Bike lights megapost.

For anyone following our FB page, you’ll know that we just ordered ~$120 of lights from our favorite discount Hong Kong website today.  No, we’re not associated with them in any way, and I’m pretty sure that they don’t even know we exist.  We just like the products and pricing, although their wait times can get a bit grueling sometimes.  But hey, they’re shipping factory direct product here to the US at a fraction of what it would cost at retail, so I can’t really complain.  Besides, there’s another month before the darkness really sets in anyway…..

We’ll do a full-on review/comparison once we get all of them, but since shipping times are somewhere around 3 weeks I thought that I’d let you guys know what we ordered, in case any of you want to order some yourselves.

9 LED Rear Blinky, $3.38

Ok, to be honest we have ordered this light before.  It’s dirt-cheap, and….  well, let’s just say I’m hard on rear blinkies.  I’ve left countless ones scattered in a million pieces across various roads and trails in Madison to the point that they’re practically a disposable item for me these days. Apparently I ride harder than most “urban commuters” and anything that’s designed to be removed quickly and easily to avoid theft will remove itself quickly and easily when I hit that pothole just right.  In the past I’ve ziptied them in place (particularly around a rear rack), but with them being this cheap and easy to replace I just ordered a bunch.  They also have a built-in clip that works with backpacks, rear belt loops, jacket collars, or just about anywhere where you can find something to clip it to.  Works great if you clip it to a backpack for the additional bit of illumination.  Also is great for increasing my “LED Count” when talking about how I’m lit up like a Christmas tree (20 LEDs per wheel, one of these on the bike, one of these on my back and a 5 LED Planet Bike Beamer-5 and I’m already up to ~64 LEDs without even counting my ungodly bright headlamp).

We picked up a bunch of these to hand out to unlit riders/walkers/joggers/etc that we see on a daily basis.  Got 10.  Will probably need more….

5 LED Rear Blinky, $3.50

Similar vein to the one above, but with some weird type of center LED (and it also flashes red *and* blue, for those times when you want to be in violation of your state and local laws) that might, or almost certainly might not be a brighter, more powerful LED than the others.  That’s the thing with ordering from a sketchy online Hong Kong website, you have no idea.  I mean, when you have descriptions like: “Ensure your safety especially for those who riding top grade bikes and who usually riding at night” trying to guess exactly what you’ll receive receive is half the fun!!  Regardless, the $10 we spent on 3 of these will be put to good use, both in having them as a comparison for the others or just handing them out as “you win the Unsafe Unlit Pedestrian Prize of the Day” award!

3w 1 + 2 Rear Blinky, $5.30

Ok, I’ll admit that we debated long and hard as to whether to include this (we’ve been looking at it since we started ordering lights from these guys last December).  The thing is, it looks very, very, very similar to a certain light that’s sold by a certain US (local) manufacturer.  Like……  identical. We got a couple this time around to fully compare them to said similar light, and whether they are in fact unbranded albeit identical products.  Or who knows, maybe they are slightly different and superior products.  Again, that’s sometimes the game of “guess what that random picture on a foreign retail website actually is”.  From what we can tell, certain molded parts are identical.  100%.  How that translates to what’s actually inside, or how it’ll perform is yet to be seen.  Picked up 4 of these, 2 for my bikes, one for Shannon’s, and one to pay back a certain bar tab from last night…………

Quick release water bottle holder, $6.20

In retrospect, this seems like a bad, bad, BAD idea.  You have the quick-release clamp on the downtube, and then your water bottle bolts to it.  However, the idea of a full (read: heavy) water bottle torquing a simple little clamshell clamp trying desperately to hold itself on to a downtube while you ride over potholes and Wisconsin’s great dirt rails-to-trails just seems like an exercise in futility.  There are bolt-on clamps that seem to work fine, but this….  well, let’s just say that I’m not too optimistic about it yet.

Using CREE Flashlights as headlamps

Ok, this is all going to get grouped together since it’s part of a package deal.  As noted above, we LOOOOOOOVE our ungodly-bright headlight (and to be perfectly honest, that light is the SSC-P7 Deal Extreme light.  Shannon rides with that one, but I use the even brighter  XML-T6 1200 Lumen light…) but there’s still an issue of dangling wires, and the entire light not being self-contained.  We wanted to try something that’s easier to set up, easier to remove when we need to leave a bike outside (we’ve taken to just removing the battery pack and leaving the bulb attached to the handlebars, but it’s only a matter of time before some idiot doesn’t realize that there’s no battery attached and steals it) and might have some alternative, secondary use as a flash light.  So we picked up a couple bright flashlights, a couple rechargeable batteries, and a mount that (hopefully) will work with the handlebars.


Ultrafire P7 900 Lumen, $22.60

Now, the thing to keep in mind with these flashlights is that they’re small.  Like, really small.  The whole thing is only 5.6″ long, and so should fit decently well on a handlebar.  The other thing to note is that the “lumen rating” is probably wildly, wildly optimistic.  It’s basically claiming that with a single 18650 battery (more on that in a minute) will be as bright, and last as long as 4 in one of the handlebar lights I linked to earlier.  So we’re not expecting miracles here, just something that’s decently bright that can be used when we don’t need the full awesome power of our current headlights…  We picked this up since Shannon’s P7 lasted *forever* on our Pick Me Up at the Border midnight ride/race to the IL border a couple weeks ago.  Not quite as bright as a T6, but worth seeing how long it lasts (and how bright it is).

C80 XML T6 1000 Lumen, $19.60

Ok, we picked this up because it said “New,” “XML T6 (same as my current headlight),” “1000 Lumen” and “under $20.”  The crown looks to be similar sized to the one on my headlight now, so fingers-crossed it’ll still have a similar beam pattern/throw.  Again, we picked it because it’s a small self-contained flashlight with a similar emitter to the one’s we’re currently using.  This one’s just about 6″ long.


