightening occurrence, because if that car overtaking you is driven by someone not paying attention, you could be injured or even killed. Many cyclists recognize the danger of distracted drivers, for the simple reason that riding alongside a two thousand pound box with no one looking where they are going is frightening. The awareness of drivers of the problem, however, has yet to catch up. To many of them, distracted drivers are just an annoyance.

And while this article admits the driver was drunk, as well, the point is, texting didn’t help. One can wonder if she would have crashed without texting, just based on her DWI status. However, the texting certainly did not aid her in avoiding a crash. It also makes one wonder; most things people do while drunk have less thought behind them; many are downright dangerous and foolhardy. So consider – that sober person in that BMW texting while swerving all over the place is exercising the same judgment as a drunk driver plastered at 3:27am!

That is where one has to wonder, why did it take a flipped car to get the local news people to realize this is a problem? It is not like texting or talking on the phone is a rare occurrence. Indeed, it has become illegal in most areas because, although the behavior could be ticketed under regular traffic laws – careless driving, for instance – it has remained ubiquitous. The laws passed since against texting or yapping, however, have not had much effect, for the same reason that laws against careless driving etc. did not have any effect either: A law has to be enforced, in order to , mean anything, and curtail behavior. Surely, a cultural change needs to take place, in terms of people’s attitudes towards texting and talking; like drunk driving, it needs to be redefined as a behavior that is not acceptable behind the wheel. The problem is that unlike drinking, talking on the cell phone is commonplace in almost every other circumstance. Someone would get fired if they were drinking booze at work, or get in trouble if they were doing it in public. Neither of these situations are a problem with phones (beyond mere rudeness). However, when a vehicle is introduced it is a whole other ballgame. The culture has to shift and we have to reinforce the idea that this behavior is NOT appropriate, just because you can do it where you couldn’t drink, it is still dangerous when behind the wheel.

But citizens speaking out can only change so much. You certainly can’t have people confronting texters on the road without running the risk of road rage and violent confrontations. This is where the police come in. If some joe public says, “hey, you can’t do that,” he may be told “bug off, none of your business.” If a policeman tells someone “hey, you can’t do that,” it carries more weight. Most suburban NJ towns have a surfeit of policemen, and little serious crime to occupy them. Maybe they should spend more time pulling over texters? They certainly won’t have to go far to find them. Just stand on the street corner and watch the people drive by.

Cultural change is long term. Enforcement, however, can begin tomorrow. Ultimately, the solution is to enforce the rules. It is against the law to text for a good reason – and not just because you could flip your car and hurt yourself, but because you might hurt someone else, too. Like me riding my bike!

The only way to improve road safety is to demand people be held responsible for their actions. This is something only individual drivers can be in control of. Despite all the features on your smart phone, there is no app for that.


Brian 2/21/15

Encouraging Cycling?

My own town of Berkeley Heights recently debated installing bike racks around town. The racks were poorly designed and I would not likely have used them, but that’s not the point. The point is they are trying to encourage cycling – or at least posturing as doing so. A few years back my old college town of Madison installed bike lane markings, along with signs saying share the road. Of course they still allow in street leaf dumping and car parking in the “lanes”. Oh well at lease their intentions are good! Meanwhile pedestrian safety has become a catchphrase used to justify everything from faux brick crosswalk surfaces in the street, which are just as slippery as real brick when wet, to other hazards including deliberately narrowed lanes or concrete obstructions.

In fact, “Improving pedestrian safety” and “encouraging cycling”, in fact, seem to be popular trends. But the implementation of these lofty goals is no better now than they were a few short years ago.

In a 2-11-11 article in the Courier-News, a regional NJ newspaper, it was reported that “Somerville, Raritan Township get state money for improvements”, according to the headline. The gist of the article was that they would attempt to improve pedestrian safety, as well as spend some money on a Raritan bike path project. However, many of the things they proposed to increase the safety of pedestrians posed a direct threat to road users – especially bicyclists -- if implemented.

According to the article, Somerville, New Jersey “will receive $230,000 in state money to improve sidewalks and install "traffic-calming devices" along part of Veterans Memorial Drive, the state Department of Transportation announced this week.” It added that “Raritan Township will receive $100,000 toward a bike and pedestrian trail project.” Why the two – peds and bicyclists -- are grouped together is anyone’s guess – mine would be that it is the result of a misconception. It is increasingly common for non-cyclists to associate riding with walking simply because both pedestrians and cyclists lack engines. However, given that the cyclist on the street is required to obey vehicular laws and modes of conduct, this misconception can cause confusion at best – and accidents at worst. The newspaper said the money for Somerville would be “used to widen sidewalks between Somerset Street and Bridge Street, which funnel pedestrian traffic to the Somerville train station.” Get that? They are going to narrow the street in order to widen the sidewalks. Get ready for more cyclists hit by cars because the street now lacks maneuvering room. And why does a sidewalk need to be wider? How fast are people walking, anyway? 2-3mph? Why do they need multiple lanes?

Worse, not only do they plan to narrow the street, possibly, to widen the sidewalks, they impose creating deliberately dangerous road conditions: “The borough also plans to install traffic-calming islands on Veterans Memorial Drive, particularly where the road bends near the station. Whatever money is left over from the sidewalks will probably go toward that project, Driver said. "It's a blind turn and pedestrians cross there, so we want to slow the traffic down through there," he said. Great, so you are going to make it safer by dropping concrete obstructions in the middle of this narrow blind turn where people walk into traffic to cross? Taking an already dangerous turn and making it more so by narrowing the street and completely removing all maneuvering room doesn’t make it safer!

So now you have a blind corner – where the cyclist is even more likely to get sideswiped by the careless driver texting on their I-phone while driving a humvee. Or where, if a pedestrian does run out in front of him, he has nowhere to go but hit the pedestrian, or crash into the concrete island? Is this smart? What part of “creating hazards doesn’t help safety” do they not get?

The 2011 Courier-News article is still news, because current new coverage of the issue indicates the mindset hasn’t changed. See that article from earlier this year in the NY Post, where the response of authorities to pedestrians leaping in front of cyclists was to lower the speed limit for the cyclists! While unlike a lowered speed limit a ‘traffic-calming’ measure doesn’t require you to go slower, it increases the danger to those who do not. The government may call it a traffic calming measure; to those who must traverse it, objects in the middle of the road, bumpy or slippery road surfaces, or even some speed bumps, are simply hazards.

What most people who favor the misnamed “traffic calming measures” ignore or fail to grasp is that speed bumps, textured strips, obstructions, and other road hazards – that’s what they are, hazards – are installed to make the road deliberately dangerous, in the hopes that drivers will react to these dangers and slow down.

The risk is that the designers who put them in don’t consider that they may be doing more harm than good, especially to American cyclists. He normal explanation for this would be they probably just didn’t even consider bicyclists. Yet, the same article talks of spending money on a bike path project to encourage cycling. This is beyond sad. If you want to encourage cycling, you have an easy first step you can take any time you want: take care of the roads. This includes not only maintaining them, it also means no deliberately creating hazardous road conditions. Most “traffic calming measures” are only a nuisance, frustration, or potential minor property damage to drivers, but are a danger to cyclists, and could seriously injure them or total their vehicles. Considering the cyclists were here first, even if they don’t equal the volume of road users who drive, it hardly makes sense to injure them just to try and slow down the drivers. If there is a genuine risk to drivers going too fast around a corner, post a lower speed limit, and if need be, ticket those who violate it. But dangerously narrowing a “blind corner” is no solution, either to concerns about the driver’s speed, nor to the issue of encouraging cycling.


Brian 2/16/15

"In defense of the local bike shop"

It seems that almost everywhere you go, local stores are being replaced by national chains or franchises. The one exception seems to be bicycle shops.

The local bicycle shop (LBS) is unique in the business world because it is something that really cannot be replaced by a department store or a big conglomerate.

Your LBS will vary – each is different. They are geared to the community of riders around them. Some may sell a lot of high end road bikes; others mountain bikes. Some may have a huge commuter following. In cities, single speeds, track bikes, or folders may make up a large part of the stock. Your local shop, in other words, represents the interests of the community in which it resides. Not all shops are created equal; some do excellent work, some do poorer, rushed jobs. Most are knowledgeable, however, and have their own core following. A good shop, with competent mechanics, is more than a place where you can go to get your bike fixed, or buy a new one. It is also where you will find out about good places to ride, roads to avoid, what trails are open. It is a place where you might meet other cyclists, or even learn some mechanical skills yourself. The local bike shop is not just a business, it is a combination clubhouse, meeting-spot, and advocate for the sport.

And lastly, let’s not forget, it is a business.

Like so many industries, bicycling has wholeheartedly embraced online merchandising. This makes it very easy to buy stuff without leaving your home, and sometimes, the lower cost to online purchases can be a boon to the consumer. But there is a hidden cost to online purchases; when you order that part, it has to be installed. When you buy that bike, it has to be assembled after being shipped to your door. It is increasingly common to see people bringing in bikes in boxes, or parts, to the local bike shop and then acting surprised when told the cost of assembling it. The customer thought that by saving fifty dollars he was getting a deal online. He didn’t consider that it would cost more than fifty dollars to have the bike put together. For some customers, skilled mechanics themselves, this may not be an issue.

But it is an issue for the bike shop. What the guy who buys his tires, tubes, and jerseys – maybe his bike too – online forgets, is that the bike shop he hangs out at needs to make money to stay open. Moreover, as a consumer you benefit from having a healthy relationship with your shop. Unlike the fifty dollars you “save” on a mail order frame, that relationship might be hard to put a dollar value on. But consider that a shop may do minor repairs or adjustments for little or no cost if you bought the bike there. Same for swapping out a seat or handlebar for better fit. But if you bring in that online bike, don’t be surprised if the shop charges you. And before you get indignant on that, remember, the shop has to stay in business, too. There is nothing wrong with online purchases, but don’t forget your local bike shop. If you hang out there, and benefit from the shop’s knowledge of cycling, try to support them a little. Buy something now and then. If nothing else, you are helping yourself and other local cyclists by ensuring the shop will remain open and everyone will have a place to chill after the weekend ride.


Brian 2/15/15

Bigger than Deflategate: life and death on the road

The Superbowl is over, and everything it entailed, has passed into history. But the ads are still around, and still generating hype, both good and bad. Some, like the "Boston tea party" ad for Turbotax, and the "First Draft ever" avocado ad, and the "pigs fly" Doritos ad, played on humor -- others like the Mercedes tortoise-hare race ad, were equal parts funny and cute. Others, like the Budweiser ad, were just cute.

Some, however, caused controversy -- more controversy than the pounds per square inch of a football, to the shock of those engaged with constantly over-reporting the "deflate-gate" scandal, in which it was alleged footballs were deliberately deflated. And that is saying something. If there is one thing Americans are obsessed with, it is sports. If there is a second thing they are obsessed with, it is fantasizing that their sports heroes are perfect role models. Consequently, we as a country love sports scandal. Look at Armstrong. In Europe they would have figured, "Oui, he cheated," and suspended him for a month or so and he comes back in. How many others did that? In fact, how many others who got caught doping are still regarded as great athletes? Don't get me wrong, I abhor cheating, but I'm also reasonable enough to realize it's likely when it is so widespread you have to do it too or you simply can't compete. And maybe that's the difference between the U.S. and Europe on sports scandals; we both have them, but only in the U.S. do we wallow in them. Why is it we can't treat our sports heroes like our rock musicians -- extremely talented individuals who train hard, to do one thing real well, but are not necessarily role models in other aspects of their lives?

Regardless, Americans love sports scandal so when something eclipses it, it's a big deal.

The big deal was one Superbowl ad that had critics outraged; a Nationwide commercial featuring a child talking about all the things he'd never do because he was dead. People said it was depressing, cruel, etc. Maybe it was, but according to Nationwide the goal of the ad was to get people talking about preventable household accidents that can hurt or kill children. Sounds like it succeeded.

This could be a model for cycling and road-safety related efforts to follow. At one point my friend Steve, who runs the local bike shop, mentioned the idea of improving bike-car relations on the street with simple infomercials. The format of this much-vilified Nationwide ad actually seems a great format to follow -- if your goal is to get people talking about the dangers of the road. For that matter, the approach might help with other situations where cyclists often get the short end of the stick, such as attempts by bike-bashers to close mountain biking trails. Have an ad with a kid – and have him talking about how he’d love to ride in the woods, but can’t because other people don’t want to share. Have him say something like, you know, if you let me ride I might not get fat and have a heart attack, or hung out with the wrong crowd and joined a gang, etc.

But it is road safety advocacy where the use of such “disturbing” ads have real promise. For instance; run an ad much like the Nationwide one, with a child talking about all the things he'd like to do someday -- but can't. But instead of the ad ending with him saying he's dead from a household accident, have him say, he can't, because he got hit by a driver on a cell phone while out biking to a friend's house and he's dead. There are lots of ways to take it and all will accomplish the goal -- getting people to stop taking careless acts on the road for granted.

It could be a sound plan to follow. After all, with something like nearly 40,000 people a year killed by drivers in largely preventable accidents in America, road safety is bigger than deflategate, too.


Brian 2/2/15
"An open message to the media: Ride in our shoes before mouthing off" “Jill Tarlov, a 59-year-old Connecticut mom and wife of a CBS executive, was left brain dead when a speeding cyclist ran her down in a crosswalk on West Drive and 63rd St last September,” said a January 22, 2015 piece in the New York Post, entitled “Yikes-cycle zones”, which was four columns of misleading and incomplete information complete with a chart titled “top three most dangerous spots in central park for pedestrian-cyclist collisions.”

Right off the bat the Post is incorrect. While no one knows what Jill Tarlov was or was not thinking, for sure, there is no evidence the cyclist involved in this tragic crash was doing anything wrong. Yet, this incident, is presented as the arch-typical example of careless cycling. Why?

