Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More snow, please

As the old saying goes, one picture says more than a thousand words. But if the picture in question is a crappy one, it only says some 800 words. So, as the three pictures in this post are low resolution, blurry photos taken with a mobile phone, I'll also crank out some regular words made out of letters to make this blog post 3000 words long.

In the weekend, a shitload of snow fell on southern Finland again. So I, for one, was surprised to find out that the bicycling routes were actually plowed pretty well this morning. My commute took only 5 minutes longer than usual. There were a couple of places where I had to carry the bike, though. Like this one:

This bit of light traffic pathway is often a challenging one. There's a steep ascent, under which there's a chicane consisting of two sharp turns. Apparently, the place is challenging also for maintenance vehicles, as it is usually sloppily plowed. This morning, however, the level of sloppy plowing had reached new, unforeseen heights: there was a bank of snow about one metre deep. The only way to negotiate this obstacle was to carry the bicycle, cyclocross-style, up the ascent while wading knee deep in the snow.

Of course, it's understandable that it isn't possible to plow narrow passages with a large vehicle. But how friggin' large was the vehicle that had to go around this traffic sign from the left?

It seems to me that there's no more space here on the left side of the traffic sign than there is on the right side. However, this road (Veturitie) had been plowed in a less-than-meticulous manner, i.e. all the trickier bits had just been bypassed. Well, at least in this place there were two alternative ways of advancing:
a) carry the bicycle while wading knee-deep
b) go against the stream of cars on the road.

Needless to say, all the commuters had chosen alternative b), as there were no signs of wading in the snow.

Then there's the intersection that I just love to hate:

Now, this intersection was redesigned and rebuilt some two years ago. Or perhaps it had already been designed in the 60's, when these kinds of sub-optimal solutions were favoured, and it wasn't feasible to change the plans, even though they should know better by now. Anyway, in their infinite wisdom, the designers chose to make the bike lane meander in a W shape, even though the road is totally straight. Then they added high curbs and put the lanes for pedestrians and bikes in slightly different levels to make it fancier. So, now we have an intersection that

  • slows down the bicyclists
  • forces the bicyclists to take sharp turns (dangerous when the road is slippery)
  • is, apparently, unplowable by machine (well, they could use shovels, couldn't they?)
  • has high curbs where you'd assume the bike lane goes (which may be surprising when the curbs are hidden by snow, or when there's bad visibility due to rain, fog or steamy goggles).
Also, pedestrians tend to optimize by walking in a straight line, even though the route meant for them takes turns (as you can observe in any park from the formation of paths in the grass). Therefore pedestrians usually cross the bike lane several times in this intersection, causing dangerous situations.

They should hand whoever designed this intersection a shovel and make him/her keep it rideable in the winter. Perhaps that way they'd think of maintainability when designing their next intersection.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Budget cyclist's lists of things

Yesterday there was a truck parked on the light traffic pathway, blocking all but a 30 cm strip of it. The driver had apparently pulled over there to speak on the mobile. I inched past it, cursing to myself.

Today there was a car parked on the light traffic pathway, blocking all but a 15 cm strip of it. The driver was loading some stuff in the trunk. I had to jump off and on the curb in order to get past the car. I pointed out to the driver that he'd parked on the bike lane. "Yeah, yeah", he replied.

Both of these drivers just made my list of enemies.

Budget cyclist's list of enemies (short version)
Then there's the list of entities who I don't quite consider enemies yet, but am watching closely.

Budget cyclist's list of not-quite-trustworthy entities
  • the police
  • the legislators (a.k.a. The Man)
  • teenagers
  • dog owners
  • SUV drivers
But I'm not totally paranoid & pessimist. I also have a list of things I like.

Budget cyclist's list of likes

And, for the sake of completeness, there's yet another list.

Budget cyclist's list of "meh"

  • everything else.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Communication in traffic pt. II

My daily commuting route partly follows the route of a certain bus line. It's a smallish residential street and if there are passengers getting off and on the bus at each stop, the bus goes at approximately the same average speed as a bicyclist. Sometimes my timetable collides exactly with the timetable of the bus and we both arrive at bus stops in sync. This was one of those days, and as it happens, I got into an argument with the bus driver.

At bus stop A, the bus stopped just in time to unload passengers when I arrived there. Yes, of course, the bus unloads the passengers directly on the bicycle route. It's a common practice in Finland. And, of course, the passengers just jump blindly off the bus. No one ever looks around first. I suppose that to most people, it's unimaginable that a bicyclist might actually ride on the bicycle route. At least in winter.

So, as I slalomed between the human obstacles that just materialized on my pathway, the bus driver honked at me. Ok, I have to admit, perhaps I was going slightly too fast, for demonstrative purposes. You know, in the long run, it's for the good of the passengers. Perhaps the next time they will look around before hopping off the bus.

At bus stop B, again, another herd of blind cattle jumped off the bus just in front of me. This time I rang the bell as I slalomed. The bus driver shouted from the open door: "Is this a bike lane?". "Yeah!", I replied, and proceeded to signal with my hand towards a nearby traffic sign stating that indeed, the area in which the bus stop was situated did represent the monstrosity that is known as a combined sidewalk and bicycle lane.

