Thursday, July 23, 2009

Keywords, Action Wipes & Bikejuju

OK, so the purpose of this post started out simply - to win the free Action Wipes in the Bikejuju contest. Having just linked back to Bikejuju I could stop right there and qualify per the rules of the contest, but who would link back to Bikejuju for only selfish reasons? Why would someone so carelessly break with the long-standing Blogger's Code?

That would be wrong.

So let me say this. I am already an Action Wipes user! Love them - a great product to address the aromatic embarrassment when you say, "Hey! I rode my bike into work today!" And your co-worker says dryly, "I know..." I have two packs sitting right over there on my shelf here at work - got them after Bike Skirt gave them their seal of approval. Now I don't really need any more Action Wipes right now, so if I win I am going to donate them to charity (though I need to discuss the tax implications with my CPA).

So Bikejuju, you might as well start addressing those babies to me here at Bike Date HQ, 'cause there's a stinky armpit out here in CA just waiting to be neutralized by those sweet, sweet Tea Tree oils and other magical salves and poultices.

But here's the thing - the thing that makes makes this post more than just a suck-up to Bikejuju. This contest is what is called (in common parlance) "a cry for help". We bloggers are out here posting, often several times a month, in an act of pure self-sacrifice, expecting nothing in return. Well actually there seems to be one common thing we'd like, and that is some sense of who the hell reads this stuff? This contest is that lonely blogger's cry for help - a quid pro quo: Let Bikejuju know you are out there in a verifiable way, and you can wipe away his sense of isolation and leave a mild-but-tingly eucalyptus scent!

And he is not alone in this. I am able to see how many hits I get a day (anywhere from 40 to 100 believe it or not) and other odd details about the traffic here at Bike Date. Because aside from the random commenter, I would otherwise have no idea. And I learn interesting things. Things like putting the terms "dildo" and "bike" in a post will pump up your blog's traffic.

My inclusion of those terms was innocent enough - I had no idea there actually is a "dildo bike", or how many individuals are out there telling their Google, "I would very much like to see videos of this unusual bike!" (I'm guessing about 40 to 100 a day). From my site's stats, I can see that these folks hail from many far-off places, like Kalamazoo, Michigan; Rapid City, South Dakota; Brisbane, Queensland; Manchester, Michigan; Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; Ajax, Ontario; Corvalis, Oregon and even Efshahan, Iran! The dildo bike diaspora.

From his search keywords I saw that an industrious chap in Minot, North Dakota was wondering how to make a dildo bike, while Deseranto, Canada stood out for searching ‘free bike dildo videos’ - I guess up there in the land of universal health care they think everything should be free...

Here is a graph of recent searches leading to the Bike Date site in order of volume:

So the Giant Suede is currently edging out the others, but as always the various combinations of "bike" and "dildo" are holding steady. I see that "bike with dildo" just barely beat "cute bike seat", and I hope that doesn't mean they may have been sent to the same urls - I doubt that would have ended well.

So here's the real point. Yes, you can cynically link back to Bikejuju to try to steal the Action Wipes from me (and as I said I'll donate them to charity, which I don't expect to be praised for unless you feel strongly about it). But what we really want is a sign, some small sign that you exist, that you care. (No not you , I know what you're here for...)

So if you made it this far, leave a comment. Even just one lone character from among the qwerty choices. Something. Or do I need to offer a free dildo cozy to make it worth your while?

Don't tempt me.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Gavels, assholes & #twitterrhea

First off, I was watching the Tour de France this morning and saw this spot for AutoZone which should get some kind of Clio for it's disservice-to-mankind and backwards thinking. The storyline is a kid on a bike fixes up an old beater car (with parts from AutoZone, natch...) and ends with the line, "At least now when I go, it's not on my bike!"

Nice going AutoZone and agency-of-record Sponge! And the genius that bought time on the TdF really deserves something special...

OK, just had to mention that.