It may be that like many, the Post dislikes cyclists. It may be because the case was so tragic, it was easier to go with the flow and blame the cyclist than look for the truth. But does that explanation really cover so many of the times that the media has gone on anti-bike crusade? How about an earlier article, which talked of reckless cyclists, but concluded by ending up with a quote from one park user who admitted, most of the time the problem in ped-bike run-ins is the pedestrians. Pedestrians being careless, blocking the road, even in some cases walking all the way across the pavement or suddenly entering a biker's path?

Indeed throughout the Jan. 22nd article, several other incidents are all similarly blamed on cyclists, although no specific facts about each case are presented, save for one -- the first. The pedestrian in that case was described as hit by a cyclist trying to dodge a pedicab, indicating that even the Post admits, although probably not intentionally, that there are a lot of variables in any accident and blaming the cyclists for everything is fisher-price logic. Yet that is what happens; the cases that follow, Tarlov, and a young woman named Elizabeth Resznik, no facts about the accident are given beyond injuries and that a bike was involved. Did the pedestrians look both ways? Did they enter the path of the bicycle at the last minute? Were they distracted? Resznik was 18… could she have been using an I-phone? (Cell phone record subpoena, please!). No answer; It is assumed that because a pedestrian and a cyclist collided, it must be the cyclist's fault. Worse, the last person quoted was not even an accident victim, just someone who is “exasperated” with bikers, although she is listed in the same breath as actual accident victims, a clear attempt to give her mere “exasperation” some weight. Well, I’m exasperated too, especially at people who keep blaming cyclists. This may be a way to sell papers but is hardly good journalism.

Worse, the government response has not been to tell people not to cause accidents – but to denounce cyclists try to force them to go slow enough so that pedestrians may continue to behave carelessly around them. Thus, in the vicinity of some crosswalks park speed limits have dropped to 10 mph; in other cases police has instituted “crackdowns”, ticketing cyclists but not engaging in any similar stepped up enforcement against pedestrians who case near misses, accidents, and block bike lanes at placeslike central park.

This is absurd. If there is a problem with people jumping in front of vehicles at an intersection, do you force the vehicles to slow to 10mph? No, you ticket the people jumping in front of them, for their own safety if not that of others. You don’t lower the speed limit AND ticket vehicle operators. The message THAT sends is bad at so many levels, but the worst two are this: first, It tells pedestrians they have no responsibility to be careful and in fact are entitled to endanger cyclists, and second, it makes cycling-ped accidents at the crosswalks with the lowered speeds more likely, not less. Why? Because in keeping with current behavior, pedestrians will assume, hey, the bikes are going even slower, so I can cut it even closer when I jump out in front of them!

Add to that that by forcing cyclists to yo-yo from 25 to 20, and now 10 mph, the authorities are basically doing everything they can to make cycling in Central Park impractical. But by continuing to blame cyclists the media is doing everything except solve the problem. Worse, they may actually encourage violence against cyclists – not the accidental violence of someone knocking you down by running into you, but deliberate violence. Said one person quoted in the Post, “pedestrians need to act in self-defense.” It may be he meant they need to engage in the walking equivalent of defensive driving, but reading it literally it’s fifty-fifty between that, and he sees cyclists as attacking pedestrians and wants them to “defend themselves”. Since so much pedestrian behavior seems to contribute to the crashes, this could translate into a careless person knocking you down – then violently assaulting you on top of it. How hard has the Post thought about what it is encouraging?

Then, there is the tragic irony that this article appeared only two days after the post did a piece on a hit and run truck driver who killed a cyclist on video, and whom the courts let get away for three years. If anything, that should be a reminder of priorities; drivers kill far more people than bicyclists. And often for the cyclists it is justice postponed. Maybe cyclists are easier to go after than car drivers, who tend to be more numerous. But that sort of thing is no reason to do what the Post does and launch a blitzkrieg at cyclists.

There is an old saying it is better to remain silent and be thought as fool than speak and remove all doubt. It is an approach the Post has not been shy about suggesting to others. It should take its own advice where cyclists are concerned. Before it mouths off, ride a few miles in our shoes, dodging drunk and cell-phone-addled drivers, pedestrians who throw themselves in front of you like lemmings, and even the occasional idiot person on a bike who is riding the wrong way head on at you! In a city where people are routinely killed by reckless drivers and where most bike-ped runs in seem to be either straight up accidents or careless pedestrians entering the cyclists' path, there is no point in blaming avid cyclists.


Brian 1/31/15

"Good ideas vs. good intentions: Rail-path plan sounds great, but keep an eye on the big picture”

According to the Wed., January 21, 2015 Independent Press, a local New Jersey newspaper, part of the old Raritan Valley Railroad will be the subject of a rejuvenation effort, with the old railway bed turned into a path for people to walk or perhaps bike. As the paper puts, it, “when pedestrian trestles are installed, it might be possible to get on a bicycle, ride to Briant Park and then back to Summit”.

First observation: I can do that right now. Why? We have a perfectly adequate road system in this country. Although we could just do a better job of enforcing the rules so that people wouldn’t be afraid to bicycle on it.

Then there’s the second observation. With apologies to the council president Robert Rubino, who was quoted in the article, his word-choice is worrisome. Bicyclists are not pedestrians.

So when I hear replacement of long-removed train overpasses described as “pedestrian trestles” despite using bicycling as an example, it is both a warning and an explanation. Surely a city whose council president lumps cyclists in with foot traffic is going to have done a poor job of protecting cyclists on the roads, perhaps leading to excessive demand for the type of off-street routes he is advocating. Cyclists are not foot traffic. They do not move at foot traffic speed and they do not interact with other vehicles the way someone walking would. I mean, who walks at 20 mph? Superman? Rail-to-path conversions are often great for recreational riding. And at least a rail-based route, following the train tracks, does away with all the potential collisions of side paths, because it passes over the street and does not intersect with it. But even shared use paths completely free of interaction with the street are often dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians alike because they result in carelessly mixed use between the two. The very few shared use trails that don’t become solely walking trails by default are those where the two groups refrain from entering each other’s path, and share responsibly. But when the person advocating for the path is equating cyclists with pedestrians don’t count on it. Why would anyone who thinks cyclists are pedestrians not mix them with people walking or moms with toddlers?

And then there’s the ultimate danger that “separate” facilities often pose, namely that the government may be forced to justify the expense by trying to force cyclists to use them. What happens then is we lose an over 120-year-old legal right to the road and become someone operating wherever the government deigns to force us, like the Navajo on their latter-day reservations.

In short, the path might be an example of good intentions, but only time, and how the idea is implemented, will tell if it is really a good idea.

Also, whatever happens, let’s not allow this to distract from the main issue of the roads. I like the idea of a rail path. It'd be kind of fun to just through town with no traffic or even just go for a more relaxed ride. But ultimately, there is no substitute for the American road. Rail-paths make a fine adjunct, when done right, but at the end of the day they should not be an excuse for the government to dodge its dual responsibility for maintaining and enforcing the law on the road. Given the only person I’ve ever seen pulled over in Summit for a cell phone was ticketed after passing a stopped school bus and cutting off a cop car, you got to wonder how much they are paying attention to the second half of that obligation.


Brian 1/24/15

These are definitely not the droids we’re looking for “Driverless car” proposal would change American roads, and not the better

Reading the January 11, 2015 Star Ledger made me shudder. There, at the bottom of the page, was the article, “Driverless car global market projected to reach $42b by 2025.” More alarming, the words below that robot cars, reacting dumbly to stimuli according to preprogrammed responses, “may be on the road in large numbers by 2017”. Just two years from now.

This isn’t new: In another piece, from Sunday, 8-4-13, the Star-Ledger showcased a scientist, who was arguing in a massive article complete with a half-page photo and headline combo, that if you want to make the road safer, since most accidents are caused by operator error, remove the drivers from the cars. When asked, he specifically said yes, his goal was to remove entirely the human element and make drivers mere passengers. It is much longer than the Jan. 11, 2015 article and the specifics it goes into are much more worrisome.

The danger is not only that drivers will lose the skills of, well, driving. The danger is also a potentially mortal one to cyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists, who are destined to be the “analog” users of this brave new digital world. What about those – for whom the human element cannot be removed…such as cyclists? Regular drivers in non robot car, cyclists, even people crossing the street, are then placed in a world where they are dependent on the eyes of a computer programmed thousands of miles away for their safety. Or in the case of remotely operated intersections, with computers replacing traffic lights, anyone not in a “robo car” would be invisible.

If anything, American drivers could use more practice, not less. Every one of those dead 40,000 people killed in car wrecks every year in the U.S. probably thought they were a good driver, too. Yet, in the name of “safety”, the proponents of driverless cars want to put Americans in a situation where they not only fail to improve their driving skills, but lose those they have.

According to the July article: “’The cars will be operating automatically, thereby eliminating the need for traffic lights,’ said Albert Broggi, an IEEE member and researcher at the University of Parma in Italy, in a statement. ‘Intersections will be equipped with sensors, cameras, and radars that can monitor and control traffic flow to help eliminate driver collisions and promote a more efficient flow of traffic.’”

In other words, in plain English, the government will take control of your car.

Replacing traffic lights with sensors only helps those whose vehicles can react to them. Cyclists, people in older cars, or pedestrians will not be “seen” by such a system. The results could result in everyone being forced to join the brave new world… moved along dependent on someone else’s sense of safety, speed, efficiency, and road use generally. No more biking, forget walking to the corner store.

The issue is two fold – can any computer program ever compete with an alert competent driver? And will this system leave room for cyclists, whose legal right to the road predates the automobile, or foot traffic? A self-driving car will probably be safer than an idiot on a cell phone or a distracted soccer mom or a drag-racing teen. But will it be able to do all the things an alert driver does? After all, being aware is more than just reacting dumbly to preprogrammed stimuli. A flytrap plant reacts to stimuli, but no one would argue it is “aware” in a normal sense. Nor would anyone want it driving a car down the road!

Also, for cyclists one has to wonder, will the sensors see them? Even if the programmer is aware of cyclists, and inputs some data on them, will he, A) cover every possible scenario, and B), will the sensors see the bike? The amount of hard radar-reflective material (metal, carbon fiber, etc) that makes up a bicycle is minimal and very small in cross-section. More so if the cyclist is parallel to the car traffic – as he normally would be, unless turning. So if the sensor can’t “see” you on your bike, will the auto car run you over?

But, factor in what would happen in Boggi’s (and others’) visions for future intersections and you have a nightmare scenario.

Again, “The cars will be operating automatically, thereby eliminating the need for traffic lights”. Well, this is all fine and dandy, for anyone in an auto-driving car. But what about anyone in a regular car which isn’t “plugged in” top the intersection controlling system?

What about, for that matter, anyone riding a bike or trying to walk across the street?

What people like Boggi – or the esteemed Mr. Kean – seem to be forgetting is that not everyone on the road is in a car. Theirs is an incomplete view of the road dynamic. Picture yourself trying to ride across an intersection with a dozen cars speeding by, none driven by a human hand, and you realize that this is not a solution, no matter how bad some bad drivers are.

And, not for nothing, but what happens when one of these robo-cars kills someone? The advocates say they will prevent or reduce accidents, but that clearly only applies to their interaction with things they can “see”. Cyclists and others are at risk of falling through the cracks. And even if the programs works and can react to a cyclist or other small hard-to-see road user, there can still be accidents. Yet, with no human driving, what happens when I am hit by a robo-car? Can I press charges? Or sue? If so, who? The guy who programmed it? The government contractor entrusted with implementing it? For that matter, the entire concept of laws – and penalties – is predicated upon human volition. You can’t have responsibility without having, at the end of the day, a person who is responsible. But by removing human control, an auto-car system would remove the entire issue of responsibility.

And as to improving safety, keep in mind computer programmers are just as likely to be noncyclists as that inattentive driver who cuts you off. The result is the autocars – from a standpoint of interacting with cyclists – are likely to be no better than many of their careless human counterparts – with the added danger that there is no one to hold accountable when they do screw up.

Auto-driving cars, and remote controlled intersections with the conventional traffic signals replaced by computers taking over each vehicle, are a future we should refuse. As any New Jersey cyclist could tell you, these cars aren’t the droids were looking for.


Brian 01/12/15

“How to report on mountain biking”

In his retrospective narrative, “ten years gone”, about the prohibition of mountain biking in South Mountain Reservation, Stuart Schrader makes the point that, aside from facing a corrupt county Freeholder board more concerned with saving their own necks (two were later indicted, one, Treffinger, facing a 20-count indictment for extortion, fraud, and obstruction), mountain bikers were at another disadvantage. The writing about them and the park was tilted toward the sensational – and away from reality. Now that I’ve been learning about the history of Union County’s own ban on mountain biking in nearby Watchung Reservation, I’ve been reviewing how both bans came to be, one feeding off the misrepresentations of the other. One is struck by the similarities to Daniel Greenfield’s satirical column in which he provides – in jest – a blueprint for how to report on the middle east with consistent bias.

So let’s examine (with apologies to Mr. Greenfield),

“How to write about mountain biking:

Writing about mountain biking is a booming field. Cycling is an increasingly popular sport, and gets a boost in popularity both from modern environmental and health-centered trends. Mountain biking is no exception. Writing about mountain biking is not hard. Anyone who has consumed a steady diet of average media fare already knows most of the main points. The trick is to regurgitate and present them in the right order for the day’s latest outrage.