At bus stop C, as I approached, the bus driver opened the door again and I stopped beside the bus. I was going to say something along the lines of "Do you think I'm riding here for fun?", as I would indeed rather ride on the road, if it were legal, but before I could catch my breath he said "Well, you're required to watch out for bus passengers then", closed the door and drove off.

Well, yes, I am required to watch out for bus passengers when they wander on the bike lane. Also I shouldn't demonstrate. That was childish.

But shouldn't the bus driver also know that the thing beside the road that he drives on each day, that looks just like a sidewalk, is actually also the place where bicyclists are required, by the law, to ride on? Shouldn't the passengers also have some responsibility? Shouldn't the people who put bus stops on the bike lane be kicked in the nuts by some omnipotent authority?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Winter complaints pt. II

I sit by the window in the workplace cubicle farm, so I often get to witness the epitome of futility and a monumental grievance that is the typical way the public bicycling infrastructure is maintained in Helsinki, Finland in wintertime. First, a small vehicle plows the snow off the light traffic pathway. A moment later, two large vehicles plow the snow off the two lanes of the road, hurling it on the light traffic pathway, thus making the pathway unrideable by bicycle again.

If they're able organize the two large vehicles to clear up the road in co-operation, why can't they make the small vehicle follow the two large vehicles, so that the light traffic pathway would also be cleared? It boggles the mind.

So today I commuted back home on mostly unplowed routes, and I'm proud to announce that I'm no longer inexperienced in the esteemed area of bicycling that is falling over on your side with your feet still attached to the clipless pedals. I did that twice today. There is a type of wet snow, I'm pretty sure Eskimos have a word for it, in which the bicycle tends to suddenly swerve sideways. Especially if some areas of the snowy surface are softer than others. As I experienced, there isn't much time to detach the feet from the pedals when that happens. The previous winter I rode with flat pedals and I didn't fall over once. I guess I'll have to switch back to flat pedals again for the winter.

Surprisingly, falling over on your side with your feet attached to the pedals wasn't that painful. I suppose that it helped that the roads weren't plowed. At least there was lots of comfortable, soft snow to land upon. Actually, it was kind of fun. I definitely can see the humour in that, although at the time, I did curse a lot.

Winter complaints pt. I

As expected, winter totally surprised everyone in Finland once again. Last night, some 15 cm of snow had dropped from the sky on southern Finland. The Public Works Department got yet another chance to show just how good they are at what seems to be their core competency: not plowing the bike lanes. I guess it's up to us bicyclists to do the plowing, one 28 mm (or whatever your tyre width is) slice of bike lane at a time. Now, if we can just organize ourselves to ride in neat straight lines exactly 28 mm apart from each other...

Reason #129 why pedestrians and bicyclists should not have combined lanes: the pedestrians make the roads uneven. It is impossible to ride straight on a path trampled in snow by pedestrians. It is much easier to ride in 15 cm (or more) of untouched snow.

Even though bicycling in an unmaintained infrastructure is hard, I'm not even considering to switching to commuting by bus or car. Co-workers often seem to think that bicycling in winter is extreme. It may be extreme in the sense that riding in the snow is heavy and you have to either strain yourself or go really slow, but at least commuting by bicycle is reliable. The duration of my commute may be two (or even three) times longer in the winter than it is in the summer, but it is highly probable that I get to the destination in the estimated timeframe.

In my opinion, commuting by train or bus in the winter is extreme in the sense that their reliability has not proven to be that good. In fact, the reliability of the railroad system in wintertime has, in recent years, proven to be a joke. Buses may be more reliable than trains in the sense that they usually get to the destination, if you actually manage to get on the bus, but in my experience their schedules seem to be relatively unreliable. It is not that rare to have to wait on the bus stop for a shift that never comes.
And, of course, commuting by your own personal automobile is extreme in the sense that it is, at least in my case, slow, stressful and stupid. Also, it is unreliable, because I can never rely on finding a parking space near the workplace, and the duration of the commute depends on the heaviness of traffic. At times of heavy traffic the cars crawl slowly in queues. This has never happened on bike lanes, as far as I know.
BTW, bicycling in the snow is good exercise. Last winter my thigh muscles became larger in diameter approximately 15%. If this trend continues, next spring I'll have to don silly looking pants:

Speaking of silly garments, winter seems to have surprised, despite people, also my shoe protectors, that until now have functioned exceptionally well. This morning they apparently got scared of the snow, curled upwards and refused to cover my toes. So perhaps, come spring, this is what I'll look like:

Actually, this costume seems well suited for bicycling. The shoe protectors seem large enough to cover size 45 cycling shoes. The pants are comfortable and spacious enough to accommodate my enormous thigh musculature. The feathered hat can be worn as a helmet cover.

But then again, cyclists often wear clothes that are too soft and not sufficiently awe-inspiring to ensure their safety. I mean, car drivers avoid collisions with other cars because they know that their precious cars would be badly damaged if they hit another car. If they hit a bicyclist, perhaps the dust might be wiped off the car, but the car would most likely remain intact. But what if bicyclists started dressing up like Dimmu Borgir? No Mercedes Benz driver wants to have Shagrath sliding over their bonnet:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Future investment

My chances of ever winning the Tour de France are getting less likely each year. Come to think of it, at 35, I might never even win the white jersey. I can only blame my parents for not forcing me to practice bicycling, against my will, since childhood.