Flaslight handlebar holder, $2.70

Ok, here’s where things really start to get tricky.  Remember how I said that you never have any idea of *what* you’re going to get when you order something online from a non-native-English-speaking website?  Here’s the perfect example.  Will this work with 31.8mm handlebars?  No clue.  Will this work with  the flashlights I picked out?  No clue.  Will it be strong enough to hold it while we ride?  No clue.  But hey, that’s why you guys read this, right?  To laugh at our failures find alternate ways of success?  We can do as much estimating, theorizing, and staring intensely at photographs (that looks like it would at least conform to a 31.8 handlebar, right?) but at the end of the day it’s a crapshoot where you hope that things work out right but know that if they don’t, you’re out whatever you spent on it.  We have a couple “failures” kicking around, headlamps from DX that wouldn’t fit our 31.8mm handlebar portion (near the clamp), AND wouldn’t fit the 22mm handlebar portion (near the grips).  Considering the money we saved on other headlamps (and rear blinkies) it’s not that big of a deal, but something to keep in mind.

Oh, we also needed 18650 batteries ($7.99) and a charger ($5.90).  The 18650 batteries are one of the most common rechargeable batteries available now, and so you can get them anywhere including Amazon (and you can also get Flashlights there as well).  

So that’s it, now the waiting period begins.  We’re still at a time where we don’t need lights for commuting, but that’ll change pretty quickly.  Hopefully our box-0-cheap-lights will show up by then….

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Why Ride the Drive (Northside) is going to suck…

Edit Note:  Come prove us wrong.  Seriously.  Great time will be had by all.  This Sunday, North side by Warner Park, be there or you’ll just be proving us right.

Anti-cyclist Mayor Paul Soglin has had it in for cyclists, Ride the Drive, and pretty much anyone that actually enjoyed getting out and enjoying a gorgeous late spring or late summer day ever since he was elected.  It was almost the first thing on the chopping block after he took office, opting to cancel one of the (two) hugely popular events before the citywide outcry forced him to reverse course.  Since he wasn’t able to cancel it entirely, he just shrank the original course before going back and stewing in his office.  This weekend is another of his “grand ideas,” moving the Ride off to a far-flung area of the city that’s (mostly) out of the way of both people who would be inconvenienced by it as well as anyone trying to, you know, participate.  There’s been almost no media coverage of the event, no information getting out to people who (in the 10s of thousands) have shown up at the event in the past, and I’m predicting an epic fail of monumental proportion.

1.  People don’t want to ride down N. Sherman Ave.

Seriously.  The whole point of “Ride the Drive” was that you got to ride down one of the most beautiful, and busiest thoroughfares in the entire city.

  Normally reserved for traffic jams, backups stretching for miles and the occasional car accident, cyclists, rollerbladers, joggers, and the occasional Segway user were able to experience a glorious and gorgeous stretch of pavement that literally leads right into our downtown.  After it reaches the city, it continues along the lakeside before going under Monona Terrace, a gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright designed/inspired building that is one of the jewels of our city.  Each year there have been orchestras playing along the route there, taking advantage of the acoustics of an otherwise pedestrian highway tunnel.  Turning onto E. Washington leads directly up to the Capitol Building, with an amazing view of the dome and our golden state statue on top.  The route then looped around the Capitol and down State Street, where plenty of cyclists could be seen relaxing at the outdoor patios and bars, enjoying both the atmosphere and a few cold and delicious WI brews.

The route for the upcoming “Northside” RtD is hardly has stellar.  One of it’s main roads will be N. Sherman Ave, which is only known about by cyclists as “that horrible 4-lane road without bike lanes and that’s not getting bike lanes even though it’s a conduit and a natural way to get from Madison to the North Side because the shop owners and land owners were petrified that any changes to the road might make it harder for customers to drive to their Subway/Walgreens/whatever.”  Maybe it’s being included in this route as a way to allow cyclists to see the forbidden fruit, to encounter meaningless strip malls in all their suburban-wasteland decay, and to view sights that would never be accessible from a simple “bicycle”?  Stellar sights such as the cars waiting in line at the local McDonalds, the “Mattresses on sale, 80% off!!” billboards, and joy of rolling past magnificent fields of asphalt, each in its own part of the “freshly-paved, fading, cracked, cracked with weeds, potholes, BIG potholes, and back to freshly-paved” cycle?

2.  There’s no way to easily access it by bicycle

Yep.  The RtD site encourages people to “ride a bike to Ride the Drive-Northside,” the fact of the matter is that to the best of my knowledge there is no direct route from downtown to the event.  Remember that whole bit about how N. Sherman Ave doesn’t have bike lanes?  Well, that also makes it a bit hard to get to the event, since the primary route to Warner Park is on N. Sherman Ave…  (**NOTE!  Google Maps shows N. Sherman Ave as a “Bike Friendly Road.”  Not sure who came up with that designation, but it’s certainly not bike friendly.)The best route that we can figure out would be Capital City Trail to the Yahara Creek Trail, to the Aberg Ave Trail.  Yes, that’s a couple miles out of the way, and most people won’t know to put that all together, but that’s ok, there’s going to be adequate parking for those able to drive to the event, right?

3.  There’s no adequate parking for those able to drive to the event.

From the RtD website:  “If you are driving to the event, please be aware that there will be NO parking in Warner Park or Warner Beach. You will need to look for alternative and available street parking.”  So the 20,000-50,000 people who have attended the event in the past are supposed to find “available street parking.”  Seriously?

4.  They’re not closing down *all* of the roads, only one direction in some cases.

Part of the joy of the previous Ride the Drives was the utter silence that thousands of cyclists going by makes.  No engine noises, no car honking, no screeching of tires, just the soft purr of bike tires on pavement, or the aforementioned orchestra playing in the tunnel below Monona Terrace.  It was noticeable when we had our booth up last year, as we didn’t really notice the silence till we were packing down and traffic was allowed back on the route.  Suddenly I was jolted from my serenity by a loud car honking at some other car for doing something trivial, and all of the normal sounds of a bustling city came roaring back.  This year they’re not shutting down all of Northport Drive, and they’re allowing “residential” traffic on Troy Drive.  No clue what that means…

5.  It’s just not the same.

Yes, part (most) of this is probably petulant grumblings of someone who *has* something and doesn’t want it taken away, but there’s something special about these types of rides.  It’s about riding through downtown, along some of the most heavily trafficked (and least bicycle friendly) places in the city with several thousand of your fellow cyclists.  It’s the same as when I used to do the NYC 5-Borough Bike Tour that not only ran through parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, but also right up 5th Avenue, through Central Park, and on up into Harlem.  I rode on highways (FDR Drive), across the East River (twice, including across the massive 59th bridge) and on the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway).  I rode through an urban jungle devoid of cabbies and buses, through Midtown Manhattan, and we took over an entire Staten Island Ferry boat (several of them, actually).  It’s about sharing the beauty of the city with thousands of other cyclists, and knowing that, for that one day (at least for the 5 BBT), cyclists are a priority to cars as opposed to it being the other way around.

