Zen and the Art of Potholes

Streets wouldn’t be streets in the Twin Cities without potholes and while they present a problem for motorists loathe to replace tires and suspension bits, they can be downright dangerous for cyclists. PotholeBiking

We can take the lane and ride out of the debris field that is called a gutter in the summer or we can do our best to avoid potholes and cars at the same time. After decades of battling potholes during rides I needed to come up with a better way.


At my favorite St. Paul coffee shop, J&S Bean Factory, I often hang out with Bill a non-sighted (he likes the term) musician. We often have lively discussions about the benefits of sight versus none. As you might imagine, Bill is amazing at using his other 4 senses to navigate the world around him. This got me thinking. What if I was blind? How would that affect my ability to ride? So for the month of March I tried something I’ve never done before. I started to ride with a blindfold completely covering my eyes.

This was brilliant. I could use my sense of touch to feel – through my handlebars – the “edge” of the pothole, it’s shape and how best to alter my ride to avoid it. I could use my sense of hearing to listen for cars and to accurately pinpoint their position relative to mine. With this information and my new found ability to ride around potholes, I could safely avoid falling. Smell was the trickiest. Bus and diesel truck fumes kept hampering my ability to smell cars and pedestrians. To overcome this shortfall, I would use bird calls as a sort of sonar to alert me to the position of pedestrians. This worked very well until I smelled the guy who was carrying his Americano just bought from the local coffee shop. It threw me – not literally – as I veered toward him and his coffee. This didn’t end well. Also, judging from the picture below, my new pothole avoidance system didn’t always work.


For April, and beyond, I’m losing the blindfold but it taught me a lot about the world around me. One last point. Please don’t try this at home.

Tony Desnick

About Tony Desnick

Tony Desnick is an architect, urban designer, and bicycle activist. He has worked in the bike share industry since 2013. He has ridden a bike for the last 56 years and commutes year 'round by bike today. He serves several local and int'l non-profit boards of directors. In May 2016, he presented a TEDx talk about how bicycles can change us and our communities. It can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTT7i3SKpMQ