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Tampa’s First Critical Mass Ride

On July 25th, a historical event took place here in Tampa — the city’s first Critical Mass ride. Our sister city on the other side of Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, has had a CM ride for at least a year now…but like so many bike-friendly things, the folks on the Tampa side of the Bay lag behind.

Our friends from the Tampa Bicycle Co-op helped get this event up and running. Well over 50 cyclists showed up, from kids to mothers, senior citizens, punks and everyone in between — a nice mix from all cycling disciplines. The ride began at the Lowry Park Zoo and the route took the group from there to Channelside, Ybor City and other city highlights before looping back.

The group begins to gather and tires are pumped…
a little pre-ride maintenance

We had to wait out a bit of rain before getting underway — and that was a good time for the group to mingle and catch up with each other. I ran into some familiar faces and met a bunch of new folks (even some faithful Bikecommuters.com readers!). When the thunder and lightning died down, Co-op cofounder and CM ride “leader” Lily Richeson said a few words, encouraging participants to be friendly and courteous to motorists, to be safe and to have FUN. Then we were off.

Florida Ave.

The chosen route was a good one — multiple travel lanes in both directions. That way, the group could use a full road lane and still leave at least one other lane for cars. This seemed to work out well, and we didn’t have any incidents. In fact, I was surprised at the positive reaction from motorists; we got a lot of “hello” honks, whistling and cheering from passing vehicles. Who knows? Maybe we blew their minds — Tampa motorists are notorious for not really knowing what is going on around them. Perhaps they thought we were some sort of Tour de France parade or something!

route
(photo by Inertialily)

And now for a little commentary: As you can see from the photos, the group took up an entire lane. Is this in violation of Florida’s “two abreast law? Yes. At intersections with stop lights, did “corking” take place to keep the group together? Yes. Did we stop at every stop sign? No. Is the world going to come crashing to a halt because of this? Absolutely not. Naysayers can say what they want, but it has been my experience that in EVERY group ride, club ride and charity event I’ve ever ridden in for the past 25 years (literally HUNDREDS of rides), the very same actions take place. These “bendings” of traffic laws are not unique to Critical Mass rides, despite the many negative press articles about CM events. In some circumstances, bending the rules keeps the group together, thereby safer. Think of it as one really l-o-n-g vehicle than 60 or more individual vehicles.

Does it make me uncomfortable to bend (or break) traffic laws? Sure it does…nevertheless, I strongly feel that this group didn’t go out of their way to interfere with traffic flow like so many other CM rides I’ve heard about do. There was plenty of hand-waving and shouts of “thanks” in spots where traffic was briefly held up to allow the group to pass through major intersections, and I feel that motorists probably appreciated that if they gave it any thought. Bottom line is — I firmly believe this group is on the right track in terms of road behavior. Certainly, as the subsequent monthly rides attract more and more cyclists, there will come a time when things could get out of hand — it takes only one stupid incident to ruin the “vibe” for everyone. Let’s pray that the organizers (whose hearts are firmly in the right place) continue to encourage participants to get out there and do the right thing — otherwise, motorist hostility, police crackdowns and all those other negative aspects come into play.

rain rollin'
(photo by Inertialily)

I’m already looking forward to next month’s ride!

Review: Ryders “Oasis” Sunglasses

A couple months back, the folks at Ryders Eyewear sent me a pair of their “Oasis” sunglasses to try out. I’ve been wearing these sunglasses exclusively for all that time…to the beach, to work, on recreational bike rides, to events and out on the town. So, I think I’ve developed enough of an impression to write something about them.

Oasis

Here’s a little bit about the glasses from the Ryders website (these glasses are part of their “Chill Collection“):

    FRAME: GLOSS BLACK, DURAFLEX
    LENS: GREY, POLYCARBONATE, 100% UV PROTECTION
    TINT: 15% VLT
    FIT: MEDIUM
    FEATURES: ANTI-SLIP NOSE PADS AND TEMPLE TIPS
    PRICE: $39.99

Although these glasses are not sport-specific, they seem well designed for active lifestyles. The lens material is tough, the hinges and finish are durable and the temple and nose pads do their thing without slipping.

