Mountain Bikers Want Only One Thing…


 This opinion piece in the Missoula Independent, Power to the pedal, amply expresses the world view of the mountain biker, aided, abetted and encouraged by the mountain biking industry (MBI), which, just incidentally, makes millions of dollars of profits from mountain bike gear heads everywhere.

I remember when I saw, and purchased, my first “mountain bike.” 1984. Auspicious, eh?

Yes, it was a heavy framed, derailleur, fat-tired bicycle. I think it cost US$250. Sort of knobby tired. Nothing like the very specialized mountain bikes preferred by the gear clad, dedicated mountain bikers of today. I rode it until the derailleur wore down and fell off from abrasion from the glacier silt burdened soils and rain runoff in Southeast Alaska.

We see them everywhere nowadays, pedaling merrily down paved bike paths and lanes in Santa Cruz, their riders festooned with gaily colored “hydration systems” (aka tiny backpacks filled with water with a tube running over the bicyclists shoulder, lest one should have to stop to take a drink while plying the wilds of the San Lorenzo River Levee), “crash” helmets, biking shorts and shirts, clip-on biking shoes (that require bicyclists to wobble precariously while trying to stand in place at stop lights, and/or blow through all traffic signals and stop signs). Expensive gear. Expensive bikes. Commerce on wheels.

Unwilling to limit the use of their metal steeds as practical transportation to and from work, shopping or frequent trips to bike shops, mountain bikers prefer to load their bikes on their motorized vehicles, transport them to the portal of a local natural area and pound them through forests and over grasslands in a frenzy of mechanical activity.

Here’s an example of Santa Cruz mountain biking excess:

bike ninja

Says it all, doesn’t it.

And how about all that beer? Makes for a memorable bicycling experience.

Whenever we attend a planning session for open spaces, natural areas or just about any remaining undeveloped land round these parts, we’re met with gear clad mountain bikers and their corporate sponsors, loudly complaining that there’s no place for mountain biking in the area.

Oh, except this list of mountain bike playgrounds from the local mountain bike website:

Mountain Bike Trails
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Castle Rock State Park
DeLaveaga City Park
Henry Cowell State Park
Forest of the Nicene Marks State Park
Sequel Demonstration State Forest
Wilder Ranch State Park

Pump Tracks
Chanticleer County Park
West Side Santa Cruz
Scotts Valley

Pump tracks in planning
Scotts Valley High School
Capitola (McGregor Drive)
Velocity Pump Track (Felton)
Portable pump track (San Lorenzo River Park)

Not quite everything, yet, but sufficient to ruin a pleasurable hike in the woods most anywhere in the area.

3 Reasons why I’m not happy AMGEN is coming to Santa Cruz

Gather up the women and children, lock the cats and dogs in the house, put away your three-speeds and cruisers. AMGEN’s a-comin’ to town.

Hearts are gay in Our Fair City, or at least some of them are, with the announcement that Amgen is coming back to town on a congested and traffic-restricted street near you.

A Truth In Advertising moment: Amgen is not a bicycle race. Amgen is a biotech transnational corporation, aka pharmaceutical company, aka Big Pharma. You’ve heard of Big Pharma. Most Progressive folx in Santa Cruz know what Big Pharma does. In this case, they sponsor the Amgen Tour of California (ATOC) with budget dust left over from their unimaginable profits gained by selling expensive drugs to people all over the world. 

Amgen is joined in sponsorship of ATOC by UnitedHealthcare, “an operating division of UnitedHealth Group, the largest single health carrier in the United States.” According to Wikipedia, “in 2010, UnitedHealth Group spent more than $1.8 million on lobbying activities to work to achieve favorable legislation, and hired seven different lobbying firms to work on its behalf. In addition, its corporate political action committee or PAC, called ‘United for Health,’ spent an additional $1 million on lobbying activities in 2010.” 

What’s a Cruzin’ Progressive to do?

That’s reason #1.

ATOC is owned by The Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), a sporting and music entertainment presenter, the world’s largest owner of sports teams and sports events, and the world’s most profitable sports and entertainment venues.

From the ATOC website: “AEG remains committed…to the local communities that host the race as a means of increasing tourism and economic development throughout the state of California.”

This “commitment to local communities” comes in the form of $200,000 in cash and contributed services that must be raised by locals to pay for accommodations for the gaunt and panting bicyclists and their overwhelming retinue. In the last Santa Cruz Amgen appearance, local hotels and businesses barely noticed any increased custom. Consequently, the City of Santa Cruz declined to sponsor the race last year at all. 

So much for economic development.

That’s reason #2.

Finally, AEG promises they are “dedicated to promoting the great sport of road cycling, healthy living and bicycle safety.”

This is the “most unkindest cut of all.”  As soon as the “Amgen’s coming to town” call goes out across the land, and for months after the whizz of derailleurs fades from our streets and highways, bicycling madness descends on Santa Cruz. Cadres of Lance Armstrong wannabes don their brilliant plumage, dust off their dazzlingly equipped lightweight bicycles and dash madly in every direction through our streets and highways. 

One can easily tell when Amgen is imminent merely by counting the increasing number of lycra-clad bicyclists streaking through red lights and stop signs at at any local intersection. Peloton packs of panting participants clog the narrow shoulders of local highways, envisioning the final glorious moment of victory at the finish line.

How does this promote “bicycle safety?”

That’s reason #3.

So we have, coming to Our Fair City, an entertainment spectacle, owned by a transnational entertainment conglomerate, sponsored by Big Pharma and Big Health Insurance, sucking money and resource out of our community, and filling our streets and highways with whizzing steel, aluminum, carbon fiber and lycra to the detriment of bicycle safety education for the rest of the year.

