Saturday, June 3, 2017

Bike Share in Beijing - Guest Blog by the Cycling Yogi

Bike sharing here in China uses a tiny fraction of the infrastructure required in America. The overhead and equipment are both simpler and smaller than programs in American and European cities. They use cheap bikes, and count on responsible behavior by their patrons. The cost of living in China may be 1/3 or 1/4 of what it is in the States, but bike shares in China are more like 1/50th of what they cost in America. The bottom line is that these bright yellow bikes are everywhere, and anyone can pick one up for 15c per hour. And anyone does.

Chaotic. Practical. It's a whole different kettle of fish. (I know there's a pun in there about fish without bicycles, but I'm not sharp enough at the moment to articulate it.)

There are no docking stations. You can leave the bike on the street anywhere in the city (6,000 square miles!). You don't need a credit card because the dominant social media system, called "WeChat" has a built-in payment system that everybody (everybody!) uses. People use WeChat to pay their utility bills and their rent and to transfer money in the family or to a friend. Less commonly, they use WeChat for shopping. There are no bank fees. (Now there's a radical commie idea - the state promotes commerce by making banking cheap and convenient.)

The reason bike sharing is so cheap and convenient is that lots of people use it, and the reason lots of people use it is that it's so cheap and convenient. My home town of Philadelphia inaugurated its Indego bike share program two years ago, and recently expanded to 1,500 bikes for a few downtown neighborhoods. Beijing has 200,000 bikes spread all over everywhere.  

American Bikeshare programs count on subsidies from the city and sometimes from environmental foundations as well. Beijing's several competing programs all run at a profit.  Savor the irony: "Communism" has come to mean that the state leaves the most profitable franchises for startup entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, "capitalism" has come to mean that the state collects tax money from a million working people and channels it to Deserving and Efficient Multinational Corporations. Philadelphia's bikeshare is run by Independence Blue Cross. New York's is run by Citibank.  Washington's Capital Bikeshare is subsidized by both local and Federal money, which goes to Alta Bike, a division of MotiviateCo.

Every American bikeshare program uses bikes that are overbuilt, foolproof, and practically indestructible.  I'm guessing the cost is over $1,000 per bike in quantity, though I've been unable to find cost figures. China's bikeshare bikes are sturdy but very simple, one speed, and I'm told they cost less than $50 each.

(Note from Biking Yogini - yes US costs are high. See the following from the Capital Bikeshare page on Wikipedia: In May 2011, it cost $41,500 to install a station with six docks and $49,300 each for larger stations with 14 docks. Each bicycle cost about $1,000, and the annual operating cost per bike was $1,860.)

China pays $50 for a bike. America pays $1,000+ for a bike + insurance against breaking + security against theft.

Chinese bikeshares are slow and clunky, but not noticeably slower than their American counterpart. It doesn't seem to matter so much in China, where the custom is to ride more slowly. The set of American cycle enthusiasts contains a core of Velosport athletes; but in China, cyclists are students and workers and shopkeepers and businessmen, all of whom seem to saunter along at ~7 mph.

The System

Every rental bike has a wheel lock and a QR code in the tag on the back. Scan the code in your phone, and get a combination to unlock the bike. Ride where you want to go.  Lock the bike on the street. Scan the code again to log out.  1 Chinese yuan is deducted from your account, about 15c.  

Once you know the code, what's to stop you from keeping the bike as your own? The main deterrent to theft in this system is, who wants a bright yellow bike with one speed and no resale possibility, with the constant possibility that your license number will be spotted on the street and you'll serve jail time? But my guess is that good will also plays a role, and that it just isn't worth stealing something and calling it "mine" when you can have one any time you need it for 15 cents. Perhaps the bikeshare entrepreneurs were smart enough to factor in a high theft rate on startup, but once the greed of a few thieves was satisfied, they were overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of bikes on the street.

If there's such a thing as a "Chinese national character," then part of it is being practical and short-sighted, doing things in the easiest and cheapest way. I've seen the down side of this short-sighted culture in the form of haphazard construction and consumer goods that fall apart. But as a model for a bike share system, there's a good case to be made for the "quick and dirty" approach.

