Tuesday, March 29, 2011

May: Bike Month

The League of American Cyclists is once again promoting May as National Bike Month.

They have lots of information on events and how to promote them in your area.

Some of my favorites are:

(1) refresh stations
(2) ride with the Mayor
(3) guided rides on local routes

Where I work in Cary, NC there are various signed bike routes and a system of greenway trails. I think it would be great to have ride leaders to take small groups on the routes. This would show people some nice places to ride and let them discover some routes that could work for running errands.

What kind of Bike Month events are being considered in your area?

Friday, March 25, 2011

30 Days of Biking

Ah, surfing the web and listening to podcasts have something in common that addicts me. I discover interesting things hidden among the rest. In this case I was listening to the Bicycle Radio podcast and came across 30 Days of Biking.

Founded by @patiomensch and Zach Amon, both of Minnesota, the idea is pretty simple: ride you bike everyday for 30 days. In their own words:
The only rule for 30 Days of Biking is that you bike every day for 30 days—around the block, 20 miles to work, whatever suits you—then share your adventures online. We believe biking enriches life, builds community, and preserves the Earth. This is the second year, and third round, of 30 Days of Biking!

I really like this idea and so I am promoting it here. You don't have to be training (but you could be), you can be slow or fast, you can ride far or to the end of the driveway to get the mail. All that matters is that you ride.

The upcoming 30 day challenge is for April 2011. You can get more information on using the #30daysofbiking hashtag on Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and Vimeo. This challenge is setup to be a social media event, but don't update Twitter while riding!

For me personally, I will have 2 very challenging days to ride in April. I have a business trip to India and that involves a whole day in travel. I leave on a Friday and arrive near midnight Saturday night. I can do a ride Friday morning but Saturday is going to be tricky to have any chance to ride. I am planning to ride the Sunday in India and hopefully during the week as well. The return trip has a similar problem, but the time difference helps cooing back so it is less challenging. Still I am going to sign up and do my best to find a way to ride.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cruiser Restored

Last year I fixed up a simple cruiser for my daughter to ride.

It is a Huffy of indeterminate age. Mostly I cleaned a lot of rust although the chrome fenders were in good shape. I did replace the fender stays and the handlebars, both of which had no chrome under the rust. I repacked the wheel and headset bearings.

The seat and grips were new along with the white wall tires. I added the Wald Grocery basket on the front and it makes a nice ride.

I did a lot of cleaning. The decals were pretty messed up but the blue metallic paint was in good shape. So I used a heat gun to get the decals off and a Black & Decker rotary tool to remove rust and plush the finish. My other favorite trick (found on the internet of course) to remove rust is to put some diet soda on the area and rub it with aluminum foil. You can use regular soda but it makes a sticky mess because of the sugar.

My daughter seems to like this bike pretty much. She rode with me to a local farm to get some vegetables. It is 15 miles round trip and there are some pretty decent hills. She tackled them pretty well on this single speed. On one particularly steep section she walked, but she got back on before the top when the slope eased off a little. I think she would have made even the steep section but the swept back handlebars don't give the best leverage for standing up and climbing.

If you are thinking of tackling a project like this for a commuter or errand bike, I would encourage you to go for it. I didn't spend much money and got a lot of satisfaction from the finished bike.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Moment As a Bike Messenger

Yesterday, I had a brief moment as a bike messenger. Well, there was no traffic and my bike had both gears and brakes, but I was carrying a large envelope and I was racing the clock.

Where I work is a several hundred acre campus. Riding my bike to work means that might bike is in front of my building and is available if I need to go to another building. The most common trip is to and from the gym having either showered after my morning ride or changing clothes for the ride home. But yesterday I needed to deliver some paperwork for a visa I need for an upcoming trip.

I had a meeting until 2:00 pm and that is just before the mail pickup to overnight my documents. So I needed to get to our travel department as quick as possible. I had all my documents in a manilla envelope but for transporting on the bike I skipped that in a large envelope that closes better.

So downstairs I went, on the bike, large envelope in hand, helmet on head, I was off to the building for travel. Even without a Chrome messenger bag, I made the 1 1/2 mile round trip in plenty of time to make the overnight drop.

