Category: Bicycling

“Share the Road” about More than Bicycles and Cars

A few days ago, a cyclist just recently introduced to the sport, Joshua Edward Duncan, was struck from behind by a motorist. He suffered injuries that led to his death, and the motorist explained that she did not see him.

Duncan was 31, married, and the father of a 13-month-old infant.

In 1989, a friend and I were cycling in the northern part of the county where I live when a drunk driver hit me from behind before speeding off. I was knocked into my riding partner and suffered a shattered ankle bone. At that moment, my daughter was 3-months old—as I lay in the road, coincidentally one road over from where my sister-in-law lived.

Since a cycling friend of mine who was riding with Duncan texted me about Duncan being struck and killed, I have been unable to stop thinking of two things: back in 1989, I could have very easily lost my life, and the motorist who has not been charged (just as the hit-and-run drunk driver who hit me was never charged even though he was apprehended) explained that she did not see Duncan.

South Carolina has strong cycling laws that guarantee cyclists the right to “Share the Road” in our state, and the signs are nearly everywhere:

I have been an avid cyclist in the Upstate of SC since the early/mid-1980s, many years logging as many as 10,000 miles on roads throughout rural SC and North Carolina.

Along with being hit by the drunk driver in 1989, I have been in two other accident with cars—one in which a motorist dragged a fellow cyclist under the car for a quarter mile leaving him permanently injured.

This motorist also didn’t see us, and despite being elderly, retained his license after the accident.

I live, work, and cycle in SC—the state of my birth. And I cannot ignore that I witness everyday the hollowness of the “Share the Road” signs against the behavior of people.

SC is a stark microcosm of the U.S.—where word does not equal deed.

We in the South are quick to shout that we are pro-life, that we are a Christian people.

And then we drive while texting, we make no effort to allow merging cars onto the interstate, we behave at traffic lights as if we are the only car on the road.

I also cannot ignore that this inexcusable accident taking a young man’s life occurred within days of a local high school coming under fire for banning the U.S. flag at the traditional Friday night football game.

The uproar is a powerful but misrepresented lesson about us as people. The media and the public anger have focused on the flag being “banned,” but almost no one has confronted the real issue: students have in the past and intended at this game to use the U.S. flag to taunt Mexican students at a rival high school.

I taught high school for nearly two decades in this area, and I am not suggesting we overreact to this adolescent behavior; it happens everywhere, and in many ways, it is simply really poor behavior that is the consequence of being young.

And the school had an undeniable moral obligation to teach these young people that bullying and hatred are wrong, unacceptable.

The lesson here is not about the behavior of a few teens, but about, once again, the willingness of adults to wrap ourselves in words and symbolism while refusing to translate those ideals into behavior.

How do we teach young people lessons (do unto others) about hatred while a presidential candidate behaves the same way yet suffers no real consequences—in fact, garners support?

As an educator, parent, and coach, I have always been acutely aware of the danger of hypocrisy—and how it corrodes the authority of any adult seeking to influence young people.

In his “Lockridge: ‘The American Myth,'” James Baldwin rightfully proclaimed:

This rigid refusal to look at ourselves may well destroy us; particularly now since if we cannot understand ourselves we will not be able to understand anything.

“Share the Road” as hollow sloganism and the motorist admitting that she did not see the cyclist she struck and killed with her car—these raise a concurrent truth to Baldwin’s: the rigid refusal to see the other.

And it is destroying us—literally and figuratively.

#BlackLivesMatter is a confrontation of the fact that white America refuses to see black America and the inequities they suffer.

A presidential campaign built on slandering Mexicans as rapist and murderers; on building a wall; and on casting out Muslims—this is a rigid refusal to see ourselves and the other, and it is breeding another generation of hatred.

A couple of springs ago, a friend and I met for our weekly Tuesday evening ride on the westside of town. We rolled out early to do a warm up lap and chat.