In other news, another Budget cyclist Jr. just lately emerged. As an indirect result, in the near future, my only possibility of having 15 minutes of daily solitude will be in the toilet of the workplace. I'm hoping that I may be able to spend a portion of these 15 minutes blogging about bicycling every now and then, as I'm currently doing, but I can promise nothing. Other matters may be more urgent while in the toilet. Also taking the laptop to the stall may seem suspicious to other toilet-goers.

It would be ridiculous even to assume that there could be time for actual bicycling, apart from commuting, in my daily schedule for the next two years or so. All of my time will be spent either in family-related matters or earning money to be consumed by the family.

However, I do have a cunning plan for the future regarding both family and bicycling. Along with the emergence of a new child, my likelihood of becoming a father/coach of a professional bicyclist have just doubled. The talent is there to be moulded, now it's only a matter of encouragement/coercion/brainwashing and countless hours of practice. Also, now that there is offspring of both sexes, it might be even possible to have two world champions in the family at the same time. At minimum, I'm expecting my offspring to dominate the Finnish race circuit in the near future.

On to other matters. I recently participated in "The First (and Last) Annual BSNYC/RTMS Cockpit of the Year Award" competition arranged by my idol, Bike Snob NYC. As my entry didn't end up among the finalists, I might as well publish it here:

Yeah, admittedly, it's pretty lame when compared to the other contestants. Also, the handlebar probably is installed the wrong way around because of bicycling-related cluelessness of a shop window decorator, not because of individualistic aspirations of a creative bicyclist, as this installment was spotted in a Gant clothing store window in Espoo. The pale complexions of the nonplussed onlookers is explained by the fact that they are mannequins.

Come to think of it, I don't recall ever witnessing particularly zany cockpits in the real world. Perhaps we, the Finns, are a bit conservative when it comes to bicycle customization. Or perhaps there is a law against that kind of thing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Inverse Critical Mass

You've probably heard of those Critical Mass bicycle rides? The ones, where a large group of bicyclists assembles and rides around on the busiest routes of the city in order to point out how badly arranged traffic conditions for bicyclists are. Or whatever. That's all fine and dandy, I might even partake someday, but now I'd like to propose another kind of a Critical Mass event.

On Inverse Critical Mass days (held monthly), all the people who normally commute by bicycle, foot or public traffic, assemble at rush hour on busiest streets of the city in their personal automobiles. If they don't own one, they should rent one, borrow a tractor or a lawnmover from their neighbour, or take a taxi. All kinds of large, noisy, smelly and pollutive vehicles are approved. The automobiles should be decorated with large signs announcing slogans such as "Inverse Critical Mass", "One Less Bicycle", "TGOPFTCOPPA (The Group Of People For The Cause Of Promoting Personal Automobiling)" etc.

I'd imagine that the event would look something like this:

There is a type of driver that seems to think bicyclists in traffic are a nuisance. Perhaps Inverse Critical Mass could help them understand that anybody who chooses to ride a bike instead of a car in a crowded city is actually doing a favour for them. It would really be a nuisance if everyone always transported 2000 kg of car with them everywhere. Perhaps Inverse Critical Mass could help devoted personal automobilists appreciate bicyclists, pedestrians and public traffic users a little bit more.

One Less More Car!

Friday, August 20, 2010

YAAU (Yet Another Alternative Universe)

Some time ago, a distinguished colleague of mine proposed an alternative universe, in which bicycles and cars have swapped places. I'd like to propose another one. In this one, the personal automobile is yet to be invented. Otherwise, the universe mostly resembles the one we happen to live in.

People get around by means of public transport (underground trains, overground trains, aeroplanes, boats, buses, trams, what have you) and personal transport (walking, rollerblading, bicycling (electrically assisted or not), horseback, canoes, what have you). Urban areas are much nicer to live in than in The Actual Universe, as you probably can imagine. There's not nearly as much noise, pollution and traffic jams even in very densely populated areas.

Suppose, then, that a bright young engineer, Pentti Automobile from Suomussalmi, invents the personal automobile. Almost immediately, a group of people forms, calls themselves The Group Of People For The Cause Of Promoting Personal Automobiling (not very catchy, is it not?) and writes a manifesto. (The group is fronted by this guy, BTW.) The manifesto reads, in its entirety:

"We, The Group Of People For The Cause Of Promoting Personal Automobiling, demand that
1) anyone, regardless of talent, IQ, acquired capability or ability for temperance, must have the right to own at least one personal automobile
2) the said personal automobile can weight several tons, even without having a practical reason for that
3) the said personal automobile can have a ridiculously excessive maximum speed, even without having a practical reason for that
4) the said personal automobile can have excessive noise levels
5) the said personal automobile can emit toxic substances into the environment
6) anyone must have the right to drive their personal automobile into any place they want (e.g. into the heart of the most crowded area in any city)
7) anyone must have the right to park their personal automobile for indeterminate period of time even in the heart of the most crowded area in any city
8) the personal automobile shall have an implicit right of way over lighter traffic
9) all traffic arrangements must immediately be changed to favour personal automobiles over other vehicles
10) fear of personal automobiles shall be instilled upon the young, the elderly, the bicyclists and the animals."

