I note a change in the local street culture while strolling in my sister's Chicago neighborhood (West Rogers Park, which for auslanders means "far North Side"): lots more people riding bikes on the sidewalk around here. Impressions are undependable as data points, but I'd say that I might encounter an adult riding down the sidewalk maybe once a day on prior visits here (if that). On this visit, I've encountered multiple cyclists, sometimes flurries of them, every time I've been out walking. These don't appear to be really serious, gung ho cyclists--we saw a group of them whipping down Western Avenue, in the street with full lights, etc., at dusk last night. No, these look like folks, like the guy above, who are out on short errands and have figured out that rolling is faster than walking and perhaps less complicated than driving. Sort of a good news (great to see more people on two wheels), bad news (bikes and sidewalks don't mix well, and it's illegal for anyone over 12 years old to ride on the sidewalk in Chicago) story. The illegal riding is complicated by the lack of etiquette and riding smarts on the park of most sidewalk cyclists: They rarely make a sound when they're coming up behind you (Kate nearly got clipped by a teenager just on Sheridan Road just up from Loyola Park.
In any case, the issue is not a new one here. When my folks lived at Sheridan and Ardmore, there was an ongoing issue (and still ongoing) with cyclists emerging from the north end of the lake shore bike path and deciding to continue their journey on the sidewalk rather than on a parallel bike route a short block to the west. (Bike lanes of course pose their own set of challenges, including drivers who whip their doors open into the two-wheeled traffic zone.) The city has installed threatening signs and painted the message on the sidewalks there--by city ordinance, you'll get fined and have your bike temporarily disabled (what do they do? take one of your wheels?). Last time I walked there, sidewalk cycling was still common.
The city government's Chicago Bicycle Program has a decent instructional video on the issue: Bike on the Street, Not on the Sidewalk, which actually features some staged but still audacious examples of folks dealing with automobile traffic on the streets.
Eye-catching stat from today's time trial: Tony Martin, the Stage 20 winner in a time of 55:33, won on the same course June 8, Stage 3 of the Dauphine Libere, in 55:27. For the civilian cyclist and for anyone who looks at the Tour racers as I do and assumes that the race takes a brutal toll on bodies, endurance, and psyches, it's sort of a starling statistic. The guy dominated then, and he dominated today at the tail end of a race in which he's been driven very hard to help his team's sprinter (HTC Highroad, Mark Cavendish) and has had to go over all the big mountains with the rest of the pack.
I figured there were more interesting comparisons to be made between the Dauphine and Tour performances. Here's another: Cadel Evans, who rode a very strong second today in 55:40, finished seventh on June 8 in 56:47. So there's a guy who's been driving very hard for three weeks--has been on the spot to cover all his rivals' mountain moves and with his team's help (BMC) has reliably kept himself out of trouble near the front of the pack--who made a major improvement in his performance in the space of six weeks. Thomas Voeckler, fresh off several harrowing days defending his overall race lead, improved by almost a minute.
One question it raises--no, not about doping--is what are the factors besides fatigue that might explain such an improvement. I'm not taking that on right now. Instead, here's a side-by-side comparison of some of the other Dauphine/Tour performances on the Grenoble course used in both races (I haven't done them--yet--all because my painstaking one-at-a-time method takes a little too long; I'm about to break out a spreadsheet to do the whole list).
LATER: I did the list. A total of 77 racers rode in both the Dauphine and Tour time trials on the Grenoble course. Twenty-three recorded faster times (even if they had "slow" times on both occasions; for instance, Tyler Farrar finished his Tour stage 1 second faster than his Dauphine stage, but both times he was near the bottom of the standings) and 54 recorded slower times. The most interesting cases to me are those like Cadel Evans, who finished in the top ten the first time around and still recorded a marked improvement, and those like Geraint Thomas and Rigoberto Uran who had good or at least respectable Dauphine times who were nowhere near the top in the Tour. And of course, Tony Martin, who dominated both runs.
I took yesterday off. So did Kate. We did a mini-road trip to Mendocino County with The Dog. Though it's late May, and we like to think we ought to be well into the dry season, it rained on the way north and then sporadically all day. Beautiful, though. And we were home by dark.