Mountain bikers get hot, even in winter, being engaged as they are in physical activity, and wearing packs and helmets and other vaguely paramilitary-looking gear that many find unsettling, so it is easy to suggest that there is conflict – even violence – simmering just under the surface like a saucepan on low heat. The trails and woods in which they ride should be described as “troubled land”. Throw in ironic references and metaphors comparing conflict between mountain bikers and others as a tense standoff, and insisting that peace is very far away. There are two types of people involved in the issue of mountain biking; the mountain bikers with their multi-thousand-dollar machines and their moisture-wicking shirts and helmets and packs, stuffed with the latest in electronic and technological gear, and everyone else, mainly, hikers and equestrians. The mountain bikers are fanatical; the hikers and equestrians are passionate. The mountain bikers are destructive and hate-filled; the hikers and equestrians are simply embittered. The mountain bikers want everything; the hikers and equestrians feel they will be left with nothing. Never bother to mention that many of the hikers have just as many technical do-dads as the mountain bikers; indeed, make sure not to write about any of the BMW’s and Mercedeses you see in the lot by the local hiking trail head.

If you happen to notice that, as happened in Essex County, some of the hikers went out of their way to sabotage the trail with tacks or glass, don’t mention it. Don’t ask the hiker (or equestrian) how many mountain bikers he caused to crash with sabotage or how much he makes a month. Likewise, with equestrians, you may notice that their horses eat better than some mountain bikers. Do not comment on this. Instead, ask both the hikers and equestrians about their hopes for peace on the trail. Nod knowingly when they say it’s up to the bikers.

Weigh every story one way; depersonalize the bikers, personalize the hikers and equestrians. One is a statistic, the other a precious individual. A ban on bikes, or even deliberate trail sabotage against bikers, is always justified retaliation for something, but the mountain bikers who try to ride trails after they’ve been closed are perpetuating a “cycle of violence”. Center everything around negotiations. If mountain bikers do things besides shred and tear up trails, such as maintaining them, or volunteering, don’t dwell on it. Frame everything in terms of how the mountain bikers will compromise, and what they are willing to give up for peace.

Mountain bikers can be divided into two categories; there are the good bikers, who wear glasses, live in young trendy neighborhoods, and use i-pads. They typically have a trendy hybrid car with a rack on top and drive to the trailhead, where they mount up their logo-covered brand-new bike that still has the price-tag on it. They drink overpriced Starbucks lattes and fancy energy drinks. They do often donate to or volunteer for some environmental cause, but don’t mention that. However, mention that they are the only hope of an otherwise brutish group that is too busy having an adrenaline rush to hear the tortured screams of mother earth. Then there are the bad mountain bikers. These are the tanned, often somewhat older riders. They may or may not wear glasses, but most of their gear is not new; it gets too much use. Many of them ride older bikes, some of which have no logos whatsoever; others are covered with stickers. Often they work on or rebuild their own bikes, but they probably don’t know how to use i-pads. They drink plain old black coffee, or water or Gatorade. A good IPA is considered a well-earned post-ride refreshment. They are interested in riding, not environmental activism and Gaea theory. If asked, they’d tell you they are an environmentalist in the same way that Teddy Roosevelt was. In fact, they may even use the sexist, old-fashioned term outdoorsman! If you have to write about them, make sure you present them as out-of-touch with the earth, and totally lacking in a social conscience.

Mountain bikers generally should be depicted as looming menacingly over children and little old ladies. They are also best shown as zooming past. If you can get a photo of someone on a downhill, the blurrier, the better. Make it seem as if the speeds reached on long straight downhills are typical of tight winding turns and narrow climbs. When reporting on any actual trail conflict, try your best to make sure the hiker who claims she was run off the trail by the speeding biker is a pregnant woman. Failing that, two elderly people are best. If you can’t find any cases of actual trail conflict, make them up. Are there no incidents of bikers endangering people? Then quote hikers who say the cyclists give them dirty looks, or were “rude”. Rudeness is extremely useful; it makes one an instant victim yet it actually means nothing, anyone can be perceived as rude according to some standard.

Do not ever mention any connection some of the hiker-equestrian agitators or parks officials might have with anti-bike groups or agendas. If a group, like the Sierra Club, is well-thought of, keep it that way; do not mention that they have a policy of advocating the exclusion of bicycles from offroad trails. This allows them, when quoted, to seem like a neutral party.

Meanwhile, convey to your readers that there is something alarming about how mountain bikers cling to their trails, while making it clear that they will have to be ethnically cleansed from the parks for there to be peace. But do not use the word ethnically cleansed, or others like it, such as apartheid, which suggest, quite rightly, that you would be unfairly targeting or singling out one group of trail users. Instead, say they will be banned for the protection of other trail users – and the betterment of the environment. Whenever questions are raised about what “damage” mountain bikes do to the environment, be wary. If anyone demands evidence or proof, change the subject. Bring it back to the issue of the mountain bikers being rude. That puts them on the defensive, without having to prove anything. More importantly, it is impossible to refute; no one can prove they aren’t considered rude, by someone, somewhere. Write about the hills and the blood-red sunsets over the trees, mention all the soldiers from the American Revolution that probably passed over them in a history you never bothered to learn. Suggest the mountain bikers are ruining not only the environment, but the nation’s historical heritage. Talk about your mixed feelings as a former mountain biker, or someone who has bicycling friends, at the sight of mountain bikers oppressing another people. Describe the deep soulful eyes of a hiking or equestrian or government parks department leader or agitator.

Write about tire tracks. Specifically, compare tracks to ruts, even if this isn’t really honest, and write about how all the bicycle tire tracks you see on the trail make you uncomfortable, but never dare mention a footprint, let alone a steaming pile of horse poop. Close with an old man who expresses hope that one day peace will come to this troubled land. Then go home.”

…..In short, it is as easy to denounce mountain biking as it is to report on the middle east, or politics, or anything else, in ways that bias the issue. You just have to tilt your viewpoint slightly off center, in everything. If this seems like satire, it is, but then again, it also isn’t. The sad truth, is it might very well explain the attitudes of many who, knowing nothing about mountain biking, approve of bans and exclusions simply because it stokes their own biases. Perhaps media-fed biases?


Brian 1/2/15

In 2008 alone, there were 5.8 million crashes reported to police, resulting in 2.3 million injuries and nearly forty thousand deaths. ( from Distracted Driving, A bicycle advocates’ resource, League of American Bicyclists, http://bikeleague.org/content/new-distracted-driving-report)

Reforming the state of America’s roads today is perhaps the most important issue of our time, barring, of course, foreign policy issues such as war or nuclear proliferation. On the domestic front, no other issue comes close to the impact that road use does on Americans. This is because at some point every day, we all have to use the roads. This means, that with well over thirty thousand people dying every year in mostly otherwise preventable car wrecks – the average American has a much greater chance of being affected by the issue of road use than not. The figure used to be forty to sixty thousand killed annually by drivers. The lower figure now tends to be something in the thirties – but the higher thirties. While this is a change, it is not a substantive one. Moreover, while fatalities to other car drivers may have declined, injuries are over two million and totally crashes for 2008 are nearly six million!

If the number of crashes were lower, and the number of fatal ones declines slightly or remains constant while the population grows, one could argue it is indicative of drivers becoming “safer”. However, if the total number of crashes is absurdly high, and the number of fatal wrecks declines, even in a minor way, or remains the same, in the face of a growing population, what one has is clear: More people are crashing than before, it’s just that more of those involved in these crashes, as car drivers or passengers, are surviving with fewer and less serious injuries and in some cases only property damage. What causes this is obvious; better car safety features, be they airbags, seatbelts, crumple zones, reinforced safety cages, whatever. In other words, the physical features of the cars have allowed more people to survive wrecks. That’s it. The skill of the driver has not improved. Yet, whenever one raises the issue of punishing drivers who threaten or kill in order to deter dangerous behavior, he is told that traffic deaths are down and it is proof the problem has being addressed. This is like saying that a hands-free cell phone device or earpiece in your car is as effective at avoiding a crash as not distracting yourself with a phone call in the first place – or a substitute for that judgment. Technological improvements are all well and good but they are not a substitute for, and nor do they have anything to do with, volition. Yet, whenever anyone brings up the issue of *how* people drive, he is told about *what* they drive, by way of referencing the falling fatality statistics, which are a reference to technology, not responsibility. He is, as stated, admonished that traffic deaths are down and it is proof the problem has been addressed. It has not. Not when those figures show that, essentially, drivers are still driving just as poorly as before, if not more so – it is only that with modern cars’ safety features more of them survive, many to go on and do further damage.

Local police departments could help this immensely if they would simply enforce the law. Ticket drivers who are on cell phones or not paying attention. Yet, while such drivers are almost universally acknowledged to be the bane of the roads, the behavior is flaunted daily, a clear indication that the malefactors don’t fear anything. Worse, some not only aren’t afraid of getting caught, they actually don’t think they are doing anything wrong.

Despite its life-or-death importance, in the U.S. road use is largely “sleeper” issue in that most people don’t realize it exists. It never occurs to them that, while accidents, or accident causing behavior or circumstances, will always occur, it is possible and desirable to create a situation in which they are the exception, not the norm. Some of them even contribute to the chaos and screaming sirens themselves, by texting while turning, driving off the road, or running lights. They are a danger to drivers; to bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians, who are not protected inside cars, they are a potentially lethal menace, akin to a psycho with an axe. For the people who make up that menace, there is no road dynamic, no one else on the street, just a great big id floating down the road on four tires, and half that many firing brain cells. Most of these people aren’t malicious, just clueless, but they kill more Americans every year than 9-11, so frankly, at some point, the excuse “I didn’t see him” should become an admission of negligence, not a get out of jail free card.

Let’s hope that in the new year, that sort of thing changes for the better.


Brian 1/1/15

A Perfect world? Reflections on 2015

The other day I had a dream about the impending new year. I think it was prompted by an H.G. Wells quote I found while going through some old notes. In the dream, I had woken up in a perfect world… It was similar in many ways to our own, but far better.

The government was no longer bailing out failing giant car companies with other people’s money. Instead, they were cutting taxes and spending. One reduction was giving tax breaks to local businesses – in particular, bike shops, for the good reason that more people cycling means less wear and tear on the roads, traffic jams, smog, and financial and medical cost of car wrecks, in addition to the traffic delays they create. The tax breaks were duplicated at the local and state level by states and towns that realized more people riding and less people driving for local trips just made sense. Bike shop owners were ecstatic, but oddly enough, so were others, including non-biking drivers, many of them the ones who weeks before had been saying bicyclists should “get off the road.” Why? They learned something – namely that ten guys on bikes don’t take up nearly as much room as ten guys in Buicks.

Local stores began putting bike racks out. With more people riding around downtown, there was less traffic jams. The town government discontinued two traffic police positions, since the officers were no longer needed to stand in the road and stop cars. This saved the local town over two hundred thousand dollars.

Instead of giving taxpayers money to the politically connected, such as the Solyndra payouts and other “crony capitalism”, the government let citizens keep more of their own money, in an move that was genuinely laissez-faire. It gave citizens who rode for local trips a tax break. Companies were given tax breaks if they made accommodation for people to ride to work. Bikes in cubicles became the next new thing.

With fewer traffic jams and more efficient travel, as well as more travel that was simply local, parents got home from work earlier. They ended up spending more time with their kids. Instead of being raised by MTV and Xbox, the kids ended up spending time with their parents. Grades improved. Also, for the first time, people in small towns that had turned into “bedroom communities” actually became a community. Being outdoors and riding through town, they said hello and chatted with one another. Instead of an adversary for that slot at the red light, the other guy on the road became your neighbor. People who had lived on the same street and seldom said ten words to each other over ten years, were suddenly greeting each other and waving as they passed, daily. In an unprecedented change, some were invited to backyard barbecues.

Between increased cycling and less driving, and modern oil recovery techniques boosting domestic production, America became self-sufficient in oil. In the Middle East, oppressive, anti-American, terrorist-sponsoring potentates pounded sand as their oil monopoly went down the tubes. With the oil monopoly of the OPEC cartel broken, much of the funding sent by middle eastern states to terror groups dried up. With no money for guns, bullets, and suicide bombs, the terrorists were quickly defeated, and the war ended. Victorious American troops came home to their families and a ticker-tape parade down Broadway.

Instead of going out of business, as they had under the tax-spend-bailout model, local businesses were flourishing. Not just bike shops, but grocers, health food stores, hardware stores, etc. Riding around for local trips, citizens had discovered that they couldn’t just bike to the post office or town library; they could also bike to the store. In particular, they were rediscovering their downtown, and realizing that instead of driving on a highway to go to a far away shopping center, many of the same types of things could be bought locally.

As the economy recovered, citizens had more money to spend. Many of them bought expensive bikes for recreation – offroad, and road-racing bikes.

The offroaders were confounded by the limited number of places to ride. They fought the Sierra club and others and successfully lobbied to have all trails open to other users also open to cycling. Seeing the resurgence in mountain biking, Fat Chance resumed production. Its new model was called “Yo Freddie.”

The road racers began to wonder why a sedentary activity like golf, where you stood in one place, got more news coverage than their sport. Local newscasts began mentioning bike races again for the first time since before World War II. Finally clued in to the growing popularity of cycling, network TV actually carried some local bike races, like the Tour of California.

Bike companies were expanding, manufacture moving back to U.S. from China. Trek was bought out by an American conglomerate from Wisconsin. They had production changed to the U.S. and reconfigured the lineup to be 100% fixed gear and singlespeed bikes. Not one of the bikes was made of carbon. The company had nothing to do with racing or the Tour de France. Lance Armstrong did not ride a Trek. Of course, Lance Armstrong was in jail. He had gone into a ‘roid rage and gotten into a fight with a fellow rider while doing a publicity ride at the 5 Borough Bike Tour, and gotten his butt kicked by a 40 year old overweight bicycle cop in New York.

Grant Peterson was elected President of the U.S. Mike Flannigan of Alternative Needs Transportation was the V.P. Bruce Gordon was chief of staff.