On the ride back, it came to me that even though there was no traffic, I had just made a delivery not entirely unlike a bicycle messenger. And the pay was even similar. I am get to be on planes for 19 hours plus 8 hours of layovers each way next month. But I may get to ride in another country. I am working on the details now.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Just Because You Can Take It Doesn't Mean You Should Dish It Out

While reading BikeCommuters.com I came across this essay about the mean streets and road rage involving drivers, cyclists and walkers. This got me to thinking about a couple of things.

First, I am grateful for where I live. Partially because of the greenways and partially because the drivers seem better than those described in the essay, I don't experience the hostile conditions many seem to deal with.

The second thought is about riding on mixed use trails. How many cyclists become the equivalent of the drivers they hate once they are the fastest vehicle? Are they terrorizing the runners, joggers, dog walkers, baby stroller pushers and other slow users of the paths? Are the bikes passing at a distance they feel is safe without regard to how the person on foot feels about that margin of safety? Do they get upset that joggers are running in the bike lane on the slightly softer asphalt rather than the hard concrete sidewalk just a few feet away? Are riders more concerned with turning the pedals to keep a good average time or a target heart rate to slow down enough when passing to make everyone enjoy their day?

Well, it is pretty easy to draw parallels between the way drivers sometimes interact with cyclists on the road and the way cyclists sometimes interact with pedestrians on a path. My thought for the day is just because a driver has treated you badly, you should not do the same to a pedestrian. In fact, I would state it even stronger. Because a driver treats you badly, you should know better than to do the same to slower travelers.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Quotes from the National Bike Summit

Some day I would like to go to the National Bike Summit, but today I will settle for sharing a couple of quotes.

First from Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Democrat from Oregon pointed out "Every body on a bike is some body who is not in front of you in a car, competing for a parking space.”

Later Sadik-Khan, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation was talking about the measurable safety improvements where the new bike lanes have been added. “When we put down a painted bike lane, there’s a 50-percent reduction in fatalities for all users of that street: cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists,” she pointed out. “So when you put these bike lanes down, you are improving the safety of every one that uses that street.”

You can read more about the National Bike Summit at the Alliance For Biking and Walking or Bike Portland.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Sense of Accomplishment

On this morning's bike commute I figured out what is wrong with the world. Well maybe it seemed more profound when my brain was oxygen deprived climbing a hill, but still it is a thought worth sharing.

We need to emphasize personal accomplishment over winning. Attitudes like second place is just the first loser lead to several problems. One is a do anything to win and the other is shutting down and not even trying because you feel you can not win.

Loser T-Shirt

On the other hand a personal accomplishment like riding your bike to work for the first time, are just as worthy of recognition. Now that is not to say that you can expect to visit the Whitehouse like the NCAA Basketball Champions because you rode your bike to work two days in a row.

NCAA Women Basketball Champions at Whitehouse

Still when times get tough and you are tempted to do something you know is wrong to get back on track, it helps to have a grounding in appreciating not the public recognition but the personal sense of accomplishment. Is it so important to win that you are willing to sacrifice your personal feelings of accomplishment just to win

Isn't it better to do the best you can with pride that it is the best you can do, than forego your sense of what is right to win? People need a strong grounding of emphasizing personal accomplishment, starting with the parents, teachers, and coaches and continuing with their friends. And the most important person is yourself. In reality, you are the main one that will be impressed when you ride your bike to work every day for a month.

I will end with another well known quote which I find much healthier. It is not whether you win or lose but how you play the game. And I would include how you live your life.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Old Enough to Drink

I call my road bike Alfred for multiple reasons I will point out as I go. It is a glossy black 1987 Trek touring bike with red decals. Since it is 24 years old, I like to say my bike is old enough to drink. When this bike was new it was one of those crazy Cannondales with the large tubes. And since it was aluminum (Al on the periodic table, hmmm Alfred starts with Al too), people expected it to fold under me anytime. In fact it seems that the public was so leery of aluminum that the fork is steel. But 24 years later it is still rolling along. And the tubes don't seem large at all these days.

Of course, I have upgraded a few things. Back when it was new I added a Blackburn rear rack. Besides the usual things that wear out regularily (tires, handle bar tape, brake pads, and chain), I built a new set of wheels at the beginning of 2010. One big change from this was moving from 27" wheels to 700C. Fortunely the bike had plenty of clearance and the brakes plenty of reach, so that this tranistion was very easy. I was going to need custom built wheels because these bikes have 126mm spacing in the rear and being aluminum it is not a good idea to try and bend them enough to fit the 130mm hubs generally used on bikes these days. So I found some NOS* Shimano 105 hubs with 126mm spacing on the rear. I bought those and took them to my local bike mechanic Matt the Cary Cycle Surgeon. Matt ordered me the Velocity Dyad rims I wanted and caluclated the correct spoke lengths. I built them slowly and carefully, added some Schwalbe Marathon 28mm tires and they have been great.

