Saturday, December 28, 2013

In Which a Braking Spill Doesn’t Break Me

Winter biking can be a bit dicey. On Facebook, my friend Jenifer up in the Twin Cities posted a photo of a Huffy she has purchased as a “winter beater,” and she notes she was out riding with a friend today.

This morning was the first time I had time during my Christmas hiatus, and when the weather would allow, for me to take a winter ride. I got Francis out. Since he’s been in the garage for a couple of weeks, I first checked tire pressure and had to inflate both tires a bit. And I used some chain lube my wife got me as a stocking stuffer.

About 20 minutes had thus elapsed, and I had only a limited time for a ride, since my wife’s family had a lunch planned today.
Bridge over Indian Creek near south end of Boyson Trail.

Off I went, intending to ride the Lindale-Boyson-Krumboltz trail complex that is near my home. Except for one minor spill, it was a glorious day for a ride, as you can see from the video. Sorry for the audio quality, by the way—my microphone is terrible and I was almost whispering anyway, since tired grandchildren are sleeping in a bedroom adjacent to my home office.

Anyway, back to my ride. The western half of the Lindale Trail has been paved, and the black asphalt was largely clear of snow. There was an icy patch right where the trail crosses Lindale in Marion, but I was careful, and made it to the limestone trail.

Although it has been “cleared,” the lighter limestone doesn’t promote melting like asphalt does, and there was plenty of snow and ice on this surface. I slowed down, intending to be careful and avoid spills—an effort that largely, but not completely, successful.
Looking north, back at the rail bridge, shortly after I started riding on the Boyson Trail. As you can see, plenty of snow on the trail, but I do appreciate that Marion has made the effort to clear the trail.

I was a bit concerned about the hill by the old rail bridge where the Lindale Trail terminates in a T with the Boyson trail. But I took it slowly and managed the descent with no trouble, then turned south to head down the Boyson trail.

I snapped a few photos after reaching the Boyson trail. It was a crystal clear morning, the air already feeling a bit warm—the temperature was in the low 30s, but that’s much warmer than we’ve had for some time. I planned a morning ride because I figured it would be pleasant, but still cold enough that the limestone trails would not be mush, as they may have been this afternoon when the temperature reached the 40s.

Anyway, I rode slowly, pausing now and then to snap a photo. It was a picture perfect winter day. It would have been pretty even if it had been cold, but it was doubly pleasant for being unusually warm.

When I turned down the Krumboltz trail, I decided to record a video of part of the trip down to the bridge that is near the end of the trail. As you can see, that’s the bulk of the video I posted on YouTube.

Shortly after pausing on the bridge, I started to cycle through the woody, curvy end of the trail. I saw some interesting shadows on the trail, and thought it was a good time to pause once again to snap a photo.

So I gently applied my brakes.

And instantly was on the ground. A slip on ice when biking is an impressively fast event. One second you’re riding, the next you’ve landed. In this case, I landed on my left knee, and felt an “ouch.”

A spill! But not much harm done.
But, the news is good. The knee was only slightly banged. As I type this, some hours later, it seems fully recovered. Luckily, I was going quite slowly when I spilled, and the landing on the limestone surface was not all that hard. Several years ago, I took a much nastier spill on F Avenue in Cedar Rapids that left my right knee painfully sore for months.

Today’s spill was much less consequential. My front basket popped off, but was apparently unbent and unharmed. There was no damage to my bike, and only a very little to me.

So, I picked myself up and rode carefully on. I didn’t complete the whole trail circuit—I turned around at the bridge near the south end of the Boyson Trail and didn’t go as far as the north end, either.

But I rode most of the trails. It was a bit of a risk, as I proved with the spill, but I think it was also worth it. A winter ride is much more serene than a summer ride. There is a sense of wonder in the quiet winter countryside, where you hear only a few birds and the sounds of your bike beyond the distant sound of car traffic on unseen streets.

