Sunday, December 26, 2010

In Praise of Wet Pavement at 19 Degrees

I may be bragging just a bit, but this photo shows what my front sidewalk looked like on Christmas Day, 2010.

It's mostly snowless (and iceless) and wet.

We had a light dusting of now again last night, so today, Dec. 26, I again scraped the walk off and it looks a lot like this again.

Which is important. The low winter sun is in the sky today, and the temperature is 19.

Now, those of you who remember high school science know that in the Fahrenheit thermometer system, water freezes at 32 degrees and science fiction novels are written at 451 degrees.

So why is the pavement "wet?" Because, if it gets over 15 degrees or so, and the sun shines, it will warm the pavement to higher than the ambient air temperature. If most of the snow has been shoveled off of a piece of pavement, then the warming will melt the remaining snow, which will mostly evaporate into the dry winter air as the temperature drops, rather than freezing in place. If water is 1/2 inch thick or more, it freezes and become dangerous to walkers and bikers.

But, if the pavement is merely "wet" without "splashing," it's on it's way to becoming a dry paved surface, very safe for winter transit.

However, snow, even a very thin layer of snow, make s a huge difference. Cover this sidewalk above in 1/2 inch of snow, and shine the sun on it as 19 degrees, and what happens? The snow remains, possibly becoming crusty and icy.

Or, on a Cedar Rapids side street, scrape all but the last 1/2 inch of snow, but compact the rest, and you get a very persistent, won't melt below 32 degrees and even then only very slowly, icing that can last for many sunny winter days.

Audrey got me a snow blower this year, not for Christmas, but earlier. I've been enjoying it--it was a great tool when 7.8 inches fell the day before Christmas. But even in my shovel days, and even today when there was not enough to burn dead dinosaurs and I merely scrape-cleaned with a shovel, I've been a bare pavement fan.

Thanks to all of you out there who are also snow scrapers. The sun today will make your walks very usable, and I for one may use some of them.

There are many adjustments to living in an Iowa climate. Learning to clear snow is one of them.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A No-Bike White Christmas

It’s the night before Christmas, and I’m going to blog quickly and then go to bed so I can get to church at 9 a.m. and the day can officially begin.

Christmas has long been one of my favorite days, for both religious and secular reasons. As a child, it was a day that not only had no school, but began a week of no school, and that was fine by me. Our parents used to sneak into our bedrooms and leave our stocking on our bed—in all my years of childhood, I was such a deep sleeper that I never caught on once. And I have no explanation for why the idea of Santa sneaking into my bedroom didn’t creep me out.

Anyway, there is warmer weather on the way, so maybe we’ll melt some of this foot of snow on the ground. We had 3 to 4 inches, and added 8 in the past 24 hours.

A White Christmas is also a no-bike Christmas, and that’s too bad. If weather allowed, I’m sure I would have worked some bicycle excursions into my Christmas break plans, but not this winter!

Oh well. As I noted, warmer weather is on the way.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Snow, snow, snow, snow!

I don't let cold weather keep me off my bike.

But, since I took a nasty fall last January, I'm taking more seriously a rule I've always had--no pavement, no riding.

Snow is in the air today, on top of other snow, on top of ice. It does not look to be shaping up as a good winter for a bike commuter.

Oh well. I'll ride a bike in the gym to be ready for spring, and look forward to getting back on the saddle sometime in 2011. I just hope it's before March ...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Everything's Up to Date

Just got back from a fun trip to Kansas City.

Not sure if it's a practical place to bike, but where I was, definitely not. Audrey and I stayed near the plaza and strolled there at night, and I noticed several bikes chained outside restaurants, either for patrons or employees.

Well. Cedar Rapids may have some work to do so it can be bike friendly, but it's already more bike friendly than the plaza in Kansas City.

When you want to use 2 wheels, Cedar Rapids is probably the right size. Smaller and there is nowhere to go. Bigger and there's no way to go there.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Polite School Bus Driver

I cycled to work for the first time this week today. Should have gone yesterday, my wife reports that E Avenue was clear, and it was the last street I was waiting for before hopping on two wheels again.

Whatever. I'm gambling today, as snow is in the forecast, but it's not supposted to start until later and I'm planning to cycle home while there is still daylight.

The commute this morning was OK. F and E have some iffy parts, but are largely clear--yet another reason to cycle home in daylight rather than trusting my lights.

F Avenue crosses Old Marion Road at a traffic light. North of the light, F is pretty narrow, and a school bus was coming up behind me as I cycled south on F.

Well, let the record show that this school bus driver did what few in his shoes would do. He was patient. While I was 1/2 block from the light on a narrow stretch of F with snow at my side, he simply slowed down and waited.

He passed me after we both had crossed Old Marion road--on a much wider stretch of road where his passing left me plenty of room.

Going slow for 2 minutes to wait until you get to a nice safe place to pass a bike? I like the way that school bus driver was driving--it's a model for us all.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Icing should be on cookies, not streets

Well, snow is bedeviling Cedar Rapids once again.

On Friday and Saturday, we had about an inch of the white stuff. I shoveled my walkways early Saturday, and had to freshen the renewal late that day.

But, with sunshine and temperatures in the 20s Sunday, my sidewalks quickly became bare pavement, as did the street in front of my house.

Sadly, that cannot be said for the route I would bike to work. I am not sure what the deal is in Cedar Rapids, but snow removal, if it's not a substantial snowfall, often sucks. Major streets are well plowed, but any side streets are left under a glaze of compacted white snow--and when we get a cold but sunny day, such as we had Sunday, that means those glazed streets just stay glazed.

Which is why I'm not bike commuting for the next few days.

It makes me a bit sad, because just one follow up sweep of Lindale and E and I would be able to ride. Not going to chance it thought, I'm mindful of what happened to me in January, a fall that I described in my other blog.

Again, Ron, if you're reading this--plowing the streets would be a popular move in snowy CR.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Nearly a UPS Hood Ornament

I thought of posting the license number (which I was close enough to see and did write down) but thought better of it--but I had one of those biker near death experiences Wednesday, which keeps life so interesting.

I left campus around 5:30 p.m. and was pedaling home. By 6, I had reached the corner of C Avenue and Blair's Ferry Road.

When I get to that road, I push the switch for a "walk" sign, and I followed my usual pattern. Once the little yellow guy was shining, I started north across Blair's Ferry, in the crosswalk. Did I mention I had a walk sign? I thought so.

A UPS truck was coming south on C, turning to head west on Blair's Ferry. I don't know if he was stunned or just pissed to see a biker in the crosswalk, but he waited until I was fairly close, and then gunned it around the corner.

Now, he didn't really threaten to hit me. But a big brown UPS van turning in front of you (maybe 2 yards in front of you) blocks the view of any cars coming down C behind it. If someone driving behind the truck were aiming for the left lane after the turn, his or her path would lead right through my torso.

Probably not doing it, or my bike, much good.

Well, if a Taurus trailing the UPS truck smacked into me, I hope my widow would sue UPS. Sure, the Taurus driver should watch out too, but the UPS truck was first in line and the "blocker."

Yes, it's December. Yes, its full dark at 6. Yes, I was wearing dark clothing (although there i sa white reflective band on my coat). But, yes, I have a light on my helmet, and two on the bike (as well as a rear light). No way did the UPS driver not see me.

Shame on you, UPS man . Not good PR for your company. Don't drive in ways that scare the bikers.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Deer Make Detour Scenic

The Cedar Rapids metro area is growing on both its north and south fringes, and I saw some of that growth today.

As noted in an earlier blog post, the sidewalk along C Avenue south of Brentwood Drive has been closed for some utility work. In the morning, I ride on the busy 4-lane C Avenue for one block until I can reach the sidewalk on the western side.

That route doesn't work well coming the other direction--no light headed north to slow the traffic to make one block on C seem less death defying--so today I rode along the sidewalk of Blair's Ferry Road until turning in Marion to intersect Marion's Boyson Road trail.

It was after 4 and getting dusky when I got there, but as I went north I noticed that construction is underway on what will not doubt be a new neighborhood in what had been farm fields just east of the trail. I'm not a huge fan of urban sprawl, but this particular field is pretty much surrounded by city, so it's demise, I think, was a pretty foregone conclusion.

However, there was a strip of harvested bean field between the earth movers working on a new street and the trail, and a three deer were gleaning the field.

I took some photos, which I'm not sure does the scene justice. It was cool, just twilight, but still enough light to see well--3 deer, a nearly full moon and the contrasting lights of construction behind them.

