Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Voice usage

Often, an urban bicyclist needs to use his/her voice in order to communicate with other human beings in traffic. Sometimes it is even necessary to communicate loudly with animals and inanimate objects. Mostly, communication while moving relatively fast in traffic is limited to short phrases. In English speaking countries you might use such phrases as
  • "look out"
  • "coming through"
  • "sorry, didn't see ya"
  • "thanks"
  • "yaaaaaaaaarrrrrggghh!"
  • "excuse me, mate, which way to Piccadilly Circus?"
  • "yo homie, stop hatin' on me, and whatever, biatch".
In Finland, you manage fine with just one phrase
Occasionally, it is even possible to get engaged in a longer discussion while moving in traffic.

I've often found oral communication while bicycling rather difficult, because my voice usually tends not to function very well, due to exertion, wind and coldness. Situations in which voice usage is necessary tend to happen suddenly and unexpectedly, and often when I strive to let out a powerful yell, the sound emanating from my mouth is a stifled croak instead.

So, imagine my surprise this morning, when faced with a truck driver unloading their vehicle while blocking the route completely. As I prepared to communicate orally, expecting my voice to sound something like an out-of-breath baby ox with a mouth full of fudge (saying "...ttu!"), I was amazed to hear this loud, clear, booming, powerful, yet beautiful voice instead.

The driver was perplexed by this sudden, well-articulated attempt at communication, and remained wordless, but the other guy standing by the truck waved at me politely, indicating an alternative route around the truck. I, perplexed by my sudden ability to articulate clearly, just pushed my bike around the truck and moved on, muttering "...ttu!" to myself.

Shortly afterwards it struck me: I was wearing a Wool Buff™ I recently purchased around my neck for the first time. The garment was keeping my vocal cords warm and functional. Delighted by the unexpected functionality provided by the Buff, I rode on, singing "Con Te Partiro" loudly, like a cheap Andrea Bocelli imitator on wheels, my vibrato resonating from the surrounding buildings.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mexican cyclists take matters into their own hands

I've always wanted to do this myself, but then again, who hasn't?

Fast forward to 0:53 for action.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Letter to the city of Helsinki

Dear Sirs/Madams,
I thought we had an agreement. You keep the roads plowed so I can go to work. I go to work and pay you taxes with the salary earned from the work. Since you've failed to fulfill your end of this contractual obligation, I demand satisfaction.

At the moment the public infrastructure is in such a bad shape, that it is not feasible to commute to work by using a normal bicycle, such as a hybrid meant for urban conditions. Furthermore, despite the rationality of bicycling in such conditions may be questioned, I have continued to do so nevertheless, and as a consequence have gotten bitten by the mountain biking bug, and to a lesser extent, the cyclocross bug. Both of the resulting diseases will undoubtedly require considerable investments (in terms of my money and time) in the future.

However, I'm willing to work towards a compromise, so either of us will not be forced to taking legal action. I propose that
  • you, the city of Helsinki, purchase me one (1) Surly Pugsley bicycle, which I'll be able to ride to work even on badly maintained cycle lanes. Therefore you can continue to neglect the maintenance of the public infrastructure.
In return I, Budget Cyclist, will
  • stop demanding that you plow cycle lanes better and cease to mock your Public Works Department publicly (until next winter)
  • not take legal action regarding your aforementioned breach of contract.

I believe that 18'' is the correct size of Pugsley for me. Please have it delivered to my door within a week from today.

Sincerely yours,
Budget Cyclist, Esq.

Monday, January 10, 2011


I just finished reading an excellent book: Cyclopedia: It's All About the Bike by William Fotheringham.

Reading this book is a good way to upgrade your bicycling knowledge from novice to besserwisser, and it contains lots of enjoyable reading even if you already know your bicycling. It provides a great overview of the history of bicycling in general and as a sport. I just wish that there was a bicycling-themed Trivial Pursuit. I'd really kick ass in that game now.

Besides the sports trivia and history of bicycling, there are also informative clues about bicycling events around the world, films and further reading. And a great Eddy Merckx joke. Highly recommendable. I have only a minor complaint about the book: some of the text is printed in dark yellow, which is nearly impossible to read in poor lighting. And I have a 20/20 vision.

Here are a couple of entries that really struck close to home for me (emphases by yours truly):

Cycle lanes

"Famously crap, except in Holland (go to that country's section to find out why this is the case). The first cycle lane in Britain opened in 1934, alongside the A40 in West London and was two and a half miles long, 2.5m wide on either side of the road. Even then cyclists were complaining of a lack of investment in facilities and things have hardly improved since. Every urban cyclist has their own horror story of cars parked where they shouldn't be, lanes that lead on to dual carriageways and stop just when they are most needed, and lanes that last, ooh, two metres if you are lucky. The phenomenon was significant enough that it generated its own pocket novelty book, Crap Cycle Lanes. We read it and wept."


"The only European country where a conscious, long-term nationwide effort has been made to promote cycling as transport. It has 19,000 kilometres of bike lanes; nearly 85% of the population own at least one bike, and there are estimated to be 16 million bikes in the country. Cycling has been made such an attractive option that in one town, Groningen, 57% of all journeys are made by bike and virtually all the children cycle to school, some travelling up to 20km.