True, I prefer the summer rides. The warmer weather and the green and the lack of ice on the road more than make up for the slightly lower serenity level during summer. But it’s still very nice to be out, even if it’s only once and only for an hour, on a winter’s bike ride.

We’re going to cool down and get more snow. May we have a January thaw early in the month. I would like to ride again!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

In Which I Wonder About Oklahoma Bike-Eating Trees

See this chilling video from an Oklahoma TV station: - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Yes, it appears trees in Oklahoma snack on Schwinns.

Although we’ve passed the longest night of the year, much of winter is before us. And it seems that this winter, to paraphrase a popular saying involving another S word, snow just got real. We were supposed to have a flurry on Christmas, and it turned into an inch or more. The snowpack is a foot or so deep, and counting. The streets are nowhere near bike worthy.

So far, this Christmas break has been a total bust, from a biking point of view. Based on the weather forecast for the next week, which includes an arctic air mass and several bouts of snow, I’m not sure how much bike commuting J-Term will have this year, at least to start.

Well, at least the sleeping trees in Iowa aren’t devouring many Schwinns. I guess you’d have to leave your bike leaned up against an arboreal risk zone for quite some time before the trunk began to seriously envelop the machine.

Me, I’m glad Santa brought me some chain lube. I also have two lights to add to Francis before he’s ready for his next commuting trip. And I promise, Francis, if Mother Nature leaves you stranded for a time, I won’t lean you against a hungry Oklahoma tree. Whatever other fate awaits you in 2014, you won’t be Cheetos to some Ent.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

In Which I Consider A Wheel Working For Me

Is this the future?

I'm not so sure. At $700, the wheel alone costs around $100 more than Francis, my whole commuting bicycle, did. And part of the point of biking is to do it myself. On the other hand, if a wheel with a motor in it keeps people wheeling when they would otherwise be driving, I suppose there is some good here.

Me? I'll keep depending on my aging legs. I need the exercise.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

In Which the White and Brown Alter the Route

37th Street NE looking west from Kenwood School area Tuesday morning. I usually hit 19 mph on this street. I hit about 6 mph Tuesday morning and felt I was going too fast.
The white is snow, the brown is the sandy soft mix of snow and grit that can be treacherous to ride through.

Yes indeed, blog fans, with temperatures yesterday warming a bit, and more melting set for today, your bike correspondent is again on two wheels, for now, anyway. We’ll deal with later, later.

We had snow over the weekend, and it’s been cold enough that quite a bit is left on streets, but I thought that by Tuesday morning the biking route would be OK. I was sort of right. I didn’t die or break anything, but I did have to take some care on streets that were either slick or made narrow by snow and ice. The morning commute, usually 30 minutes, was closer to 50.

The afternoon commute Tuesday was a little better than the morning commute, and by Wednesday morning, the commute was not a huge deal although caution was still needed. And I have altered my route:

  • I don’t use 25th street. That little side street, which leads from Eastern Avenue NE almost to the end of the drive up the hill at MMU, was still snowbound Tuesday and this morning.
  • I have avoided some of my usual streets behind Kenwood School. The block that contains the school, as usual, has been cleared of snow, but many of the streets around it are treacherous. I am trying to use more “main” routes and avoid the quiet back streets that are still packed.
Usually, I use 25th Street to get from Eastern Avenue NE to Prairie Drive. On Tuesday morning, I think you can see why I chose not to.

Today, I am not sure what the evening commute will bring. It’s supposed to be sunny and warmer today, but windy. The sun should help clear the streets, but may also melt some snow that might refreeze as it runs across cold pavement. We shall see. Or I hope we shall see. Anyway, we shall run in the dark tonight at a slower than usual in hopes that we shall see. And I also hope we shall not fall!
Getting ready to leave MMU Tuesday. It's pretty--the clouds have gone away--but windy and cold, too. A bit of sun Tuesday afternoon did do some good.

