Another Reason To Put A Camera On Your Bicycle

The LA Times produces a troubling heat-map of hit and runs on cyclists:

Livingston’s case is part of a troubling trend. Hit-and-run collisions involving bicyclists surged 42% from 2002 to 2012 in Los Angeles County, according to a Times analysis of California Highway Patrol crash data.

The increase came as the overall number of hit-and-runs involving cars, cyclists and pedestrians dropped by 30%. Between 2002 and 2012, the most recent data available, more than 5,600 cyclists were injured and at least 36 died in crashes in which drivers fled the scene.

Here’s another way of looking at the data:

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These numbers could be explained by the growing number of cyclists on the streets. But it’s also possible that at least part of it is that motorists are being less careful around cyclists, and maybe even targeting them sometimes (I can’t even begin to count the number of times that drivers who are intentionally trying to scare me have come within inches of hitting me).

Either way, the only way to motivate drivers to be more careful (and nail drivers who hit cyclists and flee) is to carry a camera onboard.

Cycling Your Way To Happiness

“Buddha sits. I cycle. We are both enlightened.” Photo: Simon Roberts

The Bhutanese know a thing or two about happiness, and why it is important. And these days there is a lot of happiness coming from atop bicycles:

To ask a Bhutanese about happiness is akin to asking a Frenchman about wine or a Brazilian about soccer: It is the expected question, the question he is perhaps a bit weary of answering — yet he will gamely respond, unfolding not just a rote reply, but an admirably subtle disquisition. Gross National Happiness, or G.N.H., is the big talking point when it comes to Bhutan. It is also a source of intense debate, a fluid concept which, many Bhutanese contend, is often misunderstood, especially by the outside world.

“Here is the key point to understand about G.N.H.,” said Kinley Dorji, the head of Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communication. “Happiness itself is an individual pursuit. Gross National Happiness then becomes a responsibility of the state, to create an environment where citizens can pursue happiness. It’s not a guarantee of happiness by the government. It’s not a promise of happiness. But there is a responsibility to, you know, create the conditions for happiness.”

Dorji said: “When we say ‘happiness,’ we have to be very clear that it’s not fun, pleasure, thrill, excitement, all the temporary fleeting senses. It is permanent contentment — with life, with what you have. That lies within the self. Because the bigger house, the faster car, the nicer clothes, they don’t give you that contentment. G.N.H. means good governance. G.N.H. means preservation of traditional culture. And it means sustainable socio-economic development. Remember, here, that G.N.H. is a pun on G.D.P., Gross Domestic Product. We are making a distinction.”

There is another line of thinking about happiness that is gaining currency these days: that happiness is a thing — specifically, a bicycle. A favorite mantra of cycling-boosters goes like this: “You can’t buy happiness — but you can buy a bike, and that’s pretty close.” In 1896, Arthur Conan Doyle voiced the same sentiment, in less bumper-sticker-friendly fashion. “When the spirits are low,” Conan Doyle wrote, “when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without the thought of anything but the ride you are taking.”

If you don’t cycle it is hard to explain. So all I can say is listen to the Bhutanese and hop on a bicycle some day. And as you pedal you will feel better about life. And your brain will produce important insights about work or family (I promise). And you will smile.

Cycling To Nirvana

A thirtysomething suddenly realizes that he REALLY needs to cycle 7000 miles to Patagonia:

I just turned 30, and I’ve decided to use this year to radically shape the rest of my life. I am about to leave my job and ride a bicycle for seventeen months, from Oregon to Patagonia. The need to do it (and it really felt like a need) hit me about three years ago when I read a quote from famed naturalist John Muir.
“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.” 
Now, I hardly make any money, and I don’t feel like this “trivial world of men” has nothing to teach me. But there was something about drawing close to 30 that felt like I was losing something. The newness of life and career and cities and friends began to find their comfortable patterns, and once you see the pattern, time speeds up. That’s why we hear old people always warning us of how fast life passes. It really doesn’t pass by any faster than those long childhood summers, but we just lose fascination, or I should say we lose wonder. We are no longer astonished by the way the world works.
A famous cure for that is travel.
Who can argue with that?