Of course, the public largely ignores such manifesto. The authority responds to the manifesto shortly: "Hell no, that's dangerous. And absurd."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dead end... or is it?

I commute through this street each weekday. On most days, I tend to ignore this:

Whenever I continue to strive northward, despite being informed that it's futile by that rather unwelcoming, depressing traffic sign, I soon see this:

Clearly, for me, a bicyclist, the dead end sign signals false information. Had I not chosen to disobey that particular traffic sign one day, I would never have found out that there is a better route between A and B. My one way commute would take two minutes longer. By using a faster route I can now save some 20 minutes each week. That makes nearly 18 hours a year. I get an extra day each year! Choosing to ignore dead end signs clearly pays off.

Now, my question is: as a bicyclist, what other traffic signals can I choose to disobey? Or perhaps, should I just regard all traffic signs as more of recommendations and hints than actual orders and regulations?

Monday, August 16, 2010

HCM 2010

On Saturday, I experienced the most pain I've experienced in a sporting event. I ran the Helsinki City Marathon 2010, and it was painful. Pain pain pain. For nearly half the distance, or some two hours, I was going "ouch ouch ouch" in my mind. It wasn't that I was that exhausted, it was my legs that were killing me. They felt like two blocks of wood, that somehow still were very much capable of feeling pain. They were clearly underprepared for the shock of traveling 42 km at about the speed of 5 ½ minutes per kilometer. I should have practiced more.

Last year I wondered about the number of participants walking in the latter half of the distance. This year I was one of the walkers. Now I understand them. It can happen. Well, anyway, my run went well, because somehow I still managed to improve my time 8 minutes from last year. And the feeling was, and still is, great afterwards. And, besides, the pain wasn't that bad, when compared to some of the hangovers I've had. At least there was no horrible mental suffering (just a slight fear of collapsing).

During the four hour run I tried to keep my mind off my legs, so I kept watching the other contestants. I find it interesting how the age, height, weight and body shape varies from one marathon runner to another. It's clearly a heterogenous group of people. Sure, there aren't that many morbidly obese ones, but the crowd isn't dominated by lanky, tall long distance runner stereotypes either. There doesn't seem to be just one recipe for being a succesful runner. Some people have the power plant in their calves, some in their thighs and buttocks. Some people have no ass to speak of, and yet run just fine.

In cycling events the group of participants, in general, seems to be dominated by young, athletic males, but on a marathon, you can see lots of those same athletic youngsters having a hard time, going relatively slow, or walking, while tough 50+ women and grey haired old geezers bypass them at an even pace, knowing what they're doing. The marathon is the event of the Pitchy Stump. I'm just a newbie in their race, and will be, until gaining some 30 years of marathon experience.

By the way, I must mention one thing. Lately, I've become rather annoyed at the way certain right wing politicians have been gaining publicity, and probably, popularity, by appearing as patron saints of nearly every f**king sporting event arranged in the country. Sure, they are allowed to do that just like any politician, and partly, I'm annoyed that politicians of other parties don't defend their right to suck up to voters by appearing in sporting events enough. But, dammit, Alex Stubb is being paid copious amounts of money, by the Finnish people, to advance the causes of the Finnish people, not his own career as a politician and an athlete! How can the guy do that, when he seems to have a full time career running, bicycling, swimming and writing sports articles and books.

Anyway, in HCM 2010, the right wing finally gave something back to the people. The Minister of Finance, Jyrki Katainen, was firing the starting shot. The announcer was doing the countdown, when Jyrki got a bit too eager: 10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... *BANG* and thus, Mr. Katainen generously improved the final result of each participant by some three seconds.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Running out of necessity

Lately, I've done some running and it's been painful. In (late) preparation for HCM, I've ran twice longer distances in the last couple of weeks. I realised that I don't even want to spend my limited free time running in the summer, I'd rather ride the bike. But I've signed on to the marathon, boasted about it at work and to friends, and now I've got to weasel out of it somehow. I mean, practice a bit, so I can do it.

Last week, I ran for 26 km in Kainuu. It wasn't pleasant, because it was pretty hot, the roads there are too narrow, yet rather congested, and there are huge, bloodsucking insects, that keep circling and following you, because apparently you're their only source of delicious sustenance for kilometres around. Also, a runner on the highway in the middle of nowhere seems to be such an anomaly there, that the local youth deems it worthwhile to stop their cars and harass the poor runner by mimicking tackling him american football style. And complain that you don't smell too good after doing that. I guess that passes for entertainment in the countryside.

Then, today, I decided to go for the final long run before the marathon, so I went running for 23 km (this time in a more civilized part of the country). It went reasonably well at first, but as I hadn't bothered to check the thermometer, I hadn't realised that it was just too damn hot for running (+32 ° C), at least for a resident of a northern, usually cold country, such as yours truly. After two hours of running I felt flaccid and exhausted, and I doubt that I'd been able to run for 19 km more. At least I would have been very pissed off, if I'd had to do that.

