Friday, December 2, 2016

In Which We Hear Seven Hard-Earned Lessons

The bike helmet Dr. Bryan Cross was wearing when he had his accident. Glad it was his helmet that got cracked and not his head!

Call them the seven tips to stay healthy, or how to avoid the seven deadly sins of bicycle riding.

Last year, Dr. Bryan Cross was on a bike ride in the countryside north of Cedar Rapids. He was with a group of experienced and speedy bikers—his average speed on the return loop of a 60-mile ride was over 20 mph. And he was getting a bit tired and inattentive, putting his head down and not watching the road ahead.

Then, while on a fast stretch where his speed was about 30, he hit the crack. The front wheel started to wobble, and he lost control.

Bam. Road rash. A ripped off finger nail. A broken collar bone.

And, luckily for the assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Mercy University, a broken helmet, too. It was lucky, because, as he said when showing the two pieces of his ruined headgear: “The EMTs told me that if I hadn’t been wearing the helmet, this would have been my skull.”

Cross shows helmet.
Cross spoke at a bike safety seminar this afternoon at Mount Mercy University. The event was sponsored by the MMU Bike Club, of which I am the faculty advisor. The seminar was well attended, with maybe around 20 people, mostly students, in a conference room at the Sisters of Mercy University Center.

As Cross spoke, his arm was in a sling—not as a prop, but because he has suffered a more recent bike accident—a less serious one, but a crash that nonetheless caused a broken arm.

More on that later. For now, back to the seven lessons Cross emphasized that he learned from the summer accident, otherwise known as the squashing near Quasqueton:

1) Always wear your helmet when riding a bicycle. As Cross noted, your forward biking momentum can be translated in the blink of an eye into a skull-shattering pavement encounter. He had the same experience I’ve had in a much more minor bike accident—when something goes wrong on a bike, it’s instant. Bam, you’re down and wondering what happened to you—so always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.
2) Keep your eyes on the road. You need to have your head up, your mind in the ride. I am guilty of occasional distracted biking, and it’s not a good habit—but for the most part, I have a biker’s sense, an ability to look both far ahead and nearby. Roads are maintained for cars, and obstacles or flaws that won’t bother a car can flip a bike, so it behooves a bicycle rider to have her or his attention on the road. Cross noted that sometimes he’s been guilty of looking down rather than ahead, and he attributes the accident partly to that.
3) Wear the correct glasses. He has prescription glasses, but was wearing nonprescription sunglasses the day of the accident. I do think sunglasses are needed for biking, but I either wear clip-on’s with my regular glasses, or, despite the incredibly dorky look, nonprescription sunglasses over my prescription glasses. Cross is right. You need your best eyesight for biking.
4) Ride a road slowly before you ride it fast. You need to be familiar with the features of the route. I think that applies to night riding too—ride a route in daylight before you ride it in darkness. It’s true that I still bike in winter when it’s full dark by the time I get off work—but I ride the same streets in sunshine and in darkness, and I would not ride an unfamiliar route in the dark. And I agree, if you feel the need for speed, ride on a route that you already know.
5) Be extra careful when you’re tired. Cross noted his accident was on the return leg of a long ride, and he was a bit spent by that time. Based on my extensive RAGBRAI rides, and training rides for RAGBRAI, I would have to say “amen.” I have not had an accident on RAGBRAI yet (knock on wood) but close calls are more common later in the day. Everyone is not the best biker when they are a tired biker.
6) Don't "buy" an expensive bike you never get to ride. An ambulance ride from Quasqueton to Cedar Rapids costs $1,600. That would pay for both of my bicycles and leave some change left over. Makes me again glad I’ve never ridden the cherry-topped taxi (knocking once more).
7) If you have an accident, have it in Iowa. Iowans want to help. At least eight people stopped in the immediate aftermath of his accident to lend aid, Cross noted. In particular, there was a lady who stopped to pour ice cold water on his road rash. He found out she is a cook at St. Pius X School in Cedar Rapids, and during his presentation showed a slide of him later giving her flowers at the school, which was nice.

Mark Mettler, president of MMU Bike Club, listens to seminar (above). Other students were also attentive (below).

Well, it is quite a list and quite a lesson. But as they say, wait, there is more. Last week, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, Dr. Cross was riding his bike home by way of a new trail in Daniels Park in Cedar Rapids. The trail has just been installed, and the city blocked part of it to put in a pad for a bike rack. But the blocked part of the trail was over a hill. Cross was cycling home at night, topped the hill, and didn’t see the orange fencing until too late. He tried to stop, but skidded into the fence and spilled, breaking an arm.

Which led him to give use some additional, bonus safety ideas.