Above: That's looking "southbound" (actual direction may be east) on Highway 128, along what I think of as the "true summit" area just north of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line. Heading north, you climb a grade of about two miles or so and are briefly rewarded with the impression that you've reached the top as you head down a little descent. Then the road pitches up sharply again before you cross a higher crest and start downhill toward Mountain House Road, which connects to Hopland. This Interesting aspect for me of driving roads in this area is that I've ridden them in all sorts of conditions, dry, wet, in the middle of the night. The constant: I'm usually pretty tired, because this stretch of Highway is located deep into some long brevet routes I've done--better than 100 miles into most, more than 200 miles into a couple of them.
Up late tonight--not unusual--reading up on what's supposed to happen with the first stage of the Tour of California in the morning. The race is starting at Lake Tahoe to give it some true alpine flavor. You know, like that big race they have in France every summer (and also, the big races in Italy, Spain, and elsewhere, not to leave anyone out). No one could have guessed when the route was chosen last year that a winter-ish storm would roll into the state this weekend. But it did. I'm listening to rain down here at sea level and looking at weather reports of snow up along Interstate 80 clear over Donner Summit to Lake Tahoe. So now, the race organizers say they'll wait until 9 a.m. to decide whether the race will proceed on a mountainous circuit around the lake or be abbreviated to avoid sending 168 racers sliding around a potentially snowy, icy course. We'll see.
Unremarked by the Versus boys--Phil and Paul--in their wrap-up of today's Tour de France time trial is the significance of the margin between first-place Alberto Contador and second-place Andy Schleck. The gap is 39 seconds, and that happens to be the precise amount of time that Contador gained on Schleck on the final climb and descent on the Tour's 15th stage. Yes, that's the one where Schleck attacked, dropped his chain, and Contador attacked as Schleck first slowed then was forced to dismount to fix his mechanical issue. At the time of that small mishap, Schleck was 31 seconds ahead of Contador in the overall standings; at the finish of the stage, he was 8 seconds down. Controversy attended Contador's move, since many feel it was unsporting to attack a race leader suffering a problem with his bike. That a fair number of cycling fans appear to subscribe to this unwritten rule of Tour sportsmanship and disapproved of Contador's tactic became obvious when Contador was awarded the yellow jersey at the end of the stage: many in the crowd booed, a reaction I don't remember hearing before, even with some of the rats who have worn yellow.
In the end, that slipped chain and the 39 seconds that Contador gained determined the winner in this year's Tour. Pending the results of all the Tour doping tests, of course.
A couple weeks ago I wrote a post called Going to a Dangerous Place" about a series of stories about the death of a cyclist, Kim Flint, on South Park Drive in the Berkeley Hills. In particular, I took issue with the description of Flint as "obsessed" with a socially networked training-log site called Strava, whether his concern for attaining speed records for various road segments drove him to ride dangerously on the hazardous South Park descent, and whether his death could really be blamed on the service that Strava provides. A few days ago, a Berkeley cyclist I've met named Patrick Gordis offered to set me straight on some of the issues I raised. What follows are his comments on some of the issues raised by this incident. Patrick posted these as a long comment on the blog, but he gave me the OK to repost it as a separate entry (and the picture below comes from him, too; I'll post a better version later). Here's his post:
Dan: Thank you for your thoughtful analysis of this tragic accident. I would like to add a few more details to clarify the record. First of all, I don’t know if you came across the account of his accident as reported in the Daily Cal? Note in particular the following quotes of his partner of 19 years:
Violet Hefner, Flint's partner of 19 years, said she is "99 percent certain he was trying to regain his lost record," the day he was killed. Hefner said they had originally started cycling together, but she thought it was too dangerous. "He knew that I was very, very afraid of him riding on city streets," she said. "I begged him not to." Hefner added that once Flint joined Strava, his interest in his speed and his ride statistics became more intense. "Things really escalated once he got involved with Strava," she said. "It became an obsession with him." Flint holds a best time of an average of 33.9 miles per hour on the "Centennial Drive Descent" in Berkeley as well as the record for the "Skyline Boulevard Descent" in Oakland with an average of 30.4 miles per hour. Hefner said Flint had been focusing more and more on getting "king of the mountain" - the highest speed for a certain stretch of road - for downhill segments over the last two months. Hefner added that though the website fueled Flint's urge to push himself, she didn't blame the competitive nature of Strava for his death.