The city has just installed 4-way stop signs at 27th Street and Prairie Drive next to the MMU campus. Well, good. This is Wednesday morning. I usually only take 27th Street at night, but came in that way this morning since I"m not using 25th Street yet.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

In Which An Old Bike Has Its Say

Yeah, I've owned and sometimes disposed of old bicycles. My all-time favorite bike that I wish I still had brand new would be a 1974 Continental.

Found this film on Vimeo:

THE BICYCLE from Adam Neustadter on Vimeo.

Where are you now, junk bikes?

Friday, December 13, 2013

In Which I Take A Rack Tour of MMU

So, I’m still off the bike. It was warm enough today to ride, and the sidewalks and streets in my neighborhood are clear enough, but the quiet residential streets along my route in the Kenwood area have not been cleared of snow, thus they still have that special Cedar Rapids white winter icing which keeps me off two wheels.

I checked online. The city’s web site says that busy routes are priority one for snow removal, and residential streets are priority two. Based on my experience as a bike commuter, priority two is pretty much priority zero in much of the city. Not that I blame the city for making busy streets a priority, it’s just frustrating that so many residential streets never get plowed.

Anyway, enough of that whining. I've written about that issue before. On to a new topic: I was walking across campus today, going back to my office, and I was thinking about bike racks. Here is where I saw them:
New bike rack by Regina Hall, I use it when I'm at bell practice in the evening.

The first is across the drive from the library, next to Regina Hall. It’s a new one, installed just this school year. I am not sure why, with a giant overhang on the library, the rack is located in a grassy area out in the open, but it’s an accessible and usable rack. However, I doubt bikes will do the grass much good, and bikes may get in the way of mowing—I hope Francis never gets sprinkled with grass clippings some fine warm spring day.
Nursing building rack--it's up there, across the tundra. Not a very busy one, and one I've only used a few times. It's on a brick patio that is not cleared in winter--but since it doesn't lead to a door, I can see why they do not clear it.

The next rack is up on the U Center plaza, by the nursing building. As you can see, it doesn't get a lot of use this time of year. It’s an old-school rack, not that easy to use, but it’s there.
No bike rack at new U Center, but it's close to both Regina Hall and Nursing Building racks.
Third is the U Center itself, a big central gathering space that has no bike parking at all. I've parked there before by chaining to the railing, although if I were to spend much time there, I would use the Donnelly rack.
Lundy porch. There is a bike rack here, and not one of the bikes is attached to it.

Next up is the porch area of Lundy Commons, which seems to have the maximum number of bikes found on campus. Note that although there is a rack, none of the bikes use it--maybe because the rack isn't attached to anything? I’m sure it’s the popular spot due to the roof. There’s a lesson there—when possible, it’s nice to locate bike racks under something that protects the bikes from rain or snow.
You've seen this one before. No Francis right now. Even if I rode, not sure I would leave my bike in snow this deep.
Finally, good old Warde Hall, where my usual chosen rack is located. It may be a while before Francis gets locked here, though. Even if we get some warmer, sunny days that take the icing off the streets, it will take a bit longer for the snow here to recede, which means I’ll probably be parking Francis inside when I start to ride again.

MMU has done, in my opinion, a decent enough job providing bike parking. The placement and design of those racks isn't always where a biker would put them, but they are available.

Ideal bike rack placement isn't the U’s top priority, and rightly so, I suppose. And they did add a new rack this year, which is a sign of a desire to be bike friendly.

Whatever you can say about MMU's bike rack placement, it’s not that which prevents me from riding Francis right now. That has more to do with Mother Nature and residential streets that the city never plows.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

In Which The Snow Brings A Safety Pause

I was playing bells at a Mount Mercy evening concert last week, and had ridden Francis to campus. One of the other people there noted my bike, and, as it turned out, is also a bicycle commuter.

We chatted, and this other commuter commented that he has learned to ride on ice and snow, and thus rides during the winter. I, on the other hand, will tackle cold, but not ice or snow. So my biking time is on hiatus until the Cedar Rapids streets and a few key sidewalks (along C Avenue and Blair’s Ferry) are clear.