I've always loved these Bakfiets (European cargo/kid hauling bikes) and not only because they are often shown with some comely Euro-Spokesmodel-Mom in the cockpit. But these bikes with their "kid-forward" design always make me think of that Laurie Anderson song where she delivers this little spoken-word piece:

"After doing these concerts in French, I usually had the temporary illusion that I could actually speak French, but as soon as I walked out on the street, and someone asked me simple directions, I realized I couldn't speak a single word.

"As a result of this inadequacy, I found that the people I had the most rapport with were the babies. And one of the things I noticed about these babies was that they were apparently being used as some kind of traffic testers. Their mothers would be pushing them along in their strollers--and they would come to a busy street with lots of parked cars--and the mother can't see what the traffic is like because of all the parked cars--so she just sort of edges the stroller out into the street and cranes her head out afterwards.

"And the most striking thing about this is the expression on these babies' faces as they sit there in the middle of traffic, stranded, banging those little gavels they've all got. And they can't even speak English."
I think us bike riders can all relate to this feeling, like we are out there on the road as some kind of traffic testers to answer the question, "Just how dangerous is it to ride bikes among the internal combusters?" Well, "quite" is many rider's answer. That and banging our little gavels.

Alex Thompson is spearheading a drive to take back Santa Monica's Bronze award for bike friendliness since he feels that many aspects of riding in Santa Monica aren't Bronze-worthy, and that local riders weren't consulted in the process. I asked him to describe the safety situation in Santa Monica in one to five words and his response was, "Not very safe." He also offered, "Just like Los Angeles" as a backup, which may be more to the point since Los Angeles was not awarded Bronze or Pewter or any other color. They barely got the "Los Angeles" award for bike friendliness, which not only doesn't exist, but it's nothing to brag about and should have been a gimme.

Local officials feel Thompson's approach has a "cutting your nose to spite your face" quality, that local advocates in government should be encouraged for what they do, not reprimanded when they come up short. I'm not sure where I fall on this, but if there is in fact any laurels-resting-upon because of this bronzing, then I'd side with Alex. I know some city council members are fighting the good fight, and hopefully both sides will work to prove their point and we riders will be better off for their efforts.

My experience of bike safety in Santa Monica has been that it depends where you ride. The most dangerous thing I face in my 2-mile commute is getting grease on my pants, while other journeys can be more touch & go. I rode down 23rd/Walgrove the other day (and there are only three crappy choices to ride north/south like that - Centinela, Walgrove or Lincoln) and man that was not a "Bronze" experience (and also only partially in Santa Monica proper). The color that came to mind was more of a crimson, hamburgery shade illuminated by the flashing lights of first responders. The League of American Bicyclists might consider adding a new award - the "Hamburger", though I'm quite aware there already is a Hamburger award, and it was won by Barry M. Brenner in 1999. He looks like he deserved it:

Maybe our streets could be graded based on what you actually experience, like "Verbal abuse", "Close Call" and "Compound Fracture". Lincoln Boulevard has tantalizing "Bike Route" signage, obviously installed by someone with a mischievously dark sense of humor. Or maybe they just had extra signs. Anyway, Lincoln deserves a "Close Call" designation at best.

The oft-heard biker's lament is that people get behind the wheel and become assholes. Or maybe they get in the car that way. But I've found that I've gotten very little grief from the drivers I share the road with. As Markos Moulitsas recently tweeted, “Amazing how most car drivers are nice to cyclists out here, giving right of way when it's theirs, etc. So few assholes, but they do exist." That is actually my experience too, though I've not tweeted as such. But then Markos tweets about everything, to the point I think he may have #twitterrhea. Actual diagnosis is difficult since I just made up the disease. [UPDATE: Apparently this condition was previously identified... Dang, I could taste that Nobel.]

