Saturday, December 29, 2012

In Which CR Biker Contemplates An Escape From Iran

From the official movie site, Ben in grey jacket, back to us, with fleeing diplomats pretending to scout movie locations in a (sigh) yelllow VW bus.  Where are the bikes?

I just saw the movie “Argo” at the Collins Road Theater in Cedar Rapids.  It’s nice to see Ben Affleck in a historic drama in which he doesn’t have a silly romance or an urge to re-write the history of the Doolittle Raid.

And, among many memorable actors, it has Alan Arkin.  It’s a genuine pleasure to see you again on the big screen, Alan.  Hope to catch you again soon.

It’s an excellent movie, and it featured a tense scene of Ben driving the fleeting Americans around Tehran in a VW microbus.  Among my other reactions to the movie was: “Where can I get that bus?  That looks fun to drive.”

Argo has a more relevant—more relevant to this blog—mystery.  Six Americans fled from the US Embassy in Tehran, and ended up being sheltered by the Canadian ambassador.  To get them out, there were competing ideas, including the “Bicycle Idea.”

It’s 300 miles from Turkey to Tehran, according to the film.  Some characters in the movie suggested the BI—getting the diplomats bicycles so they could cover that distance on two wheels.  Thus would have been born USGBRAI—Uncle Sam’s Great Bike Rice Across Iran.  If it worked, and they decided to repeat it, it could have been USAGBRAI, pronounced “us-ag-brie.”  Taking place each winter, with small Persian towns competing to attempt to thwart the fleeing band of Yankees with roadblocks, USAGBRAI would be the hostile off-season counterpoint to RAGBRAI.

I wonder what bikes they would have used?  In the late 1970s, I was riding what is still my favorite bike, a 1974 Schwinn Continental, which sadly broke for good in this century, but I’m not sure those would have been good for a 300-mile stealthy journey across semi-mountainous terrain in winter.

Would they have been on six fat-tired mountain bikes?  Did such things exist in 1979?

Anyway, I suppose the “Argo” ploy worked better.  Still, it would have been nice if bicycles had somehow been part of the plot.

Then Ben and Alan could have told each other: “Argo bike yourself.”
John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck. All were good in the movie "Argo."  Image again from movie's web site.  I'm sure Goodman is just saying "Argo bike yourself."

Monday, December 24, 2012

In Which Snow Ends The Biking Season For Now

Snow-covered sidewalk at MMU on Sunday.  They do a good job clearing walks, but the U is closed.  Most streets are better than this, but some are like this, and it's not clear enough for biking.

A snowstorm on Thursday of last week has left the streets of Cedar Rapids too slick and snowy for biking.  To give the city credit, I scouted the streets to MMU and found that that weren’t coated with that special white snow icing CR usually leaves behind on quiet residential avenues—but there’s still too much snow and ice to make two wheels a practical way to get around.

Today is Christmas Eve, and a light frosting of snow, less than an inch, was added as a nice holiday frosting to the world.

Well, even if it might be a while before the streets are bare enough for me to resume commuting via bicycle, I still say Merry Biking Christmas to all of you out there.  And here’s hoping for bare pavement in the new year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Ride With Basket-to-Wheel Renewal

Views of my new wheel and new basket. 
Note how clean the new chain looks! 
Blogger is being poppy about the vertical photos, again. 
So you'll have to turn your heads to the side.

Well, I manage to hook on two lights to my new basket, so this morning was the first ride on the new “strong” rear wheel and with the new front basket.

Both performed well, as far as I can tell.  The ride home tonight with lights ablaze will be a bit of a test (although it won’t be a late ride).

Anyway, the new basket caused the biggest adjustment, and I’m not sure I’m totally done.  The front lights I have are constructed on the assumption that a biker would hook them to a stem or handlebars—but because I put a large briefcase in a front basket, those placements don’t work for me.  The old basket had an open design which made it easy to MacGyver the lights into place.

The more closed-mesh design of the new basket meant neither of my customary front lights had an obvious place to be installed.  So, I enlarged two holes of the mesh with a screwdriver to put one light in place, and simply used a bungee cord to attach the other light to the bottom of the basket.