It might be a while. We didn’t have much snow Sunday—maybe 2 to 3 inches—but it’s been very cold since, and we’re to get another dusting tonight. In a “normal” weather pattern, snow is often followed by cold nights, but within a few days there will be highs in the 20s. That’s below the freezing point of water, but if sun shines on shoveled pavement and the air temperature is above the mid 20s, that’s enough for much of the residual white stuff and ice to start to melt from the streets and be scooped away by the dry winter air.

It has not happened this time, however. Highs have not made it out of the low teens, the snow that’s around remains persistent, and more is on the way.

I don’t ride on the white stuff. It’s a personal rule I learned the hard way.

So, some thoughts on safety as I await a thaw. I noted today that, a new video is being promoted on social media.

I think the video is fine, although I doubt dangerous drivers will take the time to watch it. It’s actually fairly balanced, noting that bikers are responsible for road safety along with car and truck drivers. But it’s a reality of physics that a one-ton tiny car will trump even a 250-poind (290 or so with bike and bags factored in) biker guy, who is also not protected by a plastic, aluminum and steel frame.

I have more lights to add to Francis before my riding resumes. While I’m afraid fall semester rides are shot, I hope to hop back on the bike early in 2014.

Maybe, since we are having dead of January weather now, we’ll have our warmer December weather then. And may both bikers and drivers remain safe when the snow relents and bicycling can begin again!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

In Which The Wind Bites At My Cheeks

Am I smiling? At what? That I'm not in the wind anymore?

OK, your local neighborhood bike commuter was up to full winter regalia, today.

I had on 3 pairs of socks, long underwear, blue jeans, three shirts (an undershirt, a long-sleeved light shirt and a heavy sweatshirt). I wore my wind-cutting bike jacket, had my hood up and had warm mittens on my hands.

I rode my bike to Mount Mercy this afternoon to retrieve some video files for the student newspaper there. The university has just named a new president who starts next year, and student editors are working on news coverage of the announcement.

I was OK riding to campus, although, even with three pairs of socks, my toes got a bit cold. After working a while, my wife picked me up so we could go to church and then go visit her mother during a holiday open house at a nursing home.

Then, my wife took me back to MMU, where I rode my bike home in the dark.

The air was bitterly cold. The temperature was in single digits. The wind chill was a reality I don’t want to think about. Since I usually hit around 18 mph during stretches of the ride home, that means I was riding in an 18 mph wind when the air was still. And I don’t think it was still. I was headed north, and it felt like Canada was trying to fly south. Who could blame it?

Well, my niece, who I saw at the nursing home, commented that my face would freeze on the way home when she heard her slightly insane uncle was planning to ride a bike. She was short of right. The winter regalia protected most of me, but not my nose or cheeks. So I had a rather weathered, windblown look by the time I got home, don’t you think? Note how my own breath has formed a frost on my rather fetching scarf.

I snapped the photo on this blog post right after I put my bike away. My helmet was off—but yes, I do wear my bike helmet over my hood for winter rides.

After all, I don’t want to be crazy!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

In Which Francis Looks A Bit Forlorn in the Freeze

My bike in the early evening today. It was very cold.

There he is, all alone in the Warde Hall bike rack. It was damp earlier, this week, but warm—and the damp caused me to park Francis inside, but didn’t dissuade me from riding.

Today, it was finally dry. But also cold. Not cool—this was Arctic air sweeping in on stiff north and west winds—the kind of cold that stings, that threatens to crystallize your tears, that causes college students to scurry across the central plaza like cockroaches after a light is switched on.

It’s above zero, but well below 20. The Gazette’s web site, at 10:30 Thursday night, lists the actual air temperature as 13. The biting wind makes it feel much colder. And it wasn’t much warmer today.

Yet, I rode. Not that big a surprise, since I wear winter appropriate layers that include warm long underwear. And, while I would much prefer a pleasant spring ride with the temperature oh, say, 40 or 50 degrees warmer—I could enjoy the ride.

Really. I mean it. I’m not as forlorn as poor Francis.

