Archive for the ‘politics’ Category.

Keep Electric Motorbikes Off The Trails: Do Your Part

On Friday I had an encounter with an electric motorbike rider at Stony Creek Metropark. The result was somewhat good, with him leaving the park without riding (due to my threatening to call the police on him), but it took a lot of mental energy on my part to stay topical, impersonal, and yet pointed so the goal (preventing him from riding) was accomplished in a safe and legal manner. It would have been better if he’d understood why riding an electric motorbike on mountain bike trails is a bad thing, but he didn’t seem to. Either I didn’t explain it well enough, or he didn’t care.

Much of the mountain bike trail access that we currently enjoy is specifically because we are a human powered user group. It was a huge battle in the 80s, 90s, and early 00s for mountain bikes to be seen as a legitimate user group, but thankfully in Michigan we have mostly won and are seen as fair, equal users in great part because riders are moving under their own power.

Bringing electric motorbikes onto the trails, under the guise of “electric mountain bikes”, puts that at risk. The worst case is a blanket ban because park staff doesn’t have a practical way differentiate between electric motorbikes and pedaled mountain bikes entering the trails, so it becomes foot traffic only.  (Hell, many people — cyclists or not — would look at this guy’s bike and not realize it’s motorized…)  That’d be awful, and not something that we can risk via inaction. That’s why we, the mountain biking community along with other trail users, need to work to curb this kind of behavior.

Richard Cunningham over at Pinkbike explains this very eloquently in much greater depth, in a piece titled A Secret Trail and an Argument Against E-Bikes.

After giving this a day of thought about what went right in the confrontation and what could have done better, I distilled them into a list. Here’s my DOs and DON’Ts for what to do when you encounter someone at a mountain bike trail riding an electric motorbike:

DON’T presume that the rider already knows they aren’t allowed to ride their motorbike on mountain bike trails. With the explosion in electric motorbike availability there is a fair chance that the rider simply doesn’t know any better.

DO consistently use the term “electric motorbike” and not “electric mountain bike”. Despite being based on a bicycle design, having a motor makes it a motorbike and maintaining this point is crucial.

DO inform the rider that they have a motorbike which is not permitted on trails designed for human power use only.

DO remain polite and calm, but direct.

DO inform the rider that you maintain and/or use the trails and have a vested interest in them.

DO inform the rider that using a motorbike on trails designed for human powered use threatens trail access.

DON’T simply use “because it is illegal” as your main argument, this frequently falls on deaf ears. Appeal to trail access.

DON’T engage in discussion about motor assist vs. throttle control, total power output, impact to trail surface, physical ability, etc. Debating nuance will weaken your message and wear you down. A vehicle that is powered by anything other than a human is a motorized vehicle and should not be on the trails.

DON’T act in a threatening manner nor physically contact the rider nor his/her motorbike.

DO call the police or the land manager (park office, parks and recreation department, etc) if you see the user riding their motorbike on the trails anyway. Inform them that someone is riding a motorbike on the trails then wait around for the police.

DON’T be afraid to call the local police instead of confronting the rider yourself. That’s their job: enforcing laws, such as those which already prohibit the use of motorbikes on trails.

DO keep your distance. Close enough to be conversational, but far enough away to maintain your safety and appear unthreatening to the rider.

DO remember that you don’t have the legal authority to stop the motorbike rider, but you do have the moral authority to engage, educate, and report.

I would prefer that an rider realize why riding a motorbike on mountain bike trails is a bad idea and stop of their own volition. Unfortunately, as was illustrated to me yesterday, some people just don’t understand or won’t care and refuse to change until threatened with a penalty.

Human Power or GTFO

A few years back on the regular Stony Creek Wednesday Night Group Ride someone with a rather curious bike joined us. It very customized hard tail fitted with an electric hub motor and battery pack and the owner was proudly showing it off, explaining how he built it and uses it because he doesn’t like riding up hills. Many of the group gave him a hard time about it being motorized, but he headed out with us anyway. During the ride I was behind him a few times and saw him spinning his rear wheel up climbs while he wasn’t pedaling and mentioned to him how that’s not cool.