I think that will work.  As Red Green once said:  “This is only temporary.  Unless, of course, it works.”

Well, the new wheel was fine.  It had one huge advantage—I could use the ultimate hill-climbing gear without having the derailleur grind against the rear spokes.  I hope that lasts.  I know, I know, I should have learned to turn the adjusting screws to prevent the problem on my previous bike—I just never seemed to find the time when the penultimate gear worked well enough on the steepest hill (“the” hill at MMU) that I normally climb.

Still, hill-climbing gear, I’m glad you’re back.  Please say a while.

It spit a bit of snow on me as I rode in, so I parked inside to keep the new chain dry.  It’s about 3 p.m. right now and I’ll be leaving soon—but it’s cloudy enough that it already looks fairly dark.  So I’ll be testing the lights in their new configuration.

Here’s hoping that all goes well, although I expect it will!

Monday, December 17, 2012

In Which CR Biker Is Seeing Future Snow

KCRG weather map of snow forcast, which I got from The Gazette,  Cedar Rapids is right in the pretty teal "y'all are gonna get dumped on" zone.

I regret that I did not bike this morning.  The reasons are complex.

The bike was in the shop Thursday of last week for what I thought was a broken spoke.  Turns out the rear axle had also snapped, so the bike shop recommended a new, hardier, wheel.

In the meantime, Audrey and I picked out a new basket, and installed the bracket to hold it.

But what with one thing and another, including an enjoyable time performing with a bell choir in a concert Sunday and some nice family time that day, I didn’t get my lights switched over from the old basket, and ran out of time this morning before I had to get to campus to give students a final exam.

“Give,” I suppose, is not as good a word as “administer.”  The A word sounds more sinister, and I’m sure in this season of giving that my students thought of it that way.

So I drove today.  It was cloudy and cool, but I totally could have biked.  And now this is in the forecast.

Well, I hope I get those lights in the right spots tonight.  I for sure want to ride Tuesday—it may be the last time for a while  Snow is finally on the way.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In Which A Faithful Friend Fails

Above:  Note the "hook" on the right, which is not hooked to anything because the basket is broken.  Below: The whole photo is a bit on a slant, but note how one side of the basket droops.

Epic fail.  My beat up old front basket is now beaten.  12/12/12 wasn’t a lucky day for it.

The basket predates my bicycle—it was the front basket on a previous bike for several years before that bike fell apart and Audrey bought me my current bicycle.  This basket has been on RAGBRAI twice—as much as I have.

But yesterday, when I parked my bike and then intended to go into the house to open the garage door, the bike suddenly tipped and landed, as it usually does the infrequent times when it falls, on the front basket.

Well, that’s happened several times before, including at least once on each RAGBRAI.  Part of the basket frame actually snapped due to a RAGBRAI fall, but I was able to fix the basket, two years ago, with some wire.

It’s a peculiarity of my particular bike that it tends to be a bit tippy when using the kickstand so there is a fall now and then.  So I merely picked the bike up and put it away.

This morning, when biking into work, I noticed the basket looked drunkenly lopsided; it was badly leaning, tilted to the left.

Well, it would.  Lean to the left I mean, since it’s the bicycle basket of a southpaw political liberal.

On closer inspection, a weight-bearing wire that connects to the brace that holds the basket on the bike is snapped.  That’s the death knell for this particular basket

Anyway, it’s not the first, but rather the second, front basket I’ve had for bike commuting purposes (and no, I am not counting the small plastic flowered one that a daughter of mine got for me as a joke).  This one has lasted longer and been more places, but it’s just a basket.

It’s we who endow things with meaning, we who miss the house we grew up in or the old family sedan or that fire-engine bedspread that was on our bed during our childhood.  It’s not the things so much that mean much to us—instead, it’s the memories and feeling we have which the things trigger.

Anyway, it’s a mere basket.  It’s a utilitarian thing.  It’ll easy to move on to a new basket.  But I admit on an irrational level a tiny bit of silly sadness as if a friend were passing out of my life.  It’s not you, basket, it’s me.  Still, so long.