This….  event holds none of the same allure when it’s transplanted from downtown to the North Side.  It’s as if cyclists are being pushed into an obscure and hard-to-get-to area in the hopes that we’ll realize just how foolish we are to be opting for anything other than a car for our transportation needs.  Or that even if we do show up in droves, we’ll do it somewhere on the outskirts of town where we won’t momentarily inconvenience those people in cars who just have to get somewhere right away because it’s very, very, very important.  We’ll ride around in our little circle, past parks, libraries and strip malls and go “weeeeeeeee” while the grown-ups go about whatever very important thing they have to do.  It’s removing the priority that cyclists are given for one or two days per year, and lumping it into just another bike ride.

So, we’re pretty disappointed in it, but…  BUT!!!!  I do hope it’s a good turnout.  I hope it’s packed with people, that it’s a great turnout and that everyone has a blast.  We’ll be there on Sherman Ave, with a tent and bicycles to test ride, so swing by and say hello!  And, you know, prove me wrong.  :)

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Why you don’t see bicycle commercials on TV

Much has been said in the past several months about how the bicycle industry is stagnant.  In 2011 there were approximately 11 million bicycles sold in this country (size 20″ wheels and above, spread among all distribution channels), which was virtually the exact same number as……  1985.  Obviously gas prices were a bigger factor in 2008 (13.4m) and by 2010 the recession was easing (13.5m), but the fact that the bicycle industry has stagnated  for the past 25+ years has CEOs up at night, or at least it should.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t think it does….  Bike companies, by and large, are solely focused on increasing their slice of a stagnant industry as opposed to working on increasing the overall “pie”.  Trek  might grow and Specialized might falter, but the overall number of bikes sold remains the same, year after year.  Even with the “OMG high gas prices!!!!” from the past 4 years, we’ve gone from 12.8m to 13.5m and now back down to 11m bicycles sold per year.  There is something drastically, drastically wrong with that, and a large portion of the blame should be placed on the direction that today’s bike companies choose to focus their efforts (and more importantly, marketing dollars).  Bicycle companies are spending so much money on professional sports and athletes that there isn’t enough left over to actually, you know, market yourself to ordinary Americans.

Note:  Following numbers are pulled squarely out of my butt or based on shaky google searching.  No insider knowledge was harmed in the making of this post.

Consider the following:  Let’s assume that Richard Burke was correct in his projection of Trek being a “billion dollar company” by now, and that Sky’s cost estimate (£10 million a year) for running a pro-team is reasonably about how much Trek puts into their Radio Shack team.  Obviously Sky is the primary sponsor of the team, but Trek has put a fantastic amount of resources into their Tour team(s), including clothing and helmet sponsorships and even fielded two teams recently.  Then there’s always the NBCSports advertising, flying employees over to France, magazine advertising about the TdF, etc.  So let’s say $16m for their pro Tour team.  Then there’s the Under-23 road team and mountain biking teams (plural) as well, so let’s call it an even $20m.

$20 million spent on professional teams and athletes.

That number’s relatively useless without context, and so if Trek is a billion dollar company, that’s 2% of all their gross sales.  Right off the top, 2% of every single hybrid, comfort and kids bike, 2% of every helmet or pair of shoes, 2% of every mountain bike, urban bike, etc goes to their professional athletes.  The problem is that most large companies spend an average of 5% of gross sales on all of their marketing costs (including department salaries and overhead), or 2.5% when excluding internal costs…  So out of 2.5% earmarked for external marketing, 0.5% of that might be spent on non-professional advertising, 1/5th of the total amount.

That number seems pathetically small to me.  I mean, there are only so many people in this country who look good in spandex.  Fewer still who are willing to give up their primary sport (running, hiking, climbing, kayaking, etc) in order to invest thousands of dollars in a racing-style bicycle and all of the dorky accouterments that go with it (full disclosure, I own one of those multi-thousand-dollar racing bikes along with all the dorky accouterments).  And so we have several companies fighting back and forth between themselves while most of the country shrugs and goes back to eating their deep-fried whatever.

What we need is a national “Got Milk” campaign.  We need the major players in the bike industry (Trek, Specialized, Giant, Raleigh Diamondback, Pacific, Huffy, Shimano, SRAM, etc) to band together to focus on outreach, not to spandex-clad cyclists breathlessly perusing the latest Road Bike Magazine but to ordinary Americans, those who might have a bicycle covered in dust hanging up in their garage.  Remind Americans what it’s like to ride a bike again, to be a kid again, and that cycling is a safe, fun and economic (especially with regards to commuting) activity.

Because otherwise we’re just going to keep selling the same 11-13m bicycles year after year…

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To See or to Be Seen, that is the question

Edit Note:  The following is an open letter/blog post to the Madison’s City Council regarding the proposed lighting on the Southwest Commuter Trail.  As great as our cycling infrastructure is, it only makes the glaring inadequacies that much more noticeable.

I am writing this to advocate FOR some type of path-lighting along the Southwest Commuter trail here in Madison, WI.  I have traveled along this trail quite often during commuting hours, and I can say with certainty that it’s only a matter of time before someone is gravely injured or killed along this dark stretch of “multi-use path”.

My wife commutes to work and back along the Southwest Commuter Trail as often as the weather allows, and last year she rode to work and back well into January before the typical WI forced her back into a car.  Since I often work from home, I will ride out to meet her and ride back so that I get a “commute” as well.  It was along this one section of trail that I’ve had numerous near-collisions with other trail users, and I feel that something should be done to illuminate this section.  While I understand the plight of the homeowners living alongside the trail, I can only hope that a compromise of some sort can be reached.

Busiest Path in Madison

The Bike Fed can produce far more accurate numbers than I can, but on a typical day during the summer there are 3,000-3,500 cyclists along this route, and an untold number of hikers, walkers, dog-walkers, roller-bladers, small children, baby-strollers, etc.  It is a very popular and well-used path, but it also mixes cyclists doing ~15mph with rollerbladers doing 7-8mph, walkers doing 3-4mph, and small children doing… well…. zero, basically, as they stop, turn or start running for no apparent reason.  Newer paths often are designed to separate the various users (cyclists have one lane, pedestrians have another), but this has everyone competing for the same space.