Monday, December 2, 2013

In Which I Take the Road Most Traveled

Besides the one ride with Ben, I ended up with time for only two other bikes ride over the long Thanksgiving weekend.

That was Saturday and Sunday mornings, when I rode Francis to the gym for my morning workouts. Sunday was just a quick jaunt to and from the gym, but I had other plans for Saturday. On Saturday, at the gym, I used an elliptical machine and then did weight machines, and then hopped back onto my bike (OK, “hopped” is a bit of hyperbole for an aging, big guy well beyond his hop years, but I mean that I figuratively hopped, as in mounted quickly or at least as quickly as my old frame allows—no actual “hopping” was involved).

My plan, since the morning was sunny, fine and fairly warm—in the low 30's with only light wind—was to do the Lindale-Boyson trail complex. I usually ride a bike at the gym after I do weights, but I figured: Why ride a bike in a stuffy indoor gym when the trail awaits?

Off I went. For maybe ½ a mile or less, when I encountered a “trail closed” barrier. Well, harrumph. Yet, there is some good news—it appears that the trail is closed because Marion is blacktopping part of the trail, too. I don’t know how much of the Lindale Trail they are planning to pave—the hillside where it joins the Boyson Trail would be nice to blacktop because the limestone surface there frequently washes out in rains—but I guess I can accept a closed trail for a few days due to a good reason like this.

So, I turned around and headed for home. Moments later, grandchildren showed up. That, I guess, is some positive biking karma.
The sign at the trail's end. Note the newer, blacker asphalt as the trail continues from Cedar Rapids into Marion. So I saw trail's end on Saturday after I saw "The World's End" on Friday. It's a fun movie, by the way.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In Which We Wonder At Chilled Mile Markers

Ben near the turnaround point of our chilly afternoon ride. He has borrowed his brother's bike, my sweatshirt and one of my old helmetts.

Almost 13 miles from ... where? These distance counters have been added to the trail fairly recently, I thin.k.

I drove to work Monday and Tuesday, due to snow. Today, I didn’t have to go to work, but by afternoon the outside sunshine was too tempting, and my son Ben and I decided to go for a bike ride.

Originally, I planned to cruise the network of trailing in our neighborhood—to head down Lindale Trail to Boyson Road Trail. But, then I recalled that we had left Ben’s bike at Katy’s house. That meant we would have to borrow Jon’s bike—not a big deal since it’s probably due for a ride—but I wasn’t sure what condition the trail would be in or how much snow would be on it.

So, we decided to head west to the Cedar River Trail instead.

It was a sunny, pleasant, but cool afternoon. We had a few dicey, icy spots to get through on residential streets that clearly had not been cleared after the snow. It made we wonder about the trail—but the trail had been cleared and was easier to cycle on than some of the streets we used to get there.

There was a bit of a wind, and the temperature was in the 20s. The more we rode, the more we cooled off. By the time we got to Cedar Lake, it wasn’t hard to come to a mutual agreement to turn around.

Along the way, we noticed frequent distance markers along the Cedar River Trail. We weren’t sure where they were numbered from, but since the numbers decreased as we headed south, I assume it’s from the south end of the trail where it meets the Hoover Trail.

We saw one other biker on the trail this afternoon. It was chilly, but on these sunny afternoons it’s not a bad place to be. So come on, Cedar Rapids! If they’re going to clear snow from this trail, the least we can do is put on our two pairs of socks, squeeze our helmets over our hoods and take to the trail.

And hope they clear the streets that lead us there.

Monday, November 25, 2013

In Which I Don’t Ride Due To White

An unnamed bike, probably owned by MMU, on the Lundy porch. I think the U stores bikes here for student use. This one makes me think of Brigid.

An arch, a flag and snow. No bikes in sight.

Warde Hall bike rack looking forlorn and barren. No Francis.

Around 8:30 a.m. Monday. I think it will snow.Click on image to see.

OK, blog pals, just in case you thought I was totally zany: No. I did not ride my bike on this snowy Monday morning. More that half an inch had fallen overnight, and there was plenty yet to come this morning.