Remind me again why we’re so happy Amgen is coming to town?

Responsible Bicyclists Unite

As a daily bicycle commuter of forty years experience, I am constantly frustrated by the behavior of many other bicyclists I see on my travels. Many are simply ignorant of the law, especially young people riding against traffic or on the sidewalk. Many ride bicycles as an expression of rebellion and individualistic freedom, a middle finger upthrust into the face of motoring society.

My greatest frustration is reserved for older experienced cyclists who are completely aware of the rules of the road and choose to ignore them. They exhibit an attitude of entitlement, as if riding a bicycle gives them dispensation over other vehicles, exempting them from stop signs, stop lights and rights of way. Many wear multi-colored bicycling togs, acting out their Lance Armstrong fantasies on our urban streets and highways on the light weight, expensive bicycles.

There is plenty of room for all vehicles in our community, as long as everyone observes the rules of the road and operates their vehicles with respect for all others. When a few choose to flout those rules and expect special treatment, it’s no wonder that others speak out in anger and frustration.

It is up to responsible bicyclists to police our own bicycling community, with zero tolerance for illegal and unsafe bicycling behavior.

Liveable Streets

We all know how ugly most city streets are, how uncomfortable it is to walk or bicycle on streets designed for cars, crammed in between tall buildings, with little life other than motorists in their metal cans and pedestrians sprinting for safety.

What to do? Should we build more unhuman transportation systems, hang them on the buildings, suspend them over the heads of pedestrians and bicyclists, little individual cars whizzing about on permanently affixed tracks, cluttering up our sky, crossing our greenways, using energy even when not in use.

How about the approach in the photo above? Let’s make our streets more human, more organic. Let’s reduce space for cars and increase space for humans. It’s called Liveable Streets. You can see the legend for the photograph here, and learn more about Liveable Streets here.

Peak Speed

In 1996, Ivan Illich gave a speech called, “Speed, what Speed?” for the “Speed” Conference of the Netherlands Design-Institute, in which he pointed out that the concept of “speed” is a very recent idea.

Speed arrived in Europe with the locomotive and mechanized travel. Prior to that, humans traveled at an animal’s pace, be they humans or horses, camels, donkeys, mules or oxen on land, or at by the strength and direction of the winds at sea. Speed was not a concern, since the pace the animal maintained varied considerably with the nature of the surface on which they traveled, weather, burden and length of time traveling. Sea travel was entirely dependent on the winds, sea conditions and weather.

With the advent of mechanized travel, speed became a factor, as locomotives and steam driven ships could travel without regard to the natural conditions of the place they were moving through. Passengers were less jostled about and arrived at their destination more rested, clean and in possession of greater amounts of baggage and freight.

Speed isolates human perception by annihilating space. Traveling by commercial airplane, one goes to a place identical to other places in other countries and continents, walks, briefly, through a metal tube to sit in another metal tube, while someone or something outside makes strange noises, changes the pictures on the windows and loses your luggage. Hardly anyone travels by ship anymore, other than to go to an expensive resort with a variety of entertainment spectacles, some of which are marginally on dry land. Even travel by private automobile has become a boring, meaningless exercise, as highways and support infrastructure are geared to speed the travelers on their way as quickly as possible, with as little connection to the local fauna as possible and with as little money remaining in their wallets as possible.

We’ve even noticed it, in the reverse, as we walk and bicycle around our own community. Bicycling allows me to observe the neighborhoods as I ride through, smell the flowers, feel the wind (and rain) and hear the sounds of birdies and humans. I sit upright on my bike, aware of my surroundings, fully involved with the place I’m riding through.

The difference between walking and biking is the same order of magnitude as the difference between biking and driving a car. When my wife and I walk, we are more involved with our surroundings that when I bicycle. The pace is slower, we can stop and smell the roses, listen to the birds, admire the clouds and sky. We don’t have to watch for traffic (except at intersections) and we don’t have mechanisms between us and the place where we walk (except shoes).

The other thing we’ve discovered is the perception of distance. When we walk, we discover that 2 miles, 3 miles, 4 miles passes by before we know it. We’re engaged in conversation, involved in our surroundings, and POOF! We’re there! Amazing. Riding in a car, the distances seems so much farther and the time to get there so much longer.

It’s all about scale. When we pass beyond the bounds of human scale, our connection with our bioregion is mitigated such that we lose touch with all that is. Speed is not human, not animal, not natural. “Pace” is the organic equivalent, the varying rate of movement through our world. Speed denies pace, annihilates distance, substitutes an arbitrary measure of velocity for the experience of moving through the world.

The first step to Living in Place, is to stop moving around so fast.

Say no to Segway!

Congratulations to the folks of Campbell!

At least someone around here has sense enough to see the idiocy of this unneeded, unwanted and totally frivolous bit of technological excess. The only people who want them, besides those who profit from their sales, are those with more disposable money than brains.

Human-powered vehicles are all that’s necessary, if anything other than feet, for local human transportation. We move ourselves at a human pace, enjoying the immediate surroundings unpolluted by carbon oxides, airborn particulates and spent batteries. Life moves too swiftly as it is; who needs to make it go faster?

Let’s gather up all the speed for speed’s sake folks and lock them up in a container with the growth for growth-sakers and ship it off to a deserted island somewhere, if there are any left on this poor, overbuilt planet. Let ’em chase each other around the beach at high speed as they overpopulate their own island home.

Within walking distance of Twin Lakes Beach
Pacific Plate