The old hub had a 6 speed Suntour freewheel. The new hub takes a Shimano UG cassette. The Uni-Glide cassettes were replaced with the HG (hyper-glide) cassettes still in use today. So I had to find a NOS* cassette as well and I got a 7 speed one. This should make you wonder about the shifters. I am still using the original Suntour downtube shifters. The rear shifter is indexed but can  easily be switched into friction shifting which is what I did. Front shifters were not generally indexed when this bike was new.

The Dia-Compe brakes and levers along with the Nitto stem and handle bars are all original. So is the Sugino crank set. In fact I wanted to switch to a triple crank set, but on closer inspection I discovered that the existing set was a triple. It just didn't have a small chain ring bolted on. I had the bottom bracket replaced with a slightly wider one and added the granny gear. I don't use it too often, but when needed it is great. I am pushing the front derailer to its limits to cover all 3 gears, but it is working.

Chatting with the guys at the various LBSs I frequent paid off when I was offered a set of SKS fenders that a customer had returned at a steep discount. They are silver plastic with black stripes. The fenders go great with the black bike kind of like the Batmobile (another Alfred reference). I have been working on getting the arc of the fenders to better match the bike, but as long as they do their job without rubbing I am content.

As the miles started to add up my rear demanded a better seat. I went with a Brooks B17, black of course. It was ok at first and I did experience numbness where no guy wants to be numb on some long rides, but now I have either broken in the seat or it has broken me in. I rarely notice even slight discomfort even when it takes me all day to ride a century.

The last time I changed the handle bar tape, I used a red and black mottled pattern. I also ordered some bright red Planet Bike bottle cages to match the logos. Being a touring frame it has mounts for 3 bottle cages.

I have been using some low end Crank Brother Egg-beater pedals. They are about 15 years old and I noticed recently that the cleats barely had any tab left. As I looked for some new cleats, I found they were about $22. Instead I picked up some Crank Brothers Smarty pedals with cleats for $20. I have been warned that the quality of these can be pretty spotty, but looks like I was lucky. I used them on a recent century and  two 200K brevets. The small platform makes them more comfortable than the plain egg-beaters.

Alfred takes care of me like his namesake took care of Bruce Wayne.

* NOS - new old stock - means unused product that has never been sold at retail

Monday, March 7, 2011

Zero Fatalities

Last week I introduced Complete Streets. Today I want to mention Zero Fatalities. Zero Fatalities simply comes from answering the question How many deaths should we accept on our roads? It is hard to justify any answer that is not zero.

Now I have said for a long time that this could be done by armoring cars and slowing them down so that collisions were not a big deal. Of course going slower, using more gas, and taking 5 minutes to get in and out of the safety harness in your car would only be acceptable to a very few people. But it turns out that taking a Zero Fatality position does not have to be so radical.

Utah first did something about the Zero Fatality idea. They have been followed by others including the American Road & Transportation Builders AssociationAmerican Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and  Volvo.


Some of the ideas attack the most common causes of fatalities on the road: eliminate distractions or make cars that won't start if a driver is drunk. Others tackle the safety features of cars. Some are changing the way we build roads, like using roundabouts instead of standard intersections.
In fact a roundabout (especially to drivers not used to them) makes a tradeoff between more non-fatal accidents while greatly reducing fatal accidents. Now I see this working well for cars. After all, if you hit another car it is at an oblique angle instead of a t-bone accident common at a standard intersection. But based on the roundabouts they have added in Raleigh on Hillsborough Street, near NC State University, I worry about the effect on cyclists and pedestrians. The pedestrian issue seems at least partially addressed in the picture above with cross walks outside the actual roundabout. But for cyclists that try to ride through the roundabout, the drivers are busy looking for cars and their chance to get in and out of the roundabout. I fear they may have little attention left to notice a cyclist. 

In another local case of roundabouts, there is a neighborhood that has some to allow the traffic to flow. This presumably saves gas by not having to stop at a spot that has very little traffic. The light traffic makes this pretty easy to cycle through in my opinion. Does anyone have experience riding through roundabouts they would like to share?