As we rolled two-abreast down a small country road, a highway patrolman parked there and apparently monitoring speeding stepped out of his car and stopped us, telling us to ride single-file.

I politely told him that SC law is two-abreast, and he replied, “Really?”

He was neither aware of the law, nor willing to see our right to be on the road as cyclists.

Law enforcement unaware of the law, unaware of the larger concept of justice, and unwilling to see the other—this is now in front of us in disturbing ways, and this is why many people are raising voices.

And many years ago, on a Sunday morning like the one today, I was riding my bicycle from my home to my in-laws to have lunch with my family.

A car zoomed by me, nearly clipping me, swerved immediately in front of me, slowing dramatically, and then turned onto an exit ramp as I raised my hand in the “what in the world” manner (and, no, I did not offer a one-finger salute).

The car suddenly stopped on the exit ramp, and I saw clearly it was a family dressed for church, children in the back seat. The diver, a man in a nice suit, stepped out shouting profanities at me for being on the road because they had to get to church.

Punctuality for church mattered more than my life—and his children were there to witness this. I have never forgotten that moment.

“Share the Road” is about more than bicycles and cars.

It is a message to be heeded every moment: See the other in a way that is listening to the other, in a way that honors the dignity of every human being.

Driving a car as if only your life matters reveals a great deal about the driver, but the consequences are often suffered by the innocent other.

“But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America’s becoming humane and reasonable,” lamented author Kurt Vonnegut in “Cold Turkey,” adding:

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

And in his novel, Slapstick or Lonesome No More!, Vonnegut included:

I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, “Please—a little less love, and a little more common decency.”

What if “common decency” were a real American value—one we not only voiced, but also practiced daily?

What if we set aside our rigid refusal to see ourselves and to see the other?

What is a people who fervently claimed to be a “Christian nation” truly began to live as such?

Yes, what if …?

Matthew 5:3-10

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

globalbike: Two wheels making a world of difference

For several years now, I have been a member of the globalbike Spartanburg chapter team. As pedaling billboards, we represent globalbike, a nonprofit founded and based in Spartanburg, South Carolina that provides bikes to community careworkers, and women and girls organizations in Tanzania, Africa.

July 4, 2015, our chapter team is sponsoring a metric century in part to raise money for the upcoming trip to Africa by globalbike representatives.

Please consider donating and supporting the cause: Two wheels making a world of difference.

Bicycling and Education: More on the Burden of the Impossible

I have been both a serious educator and cyclist for around 30 years, and I am often struck how competitive group cycling offers us important lessons about how we tend to fail the promise of universal public education.

Competitive cycling—many people probably do not realize—is a team sport, and even recreational cyclists (as my friends and I are) often ride within the same principles of team competitive cycling.

As well, professional cycling (which has several layers similar to Major League baseball in the U.S.) has a long history of corruption—doping (performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs).

Both the principles of group cycling and the culture of doping help explain some of the failures of how we do schooling in the U.S.

Collaboration Trumps Competition

I have been cycling in the Greenville-Spartanburg area of Upstate South Carolina for three decades—as a part of a very organized cycling community (we post group rides 6-days a week throughout the entire year) and several different bicycle clubs and teams (currently globalbike Spartanburg).

Over those years, we have maintained a nucleus of cyclists and a revolving door of new riders, often runners and other elite athletes looking for a different challenge.

One of the recurring problems of integrating new riders into cycling is the complex culture of the sport (road cycling is tradition-rich, and also a bit insular) as well as the principles guiding riding in an organized pack, specifically participating in a paceline:

Members of globalbike Spartanburg 2015 participate in a paceline while doing a spring training ride in the North Carolina mountains.

Members of globalbike Spartanburg 2015 form a paceline while doing a spring training ride in the North Carolina mountains.

A group of organized cyclists (a paceline or eschelon) can ride faster and longer than a cyclist on her/his own. The key to that group advantage is that the principles governing a paceline are built on cooperation and not competition.