When we were commuting on it in November and December we’d keep count as to how many other cyclists we passed as we rode along it, and often it would number 50+ cyclists in the 10-15min it took us to ride it.

It’s a testament to how great the path is that it’s this well-used, but care must also be taken to ensure that it can handle the additional riders that will be commuting if Madison reaches it’s 20% goal of bicycle commuters by 2020.

2 jumping lights off in the distance

My wife and I have very, VERY bright headlights.  These are the lights that unfortunately blind other trail users, but we felt were necessary for us to have if we were going to keep commuting along this section as darkness fell earlier and earlier through the Fall.  The problem is that while most other cyclists had some type of light or reflector on their bike, the vast majority of pedestrians did not.  These are people out for a walk, at night, with no reflective clothing, no flash light, and no reflective vest/light on their dog (if they were walking one).  In particular I remember one evening when we were riding home around 5pm in the pitch-dark, and off in the distance I saw two small objects bouncing, or jumping around.  These moved erratically (although always together), and so my wife slowed down…  and then stopped as a black lab, no leash, came bounding up to meet us.  It’s owner huffed and puffed to run after the dog, and she was wearing jeans and a dark sweatshirt.  No flashlight.  No reflective gear.  No brightly-colored clothing that would stand out against the darkness of the path.  Nothing.  She just materialized out of the blackness to apologize profusely and to drag her (very excited and happy to meet us) dog off to the side of the trail.

Bicycles have at minimum CPSC-mandated reflectors (white front, red rear, yellow on each side of the pedal, and one in each wheel to be seen from the sides).  Runners are often used to dealing with cars at night, *and* most clothing and shoes that they wear often have reflective material built into them, so even if the runner is not consciously trying to be visible, they will show up when a bicycle (or car headlight) shines on them.

Dog walkers and other pedestrians on the other hand, have no built-in reflective gear, often wear dark street clothing, and use this trail as a way to get away from the bright lights of the city.  Until (or unless) pedestrians can be completely separated from bicycle users, the chance for a high-speed collision along this section remains extremely high.

Bicycle lights aren’t the answer

Here at Stray Cat we’ve blogged about lights in the past, and in a recent post we remarked on how there are two different reasons for lights, “to see” and “to be seen”.

Bicycle lights have two purposes, to be seen and to see.  The first is mandated by law, the second is common sense.  To get something that can be seen from the legally required 500′ away is pretty easy, as almost any cheap single-LED light can accomplish it.  Manufacturers have been selling cheaper “commuting” lights for some time, usually in the $35 range and consisting of anywhere from 1-5 lower-end LEDs.  The “seeing” part is a whole different story, with bicycle lights getting more and more powerful as different iterations of LEDs and more powerful battery packs become commonplace.  The mountain biking community has long demanded amazingly-bright lights for riding in the dark and rechargeable batteries that can last for hours.  Up until now, however, those have been *frightfully* expensive.  Li-Ion (rechargeable) batteries aren’t cheap and neither are some of the higher-end LED “bulbs”.  When those are sold at retail they are prohibitively expensive for just a normal bike commuter, and often more than you paid for your actual bicycle (For example, the Light & Motion SECA 800, $499).

While we talked in that blog post about ways to get super-bright headlights directly from a web retailer in Hong Kong for ~$50, the fact is that most bicycle lights are sold at retail in local bike shops, and that your average sub-$50 light will do almost nothing with regards to lighting up that dark-clothing-pedestrian-walking-a-black-dog-on-a-pitch-black-path.  It’s not that it’s an inferior light, it’s just that it wasn’t designed to illuminate the trail or other users.  It assumes that other users will have their own lights (ie, cars), or at the very least reflective gear or equipment (bicycles, runners).  Unfortunately few pedestrians have either lights *or* reflective gear, and that puts everyone at risk.

The Southwest Commuter Path has become a great asset both to residents living near it as well as people who choose to commute by bicycle.  It is one of the first examples I use when discussing Transportation Enhancements in the federal budget, and we need to ensure that it’s a safe and viable option as more and more people choose to ride bicycles to work and play in this city.

Travis Youman
Stray Cat Bicycles

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Bicycle pedestrian committee meeting, TONIGHT!!! (5/22)

We’ve been pushing this a bit on FB/G+, but it’s imperative that ALL cyclists who are able come down to the motor vehicle/bicycle/pedestrian committee meeting tonight.  Last year ~40 people showed up and spoke in favor of more bicycle infrastructure, and not a single one for either pedestrians or motor vehicles.  Let’s keep that theme going, and DEMAND that the city use our tax dollars in a way that supports our chosen mode of transportation.  Here’s my speech so far, minus the pleasantries/butt-kissing/etc.

1)  Bicycles are transportation
Last year (and again this year?), just about everyone stood up and stated something along the lines of “I choose to use a bicycle as a means of transportation, and I find it hard to get from Point A to Point B”.  People are not standing up asking for scenic, winding pathways through parks and green spaces for their Sunday afternoon rides with the family, but rather are looking for utilitarian routes that focus on safety and continuity.  A “suggested bike route” that goes 2 miles out of the way might be fine for a recreational ride, but if you’re trying to commute along that route day after day you’re going to be taking the shortest, fastest and most direct road you can.  That scenic route also  might not start or end by your home/work/restaurant/shop/etc that you are trying to get to.  To say that there is a bike path a mile away from where your office means *nothing* when you’re trying to actually *get* to your office.  We’ve seen success stories here like the Southwest Commuter path, a trail that has (by Madison’s count) 3,500 riders on it _per day_ in the summer time, and it’s not that hard to see why:  It’s straight, the hills are gradual, and there are limited road crossings through much of it.  It allows cyclists to get up to 15-17mph speeds without having to stop every couple hundred feet for another road crossing as cyclists have to do on the East side Capital City trail, crossing 7 streets in around 1/2 a mile (or crossing 8 streets in about a mile).  We need to recreate the success of the Southwest Commuter path in different areas around the city, even if it means eliminating some of these myriad of cross streets.

