So I was catching up with the haps in my new city today on Berkeleyside, and I noticed a reference to yet another cool thing that originated in Oakland. No, it's not turf dancing, or whistle tips, or ghost riding, or even hyphy. It's scraperbikes, old beaters totally tricked out with colorful, cheap, homespun decorations. Not only are they cool-looking, the scraper crew wrote some by-laws to keep it all legit:
In order to become a member of the Original Scraper Bike Team, you must: Be a resident of Oakland, CA. Be at least 7y/o or older. Retain A 3.0 Grade Point Average (GPA), Create your own Scraper Bikeâ€¦(It Has To Be Amazing, Or Else You Can't Ride.) A single-file line when riding. After 10 rides The Scraper Bike King and his Captains will decide if your bike is up to standards and if you can follow simple guidelines. After your evaluation we will consider you a member and honor you with an Original Scraper Bike Team Shirt. Only worn when Mobbin'.
The above quote, and the still are from a beautiful short movie called Scrapertown by Zackary Canepari & Drea Cooper, which you should definitely watch for the sheer awesome camerawork alone. They have a series of lovely videos about California called California is a place, also worth checking out.
Cycling seems more dangerous, more hassle-filled, and generally more aggro than when I moved here. Why? Maybe it's me. I moved to Berkeley recently, and I'm pretty close to having a lawn that I can tell kids to get off of. Maybe it's that the city has changed a lot. There are more cyclists, more people in general (60,000!) and more density, especially downtown. On the other hand, there are more bike lanes and signage, and there's more bike awareness among the pedestrian and motorist populations. You'd think that more cyclists + more cycling awareness + more cycling accommodation would have resulted in some kind of net improvement, but it hasn't. Pedestrians seem more antagonistic to bikes; motorists of all types are much more antagonistic; and some of my fellow cyclists seem to be the most antagonistic of all. Why?Felix Salmon has written a really interesting, and widely quoted, "unified theory" of cycling that touches on what I think is the heart of it all: That most cyclists think they're pedestrians, when we're actually more like motorists.
Bikes can and should behave much more like cars than pedestrians. They should ride on the road, not the sidewalk. They should stop at lights, and pedestrians should be able to trust them to do so. They should use lights at night. And — of course, duh — they should ride in the right direction on one-way streets. None of this is a question of being polite; it's the law. But in stark contrast to motorists, nearly all of whom follow nearly all the rules, most cyclists seem to treat the rules of the road as strictly optional. They're still in the human-powered mindset of pedestrians, who feel pretty much completely unconstrained by rules.
I really agree with this. I don't know how to make it so, and I'm really not a law-and-order type. But I think that agreeing to follow the rules of the road would do a lot to make us all more predictable. Also, I'd like to add: Pass on the freakin left.
A small company called Stephenson's Warmlite makes some of the world's best gear for camping. I've long admired their bomb-proof tents and burly sleeping bags, and of course the unabashed, straight-from-the-70s nudism in their vintage paper catalogs [a PDF is available here, for now]. Which is why I couldn't help but be deeply charmed by the mention of Stephenson's in this old Popular Science article about bike camping.
I wonder how many earnest, science-minded readers sent away for a Stephenson's catalog?
ByCycle and Bikely both bring bike route mapping to the web, and not a minute too soon. Finding bike routes through cities (especially unfamiliar cities) can be a lonely, scary process of elimination. After much experimentation, the best route often ends up being a patchwork of quiet side streets, alleys, and paths that would be impossible to piece together in advance on a map. Ideally, you'd get to share ideas and information with other cyclists when you're trying to, say, get from the Mission to the Exploratorium for the first time. Yeah, straight up Van Ness is probably not the best way, even though it looks like it on the map.Online communities to the rescue, right? MySpace and Wikipedia are doing something right; they've both found ways to tap into the motivations of a particular group of people, providing forums to share information and build connections. Exactly what each has done right is anyone's guess. MySpace is ugly, confusing, often annoyingly inconsistent, and generally unusable. Wikipedia is unreliable, badly written and pretty much a total free-for-all. So the bike route mapping thing doesn't need to be perfect, it just needs to provide the right environment and functionality to do the following things:
- Easily post routes. Use the power and knowledge of the bike community to record the best routes around the city. Bikely does this, and they've built a simple, mostly straightforward process. I created a route of my Summits of San Francisco run/ride, and it pretty easy, though the are some fairly unconventional interactions. Kudos to Bikely for getting my mind going on this.
- Edit and annotate any route. Leveraging the knowledge of the group requires an approach like Wikipedia's. Each route should be editable, and annotate-able by the community. This is the only way to get discussion started.
- Emphasize tagging and categorizing routes over naming. Bikely is very free-form right now, and posting routes has quickly become a free-for-all. They recently added tagging, but it's fairly constrained to a few route attributes — recreation, commuting, urban, rural. A more Flickr-like model, where one tags can be anything related to the route (marin, tiburon, ocean, golden gate bridge, etc), gives people the ability to make their routes findable by their important characteristics. Of course, as much tagging as possible should be automated — the route length, the streets covered, the cities visited — all of this should be extractable from Google Maps, right?
- Distribute admin privileges to local experts. People have posted routes that are almost identical, named them different things, and therefore searching for routes brings up lots of repetitive junk. Here's where Wikipedia provides a good way of allowing the community to police itself. A dedicated San Francisco cyclist could ensure that classic routes are established and maintained.
- Provide inline discussion of routes. An additional problem with lots of people posting similar routes is that they're missing the opportunity to have an interesting discussion about that route. There IS knowledge out there that can be brought to the fore! Like Wikipedia, each route should be editable, and those edits of course should be revertable, and there should be a forum for discussion about the route.
- Allow people to support routes. This is the sixth item, but it's really one of the most important. People should be able to join or approve routes, like "friending" someone in MySpace. This is where MySpace comes in. By "friending" a route, so to speak, you give it your approval as safe, really, and you also begin to build your own profile …
- Provide a user profile page. It's an essential component of MySpace, Wikipedia, Flickr, del.icio.us, etc. People love themselves. They like to aggregate stuff. This site doesn't need to be MySpace, but it does need to provide the notion of a profile, where a user can share something about themselves, and view the routes they've joined or friended or whatever.
Today is Bike-to-Work Day, which means that Market Street was slightly more alive this morning. As everyday is bike-to-work day for me, I would really rather see the "energizer stations" (PDF map of the Bike Coalition's coverage) out there during the winter, when the wind is howling, the streets slick, and the cyclists few in number, but still, it's nice to see a few more people out there dodging potholes and Muni tracks, and the snacks were tasty. Thx, SFBC.