Mountain bike trails are built for human power, and ever since that day I’d hoped to run into him again and advise him to stay off of the trails on his motorbike. Since that group ride I’d see him a couple time per year, sometimes on trails† and others when returning to the parking lot, but was never able to successfully engage him in a conversation… until yesterday.

When getting ready to ride Stony Creek on Friday evening I noticed the vehicle above pull into the parking lot, holding what looked to be an updated version of the electric motorbike that I remembered being shown a few years back. It was the same guy‡. When he headed into the bathroom I took a moment to get clear pictures of his bike and license plate and then waited for him to come out.

At first he seemed a little proud that someone had noticed his bike, but the conversation quickly took an different tone when I asked “that’s an electric motorbike, isn’t it?” and then stated that they aren’t permitted on the mountain bike trails, which are designed for human power use only. The bike owner protested, claiming that he’s “done it for years” and “no one has complained”. He tried to claim that it’s just “electric assist”, but backed off on the last claim when I pointed there is no torque sensor and has a throttle on the handlebar. Other protestations he tried to use were that it’s “quiet”, that he “still gets passed”, he uses it as a “carrot”, and that he pedals “most of the time”.

He kept getting ready for his ride while myself and another guy kept him engaged with questions about his motorbike, and he seemed to be hurrying to get out on the trails, almost braggingly claiming that he hasn’t been caught yet. Phone in hand, park office number in the dialer (which he noticed me dialing), I eventually pointedly told him that if he set out on the trails I’d be calling the park police and waiting for him. It was only after this that he began angrily packing up, calling me a “fucker” for “ruining his ride”. Then I watched him leave, waiting to be sure he didn’t head to one of the other mountain bike trail parking lots.

I hope that this encounter and others reminding him of the same makes him rethink riding his electric motorbike on trails. It was clear that he knew it wasn’t permitted, but he was ready to head out anyway. Only the threat of being caught by an authority figure with the capability to penalize him seemed to be an effective deterrent.

Bicycle companies are starting to sell electric motorbikes, frequently branding them as simple assisted bicycles, diminishing the fact they are still motor vehicles. While they are currently costly items, as prices come down it’s inevitable that we’ll see more and more of these on our trails. I sincerely hope that everyone who cares about human-power-only designated trails — cyclists, hikers, runners, and walkers alike — will do what’s needed to keep these motorbikes away. In this post I present reasons why their presence is a problem and offer suggestions for what to do when you encounter someone with an electric motorbike at mountain bike trails.

† Encounters include: Him almost hitting me and forcing me off the trail on some of the humps at Clinton River Park Trails, just seconds before I met Phil (for the first time) to whom he’d done the same. Seeing him riding out onto The Overlook at Pontiac Lake on a hot summer day — the top of a climb and just after one of the hardest climbs in the park — without pedaling and looking fresh and unsweaty. In the parking lot at Pontiac Lake where he rolled up to his car without pedaling and seemed to get in his car and drive away quickly when he saw me eyeing him from across the lot. I’ve heard numerous stories of him from others who have also seen him rolling around, not pedaling, under motor power only.

‡ Dark grey Jeep Laredo 4×4, Michigan license plate DCU 3622 (photo), with a black 1UP USA bicycle rack. Owner is a trim / thin Asian guy, medium complexion and short dark hair, about 5’6″, with prescription regular and riding glasses.

His electric motorbike is a heavily modified black Motobecane Fantom Elite DS with white Fox fork and black rear Fox shock. Custom carbon fiber battery holder inside the front triangle, power regulator (the block on the underside of the downtube), and hub motor are the most notable features. Throttle can be seen near the right grip. (High res photo.)