2)  Contiguous network
This also means that the City needs to focus on “connecting the missing links” in our great bicycle network.   The City likes to focus on the *big* projects, like the Cannonball trail or multi-million dollar bridges, but please don’t forget about the smaller projects that are *desperately* needed.  The City needs to take a step back and evaluate the needs of people as we try to get from our homes to places of employment and leisure.  For example, there currently is *no* way to get to the West Towne Mall from downtown safely on a bicycle.  None.  I know this because my wife works 2 blocks away from it, and her bike commute goes something like this:  11 miles on side streets, bike paths and bike lanes, 1 mile of sheer terror on a busy 4-lane road with no shoulder or bike lane.  Odana Road has no shoulder or bike lane after Whitney Way, and to get over to the bike path along the Beltline would require making a left across 5 lanes of traffic at rush hour.  Mineral Point Road has bike lanes after Whitney Way, but since there are no bike lanes *on* Whitney Way it’s not an option either (and again, would require a left across 7 lanes of traffic to get on to Mineral Point Road).

The vast majority of recreational cyclists are not going to ride to the mall specifically because of this 2 mile “gap” in bike lanes.  We *need* bike lanes on Odana Road between S. Whitney Way and the West Towne Mall.

There is also no easy/direct route from downtown to Hilldale Mall, either.  Here are the directions from the bike lane on University Ave:

-University Ave to Babcock Drive (bike lane ends on University)
-Babcock Drive to Parking lot 41, to Farm Place
-Farm Place to Bike path along Campus Drive
-Bike path to University Bay Drive to Marshall Ct
-(Left on Marshall Ct)
-Right on Bike path to Purdue St
-Left on Shorewood Blvd to Bike path on Locus Drive
-Left on Rose Pl, straight at traffic light to Midvale, to Hilldale Shopping center

And do we really wonder why there are several thousand cars in the parking lot and only a dozen bikes locked up to the bike racks outside?  Hilldale and West Towne are both major draws for employment and destinations (along with employment centers at Research Drive, Yellowstone Drive, Grand Canyon Drive and so on), and yet they are inaccessible by bike unless you are willing to ride in the middle of traffic at rush hour.

3)  Education
Lastly, for those times when there is no option but for cyclists to ride in traffic, we **DESPERATELY** need better education for both cyclists and drivers.  I understand that adding 6 feet in width to a roadway such as Odana or Atwood would be prohibitively expensive.  I understand that in some areas it’s not even possible to do so.  However, for those times we need more information getting to all of the users of the road that CYCLISTS MAY USE FULL LANE.  Much of the animosity between drivers and cyclists comes from the fact that many people are ignorant of Wisconsin State Law.  Wisconsin DOT states that when traveling in a “substandard-width lane” (less than 14′ wide I believe?), a cyclist is supposed to ride in the center of the lane.  This pretty much applies to any road in Madison without a shoulder or bike lane, including Odana Road and Atwood/Monona Drive.

To motorists, however, it often appears that cyclists are hogging up the road and intentionally slowing down traffic.  I was riding home about 2 months ago on Monona Drive with Shannon, and I was riding as I should, single file in the center of the lane (I was also doing ~18mph since I absolutely *hate* that section, and I was well lit as it was getting towards dusk).  First came the LOOOOOONG LOUD HONK, and then an older driver pulled up next to me and “informed” me that I wasn’t supposed to be on Monona Drive, that bikes weren’t allowed on it.  I managed a quick “bicycles are vehicles under WI state law” but what it shows is that much of the conflict is directly driven by ignorance.  He truly thought that I wasn’t supposed to be there, and so was annoyed and angry that I was taking up “his lane”.

We have the tool to combat this and inform *all* users of a cyclist’s right to be there.  It’s the MUTCD “BICYCLES MAY USE FULL LANE” official black-on-white square sign.  This isn’t conveying any additional rights or responsibilities on to cyclists.  What it does is inform EVERYONE that bicycles have a legitimate right to be on the road.  It’s education.  It’s telling people what the laws of the state are.  It’s reinforcing the message to cyclists that “yes, you can ride in the road, and you should ride in the center of the lane as WisDOT instructs”.

Why can’t we have this sign on every sub-standard-width-lane road throughout Madison?  Why not educate *both* drivers and cyclists as to what our rights and responsibilities are?

And if I can get that down to 5min, I’ll be shocked…..

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Buy. This. Light.

Note:  We purchased this with our own money and have no ties to either DealExtreme or whatever no-name Chinese factory produces this light.  We just think it kicks ass and the more cyclists with bright and visible headlights the better.

In a post earlier this month we referenced a “OMFGIT’SBURNINGMYRETINAS handlebar light”, and I figured that we should finally get around to giving a quick review on it, and why any person on a bike after dark should have one.  Shortly after that post was written my wife and I were stopped by the cops while riding home from an event in Madison, and the cop just wanted to know where we got the lights since those were the best and brightest that he’d ever seen on a road/commuting bike.

Bicycle lights have two purposes, to be seen and to see.  The first is mandated by law, the second is common sense.  To get something that can be seen from the legally required 500′ away is pretty easy, as almost any cheap single-LED light can accomplish it.  Manufacturers have been selling cheaper “commuting” lights for some time, usually in the $35 range and consisting of anywhere from 1-5 lower-end LEDs.  The “seeing” part is a whole different story, with bicycle lights getting more and more powerful as different iterations of LEDs and more powerful battery packs become commonplace.  The mountain biking community has long demanded amazingly-bright lights for riding in the dark and rechargeable batteries that can last for hours.  Up until now, however, those have been *frightfully* expensive.  Li-Ion (rechargeable) batteries aren’t cheap and neither are some of the higher-end LED “bulbs”.  When those are sold at retail they are prohibitively expensive for just a normal bike commuter, and often more than you paid for your actual bicycle (For example, the Light & Motion SECA 800, $499).

What about those of us who don’t want to pay the exorbitant costs of a high-end mountain bike light but still want to see and be seen?  Well, this little light that we found on a Hong Kong website might just be the answer. (NOTE!! Deal Extreme had some malware dropped on it on 5/29, so I’m cancelling the links. The item referenced is the P7 headlight)   Deal Extreme sells unbranded, off-the-shelf merchandise from factories in China, and so while shipping is free you might have to wait a bit to get your merchandise.  They do have a US warehouse for some items that cuts the shipping time down to less than a week (usually), but otherwise be prepared to wait a while…  One of our orders took ~3 weeks to arrive from HK, so just keep that in mind when you’re making your decision.