Well, I stopped and took a few photos. One is here, more are on my Facebook page.

The detour probably should have added 10 to 15 minutes to my commute. It was more like 25 or so, but I think watching and photographing the deer was worth it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Where all the bugs go to heaven

It's that time of year--just about the best for biking, at least in the morning.

It was a bit breezy and brisk this a.m., but that's what warm socks and nylon were invented for. I like a nice summer bike ride, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, zooming along through green trees along a bike trail--but I'm a big guy. I stand 6 feet tall, have a stocky fram and am what fat people who want a lame excuse would call "big boned."

In my socks sans any rocks, I still would tip the scales at something more than 240 pounds.

Pause while you think sympathetic thoughts about my poor bicyclce.

Anyway, the thing about a thick mass of biological goo covered in an insulating layer of blubber is that when the large muscles of that goo are activated, heat results. Lots of heat.

I can deal with the results in summer by drinking lots of water while I riding and showering as soon after as I can.

But, it's nice not to have results to deal with.

Winter rides present the challenge of using lights in the evening. But a cool November morning is the ideal bike ride. First, the frost has zapped all irritating insect life. And second?

No sweat.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Street Work

I am not sure what they're doing on C Avenue right now, but there has been equipment, holes, giant orange plastic sausages sticking out of the ground, and a sidewalk dug up at the corner of C and Blairs Ferry.

What's been the worst aspect of the C Avenue construction is that whatever weird utility work has been going on, it hasn't just been the digging of holes and installation of some odd orange hose--but also pumping water into thsoe holes, which has left a mucky muddy mess for me to pass through on my bike.

Luckily, I avoided any slips, but my pretty new black bike isn't so pretty anymore.

Besides the odd holey rides lately on C Avenue, for the past two morning Lindale Avenue has also been blocked, forcing a detour. Not a problem on the way to work--the detour adds no distance at all to my ride, but I tend to forget to turn left at Eastern on my way home, wasting time in the dark.

Oh well . Riding on, tomorrow I"m hoping to remember my detour on the way home. And may the C Avenue hole project end soon.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Snow in the west, biking forecast: mixed

I didn't ride on Friday, due to wet conditions. Could have ridden in the morning, but it was misting by 6 p.m. when I left work.

The forecast for the next 10 days is very mixed, and even has the "S" word in it. After my nasty fall in January, I'm very committed to no ice or snow on the street in order to ride.

Wet? I favor dry and try to avoid wet, but I will ride home in a mist, if the rain is not heavy.

Anyway, the secret to winter biking is to dress correctly. I have a surprisingly warm nylon jacket with a thin hood I can wear under my helmet. If it's 0 or below, or windy at all and below 20, the hood is not enough and I won't ride.

I also, on really cold days, wear many layers--2 pairs of socks, including a warm fuzzy winter pair over a regular white pair, either long underwear or flannel pajama pants under my regular pants--and only "heavy" regular pants, please. A shirt under a substantial sweatshirt over which I have the wind-cutting jacket and, of course, gloves.

Thus clad, I am not very cold even on cold days. Cold itself will rarely keep me off the bike.

Ice. Snow. Yes, those will create drive days . Sadly, we're entering a drive season, but I hope I'll still get some biking done.

Friday, November 5, 2010

They pictured me in the drawings ...

There is a whole of work going on at MMU, construction on a new "University Center," and extensive renovation of parts of Regina and McAuley halls.

There are "pardon our mess" signs up, as well as stern "hardhat area" warnings, too.

And, to give us all something to look forward to, drawings of what the center and new central campus plaza will look like.

Well, I was walking around on a nice cool, crisp afternoon today, snapping photos of the construction project, along with the ME of our campus newspaper. Along the way, I paused at one of the conceptional drawings and did a double take.

I never noticed before, but I'm apparently in one of the drawings. There's some person on a bike pedaling through the crowd in a the "daytime" artist's drawing. I'm not the only bike commuter at MMU, but, since I sometimes bike to bell practice at the chapel, I'm probably the one most likely to be cycling through a mid-day crowd.

Well, glad to see I'll still be around and still biking when the new U center is reality. But, seeing the building partly take shape today, that reality doesn't seem that far off!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Keep on keeping on

The most distressing part of rather depressing election returns, to me, is the idea that Iowa Supreme Court judges will be recalled not because they are not competent judges or in any way failed to uphold their oaths, but due to one decision that people disagreed with.

Well, the people have spoken. The ... well, you know the rest.

Anyway, at least I have some nice cool mornings for my bike rides. I have a light nylon jacket that keeps me pretty warm, and it has a thin hood that I can wear under my helmet, so I can comfortably ride even when it gets much colder. These frosty mornings are honestly not too much of a problem.

Anyway, for no particular reason, a morning frosty photo I took just before my Nov. 2 ride. It fits my mood. A bit prickly, but life is still beautiful as long as the bike balances!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beetle Instead of Bike

Driving a VW Beetle, even a new one, is a little bit like riding a bicycle.

The vehicle is smaller than most cars, and puts you viscerally in touch with the road.

Of course, that was even more true with the "old school" Beetle, with it's air-cooled noisy engine in back and no power steering.

But still ...

If money were no object, I would probably drive a newer Beetle. Get one with manual transmission and it's pure driving pleasure. It's not a terrible practical car--it can suffer in a collision with a raccoon and it's clearance is just too low for an Iowa winter--but it's fun.

Anyway, it was too wet today to bike so I Beetled it. Honestly, I did enjoy getting to work a little earlier, but I did miss my afternoon ride home. Of course, today, as I describe on my other blog, I had to work late due to a city council meeting.

I missed my bike . But I liked my Beetle.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Night Rider

Had a late night Sunday--lots of backlogged grading--so could not ride on Monday, which was too bad. Weather was great.

Anyway, on Sunday I went to the office to print some information late in the afternoon and ended up leaving for home about 6.

It was dusky, but not yet dark, and the weather was so fine that I decided to take the trail route home--a 40-minute commute rather than my usual 25-minute route.

There was still enough light for me to see, but just enough dark to make it peaceful. Twilight is often my favorite time, and I've never ridden on the trail then before.

I may again. The air was just cooling off, as it does in fall in Iowa when the sun touches the horizon. There were many others on the trial--and it made me appreciate the lights that I have and use. As the day dims, it does become hard to see those who don't have their lights shining.

Well, here's to batteries and bike lights. And here's to cool fall twilights.

And most of all, total non sequitur, but here's to my granddaughter Lizzie who turns 1 on Tuesday. Read all about it at my daughter's awesome blog.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Heritage Trail

We're on fall break the second half of this week at Mount Mercy, so I have not been putting in a lot of saddle time.

But, today Audrey and I took a day trip to Dyserville, where we rode 6 miles of the Heritage Trail that goes from there to Dubuque. We could not ride more because the trail was closed and Audrey was getting a bit tired of riding.

It was a beautiful day for a ride and a pleasant picnic along the trail, and I hope we'll be back.

We also visited the famous Basilica in Dyserville, and I wrote about that on my other blog and posted photos on my Facebook page.

On the way home, we stopped and visited Brandon and Theresa. They have a very cute house on a nice acreage near Monticello, and I'm sure gardening will be a fun hobby next summer.

Brandon had to work, so it was just Audrey, Therese and I for supper, but we took Brandon's advice and when to McOtto's in Anamosa. An excellent suggestion--we enjoyed our food and sampled pie for desert.

No doubt, more than 12 miles will be needed to make up for that!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fall Rides Coming Up

Cate and I haven't nailed down our ride to Waterloo yet, but Audrey and I will do some biking over fall break.

It's been the perfect weather for riding lately. Shown are some sumac from the Cedar River trail in Cedar Rapids, a route I take sometimes as an alternative way home.

Fall is really in the air. Our ashes are done, and maples along the ride are coming into their glory. Iowa is not a particularly vibrant place in the fall--many of our oaks and other trees simply turn brown--but there are some bright spots.

And fall is the very best time to use a bike to get around. Fresh, clean morning air and beautiful scenery--and not really any of the winter challenges, yet.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bug Rescue Mission

It's fall, and the bugs can sometimes bug me on a ride home.

But, they can be merely interesting, too. Today when I got ready to ride my new bike home from Mount Mercy University, this was on my tire. As bike tires got, mine is of medium width. It's not a fat mountain bike tire, but not a skimpy little racer, either.

