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“WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a weekend bicyclist, might consider keeping his head down and his helmet on. A backlash is brewing over his new bicycling policy. …”

Read the entire story at Huffington Post.

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I don’t subscribe to Bicycling magazine, so I don’t get to read the editors introductions all too often. It just so happens my grandmother-in-law likes to send me things about bicycles. In the mail today, I got the September issue of Bicycling magazine courtesy of her. Who knows how she got it, but that’s not the point. Loren Mooney, the editor-in-chief of this publication, wrote a letter to the readers entitled “It’s Easy Being Green”. She starts the piece by announcing this issue of Bicycling is the Green issue, even though there is nothing to indicate this on the cover and none of the content is different than usual. She then goes on to say that Bicycling magazine is “Green” every month. Why? well because cycling is green! Thus, her logic is that her magazine is “green” as well. This, ladies and gentlemen is GREENWASHING!!!!

I couldn’t find an online version of this prime example of greenwashing, so I scanned the magazine page.

It's easy being green

It's Easy Being Green by Loren Mooney

She goes on to say that cyclists are more environmentally friendly people. She backs this up with personal anecdotes. So, because Loren grows her own lettuce and buys organic milk, ALL cyclists are more environmentally friendly than the rest of the population. right! Also according to Loren a characteristic of being environmentally friendly is noticing those ugly bottles, cans, and trash on the side of the road as well as breathing, and appreciating fresh air. Gee wiz! according to Loren, all you have to do to be green is ride your bike, enjoy fresh air, and dislike garbage on the side of the road! This may even give you more ideas, like buying local and organic food products. So, after you go on your evening training ride dressed in spandex riding your titanium steed that was just upgraded to Dura-Ace last season, you can sit down to an organic dinner and a copy of Bicycling magazine and know that you’re helping the earth. And just in case your feeling a little guilty about buying a magazine printed on paper every month, Loren assures us that bicycling recently switched to paper stock that use’s “slightly less fiber” and ink that is “vegetable based“. Oh boy, so instead of switching to FSC certified and recycled sources, you decided to uses “slightly less fiber“. Apparently the reduction in the fiber is so small, she had to use the word slightly. I’m not impressed Bicycling magazine, and I hope your readers are smart enough to recognize this poor attempt at greenwashing.

What is greenwashing? Simply put greenwashing is a company’s attempt to jump on the eco-friendly/green/sustainable band wagon without actually doing anything except change their marketing. You can read more on wiki. They want people to think “wow, that Bicycling magazine sure is doing their part to save our fragile planet” when actually, they are doing absolutely nothing. In fact, I could argue that they are doing more to hurt the earth then if Loren never wrote that pathetic piece of marketing crap. How? by the very act of greenwashing! There are legitimate companies out there trying to do their part to be more sustainable and eco-friendly, but when a company partakes in greenwashing, the consumer has a tougher time determining what is a legit green product, and what is not. This pulls attention away from the companies that are actually trying to help our Earth. Companies who greenwash essentially muck things up and it pisses me off!

Bicycling magazine really could do a green issue. They could interview community bicycle shops that work tirelessly to get used bicycles back on the road. They could promote steel bicycles over carbon fiber. They could eliminate their advertisements and articles promoting titanium. They could eliminate car advertisements in the magazine. They could feature articles on Bamboo bicycles and the people who build them. They could print their magazine on 100% post-consumer recycled paper. They could showcase the clothing companies using wool instead of synthetics. They could focus on bicycle commuting over bicycle racing. These things are just a minimal start. I can think of hundreds of things they could do for a green issue!