Overall the light is a handlebar mounted (or helmet mounted) light with a separate rechargeable Li-Ion battery pack.  Here it is along with the Planet Bike Beamer-5, a 5 LED handlebar mounted light that runs off of 2 AA batteries and sells for $35.  NOTE:  We added in the comparison of a few lights that we have here to give a bit of comparison to other lights that are currently available.  This isn’t a “lights shootout” by any means, and some of the competitors might not even be available anymore.

The P7’s mount isn’t the best, and its rubber  O-ring can be chewed through in no time by a determined house cat if he’s anything like one of ours who just LOVES to chew on rubber/tape/cardboard boxes/etc.  When it’s on the bike, however, it mostly holds it in position although it does have a tendency to “walk” its way up a bit.  A better mount for a 31.8 handlebar would be great, as would a bit of non-slip material on the plastic underside of the lamp.  Those are easy enough fixes by the end-user, though…  one of ours is ziptied *tight* to the handlebar (see previous “cat chewing through the O-ring comment”), and the other has a small bit of rubber that holds it in place.  I wouldn’t want to use this while mtn biking, but it works fine for commuting.

The light has 3 settings, high, low and “seizure” where it flashes at the high setting several times per second.  I’m a fan of lower-level lights being able to flash, as it’s more visible to drivers and pedestrians, but when it’s this bright it’s utterly useless.  If they had it set to flash at the “low” setting it might not be that bad, but it’s disorienting and distracting in this case and I’m talking about for the rider…  It’s probably 10x worse for any drivers who happen to see it.

Now to the brightness test.  We set these up in a dark basement 15 feet away from a white wall, and took pictures at the same shutter speed / aperture so you can get an idea of the difference in brightness (camera setting was:  Shutter – 1sec, Aperture – f5.6, ISO – 100).  First up is the Beamer 5.  If you look closely, you can see the differentiation between the LEDs and one of my cat “helpers” in the picture:

Next up is the P7  on it’s “low” setting:

Already you can see it having a brighter and more diffused light pattern.  However, the biggest difference is when it’s on it’s OMFGIT’SBURNINGMYRETINAS “high” setting:

Suddenly everything is lit up.  What’s amazing is that this doesn’t even do it justice.  When both lights are pointed at the ground ~15′ in front of the bike, the P7 does such a great job of lighting it up that motorists notice the large patch of well-lit ground as opposed to a smaller LED that has to literally be shining into their eyes for them to see it.  It’s incredible.

The best thing about it, however, is that it’s only $47 with free shipping.  It’s a light priced closer to the commuter-style lights, but it’s bright enough to utterly blow any of them out of the water.  If you’re willing to pay $35 for a halfway decent commuting headlamp, I *highly* suggest paying another $12 and picking one of these up.  The rechargeable Li-Ion battery saves money in the long run over buying multiple AA batteries, and motorists appreciate highly visible cyclists (I’ve found that the more visible you are, the nicer motorists are).  It illuminates walkers, joggers, dogs off of leashes (found that out from personal experience), potholes, and so on.  Just be aware that it is *really* bright, and try to keep it pointed at the ground in front of you instead of pointed horizontally.  Drivers, joggers, walkers and dogs-off-of-leashes will thank you.

(NOTE!! Deal Extreme had some malware dropped on it on 5/29, so I’m cancelling the links. The item referenced is the P7 headlight)

1)  It ships from HK, unless it becomes available from their US warehouse.  It’ll take a while to arrive.
2)   While it claims that it’s ‘waterproof’, I *highly* doubt it.  The battery in particular isn’t encased in plastic, so either waterproof it yourself or don’t use it when it’s pouring.
3)  It also claims to be 900 lumens, there is definitely some doubt as to whether it’s actually putting out that amount of light.  It’s not a bother to us since it’s definitely bright enough for our use, but it’s something to keep in mind.

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I am an ambassador for cycling.

No, not an official one, and certainly not one of those highly-paid political payoffs where I’d get to schmooze royalty in Luxemburg or anything, but every time I go out on a bike I’m aware that people are watching me and not just because I’m wearing a dorky Union Jack helmet or have somewhere in the neighborhood of 60+ LEDs festooning my bike.  No, it’s because whenever I’m riding my bike I make an impression on other riders and drivers.

We’ve all heard it when we’re talking to friends and neighbors; The positive “You know, I was driving home from work today and even though it was snowing, I saw people out on bikes!!”  Or the negative “Ugh, I was getting ready to go through the intersection and this cyclist came out of nowhere and ran right through the red light!!”

From a positive perspective, it’s incredible.  Every driver that sees me riding along is going to be (slightly) more likely to be on the lookout for other cyclists.  Bicycle-friendly cities like Madison have gotten to this point because there are enough cyclists on the roads that drivers know to look out for us.  If every driver sees a dozen cyclists every trip that they take, they will instinctively know that around every corner or bend in the road there could be another cyclist.  It’s why I feel comfortable riding my road bike on the Iron Man loop out to Verona even though cars do 55+mph and there’s no shoulder (or yellow line either, for that matter).  Dozens of cyclists pedal along that route every single day in the summer, and so cars that travel that route regularly specifically look for us.

It’s also an encouragement for other people to get out and ride, and not just in the nice weather.  When people see cyclists out in the snow, rain and cold weather, their first thought is “holy $#!% he’s nuts!!”  And then they see a second, and a third, all on their way into work, and on the way home he or she see’s a full bike rack outside The Weary Traveler, or Mickey’s Pub.  Slowly but surely it becomes “the new normal”.

We went to a roller-derby match the other night and proceeded to ride bikes our bikes into the parking lot past the LONG line of cars waiting to pay $6 just to park and locked them up right outside the door (with so many bikes that there were 5 bikes chained to a nearby lamp post because the bike rack was full).  Leaving was pretty much the same thing, passing the LONG line of cars waiting to leave….

