April 2008

Biking and Energy Conservation / Renewable Resources and Life and Peak Oil17 Apr 2008 11:02 pm


Street Smarts

To the woman in the big black pickup truck who, when passing me on my way home from work today, shouted at me to “Ride on the sidewalk!”:

I tried to catch up to you at the next light so I could explain a few things, but by the time I got there the light had changed and you were gone. So here goes…

As a bicyclist I have the same right to the road that you have. In fact, if I need to take the entire lane for reasons of safety, I am legally entitled to do so. You cannot force me to ride on the sidewalk any more than I can force you to ride a bike.

That said, I’m a nice guy and I try to stay to the right side of the road so that motorists can pass me. But I won’t ride on the shoulder, I won’t hug the cars parked along the side of the road, and I won’t swerve off of and back onto the road every time there’s a break in parked cars. Here’s why:

1. One of the leading types of accidents for bicyclists is when a driver in a car parked on the side of the road opens her door into the path of a cyclist coming from the rear. Any bicyclist who knows how to ride safely will stay about three feet from cars parked on the side of the road.
2. Another common accident for bicyclists is not being seen by a motorist backing out of a driveway or pulling out onto the road from the right. I need to stay a bit in the lane to make sure these guys can see me.
3. If I swerve off and back onto the road whenever there is the opportunity to do so, I increase my chance of surprising an overtaking motorist, and I endanger everyone on the road (because motorists don’t know what to expect of me). On the other hand, if I consistently take the rightmost foot or two of the traffic lane, everyone on the road knows what to expect and how to proceed safely.
4. Whether you are in a car or on a bike, getting a flat is a complete pain in the ass. So I will generally try to avoid riding through debris on the side of the road (much the same as you will try to steer around broken glass in your truck).

The bottom line is that on a one lane road you may be stuck behind me for a short while until conditions are safe to pass. I try to make it as easy as possible for you to get by me, but given a choice between my safety and five or ten seconds of your time, the former trumps the latter (both legally and ethically).

Have a good trip home, and in a few years when you cannot afford the petrol to power your oversized, gas-guzzling truck, I look forward to biking alongside you down the road.

If you’d like to read some more, here are two good resources. And if you want insight into why I ride to work in the first place, check out this older post.

Note (5/22/08): This post was updated to reflect the fact that bicyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk in Loudoun County, as long as they slow down for pedestrians. The original version of this post erroneously stated that bicyclists here were required to ride in the road (as they are in some other counties in VA). My bad…

Peak Oil and Self Sufficiency16 Apr 2008 02:12 am

Earlier I talked about my interest in foraging wild plants for food. Since then I’ve taken my first baby steps.

Spring beauty roots

Here are the wild plants I’ve actually eaten. Warning: Before you try this yourself, you’d better know what you are doing. See Thayer’s book for sound advice. And before ingesting any wild food in quantity I not only follow the steps outlined in Thayer, I also subject it to an edibility test similar to this one.
* Wild onion (grows in patches in the woods behind our house). Pretty strong, you don’t want to eat too much of this at once.
* Garlic Mustard (lots of this in the woods). Fairly strong taste, but good as an addition to salads.
* Spring Beauty (grows in some large patches in the woods). Greens and flowers are good (mild) additions to salads. We’ve only dug up very small roots, which when cooked like potatoes tasted pretty good.
* Sheep Sorrel (grows in a few patches around the yard). Yum!
* Chickory (scattered around the yard and in the woods). The early greens are good, and can be added to salads (more mature ones tend to be bitter). We’ve also tried roasting and grinding chickory root for coffee substitute, with mixed results (sometimes tastes ok, sometimes has a very bitter aftertaste).
* Dandelion (anywhere you are trying to grow grass¬† ;-) ). All the leaves we’ve tried have been fairly bitter.

Plants I’ve found but haven’t yet eaten:
* Ramp, or wild leek (saw large stands of this in a park we sometimes walk in).
* Mayapple (tons are popping up in the woods behind our house — I can’t wait until they fruit).
* Thistle (there are a bunch of plants along the W&OD trail on my ride in to work, and some near Matthew’s soccer field).
* Cattail (in numerous swampy areas nearby).
* Pecan (in a nearby park).
* Walnut (nearby park).
* Paw paw (nearby park).
* Acorn (woods all over!).

More pics here.