I’m angry! I’m angry because Loren and Bicycling wrote this piece as a strategic marking move and nothing more. It distorts the view on companies that really do care about the earth and strive to make sure it’s habitable for generations to come. This is just another example of the bicycle industry being way behind.  Just because you ride a bike does not make you “green”. It takes a lot of hard work to live your life in a sustainable way. It is not “easy“. Riding a bike instead of a car for transportation is one way of being more sustainable, but if you drive your car to work everyday and only ride your bike in the evenings and weekends, you’ve done more harm to the earth than if you never bought a bike in the first place. Why? Because in order for you to be a “green” bicycle owner, you have to use it instead of your car, otherwise, your doing more harm than good by purchasing a non-sustainable bike product. Bicycling magazine owes it’s entire community an apology for trying to mislead them.

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Here in Monterey California the cycling is fantastic! Scenic ocean roads, curvy rolling hills, steep climbs, long descents, you name it, we’ve got it. We’ve only been here a month, but have put quite a few miles in. Today my wife Syrah and I decided to venture down famous route 1 to Big Sur and back. bigsurroute1We had heard that route 1 was somewhat bicycle friendly, that it is part of the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, as well as a part of many organized rides.

Before I go on, you must know that the Big Sur highway is a tourist destination, and this is the middle of tourist season! Cars, vans, SUVs, buses, motorcycles, and lots of RVs full of tourists cruise along enjoying the views from the comfort of their home on wheels. Some RV’s are the size of trucks. I’m talking gigantic!

I’d driven down the road a couple times and it seemed like it was safe enough. I noticed the narrow shoulders but bicycles and motor vehicles seemed to be sharing the road fairly well.

fall-rv-trip We weren’t that concerned, seeing that I thought I remembered seeing some “Share the Road” signs, and coupled with the fact that RV drivers know they have to take it easy on a popular cycling road. You know, so they don’t accidentally kill someone.

Once we got onto route 1 south of Carmel, things seemed OK. The shoulder was large, lots of folks were out on the sides of the road walking to the beach or Point Lobos, and the cars seemed to be traveling at safe speeds. We passed a sign that said “Pacific Coast Bicycle Route.” All was well.

A couple miles south of this pleasant experience, things changed. The shoulder disappeared, the cars got faster and the folks on the side of the road vanished except for a pull off every now and then. The Volkswagens, Priuss’ and the like waited to pass us at a safe time, making an arc around us. The pickup trucks with over-sized wheels and the sports cars flew by without a glance in our direction. Typical. It wouldn’t be surprising if they were annoyed that we were on the road, preventing them from getting the most out of their Route 1 experience. The RV’s fell under two categories. The respectful, careful RV’s and the I-rule-the-road RV’s. The careful ones are not a problem. They waited to pass at a safe time, and drove at an appropriate speed. The I-rule-the-road RV’s blasted by like the careless sports car did. Oh yeah, not a single “Share the Road” sign was seen.

We had it in our legs to make it all the way to Big Sur and back (64 miles), but we decided we did not want to deal with this road any longer. We turned around at a beach near Granite Creek, 15 miles shy of Big Sur. On the way back there are a few descents. They don’t have shoulders, so you kind of have to ride a foot or two off the edge of pavement, which puts you in the right of way. One particular decent also involves some fantastic corners. While on this fantastic descent, with my wheels hovering a couple feet off the white line, I hear a shockingly loud horn. The kind an 18-wheeler makes when the driver needs you out of his way. I glanced back quickly, and a gigantic RV was on my tail! I’m talking 10 or 15 feet behind me. WAY too close for comfort. It looked like the driver was trying to pass me, but it was a terrible spot to do so. I swiftly did the only thing I could think of. There was no shoulder to pull off onto, and I was probably going 30mph, so I veered into the middle of the right of way. Thankfully this worked, as the Giant RV stopped trying to pass me and slowed down a bit. Half a mile later, there was a paved pull off. I veered in, and let the behemoth pass with an accelerating roar! Syrah rolled into the pullout a minute later and told me how she thought she was going to die when that jerk passed her. He (or she, but probably he) came so close to her, that she felt like she was getting “sucked in” to the vehicle! Thankfully, she held on and survived the pass.