Unfortunately, there is also the negative aspect of always being watched… Drivers note when you don’t follow the law (even as they’re breaking it themselves), which is why I always usually try to follow it whenever I ride.  Maybe seeing me stopped in traffic waiting for a red light can reduce the tension between drivers and cyclists.  Maybe seeing me following the same laws as a vehicle can start to convince people that we are vehicles with a legal right to the road.  Maybe seeing me lit up like a Christmas tree (including proper front-facing headlight and rear blinky) and riding in the road as opposed to on the sidewalk will prevent the near-heart-attack that comes from almost running over an unlit pedestrian/cyclist when it’s pitch black out.  I have found that the brighter lit I am, and the more predictably I ride, the more friendly other cars are.  They give me more space, allow me to proceed even if they have the right-of-way, and so on.

I even try to move my bike over to the left side of the lane when I’m going straight and the car behind me wants to make a right-turn-on-red, which often gets me a smile and a “thank you”.

So remember, whenever you ride, people are watching.  Let’s do what we can to alleviate tensions and get more people out on bikes!  And yes, this does include pretending not to be suffering or miserable when it’s hot/cold/wet/snowy/windy/etc.

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We <3 Dane County

As any of you know, I love living in Madison, WI (technically Monona, but who’s counting). We’re in the top 10 cities in the country for bicycling and bicycle-commuting, we’ve got a great cycling infrastructure, and even when I’m complaining to the city about not spending enough money on bike lanes and paths, I have to admit that they’ve done a great job making cycling accessible to just about anyone living here.

One thing I’ve neglected to note, though, was how much Dane County (that Madison is in) does for cycling, too.  In some posts I’ve even conflated the two, talking about how great the cycling paths are in Madison, when most of what we were riding was just outside the city, and *actually* maintained by either the State or Dane County.  Well, NO MORE!  I’m here to say, officially:  THANK YOU DANE COUNTY.

Dane County recently put out it’s “bicycle planning map”, and while there are few specific details about when/where everything will be built, it’s great to see them proactively putting projects on the drawing board to get public input.  Here it is:

Now, a couple things struck me right off the bat:

1)  The gray (current) trails really do show all of the effort that has gone in to making Dane County (and Madison) an amazing place to live and ride.

2)  Much of what is being proposed is “connecting” one trail to another, or one city to another.  It’s proposing to finally connect the Glacial Drumlin trail to the rest of the trail system, and from the Badger State to Verona.  It will also connect the Highway 12 path both to Madison (there’s NO easy way to get to it now) as well as connect it all the way up to Sauk City about 18 miles away.  These contiguous segments are the hardest to build (or they would have been built already) but are often the most important.  Having a protected and safe bike trail for 90% of the trip doesn’t mean much when the other 10% is a 4-lane cluster#~@%.

3)  This plan connects ALL of the local municipalities, and ensures that people choosing to commute by bicycle into Madison can easily do so.  It provides for a straight shot into downtown from Cottage Grove, Sun Prairie and McFarland, all of which are some of the fastest growing communities in the area.  The most heavily-traveled bicycle path in Madison is the Southwest Commuter trail because it’s a straight route into downtown from the near (and far) West communities.  Having routes on the East side that collect people from outlying communities and drop them off downtown will make it even more attractive to people looking to commute.  Sun Prairie in particular is only ~11 miles away, but because there’s no direct bike route it would be over a 15 mile ride…

3)  I wonder how much of that is going to be paved?  The map above combines both paved and unpaved paths, and I can attest that paved paths get FAR more use than unpaved ones.  All you have to do is take one look at the parking lot at the point where the Badger State Trail goes from paved to unpaved, and you’ll see how many people don’t want to ride on dirt/gravel paths.

Overall, an amazing plan that looks to link up the cities and towns in Dane County, connect the gaps in the trail network, and continue to bring tourist dollars to this area by promoting recreational activities.  Can’t wait.

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Come on, people, we’re not pedestrians….

As usual (whenever I write about bicycle laws), this is for information purposes only, not legal advice, blah blah blah.

Pedestrians, it seems, can do no wrong.  They can jaywalk, cross against the red, cut off traffic, stagger drunkenly home from the bar, etc, and almost never get a ticket.  The closest I’ve ever heard someone getting a ticket for any of the above is in reference to the “staggering drunkenly home from the bar”, and it’s usually a “drunk in public” citation.  Nothing to do with the “walking” part of it, just the… “drunkenly existing in a public place” part.

Motorists, on the other hand, always have to be on the lookout for cops with radar guns, red-light cameras (not in WI, but still), speed traps, HOV-lane-enforcement, not yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, following to closely, not staying in a lane, not signaling your intentions, no-left-turns, no-right-turns, one-way streets, and, well, you get the idea.  From the moment that a motorist turns on the car to the minute that they turn it off, just about 100% of their energy is focused on either obeying the law or trying not to get caught breaking it.

Cyclists?  Well, it seems like we sometimes try to adopt a middle-ground approach, demanding all of the rights of any other vehicle on the road while refusing to accept the responsibilities.  We demand the ability to ride on roadways, but sometimes ride on sidewalks instead.  We demand the other motorists yield when they have the stop sign or red light, but often blow them when they’re facing us.  We ride on roads at night but don’t even have the base-level lighting that complies with state law.

It has to stop.

This topic came up on a G+ discussion with Bike Hugger, and revolved around a news story in the (famously anti-bike) NY Post.  Apparently (also famously anti-bike) Tracy Morgan had doored a delivery cyclist a couple nights ago on the upper East-side of Manhattan.  Not surprisingly the prevailing mood among cyclists is very anti-Morgan, but I have to wonder who was really at fault here?  The story doesn’t mention whether the deliveryman had any lights on his bike as required by NY State law, but Tracy’s comment implies that he didn’t:

“I mean this guy was wearing all black,” Morgan told The Post’s Kevin Sheehan. “If you want to write a story about something, write a story about how these guys should wear lights or reflectors or something,” Morgan said

Now, wearing all black might not be the smartest thing to do while riding at night, but it’s certainly not illegal.  Reflectors, while advisable, are *also* not required when riding at night, only:

“(e) Every bicycle when in use during the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise shall be equipped with reflective devices or material meeting the standards established by rules and regulations promulgated by the commissioner; provided, however, that such standards shall not be inconsistent with or otherwise conflict with the requirements of subdivisions (a) and (d) of this Section.”

(a) Every bicycle when in use during the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible during hours of darkness from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the front and with a red light visible to the rear for three hundred feet. Effective July first, nineteen hundred seventy-six, at least one of these lights shall be visible for two hundred feet from each side.

