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Joel Gwadz's Posts

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Blood on the bike path: What a tragic accident teaches us about safely sharing the trails

A few weeks ago, just outside of Washington, D.C., a woman was hit and killed by a man on a bicycle while walking on a paved multi-use trail, aka a “bike path.” It was a tragic accident. My heart goes out to any and all that knew and loved her. It also distressed me to read the anti-cyclist reaction in the comment sections of local online news sources and neighborhood forums, when all of this could have been avoided with a few simple precautions.

When various news sites reported the story online, the comments were predictably absurd. There were all sorts of attacks on bikes that reflected more on anti-bike sentiment than on the incident in question. “The path is for everyone not a bunch of spandex wearing Armstrong wannabes,” wrote one commenter. A member of the Fairfax Underground forum posted a story about the incident under this headline: “Bicyclist Mows Down Old Lady and Kills Her.” “Kill all cyclists,” replied a second member, “problem solved.”

A little more attention to the specifics, and the authors of these remarks would have known how off-base they were. The bike rider in this incident was a man in his early 60s. He was riding an $88 department store bike, a NEXT Power Climber. I doubt that he was training for a race. He claims he gave both a ring of his bell and an audible, “on your left,” to the elderly pedestrian. But apparently the alert caused her to step in front of him rather than out of his way. The collision knocked her backward onto the pavement, according to the police report, where she struck her head.

Clearly, there are things both people could have done to avoid the accident. But it is largely the responsibility of bicyclists to avoid collisions like this.

Read more: Biking

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Gonzo urban bike racing cranks up camaraderie, community

Photo by M. V. Jantzen.

It was the classic test of a longstanding question: Who is the supreme cyclist, bike messenger or road racer?

The field had winnowed to just two riders in the final race of the Diamond Derby, a daylong bicycling event in Northern Virginia just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. Road racer Michael Esmonde, all Lycra-clad and riding a high-end carbon fiber speed machine, faced down bike messenger Sean O’Donnell, who sported just a cotton T-shirt and cutoff jeans while pedaling a well-worn fixed-gear bike.

Almost as interesting as the matchup between the two bicycling worlds was the event’s location: a parking garage.

Read more: Biking

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Go cargo: Utility bikes take cities by storm

Longtime Washington, D.C., bike messenger "Scrooge" test-driving the author's Dutch Style “bakfiet” cargo bike.

From behind a windshield, my Dutch-style “bakfiet” cargo bike must look like an oddity. My multitalented artist friend Adam Zopf and I built these bikes for ourselves a few winters back. We cut two bikes in half and welded them back together with a long metal bar stretching out the wheelbase. A long steering bar extends from the handlebars all the way to the front fork, allowing the rider to turn the front wheel from the back of the bike. My bakfiet is outfitted with an old wheelbarrow tray acquired through Freecycle, handy for carrying anything too big for a backpack. Adam’s has a “flat bead” for lugging his work gear around that can be mounted with wicker chairs for his wife Regina and their young son Theo. It’s Dutch cycling chic with a little Fat Albert and the Gang twist.

Read more: Biking

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Look, Dad! No hands! The travails of teaching kids to bike in the city

The author's son Dean shows off his skills near their home in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Joel Gwadz.)

Mark Twain once wrote, “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live.”

This is true. Riding a bike is potentially dangerous, particularly in this era of turbo powered autos and text messaging. But if you don’t tangle with the cars, biking is an enriching activity that is not only fun but also good for your health, and in my years as an urban cyclist, I have come to understand the dangers, and avoid them.

Still, I can get anxious about these dangers when riding with my kids. Even as an “alterna-dad,” I still have some qualities of a modern helicopter parent. My wife and I micromanage every second for our sons Dean and Grant, who are 10 and 7 years old, from coaching them on each spoonful of cereal in the morning to an overly involved tuck-in routine at bedtime.

Our family lives in a historic neighborhood of 100-year-old row houses in Washington, D.C., less than two miles from the White House and within earshot of the tiger’s roar at the National Zoo. Quaint as our neighborhood is, our kids do not cross the street without us holding their hands. They do not ride the bus, take the subway, or even walk to the corner store without us.

So it is no shock that our kids do not ride their bikes around the city without us by their side. As we ride I issue instructions with each push of the pedals and each turn of the handlebars. It is like I am the puppet master, controlling my bicycle riding marionettes. I instruct my boys to avoid each obstacle and every potentially dangerous encounter as we roll. But I want to teach my kids how to navigate the urban labyrinth without a parent hovering over them.

Here are some rules I’ve set in an effort to keep my boys safe:

Read more: Biking, Family

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Finding the zone: The Zen of urban cycling

Photo by Choh Wah Ye.

I am a mountain biker and mountain bike racing is a big part of my love for cycling. There’s only one problem: I live in the city. To get to the hills, I have to put my bike on the car and drive an hour out of town. Luckily for me, there are many aspects of urban riding that fulfill a similar sensory experience to the high I find on the trail.

I’m no World Cup racer, but hammering down the mountain biking trails, I still have moments when I find myself in a state of athletic euphoria that riders call “the zone.” When you’re in the zone, your bike and body operate as a single unit. Your thoughts and actions are intertwined. Your mind measures the variables as they approach at warp speed and you respond without thinking, arcing tight twists and turns through gaps just inches wider than your handlebars.

Riding in the zone is an amazing, Zen-like experience. It is the cyclist’s version of a “runner’s high.” This immense state of focus not only happens in the woods. The zone can be achieved when riding in the city, too.