This is legally defined as either a moped or motorcycle as per the Michigan Vehicle Code Act 300 of 1949, section 257.3b. (I feel the differentiation would be whether or not it can exceed 30 MPH on a level surface. The motor is roughly 350W [owner said “something like that” when I asked if it was 350W], which on a flat/level surface in an aero position may be able to reach 30 MPH. Having a hub motor the operator does not need to shift gears to make it work.)

Fear Sells: A Reminder

My usual source for weather information is the National Weather Service’s rather nice site weather.gov. It shows everything from the basic forecast to detailed hourly forecasts in graphic and text formats. This was having issues loading at one point today (load/use, I presume), so I headed over to The Weather Channel at weather.com to use their services.

While I was able to find forecast information, and I did see some of the expected advertising, the most obvious headlines on the main page were far more fear mongering than I’d anticipated — enough to make me really take notice of how much fear is being used to sell:

  • WARNING: Up to 72 Inches of Snow Ahead? (Scary magenta weather map!)
  • ‘Almost Everyone is Dead’ (Sad / wise looking brown-skinned man.)
  • Woah! More than 60 Inches of Snow! (Old photo of plowed highway cut through snow.)
  • Deadly H1N1 Flu Virus Sweeping U.S. (Needle going into arm.)
  • Will THIS Wipe Us Out? (Picture of erupting volcano.)
  • Saturn’s Rings are HOW Old? (Ominous looking photo of Saturn.)

These aren’t even the typical clickbait Elsewhere on the web  / “You wouldn’t believe…” ads, but actual links to pages within the weather.com site. Fear mongering for selling things (products, politics, or revisits to websites) are nothing new, but as someone who rarely watches broadcast news or visits sites such as The Weather Channel I can’t help but be taken aback at the naked hype.

This Is How It Gets Done

A scant 3.5 years ago the MMBA Metro North chapter, now known as CRAMBA-IMBA, finished completion of the first phase of official mountain bike trails at Shelby Township‘s River Bends Park. Today we had another trail work day to give the trail a nice autumn cleanup and the rerouting of a couple problematic spots.

It’s pretty amazing to me how things like this come together. A group of us, who generally all get along and work well with each other, came together and worked to make something that we enjoy even better. Even though the specific mechanics still baffle me, this is how it seems to work: people with a wide variety of skills but a common interest come together, self-organize, then volunteer their time building publicly accessible facilities that the entire community can enjoy.

As a community we essentially have two ways of making new public resources exist: we can either pay for something (via taxes, with all the overhead of getting this to happen), or we can make it happen ourselves doing the work without direct compensation, something generally known as volunteering. Parks typically don’t know what mountain bikers actually want, so for building new bike-accessible trails the best way is for us to get like-minded folks together and work with the parks to make it happen. This is what we did, and just like countless other locales across the country there are now trails that we all enjoy.

The trails at River Bends aren’t particularly challenging, but more people than I can remember have told me about getting started riding these trails. This was the goal, and it makes me, and surely everyone who has worked on these trails, very proud. We do good work.

(The photo above shows, from left to right, a number of people who were out at today’s trail day. In the top row: Mark Johnson, Erik Silvassy, Mark Senyk, Roger Class, Mike White, Rob Wedding, Bob Costello, Jeremy Verbeke (Co-Trail Coordinator at River Bends), Rodney Gullett, and Deanna Velasco. Second row: Aaron Burgess, Steve Vigneau (me, the other Co-Trail Coordinator at River Bends), Art Fleming, and Jeremy Kozak. Down in front is Jude, who is Mike White’s son and a perpetual presence at trail work days. Not pictured are the folks who were had to leave early or were out grabbing food for the rest of us, including Greg Kuhn, Chris Goddard, Erik Silvassy, Kristi Heuvers, Erick Mile, Katie Mile, Nick Shue, Marty Shue, or Pete Kresmery.)