China is developing at a dizzying pace that no one can keep track of, let alone plan. There has been a huge migration of half a billion people from rice paddies to the cities. America has 5 cities with over 1 million people; China has more than 150. Currently, the most common vehicle on the streets of China is the electric bicycle, which can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. But there's much more diversity in vehicles, with lots of little electric vehicles, lots of small electric trucks, taxis and Ubers as well as motorcycles and cars. I'm predicting that the next wave will be self-driving electric cars. They don't add to the city's choking pollution problem, and you don't have to own them (or park them!)--you will be able to call one like an Uber, except that the car that appears will drive itself. A huge breakthrough will come when the fleet of self-driving cars comes to dominate traffic flow, and they are able to talk to each other on the internet and spread out to avoid creating traffic jams. This vision may come to pass first in China, where private car ownership is both less affordable and less entrenched than the West, and where central planning is not disdained by ideology.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 Errandonnee - A Tale of Three Cities

After the warmest February ever, with weeks in the 60s and 70s, it was a shock to have snow and ice in March. So when the Errandonnee started with a few temperate days, I hastened to complete bicycle errands whilst the weather was favorable.

March 20, 2017

In a classic trip chaining scheme, I planned a route with many errands in a 10-mile loop. From my home in Arlington’s Westover area I rode to George Mason and Lee Highway for the post office and bank; then along 22nd St and Lee Highway to the yoga studio. From there I took Quincy St to the central library and then along Fairfax and Clarendon Blvd. to Trader Joe’s. I returned along Wilson to the Ballston Sport & Health, looping around to the Glebe Rd entrance to park my bike. I then took Glebe Rd to the entrance to the Custis Trail, where I exit on John Marshall Dr. I like the challenge of working out the most efficient route!

#1 – personal business – stopped at the post office to mail a letter.

#2 – non-store errand – stopped at the bank to deposit money in my daughter’s account.

 #3 – “work” – I wasn’t working, but I stopped at my place of work – Sun and Moon Yoga Studio – to drop off checks for my substitute teachers – one for the previous week when I was sick; the other for the coming week when I had travel plans.

 #4 – non-store errand – stopped at Central library to return DVDs that occupied me while I was home sick for a week.

 #5 – store – went to Trader Joe’s for sauerkraut in my attempt to eat fermented foods daily.

 #6 – personal care – stopped at the gym and lifted weights, but was disappointed that the steam room was out of order. Forgot to take a photo, so here is a link to Sport & Health.

March 21, 2017

#7 – arts and entertainment – rode to Courthouse to see Get Out. Definitely worth the 9-mile ride.

 March 24, 2017

#8 – personal care – Drove up to Philly on Thursday, so Friday morning took the tandem with the Cycling Yogi to Magu Yoga for class (2 miles round trip). Forgot to take a photo, but am including a link to the studio, where I had a great class to get out the kinks from my car trip. That afternoon took the train up to NY to see the Paul Taylor company and spent the night at my friend Sarah’s house in Brooklyn.

March 25, 2017

#9 – social – In Brooklyn, Sarah and I rode from her apartment near the Cortelyou subway stop to Coney Island – my first visit there – 10.5 miles round trip. I borrowed her partner Kevin’s bike, which I found to be supremely comfortable. The illusion of me standing on my bike seat was unintentional, but quickly noticed on Facebook by an astute Coffeeneur! Took the train back to Philly that afternoon.

 March 26, 2017

#10 – wild card – When my daughter moved to Philly she took over use of my Philly bike. The Cycling Yogi had the good fortune to win a bike in a raffle, but I had never ridden it. It is really a bit too large for me and has drop handlebars, which I never use. They make me nervous! So I totally miscalculated how long it would take me to ride from Mt. Airy to Center City. My hands were cramping because the reach of the brakes was really too much and the ride into Center City is predominantly downhill – something I enjoy under normal circumstances, but was a bit hair-raising on an unfamiliar bike. Long story short – plans had to be adjusted because it took me so long. So I found a nice coffee shop (a little Coffeeneuring scouting) and had an espresso and a snack while waiting to meet my daughter for a later movie than we’d originally planned.