I suppose I'll have to start partaking in the Stockholm Marathon, which takes place in spring, instead of HCM, or quit running marathons altogether, so I won't have to waste the best days of summer for something I'd rather not do...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

MC SpandX video

All I seem to do is to link to videos now, but hey, what are you gonna do. It's fun to see that MC SpandX didn't end up being a one hit wonder, even though "wonder" should be emphasized rather than "one", when it comes to him.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bike Snob video

As you may have noticed, I'm a big fan of Bike Snob NYC, cycling's most prolific, well-known, hilarious, and anonymous blogger. Myself, being cycling's 1003rd most prolific, well-known, hilarious and (half) anynomous blogger, kind of feel like he's like the hairier, funnier, more outspoken big brother of mine that I never had. Ok, that might sound weird.

Anyway, here's a video of him talking at Google. It's pure gold for us Bike Snob fans. And, man, I'd love to work at Google! Sure, I knew before that the workers have all kinds of sweet benefits, but now, they even have all kinds of interesting people, like Bike Snob and Floyd Landis talking for them, purely for entertainment, I suppose.

BTW, if you haven't read Bike Snob's blog yet, you might want to start with this: one of his funnier posts.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Short cuts

1) In the last two weeks, I've ridden over a hedgehog, an adder and two squirrels. But don't blame me for the untimely demises of these creatures -- they were already dead. The drivers did it. (How do I know? Animals don't get that flat when ridden over with by bicycles. Even if the peloton rode over a hedgehog, there'd be some bumps left.)

2) "The slender leg, with a little bitty calf, belongs to the climber. The good-sized thigh - that's a sprinter. The long and harmonious leg - a rouleur (a racer on the flats). A short femur? He'll be swift. Rounded buttocks? He'll start strong. Slender ankles and knees mean class. Contrary to what's usually claimed, fat calves aren't all that useful: the essential energy of the cyclist is concentrated in the back, the buttocks, and the thighs." - Paul Fournel: Need For The Bike.

I'm definitely a climber then. My thighs grow slowly but steadily, but my calves don't seem to bulk up much. Being unable to grow them, I'm relieved that big calves aren't that useful. They may look impressive though.

3) After reading Bike Snob's book, I thought something along the lines of "Wow, he said it all". Is there a point in blogging anymore when somebody's already written the things you've vaguely thought of writing about, way better than you could ever do it? Perhaps there is. At least I get to practice typing.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Route optimization

I recently discovered a slightly shorter route for daily commuting. For about a year now, in a certain intersection, instead of going straight forward, I've been taking a right turn, going up hill, then down hill, doing some turns, stopped at traffic lights, then up and down two hills and through another set of traffic lights.

I used to think that that was the straightest route there is. In my experience, when bicycling in places you've never bicycled in before, you tend to get lost, ride into dead ends and turn up in unexpected places at first. Then, when you find a reasonable route, you tend to stick with it, even though there might be better routes. This happens because the bicycling routes aren't very well marked around here.

So, there I was, one morning, once again grinding through my established, although not very smooth, commuting route. I bypassed a fellow commuter just before the aforementioned intersection, then made my way through the ups, downs, turns and traffic lights, going as fast as I could, as usual. Then I bypassed the very same fellow commuter again. Wait a minute! They know something I don't. There has to be a better route, which is a kind of a holy grail for the ever micro-optimizing commuting tempo specialist.

Actually, at the intersection I keep writing on about, I've often thought to myself something like "must check on Google Maps where that other road goes to someday", and then, promptly forgotten to do just that. So, the next morning, I just went straight where I usually turned. This is what the intersection looks like:

Yes, that's a traffic sign indicating a light traffic route. But then there are also these ones:

A traffic sign for a dead end street, two signs indicating a construction site. But wait, there's more:

A sign forbidding motorized vehicles and yet another sign of a construction site, which also denies uncalled-for access, complete with a picture of a guy doing the "talk to the hand" gesture.

As a (mostly) law-abiding citizen I'd interpreted these signs as "no-go", even though, I suppose, bicycling isn't actually forbidden here. But from behind this bewildering array of signage, there opened a peaceful, flat, lovely, fast bicycling route to the place I wanted to go (work, that is). No hills. No traffic lights. No cars. A true secret passageway.

There was some construction work going on, on the first 100 m or so, so I guess the signs for the construction work are valid. But at least the dead end sign, clearly, is false information, at least from a bicyclist's point of view. That sign, I suppose, must be the primary reason why I'd never before considered taking that route. But I was curious, I went there even though The Man tried to tell me that I can't, I survived, and now am more street-wise because of doing so.

I think there's a lesson to be learned here. Like, don't believe the traffic signs. Or perhaps, complain more to the authorities about the poor state of bicycling routes in Helsinki. You know, I've tried, but doing it on the official complaint channel, at least, doesn't seem to have much effect on anything. It's just preaching to the choir, man. Which can be a fun hobby, if you're into that sort of thing.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Bicyclists often seem to define pecking order by comparing the number of units of distance ridden per unit of time. And yeah, as much as I'd like to say that I prefer quality over quantity (don't know why I'd like to say that exactly, I guess I just like the apparent cleverness and conciness of the sentence), I think that quantity makes quality in this case. The quality improves when you ride more. When I was a beginner bicyclist, way back in 2004, I remember the pain when returning from 20 km rides, on climbs, with my belly flapping on my knees. The pain made sense though, and now, after riding a lot more, I can wear myself out on much longer rides, and still feel and even enjoy the pain. And now, I can also enjoy all the results of the hard work I've done over the years. I can fly up hills that used to nearly kill me several years ago.