The Daily Cal story also seems to imply that Kim may have entered the sharp corner towards the upper section on South Park Drive where he sidewiped a passing car at close to 45 mph. Based on my own experience on that turn, I would say anything over 30 mph at the apex of the turn would be a difficult, if not impossible line to sustain without use of the entire road (even then, anything near 45 mph seems too fast for a turn of that kind – even for “Il Falco”). (Click picture for larger image.)
Furthermore, I had some private email exchanges with Kim the weekend before his death in which we discussed various Strava segments of a 95-mile ride we had taken together with one other cyclist. In particular, he analyzed for me why, in his view, he did not get the KOMs on the Palomares north side descent or the Joaquin Miller descent from Skyline to Mountain. From these email exchanges, from conversations I had with him about Strava on our rides and from observing him descending, it’s clear to me that he was very focused on obtaining Strava downhill records and attempting to reclaim any that he lost. For example, he carefully analyzed how he could enter the beginning of a Strava downhill segment with the maximum possible speed (based on different possible approaches). He concluded his analysis of our last segment down Joaquin Miller Road by noting, “Now I'll need to plan a ride just with winning this one in mind. It's not right to see a descent in the East Bay without SteveS or me at the top!”
Like you, I respect and admired Kim’s strong competitive spirit which (as you note) is often, on one level or another, a strong animating force in many serious or avid cyclists of various stripes. However, based on my own extensive riding and competitive bike racing experience, I don’t concur with your equation of Strava with pretty much any competitive group ride experience.
You wrote, “That having been said, the focus on Strava is misguided. The virtual competition encouraged by the site is simply another version of what happens whenever groups of fast, fit, competitive cyclists get together. They'll often ride aggressively--on the climbs, on the flats, in sprints, and yes, on descents, too. Why? Bottom line, it's challenging and fun.”
On group rides, a relatively less experienced cyclist like Kim would likely try to follow the wheel of a faster, more experienced rider down a technical or superfast descent. This is a valuable learning experience by which one learns how to descend fast and safely by trying to follow the best lines through turns, learning how to set up for the next turn and how fast to approach sharp curves which more seasoned riders have successfully cornered at high speed many times. On a group ride, you can learn to go faster in a controlled manner, profiting from the years long experience of other riders. When you are racing a Strava opponent, it is more analogous to some type of virtual or online/videogame opponent – a faceless entity you probably do not know at all.
When Kim analyzed for me in our email exchange his unsuccessful attempt to gain the Palomares descent KOM (Kim wrote that he was the fastest on the steep upper portion, but lost time on the flatter section lower down), he did not know that he was comparing his performance to a multiple national track and crit champion who is as close to a local cycling legend as we have in this area. In a nutshell, at least for me, that is the central danger to downhill racing on Strava. Aside from the obvious risks to innocent bystanders, Strava can set up a direct competition between someone like Kim who had been avidly cycling for about two years, mostly riding on his own or with one other rider, and pit him against someone who may have been a national champion or a professional cyclist.
The week before last, a cyclist was killed descending South Park Drive in the Berkeley Hills. News reports say the rider, Kim Flint, crossed the center line and hit the side of an uphill-bound vehicle. He was airlifted to a hospital in Walnut Creek, where he died.
Here's the twist to the tragedy, as reported in a subsequent story carried on The Bay Citizen and in the Bay Area pages of The New York Times: Flint may have been attempting to set a speed record on the descent to maintain his first-place ranking on a site called Strava.com. Strava, like other sites, allows riders to upload data about their cycling performance and create publicly viewable online training and ride logs. Unlike other sites (that I know of), it keeps records of times for defined road segments. Until shortly after Flint's death, there was a "King of the Mountain" ranking listed for South Park downhills.