One is, ride more slowly at night. “It’s better to go slowly and arrive safely,” he said. Another is just keep in mind that road maintenance crews tend to think of cars and their needs, and don’t always anticipate or understand bikers’ needs. A warning sign before the hill, or a “trail closed” note at the entrance would have been helpful.

Well, it was quite a presentation. Thank you, Dr. Bryan, for sharing your pain in the hopes that we other bikers won’t have to feel the pain ourselves.

The presentation Dr. Cross gave was preceded by an interesting presentation by Derek Stepanek, owner of Northtowne Bicycling and Fitness in Cedar Rapids.

Stepanek showed a number of safety products, including bike and helmet lights, but noted the most important safety equipment is the helmet, which he said every rider should have on any bike ride. He noted that many injuries he hears stories of are from bike trial rides—even if you are on a trail where there are no cars, an accident with an object, other biker or pedestrian can happen.

Derek Stepanek, owner of Northtowne Biking and Fitness store in Cedar Rapids, covers the ABCs of a pre-bike ride bicycle safety check.

He also covered the “ABCs” of checking a bike before a ride: the air, brakes and chain. A bike ride is more efficient, and thus more pleasant, with enough air in the tyres, and bike tyres loose air more quickly than car ones do. Brakes are a pretty obvious point—make sure they work. A rider needs to ensure that the chain isn’t “chunking” if using a new bike.

It was an afternoon well spent, a nice culmination of the semester for the bike club. Cross further noted that he is still a biker—he says he can’t let the accidents take away the joy of biking. I admire that spirit.

Arm in a sling from a recent bike accident that caused a broken arm, Dr. Bryan Cross describes an earlier, more serious, bike accident that could have broken his head, but for the helmet he was wearing.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

In Which I Praise a Frosty Bare Bike Ride

Lindale Trail Sunday, Nov. 20. Trees are bare, but the trail is still pretty.
I wasn’t bare, let’s be clear about that right up front. I wouldn’t want any of your overactive imaginations to make you queasy.

No, I meant that, several weeks later than usual, we’ve arrived in late fall—dimmer light as the sun is far in the southern sky, trees denuded for their winter sleep.

During this unusually warm fall, I often got comments on campus like “aren’t you enjoying this biking weather” and “you’re lucky you can still be biking in November.”

Not really—due to long underwear, I’m usually biking in November anyway. But this morning, with the air temperature in the 20s and a cold wind making it seem much colder, it was definitely the first really chilly ride of the season. As they say, winter is coming. I didn’t wear warm winter socks today, and it would have been a good idea.

Two images of railing on bridge over Dry Creek on Boyson Trail--note the frost on the rail and bridge deck.

Still, I enjoy being out on a bicycle, even in these dim weeks of the year. We’re only a month from the solstice, so even if we’re not into the coldest weather of the year, we’re into the darkest days.

As fall moves towards winter, there is a dramatic change in the outdoors. The trees are bare, although the compensation for that is you can see both the land and the shapes of the trunks more clearly.

Shadows on Boyson Trail.

Argent parked by bridge as I take some photos.

View on Boyson Trail shortly after I got on the trail at the Boyson Road end. Rising sun, bare trees, blue sky--a bit stark, but still pretty. A good morning to be outside. And to wear gloves ...

When the sky is clear or nearly clearly, there is a special quality to the deeper winter blue of the sky. Even as we approach mid-day, shadows stay long. And although I like bright flowers and green foliage, the brown countryside has its own more subdued beauty.

Well, it wasn’t midday when I took these photos. I was out around 8:30 this morning on the Boyson Trail after heading over the Bowman Woods hill, on my way to the gym.

It was pretty, if cold. I like the peace and serenity of a winter trail. Of course, it will be nicer when the leaves and the flowers and the butterflies all return—but I’ll enjoy the stark beauty of the bare weeks while they are here.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

In Which I Ride A Crisp 20 Miles

Rode 20 miles on a crisp fall Saturday on this bike today.

Hey Google Maps. How are you doing? I guess I can’t blame you—after all, I’ve been there before.

Three of my grandchildren were taking part in a hockey camp today at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, and my daughter invited me to come watch them (and sit with the granddaughter in the same family who is too young for the camp).

According to Google maps, the ice arena is 40 minutes by bicycle from my house. I glanced at the map it suggested for the route. Among other things, it called for me to cross the Cedar River on Third Avenue and continue to a cross street that would lead to the Ice Arena.

Except that south of the river, Third Avenue becomes a one-way headed north. I am not willing to ride a bicycle the wrong way on a one-way street, so I had to turn off the map route. Google said I would ride 7 miles to get where I was going, but I ended up going closer to 9.

It’s easy to get a bit lost on a bicycle in an unfamiliar part of town, and the area south of the river is mostly uncharted territory for me. I did get to the Ice Arena, although I was a bit late.

