War for the roads

Drawing on these arguments about power, precedence, and morality—and, also, through sheer numbers—pedestrians, drivers, and bicyclists all make strong claims to the streets. And yet the picture is even more complex, because almost no one is exclusively a walker, a cyclist, or a driver. We shift from role to role, and with those changes comes a shift in our vantage point.

There is, therefore, another, and perhaps more fundamental, source for our sense of vehicular entitlement: egocentricity. We all experience the world from our own point of view, and find it exceedingly difficult to move away from that selfish anchor. (Psychologists call this our egocentric bias.) Who we are colors what and how we see, and who we are changes depending on our mode of transportation. When we walk, we’re pedestrians. When we’re in a car, we’re drivers. When we bike, we’re cyclists. And whoever we are at the moment, we feel that we are deserving of priority.

When it comes to in-the-moment judgment, we don’t think abstractly, in terms of rules or laws or even common sense. We think concretely, in terms of our own personal needs at that very moment. It takes a big, effortful leap to tear ourselves out of that mode and accept someone else’s argument—and it’s an effort we don’t often make unless we’re specifically prompted to do so. And so, in some sense, it doesn’t matter who came first, or who’s the most powerful, or who’s best for the environment, or what the rules might say. What matters is what we, personally, happen to be doing. It’s hard to remind ourselves that we all play interchangeable roles within the urban landscape. In the end, it’s the role we’re in right now that matters. The never-ending war between bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians reflects a basic, and often wrong, mental shortcut, upon which we all too often rely: Who is in the right? I am.

Maria Konnikova speaks the truth on the battle for our streets and sidewalks among cars, bicycles, and pedestrians.

Nowadays I spend about equal time as a driver, pedestrian, and cyclist, and the only conclusion I feel confident drawing is that everyone is wrong sometimes. Some drivers are terrifying, some cyclists are obnoxious, and many pedestrians are oblivious and inconsiderate.

Physics renders a car more dangerous than a bike which in turn is more dangerous than a pedestrian. All things being equal, I'm more terrified of road rage than obnoxious cyclists, and I'm more upset at reckless bike messengers than careless pedestrians. I'm more than ready for the age of the self-driving car because the combination of humans, with their emotional volatility and egocentricity, and a several thousand pound hunk of metal and glass is, when in motion, a movable instrument of death.

Life of the domestique

I have no idea why Samsung helped produce this short video about cycling, but it's great. The double meaning of “we are greater than i”—it alludes to both the team nature of pro cycling, symbolized by the role of the domestique supporting the team leader, and to the i in iPhone or iPad—is subtle and clever. Unfortunately I don't think most people except cycling fans will really understand the nuance and the twist ending, and it won't turn around Samsung's handset sales declines, but I'm glad I saw it.

GoPro at the 2015 Tour de France

The Tour de France made a great addition to its coverage this year. Velon, a joint venture of 11 of the world's top cycling teams, partnered with GoPro to mount GoPro cameras on some of the cyclists and crew in this year's race.

The footage has been spectacular. You can find it on Velon's Tour de France homepage, on GoPro's site, and of course on YouTube. If you want a quick 2 minute sampler, edited with music, here are highlights from Stages 1-7.

I'm partial to the footage that's edited but not scored with music. It has the feel of found footage, and the lens distortions of the extreme wide-angle GoPro lenses and the ambient soundtrack brings to mind one of my favorite documentaries of recent years, Leviathan.

This is one good example, highlights from Stage 4, the cobblestone stage, a recent addition to the Tour. You see cyclists pulling over to pee on the side of the road, spectators gawking as one cyclist stops to check his tire pressure, a crash in one wet righthand turn, and other moments that occur in most stages but may be skipped by regular television coverage. All of the footage is from a unique first person (first bicycle?) perspective. If you've ever wondered how computers see, for now the answer is probably through a stationary fisheye lens.

In Stage 3, a huge crash caused chaos in the peloton. This footage from a GoPro mounted on the chest of a team ORICA GreenEDGE mechanic gives a wholly original sense of the carnage. One can feel the occasional adrenaline rush of being a pro cycling mechanic in a stage race. It's thrilling ambient journalism.

I often cringe at the found footage Hollywood conceit because it depends on believing that someone would be holding a camcorder and filming every moment, even when being chased by giant lizards or witches. But the rise of the GoPro and other sports cams now gives a more believable scenario for such movies. We're not too far off from the first Hollywood movie shot (ostensibly) on a GoPro or other such action camera (that is, it could be shot on a higher end cinema camera but pose as a GoPro), or pieced together from snippets of iPhone videos. It's a whole new aesthetic, but one that's familiar to this generation raised on Snaps and Snapchat Stories.

More major sports should consider integrating such cameras into their broadcasts, or, as the Tour de France did, as supplemental footage on the internet. I'm not holding my breath, but it's not surprising that more peripheral sports have led the way here. Incumbents tend to be reliably sluggish.

The Colle delle Finestre

Alberto Contador just won the Giro D'Italia today, but in the penultimate stage yesterday, he finally showed a sign of weakness, allowing his main competitor Fabio Aru to drop him on the climb up the Colle delle Finestre. Aru ended up the stage winner, clawing back over two minutes on Contador, but after Finestre Contador regrouped and limited the damage on the climb to Sestrieres to end the stage. That left today's concluding stage as largely a ceremonial one, as is so often the case in the grand tours.

The climb up the Colle delle Finestre one of the epic, unique climbs left in road cycling because it occurs on dirt and gravel. Even though they're riding the most advanced carbon fiber bike frames, the professional racers looked like cyclists of yore, when the Tour de France was contested largely on dirt paths through the Alps and Pyrenees.

One of the rare times Contador has been dropped on a climb, this time up the gravel path of the Colle delle Finestre.

Contador is trying to win both the Giro D'Italia and the Tour de France this year, something not done since Marco “Il Pirata” Pantani did it in 1998.

Flat tire

Team Sky cyclist Richie Porte got a flat tire near the end of stage 10 of the Giro D'Italia, and a fellow Aussie from another team, Simon Clarke, stopped and gave Porte his wheel in a gesture of sportsmanship.

The moment was captured on social media, and when race officials saw the proof of the exchange, they penalized Porte 2 minutes and fined him 200 Swiss Francs for violating a rule forbidding members of one team from helping another (Clarke, not a contender, received the same fine). It's such an obscure rule that Porte and Clarke never thought twice about the exchange in the heat of the moment.

Cycling gets beat up much worse than other sports for enforcing strict drug testing. More cyclists are caught, leading the public to look upon the sport as tainted, but the drug testing rules in most other sports are a joke (e.g. the NBA, NFL, soccer, tennis) compared to cycling, so I'll defend cycling for putting its testing where its mouth is.

However, this is one time they should have forgiven Porte and Clarke. What could have been a great moment for the sport, a gesture of the type of sportsmanship we should encourage, turned into a moment where the letter of the law took precedence over the spirit of the law, and the spirit of sport, which is fair play. Porte already lost time on race leaders by virtue of the unfortunate flat, and what could have been a more exciting Giro lost one of its leading contenders.

For the same reason, race leader Alberto Contador shouldn't be fined for removing his helmet during the race, even as it is against the rules, and even as, to no one's surprise, Twitter users are in an uproar over the subjective application of the rulebook.

Lance Armstrong's final lie?

He would also like people to know he really was clean when he came out of retirement for the 2009 Tour de France. He cleaned up along with everyone else once the nearly foolproof doping-detection method known as the "biological passport" came in, which was why the whole antidoping inquisition was pointless. The problem was already solved. Before his comeback, he called the infamous doctor Michele Ferrari, subject of so many doping rumors and investigations, and asked if he could still win the Tour clean. Ferrari said he had to run some numbers. Later he called back. "If you're lucky."

The antidoping agency accused him of cheating anyway, saying there was a one-in-a-million chance that Armstrong didn't have transfusions of his own blood in '09. "Bullshit," he says. "They'll find out someday, 'cause they'll perfect that transfusion test. And I'll be the first guy to say 'Use it.' "

From Lance Armstrong in Purgatory: The After-Life in Esquire.

Two years ago I saw Alex Gibney's documentary The Armstrong Lie at TIFF. Betsy Andreu and Jonathan Vaughters were at the Q&A afterwards. One of the things in the documentary that struck me was that though Armstrong confessed all of his doping to Alex Gibney in an interview that was shot immediately after the confession to Oprah, Armstrong still insisted that he did not dope in his comeback to the Tour de France in 2009. He said he made a promise to his wife Kristin that if he came back to the sport he would do it clean.

Most everything that can be written or said about Armstrong has been already. This mystery remains: why does he hold on to his insistence that he raced clean in his comeback? Is it because he didn't win those two Tours in his two comeback years and, his competitive juices still flowing, feels he was racing against cyclists who were doping? Is it just a point of pride for him, one tiny consolation for those who feel the rest of his cycling career was tainted by the doping scandal?

In The Armstrong Lie, Gibney followed Armstrong on his comeback in 2009 and 2010. The 2009 Tour was not, given Armstrong's expectations, a success. When put to the test in early mountain stages, he could not stay with overall Tour contenders like teammate Alberto Contador or Andy Schleck.

He had one late minor triumph, however. On stage 20, which ended with a climb up the legendary Mont Ventoux, Armstrong stayed with the top Tour racers all the way to the top. It was like an aging superstar summoning one final hurrah. The next morning, the headline of L'Equipe read “Chapeau Le Texan” (hats off to the Texan).

Andy Schleck, who finished second in the 2009 Tour, just ahead of Armstrong, believes Armstrong raced clean that year.

"He made his comeback and he was beaten in the first year by Alberto and me," said Schleck, who is in Australia to ride the Tour Down Under, first event of the 2013 WorldTour.

"So, in my eyes, I was clean. I know I was always a clean rider and I keen on riding clean. So why should he be behind me?

"I believe in his comeback that he was clean."

Bradley Wiggins, who finished in fourth, just behind Armstrong, thinks the idea that Armstrong was clean in 2009 is bollocks.

“When he said that about 2009-10, I thought 'you lying b------',” said Wiggins, recalling two particular mountain stages in the 2009 event. “I can still remember going toe to toe with him and watching the man I saw on the top of Verbier in 2009 to the man I saw on the top of Ventoux a week later when we were in doping control together. It wasn't the same bike rider.”

Because 2009 was raced with under the new biological passport program, we have data with which to assess Armstrong's performance that year, and several people pointed out some suspicious values in the data.

Here are Armstrong's blood and urine test results from 2009:

Look at the scores from 7/2, just before the Tour de France started, to 7/25, or stage 20 of the Tour, which ended with the climb up Mont Ventoux.

The data that some flagged as suspicious were his Hemoglobin and Hematocrit % from July 2, just before the Tour started, to stage 20 on July 25, the day Armstrong kept up with the race leaders on the climb up Mont Ventoux, looking to be in better form than he had the entire Tour.

Most cyclists see declines in hemoglobin and hematocrit levels during the three grueling weeks of a grand tour, so the fact that Armstrong's levels stayed dipped some the first week of the Tour and then bounced back to pre-Tour levels, with a spike from July 11-14, indicates to those who were suspicious of Armstrong (and these days, it's hard to find anyone that isn't) that he performed blood doping or took EPO during the race.

One's hydration level can swing those scores, so it's not a foolproof data point, but if you're inclined to doubt, the value changes from 7/20 to 7/25 support a constructed narrative that have Armstrong, suffering to hold onto his podium spot, taking a bag of blood sometime before the stage up the grueling Mont Ventoux to hang onto the final step of the podium. Indeed, Armstrong finished the Tour in third place, holding off Bradley Wiggins by 37 seconds.

I suspect it's hard to find too many people who believe that Armstrong was really clean in 2009, and yet Armstrong still clings to that claim with his well-chronicled Texan defiance.

There is one other theory about why Armstrong hangs on to this one last story of competitive integrity, and that is a legal one. I've heard from reporters who've covered the Armstrong story that there is a five year statute of limitations and that Armstrong had to claim innocence in 2009 to prevent more organizations from coming after him for various prize and sponsorship money. Given the slew of legal actions against him, it could be that his innocence in 2009 is critical to him maintaining financial solvency.

Now that we're in 2014, that statute of limitations is close to expiring. Perhaps at that point Armstrong will confess to doping even in his comeback, and the final few tumbles from grace will complete themselves.