Friday, December 7, 2012

In Which CRBiker Parks Near USN Donnelly

My bike in an unusual parking spot.

My bike parking adventures at MMU continued today.  It was not as mysterious as the incredible shift north during the day that I wrote of earlier this week.  Today, in honor of Pearl Harbor Day, however, I was parked near the MMU building that most resembles a battleship.

No kidding.  When I walk across campus, I often think that the triangular prow of the Donnelly Center would look at home with a nice gun turret on top.

Anyway, I was parked there today because a project was going on at the northeast side of Warde Hall.  Pigeons have made the rafter area their little dinosaur village, which means the area is stained with dinosaur poop.  The maintenance folks noted that an entrance to Warde Hall would be closed today, and they let me know when I asked that it was a good idea to park my bike elsewhere today.  MMU brought in a contractor to both fix the aging gutters of Warde Hall, and also to install some rows of spikes in pigeon town to encourage its residents to move on.

Hopefully, not to the upper decks of the USN Donnelly.
Work underway on pigeon eeviction at Warde Hall.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My sister thinks I need lasers

She's totally right, of course.  Cate posted a message on Facebook saying that I need these lights, which create "instant" bike lanes at night.

See the video.  I do need them. I also need the techno music as my biking background theme (although I guess then I would be less likely to hear the birds, so maybe not--or maybe only at night when their either aren't birds or I don't want to hear them anyway).

Cool as these lights are, they would be slightly cooler if the lasers were powerful enough to slice through steel.  See if a bully in an SUV would ever crowd CR Biker then!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

In Which CR Biker’s Bike Mysteriously Moves at MMU

The Wednesday mystery.  When I parked Wednesday morning, the front wheel was on the sidewalk.  But this is the bike Wednesday evening around 4--note that the wheel is far from cement now.  How did the bike move a foot north?
Wednesday, 4 p.m.  I’m ready to head home, a bit earlier than usual.  I have bells on Monday until 7, Tuesday until 6 and a newspaper meeting Thursdays that starts at 6:15 and ends just in time for me to cycle quickly home in order to not miss the start of “Project Runway All Stars.”

Anyway, so Wednesday is one of my few “early” days, along with Friday, meaning it is not pitch-black when I head for home on those two days of the week.

And when I went to my bike to prepare for the ride home Wednesday afternoon, the surprise was that my bike was not where it had been.  It had moved.

That’s a bit disturbing.  Am I stuck in some new Stephen King horror story, this one about a bicycle that is really a demon from Hell?  Called “Christina” (because Christine was a car)?  Or, since it’s a bicycle, “Barbara Ann?”  I don’t know why that sounded like a demon bike’s name, it just did.  Like a bike that could sever your limbs.  “Take my hand, oh Barbara Ann ….”

OK, a better bike name would be “Daisy,” which at least references an old bike song, but who would have fear running down their spine caused by a demon from Hell named “Daisy?”

Anyway, while it had clearly moved, it was still easy to find because it only moved a few feet.  Some weeks ago, the maintenance department at MMU relocated the bike rack by Warde Hall into a garden area near the building.  While this means that I’m not parking on pavement—which is a bit disconcerting—it was a positive move due to poo.  Pigeons perch in the upper regions of Warde Hall and freely let their feces fly on sidewalk, pedestrian and parked bicycle.  So the rack move to the garden meant my bike would no longer be sitting all day in the pestilence pigeon poo zone.  I approve.

But, when the rack was first moved, it meant that when I parked, the front wheel of my bike would always intrude, a little, on the sidewalk leading from the Pit parking lot to Warde Hall.  This made me feel bad.  Not really, really bad, mind you, just a minor “meh” bad since there was still plenty of sidewalk to use.  I was a bit concerned, having a black bike that stays parked until black night, that some unwary walker could one evening become entangled in my front basket.

Either the demon that inhabits my bike or the ground crew at MMU must have had the same thought, because on Wednesday morning, when I parked my bike, the front handlebars were trespassers in pedestrian space.  But on Wednesday evening, when I came out to unlock my bike, the front handle bars were a few inches away from the sidewalk.  The whole rack had been shifted a couple of feet north.