Still, it was fun seeing the kids trying to play hockey. Not that I’m better on the ice (I tried it once and decided I won’t ever again, or at least not without padding and a helmet).

I had to leave shortly after 1 to go to Mount Mercy University to meet a student to show him how to shoot basketball photos. Between the Ice Arena, MMU, and a 2-mile trip to and from the gym, it turned out I rode 20 miles today, which I only know because I rode my “fun” bike, Argent, that has a computer on it. Clarence could have handled the miles, but the distance would have only been a guess!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

In Which Dark November Arrives in Warmth

Cedar Lake around 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4.

The late, warm fall continues in Iowa. At a time when trees would nearly be bare and the world brown, grass is still green and leaves are still falling.

We’ve moved from early fall, but haven’t had a killing freeze yet, so our warm patch is just “summer,” not “Native American Summer.” It is warm like September but dark like November.

Well, it if feels a bit off, it’s also pretty. As you can see.

Another view of Cedar Lake Nov. 4.

Dry Creek along Boyson Trail, on my way to the gym morning of Nov. 5.

Friday shadow, heading home from Cedar Lake.

Traffic on the trail near Cedar Lake, Nov. 4.

Lindale Trail Nov. 5.

Monday, October 31, 2016

In Which October Ends In Beauty

OK, not that many words. I had to work on campus today, and rode there via the trail route. Here are 24 images of a cool, but very pretty autumn bicycle ride:

C Avenue looks too pretty to be real.

Sumac along Cedar River Trail.

Grasshopper on trail.

Cedar Lake. It's about 1 p.m. but sun is so low these days the light seems like late afternoon.

Geese on Cedar Lake.

Sun and sky reflected and distorted in lake surface.

This and next few--gulls on lake.

Brigid, Eldon, starting to be more trikes on CR trails.

Creek next to lake--Mallards!


J Avenue.

Detail of that J Avenue Maple.

This and next--house with maple has lots of Halloween decorations.

Final set. I've climbed hill and am about to park bike--Marigolds are still in bloom next to Regina Hall and insects are still gathering nectar on Oct. 30.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

In Which I Ride In Shorts

Logo from
Riding a bicycle while wearing shorts doesn’t exactly make me a rebel.

Except it’s almost November. All Hallow’s Eve is Monday. And on Saturday, I rode to the gym in the morning and a took a little detour along the Boyson Trail to get there—while wearing shorts.

Well, they recently announced the RAGBRAI logo for next year’s ride, so perhaps thinking about summer is not so odd. But it feeling like summer outside?

Hey, give us a nice hard freeze. We need those insects to learn it’s time to be outa here.

Still, it was a very pretty morning ride to the gym ….

Morning sun shines through trees on Boyson Trail Saturday Oct. 29.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

In Which We See The Best Bike Rack

Wednesday afternoon after parking in Pit, I find a new bike rack on pavement. That is nice.

It was raining Wednesday morning, and had rained Tuesday night. On Tuesday, I left my bike in my office and rode home with my wife after doing an evening presentation at MMU.

So it was no big deal it was raining Wednesday—I needed to hitch a ride back to campus to get my bicycle anyway.

That afternoon, I was scheduled to be interviewed for local cable TV. I decided to ride my bike there, but it was still misting when I tried to leave campus, so I decided to drive the van my wife usually drives.

And when I got back to campus, the parking lot behind Warde Hall was full. So I drove around to the pit, parked in a faculty-staff space, and walked up the Basile Hall stairs and sidewalk towards Warde Hall.

And there I saw it. I’m sure it has been there for a while, but is new this year This is the style of bike rack just donated to MMU by the Bike Club, and this rack has been installed on a cement pad near Basile Hall.

That, my friends, is the best bike rack on campus. The one near Warde Hall is bigger, but is also located in a garden. I feel guilty leaving Clarence in those damp leaves every time I ride to campus. The bike rack by Regina is in a grassy area.

Bikes are vehicle. They are small, sure, but a vehicle parking lot is usually paved, not grass nor set in the midst of flowers. The issue isn't contact with nature--after all, like most bikers, I bike partly because I want to be out in nature--but is is moisture. Grass and gardens can be damp places, and bikes have all sorts of steel parts waiting to oxidize.

So this bike rack was a bit of a pleasant surprise. The same day I found it, I used it, to park Clarence briefly while I moved the van back up into the Warde lot late in the afternoon after it emptied a bit.

Clarence in rack. OK, the pad be just a tad wider and the rack back just a bit so that bikes don't stick out into the sidewalk, but it's still the right idea.

I thought of parking there today, but was in a bit of a hurry. If I have time, I may tomorrow. I like the idea of my bike on a slab of pavement—it seems cleaner and drier than other earthier locations. So thank you, MMU. You got it almost right on this one.