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Cycling in Austin

Lessons from a reformed speeder.

By • Jul 6th, 2008 • Category: Hmm..., Lead stories

I used to be in a hurry in my car. I couldn’t wait to get there. I would get mad at anything that was moving slowly in front of me. (I never did yell at anyone or throw bottles, but my wife tells me I tailgated sometimes).

Then I decided to ride my bike again. To get places. Not some approved route that I could take on a Sunday with no traffic with the safety of a group. As a form of transportation, instead of my car.

Of course I could go on and on about how wonderful it was, and the years I had not ridden suddenly felt like a great loss to me. How I loved it so much the first day I rode again, I rented a bike at BSS and went 20 miles after not having ridden in 10 years. The freedom I felt, etc etc. If you don’t know what I mean, get a bike. A good bike, with a low rolling resistance. You don’t need 23mm tires, but nothing with knobby tires, its too much work, and you don’t go very fast or enjoy it as much.

Anyway. This is about when I got back in my car. I noticed something.

I could go faster than on my bike. And I had already accepted bicycle travel times. I had planned for them. So guess what.

I was free to drive a safe and reasonable speed in my vehicle. Let me just say that my “car” is a minivan, it’s a very comfy ride, (It does not rack up the death toll like an SUV, before you ask).

Also, I had learned about the average speed of a car. Most drivers will be surprised to learn that the average speed for an aggressive driver (me before I slowed the hell down), is about 32mph. After I started driving safely and reasonably? 28mph. Maybe one of the reasons people are in such a hurry is they expected to average 50mph.

Some sources on average speed, but don’t take my word for it, calculate your own. You need a stopwatch and a trip meter. (All cars made in the last 2 decades have a trip meter).

(Note, for the following I use he as my pronoun, it can mean she if you want, I don’t like he/she or (s)he).

That does not seem like a big difference does it? It isn’t. I cannot tell you how many times I have been blown off the road by some impatient driver while I go maybe 5 miles under the speed maximum. (No, it is NOT the recommended speed, it is the MAXIMUM speed). Then guess what, up ahead at the light, there he is again. We both stop for the light, the ZOOOM off he goes again, probably not even aware that he is:

1) using more gas. Accelerating slower uses less gas. Not wasting energy when you come to a light saves gas. The same way it saves energy for a cyclist. Cycling for maximum endurance had taught me how to get the most from my van. I went from 15-16mpg to 17-19mpg (That is a big difference). Hell when going down a hill, sometimes I even pop it into neutral and just coast to the bottom.

2) wearing out his car like Jim Morrison wore out his body. Seriously, cars last a LOT longer if you are gentle with them. If you slam on the gas and slam on the brakes, it all tends to wear out faster.

3) probably going to see me at the next light too.

4) Risking his life and everyone else around him. Driving impatiently means you are not paying full attention to the road, and that can be disastrous. Don’t drive at the very limit of your skill, drive at less than that, so you have room to correct for things you didn’t expect. Like a child in the road. I know I know, the child shouldn’t be there. But please don’t kill the child just because he is. Really, neighborhood streets used to be a safe place for children. Now its only safe if you are in a cul de sac.

Oh yea, about that. Look at circle C. The C stands for Cul-de-sac. My mom just moved there, and she lives on a cul de sac off a cul de sac. (Talk about nested streets).

I spend too much on my car already. If I didn’t have 2 kids and a wife, I would drive less than I do now. I try and I try to get them to ride more. My wife has actually ridden with me more lately, and its been fun.

Anyway, back to driving my car. I drive slower, and I feel safer. No longer do I feel I have to match the speed on the sign. I don’t, I am free to go 45 in a 55.

Now some drivers out there are getting angry. I know you are, you have told me on the road. When I did 50 in a 55, you told me by tailgating me for half a mile and then blowing past me at 70mph. You know what? I was obeying the law. I don’t have to bow to peer pressure. If there is one good thing from the war on Americans (er drugs), it has shown us we do not have to bow to peer pressure.

One day, I was going home, I had to take a right and go about 1000 feet to turn right again. I accelerated slowly as usual, and this guy got on my ass and honked. I got angry, and offended, and what I did next might not have been the wisest. But it was legal. I let go of the gas pedal. (I was up to about 35 in a 45 at the time) Then this guy lays on his horn and starts screaming obscenities that I’m glad were too muffled to come out, total jackass, 200 feet later, I get to my turn, and turn. He speeds off like the reckless driver he is.

I did not make him be a jackass. He decided that that was HIS road and he could go whatever the hell speed he wanted, and that 45mph was the MINIMUM speed. Guess what. Legally he is wrong. You can intimidate me on my bike, you can. But don’t try to intimidate me in my minivan. I’ve got full coverage and gap insurance, you can hit me from behind. I don’t want you to, but I won’t die.

So In closing, and to finish my scattered array of thoughts: Just remember, the next time you are in your car, drive safe. Just because all the cool kids are driving fast, does not mean you have to be one of the crowd. Its ok to drive slow. You will get there, and it will not take as long as you think. Just try it. Once. Please? I promise it also makes driving more peaceful. You shouldn’t be running late anyway. Leave early or warn people that you may be late. Most people understand that you got “stuck in traffic”

Hell, tell them you got pulled over for speeding. Then they will think you are one of the crowd.

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2 Responses »

  1. I’ve slowed down to 60-62 (in 65 or 70 mpg zones) because it saves me gas. I can get close to 30 mpg in my Rondo at 62. At 70-75 I get 25 or 26 mpg.

    I like to think at 62 mph I am doing 100…KM/h :-)

  2. I sometimes *gasp* even go 55 in a 65!

    The horror!

    I try to keep my rpms below 2000 at all times, saves me a ton, and I aim for 1500.

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