By MMU custodians?  Or merely pushed there by the demon in my bike?  If so, at least it’s a rather polite, thoughtful demon.  “Pardon me while I possess this bicycle and torment its owner, but in the meantime I shall push this rack so as not to intrude upon you, dear walkers.”  Stephen, would the demon in Christine have ever been so nice?

A nice demon.  What shall we call her?  Of course.  Daisy.

Friday, November 30, 2012

In Which CR Biker Plans RAGBRAI 2013

They run a contest over at the RAGBRAI web site each year, in which contestants get to list what they think will be overnight towns in the next RAGBRAI.  The prize is a gift card to buy RAGBRAI stuff.

I don’t suppose I stand a chance, but here goes.  I decided to plan a RAGBRAI route and enter my fantasy towns.  Since the 2011 route was mostly middle of the state, and 2012 was a bit more northern, I decided to emphasize the south.  For no particularly good reason, I also decided that in 2013, RAGBRAI would end in Keokuk, just because it’s there in the extreme corner of Iowa.

Come Keokukians, join the fray.  Bring RAGBRAI to the soul patch of Iowa.

Anyway, if I had really been contrary, I would have started in Carter Lake, but even I’m not that crazy.  So, here is my proposed route for RAGBRAI 2013:

  • Sunday, Day 1-Missouri Valley to Atlantic.
  • Monday, Day 2-Atlantic to Winterset.
  • Tuesday, Day3-Winterset to Knoxville.
  • Wednesday, Day 4-Knoxville to Ottumwa.
  • Thursday, Day 5-Ottumwa to Fairfield.
  • Friday, Day 6-Fairfield to Keosaqua.
  • Saturday, Day 7-Keosaqua to Keokuk.

I’ve been to most, but not all, of those towns.  It involves some rather small overnight towns—Winterset and Keosaqua, for instance, and Missouri Valley is a pretty small beginning space, but if the towns go all out, a small place can be very nice.  The route would not really got through any Iowa “cities” at all, with Ottumwa being the “big” town.  Still, that would give it an interesting, rural flavor.  And Audrey is from north of Fairfield, so maybe the route would pass within a stone's throw of the old farm.

Why not?

1/27/12 update: They did choose a south route, I wasn't so very far off.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In Which CR Biker Sees the Edge

I came close to regretting the morning commute, today.  The temperature was in the single digits, the first time this season that it has been that cold in Cedar Rapids.

It was cold.  There was a light breeze, which, when I faced the wrong direction, made it psycho cold.

But, I was prepared.  I had on the long underwear, two pairs of socks, a long-sleeved cotton shirt under a warm sweathshirt under my biking jacket.  I even had on a scarf, the final bit of bling that marks the edge of my winter gear.

And it was still cold.  My toes got a bit numb on the way in this morning.  The extremes of my body—my face and my toes—were not on board with the whole “let’s bike in insanely chilly weather” thing.

Still, the commute is only 30 minutes.  You can chill down a lot in that time when it’s that cold, but honestly, if you’re covered well you don’t really risk any true adversity.  When I got to campus, despite the bitching from my toes, by body overall was warm—I was even slightly sweaty.

And, yes, it’s another morning sky photo.  But why bike at all when it’s so cold?  Because I can.  Because I need the exercise.  Because it get to savor the morning sun that most car drivers barely notice as they barrel by.
Nov. 27 sunrise at intersection of Blair's Ferry Road and C Avenue at about 7:10 a.m. in the morning.  It was cold, but the sky was also cool.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

New Tyres And Some New Lights

Worn front tyre.  Brought bike into laundry room to change tyres.

Day before Thanksgiving, I went on a ride with my sister Cate.  She glanced at this tyre and noted it was worn looking.  Indeed.

The new tyres on the wheels, waiting for me to put the wheels back on the bike.  Hooray for easy release hubs!  they are leaning against the now-removed old back tyre.
Winter may feel like it’s here, for part of this week, although I understand there may be thunderstorms by the week’s end.