As Markos mentions, drivers often give the right of way even when it's theirs (which I actually find annoying - I like the order of a clear right-of-way etiquette). My feeling is they assume I'm going to ignore all rules of the road (since some highly visible cyclists do in fact ignore all rules of the road) and so they just wave me on. So, my main act of bike advocacy is the five-finger salute - I wave at drivers all the time. Usually as a thank you, or sometimes just to say, "Hey, here I am! Please don't send me to the ER!" Eye-contact is the bike rider's best defense.

I think we riders that try to cooperate with cars on the road need to make our numbers known, highlight our good citizenship, otherwise all people remember is that guy flying through a four-way stop filled with cars, salmoning up the wrong side of the road, and acting like the inevitable near-miss is the car driver's fault. Smart money says those riders are probably dicks when they get behind the wheel, too.

But since the rules and the infrastructure were not made with us in mind, we often are left to improvise. I understand how that need for improvisation combined with a youthful sense of immortality can go all Ornette Coleman without much encouragement. It's wrong, but as Chris Rock said, "I understand..."

In one sense I feel complaining about biking conditions in Santa Monica is like complaining about the breeze and the chill in the air here every evening right when you want to sit out back with a Mojito (a complaint I've often made) - many people from colder/more bike-hostile environs would scoff (actually have scoffed). Still, things could be so much better here.

I believe that making things better for bikes and pedestrians makes for a much better local environment for everyone - commuters, residents and businesses. And here is where I think bike advocacy sometimes gets off track: When we push for things that make life better for bikes, it needs to clearly make life better for pedestrians and cars too - it can't be zero sum. As bike advocates we need something that seems even rarer than a well-spent infrastructure dollar - broad-based community support.

Yes, we need better infrastructure and more of it. But it's ultimately more about a broad culture that is embracing the need for that infrastructure. We need to advocate by example, in growing groups, with increasing visibility, cooperation, practicality, innovation and humor. If the only force pushing for the changes we want is our ragtag band of believers (I love you, man!) we will continue to get what we're getting - the scraps left over after Big Car has taken the good stuff.

What we need to do (while we petition and cajole and influence and demand and all that) is find ways to grow our group. We need a larger constituency. We need non-car transportation, complete streets and livable cities to go mainstream, at least far more mainstream than they currently are. We need a public impression of our movement that is compelling and appealing.

We need more than just current riders - it simply isn't enough. We need to ally ourselves with other groups, some that may even seem like adversaries, and create a broader, positive coalition. It's like the Apollo Alliance - the "environmental" group that has unified previous adversaries (enviros, labor and business, for example) and shown that sustainability is in everyone's self-interest. The Apollo Alliance sets a very good example for us, I think. A movement always has to play to people's self-interest.

Looking at it this way, we need car drivers pushing for our cause, we need pedestrians backing us up, we need business speaking up for our infrastructure requests. If our approach is to go toe-to-toe with these other groups, zero-summing each other, our progress will be... well, what it is now. Meager.

So we have to hold up examples like NYC's Commissioner of the DOT Janette Sadik-Kahn to our representatives and say, "If New York City can do it, if they can turn Broadway into a pedestrian mall, then we have no excuse." Some encouragement, some shame. Some five-finger salutes, some Alex Thompson.

But we need to dump old thinking that hasn't worked, old ideas about who is with us and who is against us, and replace it with a bigger idea. Something broader. More popular. A movement that attracts people, not something they pre-judge and avoid.

When that AutoZone spot doesn't get past the pitch stage, we'll know we're making progress.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Who says bike helmets aren't cute? (Warning: Linkholes will be followed...)

OK, there have been many skirmishes in the helmet-or-no-helmet wars. It's not really a fair fight since the axis of helmet-wearers suffer fewer head injuries and as such live to fight another day, while the helmet-free need constant replacements at the front. You'd think this unfair advantage would be handicapped somehow but since there is no referee, no governing body adjudicating this debate, that attrition is simply the life-threatening head trauma the feel-the-wind-in-their-hair troops will have to bear.

So the debate rages on.