This year I've been having some trouble measuring my kilometres with the scientific exactitude I'd like to have. Usually people count the kilometres they ride in a single calendar year. For the first couple of months this year, I didn't have a bike computer installed. It was in the other bike, couldn't be bothered get a new one, and the winter of 2010 was a dark, cold time in the distant past I don't want to reminisce about anyway. So, I'd estimate that in that time, I rode about 750 km. About 15 km a working day for some two and a half months.

Then I got around to installing the bike computer on the commuting bike, even though it was too f**king cold to do that. The odometer shows some 850 km now.

Then there's the Garmin Forerunner to be used with the road bike. But I forgot to reset it at 1.1.2010 00:00. So, the actual device doesn't know what I've done this year. Luckily, http://connect.garmin.com can give me reports on my activities in a specified interval of dates. Unfortunately, to distinguish the running from the bicycling, I need to set my activity types first per each exercise. This will require some work.

Anyway, I'd estimate the distance I've ridden on the road bike this year must be some 150 - 200 km. What? So little? That's pathetic. In fact, I should be out riding, right now, instead of drinking beer and reporting, in way too much detail, my probably insignificant and mostly uninteresting thoughts to a probably imaginary readership. But the beer contains carbohydrates, which I need for bicycling, so I'll valiantly continue.

So, I'd estimate might have ridden some 1700-1800 km this year. On the other hand, I'd like to know the exact number. On the other hand, this is good, because I can exaggerate somewhat, without feeling too much guilt. I just don't know exactly.

And then there's the problem with measuring the statistics of a single ride. Before, I had a simple bike computer, that measured time and distance when the bike was in motion. Stopping in traffic lights didn't add up to the total time and average speed. Now, I have a bike computer that does that, but in addition, I also have the Garmin with the GPS that measures time and distance even when the bike is not moving. Ok, Garmin Connect can show me both average speed and average moving speed, which is actually excellent. But, in order to compare my results with old ones from years ago, I have to fork them out somehow. Well, as long as the trend curve is curving upwards, everything is good...

Saturday, May 15, 2010


For some time now, I've been thinking of getting a toupée. You know, I'm not so young anymore, and, er, um, padding in certain areas of my physique is not as thick as it used to be.

So, this weekend I finally managed to gather up the courage to get one. I walked into a cycling store (I'm such a bike geek that I do all of my shopping in cycling stores now), yelled out "Give me a toupée!" from the door and this is what they sold me:

It looks crap on my head though. Might as well screw it on the bike and use it as a saddle.

Ok, this play on words didn't work out as well as I thought it would. Man, this blogging is hard. You try it. And I still don't know why Specialized named their saddle "Toupé". If you do, please, let me know.

So, I got a new saddle. Because the old one (a Bontrager Race) was uncomfortable on longer rides. I even sat on a some kind of a gel bench in the store to measure the width of my sit bones. 140 mm, they told me. This saddle better be good. I went through all this trouble to get it and it wasn't cheap either.

I also got a bell for the road bike:

I got one of these for the commuting bike years ago, and I must say I've been very pleased with it. It's very robust and loud, and only the deafest of pedestrians fail to jump aside after only a ring or two. Actually, I'm astonished that most cycling stores here only sell those crap, cheap bells, with weak springs, that don't really make a decent noise. And I know because I've been looking.

But even the Cat Eye isn't perfect: the fastening system isn't designed for oversized handlebar diameter. I had to secure it in place with a cable tie.

And finally, here's a picture of my bike, complete, just washed with the new saddle and bell. Also included is the obligatory bike pic accessory: the disembodied hand holding the bike upright.

Oh yeah, I actually took the thing for a longer ride, the first time this season. It was great, and easy as well. Man, I'm in a great shape. Either that or there really was a significant tailwind on the return trip. There was only one thing bothering me though: a slight clicking sound on the right side when pedaling. When I got home, I found out it was the plastic part of the pedal.

Perhaps it could be resolved by oiling the moving parts, but if not, there's not much I can do... except walk into a cycling store, with a wad of cash in my hand, and yell out "Give me Dura-Ace pedals" from the door. Belligerent, but functioning.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Brilliant morning

This morning I rode to work via a detour along the shores of Vantaanjoki. The sun shone, birds sang, the surface of the river was perfectly calm, flowers bloomed and fellow commuters all smiled happily and gave way politely to each other. All winter, commuting has been about getting from A to B, and occasionally, C, as fast and efficiently as possible, and getting some exercise while we're at it. But now, I remembered, once again, that bicycling can be an enjoyable outdoor experience as well.

This week, I've done some extra kilometers while commuting, instead of trying to micro-optimize the route, as I usually tend to do. That's because there's a fitness campaign at work, in which you get 1 point per 30 minutes of exercise. Therefore I have to lengthen the time I spend commuting somehow, and as it is totally unnatural for a commuter-tempo specialist as myself to slow down, I must ride longer distances. Even though that doesn't always help either; I'm just so damn fast that sometimes it only takes me 25 minutes to do a 30 minute distance.