Bike racing became as big in the U.S. as in Europe, but the difference was as it grew in the U.S. doping controls grew with it, learning from experience of the Europeans. The result? When the U.S. was ready to host the Tour of America for the first time, all its riders were clean and could prove it. The result sent a message to other sports.

Around the country kids wore jerseys with the names of their favorite cycling teams. No one remembered what a free throw was. Everyone knew about drafting and being in the “big ring”.

Velodromes became almost as common as baseball diamonds. Local tracks were increasingly named after well known figures. “Major Taylor” seemed a very popular prefix for a velodrome. A hundred and twenty years too late, the highest paid athlete of his day, who also happened to be black, was finally getting the recognition reserved for non-bicycling athletes who defied racism, like Jackie Robinson, who had come after him.

Right around the time it seemed that things couldn’t get any better, somewhere along the line, I woke up. Not in a perfect world. I was back in this one, with 2014 drawing to a close. But, as I contemplate the coming year, I remember the quote from H.G. Wells: “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of mankind.” And who am I to argue with H.G. Wells?

Perhaps that perfect world is a heck of a lot closer than we think. How many steps is it to that bike in the garage?


Brian 12-27-2014

Very much a thing of the present, not the past: Anti-cycling mantra has not died.

After a brief discussion with the gentleman behind the counter at a 7-evelen, who when I mentioned I was a bicyclist, admonished, “I’ve nearly hit them before on my motorbike,” and proceeded to regale me with tales of rude bicyclists riding three across the lane, it occurs to me that the anti-bike bias most riders assume to be on the decline has not, actually, gone away.

I am reminded of an article on the subject, titled “Are urban bicyclists just elite snobs?” (http://www.salon.com/2011/12/04/are_urban_bicyclists_just_elite_snobs/singleton/ Sunday, Dec 4, 2011 12:00 PM 20:09:05 EST ). Although a few years old it jumped out of my cycling news file because the anti-cycling attitude it is about is hardly an anachronism. Witness all the bike bashing vitriol over the tragic accident in NYC’s Central Park where a cyclist collided with a pedestrian who entered his path earlier this year. While, at best, the sad outcome of that incident (the cyclist was caused to crash, the pedestrian was injured and later passed away) should have been a wake-up call for all who use the road to pay attention and not break rules (such as all the peds blocking the bike lane whom the cyclist was forced to dodge, leading up to the accident) it instead metamorphosed into a bike-bashing fest, with populist news writers practically ready to lynch the rider, even though it appeared he had not contributed to the accident.

The “snob” article itself is not anti-cycling, but the subject matter is, and it shows how the anti-cycling attitudes many assumed were fading away like Jim Crow are very much a thing of the present… as anyone who followed the newsprint that flew following the central park collssion could tell you… Discussing the issue of cyclists and their reputation, it begins with a blurb by an anti-cycling author: "New Yorker columnist John Cassidy blogged about the city's new bike lanes. He was annoyed that they made it harder for him to drive his Jaguar around Manhattan, and bemoaned the city's bicyclists as a privileged, insular aristocracy, a "faddist minority intent on foisting its bipedalist views on a disinterested or actively reluctant populace.”” Wait just a cotton-picking minute. A guy with a Jag is lecturing others on elitism? Is that palpable irony even setting off any bells?

Then there's the idea that the bike lanes somehow caused the drivers to have to behave differently than before. Really, Jag or taxi or Yugo, it shouldn’t make much difference to the driver if there is a bike lane, or a bike, there or not – provided he's driving properly in the first place! If not, he may feel inconvenienced, by being forced to do something he's not used to – have a safe and legal lane position! The drivers who bitch most about cyclists – or cycle lanes – are those who are driving where they shouldn't be in the first place! That may be because, where enforced to keep the cars out, the bike lanes prevent drivers from hugging the side of the road. But hold on, didn't – to use just one overripe example – c’mon, a Jag driving spokesman for the everyman isn't something that comes along every day, even in New York -- John Cassidy ever go to driver's ed school? Doesn't, for example, he know that he shouldn't be driving full speed right up against the curb anyway? I mean, that's the only way a bike lane would affect his driving! Doesn't he, in other words, know that whether there's a bike lane there or not, he shouldn't be swerving from side to side in his lane like a drunk home from a bender, or taking up the shoulder, or veering against the curbing? Sure, bicyclists may be elsewhere – they usually keep to the right of faster moving cars but may have to pass cars on the left, or merge to make a turn, go around hazards, take the lane while going fast, etc., etc. But generally speaking, there is no reason for the driver to drive so far to the right that if they put a bike lane there it makes any difference. The article continues: “The Internet pounced. Cassidy’s blog posts usually get around a dozen comments. This one got 109, and not all were adoring fans. “The most tone-deaf, philistine commentary I’ve ever seen in these pages,” read one. “Honestly, if you love driving so much, please move to the Midwest,” another suggested. “Philistine and desultory drivel.” Uh, yeh. A crowded city is not really a practical place to drive a Jag. More suited to compact cars, mass transit, or cycling. Of the three, cycling is the most practical, except for extremely bad weather or carrying heavy cargo. No one is saying you can’t drive in the city, but the point is, you wouldn’t logically expect a city to be as open as an uninhabited country road. This is common sense. As a comparison to poor Mr. Cassidy, one often reads here in suburban NJ of drivers who tear at high speed along country back roads known to be popular with cyclists, then ranting in angry letters to the editor in the local papers when they have to slam on their brakes because they took a blind corner at 45mph and gosh, there’s someone else there. Well guess what, it’s a public street, there’s always a chance there could be someone else there. The article continues to use the Jag comparison, poking a well deserved jab at the posturing Cassidy as the self-declared victim of snobbish bikers: “Welcome to the new urban order: the Jag-driving New Yorker columnist is a philistine better suited to the suburbs of Wichita. Meanwhile, the city’s bicyclists are an entitled, imperial cabal cruising around on Trek Bellville three-speeds, an insidious locus of unchecked power and influence.” It is something my 7-eleven friend should remember. Not all cyclists are jerks.

After all, neither that columnist, nor most sensible readers, really mean it, or course. The likes of the Jag driving reporter, however, do, which should give one pause. This isn’t just about politics. Despite what some will tell you cyclists aren’t all environmental activists seeking to preach saving the planet from sundry mythical threats to all they encounter. Many are simply folks who enjoy biking, per se, regardless of eco-political pressure movements. Many cyclists are, surprise, as mainstream as the rest of American road users, including those who are politically conservative. As to why conservatives would ride rather than drive if they haven’t drunk the green kool-aid, well, why does anyone ride? Maybe they enjoy it? The world has forgotten, with its tendency to make everything a political issue, but some every day activities have nothing to do with saving the world. Some, like cycling, work instead on saving your sanity. There was a cycling culture – with its love of gear ratios, lightweight frame materials, and breathable jerseys, long before there was a belief in the media-marketed threat of “global warming.” The article on the subject of cyclists being denounced as snobs or political provacatuers, however, continues: “Urban bicyclists have an image problem. They’ve become stereotyped as pretentious, aloof jackasses, and a lot of this has to do with the changes taking place in cities right now,” blaming the “image problem” of cyclists on the fact that cycling seems associated with an influx of young hip youths: “The rise in bicycling compelled cities to make themselves more friendly to bicyclists, and the friendlier they became, the more people starting riding. But as miles of bike lanes were striped and bike-share systems were installed, some of those cities’ residents started to criticize what they saw as major changes being made for a few new arrivals.” That’s as may be, but again, a well designed bike lane doesn’t keep cars out of where they should be anyway. Why would you want to drive at full speed six inches from the curb. Ever heard of maneuvering room? Besides, bike lanes or not, the cyclists were there. Although the article opines that ridership in some cities increased or even doubled, the fact is that cyclists have been a part of American life, in city and countryside, for over a hundred and twenty years. Also neglected is another roadway fact: The whole reason we have suburbs between the cities and the rural farmland of true countryside is that people moved out from the cities with their cars, a move that became possible, and necessary, due to use of automobiles. You can drive in the city, but not with the same efficiency as the suburb, due to the denser city. And life in the suburb without a car is much more difficult than within a city as distances between destinations are much more spread out and farther apart. In short, your Jaguar was never meant to be able to cruise at full speed in the city; or perhaps it’s best to say the city was never designed for your Jaguar. And that is not the fault of the cyclists.

Thankfully the article admits, “The bicyclists-as-gentrifiers trope turns out to be more perception than reality, though. Over the last decade, the share of white bicyclists fell in proportion to riders of color. And ridership is remarkably equal across income groups.” Then, it moves onto to the issue of rider culpability. “But design is only part of the image problem. The other is bicyclists themselves, who are viewed as inept at best and a grave threat to the walking public at worst.” Ignored in this is that while a cyclist will occasionally hit a pedestrian, and injure or kill him, many more cyclists are hit or nearly hit be pedestrians jumping out in front of them. The issue of one of awareness. A cyclist sees the pedestrian, and, more broadly, is aware of pedestrians as a hazard that may leap into one’s path; the pedestrians doesn’t bother to notice the cyclist, and, as an ignorant non-cyclist, has no idea how fast the cyclist may be going. An avid cyclist is constantly calculating speeds and vectors and modifying his position. How many pedestrians can tell by sound where an overtaking car is and when it will pass? That is the kind of difference here – literally night and day. But no one denounces pedestrians across the board as reckless despite their much greater contribution to accidents and chaos and almost total lack of awareness of themselves or their surroundings. To focus on cyclist culpability while ignoring this is to ignore reality.

The article admits this, even raising the issue of “The NYPD started citing people on bikes for speeding.” This isn’t as hard to believe as it sounds if you know any fast roadies, but what is meant by speeding? It may well be the police are not aware that cyclists and motorists both have the same speed limit. Yet often police expect cyclists to go slower, to allow people to be more foolish around them (example: pedestrians jumping ijn front of you like super lemmings). Continued the article: “A serious debate developed around whether or not bicyclists were a__holes. (profanity edited for those with traditional sensibilities – B.) Reporters hit up old ladies for dramatic quotes about being terrorized by reckless riders,” and it added, “Railing against bikes, in fact, became a great way to sell papers.” Keep in mind, although article’s title is something of a satire, the anti-cycling attitudes it may lampoon not only exist, they flourish. What is more significant is that they flourish not just with regular joe’s and the man-in-the-street, but among the intellectuals, the writers, the authors like that New Yorker columnist mentioned earlier….who generally speaking are thought to “know better”. “A hundred years ago, newspapers ginned up scare stories about the threat that hapless women on bicycles posed to pedestrians. Today, old-school tabloids like the New York Post have found that the bicyclists-versus-everyone narrative still resonates. In Op-Eds with titles like “Bike-Lane Bloodbath,” bicycles are portrayed as weaponized toys, and isolated accidents are held up as proof that bicycles are an urban menace. Last week in San Francisco, a 23-year-old bicyclist was charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter for striking and killing a pedestrian — a tragic incident, but one that occurred in a city where 800 pedestrians are hit by cars every year. Still, the story was front-page news, sparking an online uproar: “I’m sick of bicycles and their cocky, self-righteous riders,” one commenter wrote on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website.”

How about the self-righteous drivers? You know, the ones who risk killing you because downloading Justin Timberlake is, to them, worth a human life? Or the pedestrians who leap out in front of people and cause accidents? Speaking of “bicycles and their cocky self-righteous riders” makes one wonder if sometimes the non-rider just can’t take criticism. This could be called, road issues seen through the Alinsky method, employing that far-left radical’s method of personalizing an issue, and then accusing someone of the exact opposite of what he has done. The Chronicle commentator sees “self-righteous” riders. The rational observer sees a self-righteous driver or pedestrian who, caught taking the actions of a single cyclist out of context, is unable to say, “Yeh, sorry, I was wrong”. After all, what is self-righteous about pointing out the context; a bicyclist killed one person, drivers killed eight hundred?

Is this being self-righteous? No. It is trying to keep a debate from running off a contextual cliff!

The tendency to denounce cyclists in any pedestrian-bike collision is odd, considering the pedestrians that practically throw themselves under your front wheel. That – and the bad drivers -- is the real danger, by the numbers and daily experience. But then since most people aren’t cyclists, they see it from the other viewpoint, one not grounded in reality but only their perception of that “reckless cyclist.” Well, how is it reckless that a cyclist couldn’t psychically predict you were going to leap into the roadway? Or cut him off with your car or go the wrong way, or in a one-way driveway to a parking lot? Or be driving drunk or texting?

Maybe you should put down your phone, stop stirring your four-dollar flavored coffee, and look where you are going. You might actually see the cyclist next time.

And that’s just it, the point of the article, as it concludes, seems to be that cyclist bashing is stupid, counterproductive, and doesn’t mean much, although it can be dangerous in its tendency to misinform people. And, ultimately, the author reminds cyclists to consider how best to convince others to be open – minded; it’s by being reasonable. That is something we can all agree with: “Inconsiderate riding is overhyped by the press, but it also really happens more often than we’d like to admit.”

Instead, I am faced with a guy handing me my change whose attitude seems to be I am part of the problem of American’s road use – because I bike. So much for 7-eleven, right? Well, as that “snob” article says, “There are smug cyclists... If we want to improve the image of urban bicyclists, we need to start with ourselves. If we’re successful, the concept of the elitist bicyclist will one day seem as silly as, well, driving in Manhattan.”

With the caveat that there is certainly nothing smug or rude about knowing I am more aware than someone who is perpetually on the verge of committing a vehicular homicide through rank inattentiveness, or leaping into traffic like a suicide case, and total lack of awareness of their surroundings, I heartily agree.


