Rolling Coal

The Bike Hugger Facebook page pointed me to an interesting piece today from Jalopnik — it seems that in New Jersey, they’ve outlawed the practice of “rolling coal.” That’s when a big ‘ol, jacked up four-wheel drive pickup passes you while blasting a cloud of black smoke back in your face. It’s about as funny as the jerks who interrupt female TV reporters by yelling a particularly nasty obscenity.

Here's hoping you don't run into something like this.

Here’s hoping you don’t run into something like this.

It’s happened to me only once — just about a year ago. I had made the mistake of taking a major state highway to get back to the start of my ride quicker. Even though I was in the clearly-marked bike lane, some pickup-driving doofus decided I shouldn’t be there at all, so he proceeded to demonstrate what his exhausts could do. Luckily for me, it lasted only a couple of seconds. He was soon well ahead, and there was enough of a breeze that day to dissipate the smoke quickly.

Sure, it was already against the law. The EPA has a regulation against it. But the New Jersey legislature wanted to pass its own law just to bring it to everyone’s attention, and hopefully to get the police to enforce the ban more strongly.

Now, if New Jersey can do it — New Jersey, mind you — what say the rest of the states get on the bandwagon? Shut these coal rollers down.


Selective Enforcement

One of the members of my cycling club sent out an email to the group the other day, warning of police ticketing cyclists who failed to stop before turning right on a red light. It seems there were three squad cars, all writing out tickets.

Now, this kind of thing has gone on before, but I haven’t heard a lot about it in several years. And what struck me as odd about this instance was that it took place on a Wednesday morning, at about 11 a.m. That doesn’t strike me as a busy biking time, but apparently there were enough wayward bikers out there to keep the police busy for a little while.

The intersection in question is one I go through all the time. And I’m guilty of making the right turn on red without stopping, too. I do it if no traffic is coming from the left. If there are cars coming through the intersection, I stop.

But what got my goat about this incident was that the guy who wrote the email said just 100 feet away from the enforcement effort, he was nearly hit by a teenage girl in a BMW, texting. While not stopping at a red light is not a good thing to do, texting while driving is a whole lot worse.

I wonder if the police ever set up texting stops?

They’re Paving Paradise

Okay, that’s perhaps a bit of an overstatement. Austin is not a biking paradise, regardless of what you’ve heard.

But the reason has to do with the point of this post. The city has gotten too big, too fast. We’re now at about 843,000, which makes us the 11th-largest city in the United States. The roads I enjoyed biking on when I took up the sport eight years ago are not as inviting as they once were.

Just on Sunday’s ride, I made a jaunt out to the southeastern part of the city, where it starts becoming rural — or, at least, semi-rural. It used to be, that once you got east of Interstate 35, buildings spread out quickly, giving way to small spreads of several acres. But this is what I saw today:


Yet another apartment complex going up. Now, we’re a poor city for mass transit, so most of the people who move into these places will be driving cars, which will add to the already horrendous traffic conditions. There are enough apartment complexes going up farther and farther from downtown, that our formerly nice biking roads are being increasingly crowded with motor vehicle traffic.

And if not apartments, houses are springing up, too. I headed for a well-known country club which had once been out by itself. Now, one of the roads leading out of the club’s neighborhoods has be extended farther east, into what had been previously scrub land. The new development has a golf theme, with streets like Boros Drive and Mickelson Lane, and the houses don’t appear to be anywhere near as nice as the ones closer to the golf course.

Occasionally, I have put my bike on the car’s bike rack, and headed some distance from home to ride in the country. I can still get in a 25-mile ride just cruising streets in my neighborhood, but suburban riding doesn’t give the same joy as a nice spin in the country. I think I’ll be driving to my rides a lot more in the future.

You — Yeah, You! — Can Get Paid To Ride Your Bike

They say that if you can do what you love while making a living at it, you’ve got the best of all possible worlds. Guest poster Jeff Hemmel might have stumbled onto that situation — he thinks.

HemmelsRide2I am so pro. If, that is, your definition of professional cyclist is someone who’s getting paid to ride his bike. Just this morning alone I made an easy $3. By month’s end I should have about $40 in the bank.

And if you use Strava, now you can be paid, too. The details were in an email that crossed my desk last week. Competitive Cyclist (, which is part of the better-known, is paying Strava users $1 an hour, up to $40 a month, just to ride their bikes. The money gets put in your Competitive Cyclist account, where you can then spend it on whatever gear or equipment you want. Your money expires at the end of the next month, meaning if you ride a decent amount you can have about $80 to spend every two months.

