October in San Diego

This is getting far, far too common.

This is smoke from a fire that burned on Camp Pendleton Marine Base Monday. This is the second brush fire on the base in the last week (the base is mostly open range, as far as I know no buildings were damaged). There was also another fire in another part of the county.

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Riding the Streets

Since I started commuting by bike in March 2007, I've spent a lot of time reading blogs and articles (not to mention writing articles for this blog) in order to better understand how to ride safely and to better enjoy cycling. There are many different opinions on what is "the safest" way to ride in traffic; there are also many things that everyone agrees on. Recently, all of the info I had read and received, conflicting ideas all sort of...clicked. In that moment I knew what I believe to be the safest way for me to ride.

I'll be honest, this riding style requires lots of confidence in your riding and awareness for what is going on around you. Luckily those are two of the three things you need to never end up in an accident (the third, and maybe most important is luck).

I've written before about a riding style called "claim the lane." My new style is derived from claiming the lane, but goes a full step further by controlling the lane once it has been claimed. This style is specifically designed for riding on single lane streets (especially narrow ones) without bike lanes that allows street parking. (Most of my riding around my home is on this type of road.)

Before we get too far into this, I want to discuss the three sections of a lane you can ride in and when each is appropriate. The left side of the lane is where you go to make left turns. The only other time I can see getting that far over is to get around something blocking the lane (I often have to go around garbage trucks emptying dumpsters in the morning). The most logical section for riding in is the right side of the lane. This is where California law says that you should ride. There are, however, exceptions: you can leave the right side of the lane to turn left, get out of a right turn only lane or if the right side of the lane is "unsafe". This last one is not very clear on a definition so I, and many other riders take a pretty wide definition of unsafe. I only ride on the right side of the lane if the lane is wide, smooth, free of debris and there are no cars parked on the curb. If any of those are the case, I move to the middle of the lane.

CA law says that you can ride in the middle of the lane (with all the rights and responsibilities of motor vehicles) if it is unsafe to be on the right side of the lane. I ride in the middle of the lane if the lane is so narrow that I am not comfortable with cars passing me. Similarly, I choose the center of the lane if there is debris (tree branches, rocks, broken glass, etc.) or if the road is not in good condition (which is often the case near the gutter). More importantly, though, is that I move to the middle if there are cars parked on the side of the road. This is to avoid being "doored." Being "doored" means having someone open a driver-side door in front of you and can be really dangerous if you are traveling at even just a decent speed. (A significant number of bicycle collisions and injuries come from being "doored.")

Now that you are riding in the middle of the lane, this is where your confidence and awareness will come in (hopefully luck has been with you all along). Here, you have to be confident enough to control both the lane and traffic. This means being aware of where cars and traffic signals are. When I am in the middle of the lane I keep an eye on my rearview mirror to know when cars are coming up behind me. When they do, I signal that I am in the middle of the lane and that I am not comfortable with them passing me (arm extended diagonally toward the ground on the left, hand open, palm facing the car). When I am comfortable being passed (if the lane widens up or there is a section without parked cars), I pull to the right side of the lane and wave cars past me (arm extended out to the left, sweeping forward). This allows cars to know that it is safe to pass you and that you are aware of their presence and want both of your journeys to be as safe and as fast as possible. I've noticed that cars will often speed up to pass you quickly once you wave them past, which is good if you don't have a long window to let cars through. Also remember that if too many cars build up behind you it is polite to just pull over and stop and let them all by (I believe CA law requires you to pull over once five cars are behind you).