Brian 12-26-2014


Illegal changes to local road risk crashes: Slow and dumb is not safe and wise

I was returning down Snyder Avenue in Berkeley Heights one evening and was surprised to find out that, although I was going the speed limit, I was speeding. Snyder Ave is a main road that spans between Mountain Ave at a higher elevation, and Springfield Ave, at the bottom of a hill. For most of its length it is 40mph – except when children are going to and from school in the morning and afternoons, when flashing signs indicate a temporary 25mph speed limit for part of the road. Halfway down the hill, Snyder Ave is bisected by Hamilton Ave. Hamilton Ave has stop signs; Snyder is a through street. Yet, accidents have reportedly been an increasing risk. Some locals who lacked a good understanding of the road dynamic have argued in the past for a traffic light to be put there. Those who understand the situation however realize the problems come not from people on Snyder but those on Hamilton who dart in front of them, essentially running the stop signs or cutting off through traffic, so slowing or stopping people on Snyder is no solution. In fact, being able to maintain a decent speed while descending Snyder – something the 40mph speed limit allowed – is essential to avoid accidents for drivers, as well as cyclists and other road users, when crossing the four-way intersection. As a driver, if I am not going at the speed limit, people might think I am giving them a chance to go and cut across. Likewise, cyclists descending Snyder are safer the closer they go to the speed limit, or above, while crossing Hamilton – it telegraphs to any waiting drivers at the cross street that they are going straight through, have the right of way, and the drivers at the cross street have to wait.

So on the night in question I did exactly what I always did, knowing the area and the speed limits. It was only after I had descended the hill that I became aware, thinking back to what I had seen, that some miscreant had snuck out in the dead of night like a thief, taking down all the 40mph signs and replacing them with 30mph signs. I wondered why the speed limit for the downhill was changed. I also wondered why it was done without warning.

One wonders what this change would accomplish. First, I suppose, it is in effect a subsidy for automotive repair shops and brake manufacturers, as local drivers will be riding their brakes more so down this hill than ever before. And, one supposes, it will create more close calls and accidents at the 4-way intersection with Hamilton halfway down the hill. The drivers waiting to pull out from Hamilton, who in the past could not tell that at 40 mph they had no time to dart in front of oncoming traffic, are even more likely to cause mayhem when that oncoming traffic is forced to go ten miles per hour slower. Perhaps this will benefit local auto-body shops or orthopedic surgeons. What is certain is that this change in the speed limit on the downhill section of Snyder Ave is unlikely to have any positive benefit for those who actually use the road! Worse, it is the misguided and misused heading of “safety” that prompts this change. Which forces one to ask: Are we as a society so stupid that when confronting the issue of roadway interaction all we can do is say, slower is safer? Later, I found out from someone involved in the process that the whole thing stemmed from the town’s desire to put a traffic light at the 4-way. They were not allowed to do so (thankfully – can you imagine negotiating that downhill on a bike at traffic speed with a light there?) However, they did change the speed limit because, as I was told, they have bought into the slow-equals safe myth. While this may be true in some instances (as mentioned) it is not a hard and fast rule. But worse, when taken as a universal truth, it is simple-mindedness made policy. For novices slowness is a great rule; it extends reaction time, and if you do hit something, the damage is less. But slowness is recommended for novices as a stand-in for skill and experience. It is generally a poor substitute. A poorly skilled driver, going slower, may do less harm, but he is still poorly skilled. Is this the traffic model we want to develop?

This is Mickey Mouse nonsense masquerading as understanding of traffic principles. Or as one person told me, “it seemed like rather than have a traffic study they were trying to make up the science right there in the town meeting”.

As a general rule, slower is safer in terms of two things; damage to a driver protected in a car, in the event of a crash, and in terms of avoiding pedestrians. A driver who might be injured at higher speed can walk away from a low speed crash; at lower speed he has more time to slam on his brakes and avoid a crash if a ped jumps out in front of him (although he could still cause a crash for anyone operating behind him). But pedestrians collisions aren’t an issue here, so that’s irrelevant, and in terms of vehicle interaction, it is better to not have a crash than just crash at lower speed. Especially at intersections, avoiding a crash in the first place, speed is not the issue, within reason; attention, road rules and markings that at clear and make sense, and sight lines are more important. Yes, you are safer in a car if you crash at 30 instead of 40 mph – but it is no substitute for not having an accident in the first place. Besides for the issue of not everyone is in a car. On this issue as so many others, cyclists seem neglected.

But worse, in the case of Snyder, the town changed the speed limit illegally. In fact, I was informed that the town was told that the way they were going about this was not legal – and they did it anyway. So beyond the issue of the traffic impact, is the issue of proper government. But that is little surprise; often much of what this government does seems to be of questionable legality. In fact, one wonders if they sought to put a traffic light on Snyder because of their questionable land deal with the local church, which would change the traffic pattern on Hamilton.

Hopefully this misgovernment will be put right. However, for now road users have a choice; drive as they have for years, safely, or try to keep to the new speed limit on the downhill – and just hope no one pulls out in front of them because they are going slower.


- Brian

Why are they building a pipeline through our woods? Often I wonder if I were to ever try to explain to a future generation all the places that meant something to me when I was their age, I would not have much to show for it except maybe some Keep Out signs, a Starbucks, or parking lots. It seems all the places I rode or spent time outdoors in have either been closed, torn down, or built into chain restaurants.

When I was a teenager I rode a lot in Watchung. That ended officially in 1995. Then I spent a lot of time in some of the local woods, chiefly along the Passaic River. The trail is still there, but government efforts at so-called improvement ruined a lot including some use of a bulldozer that I at first put down to the activity of a drunk on a bender but seems to have been government-sponsored. Then there was Stanford Drive, a wooded area a block from my house. The town seized the land, cut down all the trees in the name of preserving open space, and put in a fake grass ball field and a big parking lot.

And now, the engine of progress stirs once again, aiming for the woods along the Passaic River. Actually, what is facing the trails on the other side of the river is something new: a pipeline. The Pilgrim Pipeline is a big east coast project, intended to carry oil and oil products back and forth to and from New York. For the section that passes through this area, it is to be built along the power line rights of way, meaning it will have to result in tearing up the dirt roads along the power lines, and possibly some of the adjacent trails.

For the record, I approve of pipelines. They are generally safer than using train cars or tanker trucks, which can crash, and after the construction is over, they are not generally harmful to the environment. But what worries me is, will there be any trails left in the woods when the construction is over? There are so few places to bike and hike in the woods in a place like New Jersey, a place once called The Garden State but which is now, to many, synonymous with landfills and big cities. Even in the suburbs, try finding a nice tract of woods. My definition of woods is not scientific but many will relate to it. It is: When you go into the wooded area, do you feel like you are in someone's yard, or in the middle of nature.

This might be hard to accomplish; many of the wooded areas are adjacent to private property or public roads. You can see cars or houses as you ride or hike through them. Yet, some stretches of woods along the Passaic transcend their geographical limitations. You get far enough along a trail, or dirt road, and you can't see a soul. Yes, you will see the trail, and the power lines themselves, but that is about it.

It is so hard to find a place, outside of a formal government administered park, that fits these characteristics, that having one a mile or less from my door makes me very happy. The idea of losing it, less so.

A pipeline is useful and can do a lot of good. But I have to wonder, why build it here? Why not along a highway or some other place where it will not mess up local woods? Sure, when the construction is done the pipeline will be underground and therefore not block the dirt road or any trails. But how many trails or even the dirt road will survive the construction? True, most of the trails in my town are informal. But down the road a piece, where the pipeline would continue, are officially marked trails, some leading into the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge, which spin off from the dirt trail/road along the power lines. When riding there I have seen dog-walkers, joggers, and sometimes other bicyclists. How many of these people could lose their trail or worse, access to it?

Indeed, with security concerns being what they are, will people be forbidden from riding or walking back there, in order to ward off the risk of sabotage or legal liability? The thought of someone erecting a fence around the place is almost as sad as the thought of someone bulldozing it.

This might be considered NIMBYism if not for one thing; I am not against the pipeline, or that it be built in my area. I am simply in favor of the woodland trails. I have no problem with them building the pipeline. I have no problem with it going through my town, or the next one. But I have a problem with it going through my trail. They could easily build it along a highway, for instance there are many in the area, including I-78, which travels in roughly the same direction. So why here? The answer to the question why here is easy. Yes, they could build it along a highway or some such. But not being cyclists, hikers, or outdoorsmen themselves, the people in charge of the project never thought of the need for an alternative place. To them the trail was perfect; it was just empty woods, so go ahead, bulldoze it. One unpaved area is the same as the next if you are not considering the issue of people using it. Yet that is a very real issue. While empty woods may not be commercially viable, I had some good times in those woods, and so did others. It would be sad if mine is the last generation that can say that.

Sure there are other concerns. It is near a river. The river floods a lot. How erosion resistant will be the coverings and pilings of the pipeline? Half that area is underwater a lot, during heavy rains, which is why I only ride back there sometimes. Likewise, during construction, will all the dirt and debris find their way into the river water? If so will it alter the river in some way, perhaps causing greater erosion or sediment deposits? Yes, there are some issues, including flooding, and the sediment, and such. These may be concerns for others, such as ecologists or construction engineers. For now, my concern is that there are far too few local wooded areas in which citizens can enjoy the outdoors.

It may be my concerns are misplaced and the pipeline will have no ill effects on local woods or trails. I hope so. But in the meanwhile, given that there are so few wooded areas to ride in, effort should be expended to save them, not risk losing them or access to them.

It is about a very simple idea: biking, or even any other outdoors activity, is beneficial. It has a value. Maybe it does not pay dividends to shareholders on a regular basis, at least not in dollars but the value is no less real because of it.

I am all for pipelines. Just not through my trails.


- Brian

More than 1 in 5 Americans age 16 and over ride a mountain bike, and contribute $26 billion annually to the American economy while enjoying the sport. Kozo Shimano said, We want legislators, policy makers and the public to understand how significant mountain biking is to both the economy and to keeping people healthy. One recent cost benefit analysis concluded that every dollar invested in trails led to almost three dollars in direct medical benefit.

So said an article in Velonews on the subject of a study being pushed by IMBA, the International Mountain Biking Association, and Shimano, a bike parts maker.

This may seem old news. 2008 Really? But it's not, because it is still relevant. Recently others have disputed the numbers. An article on Singletracks.com uses a figure from a National Sporting Goods Association study that concludes the number is lower, namely, a little over 8 million mountain bike riders, and includes figures for children down to the age of seven.

Nevertheless, even this lower figure is not miniscule. When you take out the number of minors you are still left with many cyclists. And that is where policy makers and government officials should start paying attention.

While there are benefits to cycling like fun, fitness, appreciation of and conservation of nature, the money spent by cyclists most often this is neglected. Most see the roads as almost the exclusive domain of automobiles. As for offroad riders, policy makers often ignore them witness the extra-legal ban on mountain biking in Watchung, implemented without any public input, and lingering now for over 20 years.

As strange as it may seem, to many who set policy, on the road or in the woods, those millions of bicyclists are invisible. This is where these studies, such as those mentioned above, can help. By themselves, such numbers are mere trivia. But wisely applied, they can become a potent method for making the cyclist's voice heard.

After all, you are talking about millions of people who spend money and who vote.

How many more bike shops would be in business if more people felt safer riding on the roads say, if the authorities did a better job of cracking down on careless drivers. How many more sales would your local shop make if Union County hadn't outlawed riding at Watchung's trails? People would be healthier, fitter, and local businesses would have more money in their pockets. Hardly a bad thing.

Cycling Americans need to remind those who shape policy that we are here, we are an economic consideration, and we are also a political consideration. After all, who wants to tick off millions of voters?


- Brian 11/15/14
The Open Space question: On Tuesday, in the upcoming election, citizens get to vote on two public questions. One of them is whether or not to authorize more tax money for "open space" preservation. This gives citizens a chance to take a stand against something that has become endemic in recent years here in New jersey: the misuse of "open space" funding and of government-managed public parks.

By now, some citizens are hopefully aware of the sorry state of nearby Watchung Reservation. Once one of the premier mountain biking destinations in the tri-state area, the trails are sadly unkempt and mountain bikes are officially excluded by Union County -- despite the fact that the Union County freeholders never passed an ordinance banning mountain biking, and there was never any documentation of any actual problems on the ground at Watchung. The ban was imposed in a secret back room deal, without citizen input or legislative action.

Likewise, open space funding generally has been used in questionable ways. In nearby Berkeley Hts., NJ, the town government wanted to stop a proposed condo development on some land that was occupied by a few old industrial buildings and a large tract of woods. The government fought a decade-long legal battle to seize the land from the owner, and ultimately obtained open space preservation funding to help them do so. However, the first thing the government did when it got it's mitts on the land was tear down all the trees and replace them with a fake grass ballfield and a very large parking lot. This is not preserving nature and it is not something for which the open space funding should have been used. A parking lot is not the intended function of "open space" funding.

On election day, citizens will have a chance to take a stand against such unjust policies. The government does not deserve any more "open space" authority until and unless it can stop misusing it, and until and unless it can open all its parks for the use of all. Why should taxpayers pay for misuse of open space funding, or for parks they are forbidden to use?

This is a chance to send a message to "the powers that be" that citizens are tired of misgovernment and expect better of their elected officials, at every level. Vote no to closing parks to trail users and to using open space funding for building parking lots. Vote "no" on the open space question!

- Brian 11/03/14

Almost all county park trail systems are bike friendly.

No, that's not an observation about Union County, but our nearby neighbor, who if anything, may benefit from our county's heavy-handed park policies and the way it made them.

Doing my weekly internet search for anything new regarding Watchung (while I wait for the response to yet another Open Public Records Act request this one already over deadline) I stumbled across yet another question on a mountain bike forum of someone asking, why?

The answers posted revealed a lot about the prohibition of mountain biking in Watchung, and how it was accomplished versus the public impression of it.