Corporate Fanboyism

Driving home on I-75 in Detroit yesterday I saw this vehicle (black Saturn VUE, Michigan BWB 0564), driven by a 50-ish man with grey hair, grey beard, gold-rimmed glasses, and a flannel shirt bearing some rather interesting hand-written slogans on the windows. The ones shown here are:

TRY PAYING
BILLS & TAXES
WITH FOREIGN
$
BUY AMERICAN OR GOOD BYE!

and

FOREIGN CAR
DRIVERS NEED
2-B HOMELESS
+
JOBLESS

The rear window had something about cell phones similar to the Shut Up, Hang Up, and Drive bumper stickers.

Pontiac Has Terrible Roads

Pontiac is the first town in which I’ve worked where I also have to pay a city income tax. It is also the worst city I’ve had to deal with road-wise. Two days after a moderate winter snowfall there is still an inch of ice on all roads making even the most gradual uphill difficult to drive. Pulling away from a stoplight is almost always a matter of frustration involving 10-15 seconds of figuring out how to acquire traction.

Maybe I should just buy myself some snow tires. It’d make driving (all around) much nicer during winter.

(Another road photo, and a view from near my new desk on Monday.)

Voter #167

Voter #167, just after noon, no wait, people were moving through the polls nicely. Poll worker seemed a bit taken back when I asked what she would do if I was unable to present a driver’s license as proof of identity when going to vote.

Also: Yarn Hair, Surly Pugsley, and Mailman Followup (previously).

Cabin #2 at Bald Mountain State Recreation Area, North Unit

Turn your time machine back to 1991 and I’m sure that few of you will have difficulty remembering Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the pathologist who (per his claims) helped more than 150 people to end their lives. Two of these assisted suicides took place in an area where I frequently bike, Bald Mountain State Recreation Area‘s North Unit, located just off of the Paint Creek Trail in Lake Orion.

One of the locations along this trail are two rustic cabins. The one pictured above, Cabin #2, was the place where Dr. Kevorkian helped Marjorie Wantz and Sherry Miller end their lives. Knowing their story, never having visited them, and out riding the trail alone yesterday evening I decided to detour past the cabins and take a look around. This photo was taken then, just as I was to head back out to the trail. The cabins are unremarkable, and appear to contain simple wooden bunks and a general open area with a chimney on one end, nice looking fire pits, and easy (albeit rather unmaintained) access to Tamarack Lake.

(Please note that I’m not completely certain this is Cabin #2 as they are not numbered, but since it’s the second one on the road I’ve made that presumption.)

Would You Like To Play A Game?

I remember reading articles like this (The Effects of a Global Thermonuclear War; 4th edition: escalation in 1988) when I was much younger, leading to lots of thinking about nuclear war and the inevitable, terrifying future. I can’t help but wonder how I would have ended up if I didn’t grow up with knowledge of the awesome power the world’s nations held and my awareness of completely helplessness in the face of it. At the time all I could do was hope that such a war never came to pass.

M-59 Construction Information / Excellent MDOT Customer Service

Earlier this week I noticed that electronic traffic information signs have been placed along M-59 on my route home from work. The signs are a bit vague, indicating that construction is to begin sometime around the end of July, but not saying anything more. I also noticed that some utility poles were being moved outwards from the highway, so that got me thinking that perhaps M-59 is finally being widened.

(For those that aren’t familiar with this area, M-59 narrows from three lanes to two, then widens back to three a few miles later. This bottleneck is essentially leftovers from a much earlier version of the highway, because while both ends expanded, the middle section hadn’t been touched for a while. This obviously leads to an almost-daily backup.)

To find out what was going on I consulted the websites for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and both the the Macomb County and Oakland County Road Commissions. None of these websites had the info, so to the phone I went. A few calls and transfers made yesterday afternoon left me at the voicemail box of Steve Stramsak, a Traffic and Safety Engineer with MDOT, where I left a message asking about the road and leaving my email address.

This morning I received a very nice, detailed response, explaining exactly what is happening with the road:
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