Thursday, February 21, 2008

How do you get an American's attention?

Hit him in the wallet.

LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles legal secretary James Eric Freedner got fed up with high gasoline prices.

He put his 2003 Toyota Tacoma truck in the garage and switched to a Honda Nighthawk motorcycle for weekday 6-mile commutes to Beverly Hills. He stopped driving to the beach on weekends and cut back on trips to check on properties he manages. He began grouping errands into one trip each Saturday.

The trade-offs Freedner has made in the last year haven't necessarily made him happy, but they've reduced his gasoline consumption nearly 50 percent. And although he admits to feeling jittery traveling freeways on the Nighthawk, all the changes are permanent, unless gas returns to $2.50 a gallon.

"The price was just eating up what I earned," said Freedner, 57. "This is the best thing I can do to make ends meet."

Get used the to motorcycle, dude. $2.50 a gallon gas is in tanks guarded by Dodos...

Americans are getting serious about using less gasoline, confounding some economists who have argued that most people can't reduce their driving much because they have to get to and from work and make those necessary trips such as shopping and chauffeuring their children around.

Lemme guess, you advise President CuckooBananas and Count Cheney, don't you?

The truth is more complicated, according to some energy experts: When the price reaches a certain threshold or the driving reaches a peak point of aggravation, people are willing to give up personal space and independence. "There is an awful lot of what might be called discretionary driving," said Edward Leamer, an economist at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Raise the price high enough, and you will see that there is a lot more that people can do."

For some, the next drop in prices won't be enough to send them back to their old driving habits.

"The trend will be toward more lasting conservation and longer-term savings if they are not just reacting to prices and have instead made a decision to change," said Bruce Bullock, executive director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

We Americans aren't a real quick bunch, but when we get it, we get it. The article goes on to say that Californians are using less gas (Californians?) by a combination of methods and then closes with this anecdote:

University of Southern California mathematics professor Kimra Haskell began bicycling to work six months ago.

She had many reasons. Sometimes she felt a shooting pain in her driving leg. She wanted to make a statement about the Iraq war and U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The California lifestyle of driving everywhere for everything -- even to exercise at a gym -- had left her too dependent on her aging 1993 Honda Accord.

The trial run was on a clunky old Schwinn mountain bike. On the return trip of the 26-mile ride, uphill, she was ready to abandon the bike by the side of the road. But she persevered, bought a sleek Italian Bianchi Volpe bicycle and is building up to cycling to work five days a week.

Gasoline prices were only part of the story, said Haskell, 43. "It was mainly the effects on my health, on the time it took out of my life, the stress of dealing with the traffic."

You don't have to be genius to see this, but it helps...

Sunday, February 10, 2008


At the top of Mt Tabor - Batavus and Portland skyline

We rented Batavus "Old Dutch" bikes from Clever Cycle to get around Portland for a couple of days. The geometry of a Dutch bike is markedly different and is explained here. I have to admit, it feels weird.

You sit upright like you're sitting at a table and the handlebars curve back so that you impolitely put your elbows on that table. If you've worked a garden tiller before, you'll know where your arms and elbows are. Sitting upright and pedaling with your feet out in front doesn't give you great mechanical advantage, not like the bikes that you're used to riding. This is not a bad thing necessarily, I rather like the comfortable position and this along with the three speeds should get you around rather nicely on relatively flat ground.

But, Portland ain't flat.

There's no standing up for power. The handlebars are up and back so that the bike handles like a warehouse. The Batavus had coaster brakes and so there was no pedaling backwards to get your feet into position at a stop light. After a bit, you figure out how to position the pedals to get ready to go, but even on the second day, I found myself hobbled by the brake. So with the combination of the coaster brake and the different geometry, starting from a light while going uphill wasn't something I was really comfortable doing.

I eventually got to the point where I sat back and enjoyed the ride and that makes all the difference in the world. Instead of leaning forward riding like you normally do and fighting the bike, lean back and pedal. You're not gonna win any time trials, but that ain't the idea. Mrs. Yam never got the feel for these things and subsequently ended up hating the bike, which is too bad, her commute is flat and this would make a great conversation piece. We received a number of second looks and I had two compliments on it.

I don't regret renting them and the folks at Clever Cycle were really pleasant and you can tell they really believe in what they're doing. It's a great store with neat bikes and I recommend you stop in. They're happy to let you test ride and you really should, the collection is like nothing else I've ever seen.