I thought there had to be a catch, but there’s really not. You have to set up an account on Competitive Cyclist or Backcountry, and then link that account to your Strava account. There really wasn’t much to the whole process. Your credits then show up automatically. I went out for my first ride, came home and updated Strava and, boom, next thing I knew money was waiting for me. Sure, Competitive Cyclist is getting some basic info about you. Apparently they also hope that users will review products, and they can eventually increase the validity of their reviews by showing how much the writer rides.

Think $40 isn’t that much to spend on cycling gear? Think about what you routinely buy. I go through Clif Shot Bloks pretty regularly, and love Skratch Labs drink mix, but both aren’t cheap. They’re cheap enough, however, that my newfound credits will pay for a month’s supply. Bankroll two months at the $40 max each month and you’re $80 into that new pair of bib shorts, jersey, or pedals.

I know, I know — it’s good to support your local bike shop. And I do, believe me, and still will. There’s just too many parts and services that I want to go to a local shop for, and this $40/month won’t change that. But I don’t know of many people who couldn’t use some more money to spend on those endless necessities, or long-lusted-after piece of new gear. And if every hour I ride my bike banks me $1, I can certainly find a good use for it.


Apparently, I pushed it real good. Too much, too soon. I rode four days in a row, which was great, but after a hilly 26-miler Monday, I returned home with that same hacking cough I complained about in an earlier post.

“I thought the exercise would drive it out of me,” I said to my wife.

“No. That just made it worse,” she said. “You’re staying off the bike until you get rid of this.”

I obeyed.

Which killed me, because although some rain was in the forecast this week, it never really materialized. We’ve had three glorious days in a row, and I was stuck indoors, doing actual work on the computer.

I’m fine, except for the cough. It’s not frequent, but when it comes, it’s loud and deep. I have even been banished to the guest bedroom because my coughing woke my wife the other night, and she had trouble getting back to sleep.

So, like a rider with an injury, I’m impatiently biding my time. It’s supposed to rain heavily here over the weekend, so those rides wouldn’t happen, anyway. I can only console myself knowing that this thing will go away, as it has done in the past, and all will be rolling again. It just can’t happen soon enough.

Biking Helps You Avoid Getting Sick, Right?

sickHere we are, well into March, and I haven’t been out on the bike yet this month. Weather, as I mentioned in the last post, has been terrible. And on Friday, when we finally had sunny, dry — if chilly — conditions, I came down with something.

What started as a tickle in the throat Thursday blossomed into a full-blown sore throat and deep cough Friday. The cough is still with me Sunday, and now the rain is back again.

What kind of a bike blog is written by a guy who hasn’t been riding his bike?

A short one, I think. I’m going to pour another hot cup of green tea and lie down.


I’m bugged. Somehow, things are getting into my brain, messing with my ability to concentrate while out on the road, and generally driving me nuts.

Those things are earworms.

If you haven’t heard the term before, it refers to those songs that play in your head — over and over and over. If you try to drive them out, they just get louder.

Now, I normally wouldn’t mind a song in my head. I like music. The trouble is, the songs that have been playing lately are unwelcome, because they’re a) irritating, b) bad songs in general, or c) bad biking songs in particular.

A bad song is anything that I never enjoyed listening to, even if it was a hit. Most pop songs of the ’70s and ’80s fall into this category, but there were some real gems from earlier than that. Do you remember “A white sport coat, and a pink carnation…I’m all dressed up for the dance”? Or, “Honey,” by Bobby Goldsboro? “See the tree, how big it’s grown…”

Not only are they awful songs, but they’re particularly bad for biking. When I’m out on the road, I want something that helps me maintain my pace: Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild,” or most anything by the Rolling Stones. But those songs never invade my cranial innards.

Motown? I love Motown! At first blush, it might seem like the beat is a tad on the slow side. But “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops (“Sugarpie, honeybunch”) has a beat that you want to hit on the downstroke of your pedal. I have been known to sing “Tears of a Clown” out loud while pedaling down a lonesome country road.

The bad songs don’t have that kind of beat. Or, they’re way too slow. Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” is a great song, but you don’t want its syrupy strains spreading through your head when you’re trying to keep up a 15 mile per hour pace.

The worst one, though, was the one that got me last week. It wasn’t even a song, but a commercial jingle. For a regional chain of liquor stores.

Got cheer, all through the year — Chocolate, coffee, cheese — And a case of cold beer

Okay, it’s kind of catchy.

Spec’s fine spirits and finer foods — World class service — It’s all about you

But there’s a major problem with it:

Shop Spec’s — Low price amazing — Here’s to you (shout!) — Here’s to savings!

It’s only 30 seconds long! If I’m out for a two-hour ride on the weekend, and that’s the only thing playing in my head… it’s enough to drive a cyclist nuts.

How do you deal with earworms on a ride?

(If you’re not from Texas, and you’ve never heard the Spec’s jingle, here you go — but don’t say I didn’t warn you!)