What I find interesting about the Bay Citizen/Times article is the series of leaps it makes to more or less attribute Flint's death to his activity on Strava. I say "interesting" because it's from the same reporter who put together a complete, well-reasoned, and sensitive piece for the local news blog Berkeleyside then produced this second story that suggests Strava was an "obsession" for Flint, who recorded the fastest Strava time down South Park in early June. "But on June 15," the second story says, "another rider bested his time by four seconds, prompting Mr. Flint to ride that stretch again four days later." There's no support in the story--statements from Flint or from his fellow riders--for the notion that Flint was "obsessed" with Strava or that his fatal ride on June 19 was driven by a hunger to reclaim his Strava record. In fact, based on the evidence available on Strava, there's little to suggest that Flint or anyone else is particularly obsessed with the South Park descent. The site lists 71 total descents of the segment since the fall of 2007, with 34 of those this year. Flint is listed twice--once last August, and once during his "record" run in early June--before the ride on which he crashed. Just one quote from another cyclist about what sort of rider Flint was, how he handled himself on the road or on this hill, would be persuasive in helping us understand his "obsession." The second story offers nothing; the first story includes a long quote from a friend and fellow rider who emphasized Flint was not a reckless type.
But the real point here isn't whether someone's sensationalizing a story by suggesting that a speed-crazed cyclist may have been driven to his death by a website that encourages dangerous behavior. No, it's this: Cycling can be dangerous, and never is the danger more present (though perhaps not obvious) than during a steep descent. Strava or no Strava, the ride down South Park Drive demands skill and attention. Many riders, including me, have hit 50 mph on their way down. When I read that someone had been killed up there, I could imagine two or three places that could happen, including the spot where the accident occurred. All it takes is carrying a little bit too much speed into a corner, finding something in the road you weren't expecting--some gravel or an animal, say--or a moment's distraction, and you can be in trouble fast.
That having been said, the focus on Strava is misguided. The virtual competition encouraged by the site is simply another version of what happens whenever groups of fast, fit, competitive cyclists get together. They'll often ride aggressively--on the climbs, on the flats, in sprints, and yes, on descents, too. Why? Bottom line, it's challenging and fun. I remember seeing a couple of longboard skateboarders on Grizzly Peak, getting ready to go down Claremont. I followed on my bike to see how fast they'd go. I can't really tell you, though, because my top speed, in the high 40s, wasn't fast enough to keep them in sight. I did see the guys at the bottom. They were getting a ride back to the top to do it again. They were were doing something that was very hazardous and required a high degree of courage and ability, and they were having a blast.
None of which is to discount the tragedy of Mr. Flint's death. Most of us who have ridden the roads hereabouts take an incident like this to heart. We can all too easily remember at least once when, whether through our own error or another's, we've narrowly avoided serious injury or worse. Point is, it's really the nature of the activity itself and the sum of all our habits, skills, and even emotions that lead us to this dangerous place, not the inducements of a Death Race website. That being the case, it's important to ride with some discipline--this coming from someone who got stopped by the UC police for rolling through a stoplight on Friday night--and with a commitment to being safe.
At some point in life, it occurs to you that personal preferences aside, you're not really immortal. People close to you die. You might have a close call or two yourself. Sometimes you catch yourself thinking about dying, even on a sunny, beautiful day when, for you, death seems far, far away. On a couple of occasions, I've even given voice to this feeling out loud. Getting ready for a long bike ride in chancy weather that made me nervous, I remember saying to a couple other riders, "If something happens to me out there and I don't make it back, I'll have gone out doing something I love."
I'm thinking about that because a Berkeley friend sent me a note yesterday about a widely known and loved Northern California cyclist died of an apparent heart attack last weekend during a ride up the northern slopes of Mount Hamilton.The rider was Tom Milton, and he happened to be just my age, 56; I did not happen to know him. He was in the middle of a 200-mile event called the Devil Mountain Double, one of the toughest rides in these parts. It's obvious from accounts of riders who saw him on his bike that day or during any one of his previous rides, that he loved cycling.
