Down Highway 1 For A Bit

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On Sunday I rode down Highway 1, from Monastery Beach to the first campground spot of Big Sur, a few miles south of the lighthouse and the military base. 20 miles total.

I was expecting this route to be a little less dangerous than it was. There were some spots where the road had NO curb, NO gutter, NO embankment. Just a few seconds of lapsed balance could send you down a cliff and onto the rocks. The bridges didn’t even have walkways. Yes, it’s supposedly legal for you to ride in the middle of the road, but in practice, the cars just go too darned fast to make it feasible. The only time I took my place in the middle of the road was when I was going about 30mph downhill.

Still, to keep things in perspective, Highway 1 south of Monterey is dangerous for drivers as well. At the speeds most people take it, all they’d have to do is slip their hands off the wheel for a quarter of a second on the curves, and they’d be unable to stop a plunge to the sea. Fast drivers just don’t think about these risks because they are so very used to taking them. All the motorcyclists I passed seemed well aware of the danger – they were going uncharacteristically slow. They also grinned and waved at me. Even the harley-riding toughies game me approving nods. Whaddaya know; motorcyclists like bicyclists.

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Thanks to the wonders of GPS tracking and Google Earth, you can see the route I took in 3-D. This view is of the coast looking south. This technology is really freakin’ cool. Downright magical. I didn’t need to do anything except plug the tracker into a dock when I got home, and press three buttons. Even though I know how most of it works, the fact that it exists and is so easy to use is amazing to me.

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Here’s the middle part of the ride as seen looking north. Pretty steep hills. Though it was beautiful and invigorating, I really can’t recommend this route to other cyclists. The cars just make it too damn dangerous. I never quite feared for my life on it, but a less patient and perhaps less stubborn rider could. When the hills got steep I just cranked down to a really low gear and pedaled along at three miles per hour. Staying balanced and off to the side was my focus.

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Photo taken by La, my pit crew, just before embarking. iPod in a saddlebag since I forgot the iPod Shuffle at home. At one point the darn thing fell out of the saddlebag, but I just dusted it off and dropped it back in. By the way, I know they’re called panniers … but the word just confuses everyone I use it with. Plus it sounds way too bohemian. So I’m calling them saddlebags.

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Some interesting geography in them thar hills.

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The view from the bridge I stopped on.

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Another angle of the same bridge.

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Looking back. Right around here the iPod hit the final verses of “She Cries Your Name” by Beth Orton, and I closed my eyes and felt the cliffside wind rolling over me, and had a moment of peace that made the whole ride absolutely, totally worth it.

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After I went the rest of the way up the hill, I met up with La and we stopped and had sandwiches. Then she motored on, to the campsite, and I followed after to complete my ride. When I arrived the mosquitoes were beginning to emerge, so we packed up quickly and drove north to Santa Cruz. There we ate Saturn Burgers and chatted with Dan, the night manager. Then we met three kittens Alison was caring for. When we got home we were both dead tired, but we’d had an excellent day.

Things I learned from this training day:

  • Highway 1 is more dangerous than I thought.
  • Cell phone coverage is better than I thought.
  • Photography via bike is good because you can stop your bike anywhere along the route – not just turnouts – and stop immediately. To “park” you just drag your bike over the rail.
  • An iPod clipped inside a saddlebag is not very stable. A real bike mount would be better.
  • Going slow, pedaling at the low end of your ability, is the key to long rides. Even if you can stand up and power yourself up that hill, you shouldn’t because the extra effort will cost you dearly. A tour is NOT a race. Hell, it’s the opposite. You’re biking to see the sights, so you should slow down and see them!
  • Motorcyclists and bicyclists tend to get along.
  • No matter how much a full water supply weighs, it is worth it. You will consume and then expel it as you ride, so the extra weight is effectively half what it feels like at the beginning. Also, anytime you’re thirsty, just coast to a stop and drink. Hydrating yourself is always worth any lost momentum.
  • Cycling a route that you could otherwise drive is worth it: You see stuff you always missed before, and you are actually IN the place you’re traveling through, not just seeing it through a windshield.

A small contribution to the Great Helmet Debate

I showed my friend Andy a British Medical Journal article called “The Dangers of Helmets“, which argues against bicycle helmet laws.

The basic points are:

  1. Requiring helmets gives an impression that cycling is more dangerous than walking or driving, this scares off people who would be healthier if they cycled.
  2. If a helmet is a legal requirement, people will think that simply having one is adequate, instead of learning how to bike cautiously.
  3. Helmets don’t actually protect riders (justification provided via a cartload of what is, to my eyes, rather questionable statistical analysis.)

His response was thought provoking:

This sounds an awful lot like the arguments given against seatbelts when they were first made a legal necessity.

  • Car manufacturers didn’t like them because they gave consumers the impression that their products weren’t safe.
  • Many drivers didn’t like them because they felt confined, and actually thought the belt prevented them from being able to “bail out” in an impending crash!
  • Other lame arguments abounded, like the fact that seatbelts can break ribs and cause internal injuries in an accident. Also, the argument that people will drive less cautiously when wearing a seatbelt was used, too.

Proper safety equipment saves the lives of motorcyclists on a daily basis. Appropriate gear on a motorcycle consists of the following:

  • A good fitting DOT approved helmet
  • An armored and padded leather or kevlar riding jacket
  • Chaps or riding pants
  • Riding gloves or gauntlets
  • Appropriate footwear

What do you think your chances are of avoiding serious injury or even surviving after falling off of a motorcycle at 65 MPH, without all or most of the above?

Motorcyclists that get into high-speed accidents without safety equipment often get SEVERE injuries. We’re talking multiple compound fractures, nearly severing limbs, and flesh scraped down to the bone. Not to mention fatal head and neck injuries, severe disfiguration, etc. etc.

Obviously, falling off of a bike at 20 MPH is a little different. Neck-down injuries would more likely include contusions, road rash and lacerations, maybe a broken bone or two; relatively minor stuff. But, hitting your head on the pavement at 20 could still cause severe injury or death.

Also, motorcyclists that wear all of the correct gear (vs. a tiny helmet, jeans, and a t-shirt) are usually the ones riding the most responsibly.

So, in my opinion, arguing that helmets are ineffective or that they will cause reckless cycling is unfounded bulls**t.

ON THE OTHER HAND…

There are a small number of cyclists on the road, and they sustain a small number of severe head injuries annually. Would instating and enforcing a bicycle helmet law be cost effective? Would it prevent injuries that cost the public money, or would it just cost more money in law enforcement? Or, more likely, would it just not be enforced at all, and therefore be a waste of everyone’s time?

Maybe that same money should be used to do research into the effectiveness of bike helmets, possibly improving them? Or, maybe it should be used to provide subsidies or rebates to make good helmets more affordable for those individuals riding $25 bikes that can’t afford a $40 helmet?

Or, maybe it should be used for education; try to make people *want* helmets, rather than trying to force them to wear them? After all, look at how the motorcycle helmet law has worked out; people that don’t want to wear helmets get the cheapest, tiniest little helmet they can find. They’re concerned with avoiding a ticket, not with their personal safety.

Maybe bikes should be regulated a little bit more? People should have training in safe riding technique and proper maintenance before they’re allowed to ride a bike on public streets?

In summary:

  1. [Good quality, properly-fitting] helmets obviously save lives, so stop arguing about that.
  2. There are a lot of other socio-economical issues that need to be addressed before you go making bike helmets a legal requirement.