This was one big bug. For some reason, not a tall icky or threatening, however--are at least that's what I think.

I took a few photos and planned to rescue this rascal, but while I was putting on my rubber bands, he or she slipped away. I checked pretty carefully to make sure I would not crush it either elsewhere on the wheel or on the ground, and I think we probably both survived our encounter.

Well, writing through a crowd of gnats on the trail isn't very nice, but photographing Ms. Leaf Bug was. And that's one of the reasons to ride a bike--to really see and hear and be astonished by nature in a way that flying by it in a car just can't compare with.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nice Day on the Trail

When the weather is especially nice and I'm in the right mood, I will use the Cedar Valley Trail to get home, which extends my ride by about 20 minutes or so.

Such was the day today--so warm that I took off my sweater before heading "Blackie" west to the trail and then heading north.

There were a fair number of people on the trail, and I was passed several times by other bikers. As far as I recall, none sounded a warning--and that's not good. A professor at Mount Mercy recently had a pretty serious collision on this very trail (although, he didn't forget to sound a warning, it's just that when he said "on your right," a pedestrian thought she should step to the right).

The riding conditions were near perfect, except for some inconvenient clouds of insects. I will not be too sad to see the first frost--time for those bugs to go.

When I got here home, traffic on C Avenue was backed up nearly to Blair's Ferry. According to the KGAN web site, there was a gas main lead. Neither KCRG nor The Gazette had any information on their sites.

Anyway, it was a good day to be on a bike--the sidewalk wasn't backed up. Got home in time to play with the grandkids a bit--all in all, a good ride and a good homecoming.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

Well, bike blog pals, I'm again a rider.

On Saturday, a very rainy day, Audrey and I went bike shopping at Northtowne Bike Shop in Cedar Rapids.

For a while, we toyed with the idea of a tandem, an idea we may come back to in the future, but the real reason for our trip was that I had relented and agreed to Audrey's conditions--if I were willing to get rid of my two aged, old rust bucket bikes, she would buy me a new one.

It will count, at least, as my Christmas present, and she owes me naught for next Father's Day and the following birthday is iffy.

What bike did I choose? Well, brand meant little to me, it was more the style. The Trek I had been riding, a sort of Frankenbike from a frame Cate gave to Jon (who subsequently got a new bike from Microsoft during an internship there) and parts of a Trek I rode until the frame snapped, along with various other parts, was long past prime. I also own a 1974 Schwinn Continental, and toyed with the idea of seeing if a welder could fix the brace that held on the back brake.

But, if that weld failed: A) Could it be repaired? B) Could I trust the repair and C) If frame welds were starting to fail, it is a good idea to ride that bike?


The new one is a "Globe." It's black, it's sleek, in three days of riding it has been an odd pleasure.

A pleasure because it easily shaves 5 minutes off of my commute time--what had been a 25 to 30 minute ride has been, or was Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, a 20 to 25 minute ride. A pleasure because it has shock absorbers and a comfy seat--two things most bikes that I've owned have lacked.

Odd due to its configuration. Note the low triangle of it's frame. Note how far the seat is adjusted above that frame to fit my 60-inch vertical measure. The handlebars are a bit like the old one speed Schwinn my father bought me in 1966--the bike I rode until I bought my 1974 blue 10-speed. But a bit higher. In terms of ride, it reminds me a little bit of those weird banana bikes that were a strange fad of the early 1970s. My arms are straight forward, I'm sitting pretty high.

Well, I can get used to it. It's a bit like driving a Buick after having only owned Volkswagens. At my age, the comfort is OK. And the height may help me see and be seen, all good things.

Most of all, of course, as nice fall weather settles into Iowa, this is the perfect time of year to be back in the saddle.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Possible news on the bike front ...

Well, the attempt at chain repair was a disaster.

The Wally World kit came with two different types of chain link. the first, which was a closer match with the current chain, was unusable because I could not figure out how to secure it.

No matter, I though, there was a difference link with longer posts and a spring clip, and I'll just use that. Well, after a long and frustraing struggle with unfamiliar tools--during which I managed to break the new chain link tool--I got the chain together and was ready to resume biking.

But, when I tried it, the new link was too wide to fit through my rear derailer, and when I tried really hard, I think I damaged the derailer.

Bah. Humbug.

But, my wife suggested a compromise. Rather than mess with this bike, which is long in the tooth and failing, and rather than get my 35 year old Continential fixed, she said toss both old bikes and buy one new one.

Hmmm. I'm serously thinking this is a good deal. A bike usually lasts more than a decade, and even though I'll miss the old Schwinn, I admit that, even if Cate's relative can weld the back brake brace, it may be a frame waiting to fail anyway.

Well, it may be some time before I post on this bike blog again--I am sans wheels for now. New ones on the way, I think!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chain Hurry Up, Bring My Biker Back ....

Sing it to the tune of "Train Hurry Up," a 1960s bubblegum song.

I was headed to work on Monday, when my chain broke. I don't even remember a "snap," just one second I was peddaling along, the next I was peddaling faster but going slower.

Well, I have the hardware to fix it. I stayed at work late Sunday, until 11:30 p.m., and I guess I'm just lucky teh chain snapped Monday morning rather than Sunday night.

Sadly, it means I'm missing riding on a beautful, dry, sunny, warm but not hot early fall day in Iowa. I am not sure when I'll have time to fix the chain, and I'm not confident that I will do it quickly, but it will happen soon, I hope.

This is not the first time a bike has suddenly failed me. A couple of years ago, I had the frame of a bike fail when the welds that held the back wheel sheared. Last year, my 30-year-old Schwinn became unridable when the welds holding the back brake on snapped. I still have the Schwinn--I'm hoping to find a helpful welder to fix it--but, at the moment, I have no backup bike.

Oh well. A friend had a pretty serious bike accident last week when he ran into a pedestrian on the Cedar Valley trail. The way he tells it, he sounded the biker's typical verbal warning--usually "on your left," but sometimes "on your right," depending on relative positions--but the pedestrian stepped the wrong way.

And got nailed, hurting both herself and my biker friend. Ouch.

Well, it makes a broken chain seem like not such a bad deal, after all!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

CEMAR, Here It Comes

I rode to work today, a Saturday--getting to that point of the semester were being a professor is a 7-day job. Those who don't teach would look at teachers in June and say "what a lazy bunch," but few would want the 60-hour weeks in September.

Anyway, on the way home I headed east on Prairie Drive. I pass the Mount Mercy University Campus edge, pass north of Regis Middle School, and arrive at the old railroad right of way that the city wants to make into the CEMAR Trail.

When completed (in my lifetime?) the trail will run all the way from the Cedar Valley trail near Cedar Lake to the Boyson Trail in Marion. Some neighbors, however, object.

I don't expect much to come of the objections. The trail, planned for years, is on public land. And there always seems this "arc" of trail opposition when one is planned--but years later, most near trails have a positive experience. (To be fair, not all--trespassing and littering can be problems and policing and maintenance are valid issue--but still, trails have far more on the plus than the minus side for most neighbors.)

I hope the trail is completed soon. I would not mind some trees or bushes if a buffer helps, but honestly I don't get the attitude of people who wake up and suddenly find the city executing plans that have been in the works for a decade.

Monday, September 6, 2010

To ride or not to ride?

I gambled a couple of times last week--rode my bike on Wednesday and Thursday, when rain was possible.

On Wednesday, it did indeed rain--but, I was lucky because it rained mid-day and was dry by the time I commuted home.

Right now, due to Labor Day weekend, my bike is actually locked to a rack behind Warde Hall. I rode in on Friday, and Audrey and I left from campus to go see Nina in Omaha and Ben in Ames.

Both are doing well. Neither has a bike with them, which seems a shame for healthy young college kids. I took my Continental to college with me, and it was a good stress release.

Anyway, Audrey and I will got to the gym after Skyping Amanda (we hope) this morning. Some days, I would ride my bike up there, but not today. Soon, I hope!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Tale of Two Valves

I had never heard of a "Presta" valve before, and it was odd to have this technological change thrust into my life at a Wal-Mart.

Anway, I had to change the front tire on my commuting bike because the rubber on the old one had peeled off to the point where the ribbed under-tire was showing. A friend once broke his wrist when his front wheel failed-don't know if this balding tire could lead to that, but don't want to find out.

Finding a new tire proved more difficult than I thought. None at Target, finally found one at Wal-Mart, but the inner tube that I bought to go with it had a funny looking valve, which also did not fit my current bike pump.