I know the road he was riding. It combines the pain of a long, steep grind with exhilarating views over the ridges, canyons and valleys of a lonely backland. Condors would look at home there, and slow as the climb can be, the road gains altitude so quickly you have a sense of soaring. You can read about Tom here--an eyewitness account--or here--a series of tributes from fellow long-distance riders.
Is there a take-away? We'll all have our own. Mine might be to embrace a little more readily the large and small joys that life affords us without worrying so much about what's not perfect in a situation. I also agree with one of the commenters at those links, though, who suggests we all ought to know CPR.
We drove up to Mendocino over the weekend using the easy route from the East Bay: U.S. 101 through Marin and Sonoma counties to Highway 128 in Cloverdale, out 128 to the coast and Highway 1, then up 1.
We weren't in a big hurry, so we decided to stop in Cloverdale, the last town in Sonoma before you reach the Mendocino County line. The last several times I've been up there, I've either been on a bicycle or have been supporting someone else's ride. In 2007, I remember going through Cloverdale twice: late at night near the northern end of a 400-kilometer brevet, shepherding a semi-lost and semi-lightless rider, then again passing through both ways on a rainy 600-kilometer brevet (I got doused on the way north; by the time I came back the next morning, the weather had turned and it was sunny and warm and a big tailwind was building--I smile just thinking of it).
All by way of saying that when we spotted several bikes at the gas station/convenience mart at the south end of town, it took me about five seconds to figure out I was looking at people on a brevet (the combination of the gear on the bikes and some of the jerseys--a California Triple Crown and a San Francisco Randonneurs--tipped me off). I asked and found that the riders were about nine hours out on a 400-kilometer brevet from the Golden Gate Bridge up to Hopland. From where I met them they had something like 30 kilometers to the turnaround point and several hours of beautiful March weather to enjoy before the night leg back to San Francisco. On the way out of town and all the way up the long climb on 128 to Mountain House Road--the beautiful (and roughly paved, last time I was there) back-country link to Hopland--we passed riders plugging away in ones and twos.
Did I wish I was out there myself? No--not in my current non-riding shape. But I did have an audio recorder with me and considered for a minute whether I might wait at the top of the grade to talk to the riders coming past. Didn't do it, though. I did give a wide berth and a wave to all the riders we saw. Bonne route, boys!
Coming back from Mendocino, we made the counter-intuitive move of starting the southward trip by driving north along the coast out of Fort Bragg on Highway 1, then crossing the Coast Range to Leggett, where we could pick up 101 south.
I've never ridden this stretch of road, but have driven it three or four times. In my memory, the stretch from the coast had organized itself into a long, straightish section from Fort Bragg to point where you turn east, then a long climb up the mountains and equally long descent to Leggett, an old, broke-looking logging town that boasts a famous massive drive-through redwood tree. What I saw yesterday was a little different from what I remembered. The section north of Fort Bragg was neither as straight nor as level as I remembered. Heading up the highway, you turn inland quite abruptly; as you leave the coast, what look like trackless mountains stretch away to the north, falling straight into the sea. The climb and descent to Leggett turns out to be two ascents and two downhills with a bit of mostly level road between them. Driving it, I was reminded of friends who had done a 24-hour Easter weekend ride back in 2004, starting in Leggett and ending in San Francisco. What a way to start out.
We had no traffic behind us all the way across the climbs, so I didn't have to push my speed or pull over. When we had descended nearly to Leggett and it had started to rain, we spotted a single cyclist starting up the grade. I slowed to encourage him, and he stopped to talk. I wished I'd gotten his name: He was loaded for a tour down to San Francisco and was figuring on doing 60 miles a day to get there. He looked like he was prepared for weather, and I think he'll see some this week with a series of storms expected on the coast.
Did I wish I was out there? Kind of, though my last long ride in the rain isn't filled with fond memories. Instead of pondering that, we drove home. Total mileage for the weekend, about 29 hours on the road, was 380 miles. I did reflect briefly that during that 600-kilometer ride in 2007, I rode 375 miles in about 36 hours -- including six hours off the road to eat and sleep in Fort Bragg. I'll probably remember that weekend, at least the road part, longer than I remember the driving I did this time around.