Cyclists in a paceline work in ways that consider the impact of the wind, the abilities of the cyclists (strong riders taking longer pulls with weaker riders sitting on, or not participating in the pulls), and the advantages/disadvantages of drafting.

For example, a paceline is constructed of two lines of riders, one driving the pace forward and another receding (to allow riders to rest and to block sidewind from the advancing riders who are pulling). If there is sidewind, the receding line should be on the side that blocks that sidewind from the advancing line, but always, the advancing line must create a pace that is consistent (riders must not surge when pulling through, and as well, after taking a pull, the rider pulling through to the receding line must ease off the pace slightly):

A paceline with a group of committed riders is an amazing thing to watch. A paceline with riders trying to disrupt the group (attacking or flicking [purposefully creating gaps for weaker riders in order to drop her/him from the group]) or without any regard for the principles of cooperation is a nightmare.

And that is the central problem with education and education reform in the U.S. over the last thirty years—a culture of competition instead of cooperation.

Demanding that each group of students surpass the group of students coming before is the same sort of disruption, the same sort of failure to understand key principles that we witness as cyclists when “that guy” surges through each time he rotates to the front in a paceline.

Group cycling is beautiful, efficient, and effective when everyone works collaboratively, but falls apart even when one or two riders decide to compete, choose to ignore the common good of the group. The best cyclists are always aware of both their own cycling as well as the entire pack of cyclists—a supple balance of the individual and the community.

Each fall, a group of 15 or so of my cycling community does a 220-240-mile ride in one day (11-12 hours of cycling and a 14+-hour day) from the Upstate of SC to the coast. This ride seems impossible for regular people who have jobs and ride bicycles for a hobby, but it is a testament to collaboration since the riders have a wide range of ability and fitness, but our goal is always having everyone arrive safely and together.

We all ride with both our own success and the success of the entire group guiding how we ride.

The single greatest reform we need in public education in the U.S. is to adopt a culture of cooperation (reject merit pay; reject VAM; reject testing students to label, rank, and sort; reject labeling and ranking schools and states by test scores; reject international rankings by test scores; reject school choice—vouchers, charter schools, etc.) and not competition.

“The Burden of the Impossible” and the Inevitable Allure of Cheating

Beyond the abundant evidence that collaboration is more powerful in most ways than competition, collaboration trumps competition since competition has many negative consequences.

Few examples are more powerful for those negative consequences than professional cycling and recently the cheating scandals in education.

Human athletic achievements are plagued by the pursuit of the amazing—less often are we willing to marvel in the essential. The U.S. sporting public struggles to understand the “beautiful game,” football/soccer matches that end nil-nil, because of the lust for scoring without an appreciation for the artistry of playing the sport.

Professional cycling has suffered—and failed to address—the direct relationship between creating “the burden of the impossible” and the inevitable cheating that has followed, over and over for decades.

Spring classics—one-day races often over cobbled roads, undulating terrain, and hellish spring weather—can cover 150-180 miles, and the grand tours (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia) last three weeks, averaging 100 miles a day and including the highest mountains of Europe. In fact, professional cycling seeks conditions (cobbles, mountains) that insure natural selection will separate cyclists despite the efforts of teams to work collaboratively.

The most recent, and possibly the most publicized, example of doping in professional cycling is personified by Lance Armstrong; two aspects of the Armstrong doping scandal are underemphasized, I think.

First, Armstrong and dozens of the best cyclists of his era (1990s and through the first decade of the 2000s) all have confessed to organized doping, noting that the decision to use PEDs was strongly influenced by a culture of competition that essentially required doping.

Cyclists who chose to ride clean tended to ride in obscurity, or eventually simply quit the sport.

Next, the revelation of doping by Armstrong and most elite cyclists of his era has resulted in demonizing and punishing individual cyclists—with Armstrong the most vilified.