 #11 – arts and entertainment – Had parked the bike by the movie theater where I met my daughter to see I am Not Your Negro (11 miles for the ride). From there we walked about a mile and had dinner, then stopped at the Philly AIDS thrift store. Then we headed on foot for Jefferson Station where she could get the trolley home and I dashed to the SEPTA without a second to spare to take the bike back by rail. On the newer SEPTA trains there are long seats that flip up and bikes can be easily stored. There is even a seat belt to hold the bike in place!

 March 27, 2017

#12 – personal business – After driving home from Philly that morning, I decided to take a walk trip to complete the Errandonnee, giving my dogs a chance to finally get in on the act. We walked just over a mile (round trip) to the Westover library, where I had Lisa See’s new novel on hold and then to the post office to mail in my taxes. It was 68 degrees and sunny, making me believe that Spring is here to stay.

 So – I had a grand total of about 42.5 miles biking (using 4 different bikes) and 2 miles walking. With good weather and trips planned for the rest of the week, I’m certain there will be more bike errands to come, but this concludes my official 2017 entry.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Coffeeneuring Roundup: 2016 Edition

Once again, the October beginning of coffeeneuring season found me on the road. I always treasure the opportunity to work two-wheeled beverage hunting into my travels, but this year I really outdid myself. During October I was in both China and Japan. The Facebook posts may have US dates and times – but this blog records the local date of my adventures in all cases.

Ride 1: October 7, 2016 – Beijing gave me a 12-hour time advantage over the East Coast US to begin coffeeneuring…making me perhaps the first official 2016 rider. It was a rainy morning, so I procrastinated a bit, but then took my newly borrowed bike in a loop between the Cycling Yogi’s office and the nearest metro stop (Life Sciences Park – in the upper northwest corner of Beijing) to ensure the requisite 2-mile trip. Between the modern office buildings, apartments, shopping malls, and metro station there is an area that looks very different. Tiny crowded shops, produce vendors, purveyors of street food, and lots of dirt, litter, and garbage make for an old world atmosphere. Despite the garbage and smells, I prefer this glimpse of old-style China over the shopping mall, which could be in any American city.

Our sweet buns had to be heated up

I enjoyed the big bowl of doujiang: warm soymilk

I loved riding this adorable one-speed bike: look at the pedals!!!
The Cycling Yogi met me on foot and helped me negotiate our order of doujiang – warm soymilk, which I had been looking forward to sampling. Traditionally it is served for breakfast with a long twisted doughnut-like pastry crumbled into it. We were too late for these, but did manage to get some delicious sesame balls to accompany our large bowls of doujiang…the whole breakfast for both of us costing under a dollar. While he walked back the short way (down a narrow dirt alley and across two sets of RR tracks), I biked the longer way, having to share bike lanes with electric motor scooters and dodge cars, which never yield the right-of-way to bikes or pedestrians.

Ride 2: October 8, 2016 – I wanted to get a longer bike ride in Beijing, although long rides proved to be not very pleasant. The Cycling Yogi had not managed to find a large enough bike for his Beijing use – given that he’s 6 feet tall with a long torso. A friend had located the right neighborhood for him to find a good bike store – near Peking University – so we hatched a plan. He rode my little orange bike – standing all the way there – and I took the subway. He easily found a nice bike at a good price and we stopped for tea and food. We then headed to Bai Wang Shan Forest Park – a non-touristy park located on probably the only mountain in Beijing. As luck would have it, this was the one day of clear blue skies for my entire three weeks in China. We parked our bikes and hiked to the top, getting magnificent city views.

The tea was really weak

The view was amazing - we were lucky to have clear blue skies: rare in Beijing!
Our ride back entailed many navigational snafus. Cycling directions are not readily available; bike “lanes” that run along a major highway often turn into smaller access roads – always used by motor scooters and often used as convenient parking spots for cars – and side roads peter out with wild fields and footpaths creating interesting (and frustrating) routes.

This shows part of our route and gives an idea of how far we were from central Beijing
Total distance – I’m not sure, probably around 10-12 miles. Fortunately I’d had the opportunity to bike a lot in the countryside the previous week in the beautiful area of Yangshuo, along the Yulong River. This was a far more pleasant biking experience than I had in Beijing.