She wasn’t really getting sucked in, but I do believe that’s what it felt like to her. Here’s why. As we all remember from science class, the pressure of air changes when you change its speed. This is why airplanes can fly. The faster air below the wing has a higher pressure than the air above the wing. AIRFOILIf you have air with higher pressure touching air with lower pressure, then the air with the higher pressure moves into the air with the lower pressure until they equalize. This is also the concept behind many of the earths weather patterns. Back to the giant RV pass. What Syrah felt was the higher pressure air around the RV pushing on her. She compensated for the push by turning towards the RV. Then, as quick as it came, the RV passed and the pressure was gone. Syrah is human, and human reaction takes time, and this all happened quicker than her reaction time leaving her with a wheel turned to the left. This gave her the sensation of being sucked into the RV.

Truck drivers are aware of this phenomenon, and so are many giant RV drivers, but there are clearly some out there who do not understand this. Anyone who has driven on Interstate 80 through the mid west knows this concept as well especially if your going 50, and the 18-wheelers pass you going 75. You react to the higher pressure, and then its gone. Sometimes it can even shake the car a bit! If it can shake a car, it can put down a cyclist.

We ride bicycles as a favor to our bodies, the environment, and society. It also happens to be very fun. Our bodies delight in the exercise. The environment is grateful for one less car. Society improves with safer roads and tight nit communities that aren’t designed around cars. Human powered vehicles are noble and beautiful, and if you choose one over any other type of vehicle, you’ll have a deeper understanding of that beauty. Its hard for someone who doesn’t ride a bike on the busy roads of our country to understand what it feels like when a giant RV or speeding car pummels by while your pedaling along on a bicycle. On your right, inches from your wheels, the road drops off into a channel full of shrubs. On your left, traffic is whizzing by occasionally getting so close you can feel it. In front of you more pavement awaits your next pedal stroke keeping your steed on a line as straight as you can get it. Your eyes are scanning the road in front of you while your ears scan the road behind you. Your thighs and calves are burning from the lactic acid building up in your muscle cells. To stay alert is to stay on course, and stay alive. When a careless driver gets too close or passes too fast, alertness can be shaken for a mere moment. This moment is all it takes for tragedy. We don’t have safety belts, airbags, or 2,000 pounds of steel and plastic to protect us from the coarse, unyielding pavement or blow from another vehicle. Please keep this in mind when you see us out there.

Giant RV vs Cyclist Safety Suggestions for the RV driver

1) Do not pass a cyclist unless it is safe to do so, and you can clear the cyclist by 5 or 6 feet. Remember, cyclists have a right to use the road just as much as you do. When you do pass, SLOW DOWN.

2) Do not honk your horn at a cyclist. They know you are there and want to pass. Every motor vehicle wants to pass a cyclist. Your horn can startle the cyclist, causing a crash.

3) On a decent, do not pass the cyclist until the decent is over. It is much too dangerous to try to squeeze your giant vehicle between a cyclist traveling 30mph (that is fast for a bike) and the oncoming lane of traffic. During a decent, the cyclist may be a bit more unstable than at other times. Once the decent is over, wait for the cyclist to pull closer to the shoulder, and slowly pass when safe to do so.

4) Follow all the other safety guidelines that apply to motor vehicles of ALL size.

Giant RV vs Cyclist Safety Suggestions for the Cyclist

1) On busy roads with no shoulders stay as far right as possible.

2) If a large vehicle is passing, hold your handlebar securely and maintain your course. Be prepared for a bit of pressure change around you.

3) If your on a fast decent, and there is a large vehicle behind you honking and wanting to pass, maintain your course and speed. Do not get spooked into going faster, or pulling too far over to the right. At an appropriate time, pull to the right and allow the vehicle to pass. You have a right to be on the road as much as the large vehicle.

4) When in doubt, play it safe!

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New York Times, published May 11, 2009

VAUBAN, Germany — Residents of this upscale community are suburban pioneers, going where few soccer moms or commuting executives have ever gone before: they have given up their cars….Read the rest here

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