Hundreds of race organizers, corporations, cycling team owners and leaders, and media outlets raked in millions and millions of dollars during the peak of Armstrong’s career because of the amazing and record-breaking (and PED-fueled) exploits of Armstrong—but essentially none of them have been asked to return that money, none held culpable for the culture within which those cyclists felt compelled to dope.

Especially in the U.S., the accusatory gaze focuses on failed individuals but refuses to consider the cultural or social norms that shape individual behavior.

It takes little imagination, then, to see how the culture of doping in professional cycling informs the rise of test cheating in U.S. public education under the “burden of the impossible”—the accountability mandates of education reform.

Prosecute and imprison educators who cheated, but ask not what led these people to such extremes, consider not that humans faced with the “burden of the impossible” are being completely rational to behave in ways that would not be reasonable if the rules were fair.

Serious recreational cyclists have much different reasons for cycling than professional cyclists, and for the most part, we create and maintain a culture of collaboration and cooperation so that everyone can excel, everyone can enjoy the beauty that is cycling.

Spaces dedicated to formal education are best served by that spirit of collaboration and cooperation, but are corrupted by a culture of competition.

While professional cycling (and all huge-money professional sport) may be beyond repair, education could be otherwise.

In order to end the rise of cheating in education (among educators or students), in order to close the so-called achievement gap, in order to end the inequity of opportunity and outcomes that characterize our public schools—end competition in education in all forms and begin a new era of collaboration and cooperation.

Road Cycling, the Little Things (Or, Are You a Fred?)

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.
The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!
Fight Club (1999)

For my local cycling community, I have written often about what I would call first level issues related to road cycling: holding your line, holding the wheel in front of you, proper fit and positioning on the bicycle, riding in a paceline, and recognizing when you should contribute in a paceline or stay out of the mix.

Here, however, I want to address second level issues related to road cycling, the social or aesthetic elements of the recreational sport. And those second level issues can more efficiently be covered by the simple question, Are you a Fred?

First, let me caution that parts of speech matter here, notably the article “a.” This is not about being named Fred, but being a Fred. In fact, my lessons in not being a Fred were handled classically and ironically by Fred Gobillot in the 1980s. Fred was the most not-a-Fred among our cycling group, and he would regularly drop me, only to ease back in order to pull me up to the group so he could drop me again (often berating me and questioning my humanhood; think the drill sergeant in An Officer and a Gentleman, but not as compassionate).

Next, it helps to recall those glorious days of middle or high school—or those rush weeks in college—when you either witnessed or were a part of the ugliest possible clique you can remember. Road cycling’s social dynamics are about 300% worse than that.

Road cycling is about bodily fluids—sweat, urine, and occasionally blood—intense physical pain, and relentless public shaming. In fact, the greatest moments of recreational road cycling are those in which you can maintain intense pain longer than others, ideally by causing that intense pain; and then the best of the best is when you pop or drop a close friend during all this pain so that you can mention that event as often as possible over the next 3 decades.

Now, again keeping in mind that first level issues of road cycling are in fact primary, let’s examine those second level issues. In other words, Are you a Fred?

  • Do you use the plastic cap and fixing bolt that come with inner tubes? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 1: The technical term for both that cap and fixing bolt is “garbage,” thus toss both in the trash or recycling bin. Pro Tip 2: If your stem rattles, take a 1-inch piece of black electrical tape, poke a small hole in the middle, and then carefully slip it over the stem, sticking it neatly to your rim.
  • Do you have the plastic spoke protector behind your cassette, the reflectors in your spokes—both of which come with bicycles purchased in shops? You’re a Fred. See Pro Tip 1 above as same applies—’tis all garbage.
  • Is your rear wheel skewer pointing backward? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 3: Close your rear skewer into the rear seat/chain stay angle; close your front skewer pointing backward and parallel to the ground.
  • Is your stem pointing upward? Are your hoods and handlebars turned slightly upward also? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 4: For stems, hoods, and handlebars, flat is where it’s at.
  • Do you call your tires “wheels,” as in “I need new wheels” when you mean tires? Do you call your saddle a “seat”? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 5: Know all the proper names of the parts of a bicycle.
  • Do you not shave your legs? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 6: Shave your legs or be better than average at first level issues of road cycling.
  • When you have a flat, do you: (i) exclaim that you have never changed a flat before, (ii) tell everyone you do not know how your CO2 cartridge head works, (iii) not have an extra tube, Co2, boot, etc., with you? You’re a Fred. Pro Tip 7: Know how to change a flat and use your equipment; in other words, practice.