Whenever I approach a stoplight or stop sign I move to the center of the lane. This makes you more visible to vehicles that approach you from either direction and gets you out of the way of any vehicles that want to make a right turn (just because you have to sit at a light doesn't mean they should have to). When I approach a stop that has cars lined up I have to decide whether to move to the center and wait in line or ride past the line of cars up to the limit line at the intersection. Here is the criteria I use to make that decision. First, if I have waved any cars past me, I stay behind that car. If they were considerate enough to wait until I felt comfortable letting them past, I will be considerate and not make them pass me again. The only exception is when I don't think they will have a chance to keep up with me. There is a part of my commute that is through an area with a lot of traffic and I pass cars there because cycling through it is about five times faster than driving. Next I figure out if riding up to the front is likely to back up traffic. If road conditions mean that I am going to jump right back to the middle of the lane after the intersection and make cars wait to pass me, I'll just wait at my spot in the line. Finally, I take into account the speed limit on the street, if it is significantly higher than I can ride I just wait my turn. Otherwise, I generally move up to the front of the line (I consider it a 'perk' of bicycling).

When you are at or approaching a signal remember that CA law give you both the rights and responsibilities of motor vehicles. This includes stopping and waiting at stop signs and stop lights. There have been reports that California (or some cities in CA) might be considering a variation on a liberal set of cycling laws used in Idaho. In Idaho bicycles are only required to yield at stop signs and are allowed to treat stop lights as stop signs when safe to do so. I happen to think that this would a welcome change to the law that would encourage more people to commute by bicycle.

Finally, a reminder that this method is designed for single lane streets without a bike lane. If there is a bike lane, you should probably be there instead. And do whatever you can to stay off the sidewalks. They are dangerous for you and pedestrians.

-Matt the weatherman

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Road Bike Rides dot Com

Last week I alluded to a mapping and sharing website for bike rides.

Roadbikerides.com is a clever site that catalogs user-submitted mapping data to create ride reports on rides in any region. You can search by city to see all the submitted rides that are labeled in that area. The ride reports can show where there are water fountains and restrooms, places to stop and eat or any interesting points along the way. The rides will be rated according to difficulty and include elevation maps to show how much climbing is involved. You can also find group rides that take place at certain intervals (every week, once a month, etc.).

To really be a part of the community however, you will need to find and input some rides into the database. There are three ways that this can be done. You can upload a GPX, KML or Garmin file that has the map data in it already. While this is great for people who've learned to write this type of file (or have a device that writes it for them), I have not and so have no experience with it. The two other ways I have tried. The first is to input a starting and ending place and allow the GoogleMaps engine to build a route between the two points. You can then drag and adjust the routes as you would normally in GoogleMaps. This is useful because the route stays on roads, but is limited by the roads that the mapping engine allows driving/riding on. This method also automatically generates the text directions for the route, but if you had to move a lot of the route, the directions will include every hold point (even if they are all on one road) The second method is to plot a line over the top of the map point by point. This can be tedious because each point you add only adds the route in a straight line from where the previous point is but it does allow you to route rides off of the roads (to perhaps use a bike trail or bridge). This method does not create the text directions for the ride, but as I noted earlier, if you write them out yourself, they are likely going to be clearer.

I've been using Roadbikerides.com for a month or two now. I've inputted two rides so far (I don't want to input anything I haven't ridden myself), you can find them (and me) under the username: theweatherman. I find it useful in finding interesting routes or rides that I hadn't thought of and you can rate the quality of each ride. The San Diego section does not have a whole lot of rides in it yet, but hopefully with a little more public awareness that can be remedied.

Overall I would say that it is a well designed website that many cyclists would find useful (and the more that use it, the more useful it becomes.) There are, however, two problems I have with RoadBikeRides.com: First, local rides for me can be hard to find because I live in a large metropolitan area that is not incorporated as one city. My trip to work includes six different cities. This make it hard to search for rides that are in my area as some might be labeled San Diego while others get tagged as Del Mar, Carlsbad, Chula Vista, La Mesa, etc. I would like to see a county search for rides so that you can get all the rides in one county. My other problem is a little more messy. The difficulty ratings are very haphazard. By allowing the user who inputs the ride to select what level of difficulty it gets the rating gets skewed by how experienced and fit the user is. There are some rides input as Moderate that I find laughably Beginner and one ride that is listed as Moderate that I would rank higher than most of the rides rated difficult. Do I know the solution to this problem? No. But if you can figure it out, post it below or email the site creators.

Now go put in some rides for me to tryout!

-Matt the Weatherman

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