Ride 3: October 22, 2016 – After leaving Beijing I spent two weeks in Japan, hiking through beautiful countryside, exploring small villages, and visiting the large cities of Tokyo and Kyoto. I had little opportunity for cycling, but was able to get a bike from my Kyoto hotel toward the end. It was a supremely comfortable 7-speed internal hub bike ($13 for the whole day!) and I made my destination the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine (fox shrine) – famous for its thousands of red torii gates and strenuous uphill hike. Kyoto has a long canal running north-south which has broad multi-use paths on both sides. For some reason, however, my navigation system insisted I get off the lovely canal path and took me through many city streets, including bridges over highways that left me feeling the path couldn’t possibly be right. But I prevailed and soon found myself in the Saturday hustle-and-bustle of busy train stops, street vendors, and foot traffic leading up to the grounds of the shrine.

The bike I got from  my hotel was supremely comfortable

There were large crowds at the shrine

Foxes are revered, in part, because they eat mice.
I had taken my own tea in a bottle, but I stopped to sample a sweet concoction of sticky rice ball that was stuffed with a choice of sweet bean, green tea or, I think, chestnut. I thought the green tea was most in keeping with the coffeeneuring spirit, so that was my choice. As I was navigating on foot, I noticed that the canal came very close to where I was, so I decided to ignore the phone navigation and follow the canal back. It worked just fine – although several times I had to cross from one side to the other and I discovered that this part of the canal was not the major canal; it was a few miles before I hooked up with the “official” canal.

You can't park a bike just anywhere in Kyoto; often you have to get paid parking

The canal paths made for perfect cycling.
I wish I’d had more time for biking in Kyoto. Although there is plenty of traffic, drivers are very considerate and there is much good infrastructure. I was concerned it would be confusing to get used to riding on the left, as is the rule in Japan. However, this was my informal observation – and I’m not sure whether it’s accurate or not. When bikes and cars shared the road it seemed to be the convention for bikes to ride opposite the oncoming traffic. This meant I got to ride on the right, as I was accustomed to do.

Total mileage – about 8 miles.

Ride 4: October 25, 2016 – Two words: jet lag. When I returned from Japan I was exhausted but found myself unable to sleep at night. My body’s internal clock was all confused. After five weeks of travel, where I rarely had access to the kind of strong French Roast coffee I normally brew at home, I was really looking forward to a gigantic mug of my own home brew. I had plenty of coffee at home, but no cream, and I wanted the whole perfect cup. So I took my coffee in a travel mug to Village Sweet in Westover, added their yummy cream, and bought a pumpkin scone. It was divine! (Note on bike friendliness: there is no place to park right in front of Village Sweet, but plenty of good bike parking across the street in Westover, and their baked goods are worth the minor inconvenience.) From there I went to the gym to lift weights and take a steam – two other things I’d been without for 5 weeks - and then picked up the last installment of my summer CSA, so I’d have some fresh veggies. I was in quite a fog. Total mileage – about 6 miles.

They make delicious scones (and cookies)
Ride 5: October 31, 2016 – Well, everybody seemed to be hopping on the early voting bandwagon so I decided I would, too. I rode to the Arlington Courthouse, cast my ballot and then stopped at Northside Social where I had a ginger-turmeric tea and pistachio chocolate chip cookie: both delicious. (Bike friendliness note: NS has 3 bike "staples" but they are usually full. Perhaps a few more are in order as the place is - with good reason - very popular.) From there I made a stop at the library and headed home for a total of about 8 miles. The leaves were beautiful, the air crisp, and I felt lucky to have such great bike riding weather.

(Postscript - no we are not going to ruin the joy of biking by talking about the election.)

Ginger-turmeric tea seems to be the latest craze.
Ride 6: November 7, 2016 - With the change to standard time it now gets dark very early. Bike Arlington sponsors a free light giveaway and I volunteered to help by the bike counter in Rosslyn. It was great fun to give away lights and encourage people to pick up other reflective gear to help them stay visible in the dark. 