The Dutch did not implement a national cycling policy until 1990, but as early as the 1970s there had been an increasing awareness that unrestrained road building to accommodate ever-growing car traffic was not possible; there wasn't enough space in this densely populated country. Beginning in 1974 the cycle route network was massively expanded, with investment of some US$230 million; from 1990 all major cities had to implement plans for increased cycle use. The result is a massive network of traffic-free cycle paths, many of them two-way, with junctions at motor-traffic roads specially designed for cycle safety, including underpasses and bridges and clearly marked areas where cyclists can wait at traffic lights in front of cars. The aim, said one cycling policy paper, was to ensure that 'all traffic participants must have equal rights.'

Groningen offers a detailed view of what can be done. Pro-active cycling policies began in 1969: over the years, car access to the city centre has been restricted, initially in the face of opposition from businesspeople and shopkeepers. Through traffic was removed from the centre, and cars directed to car parks. By 2000 a huge network of cycle lanes had been built (equivalent to perhaps 60% of the major roads); from 1980 secure, supervised cycle storage facilities were provided, roughly one a year. These provide lockers, repair facilities, hire racks and carriers; there are 15 at various schools. At traffic lights heavy flows of cyclists were given priority. Investment in cycle-specific facilities between 1989 and 2000 was some 23 million euros, with cycle-friendly facilities also forming part of other investment programmes.

Policy documents available through the Dutch cycling information service make it clear that this has only been achieved by sustained long-term investment over several decades, with every planning decision taking into account how people are going to travel and how they can best be accommodated. Food for thought as cities grapple with congestion and climate change."

Well put. Now, if only the local politicians became aware of the obvious: there is not infinite space in Helsinki either to accommodate ever-growing car traffic, and a sustained long-term investment is required to change things...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Winter complaints pt. III: the Winter of our Discontent

I got a reminder of my vincibility on Tuesday, as I crashed on the bike for the 3rd time this winter. Which is good, you know, because for a bicyclist, it's useful to be aware that accidents may happen and one needs to be cautious. If you haven't crashed lately, you may assume that it only happens to other, possibly less skilled riders, and based on the false assumption of your superior riding skills, you might act irresponsibly in traffic. But not me, no, I got my lesson. For the time being.

The cycle path I rode on had really become a path. The combined bike lane and sidewalk (I really need to figure out what the correct English term for the thing is, assuming there is one) is normally about 3 metres wide on Veturitie, Helsinki. Because the natural enemy of all bicyclists, The Public Works Department, has lately reached outstanding achievements in the field of not plowing, the path in question had diminished into a 50 cm wide trampled path.

Trust me, there used to be a bike lane "with an ample cleavage" here.

To give way for a pedestrian, I hopped off the path and onto the road. Unfortunately, on the side of the road, underneath the soft snow, there was a groove in the hard packed snow, into which my front wheel promptly fell, and I found both myself and my vehicle lying flat on the road in less than a considerably short unit of time. Had there been cars passing at the moment, I would have been in a hurry to get up, lest it become messy. That particular road is heavily used by trucks and the speed limit is 60 km/h. It's a nasty place to lie down, and I, for one, have a slight resentment towards being killed.

Funnily enough, only my ego was hurt, despite my shoulder and knee making contact with hard, cold asphalt. Luckily, my ego is vertically lateral, yet compliantly stiff, or whatnot, enough that a mere minor crash can only make it slightly out of true (I'll have it fixed come spring).

Then again, the plowing situation has gotten even worse since Tuesday.

Actually, my wheels are illuminated by LEDs, powered by the smugness radiating from my ego. The smugness is powered mostly by using photographic trickery to stage situations as if I'd just used the bicycle to surpass apparently insurmountable objects, like the iceberg on the right. Amazing how little voltage LEDs require, eh?

This morning, of the length of my commuting route, approximately
  • 3% had been properly plowed

  • 87% had not been plowed

  • 10% had been "plowed" with a toy vehicle, apparently.
I like hard exercise, such as bicycling in untouched snow, just as much as the next guy with compulsive exercise addiction, but as I'm trying to recover from a cold, I wouldn't have wanted to do it right now. It's understandable that in New York, or the UK, traffic becomes chaos (and people resort to pillaging and cannibalism) the minute some snow falls down, but it's not supposed to be like that here. At least not all winter, each winter. C'mon, we're Finns, we're supposed to have the snow-how! Yeesh!

Nevertheless, usually I enjoy commuting by bicycle even though (or possibly because) it's hard. I get positive energy out of the challenge, a kind of a "fuck you, I'm hard" attitude. I go to the shower and usually start working in a cheery mood. But sometimes, like this morning, it gets so difficult that there is a negative aspect involved as well. A kind of a "fuck it, this is ridiculous" attitude.

You might think that because I am complaining loudly and at great length about some snow on my 7.5 km commuting route, I am a soft wuss, at least when compared to the hardships endured by Eugène Christophe. However, he was getting paid for riding the bike, he was doing it for sports and fame and Henri Desgrange was making the Tour de France deliberately difficult for the amusement of spectators.

In contrast, I am riding the bike in order to get to work, where I can be a productive citizen and earn money to pay taxes. The sports & fame are just byproducts, and usually there aren't that many spectators to enjoy from my suffering.

The society should put some effort into making the bike-riding easier in the winter. They should allocate some more money for plowing. I'll gladly pay more taxes for that. I'll vote for the first candidate who promises to plow better (disclaimer: except Bogomoloff). Local politicians, are you listening?

Meh. Didn't think so. I'll just vote for Soininvaara.