I know all of this may seem juvenile and trivial—because it all is juvenile and trivial, much like recreational road cycling. Keep in mind that most recreational road cycling involves grown men [1] with shaved legs wearing lycra while riding a mechanism most strongly associated with children, a bicycle.

Two final points: (i) there is no shame in being a Fred, and luckily, it isn’t terminal (thus, I share remedies above), but (ii) road cycling is a lot like Fight Club because I have broken the sacred rule: Don’t tell a Fred he/she is a Fred.

But I am willing to sacrifice myself, now that I am aging and see the likelihood of being thinned from the herd, I mean pack soon simply because whether you are a Fred or not, if you are younger and stronger, you’ll be able to pop and drop me soon enough.

[1] Women constitute a minority in all this ugliness, and of course, the leg shaving thing is inconsequential for them as it comes with all the other social norms that make being a woman a struggle that dwarfs all the silliness I am discussing above (seriously).


Melissa Storm asks:

Being one of the shaven-by-social-norm gender, I need a little clarification here. If I can change a tube on my properly de-cluttered bicycle, and know I’m certainly not needed in a pace line right now, but have my handle bars and stem as not-slammed as possible, am I a Fred? Or am I a hardass for getting on my bike during my third trimester? Are there ever exceptions? I’m just wondering since I don’t seem to remember any of TheRules addressing the issue. You seem like the one to ask. I don’t mind at all if you deem my sadly mismatched kit to be over the Fred line.

Excellent question, Melissa, which brings us to one zero tolerance area and the appropriate exception.

First, regardless of Fred or non-Fred status, there is zero tolerance for being unsafe.

That said, there is a hardass/badass exception (note from above: dropping everyone while having not shaved your legs). Thus, riding your bicycle while in your third trimester clearly affords you the hardass exception, and notably in a way no male rider can equal. Bravo.

Lessons from Cycling—for Cyclists and Educators

My formal expertise and experience are in the field of education, but I have developed as well what I consider equal expertise and experience in two other areas, although the paths have been primarily by self-education: writing and cycling.

I have been serious, purposeful, and committed to teaching, writing, and cycling all for about thirty years each; however, as a writer and cyclist, I have basically no formal preparation. Cycling provides a great deal of pleasure (and pain) for me personally and socially; as well, I recognize more and more every day that cycling offers really important lessons—many of which inform teaching and learning in formal settings.

Lessons from Cycling—for Cyclists and Educators

One of the most compelling aspects of recreational cycling is the it is incredibly complex and challenging, especially as a group sport. As a complex human activity in a group dynamic, then, I think becoming and being a cyclist offers powerful lessons for becoming and being a teacher.

First, cycling has a significant learning curve for beginners to integrate with group rides. To be a group cyclist, you need fitness, a wide assortment of cycling-specific skills, and a knowledge base about group cycling (coming to understand the culture of group cycling).

Fitness requires time and commitment—not unlike learning anything. But embedded in that is the motivation to commit that time. Since cycling can be extremely painful, it offers a perfect example of how learning comes best through the choice of the individual. I cycle about 10,000 miles a years—many of those rides are exhausting, nearly unbearable. There is little likelihood I would either participate or improve in cycling if this were not my choice.