Lots of cyclists stopped for free lights
Once the sun went down, however, I got quite chilled, even with my jumping around to attract cyclists. So I left for home, decked out with a few supplemental blinky lights and a new Bike Arlington reflective vest. I decided to stop at The Italian Store, close to home, thinking I could get a decaf cappuccino. No luck - their coffee bar had closed up for the night. But I needed something hot, even after fast-pedaling 4 miles up hills. So I got a slice of pizza and a limonata. Total distance - 10 miles.

New supplemental lights

I wanted hot coffee, but had to settle for hot pizza and cold drink.
Ride 7: November 11, 2016 - Is any coffeeneuring season complete without taking at least one ride on a bike share? Not for me and I love the challenge of seeking our bike share systems wherever I travel. But who'd a thunk I'd find one in Corpus Christi, Texas? Okay - here's a little self-promotion. An essay I wrote was awarded first place in creative nonfiction by the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation - a very worthy organization that provides free health services and promotes women's health. Published in the literary journal of Texas A&M University - The Switchgrass Review - I was invited to read from my work at their fall festival. 

I think the total system has 40 bikes and fewer than 10 docks.
The next morning I checked out the city's new bike share system - in operation since August. I had planned ahead and downloaded the Zagster app, which you need to secure a bike. Unlike other bike share systems, these bikes are secured to their dock with a U lock. The key is in a locked box on the back of the bike. When I could not unlock the first bike, I called customer support which was quick to respond - even at 8 a.m. on Veteran's Day! They cancelled my ride and I was able to unlock the next bike. 
The light made it hard to get a good photo of the Selena statue
The docking station was just steps from my hotel, and right on the Gulf of Mexico. I rode as far as I could go up the shoreline, which had a nice multi use path, past the statue of the Tejano star Selena, a Corpus Christi native who was tragically murdered at the age of 23. Going north I came to the arts and entertainment area, with many museums and so forth. A large construction area made it challenging to get from the shoreline and ride more inland. I had searched for coffee shops, but then made many wrong turns and did not manage to find one that looked appealing. Ideally, I would have found a place serving a Tex-Mex breakfast. But it was not to be.
Art Museum of South Texas

This bridge goes across to Padre Island
The advantage of a bike share that comes with a U lock is I could have locked the bike anywhere - even when I couldn't find another docking station. And the rental system doesn't require bikes be returned within half an hour. Plus - the system is CHEAP! As you can see from my receipt, I kept the bike nearly an hour and a half for the low price of $3!

But, back to food - the restaurants that appealed to me didn't open until 11 (too late for me to get to the airport and make my flight home) and I refused to go to a place called Whataburger. So I cycled back to the hotel and chowed down on their brunch buffet - complete with coffee. 

By the time I had brunch, I think anything would have tasted good!
With all my twists and turns, I estimate I rode about 8 miles. Then I got to walk on the beach, put my feet in the warm gulf and fly home.
Beautiful view from the air

Friday, October 7, 2016

Biking in Beijing

        We Westerners may remember the Beijing of old in which the streets swarmed with bicycles and few people drove cars. And although Beijing now places strict limits on automobile ownership (one must have a permit to purchase a car and there are long waits) cars rule the roads, as is true most places. More common than cars are electric motor scooters and, as the middle class in China continues to grow, these have become widely available. So here’s what happens: as cars and buses clog the roads, slower-moving motor scooters use the bike lanes, making cycling somewhat hazardous. Bikes (and motor scooters) move onto sidewalks (when sidewalks are even available), leaving the poor pedestrian little space to safely navigate. Despite the wide prevalence of walking, pedestrians are probably the least-safe travelers – often having no choice but to walk in the roads with bikes, scooters, cars, and exhaust-belching buses.

These problems are compounded by a dearth of traffic signals and a nearly universal disregard for the signals that do exist. Cars and scooters beep their horns to warn the bicyclist and pedestrian, “I’m coming, I’m not going to stop, and you’d best get out of my way!” Admittedly I’ve only been in China a few weeks, but I have yet to experience an instance of a motor vehicle yielding to a pedestrian – either in urban Beijing or Guilin or even in smaller villages in the south.