There are three major attributes I really liked about these sunglasses. First, the lens is almost completely uninterrupted by the nose bridge…that bridge is just a tiny vertical strip of plastic, giving the wearer a great field of view with no obstructions. Here’s a shot of the lens as viewed from the inside:

nose bridge

Secondly, the shape and curve of the lens gave me great peripheral vision. While the temples and hinge area of these glasses are chunky, they are set back far enough in my field of view that I can barely see the edge only if I really crank my eyes over to the side. With other sunglasses I’ve tried, my peripheral vision tended to be obstructed unless I turned my head. Not so with these glasses — I get the full sweep with no head-turning!

Third, the glasses fit very tightly to my face. I have a very narrow face, and sometimes sport glasses stick out past the sides of my head, giving me a rather “insect-like” appearance. Also, if there’s a big air gap at the top or bottom of the lens, this can cause my eyes to tear up when the wind hit them at speed (I like to ride fast…what can I say?). The Oasis lenses curve both horizontally and vertically, snugging up to the contours of my face. In fact, the tops fit so closely to my eyes that I actually have to tuck my wacky, Leonid Brezhnev-style eyebrows in!

Untucked:
untucked

Tucked:
tucked

For those of you who live in hot, humid environments, have no fear…the hydrophilic nose pads and temple inserts WILL NOT slip, no matter how much you sweat. Sunglass slippage is the bane of many a cyclist — it’s a safety hazard! And, while many reasonably-priced sunglasses have rubber pads that claim to be slip-free, they don’t often deliver; good pads are usually in the realm of really expensive sport-specific eyewear. Not so with Ryders…these rubber pads are the real deal.

So far, I’ve been incredibly pleased by these sunglasses. They filter out a good amount of light and glare on sunny Florida days, they stay in place and they keep my eyes from watering. Sure, they look a little “pimp”, but hey — that’s how I roll!

Check out the full collection at the Ryders Eyewear website…oh, and Ryders, if you’re reading this, I’d sure love to try out some of the other models (hint, hint).

Book Review: “Pedal Power” by J. Harry Wray

Based on a recommendation from one of our readers (thanks, Mindy!), I just completed reading Pedal Power: The Quiet Rise of the Bicycle in American Public Life by J. Harry Wray (Boulder, Colo: Paradigm Publishers, 2008).

Pedal Power

I posted a passage that really resonated with me in a previous article…great food for thought.

This book is a socio-political overview of the many advocacy groups, politicians and assorted bike-friendly clubs throughout the United States who are making real differences in terms of supporting the creation and maintenance of bicycle infrastructure, championing cyclists’ rights to the roads and fostering a growing bicycle culture here. The author is a professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago and is known for taking his students on bicycle rides throughout the city to instill in them a sense of “how politics, economics and the environment combine to affect culture and be affected by it” (Pedal Power: “About the Author”).

Wray begins by discussing the perceptional differences between motorists and bicycle users…how bicyclists tend to be more aware of their surroundings and thus more likely to notice changes and problems (and addressing them when discovered). Using a bicycle as transportation in any city fosters a sense of community — and encourages the use of undiscovered and underappreciated public spaces that are completely foreign to motorists who spend most of their traveling time in their air-conditioned “private bubbles”, insulated from the world around them. Much of that will come as no shock to those of you who are regular commuters; we tend to “see” our surroundings differently because we are out in it every day, sometimes off the beaten path and in places most motorists will never travel.

Wray talks about the needed cultural shift in our society in order to make bicycling seen as a more sensible transportation choice in American cities. With our growing interest in leaving consumer-based, wasteful lifestyles behind, many Americans are starting to wake up to a more “European Dream, with its emphasis on inclusivity, diversity, quality of life, sustainability, deep play, universal human rights and the rights of nature, and peace” (p. 78). The bicycle, suggests Wray,

“…is caught up in this culture storm. In some ways the dominant culture seeks to domesticate the bike by turning it into one more variant of commodity fetishism, but most of those in the bike movement see it differently. A decision to ride a bike is a very individualistic decision in our culture. But the bike deepens one’s sense of connection to others. It is also a statement about limits and sustainability. As it assimilates the bike, the culture also accomodates to it. Cultural change is necessary in order for the bike to be widely adopted as a transportation alternative. At the same time, however, increased use of the bike stimulates cultural change.”