I learned that what I've been using all my life is a "Scrader" valve. None was available for the size I needed, so I ended up buying a small hand pump that would work with both types.

Well. At least the tire has been changed!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rain Tennis, Anyone?

It was cloudy and cool this morning, so I decided to chance it and ride to work.

Well, this afternoon was another rainy ride home. Not too bad, though, just got a little damp, not soaked.

Later, Ben wanted to play a final game of Tennis. He is off to ISU tomorrow.

It was still drizzling when we played. The ball gave off a visible spray, did not bounce as well and needed more force to make it move. An interesting game, which very much favored the persons not serving, since the first return was fairly easy, but subsequent hits a bit wild.

Ben one most of the matches, which is to be expected. Ah well, between biking and tennis, at least I did get some exercise in today.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sadly, No Bike In Nashville

I have not had a lot to write about biking lately, because I have not been biking lately. I'm in Nashville, TN, at a Freedom Forum Diversity Institute training session on multimedia journalism.

There hasn't been, nor will there be, time to play tourist in Nashville. Not that I would miss country music, but I've been told by several people there are cool public gardens I should visit.


Anyway, it's really hot, so I've only seen a few bikers out. But, on the roughly 1 mile of streets I've seen, there are nice bike lanes.

I do miss my bike, and wish I had some time to plan and execute some peddling expeditions down here. Oh well, school will start soon and I'll be back in the saddle on a regular basis.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pefect Day for a Ride

Today was not only not rainy, it was not humid. Perfect day, and I was lucky I had to ride to work this morning.

Ben's 18th birthday was today, so didn't stay long--rode home to celebrate. Got in a game of tennis with Ben, which was fun, even if he pretty much crushes me at tennis.

Anyway, this blog may be on break soon--I'll be traveling to Tennessee for a media workshop at Vanderbilt, so may not be biking for a while. The weather forecast there? Triple digits. Will make our warm, humid summer seem nice.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Riding in the rain

I had an internship conference in downtown Cedar Rapids today, so I set off about 10:10 on my bike for the 11 a.m. meeting.

It should have been about a 45-minute ride--and, despite a serious challenge allong the way--that's what it turned out to be.

The sky was partly cloudy, partly blue. There had been rain overnight, and there is a chance of rain tonight, but the forceast was for sunshine during the day. Sadly, the small chance of an isolated showever came to pass--about 10 minutes into my ride, the rain began to pour down.

The good news--it never got more intentense than a drizzle. The bad news--I could hear thunder, and I hate to be outside in a thuderstorm (a justified, I think, fear of lightning).

I got fairly soaked, but fortunately the rain grew less intense as I rode south. By the time I cut across the Coe College campus (take that, rival IPCA campus tours!), the rain was over.

My general rule of thumb for riding in the rain is "don't do it." My tires are fairly bald and I worry about slipping, and about whether drivers can see me.

The conference was at True North, a company located near Greene Square Park. I took the bike trail home, which was a longer route, but the sun was shining by then, and although it was very warm and very muggy, it was a nicer ride home.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Journey--Words & Pictures

What is my morning commute like on a nice sunny warm summer day? Very pleasant. I'll take you on it. Normally, it's about 30 minutes, start to finish, but today will take just a bit longer, due to stopping to snap photos.

First photo: Crossing the C Avenue Bridge, near my house. I start out on Brentwood Drive and turn onto C Avenue. Unlike crazy Rockwell engineers, however, I do NOT ride on C Avenue itself, since I lack the requisite death wish, but illegally stick to the sidewalk. Life before rules, I always say. Anyway, I do try to give all pedestrians right of way. This is the view looking towards Dry Creek, which, since development continues to add paving to our area, is inaptly named, as you can see. Pleasant view, deer, woodchucks wild turkeys, sometimes an owl in the evening or (much more freaky) a possum--wildlife can often be viewed here.

Second photo, same spot, looking south along the route I will ride. Yes, you can see why I stick to the sidewalk ...

Next, the corner of C and Blairs Ferry. Two busy 4-lane streets join in a busy 6-lane (or 12 lane if you're counting both streets) intersection. Handy walk buttons, but right-turners don't always watch out. I don't cross in this direction--traffic going west on on Blair's Ferry and turning right onto C would be behind me. I cross the other way, so right-turners are either on my left or ahead of me. It's still a dicey intersection.

Photo number 4. I've crossed C and BF (twice, going south and turning west) and ridden a short distance west on a sidewalk of Blairs Ferry. Sidewalk ends, as you can see, so I sneak through Rockwell Collins parking lots. Don't tell anybody.

The fifth photo shows Collins and F, one of the most problematic corners. The lights are on "triggers" that somehow detect cars. Don't know if it's by weight or magnetism, all I do know is that a bike with a 240-pound payload typically won't trigger the light. There is often a pause in the commute at this point, waiting for a car to show up--if it's going the opposite direction as me, I have to "steal" the light by running a red when the opposing car's light turns green.

The sixth and seventh images are both the "corner of doom," where I fell on ice in January. Sump pumps empty onto a very uneven street, which is always wet, pretty much year round. Dodging potholes is one way a biker is reminded to stay in the here and now--but it's not too difficult.

Image 8, Old Marion Road and F. The Buick is not about to kill me, I happened to hit the light green and had to pass through before shooting this over my shoulder. Although this is another "triggered" intersection, it's not as bad as Collins and F, because there is more consistent traffic and the light turns green in both directions when a car approaches.

I head south on F until I come to 42nd Street, then go east to E Avenue. At the corner of E and 42nd, there sits a modest house with a glorious garden, filled with an enticing variety of perennials that look good all spring and summer. These Black-Eyed Susans are in that garden--kudos to the unknown gardener. Being able to see gardens like these up close is one of the many joys of bike commuting.

Besides a closer look at gardens, bushes and trees, I think biking promotes tuning in to all kinds of details of life--such as this architectural detail of Kenwood School on E Avenue. Don't know if it's true, but looks like a 1940 school had a 1955 edition plopped on top of it--not exactly consistent, but still kinda cute in a weird way.

I take E to 32nd Street and turn right. I turn left either at E (E does not meet E at 32nd, the extension is west) or Lindale, depending on traffic. 32nd is a fairly busy street, but not too busy to bike on for a short distance. It does require care. Anyway, today I turned on E, and I like the shady look of this street. Hope the city encourages more tree planting next to streets, particularly since Ashes will need replacing.

I took E to the first cross street and turned onto Lindale, then continued south to 27th Street. Image of care, potholes and mom towing child is at the corner of 27th and Lindale. Requires patience to cross, but isn't really too dangerous, but watch out for the potholes. And don't let cute moms towing babies distract you.

I take Lindale past 27th to 29th, and turn right, riding on 29th until Mount Mercy is in sight. Next image is Mount Mercy. I'm down here and Warde Hall is up there. Near the summit of a substantial hill.

How substantial? Next photo iss the drive on Prairie that I will turn and peddle (in granny gear) uphill.

Partway there, turning from parking lot to side walk. Yes, I do feel pretty macho that I bicycle up this sidewalk every morning that I bike to work.

Photo 16 and 17--bike in rack.

Photos 18, 19, 20 and 21--a redbud, hosta, "art" with coneflowers and lilies framed by the art. Yeah, walkers up the hill get to enjoy the view, too, but still, I do like this little courtyard area.

That's the journey. Sometime, I'll post information on my longer route when I use the bike trail.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Noisey Summer Days

My cheap bungee chord that can hold a water bottle in my front basket is one of the most important changes to my commuting bike this summer.

It's been hot, and wet when it's not hot. For a man of my years and size, that makes bike commuting a bit of a challenge. I'm sure, for the obvious reason, it's a challenge for all those near me, too.

Anyway, that doesn't keep me from riding. Heat is better than really several cold, particulary if the cold is combined with snow and ice (I took a nasty fall in January).

The other odd thing this summer has been the "music" of the cicadas. They are not seen and often heard. The buzz is so loud, if Cedar Rapids were a factory, ear plugs might be required.

The sound is not really too loud or unpleasant, but just very constant in any tree-lined area.

I guess it's an exageration to say the cicadas are heard but not seen, because yesterday while pruning a storm-damaged tuplip tree, I indeed did see a living one up close. Freaky looking thing, a more improbably flyer than a bumblee--but for all its primitive ugly looks, who has ever been hurt by a cicada? The leftover skins are a common and happy find for generations of Iowa kids.