Many Beijing cyclists use electric-assist bikes, allowing them to move faster than traditional bikes. Although Beijing is very flat, perhaps people travel far distances, as this city sprawls for many miles. I’ve been staying on the northwestern outskirts of the city (if you look on the Beijing subway map, my stop is Life Sciences Park on the pink line). Getting to central Beijing, even on the very efficient subway system, takes at least an hour and often involves as many as five trains, depending on my destination. While traveling above ground I pass miles and miles of new development – huge apartment and office buildings springing up everywhere.

Yet it’s only when one is close to the ground that one can truly experience the juxtaposition of the old and new Chinas. Clean modern buildings and shopping malls featuring a full capitalist consumer extravaganza rub shoulders with old-style shops, narrow lanes, and less-than-savory sanitation practices. If I travel on foot between the modern office building where The Cycling Yogi is working to the subway (a mile by road, slightly less by footpath) the route takes me through a dirt path to a crossing of two sets of RR tracks, the other side of which is a narrow, trash-strewn lane. A small village of tiny shops, eateries, and street-food sellers fills several square blocks. Between this remnant of “old” China and the subway is a modern shopping mall which includes a Starbucks and array of stores, many of which are indistinguishable from those in any American city (aside from the language on the price tags).

Very few bikes here are fancy. Most look old and well-worn. Old-style tricycles (I think of them as truck-cycles), built to haul large loads, abound and they move quite slowly. Street sweepers move about on these cycles, and use brooms made of branches to clean the streets. Children ride on the back of bikes or on little seats in front. People cycle while holding an umbrella in one hand. Many bikes are equipped with rain covers to protect bike and rider from the elements.

I was fortunate to be able to borrow a bike from The Cycling Yogi’s work colleague - the gracious and incomparable Meng-Qiu - who has helped in every way possible (even giving me the shoes off her feet). I have enjoyed riding her adorable orange cycle with pedals shaped like flowers. Its one gear is perfectly adequate for the flat terrain. As my feet have suffered from enormous blisters (the result of a week of mountain hiking in the heat) and an aggravated bunion, being able to navigate between The Cycling Yogi’s apartment, office, and other locations by bike has given my feet time to heal before my next adventure.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Summer Roundup

Just because I haven’t been blogging doesn’t mean I haven’t been riding my bike…although most of July and August proved to be much hotter than I enjoy. I probably did more swimming and Zumba classes than biking. But June was beautiful bike weather and toward the end of the month I returned to Bemidji, Minnesota – my second year attending the Northwoods Writers Conference.

This year I felt like an old hand biking around the lake – a 17-mile loop. If Lake Bemidji was formed by Paul Bunyon’s right foot, the university (where the writing conference is held) would be at the lower part of the inner arch. Riding clockwise, there’s a long stretch along the inner arch of the “foot” that is probably the least enjoyable part of the ride. Although there is very little traffic, the route goes along the shoulder of a highway. But once you round the top of the foot and get to about the fourth toe you enter Bemidji State Park – a beautiful forested area and a chance to swim in a cool, clean lake. Leaving the park, there is a long stretch of shady bike path. Almost directly across from the university is a bridge where you can see the Mississippi River flow into the lake and watch the young people jump from the bridge into the water. After rounding the “heel” you can see where the Mississippi flows out of the lake and from there it’s a short ride back to campus.

Lake Bemidji
This summer I got to take the loop twice – once with my pal Tricia, who was my biking guide last year, and once by myself. The workshop was even better than last year, with inspiring writers, productive workshops, and new friendships.

Biking Yogini by the Mississippi
 In July I had several trips that included modest amounts of cycling. There was a short jaunt to Stone Harbor, NJ, which included a prefect day for the ferry ride to Cape May. It’s always fun to ride at the beach in the early morning before the sun heats up and my friends have plenty of well-weathered bikes to borrow.

On the ferry to Cape May, NJ
Then it was up to Philly, where I left my dogs while the Cycling Yogi and I headed back to the West Coast. At 30th Street Station I saw a waiting commuter who seemed to be a bit obsessed with the color green.