In one response, a rider repeated what has become the popular explanation that some kind of law or ordinance was passed by the county government to mollify special interests upset by the presence of bikers. Or as the individual wrote, all the *****lawyers who keep their horses at the Watchung Stables got legislation passed to ban trail access to bikers.

The poster is correct on the subject of it being other trail users besides for bikers who wanted to ban bikes (obviously) not only equestrians, as he highlights, but also some of the more intolerant and less-evolved hikers. And he gets the general gist of the nature of the decision, that it was made to mollify a few connected people and not the bulk of the public the county government purports to serve (which would include mountain bikers). Where the poster went totally wrong, however, was to state that legislation of any sort was passed.

The elected body of a county government in New Jersey is the Board of Freeholders. It is the Board of Freeholders who would have had to pass any legislation banning mountain bikes. Yet by the county government's own admission in response to an OPRA (Open public records act) request I filed some months ago, the Freeholders did not act to ban mountain bikes. According to subsequent OPRA responses it was discovered that the decision was made by a handful of unelected government employees. They decided to ban mountain biking on their own, relying, for their decision, on a 1983 ordinance that was about biking on paths and sidewalks. They decided that, even if trails or mountain biking were not mentioned in the ordinance at all, they would pretend it applied to mountain biking.

The whole advantage, for the county, of acting in this way was that they bypassed all the protections against misgovernment inherent in our representative system ? starting first, with the idea that laws be made by those accountable to the electorate, namely, you and I.

But if the bike rider posting on that mountain bike forum was wrong about there actually being legislation passed, he is not alone. Most of us, just based on the fact that we live in a society with a supposedly representative government, a government that, according to the famous saying, is of laws, not men, would make the same error. It is natural to assume that if a rule that disruptive and draconian has been implemented, that it must have been with some public input although it wasn't. And it is also natural to assume that some government employee is not just making up his own laws in a backroom somewhere. That assumption, sadly, is also wrong.

And, although Union County admitted in an OPRA request response that it never enacted a ban via the Freeholders passing legislation, it has yet to admit so publically. In a news article published in the Star-Ledger shortly before I filed my first OPRA request on the subject, a county spokesman was quoted as saying he knew nothing about the ban or how it came to be. Well, naturally, if no ordinance was passed and there was never any public input, he might be ignorant. However, that practically begs the question: How come a ban which the government's own spokesman can neither explain nor defend, and which the government has admitted was not authorized by any legitimately enacted ordinance, is still in existence? Why hasn't it simply been removed, by fiat the same way it was enacted?

The answer is startlingly simple: many people aren't aware of it, and, thinking they are still living in a free country, assume the ban must have been accomplished by passing legislation, simply because that is the prescribed mechanism for making rules in our society.

Instead of calling for the county to stop its absurd and extra-legal ban, many of those who have fallen for the legislation myth are instead fleeing to other jurisdictions. The same mountain bike commentator later posted, I moved to Morris County in 1998 and love it here, almost all county park trail systems are bike friendly.? And that, ultimately, is the danger of this policy to the county. It is not only bad for the parks, by excluding users, and bad for cycling, by excluding mountain bikers. It is not even that the ban is also bad for local businesses, basically killing the area's market for high end mountain bikes and related equipment, leaving shops in other counties to sell such expensive merchandise. Rather, it is that it is bad for the county entire.

If a citizen is shortchanged by a store, or subject to some unfair policy, he is unlikely to return. Worse, he is unlikely to keep mum about it. What government officials at many levels fail to realize is that this principle applies the same to their actions as the private sector. Witness all those politicians in high tax states who complain about low-tax states poaching?their citizens and businesses. One of course has to ask, is the park policy enough to make people here leave? Maybe, maybe not. But it might be a deal-breaker for those considering moving in.

If you are a cyclist and considering where to move to in New Jersey, would you move to a county where you are outlawed from cycling on county trails? In short, the county will become, among those who know, the equivalent of the restaurant that always serves cold soup. Word of mouth will have real economic effects. Already one can see the ripple starting, just from this one example of the individual who writes, I moved to Morris County in 1998 and love it here, almost all county park trail systems are bike friendly.?

The lesson, for the Union County government, is that you cannot escape responsibility. Unelected county employees took the lead in trying to ban mountain biking, rather than the Freeholders, in what seems an obvious attempt to dodge accountability. Hey, if the board didn't do it, how can they be blamed? Perhaps it is about time they realized every act has consequences.

The belief by the poster on that mountain bike site regarding the ban having a legislative base may be incorrect although it is a misapprehension the county has certainly sought to foster. But the sentiments exhibited by the same poster regarding other county parks policies are being repeated all over the state by cyclists every day. I myself have observed that Morris County Parks could be sort of a guidebook to others including Union County. And others have observed the differences in policies and attitudes as night and day. This will not fail to weigh on citizens decisions. Think about it, move to Union and get screwed, or move to Morris and be welcomed as a fellow user of the park? No one knows how much this will impact Union County. Maybe it will be minor at first. But the point is, it won t help.

Ultimately, being shunned in favor of counties with sensible parks policies may be the only justice Union County will ever know, but that is by design. They've done everything they could to implement their policy outside the normal realm of the law, in order to avoid being held accountable. So it is just taking a little longer to do so.


Brian 10/30/14


Too much power, too little responsibility

Reading the latest news coverage on the sundry scandals and incidents from our nation's capital, I'm struck by an odd realization: This sounds like it has less to do with the politics of government and more to do with the mechanics of it. In particular, the problem seems to be the concentrating of a lot of power in the hands of unelected officials over whom we, the people, can claim no control whatsoever. This phenomenon is not just federal; witness the ban on mountain biking at Watchung Reservation.

Most people think that the ban was prompted because of concerns about the environment, or poor relations between one or two rude cyclists and other trail users. In many ways it looks like the Union County government has tried it's best to foster this misunderstanding. But actually, the closing of the Watchung Reservation is not so much a cautionary tale about interaction between cyclists and other trail users, or the narrow-minded ways of some of the more radical environmentalists. Rather, like national level incidents, it is a cautionary tale of another sort: The danger of too much power, too little responsibility.

Union County Spokesman D'Elia is quoted in a July, 2014 Star-Ledger article on the subject as saying the trails have been closed as long as he remembered and he as unsure of the reasons why. This is alarming! The government's own spokesman can't articulate the reasons for the ban?

This is what got me interested in finding out how it was implemented and why. What I found out was shocking and a classic example of the danger of concentrating power in the hands of the unelected.

By the county's own admission, the elected body of Union County the freeholders had nothing to do with banning mountain biking at Watchung. They didn't pass a law or ordinance. Instead, some unelected officials, including one from the parks department, made the decision in a backroom deal without, by the county's own admission, gathering any citizen input first. What they did was take an old ordinance from 1983 that was about riding on paths and sidewalks, and say that was now going to apply to off-road trails and mountain biking. This saved them the trouble of actually having the freeholders pass an ordinance about mountain biking.

The reasons for making this decision in this way were obvious. If they had passed an ordinance about mountain biking, they would have had to publish advance notice, allow citizen input, etc. Passing an ordinance is a hassle. But it’s supposed to be, because it is better for the government to have a hard time imposing a new rule, then for citizens to have a hard time getting the rule removed when it turns out to have been a mistake. The hassle that the government tried to avoid here is part of its just and proper functions, a deliberative process that allows people to have a say, and forces those advocating a new law to lay their cards on the table.

For instance, if the county freeholders attempted to implement an ordinance banning mountain biking, they might be asked why. Then it would have come out that there was no reason to do so. When asked via OPRA (open public records act) request to provide the basis for the determination that Watchung be closed to mountain biking, I was provided with a poorly done trail study of South Mountain park, in another county, and three articles from the popular press on mountain biking in other parks one in Connecticut. Several of these documents appeared to also post-date the 1995 decision to ban mountain biking. If this had been revealed to be the extent of the government's proof namely, that they had no documentation of any problems at Watchung and so they had to rely on this sort of nonsense maybe they wouldn’t have been able to enact a ban.

So instead they bypassed the whole process; the voting, the public input, the questions of any documentation about a problem with mountain biking. The ban was imposed in a backroom deal closed to the public and up went the signs which say ?bicycles prohibited on trails,?even though the word trail does not appear anywhere in the old 1983 law that unelected county employees decided to pretend authorized the ban at their closed meeting in 1995.

No wonder that, despite years of fighting against this arbitrary and capricious ban, and numerous efforts to lift it, cyclists are still excluded from the off-road trails in the Watchung Reservation.

It seems as if government excess knows no restriction but paring it back is a task worthy of Hercules and his Labors. Perhaps it is fitting, then, that nearby to the Reservation is the appropriately named, Watchung Stables.

Moreover, since it is now clear that while it is easy to impose a rule, it is incredibly difficult to get one voided, perhaps citizens should demand there be much more deliberation involved before a rule, or regulation, or even a law, is enacted in the first place. Not rushing to impose prohibition that may be based on the emotion of the moment, but take years to finally remove afterwards, may be the first and primary defense citizens have against this form of misgovernment. Instead, without any citizen involvement, a rule was passed that, twenty years later, no one can seem to explain, or figure out how to remove. Of course, although the county spokesman seemed unfamiliar with the reasons when quoted in the Ledger, he was cc'd on the county response to my OPRA request a short while later, including the response in which Dan Bernier, of the Union County Parks Dept., gave the official explanation: he said mountain bikes were causing massive environmental damage and problems for other trail users. So if he didn't know before, the spokesman knows now. However, when I asked for documentation of Mr. Bernier's assertions, I was of course told there was none. Which left me to ask, how then did the ban get implemented?

A litmus test?for whether a government action is just or unjust can often be had simply by looking at whether it consults the citizens it purports to protect. To this we can add that the regulation rule or law is itself accessible. In the case of the Watchung off-roading ban, internet searches and even a trip to the local library could find no text of any actual rule, regulation, or law banning mountain biking. I even read the over two hundred page county code?and found nothing. There is no information on the Union County website, and nowhere else, either. Why? Because no ordinance was passed to ban mountain biking. I did notice that ordinance the county said they decided to apply to mountain biking, but since it was about paths and sidewalks I kept reading the ordinance's own text was clearly irrelevant to the subject, whatever the county's unelected employees decided amongst themselves.

Speaking of which, if that's going to be how the county government is run, why have freeholders at all? Let's fire them all and just let the county employees make up the laws themselves. That's what they seem to do anyway at least in this case.

Let us remember the expression “The consent of the governed,” a concept that is surely lacking in this, and other examples of governance, where rules are implemented with virtually no real citizen input, or even concern for how citizens will be affected. The whole concept of our representative government is based around limiting the ability of anyone to abuse its power. The first and most obvious way we do this is by making political leaders elected officials, thereby subject to some consequence for their policies, even if it is only every few years. But when the power to essentially make up laws resides with the unelected, then all the voting and campaigning doesn't do any good. You might have the best and brightest elected officials in the world but if they aren't the ones who make the rules, it won't protect you.

The decline of Watchung reservation which has paralleled the vilification and exclusion of mountain biking there -- is quite sad, because it is and was quite unnecessary. Had a few of the cyclists been a little more polite, perhaps there would have been less ire. However, had unaccountable government employees over whom we citizens have no say, not been permitted to hijack the power of the government and make a rule to enforce their biases on others, that ire wouldn't have been an issue. A person’s anger becomes a concern for others only when he is empowered to act on it. And that is something that, when carried out properly, our representative government is designed to prevent.

Instead, Union County residents have spent twenty years dealing with the results of too much power, and too little responsibility.


Brian's Rant 10/21/14


Biking the wrong way

The other day on my way to my friendly neighborhood bike shop (The Bike Stand) I had an instructive encounter on the road. I was coming down the street preparing to turn left. I put on my turn signal, slowed, and stopped. There were no cars coming, but I stopped because there was a young man bicycling the wrong way on the other side of the road. I had seen him traveling parallel to me on the far side of the road, and realized that, as I made my turn, he would be approaching from an effective blind spot: even craning my head far to my left I could not see him directly, though he did appear in my driver’s side mirror. As a bicyclist myself, I did not want to risk a collision, so I stopped and waited for him to pass back into view, and then traverse the mouth of the side street. As it happened, he turned onto that side street, then, once he was on it, drifted back over to the right side of the road. Once he was clear, I made my turn, but very slowly, because I had observed the way he was riding and wanted to be prepared if he did something else. When the young man moved over, I safely passed.

The situation was instructive, because it seems he is not alone. Many casual riders often ride the wrong way down the street, or on sidewalks. By way of possibly discouraging conduct that may lead to an accident as well as the cultural marginalization of cycling I’d like to take a moment to point out what is obvious to me as an avid rider but many people do not seem to realize: The sidewalk is for walking.

The bicycle has been a legal road user for over a hundred years. During more recent times, this stratus was reaffirmed.

But it is the earlier decisions which are illustrative. The 1890s case of Swift vs. City of Topeka, for example, addressed not only cyclists right to the road (unlike drivers who must get a license and permission from the state) but also the issue of the sidewalk (and by implication also wrong-way riding).

In particular, the case involved a local law which said it was against the law to bicycle on any sidewalk in Topeka, or across the Kansas River bridge. A cyclist was ticketed for riding across the bridge on the roadway, and contested it. It went up to a higher court, which ruled that, based on context and wording, the law applied only to the sidewalk part of the bridge (the subject of the law, after all, was riding on sidewalks). The court ruled that bicycles could be excluded from sidewalks because they were vehicular, not foot traffic but that they could not be excluded from the roadway for the same reason. The rationale behind this is true today. If you go to the New Jersey Dept. of Transportation website, under their frequently asked questions about bicycling, you will find some on sidewalks. The DOT notes that riding on the sidewalk, like wrong way riding, and risk an accident because it puts the rider where other road users do not expect him. It also increases the risk of a crash with a pedestrian. The site continues, to say that Except for very young children under close adult supervision, the sidewalk is not for bicycling.