The Totalitarian (Bicyclist) State

More parody (that’s not actually parody). Click here, or on image, to go down the black hole of absurdity:

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For further amusement, try to imagine her riding a bike. Okay, now in spandex.


Bicycle Nerd Alert: 7 Fascinating Facts About Bikes

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Some more grist for my “Cycling Can Save The World” religion, Courtesy of Popular Mechanics. For example:

Put a person on a bicycle and they become the most efficient creature on Earth. No other living thing can expend so little energy for so much self-powered travel. And that’s just when riding along level ground. When a person rides downhill, the free energy from gravity reduces the demand on the human body even more.

If a cyclist and a pedestrian expend the same amount of energy, the efficiency of the bicycle means the cyclist will be traveling three times as fast. At an average walking pace, the walker uses more than six times the amount of metabolic energy above the resting level compared to the cyclist.

Running is four times as energy-greedy, and neither they nor other self-propelled athletes, even the world’s fastest, can keep up with a top cyclist. Usain Bolt ran at 23.35 mph in the 2009 Berlin World Championships, but for less than 10 seconds. Speed skater Jeremy Wotherspoon set a world record of 32.87 mph over a 547-yard course. But no athlete could run or skate the 35.03 miles that Chris Boardman rode in one hour at the Manchester (U.K.) velodrome in 1996.

I like this one, too:

The more people cycle, the safer the roads seem to become. That’s not just true for cyclists—it’s true for all road users, even drivers confounded by the influx of bikes.

In Portland, Ore., all deaths from traffic accidents declined from 46 to 28 per year between 1997 and 2007, while the number of cycling trips quadrupled to total 6 percent of all journeys by 2007. Similarly, cycle use in the Netherlands increased by 45 percent from 1977 to 1997, while cyclists’ deaths fell by almost 40 percent. In Berlin, between 1990 and 2007, the share of bicycle trips doubled to 10 percent while serious injuries to cyclists fell by 38 percent.

The phenomenon of safety in numbers is not so hard to understand. A growth in the number of cyclists makes them more visible, and drivers change their behavior accordingly. Cities are more likely to provide safer road designs and facilities for cyclists when there are more of them about. And when some drivers switch to cycling, it means there are fewer cars on the road, which reduces the chances of anyone colliding with a high-speed chunk of metal.

Read them all, though!

Cycling Will Save The World: Reason #463

So it’s not only good for your health, it’s good for your brain.

No surprise here, of course, or for anyone who is a devoted cyclist, and equates a good ride with maintaining sanity.

But it is pretty impressive when you take a look at the evident mental benefits:

Several studies have shown that exercises including cycling make us smarter. Danish scientists who set out to measure the benefits of breakfast and lunch among children found diet helped but that the way pupils travelled to school was far more significant. Those who cycled or walked performed better in tests than those who had travelled by car or public transport, the scientists reported last month. Another study by the University of California in Los Angeles showed that old people who were most active had 5 per cent more grey matter than those who were least active, reducing their risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

But what is about cycling that leads me to believe it has a peculiar effect? John Ratey is a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. He can’t point to a specific reason but says he has seen patients whose severe depression has all but disappeared after they started to cycle.

Rhythm may explain some of the effects. “Think about it evolutionarily for a minute,” he says. “When we had to perform physically, those who could find an altered state and not experience the pain or a drag on endurance would have been at an advantage. Cycling is also increasing a lot of the chemistry in your brain that make you feel peaceful and calm.”

At the same time, the focus required to operate a bicycle, and for example, to negotiate a junction or jostle for space in a race, can be a powerful medicine. Dr Ratey cites a study his department is currently conducting. More than 20 pupils with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are expected to show improved symptoms after a course of cycling.

The link between cycling and ADHD is well established. It’s “like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin,” Dr Ratey says. Ritalin is a stimulant commonly used to treat ADHD in children by boosting levels of neural transmitters. Exercise can achieve the same effect, but not all exercise is equal.

In a German study involving 115 students at a sports academy, half the group did activities such as cycling that involved complex co-ordinated movements. The rest performed simpler exercises with the same aerobic demands. Both groups did better than they had in concentration tests, but the “complex” group did a lot better.