It's not easy being green...
After a long weekend of hiking in the Northern Cascades we returned to our friends’ house which is a good 10 miles north of downtown Seattle. Fortunately they not only have a beautiful set of bikes for us to borrow; Seattle has a wealth of bike paths from which to choose. We rode into town on the Interurban trail and stopped for lunch at a place called the Wayward Vegan – which seemed like a perfect fit for the two of us. I decided to sample their version of the vegan fried chicken sandwich. It was pretty good – but can’t hold a candle to NuVegan in DC.

We're definitely wayward, and mostly vegan!

Vegan fried chicken sandwich

Our Seattle rides

We returned via the Burke-Gilman trail – a slightly longer but more scenic route. It goes along Lake Washington where gorgeous homes with breathtaking views abound (and are probably only affordable by multi-millionaires).

From there, the Cycling Yogi departed for three months in Beijing, where I am soon to visit. I’m sure there will be some interesting cycling experiences in China!

Post Script – in a previous post I mentioned biking in New York and taking in the Gustav Klimt exhibit at the Neue Museum. I was subsequently contacted by someone from an organization called Artsy, which endeavors to make art widely available to the public online. Here is a link to their page on Gustav Klimt – if there are any fans out there.

Delayed Posting - Guest Blog from the Cycling Yogi

Listen up, Citibike!
(...and Capital Bikeshare, if the shoe fits…)

Last month I came to New York for the day, on a train to Penn Station arriving before 11 for a noon appointment.   I thought I’d take a Citibike downtown.  It’s fun to go faster than the cars, and it’s the lifestyle I want to promote, even if it works out to more than twice the price of the subway, and I can’t claim it’s faster.
Well, there were bike stalls lined up on 8th Ave just outside the station, but they were all empty.  I walked a block to the other side of the station.  There are four Citibike stations near the four corners around Penn Station, with room for 189 bikes in all. Every one was empty--not a bike to be had.
I walked, I downloaded the Citibike App to try to find the nearest bike, but the app wouldn’t cough up the information until I coughed up a credit card for a monthly pass.  But I’m not a New Yorker.  I just want to know where I can find a bike...
When it got to be 11:30, I gave up walking and looking, and I got on the subway.  7 minutes to the front door of my downtown destination.

Today I had another New York interview.  This one was 11 AM, and I got to Penn Station at 10.  Once again, all 189 Citibike stalls were empty.  My keen scientific intellect began to discern a pattern.  It turns out that this has been a problem at least since 2013.
This time I had scoped out the next nearest station North and East where I was headed.  I walked uptown about half a mile, and found plenty of bikes.  I paid the $13 daily fee with a smile and set out to weave through the crosstown traffic to my destination, 3rd Ave at 47th St.  I had mapped that out the previous night as well: a docking station conveniently located on 48th St, corner of 3rd Ave.  But when I got there...yes, you guessed right.  55 docking stalls and every one of them had a bike in it.  No place to return my bike.  A young man in a Citibike T-shirt directed me to the next nearest station.  “Concierge parking” he said.  That one was full, too, but there were Citibike employees like him taking return bikes from riders, locking them in chains until a truck could come and port them downtown, or until the morning traffic reversed at the end of the day.  I did as he suggested, and 10 minutes later I was walking in for my appointment.  But I had walked almost half the distance, and the total time from Penn Station to 747 Third Ave was 32 minutes for 1.5 rectilinear miles--not any faster than I could have walked.