My favorite ideas related to Zero Fatalities involve the basic ideas touted by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab fame: Move bits not atoms. Now transportation is all about moving atoms, but by moving bits it means doing it smarter. I think smarter cars, roads and even bikes are a big part of achieving zero fatalities on our roads. Cars are starting to have systems (radar or whatever) to detect things they might collide with. If these systems could respond to transponders to help them recognize a car, then a bike could also have one. Wouldn't it be great if a friendly voice was telling that driver there is a bicycle ahead or there is a bicycle on your right or even do not open you door, a bicycle is approaching on your left.

Keep riding for health, ride safely for a long life and we may live to see the day with zero fatalities.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Complete Streets

You may or may not have heard the term complete streets. It comes up in various bicycle advocacy discussions, but I wanted to find out more about it. I will try to give a few basics but really the CompleteStreets.org website explains things very clearly if you want more details.

Complete streets is an effort to make transportation planners consider all the users and not just cars. This means pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, transit riders, and people in wheel chairs should all be considered when spending public money planning and building a transportation system. That makes sense because the public does all these things. Even the most avid drivers have to get out of their car sometimes and cross the street on foot.

Taking this type of view seems much better than a cycling specific one. It emphasizes a fair allocation of resources rather than feeling like a special interest asking for something only for them, like a bike lane.

It also casts a different light on issues like blocking off a bike lane so that cars can't get in them, but at the cost of pedestrians, especially ones with a walker or wheel chair, who are blocked from crossing the street. In a complete streets pal, all the uses would be considered. Then we could develop solutions that work for everyone.

Complete streets are currently part of many places, at least in the planning. Sometimes they are legislation, but other times they are just internal policies, resolutions, planning or design guides. You can check out the Complete Street Atlas to see all the places in the USA taking this healthy view of transportation.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Riding in Nashville, TN

I recently took my daughter on a college visit in Nashville, TN. While she stayed with a student and checked out the school, I did a little riding.

Nashville was a nice place to ride. I started near music row, wandered downtown, across the Cumberland River and into East Nashville. While not flat, the hills were not bad. Not being in any hurry helps.

I rode downtown and had a light lunch at the Hardrock Cafe. This is mostly because I collect guitar pins from the cities I visit with a Hardrock Cafe. I did have a very smooth Yazoo Sly Rye Porter. After all, gotta get some carbs to ride.

After looping around a few blocks of downtown Nashville and generally scoping out the area, I headed across the Shelby Street pedestrian bridge. Now don't think a little path going across the river. This bridge is designed to move 1000s of people from downtown to LP Field for Tennessee Titans' football games and back. It is the equivalent of several car lanes wide. There is a nice view of downtown even on a cloudy day.

Coming down the east side of the bridge you get a nice view of the stadium.

After exiting the bridge I spotted this bike rack called The Riders.

Turns out is part of a series of art bike racks. I didn't realize this until late in the day so I only spotted one other rack, Emerge.

While in East Nashville I visited two bike shops, the Nashville Bicycle Lounge and Eastside Cycles. I am going to do a separate post on the Nashville Bicycle Lounge. Eastside Cycles was a nice shop with lots on new Cannondales. That is always interesting to me because my road bike is a 1987 Cannondale and I always like to see the new models. I chatted a bit and watched some new cables being put on a nice mixte that was in for a tuneup.
Given how much gas prices have been going up, maybe their sign will strike a cord with some people.

I picked up a Downtown Nashville Bicycle and Pedestrian Map and headed back downtown to ride some of the greenway.

I rode a section of the greenway northwest to Morgan Park and discovered the Fountain of Youth.

Alas the water was turned off, so I was not able to collect any for voodoo potions. There was a cool set of troughs than ran from the main fountain to a little garden area. It looks like a nice place to visit when the weather is warmer and the water is running.

Next time I would like to ride the other direction to Shelby Bottoms Park.

As I started through downtown again I realized I needed a bio-break. Being Nashville I found a place with live music, country of course, leaking out onto the street. I locked my bike outside and went in, rested a while and enjoyed the music. Cowboy hats and denim jackets were more prominent than my bike helmet and screaming yellow rain jacket. I was watching some rain showers come and go and decided to make a break back to my hotel between showers.

Overall I had a good time and my daughter has decided to go to school in Nashville, so I expect I will get to visit and ride there more in the next few years.