While there is no blanket state law prohibiting sidewalk riding, most areas have a local ordinance against it. Sometimes, as the DOT notes, exception is made for very young children, who would be at a disadvantage operating on the road due to many factors, but who these same factors make safer to operate on sidewalks or by going the wrong way i.e., akin to foot traffic, such as low visibility and low speed. These same factors on the part of adolescent or adult riders make their riding in this manner dangerous; they are going much faster than foot traffic.

And, of course, specifically regarding wrong-way riding, the traffic laws in NJ, like most states, require you to go in the same direction as other traffic, for good reason; if you don’t it can lead to an accident.

Worse, riding as if you are a pedestrian only serves to teach, by example, any driver who sees you that bicycles do not belong on the road. This only marginalizes cycling and makes the roads less safe for those of us who do ride properly.

Fortunately being a cyclist and somewhat careful road user, I often notice bicycles, even if they aren’t in the right place. So in this instance, both myself and the wrong-way rider avoided any mishap. But you cannot count on that every other driver or biker will be so observant. Any if you ride properly, you don’t have to worry about it as much. So please, don’t ride the wrong way, or on a sidewalk."


Brian


"E-bikes and the right to the road"


I originally put these thoughts down some months ago in response to a column in the newspaper that I had saved, and then re-read at the time. It was an editorial in which New Jerseyan Paul Mulshine was sounding off on the merits of E-bikes. E-bikes, or “electric bicycles”, as well as gasoline motor kits for bicycles, are basically bikes with small electric or gas motors. The motors on some provide only a "pedal assist". But there are others where the bike operated via a throttle. These kits are similar to the Schwinn Wizzer kits that allowed one to build their own moped out of a cantilever framed balloon tire bicycle in the post-world war two years. The difference is that these modern incarnations of motorized bicycles, electric or gas powered, are being sold as bicycles, not mopeds.

One such device sitting at the local shop not too long ago prompted a discussion about their merits and demerits. Also as to why anyone would ride one. A general consensus was that people wanted to use one because the electric assist wouldn’t require them to get as sweaty if they were, say, riding to work.

In that sense, the E-bike may be a laudable invention. Similarly if a person has been injured; an E-bike with an electrical assist allows them to keep riding. Great. More power (literally) to them. Its sure better than having either sit in a car.

In that respect I agree with columnist Paul Mulshine in his 11-10-13 column that in terms of traffic impact, and even pollution concerns, an e-bike is better than, say, a car. Indeed, from the perspectives of just those two issues, it would be better to have people riding electrically assisted bikes than Humvees or even regular sedans. However, I do not share his conclusion that since this is the case, all is well with electric bicycles. There are other factors involved as well. The first is, except for where the motor only assists actual pedaling (as mentioned earlier), E-bikes are not actually bicycles.

Put a motor, any kind of motor, that moves the bicycle as a substitute for pedaling, and what you have is a motorized bicycle. In this case an unlicensed one.

It may seem absurd to compare the tiny electric motors on E-bikes to Harley’s or even mopeds. However, the distinction is one of kind not degree. While there is a huge practical difference between an E-bike and a motorcycle, as one normally thinks of the term, there is nearly as much practical difference between an e-bike and a conventional bicycle. Moreover, there is a difference by definition: a bicycle is not motorized. Put a motor on it, and it is no longer a bicycle and subject to the rules of bicycles, but instead it becomes a motorized vehicle.

To protest this logic because, well, the motor is tiny compared to a huge motorcycle, is to distort the issue. Yes, it is tiny. But it is a motor. If part of what defines a bicycle is that it is human powered, and the legal distinction between that and motorized two wheeled vehicles such as motorbikes or mopeds is the lack of a motor, than adding any motor, even a tiny or slow one, takes it out of the bicycle category.

By itself this wouldn’t be much of an issue, but it is, because of the regulations for motorized vehicles.

American bicyclists have enjoyed a legal right to the road since the late 1800’s. In cases such as Swift vs. City of Topeka, the courts affirmed that the cyclist was a road user – as the operator of a vehicle.

But when automobiles came along and were required to be licensed and insured, this was never extended to bicycles. Same for other motorized vehicles – motorbikes, trucks, buses. Why? The bicyclists had a legal right to operate their vehicles on the roadway. The drivers, because of the increased danger posed by a motorized machine, could get up to speed with no effort, and whose vehicles weighed more, were required to get government’s permission to use their vehicles on the street.

Because of this, one has to consider that electric bikes, by introducing a motor, even an electric one, into the bicycle equation, risk moving bicyclists closer to the role of motorized vehicles – and the regulation that entails. This is a risk to all bicyclists, even those riding real bicycles without electric motors, because the E-bike riders are self-identifying as bicyclists – even though they aren’t.
In short, motorized “bicycles” risk moving cyclists toward to same category or regulation as motorized vehicles, destroying not only cycling as a sport, hobby, form of transport or way of life, however you look at it, but also destroying its practical advantages for travel, such as its low operating cost, total lack of licensing or other fees, and a simple, human-powered mechanism that is small enough the law allows you to share a lane alongside a car, sparing you many traffic jams.
The e-bike might be a neat idea. But it is hardly a “bicycle” and when Mulshine opines that “in a few years, E-bikes are expected to outsell regular bikes” what he means is that he sees the bicycle as on the way out. There are reasons to doubt his observations. E-bikes may be popular with tourists or people “down the shore”, but they are not and probably will never be popular with avid cyclists.
Mulshine seems to be insisting that e-bikes are taking over so the law should accommodate them. He forgets that with motors they are no longer bicycles (again, with the caveat about pedaling assist, which, though motorized, accomplished the same function as a series of advanced gear ratios; it makes self-propulsion easier, it does not substitute for it.) Let’s hope that regarding these devices outselling bicycles, Mulshine is wrong, because that would mean the effective end of cycling. So far he seems to have greatly overestimated the appeal of E-bikes. I have seen no indication of their ascendance; they are growing to be a more often-seen rarity, but, fortunately, still a rarity. And, especially among actual cyclists, the e-bikes are still an oddity. It is their very rareness that prompted recent discussion; seeing one of these contraptions in a bicycle shop is rare.
Why? Because it’s not a bicycle. And that’s that.

Brian



In defense of mountain biking
      Reading a July, 2014 article in the Star-Ledger that another cyclist and a NJ-based mountain biking group were working to lift the absurdist ban on off road riding in Watchung Reservation has prompted a re-examination of mountain biking.

      Other locales share the trails between mountain bikes, hikers, even equestrians. So is there any practical reason to exclude mountain biking? Let’s look at some of the most common objections to off-road cycling.

      The first is trail user interaction. Bikes are much faster than someone on foot, or even a horse, at a walking pace. Thus, horsemen and hikers are often concerned about being hit or run off the trail by speeding mountain bikers. In the conflict over banning mountain biking in South Mountain Reservation in Essex County (the only other park aside from Watchung in Union County where this has been an issue) several anti-biking agitators even called the mountain bikers “kamikaze people.”

      However, the image of the mountain biker as carelessly blasting down a hillside is largely fiction, or a popular misconception. It is based on the phobias of those who don’t bike, and don’t want to understand it, or on the false images projected by those with something to sell. Think “extreme” Mountain Dew ads or Red Bull promotional stunts. In one case the cause is ignorance and animosity, in the other a deliberate fabrication to sell a product. The result is the same. Mountain bikers become “Kamikaze people”.

      The reality, which both the hiker/equestrian crowd on the trail, and the corporate promotional crowd in the ad agency – or the public watching their videos – should keep in mind, is somewhat different. First, that reality is that while this false image has riders blasting down sand dunes, along the edges of cliffs, or doing 360’s over people’s heads, probably only a handful of people in the entire world are physically capable of riding like that, and own bikes physically capable of being ridden like that, and even fewer have trained for it and have the knowledge base. You might encounter them at the X-Games or a race course or doing stunts for a TV show or movie. You probably aren't going to run into them on your local trail.

      Second, even if your local mtb’er is capable of bombing down the mountain like Missy Giove, he or she has an incentive not to. That’s right, mountain bikers might be cast as kamikaze people, but guess what – they can get hurt too. How many hikers or horseback riders who worry about being run over by a cyclist stop to think that maybe the cyclist is equally worried about turning a corner and running into them? The reality is that yes, bikes are faster than foot traffic. But bikers know this – this is why they have mechanical braking mechanisms and wear crash helmets, whereas most people going for a stroll, around town or on a hike in the woods, don’t suit up like a cosmonaut, and are content to count on their feet to arrest their forward motion.

      Yes, bicyclists are fast. But they know that, and their reactions have been acclimated to it, and they are usually capable of controlling their bikes. This is also, by the way, where some agreed upon code of trail conduct, like who yields to whom, helps out immensely.

      The second concern that’s presented is horses. Equestrians pay a great deal of money for their horses and so it is understandable they don’t want them frightened. Also the fact that the horse may weigh hundreds of pounds and could kick your head in or throw you off, doesn’t help either. However, the argument that cyclists and horses cannot share a trail is hogwash. That’s like saying bicyclists and cars cannot share roads. Well, not if neither is going to learn how to operate around the other. The issue with equestrians wanting to forbid mountain bikes on the trail seems to be the same as careless drivers who don’t want cyclists on the roadway; that they cannot be bothered to learn how to react or ride (or drive) properly around cyclists, or train their horse to do so. Seriously, if your horse panics on encountering another trail user, you need a better trained horse. That said, cyclists have to help too, it means working together to be considerate for each other. When possible most cyclists will slow down or stop when approaching a horse to minimize the risk of spooking it, so this is usually not an issue, although it must be something both cyclists and horseback riders work at to prevent friction.

      Third, aside from trail interaction concerns, is the issue of trail damage. Mountain biking, its detractors argue, damages trails, destroys nature, and is an environmental disaster.

      The truth is that any trail use makes a physical impact on the trail. That means, if you touch the trail, you erode it, to some degree. On foot, on a bike, or on a horse.

      But is any physical change, even a footprint, damage? Most would argue no, yet many of the same point to a tire track and scream “trail damage!” with no regard for their inconsistency. But which does more damage, and can you even determine it? Well, what defines damage? Since all trail users cause some erosion, to say that any change in the trail surface is damage would be to say that everyone damages trails. And while this could be used to ban mountain bikers, it would also lead to the exclusion of hikers and people on horses as well. So one needs a standard that differentiates between the minor wear of normal use (and exposure to the elements) and “damage”.

      Damage, best defined, would be anything that negatively changes the characteristics of the trail. For instance, if someone puts huge ruts in it, or a big hole, or the trail is blocked by a fallen tree, or a landslide, or if someone goes off the trail repeatedly, widening it more than it was intended to be.

      Tire tracks one can reasonably conclude no more change the character of a trail than feet; they aren’t damage either because although the physically impact the surface they do not change the physical characteristics of the trail for the worse. The issue becomes murky though because the same tires, under poor conditions, can make deep ruts.

      The ruts are a concern for hikers and horsemen who are afraid of catching a foot in them. But what these people forget is that they are an equal concern to other cyclists. Catching your tire in a rut at 15 mph is a lot worse than catching your foot in one at 2mph. This is why, while cycling off-road under in climate conditions, in particular, immediately after heavy rains, can cause ruts and other genuine trail damage, most riders don’t do it.

      In other words, “mountain bikes damage the trails” is like what your mother used to say about sitting too close to the television being bad for your eyes. It’s largely a tall tale, popular wisdom accepted as true but rarely proves out. It does revolve around a grain of truth, but that is so often a matter of degree, it is hardly worth acknowledging. Most of the time, that degree is so minimal it doesn’t qualify as damage, nor does it outweigh the benefits of getting more people outside enjoying the outdoors and using our parks.

      Second, and this was an issue to Watchung Reservation, there is a concern that when ruts are made on trails used mostly by horses, they can pose specific dangers to horses. Again, however, a bicyclist is exposed to the same specific danger, which is its own disincentive to make ruts. If there is a concern about mountain biking making ruts on specific trails that are mostly bridal trails, then close those particular trails to cycling after rainfall. And if, for some unforeseen reason known only to Zeus himself, the horsemen are unable to share their trails with cyclists at all, even if others are capable of doing so elsewhere, then have a vigorous public debate with input from all sides over whether it is necessary to close a few of the more prominently used horse trails to cycling and make sure they are signed as such, but it is no reason to close every trail in a park.

      This last suggestion, however, is often met by scorn and derision from the anti-biking establishment. “How many mountain bikers would stay out of those trails?” is the derisive response. Moreover, they argue, enforcement is more difficult if you allow mountain biking one some trails but not others.

      There are several problems with this view. The first, is that the initial objection assumes all mountain bikers are scofflaws and hooligans. It assumes a very negative view of human nature, not unlike that articulated by Plato, that human nature is inherently evil and we would all gladly cheat, steal, or lie if we could get away with it. But this malevolent view of humanity is very selectively applied; only the mountain bikers resemble Plato’s view of humanity. The hikers and horsemen are (of course) regarded as paragons of virtue.

      The reality is somewhat less grim. Some mountain bikers do ride closed trails, but usually only where they have no other options and they have been denied any access at all – usually for spurious reasons. Using this to categorize all mountain bikers as outlaws is as disingenuous as arguing that because a person continues to read a banned book in spite of censorship, he must be some horrible criminal by nature.

      As a practical matter, it should be noted that denying mountain bikers access to all the trails in a park because you are concerned about the conditions of a handful of them are unlikely to lead to the mountain bikers having any respect for the rule. And if a man outlaws reasonable behavior, he should not be surprised, nor outraged, to find that he is suddenly surrounded by reasonable men who have become criminals. That said, leaving cyclists no legitimate trails to ride certainly won’t help prevent them from riding on the ones you are concerned about.