Anyway, I love the outdoors, seeing the black-eyed susan and purple and yellow coneflowers in bloom, the songs of the birds, the croak of the frog ...

But, I look forward to the cooler days of fall, too. After the first hard frost. The buzz of the cicada will die down. A bike ride will become silent. Yes, I will miss the life (latelely, as you can see on my other blog, I've been getting into bug photos), but I won't miss the incesant buzz.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hope for the old ride?

Over a year ago, I stopped riding my 1974 Schwinn Continental, my "recreation" bike, and stirctly ride my Trek, my "commuting, work" bike.

Not that I don't still enjoy biking or do it for pleasure. It's just that the back brake fell completely off the old Schwinn. I don't ride a bike with no brakes (I was glad the break happened on the flat part of my ride home and now while I was going down the Mount Mercy hill).

Anyway, I bid goodbye to old faithful. Two welds had failed where a cross piece held the brake to the frame, so I figured it was beyond repair.

But, enter my sister Cate, who off-handedly noted she has a son-in-law who welds.

Could the Continental come back to life? I know it's silly, who wants to ride a 36-year-old bike?

I do. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why are Bikers Hard to See?

Had a near death experience Tuesday. I was riding home on F Avenue in Cedar Rapids, when a white Buick almost ran me other.

The driver was coming from a side street on my right as I rode north. He started to pull through the intersection just as I was halfway through it, so I had no time to brake or swerve.

Lucky for me, he startled, saw me, and waved me on (as if I had a choice).

Normally, when this this kind of thing happens, I would expect the driver to have a cell phone to his ear. Not in this case, although there was a child in the car with the driver, and perhaps he was speaking with her and not paying enough attention.

Then again, I think of my own habits as a driver. When you plan to pull a right turn on a not-very-busy street, how often do you sort of coast to a stop sign, glance down the street to your left and roll on through if you don't see a car, pickup truck or city bus barreling down on you?

Besides possibly being distracted, I think that the Buick pilot was simply looking for larger objects, moving faster, farther down the street. The biker practically on his bumper didn't register until he nearly ran him over.

I am betting Mr. Buick bears me no ill will. He didn't yell, gesture or honk--as some rude drivers tend to. He just didn't see me, and I bet he's embarrassed about it.

It's a reminder to me as a biker to always pay attention. I sometimes daydream as I ride along--trying to come with the next earworm for my sister's Facebook wall, or whatever. (Lady Gaga didn't work, she says she paid no attention to recorded music since the '80s, which probably rules out Kei$ha, too.) And, when I drive a car, another reminder. Glance to your right before you turn, watching for foot (or bike) traffic--and, most important to me Tuesday, don't only look off into the distance seeking another internal combustion engine. There might be a sweaty old guy much closer.

Please don't run him over.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Flowers on the Trail

Went to the office Thursday, and on the way home, I decided to head along the Cedar Valley Nature Trial.

Went north and ended up riding for about 5 miles before turning around. It was a bad idea--I didn't get home until 7:30 p.m. and Audrey had wanted to go to a 7:15 movie.

But, I really like that trail, and enjoyed all of the natural Iowa flowers--black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers, yellow coneflowers--in bloom along the route.

By the way, the movie, "Date Night," was OK. Tina Fey is definitely the dominant star. That woman has more comedic talent that just about any other performer I know.

Anyway, shown is a coneflower from my garden, but similar ones are readily viewable on the trail.

Happy riding!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Breaking in a New Seat

We're cleaning house this week--well, mostly, Audrey is. We already got a bunch of junk out from under our back deck, and next are tackling the worst of the worst, the warehouse of madness, the site to which all useless, but hard to throw away, items migrate.

The garage.

Not all the news is tedious or bad. In clearing out from under the deck, we got rid of several bicycles of more than a decade's vintage and poor working conditions (several years in a damp outdoor location do nothing for fine machinery). Anyway, among the bikes was one with a nearly new seat.

My seat had been pretty worn, and that was one reason for my discomfort when riding home from Kirkwood last week. So, we reserved the seat from the cast off bike, intending to install it on my bike.

Well, problem one--the "stem," the part that the seat attaches to, does not fit the bike frame I'm using. It's too small, and I briefly attempted (because it's not a lot too small) to shim it with duck tape.

Total failure.

Then I got the bright idea to check how the seat sprint itself is attached to the thingie that attaches to the post. The thingie and the post were a total mismatch with my bike, but the seat spring setup looked very similar.

Eureka. And, although I had some anxiety about whether I would be able to reassemble the parts once I disassembled them, the plan worked in under half an hour (a record repair time for a clumsy non-mechanic like me).

So now I have a new seat. I rode for about an hour this morning before going to the gym. Could not ride any later today--it is HOT HOT HOT--but the morning ride, on the trail in Marion that starts at Boyson Road and goes past the Frisbee golf course--was pleasant.

Not used to the new seat, yet, and I'm not sure I have it perfectly adjusted, but it's definitely a step up.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

And With Luck, You May Spot a Buck

Well, the long anticipated joint ride to Kirkwood with my sister Cate happened on Friday. We both live in northern Cedar Rapids, so it involves basically taking a bike trail all the way through town.

I rode over to her house, leaving mine around 9:20. 74th Street is still closed at Council Street--the eternal Council Street recreation is in year 2 or 3 now, can't recall which but I'm not sure I or any in my generation will live to see the end--but the sidewalk was open, so I got to her house fairly directly. After a short restroom, chat break, we were off.

The day was just about perfect. The sun was out, it was a little cool for July and there was not too much wind.

Cate's route to Kirkwood is a bit different than what I would use--she knows a shortcut that goes east of the Cedar Lake loop of the trail, but it took us about 90 minutes to get there. Cate had previously calculated that the route is circa 15 miles.

It's a bit odd riding with another person--a lone cyclist is used to one rhythm and slows and speeds as he or she feels. With two riders, gaps would open up between us now and then and at other times, I (in the rear) would feel like I was riding Cate's back wheel.

Conversation was a times difficult. The trail parallels I-380 for part of the route, and my other side of the hill 50+ ears don't hear that well--Cate was in front with her mouth facing the wrong way, and I struggled to pick up what she was saying.

Still, a joint ride is a pleasurable thing. We did get some chatting done on quiet stretches and saw the nice contrast that the bike trail through Cedar Rapids provides--went by a train by Quaker Oats, through downtown traffic, but also along the trout stream and through woods near Mount Trashmore.

A bit east of the old city dump where Mount Trashmore dominates the landscape, about 20 to 30 yards in front of us, a buck stepped out of the trees on the left side of the trail, and sauntered, in no hurry, into the trees on the right. He did not seem perturbed by us at all, if anything, he seemed to have a slightly irritating indifference, as if he were thinking "I got antlers, what have you got?"

That was cool.

One part of the trail had been freshly blacktopped, and Cate noted that she had accidentally rode through when they were applying the surface. It's an isolated stretch, so when she came on the city crew, she had nowhere to go, so she simply rode on the grass and promised the irritated workers she would avoid their new paving.

Friday, when we rode that stretch, a soft and iffy looking application of limestone had been made on the right side the trail. I told my sister that in the city work order, the limestone is referred to as a "Cate barrier," as it would have prevented her grassy ride.

Anyway, the trail had been closed by the 2008 flooding. It's good to see it back. We had a pretty good view of the Sinclair smokestack, and I must say, it being torn down is not really a tragedy. The old train depot, that was a crime to tear down. The old mansion at Mount Mercy, it's a shame it's no longer standing. But the giant stack of crumbling brick? It's a hazard. Knock it down before it falls.

Anyway, I stopped at Kirkwood with Cate for a few minutes, she and I said hi to Paulette, and then I headed home.

The ride home seemed much longer. Even if it takes some effort to ride with someone, sometimes riding alone can be a greater chore. My legs, butt and, especially, my hands got very tired. I stopped at the park on J street for about a 7 minute break.

Made it home. Would I go again? You bet. And I know it's crazy and will leave me beat, but I'm in for the ride to Waterloo, if it happens.

If we're lucky, we'll see a buck.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Happy Trail in Omaha

Don't know how far they go or how convenient they are to use, but over the Fourth of July my wife and I went to Omaha to visit our youngest daughter. While there, I walked on and jogged on several Omaha trails.

Very nice--both went by drainage streams and power lines, so I assume they were taking advantage of utility rights of way. My only complaint is that both had space where trees could be planted adjacent to the trail, without being anywhere near power lines, and in a hot Nebraska climate, you think shade would be appreciated.