Yesterday afternoon, while my sweetie took a short pre-Mass nap, I spent about ½ hour putting new tires on my bike.  As you can see, both the front and back were well worn.  I didn’t get the cheapest new tires, but one step up, which were available with reflective white sidewalls.  The bike shop man also said the tread was better and would wear longer.

Anyway, I don’t enjoy changing tires and kind of dreaded this chore, and I was not sure I would finish in the half hour provided.  But, when I got to it, it wasn’t as bad as I expected—there were really no glitches, just a bit of grunting and pushing and messy jeans and hands to clean up afterwards.  It settled the issue of whether I needed a quick shower before Saturday night Mass.  I did.  And so often in life the chore we dread turns out not to be as bad as expected, although it's rare that such an easier than expected job involves tools, a least in my case.

Anyway, I have a minor regret about tires.   Rubber inflated tires were invented for bikes before they were used on cars (just as urban streets were built for bicycles and horses before autos arrived on the scene), and were first used in Britain.  Where, in the 19th century and today, they were spelled “tyres.”

Tyres—what an elegant little word.  It makes tires look tired.  Indeed, changing tires is a tiring process, but I still say that by the late 19th century we didn’t have any reason to mess up the spelling of newly coined words for new inventions.  Of course, the word “tire” or “tyre” probably long predates the pressurized rubber tires that are now used on bikes—but if the then newfangled pneumatic rubber tires were first spelled “tyre” by their inventor, that’s good enough for me.

So join the tyre revolution with me.  I don’t like the pretentious spelling of theater with an “re,” which is a British snobbish abomination that is way too popular on our side of the pond, and they can keep that extra “u” in color, thank you very much.  But tyre?

I don’t tire of that y.  It’s just funky and cool.

Tyre, tyre, tyre.  Dig it.  From now on, if it's for a bike, it's a tyre, OK?

Meanwhile, I further winter prepped Old Blackie with some new batteries in slightly fading lights.  Just in time for the Christmas season, I have 3 rear and 4 front lights, so I’m ready for dusky rides, like the one I had to campus tonight.

Where there were some new Christmas lights on the U plaza.  Tis the season when night bike rides will be more illuminated with the glow of colored lights, which is an aid to me in this, the darkest month of the biking year!
End of the ride around 5 p.m. Sunday--getting dark and Christmas lights shine on the U plaza at Mount Mercy University.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful for Two Wheels and a Trail

Sunset over Blair's Ferry Road on Nov. 21.  End of a satisfying biking day on the eve of Thanksgiving.

On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, I did a fair amount of biking.

I had a meeting with a student at MMU at 10 a.m., so I rode to campus.  It was promising to be a fine day—a day  not shrouded by fog, and though I like fog, that’s a pleasant change.

The student had to leave for work by 11 a.m., so I took off towards home.  On the way, I got a text from Audrey saying that she and Ben and the Sebers grandchildren (who had stayed overnight) were going to the Bowman Woods School playground.  What with one thing and another (three small children to prep), I intercepted them enroute.

They had brought the tot seat for my bike.  As the kids played, I attached it, and before lunch, Mr. T and I inspected the Boyson Trail, the side trail with the long K name and headed back to my house on the Lindale Trail.

My sister Cate texted me in the morning, asking if I wanted an afternoon ride.  After lunch and the Sebers kids all headed home with their mom, I took off for Cate’s, arriving there about 2:30.  We headed over to the Cedar River Trail south through downtown.  We toyed with the idea of taking in the Prairie Parks Fishery, but the shadows were getting long, the traffic downtown was unusually heavy, so we decided to stick to the trail and keep heading south.  We turned around at the park with the ball diamonds that’s by the power plan—Tate Cummins?  Don’t know if I’ve got it spelled correctly.

The light turned golden and pretty, and I thought of stopping to photograph the river, but we kept going.  By 42nd street on the return journey, we both switched on lights while waiting for the cross walk light.

I bade her so long as we head east into Cedar Rapids along North something, Northwood, Northlane, whatever that north street is.