Well, it’s been at least 3 years that Citibike has been working on this program.  They’re buying trucks and hiring nice young men in Citibike T-shirts.  But I have another idea.   Are you listening, Citibike?
The elegant solution to this problem is to reverse the credit card charges if you ride the bike from a station with too many bikes to one without enough.  Then the hordes of entrepreneurial young New Yorkers will do the rest.  Thousands of kids will take this on as a part-time job.  (And in Manhattan, most of them probably already have their own credit cards.)
Here are my proposed rules:  If you pick up a bike from a station that is more than 90% full and you drop it at a station that is more than 50% empty, the system credits your account $5.  Same $5 if you pick up a bike from a station that is more than 50% full and drop it at a station that is more than 90% empty.  And if you port a bike from a station that’s more than 90% full to one that’s more than 90% empty, you can double-up and earn $10.
From what I hear, Citibike is enormously profitable, thank you very much, and can well afford to pay the kids.  Their increased ridership will more than pay for an army of 14-year-old bike porters.  But if they really need to make more money solving this problem of their own bad planning, they could do it with surcharges.  If you take one of the last 5 bikes at a station, there’s a $1 surcharge.  If you take one of the last 4, it rises to $2...up to $5 extra for taking the last available bike.  Same thing at the other end:  If you fill the last empty dock, you are charged an extra $5.  Second-last empty dock: $4, etc.
This is the direction the economy is moving.  Craigslist and Uber and Air-BnB are signs on the wall.  It’s not the top-down Corporate Model that Citibank is used to, but hey--we’ve all got to adapt.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Gearing Up for Summer

“You ride a lot, but you ride slow,” the mechanic said to me, as I picked up my bike after a much-needed tune up. He must have seen my face blanch as he quickly backpedaled explaining, “not like these racers.”

How could he tell, just from looking at my bike, I wondered. And the truth is, I do ride a lot, but I’m not very fast. My natural cycling cadence is leisurely and I’m rarely in a hurry. But here’s the thing: I’ve had this beautiful bike for three years and recently told the Cycling Yogi, “I feel like I wasted my money getting 18 gears, since I only ever use the 9 on the ‘easy’ chain ring.” Perhaps this granny-like cycling habit showed to the bicycle-whisperer who’d done my tune up. (By the way – a shout out is in order to Bike Club in Falls Church, which let me bring in the bike yesterday and had it done in 3 hours – a fortunate event, as it later turned out.)

So, with the lovely cool morning and newly spiffed-up bike, I went out this morning to ride from about mile 5 of the W&OD Trail out to Hunter Mill Road (about mile 15). The brakes were tight and the gears shifted smoothly like a brand new bike. And I decided to gear up, pushing the chain onto the larger ring. This was a good ride for my new experiment, as there is only one sizeable hill each direction. And to my delight, I was easily able to ride using the tougher gears – only slipping back to the smaller ring for the aforementioned hills.

On my ride home I got a phone call from my daughter, whose car started smoking on I-270. She arranged to have it towed to Rockville and I rearranged the two appointments I had for the week that required my car (one out in un-bike-friendly Fairfax and the other taking my two dogs to the vet). In a serendipitous bit of luck, as she was waiting for the tow truck some friends of hers spotted her on the road and drove her to her appointment in DC. Later in the afternoon, I drove to NW DC to give her my car to use until hers is fixed (which won’t be until Sunday).

Given the single-tracking nightmare on Metro, I decided to avoid it. I took a bike share from Friendship Heights to Rosslyn and, from there, took the ART bus home. The bike share is fine for the mostly-downhill portion of my ride, but having already cycled 25 miles by then, I could not face taking the heavy thing up the hill from Rosslyn. However, on a side note, I had just noticed the previous evening that a new bike share is now open at the East Falls Church Metro station – less than a mile from my house. I’m guessing that Orange and Silver Line Metro-hell helped speed up this long-awaited development.

Yay - at last a Bike Share station walking distance from home!

 So, given that I will be car-free for the next few days, I’m extra happy that I got my tune up done and that the weather is cooperating with mild temperatures and sunshine.

Speaking of mild temperatures and sunshine, here's a photo from Bike to Work Day 2016 - where I, once again, volunteered at Fresh  Bikes in Ballston, handing out T-shirts and raffle tickets. 

I was glad to get a new water bottle because, can you believe it, on one of the really hot days I was parked by Ballston mall and someone stole my 2015 Bike to Work Day water bottle off my bike - making for a thirsty ride home. Not cool, thief!!!

Stealing water on a hot day - NOT COOL!!!

And, making this blog a spring round-up - I was delighted to see a new bike work station installed outside the Tenley library - where I ride from time to time for a free viniyoga class.

Way to go DC!

Note my bike and backpack in the background
And now for some time on the foam roller...