Pictured is from the "Big Papio" trail that we walked July 5. Daughter Nina and wife Audrey on the trail. I hope efforts to extend trails in Cedar Rapids bring similar results!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How to Ring in New Bike Bling

Finally got a rear view mirror, courtesy of Katy, on Father's Day. It's now installed, and has been nice to have.

Katy also got me a bell for my bike, so if you hear a cheery ring, it might be me coming up behind you. Not as fast as many bikers, but not as slow as some, and given my size and resulting momentum, we both would be better off avoiding a collision.

Anyway, a small bit of bike etiquette--how is the bell properly used? When I didn't have one, I tried to make it a habit to always sound a verbal warning when approaching a pedestrian or jogger from behind.

I typially name my vehicle and it's passing position--I'll say "bike on the left" or, less commonly, "bike on the right." Most people understand and sometime even thank me for the warning. A few are startled and sometimes move in the direction I stated, which is not a good idea--if I say "bike on the left," a step to the left is the wrong direction.

No accidents, so far, however. The strategy is to wait to sound the warning until you're close enough for the person to clearly hear you, but be far enough away that if they do step in the wrong direction, you can weave around them.

Since I also walk on trails, I can tell you that I also apprciate bikers who sound a warning rather than just zoom on by.

But what of the bell? If I ding my bell do I also tell? In my opinion, yes. The bell is an attention getter, and immediately after ringing it, I will state my verbal warning. Again, person experience makes me appreciate the ding-verbal combination more than a ding, which makes me turn around to see to the number and direction of the approaching bike or bikes (if I'm with someone while I'm biking, yes, I'll say "two bikes on your left.")

Joggers and walkers have certain rights--not be be startled or run over by bikers. As moving vehicles, we must defer to pedestrians just as we expect some deference from motor vehicles.

So if you hear a ding, it may be me with my bling. But if nothing is said, it's someone else instead.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

And The Route Just Happens to Pass Dairy Queen

My bike is pimped out a bit more, courtesy of Father's Day gifts from Katy. I have a bell and a rear view mirror now. On June 26, Audrey and I decided to ride our bikes to see Audrey's mother at Promise House, an assisted-living center in Hiawatha.

If Council Street were not semi-permanently torn up by what seems to be the worlds longest street project, we would take the "behind Target" route west to the Cedar Valley Trail for the short ride on the trail to Emmons Street, the bikers way of crossing I-380 in Hiawatha. Since Council Street appears to be blocked for the next decade or so, we instead rode through the Rockwell Collins parking lots to a street that runs behind the Galaxy movie thearter, then a short jaunt on the open part of Council Street to another street that goes by a Chevy dealers, the future home of a farm/garden store and a Nissan dealership. We end up with a slightly longer journey north on the trail rather than a shorter journey south to Emmons.

The ride was OK, although crossing Council at that point is a bit dicey. We took water with us, it was a warm afternoon, but things went well. It took the two of use 40 minutes to get to Promise House, but we were biking at a slower pace than I'm used to. Audrey does not shift gears and does not tool along in her fastest gear--she's in more like 10th gear rather than 15th.

No big deal, I did enjoy riding with her, which we don't often do. I think this was our first ride together this summer.

On the way home, we took advantage of the fact that the route just happens to pass by Dairy Queen in Hiawatha. I hope that doesn't negate the health benefits of the ride.

Anyway, maybe Audrey and I will do a few more joint bike rides this summer. I doubt I'll persuade her to commute to Mount Mercy, like I do (and did that morning), but the ride was fun.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day Journey

Ben and I rode our bikes on Father's Day, and had a lot of fun. It was sort of "between rains," as Iowa seems to be having a monsoon season.

We wanted to use the Cedar Valley trail, and with construction on Council Street blocking all our usual routes, it took a while to get there. Once there, we first rode over to my sister Cate's house to deliver some Puerto Rican sweet potato candy (see my other blog for long report on that trip).

Then, back to the trail. Went north just 4 miles, so the trail ride about an 8-mile trip. Overall, I'd say we rode about 15 miles. It was lucky we brought water with us--it was a very hot trip--but it was fun, too.

Saw a deer by the trail, many riders. I was pleasantly suprised when we got past the pavement that the crushed limestone part, at least for the short distance we rode, was not too mushy.

I hope efforts ongoing to raise money to pave the trail work out. In Iowa's climate, too much of the year is too wet if a trail is not paved.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Transportation in Puerto Rico

I suppose if I knew the routes, there would be good places to bike in Puerto Rico, but if I lived and worked there, I don't think I'd be a bike commuter.
Riding in a car seems dangerous enough. Lots of side dents in Puerto Rican cars--drivers are very aggresive and squeeze in tight, tiny places. Lane markers are vague suggestions, as are stop signs. They do, at least, stop at ride lights--after 5 or 6 cars squeeze through.
Still, I loved the island. My son got married there last Saturday. I'll write more about the trip on my other blog.

Monday, June 7, 2010

It’s Not OK, Speaking French to Bikers

When the father of the hero in “Blast from the Past” curses in front of his son, mother and dad tell son that papa was “speaking French.”

Why do some young people think it’s OK to speak French to bike rider? I was on a street in Hiawatha (Robins Road, I believe) heading to the Cedar Valley Bike Trail on Sunday. I am training to jog the Bix this year, and wanted to do a “short” run of 4 miles on the trail, and since the day was nice, I decided a 3-mile bike ride was the perfect warm up for a 4-mile jog. (Can’t call it a run. Anybody who saw me would not call it a run, either. But, hey, I’m still moving my body for 4 miles, so it’s OK).

Robins Road was fairly broad where I was riding—plenty of room for a pickup truck to pass a bicycle without having to adjust its trajectory much at all. A shoddy looking old Chevy pickup passed me with four young people—one woman and three 20-something (and not much of something, maybe even late teens) guys.

One of the guys yelled “Hey (all-purpose-noun-verb-adjective referring in Anglo-Saxon terms to sexual intercourse)er, use the sidewalk.”

I don’t know, I was just tired and not in the mood. I didn’t yell back, but I didn’t exactly brush it off, either. I had been tooling along, bent over, and when the young jerk let his digestive byproducts out of the wrong end of his intestinal tract, I sat up, as tall as I can. The truck went on for 2 more blocks and then stopped at the light at Center Point Road. So, I came abreast of it again. Sitting tall. Glaring at Mr. Potty Mouth. Daring him.

Yeah, it was dumb. I was a star of the debate team in high school, not the wresting squad. But, I was on a bicycle, for heavens sake. That means two key things:

1) Legally, I’m a vehicle. I am supposed to use the street and leave the sidewalk to pedestrians.
2) I’m not only a rather large guy (a shade over 6 feet, a tad near 250 pounds), I’m a big guy who rides a bike every day. Fat boys in pickup trucks should show some respect.

I know it’s a good thing Mr. Young Jerk didn’t take more offense, if anything ugly had happened it would not have gone well for a former high school debater. But something about the way I was sitting tall and staring back apparently made him think again. He and his companions kind of slunk down in the bed of the truck and stayed silent.

Honestly, I don’t think what I did was the best way to handle. But, also honestly, it did feel pretty darn good, in a primitive simian don’t F with the greyback kind of way.

Underneath it all, I guess sometimes we are apes. Apes with bikes. Apes who deserve some respect when they’re biking, too.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Riding to Kirkwood

My sister, who teaches at Kirkwood, rode her bike there last week. I said on Facebook that I thought it was around a 20-mile ride, but she said she knows that driving to Kirkwood is a 13-mile journey, and I think she correctly points out that although the bike route, which uses a trail and not the Interstate for most of the journey, is not that much longer.

So, it was probably a 15-mile trip, more or less, that she completed in 1 1/2 hours.

Not bad. My own commute, which I made only once last week, is around 5 miles one way--about a 25 minute ride, so my speed is about the same.

I hope, weather willing, to ride down with her one of these days. If I do, I'll write about it. I did the route last summer when the Iowa College Media Association June meeting was held at Kirkwood Community College, but otherwise don't have much reason to head that far south (Cate, my sister, and I both live in the two neighborhoods that are both on the far northern parts of Cedar Rapids, Kirkwood is on the south edge of town).

At least CR is bike friendly enough that there are reasonable ways to cross it border to border!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Kayaks and catalpas

Gave blood today in the early afternoon, and my wife Audrey then dropped me off at Mount Mercy with my bike. Worked a while, napped a while (hey, they tell you to take it easy) and then rode home.