Anyway, I've been riding through the central park, and I've gotten to like riding on gravel in the relatively peaceful forest. When riding on the roads with cars, it's always like start-accelerate-brake-stop at traffic lights-accelerate-turn-brake-accelerate-swerve-shake fist-yell-do universal hand signal-flee-brake-stop. In the park it's more like start-spin-spin-spin-spin-spin-spin-spin-spin-spin-spin-stop. I like riding at an even pace for longer stretches. Of course, it's not all peace and quiet and solitude in the forest either. There are lots of other commuters too, so you have to look around a bit in the intersections. Then there are the dog walkers, groups of parallel nordic walkers, apparently blind and deaf pedestrians, wild elk, bears, boars, wolves and humans, highwaymen and such.

Oh yeah, and now the efficiency of my drivetrain has improved dramatically, up to 10%, I'd say. I finally got around to purchasing clipless pedals and cycling shoes for my commuter bike. Until last summer, my commuting distance was so short that I couldn't be bothered to optimize my setup, but now I got fed up with the constant need to readjust the position of the foot on the pedal.

I got Shimano SPD ones. I've had a difficult logistic problem: I need to either take the kid to the kindergarten each morning, or fetch him in the afternoon, and with SPD-SL cleats, it's just impossible to walk the 0.5 km distance. With the smaller cleats it's possible, even though there's a nasty crunchy sound on asphalt. And also, now I don't have to think about what shoes to wear when commuting. What do you wear, if not cycling shoes? I think that sneakers are the worst shoes for bicycling. They've got thick, round, flexible soles that feel like you've taped large rubber balls underneath your shoes. Lots of commuters seem to wear them though.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Communication in traffic

Yesterday, I got honked at, (again) by a car (taxi) driver. Apparently, I deserved it, because I rode on the road and the car driver had to slow down slightly because there were other cars coming from the other direction and therefore she/he couldn't overtake me immediately. So he (yes, I strongly suspect it was a he) communicated his disapproval by honking long and fervently. I, in return, extended my arm, then my middle finger and held it in that position, long and fervently.

By the way, here's some interesting statistics of the makes/models of cars rude car drivers drive, in my experience, from this year (2010):

1) Volvo V70 (black) - 100%
2) -- (0%)
3) -- (0%)

Total number of incidents: 2

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring in the cycling shorts

Excellent. Spring has come, making bicycling fluent once again. It feels very rewarding, after months of slow, frustrating, vibrating, cold commuting on icy, unplowed, uneven roads, to take out the carbon fibre sports vehicle and fly down and up hills. I managed to do that on two days this week.

I think that persistent riding through the winter has been beneficial for the thigh muscle strength department, because there are hills that formerly felt challenging, but no longer can be considered "hills".

Then again, I've nearly forgotten what a longer bout of exercise in one sitting feels like. After going on just commuting the 7.5 km trip daily, for months, I wonder how a longer ride will turn out. I'll just have to try it out in the near future. Besides, two daily 20 minute bursts of tempo riding don't seem to burn calories very much. I haven't exactly ballooned, but my physique is not turning into more "climberesque" either. And, I really miss the pain in the legs that you get from riding for several hours at once.

In other (good) news, Bike Snob is releasing a book next week. I, for one, already pre-ordered.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mostly rant


Warning: this blog post contains crude generalisation, exacerbation and attitudes. It does not conform to political correctness, instead it presents the world and its inhabitants as black and white. Beware.

Here are some popular misconceptions non-bicyclists seem to have about bicyclists. Some of these are, probably, sometimes, intentional, but mostly, I assume, that these are things that people just haven't properly thought about.

1) Bicyclists in traffic are stationary objects

Car drivers, especially, often seem to regard bicyclists as stationary obstacles. You can always bypass a bicyclist, even though you are about to turn right in about 30 m, because cars are fast, and bicycles are slow. Even though there's a 30 km/h speed limit.

In reality:
The speed of a bicyclist can exceed the speed limits in urban areas, hence bicyclists can be as fast or faster than cars.

2) Cars are more important than bicycles

Cars have an implicit right of way over bicycles, even though they might have told otherwise in traffic school. This is probably because cars are expensive and only kids, the elderly and poor people ride bicycles. This is most probably a view that few people would admit, but surprisingly many have rooted deep in their minds, i.e. an implicit opinion.

In reality:
Nobody has the right of way over the safety of someone else, regardless the price tag on the vehicle.

3) Car drivers always have to overtake bicyclists

When driving a car, you always have to overtake bicyclists. Even if you are about to turn right after about 30 m, and there's a 30 km/h speed limit, and the bicyclist in question is doing 40 km/h. It's just not possible to slow down, or even not to speed up, behind a cyclist. Because bicyclists are slow, and inferior, when compared to car drivers.

In reality:
You can overtake bicyclists just like you can overtake any other vehicle: only when it's safe and reasonable.

4) You can't go over the white line

When driving a car, and overtaking a bicyclist, you can't go over the white line in the middle of the road. And why should you; bicycles are very narrow and they go slow, in fact they might be considered something similar to still, inanimate cardboard cutouts, erected on the roadside for no reason a car driver can comprehend.

In reality:
Cars do not run on railroad tracks (except in the movie Back To The Future III). The car driver has the opportunity, and the responsibility, of operating the steering wheel and the brakes. You can speed up, slow down, turn, and overtake only when it's safe to do it.