Between the campus ride, trail ride and afternoon journey, I suppose I rode 35 miles or so.  I’m definitely not in RAGBRAI shape, as I had to pop some Advil for a sore back after I got home.

But, today is Thanksgiving.  As a biker, I’m thankful for this odd warm weather, for family to ride with, for excellent trails in Cedar Rapids that are getting better all the time.  And for my bike, which, as Cate notes, desperately needs new tires.

I’m against the whole concept of Black Friday, but I probably will be stopping at the bike shop—not for gift items, but just for some tires and chain lube.  I’m thankful for having worn out those tires—it was honestly done, and may I wear out the new set with more late fall and winter biking!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The World Emerges Slowly

Looking down MMU hill after I've locked my bike to a damp rack this morning.  Lights disappear in the mist.

A bicycle ride on a cool foggy morning:  The world is more acoustic than visual.  The lights of the street and cars are smears in yellows and whites, and shapes of trees, signs, houses emerge as if they were being extruded from some world-making machine.  Did I remember my towel?  Can I come up with the question for which the answer is 42?

Because the world is so visually muted, you almost expect sounds to be also muted, too, but it is not so.  There is a strange quiet to the morning commute, but it’s because most cars crawl along a bit, drivers straining to see beyond the grey barrier.  All except for that one jerk in the ugly black SUV who zooms across lanes and careens around the corner of Blairs Ferry and C Avenue.  I hope he emerges from the fog in the neighborhood of a police cruiser, and they stop his sorry butt.

A poet once said that fog comes in on little cat feet.  Carl Sandburg was wrong, of course.  Little cats are rambunctious and their feet go “thump, thump, thump.”  Fog comes on old cat feet, sneaking round like the old Tom who doesn’t want to arouse interest from those darn youngsters, and say away from my food bowl or you’ll find out my clawless front feet can still cuff you pretty hard.

I was a bit concerned about the commute this morning.  Of course, I ran with lights on and didn’t need sunglasses.  I have to cross several busy streets.  But, while the mist shrouded the world, it was a veil, not pea soup.  I could see well enough and the cars were going slow enough that it was actually one of the easiest rides I’ve had.

The misty air settled on me a bit, and I felt damp.  But I’ve had days where I had to stop to wipe my glasses.  This morning wasn’t like that.  The fog just added a bit of mystery to the ride, and the cool air felt pleasant, despite the damp.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Pleasure of Partly Unplanned Routes

New sign at Lindale Trail before the ride I didn't take on Sunday.  No more from this trail!

On Sunday, on the way home from the gym, I decided to ride along the Lindale Trail and photograph some new signs that mark the distances.  I texted Audrey, and it turned out she was at the C Avenue Park with Katy and her kids.  So I make a quick change and headed up to the park.

I picked up the child seat on my way to the park, and gave Tristan a ride to our house.  We then headed out to lunch.

I didn’t do the trail on Sunday, but that’s OK, it will still be there when I get there.  The unexpected route feature a nice interlude with grandkids, and that’s a welcome destination.

This morning, I headed out a little after 7—and had a class at 9:30.  It was a bit damp, since it had sprinkled overnight, but I found the siren call of the trail to be too loud, so, since I had time, I rode the Cedar River Trail.

As usual, the November morning sky put on a show.  The clouds were just starting to break as the sun was low in the southeast.  The sun shining through some gaps created a great nice spotlight effect.

Well, the route I didn’t expect turned out to be very pleasant.  For some reason, on this cool damp Monday before Thanksgiving, there was absolutely no other traffic on the trail.  Which is OK with me!
The spotlight sky this morning, seen on the Cedar River Trail in Hiawatha.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I’ll Have a Blue Christmas

The house of blue Christmas, seen Nov. 16, 2012.

Friday we picked up Ben in Ames, and then drove back to MMU so I could ride my bike home.  It was dark, but a fair, nice evening.

More Christmas lights are slowly appearing on the route, and I snapped this image of a house behind Kenwood School all decked out in blue.  I like the color, and the waxing moon that you can also see.

Christmas may be coming, but at least the biking weather it still good!