I've ridden home from giving blood before, but it's a bad idea. This time, with a few hours of rest, it was no big deal. I took my time and enjoyed the ride.

I used the urban part of the Cedar Valley Natural Trail that goes by McLeod Run. I noticed Catalpas are in bloom--they are trees with pretty large heart-shaped leaves and bloom in early June with large clusters of medium sized, sweet, white flowers.

Over the winter, I harvested some seeds from a neighborhood Catalpa and have a baby tree in my back yard, show above in its chickenwire cage. Its chances, as are the chances of any baby tree, are not so good, but there is hope. In 15 to 20 years, maybe I'll have a hefty tree with pretty white flowers.

Anyway, besides musing on Catalpa while riding home, I thought about kayaking. It's our summer boating hobby of choice, and we've had them out twice. Photo at the top of thos post is my son Ben and my wife Audrey on May 28, first kayak outing at Pleasant Creek Recreation Area near Palo.

Some people ride motorcycles. I think they look noisy and dangerous. I prefer the solitude, silence and exercise of a bicycle. Some peoplel tool around lakes in jet skis or power boats. Again, they look noisy and dangerous--teen died this week on a nearby lake after being struck by a boat.

Kayaks are silent, which allows you to tune into the sound of water, insects and birds--and hold a conversation, even at some distance, with a fellow kayaker. You can't water ski with a kayak, but padding a kayak is is nice exercise.

Whether on land or water, I'd rater provide the power for a silent form of transport. It's better that way.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bike Bling

Note the photo.

I'm a P-51 fan anway. Some historians credit this hybride plane, with its Ameican body and British engine, with winning World War II.

Whatever. Without the Mustang, there would have been hundreds of other planes, and who knows? On the other hand, we really needed to win when we did--if the war had gone on a few months, German jet airplane production could have caused havoc.

Anyway, this is bike bling. I recorded in my other blog how I slipped on ice in January. After that accident, my sister Cate bought me this cheap little bit of Chinese plastic.

At first, I was a bit embarassed and self-concious to have it on my bike, but I quickly got used to it. And enjoy it. It's a festive little bit of whimsical flair.

One afternoon on my way home, at the corner of Blair's Ferry and C Aveue, a gentleman who I assume as a Rockwell-Collins engineer asked if if the plane's propeller caused too much drag.

Not at all. I have not worn a dress since I put it on my bike. Buh-bum-chic. But seriously folks, it's a bit of fun, which I enjoy.

Thank you sister Cate. I love my bike Mustang.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bike vs. Beetle Maintenance

If money were no object, the car I would drive would be a VW Beetle.

Oh. Wait. The car I drive is a VW Beetle.

I mean I would have a slightly newer, slightly nicer Beetle with AC.

Anyway, I noticed today before my morning bike ride to campus that I'll need a new front tire soon. Sometime, I'll have to take my bike into the shop for its annual maintenance. I might have them change the tire, although even an mechanical incompetent like me is up to the challenge of changing a bike tire.

When weather does not allow me to ride my bike, I drive, and, unless Audrey claimed it before me, the car I drive is a silver 1998 Beetle.

The recent VW commericals are all wrong. The only true VW game is "slug bug," not "dub" or whatever poor excuse they try.

Anyway, the Beetle was due to 75,000 maintenance today, and it's bottom engine cover has come off. The maintenance, mostly an oil change, was about $140. Getting a new engine cover will be around $450. It will be due for brakes soon, to the tune of around $800.

All of which makes Audrey a bit antsy, she's talking about trading it in after Nina's car is paid off. Me, I'm not so antsy. $800 plus $140 plus $450 is under $1,400, which is only about four months car payments.

Despite the apparent economic pain, it's almost always better to maintain an old car than buy a newer one. What drives the decision to buy is not the cost of maintenance, which, even when it climbs, still usualy pales comapred to car payments. What drives it is the need for reliability.

And despite being a pain to maintain (minimum $80 for oil changes due to fancy oil required by its crazy German engine), the Beetle has been pretty darn trustworthy for the 8 years we've owned it. It has other advantages too--it is a "fat person" car--very little room for passengers in the back seat, but the front seats are the most spacious of any vehicle I have ever encountered--the bubble shape equals huge leg and head room and the doors are very wide and open very wide for very wise people.

Anyway, what does this have to do with a bike? The Beetle keeps chugging along partly because I use it so little, becuase I bike whenver I can. And bike maintenance is very cheap--less than an oil change a year. I'm keeping myself healthier and saving a ton of money every time I hop on the trusty old FrankenTrek and commute to work.

Today was totally gorgeous. If I had it all to do again, I might have put the bike in the back of the Beetle--could have come home and mowed rather than watching "Law and Order" at VW dealership lounge.

Done it before. A bike is the best spare tire there is, and helps control the size of my corporal spare tire.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CMS and Biking

Gazette columnis Todd Dorman wrote recently about his frustration finding a route to work now that First Avenue is under construction. See his blog here. I have similar issues--Council Street has been under reconstruction since the second (or first?) Bush administration, and C Avenue seems like the lone route into my area of town--no doubt some project will start there soon.

Anyway, Dorman expresses in passing, with some sarcasm, the idea of biking from his home. Well, I live in Northeast CR (what the rest of the world would call "north," but apparently some magnetic impact of the Quaker Oats plant causes the compass to be tilted in Cedar Rapids.)

I commute to Mount Mercy via bicycle all the time. Dorman's ride downtown would be longer than mine, but not by much. Bob Najouks, who retired from Mount Mercy two years ago, used to be a fellow bike commuter, and Bob rode daily from Marion.

Dorman refers to useing the Cedar Valley trail to work, but that would be a bad move. For one thing, with Council Street ripped up, there is almost no route from his house to the trail that doesn't involve suicidal behavior, such as riding Boyson Road. For another, he'd have to head way west for no particular reason.

The logical route involved Lindale Mall, a hold in the fence and E Avenue, but Todd doesn't know that yet. I've volunteered to show him, don't know if he'll take me up. We'll see.

Anyay, what does this have to do with CMS? Was in CMS testing at Mount Mercy today. CMS is "content managment system," ways to update web sites.

Riding the Cedar Valley trail to Marion is a complex CMS solution. Riding E Avenue is an easy CMS way to go. It's like the difference between BlogSpot and Wordpress. So far, I've found Wordpress much more user friendly, like E Avenue.

OK, the analogy is a bit strained. Oh well, it's only a blog. But some nice day soon, Todd, if you're serious, pump up the tires and saddle up. I've gone to meetings at Kirkwood from my home in Bowman Woods--I can get you all the way across CR. Will take more time, but you may enjoy the journey more, too.

Hot Child in the City

OK, I'm neither hot nor a child, but I am in the city, or at least what passes for one in Iowa.

It was mid-summer suddenly today--that's the kind of year it has been. One day, a long, snow-filled winter. The next day, the ground is bare and daffodils are stating to poke through. Today the new rose bush in front is being devoured by the sudden appearance of hordes of insects. For this time of year, I've seen huge spiders. Winter to spring to summer in leaps and bounds, with no in-between times.

Anyway, I had to grade tonight and didn't start towards home until after 10. The moon was up and around 3/4, which was helpful, as is the lights on my bike.

Riding at night is a bit strange. I worry a bit, because I can't see stones and sticks and cracks in the pavement, but seem to have ridden the same route so often that even what my eyes can't see, my bike and arms remember and steer around.

At least traffic is light after 10. I worry, for no explainable reason, about bats, but none attacked while I was riding. The only mishap on the way home was my breifcase knocked my bike bling, the plastic modle P-51 my sister got me, off of its support on my handlebars. Not off the bike, fortunately, and nothing was broken, just a matter of putting it all back together.

Have to go to campus again tomorrow for a meeting. Summer is here with a vengence and the pace of my life should slow, but not yet. Well, the level of heat we're having doesn't really bother me--just drink more, sweat more, ride slower and take extra showers!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ring out on a cloudy day

Rode around noon today, which was a good time--lunch traffic triggered lights.

The day is cloudy and cool, which I better enjoy. Forecast is for hot, hot, hot!

I will be on campus late tonight to ring bells for the graduate "hooding" ceremony. Should be fun, but I'll be riding home with my lights on.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Summertime Riding

Warm this afternoon--no need for a sweater. The ride was nice. I left work a bit late, around 5:45, but was lucky with traffic. Where F and Collins meets, its important to have traffic because the light is car-activated--did not have to wait long tonight. Sometimes, when I'm really late, that's more of a problem.