5) Light traffic routes are safe

Cars don't go to light traffic routes, so they're safe. You can walk, push baby carriages, walk dogs, meander on your Sunday bicycle ride and do cartwheels across them like you were in an open meadow. There's no need to observe your surroundings, you can just close your eyes and ears and drift from side to side when advancing on a light traffic route. And besides, if there's somebody else there too, you'll notice them and have a lot of time to react because everyone else on the light traffic route moves at the speed of a paralyzed snail, anyway.

In reality:
Some (most?) bicyclists use bicycles as a means of transport, so they're going somewhere. Often, when you're going somewhere in particular, like to the place where you work, you want to do it as quickly as you can. Bicyclists are in a hurry too, and they move fast.

It's f**king dangerous to move unexpectedly from one side of the light traffic route to another without looking around, because there might be a bicyclist advancing behind you, just about to overtake, almost silently, at 40 km/h. That would sting. Bicyclists should know better than doing 40 km/h on a light traffic route, but just like car drivers, they are sometimes in a hurry, pissed off and stupid.

And keep your dog in order, too.


I don't know. I drive the car, too, but whenever I do that, I don't feel the need to defend my rights on the road, demonstratively. But whenever I ride the bike, I need to do just that, usually. It just feels like that bicycles are not considered equivalent to other vehicles here (are they considered that anywhere?).

<oh, some more rant>

Also, I'm a semi-vegetarian. Often, when going to restaurant with, say, co-workers, I'm forced to explain my choice of food because of that. You know, because everyone else chose the steak and I took the vegetarian spaghetti, or what have you. I really would like to not make a number out of it. I'd just like to eat, have a good time and get wherever I'm going to.

Just like bicycling. I'd just like equality.

</oh, some more rant>

Friday, March 26, 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010


I've been stubbornly bicycling to/from work all winter. But there's really not much choice. I could take the bus, but it just seems so frustratingly slow as there's not a straight connection. When it takes 30 min to advance about 1,5 km by bus, you inevitably find that even walking would be more efficient. And I don't like the smell of human. Well, I like the smell of some humans, but not in general. I'd rather inhale lots of fresh air, even though it tends to be mixed up with exhaust gases, than suck up the germs & perfume & miscellaneous emissions in a closed metal box.

And anyway, I tend to be persistent, so even if it's raining lots of snow, cats, dogs, knives and s**t, I usually don't find that a reason to not ride the bike. Lots of co-humans find that out of the ordinary, but to me, changing the established procedure seems a bigger nuisance than not changing it, even though the weather condition might seem impossible.

But, good news: lately bicycling has been quite fast & efficient. If you drive on the road, instead of the light traffic pathway, that is. And recently, I see, lots of part-of-the-year-commuters have been emerging out of their sells for the season. That's nice. The automobilists must get used to masses of bicyclers again, and the sooner, the better. It's been lonely on the roads, defending our rights, lately.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Causality dilemma

This one's for all former/present VIC-20 (or equivalent) owners:

10 PRINT "bicycle routes are not very well maintained in the wintertime"
20 PRINT "because"
30 PRINT "not very many people ride bicycles in the wintertime"
40 PRINT "because"
50 GOTO 10

(You can try it in action here.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Long overdue status update

Have been cycling between home and workplace most of the days in the last couple of weeks. One day I resorted to taking the bus. The afternoon before, the conditions were just impossible for bicycling. In the morning it was ok, but it snowed all day, the temperature was too warm, and when I rode back home in the afternoon, the roads were covered in 10 cm of very slippery, slushy snow. I'm beginning to understand why the eskimos have so many words for different kinds of snow. Because there really are that many different kinds, and they can change really quickly, and they affect the bicycling conditions. A lot.

You know, I really like bicycling. I like the fact that I can transport myself with my own vehicle, efficiently, anywhere I want, when I want to do it, independent of anyone else's schedules. I like the beauty of it, the cleanliness, the ecological sustainability of it. I find it the perfect means of transport for most of my transportational needs (i.e. for whenever I don't need to go very far, very fast, and take the family with me).

I very much prefer bicycling to taking the bus, or the Lamborghini, the Ferrari or even the Fiat 500 each morning to work. I don't need anyone to make bicycling any more attractive for me (which is an objective of the Helsinki city, I hear: to double the amount of bicycling (whatever that means), in a certain timeframe). I'll ride the bike anyway. I'm a nutcase, according to the general opinion.

Anyway, if the big shots of Helsinki want to improve the attractiveness of commuting to work by bicycling, I've got an idea. What if they plowed the bicycle routes better than the roads? Because now, the light traffic pathways are taken care of later than the roads (even weeks later), snow is often plowed from the road to the bicycle route, huge heaps of snow are piled on the side of the road (= where the bicyclers go) etc...

Therefore, if you want to make bicycling more attractive, as compared to taking the bus, or driving your own car, you could do it vice versa: plow the bicycle routes first, do them really well, and pile any extra snow to wait to be taken away in the middle of car lanes. That way, bicycling would be really fast, fluent and satisfying. Driving your own car would be really f**king annoying, frustrating, slow and inefficient. And sometimes impossible.

If they really want to make bicycling more attractive and motoring less attractive, there really are means to do that.