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.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Omaha, Where I Don't Bike

Moved my daughter into an apartment this weekend. She's a student at Creighton University in Omaha, and they don't guarantee upper-class housing, plus she's staying in Omaha this summer for a job.

Well. I am glad I commute by bike in Cedar Rapids. Despite being a "city" to those of use who grew up in over-grown villages, CR is really just a small Iowa town. And although it's not paradise for a biker, it's not Omaha, either.

We got thoroughly lost several times. I can't imagine navigating the city on two wheels without an engine.

Anyway, stayed with my sister in law. Niece was surprised Warren Buffet, richest man in the Milky Way Galaxy, chooses to live in Omaha, which to her is "nowhere."

The universal complaint of 12-year-olds world-wide. In Paris, there are some barely pre-teens complaining about the ennui. Such is life.

When I was living in a town of 700, there was plenty to do. I even commuted (25 miles) by bike then, but only now and then.

This weeks looks pretty good for the first 3 days, as long as I can dodge the rain Monday. It's good to be back in Cedar Rapids.