Last week was wet--much better this week.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Bugs Are Back In Town!

We seemed to go from winter straight into spring with little in between this year, and as this week heats up things are starting to get a "June" feel. Noticed a June Bug slamming into the siding of the house due to confusion caused by the deck light when I walked the dog last night.

Today, the bugs were back when I commuted by bike.

Was in a hurry this morning--a meeting with new dean of admissions at Mount Mercy started at 8:30 a.m., and I had stayed up to the wee hours grading and was having troubled getting out the door.

Made it. Weather cooperated, I was living right at the lights. Nice that I didn't have to stop much. Was very buggy whenever I had to pause. Although there can be irritating clouds of insects, especially near creeks or in shade, a relatively bug-free existence (you're moving too fast for them) is an advantage of biking.

Except when you stop. It doesn't take long for the little buggers to gather. Bug season is upon us! Oh well, at least that means better biking weather, too.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Perfect Morning

A cool, sunny spring day following a few days of rain.

I did not like the rainy days, riding to work in a minivan, but today wasa nice reward. Greens are never more vibrant than in May when the ground is wet but the sky is dry.

I had a few extra chores to take care of, so I got a late start this morning--didn't arrive on campus until almost 10 a.m. Commuting just a little late was wonderful--little traffic, many birds, day just staring to warm up.

The lights along my commuting route are a bit of a crap shoot, particulrly the corner of F Avenue and Collins Road. Like many modern traffic signals, this one seems to be controled by senors in the pavement, which is why, I assume, there are all those odd looking rectangles carved into the road surface near corners (and if you're ever stuck at a light for too long, it may mean you ahve to back up or pull forward a little to hit that sensor).

In my experience, the sensors don't usually respond to a biker, even a very heavy biker. There is just too much difference between a 1-ton car and a 1/8 ton biker.

This morning, a city bus was approaching the corner of F and Collins and I stopped behind it. A bus is plenty to trigger a sensor.

Even where F meets Old Marion Road (another bottleneck at times), a well-timed car set off the light for me. There was noone at stop signs along the way.

Perfect weather, perfect timing at lights, light traffic, chirping birds--why was anybody in Cedar Rapids using a car today?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Looking forward to biking tomorrow

Not sure how I will get home. Music Fest at Mount Mercy tomorrow from 3 to 6, then going out to supper with the family. But I will enjoy the ride in.

It was already getting nice afternoon, cool, cloudy and breezy but not raining--in fact, it would have been almost an ideal biking afternoon (cool and cloudy with no rain is perfect).

It's been pretty much a non-biking, not blogging about biking week. Can't wait to get back in the saddle!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Biking in California

When my father was an engineer in California, he at times commuted via bicycle. He had a golden English 10 speed, a beautiful bike, and one thrill of my preschool years was waiting in the driveway for him to come home. He would hop off the bike, sweep you up and set you on the seat, and you got to "ride" around the VW microbus that was the family car.

Went to Dr. Matthew Moscou's graduation at ISU this weekend. His father is a pharmacy tech who sometimes commutes via bike in California.

The weather, I suppose, is better. But from the "war stories" he shares, I would rather be biking in Iowa, thank you. He has been almost crowded off the road by aggressive California drivers, and once, apparently from sores on his back, shot with a bbgun.

Well--Iowa drivers can be rude too. I have been almost killed by drivers who don't look carefully at stop signs for oncoming bikes, or, in the case of one Rockwell-Collins employee, who don't even pause or slow down at stop signs.

But, nobody tries to run me off the road. And there are no bb welts on my backside. I'll take Iowa.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Final Ride of the Week

Rain is n the forecast tomorrow, so I'll probably hitch a ride with my wife and leave the bike at home.

It's been a good spring so far for riding, so I can't complain. Today was again breezy, a bit cooler, but nice. I had to ride to the KGAN studios in Broadcast Park--one of my classes was touring the studio today--but the change in route wasn't too hard.

No bike rack at the TV studio--on-air talent and background techies must not be on two wheels. But, I was able to tie up to a convenient bench in front.

Left campus early in the afternoon--hoping to lend Audrey a hand with babysitting. As a result, got a nap and a run in this afternoon, which is all to the good.

I guess the run helps make up for tomorrow's lost ride.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Council Street Barrier

It had rained during the night, and the morning ride was a bit damp, in spots, but it's amazing how quickly the May sun can dry off pavement.

This afternoon, I decided to take advantage of this windy, but nice, spring day by taking the bike trail home that leads through Hiawatha.

Normally, this changes my 25-minute commute into about a 45-minute commute, because the trail bends to the west, and when I get to Hiawatha, I have to ride for another 20 minutes east to get home.

No big deal, and on a nice day the trail is worth it. Except that the city is in the midst of what seems like the 10-year reconstruction of Council Street, and I hadn't bargained for my route east to be closed.

So I headed north. Hiawatha has some communal "alley" sidewalks that allow you to travel quite a ways, and, despite heavy traffic on Boyson (traffic possibly made heavier by the Council Street Eternal Construction Project bottleneck) I was able to ride into my sister's neighborhood.

Sadly, another section of Council was blocked off, and the route I take from my sister's house home was unavailable. I went along a sidewalk for a block on Boyson and turned north into an uncharted neighborhood (at least by me).

Eventually, hungry, goggle-eyed, panting for waters and desperate for a bathroom break, I emerged from the confusing spaghetti of streets.

OK, I exaggerate. Despite feeling "lost," I didn't actually lose my sense of direction (if you remember that the sun sets in the west, it helps) and the "new" neighborhood route probably didn't cost me that much time.

Still, what is usually a 25-minute commute that I thought I had added 20 minutes to became an over hour long sojourn.

Which leads to the question: How long does it take Cedar Rapids to fix Council Street?

Scientists speculate that new forms of intelligent life may evolve as we contemplate the answer.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Morning and Afternoon Winds

The wind was blowing from the south at around 20 mph both this morning and this afternoon.
Since I live north of Mount Mercy, that meant the morning commute was a bit more challenging than the evening one. Add to that the fact I was running behind this morning and the stress didn’t enhance my commuting experience.

But, I typically don’t mind wind too much. It was gusty today, but not so windy that it was much of a factor in my timing or comfort.

And wind has its rewards, too. As a big guy (circa 250 lbs, 6 feet tall) I produce a lot of heat when I use the large muscles of my body, and there is a fairly thick layer of insulation around all that muscle-generated heat.

Which, of course, means my body works to cool itself when I ride, a reality that does have unpleasant side effects. Effects that are mitigated by the morning cool, much to the relief (I’m sure) of everybody I work with or teach at Mount Mercy.

Wind also helps keep it cool. It was above 80 degrees, according to the bank thermometer at the corner of C Avenue and Blair’s Ferry Road, this afternoon. Even though I think that was not accurate—I’ve noticed before that this particular thermometer is rather entertainingly random in its guestimate of air temperature—it was warm.

Still, nice. Due to wind. Blow on, wind—just don’t blow from the south in the morning, please.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Adventures in Riding

Had a fantastic ride home tonight.

Temperature was in the 60s, winds were light, the sky was clear and all was right in the universe.

I don't think it takes much longer to bike than to drive, but frankly, biking is so much pleasure, the extra time is well worth it. Two pre-teen girls were playing volleyball in the street on Lindale, several dogs were being walked on E and it was the kind of cool spring evening when the invention of the internal combustion engine seems like a tragic mistake.

In late August, when the air feels like this, we'll say "fall is coming." Today, what's coming seemed much nicer.

Hope I have more rides like this.

Cedar Rapids Plans Trail Network

It remains to be seen how well the “Ron Squad,” what a local newspaper columnist has dubbed Cedar Rapids’ mayor and his cohorts on the city council, will do.

Picking a city manager seems to be putting the “do it now” philosophy of his honor to the test.

Still, you have to give Ron Corbett credit for shaking things up.

One positive development is the unveiling of a new trail plan. The plan would put bike trails in easy distance of just about everything in Cedar Rapids, which would benefit both bikers and drivers.

See this link:

I live along Dry Creek, and thus would have a trail behind my house. Neighboring a trail is a mixed blessing, but I already have a sturdy fence, so it's more "blessing" than "mixed."

Mount Mercy would also benefit, with a trail nearby.

Until May 7, they will take comments. My biggest one?

Please do it.