Related to this need for time and commitment to fitness is the necessity for cycling-specific skills. Cycling, teaching, and writing, for me, are parallel human behaviors that are best cultivated by actually doing the behavior, but also by doing the behavior with purposeful attention to the discrete skills that make up the activity.

A fit cyclist (often runners transitioning to cycling) without bike handling skills or group riding knowledge is extremely dangerous to her/himself and other cyclists. In fact, group cycling is so complicated that it baffles me that anyone succeeds in integrating into group riding (in the same way that staying committed to writing or education is very challenging).

Cycling well requires cycling-specific cardiovascular fitness, bike handling skills (maintaining a straight and stable line), proper bicycle fit (bike positioning is crucial, but somewhat technical), and maneuvering awareness and knowledge. In brief, cycling in a fast-paced group (peloton) is extremely complicated—like writing, like teaching: hundreds of concurrent automatic behaviors blended with dozens of split-second decisions.

For cyclists, this means simultaneously exerting often maximum physical efforts that tax your breathing and stress lower body muscle groups, maintaining upper body relaxation so that bicycle control remains your primary concern, and maintaining awareness and control of yourself as well as the surrounding cyclists.

Since each of these elements of group cycling impacts and depends on all the others, how does a cyclist gain the level of expertise needed to participate well and safely?

I think this is the greatest lesson of cycling as it informs teaching. Cycling at a high level in group events is best learned by cycling often—and participating with and observing closely elite and experienced cyclists.

Beginning cyclists perform at first in unskilled ways that require them to consciously focus on gradual and purposeful improvement. It takes baby steps. But it also requires that the cyclist is committed to learning through observation and has the self-awareness to recognize the nuanced differences among her/his novice behaviors and the more polished behaviors of experienced cyclists.

In cycling, beginners are best served (as is the group) if they participate at first in minimal ways—not taking pulls for example, focusing on riding at a high pace while insuring she/he learns group dynamics (not making drastic changes in pace or direction, bike handling). An aggressive paceline (an organized double-line of cyclists in which riders rotate so that one cyclist at a time is pushing the pace [1]) is the ultimate test of cycling expertise; a cyclist needs high fitness, strong bike handling skills, and a honed sense of the entire group and how each cyclist impacts that group’s pace and safety.

Pulling through in a paceline tests a cyclist sense of pace and space—because rotating through from the front into the receding line is a delicate balance of speed and smooth bike handling. Adding to this complex blend of skills and fitness is that cyclists drink and eat while participating in their events! Yet another range of skills that must be learned while doing.

Here is an ideal representation in cycling of the beauty found in balancing the needs of the individual with the good of the community. To be an elite or skilled group cyclist, each cyclist needs the group; thus, each cyclist benefits from conforming to the group norms and contributes to the group good—not because of arbitrary or blind allegiance but because those norms address that balance between individual and group.

At their highest levels, teaching, writing, and cycling are individual endeavors grounded in communities; all represent John Dewey’s complex (and often misunderstood) calls for honoring the individual and the community simultaneously—not as competing interests but as synergetic interests.

Each cyclist in a group ride can perform better than cycling alone by contributing to and competing with the other cyclists, but if any individual cyclist disrupts the essential dynamics of that group (poor bike handling, careless attention to the safety of the group) that cyclist and the entire group suffer, performing less well.

Self-interests and group-interests, then, are inseparable in cycling. I would argue the same about teaching and writing.

Serious recreational cycling offers dynamic lessons for cyclists and educators about the power of engaging by choice and over time with complex human behaviors that require a balance between individual and group needs, about the value of committing to those behaviors as a novice eager to observe and learn from elite and experienced experts/mentors, and about the reality that few human pursuits are ever finished, but always in a state of becoming.

There is a zen elements here—the giving up of the self to find the self. And as with cycling, teaching, and writing, you will not understand it until you do it—by allowing the becoming.

[1] See for example below: