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There’s something you want to do, but you’re afraid to do it. So, what are you really afraid of? What are the odds of that terrible thing actually happening?

You know the risk. Get out there on a bike, and you could be hit by a car. You could catch a wheel in a storm sewer, crack your head against the concrete, and suffer permanent brain damage or death.

Add the risks of poisonous snake bites, death by heat exhaustion, heart attacks, being shot, and a zillion other dangers. Why would you ever go out on a bike ride? What are you thinking?

You’re thinking in a probabilistic way. All of those things could happen, but the probability of any of them happening is so tiny that you can probably ignore it.

You could bike every day for the rest of your life and probably never have to encounter any of the dangers we just mentioned.

Probabilistic thinking is one of the things that puts you on your bike in the first place, and it can serve you well in many other aspects of your life.

There are many people out there who might like to bike more, but they live in terror of the risks. They’re making an assumption. There are two possible outcomes: A) You could have a wonderful time, or B)You could die.

For the person who is afraid of a bike ride, both A and B are equally probable. They’re suffering from a big misunderstanding.

If there were equal odds of enjoying a good ride or dying a horrible death, you’d probably think twice before going on a bike ride. But the odds are not equal. Probabilistic thinking enables you to enjoy your bike ride, knowing that the chances of a fatality are somewhere in the ballpark of being struck by lightning or winning the lottery.

Now let’s apply this probabilistic thinking to some other part of your life.

There’s something you want to do, but you’re afraid to do it. But what are you really afraid of? What are the odds of that terrible thing actually happening?

Biking can help you cross a bridge of fear
Biking can help you cross a bridge of fear

I’ll give you a few examples. I used to be afraid of singing in front of people. I thought I would sound terrible and people would boo me off the stage.

This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but let’s assume it would be the end of the world. It’s still worth singing, because the odds of having an audience that rude and boorish is minuscule. If you ever sing in public, most of the audience will be fans, friends, and family who love you.

What are you afraid of? Talking to that good-looking person, or finally asking them out?

Okay, here the odds of success might be against you (but then again, you may be surprised). But the odds of a really terrible outcome are still small enough to ignore. Worst-case scenario, this person might politely turn you down.

Unless you have really bad judgement, your immediate future probably won’t include a drink in your face, a restraining order, or even a terribly awkward moment.

Now let’s look at even bigger things.

Have you ever thought about creating something big for the world, something that might change your life and other lives as well? Maybe you’ve got a book you want to write, an idea for a new game or an entire business. Maybe you’re thinking about a long and dangerous journey.

How dangerous could it be?

Here’s where you apply your probabilistic thinking skills.

Whatever you want to do, you can probably think of several bad outcomes. But how bad are these outcomes, and what are the chances that they’ll really happen?

Most of the dangers you list will fall into one of these two categories. First, they’re not so bad. You can live with them, and you’ll be able to dust yourself off and carry on. Or second, they are pretty grave and serious, but the probability that they’ll ever happen is low.

Once you understand probability, you can take on challenges that may have seemed much harder before. Buy a house. Go after a better job, or start your own business. Travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Find the love of your life, or at least test-drive a few candidates.

Since you’ve involved yourself in biking, and maybe bike touring, you already have mad skills when it comes to probabilistic thinking.

Use what you’ve got, and soon you’ll start getting all the other things that you want out of life.



There is a simple way to protect yourself (besides wearing a mask, which could help you too) from the worst effects of automobile exhaust. And you should take this seriously.

This is meant for all you brave urban bicycle commuters, who expose yourself to the hazards of city traffic at the worst times of the day. But it also applies to anyone who rides their bike in an urban environment.

bicycling reduces air pollution
Reduce pollution by ensuring your vehicle is smog compliant

There is a simple way to protect yourself (besides wearing a mask, which could help you too) from the worst effects of automobile exhaust. And you should take this seriously.

According to the American Lung Association, exposure to air pollution is one of the major risk factors for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), secondary only to smoking cigarettes.

COPD may not kill you for years, but it will sap your strength, crush your ability to work and play, and basically suck all the joy out of your life.

It's ironic (and sad) that by making a noble effort to improve the overall air quality, you expose yourself to the worst air pollution. But you can help minimize the problem by using a simple math formula to your advantage.

We're talking about the inverse square law, for you math people. What this means is that if you can double your distance from the tailpipe of an automobile, you're only exposed to one fourth of the pollutants. If you triple the distance, you're only exposed to one ninth. Get four times as far, and only a feeble sixteenth of those toxic fumes will ever have a chance of reaching your lungs.

There's an easy way to ride your bike far enough from commuting cars that you can cut out 50%, 90% or even more of the pollutants you would have been exposed to. Every city or town has busy streets that are jammed during rush hour traffic. These are usually the most direct routes, but you don't need to ride your bike on them.

Just find a parallel residential street (or if you're downtown, try to pick a route that runs through parks and alleys), and only ride on the main streets when you need to.

This could add a little bit of time to your commute, but the benefits of biking this way will add to your lifespan.

Disclaimer: I am not trained in medicine, and this information is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Always consult with a physician before participation in any physical activity.

This blog is not in any way affiliated with the American Lung Association. All opinions stated here are my own, and do not reflect the views of the American Lung Association.



The first thing I saw was the pavement. It seemed to be 90 degrees away from where it belonged, and very close to my ear. A car was rolling towards me, and it looked too high up. I could see the concrete underneath both wheels.

Then I staggered up, noticing that my arms and legs were weak and shaky. A pair of arms pulled me off the street and onto the sidewalk, then the guy brought my bike to me.

I've never used a lot of safety gear. Lights and a helmet are prettymuch all I do. But maybe I'll start using rear-view mirrors now, especially since my bicycle commute is about to get a lot longer. During that second or two that I turned around, my front wheel hit a pothole that sent me sprawling.

This was on a clunky part of South Highland, for any L.A. bikers who want a heads up.

"Thanks a lot," I said to the man who pulled me out of the street.

"No problem bro," he said. "I always try to help people when they're down."

"I appreciate that," I told him.

"Good. Maybe you can help me out with some spare change."



I want to start chronicling the ways I avoid traffic when biking around Los Angeles. I'm not sure how to organize this, probably with a category and sub-cats so you can follow along and get my suggestions.

Does anyone with WordPress skills have tips on the best way to do this?

A few of the main routes I plan to post here:

  • How to bike from PCH to Santa Monica without carrying your bicycle up a staircase
  • Bicycling from downtown to each of the university campuses and back
  • Bike rides around the terminal stops of all the metro lines
  • Major east-west and north-south corridors

We'll see how this goes.

This morning I got stuck behind a bus during my bike commute. It felt like I was sucking air right out of the exhaust pipe. But this usually doesn't happen, because I have tactics I use to keep my lungs safe most of the time. If you ride your bike in a polluted urban environment like Los Angeles, there's really a lot you can do to minimize the smog you breathe in.

First, if you have the option, you can cut your exposure to pollution by 10-30% just by riding in off-peak hours. The best time is early in the morning, before rush hour. Next best would be midday, or late at night.

If you're not commuting by bike, and you just like to ride for the fun of it, be a weekend warrior. Ride your bike on the days when there are fewer cars on the road.

If you commute to work, and have to ride your bike during rush hour, you can save your lungs by taking alternate routes.

Almost every busy street has other streets running parallel to it, and the traffic on these other streets can be a lot lower. If you can get just 50 feet away from the heaviest traffic, you can make a dramatic cut in the amount of pollution you breathe in.

In fact, a Danish study found that when you bike on streets with low traffic volume, you can reduce your exposure to pollution by 50% to 60% or even more.

And when you think about it, you'll have a safer, more quiet ride. Also more scenic. You're more likely to pass parks and gardens. You won't have to worry as much about being hit.

If you commute by bike, there might be stretches where you have to be on the busiest roads, but probably not for the entire route. Anything you can do to reduce the time you spend riding in traffic will pay off.

There will be more stop signs, and you might add an extra 10 minutes onto your journey. But you could also add years to your life.

2

If you're commuting by bike and you live anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, you're going to ride your bike at night at some point. In my younger days (and even now, truth be told), I used to party with my bike and ride home.*

This is just to say I've bought and used a lot of bike lights over the years. I have my favorites, and I might make some recommendations in a future post. But for now, I'm frustrated by a problem that seems to happen across the board, with every kind of bike light I've ever used.

Usually the mounting wears out or breaks long before the light does. So you end up with a perfect light that you can't attach to your bicycle.

Sure, you can always figure something out with bungi cords, rubber bands and duct tape, but all of those things lead to new problems later on. As a result, I have a drawer full of flashlights that are simply retired bike lights.

My latest solution is the head lamps that you find at camping stores. It's bright, it automatically points wherever I look, but it's uncomfortable and I feel like I'm cheating somehow. Plus, this doesn't fill the need for a flashing rear light device.

I know there has to be a better way, and that's where you come in.

If you like to tinker, and you could patent some kind of universal bike light mount, you may be in a business. If your device is simple, durable, and lightweight, you're going to be a millionaire. If this sounds like you, please get on it! I won't ask for any credit or compensation. I'll be your first customer!

*Yes, I almost killed myself a few times while biking under the influence, but at least I wouldn't have killed anybody else. Don't ever try to drive, ride, or operate any vehicle--bike, motorcycle, steamroller, skateboard, pogo stick, burro, or jet ski--when your cognitive processes are compromised. If you're going to abuse a substance, let it be coffee!

I just heard the bad news about Ian Hibell. If you don't know about him, and you ride a bike, check out this link. Better yet, check out his book, Into Remote Places. It's a classic.

I can only hope that when I'm 74 I'll be able to ride from the UK to Greece, as Ian was doing when the fateful hit-and-run did him in. RIP, Ian.

For the rest of us, drive carefully. Ride free.

2

Even just a 10 minute bike ride a few days a week will have you looking and feeling better by the end of the month. But if you're a beginner, you might feel daunted.

Fear not! I can show you a safe bike ride in your home town. I've been networking with bikers all over the United States, as part of a research project into safe and scenic bike rides. If one of them is near you, we can find you a ride. Just leave a comment if you're interested in trying this out, and I'll get back to you soon.

Better yet,  sign up for free biking tips--just leave your name and email below:

There was an article in the L.A. Times a few months ago where they stated that the number of cyclists killed by motorists had doubled from 2005-2006.

Bad news, but the reason might not be as grim as you think. Apparently the number of bicycles sold also doubled during the same period of time. If there are twice as many of us out there, and everything else stays the same, then the death rate would also double.

There are more and more people riding bikes. Me and my girlfriend even went to a club on our bikes last night.

Drivers, please be careful.

The LA Bike Coalition jokes that the moisture is good for your skin. Maybe. The spray of road muck is bad for your clothes. But either way, if you get around on your bike as serious transportation, you'll feel like a hero when you ride in the rain.

All of the obvious tips are valid. Be careful, be visible, get a lid for your coffee. But everyone has a few specific things they do to get where they're going safe and mostly dry. What about you?

I pretend I'm in a Disney parade, and wear lots of bright shiny stuff with reflectors and blinking lights. Going along with the parade theme, I usually stop traffic, or at least slow it down. If they're honking and yelling at me, I know they can see me.

I got my trusty Cat's Eye OptiCube and whatever the blinking red equivalent is, and a change of dry clothes rolled up in a plastic bag inside my waterproof panniers. I got to this morning's appointment looking like a disgruntled CalTrans worker, but after a quick change in the restroom I morphed into a confident professional.

The entire effort added about 8 minutes to my travel time.

What do you do to make the most of a rainy bike ride?