One of the complaints about helmets is their arguably off-the-charts dork factor. Even President Obama, who is generally seen as stylish, always appearing to inhabit a world of easy grace and elegance, can succumb to the fiercely equalizing dork-power that is the bike helmet.

Exhibit A:

This image was received so poorly the NY Times even pulled this out in comparison:

Obviously Obama was able to recover, but I have to wonder if that bike was hurting him image-wise too. Maybe he should have gone this route:

And going back to the original Obama/helmet/fail image, his bike has some attachment on the back - what is that?

I thought long and hard, and my best guess is it's something like this:

Maybe that's some Secret Service requirement? In an emergency they could swoop in and take control of the bike? Maybe it's a towbar with the nuclear football attached? (That could explain why it's cropped out in both photos I've seen - national security.)

Or is it some sad mountain bike fender? But that hardtail Trek would have to suffer an epic bottoming out to need that kind of clearance. And anyway, in that event the problem wouldn't be rear wheel clearance, it would be how to remove the saddle from the President's colon. Simple physics.

Anyway, that's all academic when the fail had already occured up top, though they really didn't have to drag Dukakis into it.

But here's the deal. Where is it written that helmets need to be crafted from 100%, corn-fed dork? Well OK, fair enough - it's written everywhere. But I'm prepared to make a prediction - from this point forward the momentum will change. "Helmet" and "Someone should say something" and "lame" and "King Dorko" and "No thanks, I don't think I'll even go to the prom this year" will no longer be found in the same sentence.

I present you with... Exhibit R (for "Rosemary"):

Game over. Admit it, that helmeted girl is pure win. Check, and Mate.

Next topic.

This brings me to the general issue of bike safety. Some take this issue head on, writing articles with titles like this:

Admirable. Direct. What could be more important? Well, this could be:

Safe and Healthy Bike Seats for Men and Women

They had me at “coccyx pain”:

"We make kids wear helmets and knee pads," Dr. Goldstein said. "But no one thinks about protecting the crotch."

It does seem obvious, but Dr. Goldstein is so right; that point cannot be stressed eoungh. They listed several bike saddles and their relative merits crotch-protecting-wise. But one stood out - "The Spongy Wonder":

“As I finished the research I decided to try the Spongy Wonder. I haven't been biking much lately, so it's hard to tell whether I'll get used to it quickly. I don't suffer from numbness anymore, but I find it hard to signal turns, since I don't feel safe enough to let my hands go of the handle bars. My friend who uses this seat, said that I need a bike with a higher frame, so that I could use my hip to lean on the frame, while I take my hand off the handle bar. He says it works well for him. Time will show.”


OK. The lack of numbness seems to be a net positive. I have experienced near total numbness in my Spongy Wonder area at about mile 18 - figured it probably was saddle-related. So now I have that ironed out. But this part concerned me a bit - "I find it hard to signal turns, since I don't feel safe enough to let my hands go of the handle bars." I think this confirms that a safe seat, even one (purportedly) as safe as the S.W. can't provide a letting-go-of-the-handle-bars-to-signal level of safety. But really, what can?

It makes me think the rider's saddle may not be the primary issue. But the writer got advice: "My friend who uses this seat, said that I need a bike with a higher frame, so that I could use my hip to lean on the frame, while I take my hand off the handle bar. He says it works well for him." I think their friend may have been as high as the frame they were recommending. About this high:

Seriously, I am having great difficulty imagining a riding position that includes hip-on-frame leaning. I mean, how do you do that? I strapped on my Google shoes and trust me, there's nothing...

But when you expose yourself to a post with the tags, "bike, seat, safety, saddle, erectile dysfunction, health, pain, numbness, chafing, prostate" you know you're on shaky ground. Best to saddle up and move on.

So move on I did. And this question caught my eye: "Is it safe to mountain-bike during pregnancy?"

Well? Is it?

One commenter had this sage advice: “I don't think it's the biking itself that is a problem it is the falling.” So true.