Cycling has even been shown to change the structure of the brain. In 2003, Dr Jay Alberts, a neuroscientist at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute in Ohio, rode a tandem bicycle across the state with a friend who has Parkinson’s to raise awareness of the disease. To the surprise of both riders, the patient showed significant improvements.

Dr Alberts conducted an experiment, the results of which were reported last month. He scanned the brains of 26 Parkinson’s patients during and a month after an eight-week exercise programme using stationary bikes.

Half the patients were allowed to ride at their own pace, while the others were pushed incrementally harder, just as the scientist’s tandem companion had been. All patients improved and the “tandem” group showed significant increases in connectivity between areas of grey matter responsible for motor ability. Cycling, and cycling harder, was helping to heal their brains.

I’d say this certainly qualifies as severe mental stimulation (saw this on the plane home this week; ridiculous in most respects, though redeemed entirely by the sheer pleasure of watching the riding sequences):

Jonathan Vaughters: The Smartest Take On Doping In Cycling I’ve Seen

Jonathan Vaughters unburdens himself to ESPN Magazine, and gives a fascinating explanation of how the moral, practical and competitive considerations made cycling a completely doped sport. Example:

“My first two years racing [1994 and 1995], I raced clean and there was no testing whatsoever for [the blood-boosting hormone] EPO in Europe. I would be barely hanging on the back of the peloton, finishing 130th. You were stuck sitting on someone’s wheel just praying the race would slow down at some point. Then I’d come back to race in the U.S. and win — it was amazing the difference when it was all 180 guys on EPO in those European races. The race is just faster and faster and faster because everyone always has the energy for a counterattack.

“It’s against the law of nature in the pack that the guy spending 30 percent more energy pulling in the wind for kilometers on end for his team leader can suddenly somehow still hang in there for third or 13th place. The race is just faster and faster and faster because everyone always has the energy for a counterattack. Fleche Wallonne in 1994 [when riders from the same team finished 1-2-3] was the seminal moment, when it went from individuals to team-based doping. So you had an en masse decision, with doctors and managers and riders saying, OK, gig’s up; we’ve gotta do this. And the attitude among the riders was: This is medication given to me by the team doctor. He told me I need to take it.

“With EPO in the 1990s, that was the first time in the history of sport where you had a totally undetectable drug that definitively gave a performance gain to everyone, and there wasn’t a downside. By 1996, in big races like the Tour de France, I think doping was very close to 100 percent prevalent.

Vaughters who is now part-owner, and manager of a racing team, also believes in a Truth And Reconciliation approach to getting the whole story out. It’s well worth reading his whole interview.

Cycling Can Save The World: And Copenhagen Is Leading

Check out this video of “rush hour” in Copenhagen. It is like a vision from an alternate reality. There is definitely a rush. But there are no traffic jams, and hardly any cars. If only….

Rush Hour in Copenhagen-Dronning Louises Bridge from Christine Grant on Vimeo.

Can you imagine living in a city that uses bicycles as the basic and most common mode of transport?

There are endless ways to make the case that such cities would make for a better world. One of them, the source of the video, is this article laying out seven reasons cycling is not just for cyclists.

Some of the reasons are better than others (judge for yourself). But this one should win some converts among anyone who worries about a massive cubicle-induced coronary (yes, I am at my computer but I just got back from a 20-mile lunchtime ride!):

6. We don’t have time to compensate. Most people reading this article are sitting in front of a computer. More and more of us are “knowledge workers” who sit in front of computers for much of our careers. If you also choose to use passive forms of transportation such as driving or taking the bus, doctors recommend that you compensate for your sedentary lifestyle by “working out.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t find much time in my schedule to compensate—and I wasn’t alone. The Center for Disease Control reports that 80 percent of Americans fail to meet federal guidelines for physical activity despite the $19 billion we shell out for gym memberships each year. Why can’t activity just be engineered into our daily lives so that we can stay healthy without the added chore of working out? Cycling has been the solution for me. I typically burn about 500 calories a day pedaling myself to the places I need to go, and going to the gym is never on the to-do list anymore. Having one less chore means I have more free time to spend with the people I love.

Of course, a hefty carbon tax wouldn’t hurt, either.

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