The author then spends some time talking about the Mecca of bicycle-friendly cities: Amsterdam. He discusses how cycling became such a dominant transportation choice there (and it wasn’t always the case there…it is a fairly recent phenomenon in the grand scheme of things). He talks about what changes were made and how they were supported there to make bicycling such an incredible force.

Then, he spends a few chapters covering some of the well-known bicycle advocacy groups, both on the national level (League of American Bicyclists and the Thunderhead Alliance) and regional or city-based groups (Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, Bike Portland, and others). He also introduces the reader to a variety of national, state and local-level politicians who are making real changes in how bicycles are treated during transportation planning and implementation — all the heavy hitters such as Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Anne Paulsen of Massachusetts, and Mayor Jerry Abramson of Louisville, Kentucky (yes, Louisville…they’ve got it going on down there!), among others.

This is an incredibly enjoyable and powerful book; it is never dry or overwhelmingly academic as I first feared…and is one that I feel should be required reading for newly-elected politicians entering office. In order for bicycling to thrive as a real transportation alternative in American cities, we need more bike-riding politicians on our sides — working from the inside to help create more bike-friendly communities. The book also suggests that the many smaller advocacy groups could possibly be better served by joining forces with each other and massing their muscle to get things done. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about how the bicycle is slowly changing the way Americans live their lives.

This book may or may not be available at your local public library — I had to borrow it through inter-library loan (thanks, Nova Southeastern University Libraries!), but had just enough pull with our book selectors at my library to order a copy for our collection. Power to the people!

Le Burrito Ride in Tampa

I just posted a quick recap of today’s “Le Burrito Ride”, hosted by our local Chipotle Restaurant and the Seminole Heights Bicycle Club, over on our sister site, TheBikeGeek.com.

bianchi

Full coverage of the event is over on our friend Alan Snel’s blog — Bicycle Stories and Other Misadventures on the Road of Life. You should check it out!

About my jersey: to celebrate Bianchi’s 100 year anniversary, they produced a bunch of commemorative jerseys and other team gear back in 1985…calling the collection “Centenario 1985”. I got this jersey in 1987 from my then-girlfriend’s mom as a graduation present for high school. Coincidentally, my girlfriend’s last name was “Celestini”, which means “little Celeste” in Italian — how fitting is THAT?

Interesting Passage from “Pedal Power”…

I’m currently reading Pedal Power: The Quiet Rise of the Bicycle in American Public Life by J. Harry Wray (thanks, Mindy, for the recommendation and stay tuned for a full review in the coming days). I came across a passage that I wanted to share with you:

“…despite the bike’s minority — possibly even fringe — status in our society, several things favor bike advocates. First, groups pushing for more bike-friendly policies are widely dispersed geographically, giving the potential to influence an array of congressmen. Second, they are well organized, as substantial effort goes into organizing and expanding local groups and connecting them. Third, by federal standards, they are not asking for much. Bicycling is so efficient that it does not take huge outlays to increase bike friendliness.

This leads to a fourth advantage: the absence of significant opposition. The kinds of changes bike advocates push for are so tiny that they mostly pass beneath the radar of the auto industry, for example. A bike lane here, bike racks there, kids riding bikes to school — such small things do not rouse the ire of potential opponents. Bike advocates hope that the cumulative effect of these changes will someday lead to significant reductions in auto usage, but each change in itself seems not to matter very much. Finally — and this advantage should not be discounted — is the transparent rightness of the cause. There are other just causes against which advocates must compete for limited dollars, and power can extort support for unrighteous causes, but the collective and individual advantages of biking are such that it is difficult to imagine a legislator opposing increased support for biking based on the merits. The other side of this coin, but equally important, is that a legislator rarely gets into trouble supporting bike growth. This is an important bargaining chip for biking interests.”

I’m convinced the author is correct — after all, this book is exhaustively researched and compiled and so far makes a great argument for the bicycle’s blooming importance in American transportation. So, if these advantages are there for bike advocates, why does it seem like we’re fighting an uphill battle? Sure, plenty of cities are getting it right — Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, Davis, Louisville, NYC, etc., but so many others are behind the times. What could we, as bicycle users and armchair advocates, do to help spur these processes along? Discuss! I’ d love to hear your thoughts on this topic…