Bait bikes

Officer Matt Friedman fights crime with modern tools: Twitter, which he uses to publicize pictures of suspects and convicted criminals, and a GPS device, which he uses to track down stolen property.

In both cases, his lure is stolen bicycles — including the “bait bikes” that have recently been seeded throughout the city to tempt potential thieves. Equipped with GPS technology, the bicycles, which exist to be stolen, can be tracked down in real time and the thieves can be arrested. Then their photographs are posted to Twitter from the handle @SFPDBikeTheft. The bait bikes are of high value, to ensure that people caught taking them are charged with a felony.

Recently, for example, a thief took a $1,500 bicycle from outside a train stop and pedaled off into the sunset. But 30 minutes later, Officer Friedman and his team, having tracked the bike, converged on the rider at a park.

“You should have seen his face — he thought he was in the clear,” said Officer Friedman, 41, who carries a .40-caliber Sig Sauer semiautomatic and an iPhone 5, which he used that day to take a picture of the severed bike lock. He then posted an image on Twitter with the message: Thank You 4 Taking Our Bait Bike.

I hadn't heard of this new tactic before. As someone who had three bikes stolen while an undergrad, my instinct is to embrace any and all measures to fight bike crime, including the public shaming. As noted in the article, the University of Wisconsin, Madison saw a 40% drop in reported bike thefts the first year they rolled out a bait bike program.

However, the social cost here is fuzzier. As educator Zeynep Tufekci writes:

If you are still fuming at the memory of a bike being stolen (I am, even now) and wondering why these thieves should not get charged with felonies, ponder for a moment. [Added: an add other minor or major infractions for the next example: it’s not a perfect example.] Have you ever rolled through a stop sign? Have you failed to perfectly stop, ever? Rolling through stop signs puts people’s lives at risk and is done just as intentionally as stealing a bike. It’s more dangerous and destructive than stealing a bike. [Though it’s been pointed out by people who understand the laws better than I do that our criminal code does not view that as the same kind of intention as bike stealing. I don’t claim to be making a legal argument, but just trying to push our imagination politically.]

Sure, there is a cost to bike theft, and it is a problem. But there is also cost to rendering large numbers of people unemployable through felony convictions.

Now imagine a city in which areas in which tech workers lives were equipped with cameras that caught everyone who ever rolled through a stop sign. You got a felony charge, since the evidence was indisputable. You lost your job, and could never work in the same sector again. You can’t vote either. Maybe you have probation. Your life is ruined, forever, and fairly irrecoverably.

Officer Friedman, mentioned in the excerpt above, responded to charges of the program being a form of entrapment by noting that bait bikes

...are not simply left out unlocked for opportunistic types. (Unlike SFPD's reality TV-ready Bait Car program that was quickly halted a few years back.) They are locked up and then swiped by thieves with the tools to do so and the know-how to unload them. Like this recidivist on the street with an angle grinder, or these guys running a chop shop on 13th Street, or a notorious bike thieves in the East Bay.

If my bike were recovered through such a program, I'd just be happy to get it back. Having the thief charged with a felony would be unnecessarily harsh.

Perhaps technology will offer alternative solutions in the future. The cost of small tracking devices is coming down. Many crowdfunding projects are for little tracking tags or gizmos that you can attach to or put in your valuables to be able to detect their location on your phone. The problem is that most operate on Bluetooth and have limited range and battery life, but perhaps those problems can be overcome. In that world, theft might be less prevalent because of the increased difficulty of hiding the object.

One might argue that a bike thief could come up with electronic countermeasures to combat tracking devices, but most bike thieves are looking to unload bikes as soon as possible and not seeking to maximize their cash return on each component or the entire bike itself. The cost of countermeasures might not be worth the investment given the low cash return on each stolen bike.


I like the look of the Ciclotte, a high end exercise bike that looks like something out of a science fiction movie. Most normal exercise bikes are a visual blemish for most urban living spaces, but the Ciclotte is a real conversation starter.

However, those handlebars look to revere form over function. Though they are said to be adjustable, a more traditional handlebar shape would be far more practical for quick maneuvering into a variety of common positions.

Also, it costs over $11,000, so your wallet will be losing weight faster than you will. Maybe they'll make it into a local Soul Cycle class soon where I can give them a whirl while sweating and crying to the uplifting sounds of Beyonce's Halo.