Well someone should have told this very masculine looking young lady, who, reliable sources have told me, was most definitely with child:

I won't go into the details, but this experiment did not end well, helmet or no. So this bike safety thing ran far deeper than even I, a regular rider, would have ever thought. I continued to dive down these bottomless linkholes, and here's what came next:

There is More to Bike Safety than a Helmet

Do tell...

"There are many aspects of bike fit that can affect your ability to ride safely. If the title of this article resonates to you, then chances are something has gone awry with your bike riding, or the safety of your current bike fit. Deciding that your health and sexual function are important enough to warrant an improved position on your bike is taking an active step to riding in comfort and peace of mind... When I sit on a standard saddle (a Selle Flite for ex), I can feel the pressure in all the wrong places and it is very uncomfortable for me because I know what is going on physiologically."

OK, my peace of mind was just shot to hell. But after considering the impact of mountain biking on pregnancy and now the impact of my saddle on my very ability to bring about the aforementioned pregnancy... well, I had to go right to the source. So I wrote the author:

"Hello Mr. Kraus,

"I was reading your article about bike seats and sexual issues tonight, with both concern and interest. If the problem is specifically erectile dysfunction, that is clearly not good. I love to ride, but not only the bike (ba-dum-bum - if you know what I mean).

"But I was wondering if ill-fitting bike seats can cause other issues, making actual reproduction less likely? I was reading some other articles about the safety of mountain biking while pregnant, and while they recommended against it, they did not say it would guarantee a child-free lifestyle. [What I neglected to mention in my letter is that I have found wearing a bike helmet to be an extremely reliable form of contraception, since it is then unlikely anyone will have sex with you in the first place.]

"So, my question is, would you consider an ill-fitting bike seat an effective method of birth control? If the answer is yes, you mentioned the Selle Italia Flite, but are there other saddles that would be as effective?

Thank you, Jim"

I got this response:

"Jim, anything that puts pressure on your nerves and arteries that run under your taint is considered a method of birth control. But its pre-birth control..more like booty control. If your stuff doesn't work, then you can't even play."

Damn. Helmets were seeming more and more like a distraction. The issue is taint-trauma, for crissakes. Still, the public is obsessed with helmets. I saw this desperate post:

"Dear Dr. Cory: Are bike helmets safe? Should I wear one?
Stephanie Knock, Massapequa Park, New York"

This whole thing was turning upside down. It started with the debate as to whether riding a bike without a helmet was safe, and now I was finding that the question was actually whether it was safe to ride with a helmet!

Dr. Cory let it all out:

"Dear Stephanie: Yes!"

He went on, but I'll spare you his propaganda and the obvious fact that Dr. Cory is in the pocket of Big Helmet. So I went to the only location I felt I could place my trust - the content related ads in the side bar.

There were three.


"Zero Dork Factor Helmets
Coolest bicycle helmets on Earth from award-winning designer Yakkay"

And this:

"Bell Helmets- Buy Direct
Free Shipping, All Styles & Colors Half Helmets, Moto 8's & More!"

And this:

"Public Sex Offender List
Are Sex Offenders Living In Your Neighborhood? Find Out Now - Free!"

Damn. Clearly there was a relationship between bike safety and sex that simply could not be denied. And it was moving into the criminal arena.

So I have come to this conclusion. If a helmet is to be worn, it needs something of a "helmet-offset". The risks and downsides are just too great. It may be as simple as creating a diversion, a bike that has the firepower to take on the proven fashion-trampling mojo of the helmet. Maybe a ride like this:

Anything less would just be foolhardy.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

R.I.P. Pablo

Pablo has been laid to rest. A beautiful memorial Tuesday night, a heartbreaking funeral yesterday. R.I.P. Pablo, and blessings on the family...

This print was presented to the family by Shepard Fairey.

And again, any and all donations to the Pablove Foundation will go to the powerful work being done for children and their familes fighting cancer at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Pablove T-shirts available there too. These shirts were sold at a benefit concert a while back - just found they are available at the Pablove site.