(Full NYS laws here)

So while the deliveryman might not have made the best life-choice to ride at night in dark clothing (with no reflectors as insinuated by Mr. Morgan), he was legally able to do so.  What is illegal, though, is to ride a bike at night without any lights on it.  If the deliveryman were in a car, there’d be no question that he’d be at fault.  Driving without your lights on at night is negligent, and if you have an accident, either partial or total blame is yours (based on the state).  So why should riding be any different?

Lights are cheap.  We’re running one (or more) of these 9 LED (NOTE!! Deal Extreme had some malware dropped on it on 5/29, so I’m cancelling the links. The item referenced is a 9LED rear blinky) ($3.40 free shipping), and an OMFGIT’SBURNINGMYRETINAS (NOTE!! Deal Extreme had some malware dropped on it on 5/29, so I’m cancelling the links. The item referenced is the P7 headlight) ($47 free shipping, “claimed 1200 lumen”, rechargeable Li-Ion battery).  That’s in addition to our LED wheel lights that adds another 40 LEDs to the bike ($5/wheel).  I fairly certain that Mr. Morgan would have seen us coming even if he didn’t specifically check his blind-spot, since the OMFGIT’SBURNINGMYRETINAS handlebar light is approaching that of a car’s low-beam headlight.

But that’s besides the point since even the dinkiest 1-LED handlebar light meets the NYS requirement (it must be visible from 500′ away).  It might not have mattered as Mr. Morgan might not have even given a cursory glance into the side mirror to see if anyone was coming, but that doesn’t excuse the cyclist for not at the very minimum having the legally-required lights and/or reflectors.

If we, as cyclists, want to be taken seriously as legitimate vehicles using the road, we at least have to be held to the same responsibilities that cars are held to.  That includes proper lighting at night, stopping for red lights, and so on.  I’m not saying that we have to go overboard (full 3sec trackstand at stop signs in the middle of nowhere), but if you wouldn’t do it in a car, don’t do it on a bike.  And if you wouldn’t drive a car at night without any headlights/tail-lights, don’t do it on a bike either.

Remember, we’re vehicles, not pedestrians.

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Hey look, it’s almost spring and gas prices are up. Again.

One of my favorite jokes (every single spring) is that it’s my favorite time of year:  When lazy reporters from the local news stations go out and interview people at gas stations, and ask them how much pain they’re feeling at the pump as they fill up their massive SUV.  It’s repetitive and predictable, but then again SO ARE GAS PRICES!  We’ve had spikes in gasoline prices in ’05, 06, 07, 08, 11 and now again in 2012.  About the only thing that’s abnormal about gas prices over the past half-decade is that we *didn’t* have record gas prices in ’09 and ’10 due to a worldwide recession.  And yet, even though reporters could probably dust off footage from 2008 and call it a day, they’re still out there pounding the pavement looking for new footage.  It’s as hilarious as it is predictable.

I have to say, though, I’m actually looking forward to higher gas prices, even beyond the selfish reasoning that it’ll help us sell bikes.

1)  It’s reducing our need for foreign oil.  The US went from importing ~13.5 million barrels of oil per day in 2006 to ~8 million barrels today.  Think about that for a second, every single day in America we’re importing 5.5 *million* fewer barrels of oil.  We’re actually using 10% less oil now than we were in ’07, and that combined with increased production has allowed us to be a net exporter of refined gasoline…  Would you ever have imagined that?

2)  Car manufacturers are stepping up to the plate with both smaller and sportier cars.  7 years ago if you wanted a “sporty hatchback” from a US manufacturer, your choices were…………..  a Ford Focus?  Chevy didn’t make any and the Dodge Caliber *wasn’t* a hatchback but rather a mini-SUV trucklet for people that wanted a full-size SUV but couldn’t afford one.  You had a few imports to choose from, and that was about it.  Today you have choices from Ford (Fiesta, Focus), Chevy (ok, at least the new Aveo isn’t hideous) and a plethora of imports from Fiat, MINI, Honda, Toyota/Scion and so on.  Without high gas prices Americans would have stuck to buying mammoth SUVs so that they could feel safe (and yet be a danger to everyone else on the road).

3)  Manufacturers are also finding ways to make modern cars more efficient.  Whether it’s small turbo’d engines, low-rolling-resistance tires, start/stop technology, or 6/7/8sp gearboxes, car manufacturers are finding ways to get more MPGs out of their cars.  For a laugh I went back to the website to find out what my old 1988 Honda Prelude got for gas mileage under current standards:  22mpg.  140hp, 5sp manual, weighed all of ~2800lbs, and yet got a whopping 22 miles per gallon (low 30s if you babied it on the highway at ~60mph) based on today’s testing standards.  Today you can get a similarly-powered, similarly-sized car that gets 42.  (As a further anecdote, a previous car I had was a 1977 Camaro with the 305 v8, 2bbl carbs, 3sp automatic which *also* put out 140hp, and it got around……. 13mpg.)

4)  Diesel cars.  ‘Nuff said.

5)  It’s forcing cities to come to grips with urban planning, and to actually *do* something to help people move around.  Cars are horribly inefficient for that, as anyone who’s ever gotten stuck on the Tri-Boro bridge (or Cross Bronx, or Major Deagan, or Whitestone/Throggsneck Bridges, or…) knows full well.  Without high gas prices, people won’t change, and therefore neither will cities.  They’d just keep building car-oriented infrastructure and throw their hands up in the air as congestion gets worse.  Now many cities actually *want* people to take bikes or mass transit, since the load on the infrastructure is so much less.  Chicago is finally getting on board with protected bike lanes, and NYC is adding miles and miles of them each year.  Higher gas prices also cause far-flung homes in “suburban hell” to fall in price, and those closer to the city centers to be in higher demand.  It’s a total shift on how people think about where to live and how to get to work.

Do I  hate filling my tank up with gas?  Sure.  Do I still drive when I’m on certain errands like making a Costco run?  Yup (sorry, I’m not going to ride back the ~17 miles with 500lbs of water-softener salt in the kiddie trailer).  I mean, I try to reduce my gasoline consumption where I’m able to, but I do still need a car for some things.  But to me, anyway, the positives of higher gas prices *far* outweigh the negatives.  So bring on the news reports!

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