      The issue of are they right to ride the illegal trails is beside the point, if the point is that there are no legal trails left, what else is there to ride? However, civil disobedience is somewhat of a digression here. Yet, if it helps for clarification, one must remember that civil disobedience was never intended to equate to general lawlessness, because it must meet first a condition, which is individuals refusing to let themselves be infringed on when pre-existing, legal conduct is unjustly infringed on. The shift in the common understanding of the meaning has accompanied a broader lack of understanding of the concept. Civil disobedience has been mistaken for anarchy, and anarchy, or in this case outlawry, is equated with refusal to acknowledge a single unjust or unreasonable law. Whatever one may think of the concept of civil disobedience, it cannot be compared to and is hardly the same thing as being a general scofflaw; a man who objects to a certain law on principle, or because it intrudes into his otherwise legal habits, has hardly declared himself a criminal, although the entity imposing the law has certainly declared his conduct such. This is hardly the same thing.

      Second, there is the objection that the blanket prohibition is argued for here not because it is necessary but because it would be easier to enforce than closing specific bridal trails or under specific conditions. However, the citizen should not be subjected to a rule that is any more strict than it has to be, just to make things easier for the government agents charged with enforcing it. That there are pragmatic issues involved with applying a fair law, does not mean we should all be subjected to an unfair one, just to make the job of the police easier.

      In other words, whether the issue is trail user interaction, “damage”, or many of the other reasons proffered for excluding mountain bikes, few of them prove out. “Damage” may be a convenient generality, but as Union County proved when they responded to my OPRA (open public records act) request for information on the Watchung Ban, it rarely turns out to be an issue. I asked specifically for the documents the county relied on when, in 1995, it attempted to exclude mountain biking, by applying a 1983 ordinance dealing with bicycling on “paths” and “sidewalks” to off-road dirt trails. I also asked for information on public input. I was informed that, one, the county did not seek input from the public before banning mountain biking. And, two, the county did not base their action on any actual conditions at Watchung. They relied on several random documents, none of which said anything about the conditions of the trails they were concerned with; they were about other parks.

      In short, they showed no evidence of damage at Watchung, or other problems. In fact, by admitting they based their decision on random articles and reports from other locations, they as much as admitted that they could not provide evidence against mountain biking at Watchung; if it had been there to use, they would have used it. Instead, they based their decision on generalities drawn from other locations and the popular press.

      Even the sometimes maligned State Department of Environmental Protection, often seen as an example of restrictive “big government”, acknowledges mountain biking as legitimate. Not only does the DEP, famous for its regulations, not oppose mountain biking, they actively encourage it on their website, posting links to many parks throughout New Jersey, and listing it with other popular outdoor activities. (http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/parkactivity.html#mbike). One would imagine if mountain biking were as dangerous to the environment as alleged, the DEP would not encourage it – just as one imagines that if Union County had any evidence of mountain bikes damaging trails, they would have presented it, not relied on suspect information about other parks and locations. In brief, there is no reason to ban mountain biking based on concern for trail conditions, the environment, or safety.

      Trails that recognize mountain biking as legitimate benefit, rather than lose, in the equation. Few hikers help to maintain trails, and equestrians are even less hands-on. Many mountain bikers, however will do just that. I nearly blew my back out last weekend hauling two big logs off a trail in the woods by my house. Years ago, as a teenager, I once spent hours building a series of stepping stones across a creek that bisected the trail, so one could shoulder their bike and cross (someone has since put in a wooden bridge, which in retrospect doesn’t seem much better). In almost every other county in New Jersey, the trails are in better shape than those in Union County or Essex – in particular than South Mountain or Watchung Reservation. Despite claims that bicyclists were causing “considerable damage to the environment,” according to Daniel Bernier, Division Director of Park Planning and Environmental Services, many of the trails are in no better shape shape since cyclists were officially excluded in 1995 over twenty years ago. Some are worse off.

      Why? The answer is simple. With only a few brave souls willing to ride on the sly, there is almost no trail work being done (and most of that is done by the same denounced bikers). And with simple use not what it was, many of the trails are slowly being overgrown and unusable. Mountain bikers – and cyclists generally – care about the condition of the natural world. They spend a great deal of time outside; they have a vested interest in protecting it. They are unlikely to litter, pollute, have illegal campfires, etc. – all the things that can ruin a park. Cyclists aren’t likely to do this; they are more likely to volunteer to pick it up, and express a desire to wallop whoever put it there! As I discovered last month when I rounded a corner and found myself confronted by a sea of Keystone Light beer cans, there is nothing worse than suddenly being forced to realize that your trail is shared by litterbugs and jerks with no respect for it, or the other people who use it.

      But the operative words there are “your trail”. Not “yours” to the exclusion of others (which is what the mountain bike opponents seem to want ) but “yours” as in, you are sort of a co-owner. It is all well and good to talk about preserving the environment for the future, as some of the more strident opponents of mountain biking have done when trying to characterize the activity as destructive. But how many people can you really see going out of their way to care about something, really care about it, if they have no stake in it? How much can you really expect people to care about a park, or any other resource, that they have been forcibly preventing from becoming invested in? Keep in mind there are more than one or two mountain bikers. Cycling may not be a huge sport, but mountain biking has certainly seen an increase in popularity and a large portion of bikes sold nowadays are mountain bikes.

      Anyone concerned about nature – and given the denouncement of cyclists as “damaging trails”, most mountain biking opponents seem to fit this category – should welcome mountain bikers with open arms. Instead, many of them object. A rational observer would have to conclude they doth object too much.

      By excluding mountain bikers, they are able to feel superior and righteous. But, in the long run they may be shooting themselves in the foot, as well, by rendering irrelevant to an increasing segment of the population a resource that we could all benefit from sharing in.

-- Brian


Jill Tarlov and Jason Marshall

Sad Story       When I first heard about this story it was here at the shop when a friend of mine told me about his friend Jason Marshall that was involved in an accident involving him on a bike and a woman Jill Tarlov that was crossing the street. My friend Anthony told me and Brian the press is putting all the blame on Jason. I went home and found the story and yes the press did seem to me to be pointing the finger at Jason but I will also say that this is a very sad story for all involved.

Brian's Rant       A recent crash in Central Park where a woman was hit by a bicyclist should be prompting people to reconsider issues of road safety and the importance of being aware of your surroundings

      Instead it has prompted a rash of "anti cycling" ranting from the media, which, to paraphrase an old line, is full of sound and fury -- and signifies nothing.

      In typical ignorant fashion one NY Post article on Sept 22, 2014 said that "Witnesses said Marshall was speeding down West Drive and tried to swerve around Tarlov, rather than brake just moments before he careened into Tarlov on his $4,000 Jamis Eclipse bike".

      Let's examine this statement. According to witnesses, he was going fast. What happens on a bike if you try to slam on your brakes going fast? You lose control, and crash. Safe riders ALWAYS try to dodge or engage in other evasive action. At cruising speed, slamming on your brakes is a guarantee of an accident -- for you, or the other party -- unless you are extremely lucky.

      As to the bike, who cares how much it cost? Would a cheaper bike have done less damage to the pedestrian -- who has since died from her injuries?

      The woman, the wife of a CBS executive, was crossing the street and was hit by a cyclist. Media coverage has been extremely negative, with one newspaper even basically saying, who is this guy on the fancy road bike to be using our streets. However, while no one knows the entire story, or maybe ever will, the people who were actually there have more facts in hand than random reporters. In this case, from what I heard, the bicycle rider, an experienced cyclist and accomplished musician, was riding safely and then forced out of the "bike lane" by a crowd of pedestrians blocking it.

      A woman then jumped into his path -- and he couldn't stop in time.

      He did however have the presence of mind to try and shout a warning -- which either wasn't heard or heeded. Of course, the media turning this into another "evil" of "cycling", as if he was shouting at her to look out because he was rude. No, he was shouting at her to look out because he didn't want to hit her!
      What happened? Why did this woman step in front of a moving vehicle?

      Most avid cyclists have had plenty of experience with careless or clueless people stepping in front of them. I myself have nearly killed several of these flying squirrels -- avoiding them only by dumb luck and some degree of learned skill.

      It may be that in this case the pedestrian didn't see the bike because there was a large group of other pedestrians blocking the side of the road. If she was crossing from that side she may not have seen him because of the angles. Or maybe she didn't look. Or maybe she looked -- but only in the "bike lane" the cyclist had to pull out of to dodge other pedestrians.

      Or maybe she just figured somehow he could stop -- a fatal mistake and one that would mean she caused the crash, not the rider.

      It is not unusual for riders to have near misses with careless and clueless pedestrians. While fatal or near fatal crashes are less common, they do happen. And sometimes they are even the fault (at least partly) of the cyclist. In one famous case a few years ago, a cyclist was riding the wrong way down a street and a pedestrian was crossing; they hit, the man later died. However, cyclist culpability is such run-ins are rare. And few avid cyclists go the wrong way down a street.

      Some have argued leaving the bike lane on this stretch of street is illegal. If that's so, it shouldn't be; cyclists have a longstanding legal right to the street that predates bike lanes. And not only is such a traffic law patently absurd -- when a bike lane is blocked, it can cause havoc. For example, if people think that on that section of street the bikes aren't allowed anywhere except in the bike lane, they probably won't be looking for them there -- another potential contributor to the accident. This is the danger of "the convention of separation" caused by bike paths and bike lanes, without also adequate understand of road use; merely by its existence the infrastructure teaches people -- unless they are taught otherwise -- that bicycles won't mix with other traffic. Ultimately this leads to less safe roads and more confrontation, not less, and drivers become increasingly intolerant of cyclists on regular roadways, and both drivers and pedestrians stop looking for cyclists, figuring they no longer have to.

      So the fact that the cyclist may have left the bike lane "illegally" -- according to the Post -- means nothing -- except, perhaps, it is time that traffic law is revisited. Blocking the bike lane is supposed to be punished by a fine -- why doesn't the Post talk about THAT rule? Oh, because then it would have to admit he left the bike lane only to AVOID AN ACCIDENT -- and was then later the subject of another one when someone crossed in front of him.

      While there are some careless cyclists, just like there are careless drivers, pedestrians, and for all I know, careless boat captains, what amazes me is how anytime there is a cyclist-pedestrian crash, the assumption is that it is the cyclist's fault. Let's look at the facts: Has no one ever heard the phrase "look both ways"? We teach this to kids but forget it as adults. On virtually every street in the union, you see pedestrians just launch themselves into traffic. Most don't even stop before entering the roadway; few bother to look. Many are distracted; others cross against "don't walk" signs and many step in front of vehicles -- including bicyclists.

      While no one knows if that's what happened in this case, it seems the cyclist was operating as safe as he could around people who were not (namely the people blocking the bike lane). Again, he dodged the obstruction in the bike lane, and when someone stepped into his path, he called out a warning and swerved, rather than panicked and hit his brakes. This is everything anyone could do to avoid a crash in that situation. The only person who could have done anything else is the woman who got hit; she could have stopped walking and waited until traffic (yes a bike is traffic) passed before she crossed the street. Why she didn't we may never know.

      But people need to take a step back and examine the facts. If the cyclist was riding safely, then maybe the issue is something else. In this case, it could very well be a careless pedestrian who stepped in front of a moving vehicle -- and paid the price. But that would require people to reexamine their own attitudes and behaviors, which is too much to ask for many. Instead, they blame the cyclists. This is easier for them, but it doesn't bring us any closer to the truth -- or a solution to this problem.

      The very fact that the media has had to resort to snide remarks about how expensive the bike is, or miss categorizes the riders actions -- dodging, shouting a warning, swerving -- says there is nothing there. The press is an emperor with no clothes on this one.

      Heck, they even went on a rant about how the rider uses a GPS to track his speed and mileage -- as if that's something new. Almost every avid rider tracks this somehow. As to the fairly fast speeds mentioned by the post, so what? I once got pulled over by a cop for doing 43 in a 25 on my bike, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be going 43 mph through downtown or whenever.

      And that's the other irony; by trying to bash this cyclist all the media has done is illustrate he is an experienced rider not likely to make a horrible mistake. If he normally rides fast, he knows how to handle himself and bike. If he normally rides a lot, he's used to handling various situations. Etc. Grant that, sad as her injury and later death was, it does not necessarily mean you need a witch hunt?

      For that matter, instead of bashing cyclists, how about an expose of the pedestrians who block the bike lane? How about reexamining the convention of separation that bike lanes can create, and the danger it can lead to, if they are not accompanied by some reaffirmation that yes, you are still going to have to be aware and look for bikes, they are still part of traffic? Perhaps one could reexamine those foolish and probably illegal tickets for leaving the bike lane, a stricture that is implemented in spite of every known traffic safety principle, probably just to mollify ignorant and impatient drivers? Maybe even examine the issue of bike lanes themselves, that if they come with all this negative baggage, they are not a worth while trade off for riders? Or a newspaper article on all the people killed by car drivers on cell phones?

      How about this: acknowledge that the road is a potentially dangerous dynamic of moving variables, some at high speed, and exercise the amount of awareness of your surroundings as you think your own life is worth. Oh, and ticket malefactors who are careless (this would include all those careless pedestrians who enter traffic at the last minute no doubt thinking they are immune from physics).

      But most importantly, don't blame the victim of careless conduct. And yes, if the bicyclist was caused to crash by a careless pedestrian, then he was the victim of her misconduct, not the other way around. It is very sad this woman was injured. But blaming an innocent person who was involved in an accident is no help. I don't know that is the case here. But I certainly know there are enough doubts the cyclist did anything wrong that the media should stop focusing on blaming avid, skilled cyclists and start talking about the clueless and inept who flood our streets, in whatever form they take, pedestrian, driver, or rider.

After all, lives could depend on it.

- Brian



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