So, I drove. Today is day one in which winter prevents this bike commuter from bicycling.

I suspect there will be some biking this week, although my biking days may be of a limited number. I only have two days to commute to MMU before the Thanksgiving Break. At least there isn’t a lot more snow in the forecast.

Friday, November 22, 2013

In Which I’m Crazy to Ride, But Not That Crazy

The end of the ride this morning. No spills, but a few chills.
The sidewalk this morning, with Francis. I don't think I was too crazy for riding, just a little crazy.
My ride Monday morning, crossing Dry Creek on C Avenue. I planned to write about the bare time, when you can see through the trees, but didn't get that post done. Below is almost the same view from this morning. Winter.

I had planned to drive today. I drove yesterday, due to a cold rain, and snow fell overnight. It was icy this morning on my front steps, and my personal rule is to avoid riding Francis on ice.

But, at a bit after 7 when I was getting ready to leave home, I looked out. The sun was trying to shine and I could see the sidewalk in front of my house, which looked, well, not that bad. So I decided to try it.

It was far less dramatic than it might have been. I ran into more icy sidewalks than I wanted to, but on a sidewalk I can just go really slow. The streets, which were the bulk of my ride, had far less ice or snow on them, probably because they were cleared by traffic while the snow was falling.

So the ride was a tad cool. Otherwise, it was kind of pretty. All the rides this week have been in the “bare times.” The trees have finally given it up and winter is here. Four months before we see happy green again.

But not four months of no biking, at least not until the snow sticks more than it did this morning.

By the way, this video is not new, but my sister, and biking buddy, Cate posted it on Facebook. She assumes I don’t ride my bike this way. Is she sure? (Yes, she is.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

In Which I Watch Horses and Cars and People and Bikes

My former student Bob Jameson posted a link to this video on Facebook. It’s a movie shot as a street car moves down Market Street in San Francisco in 1906 before the city is devastated by an earthquake.

I found it mesmerizing. Can you imagine a street in America today with such an eclectic crush of pedestrians, street cars, horses, carts, cars and bicycles? Yep, watch for it, an intrepid rider on a bike shows up in mid-clip. Watch as he has to zig and zag around cars, horses and walkers.

I note, as Bob did on Facebook, that drivers don’t seem more polite in 1906—rude drivers still cut you off even then. I guess, based on the pedestrian speed, that the advantage is that it’s all happening in slow motion.

Some other points I note:
  • Some of the zigging and zagging must be caused by all those horses. They don’t wear diapers.
  • It’s amazing how well people are dressed for everyday life—men in suits and hats, women in full dresses.
  • There are some crazy kids who play street car dodge or who hang on cars. Young people of 1906: What will the world come to?
  • Note that although horses are far more common, cars are common, too. And the steering wheel apparently can be anywhere in 1906. I wonder when the left side became “the” side for steering wheels? (You people in the UK who are raising your hands, pipe down. I’m talking about good old American streets, not some freaky streets on small islands, so there.)
  • It’s also interesting how busy and vibrant an American city downtown circa 1906 is. Of course, this is a very large city, but still. In Cedar Rapids today, you would be much safer biking downtown than in many other places because the traffic is typically so light. And no horses.
Well, CR biker is glad to be living in 2013 without horse manure, communicable diseases and other attributes of life in 1906. But I would like to go back in time just to see this scene in person. And yes, maybe to ride a bike through it, although that looks like it would be pretty exciting …

Saturday, November 16, 2013

In Which There’s A Bike I Don’t Want, But Is Fun To Watch

A Swiss architectural company has created this odd bicycle, a very large, but very impractical bike, about as tall as a one-story house, and, according to a description I read, with seven different “tiers” or layers that one could sit on.

Hmm. Some odd bikes I want. Not this one, really. It would be a bit hard to ride to MMU, and I bet it would not do well on the hill climb.

And it’s a bit weird to have this Swiss German voice singing about a bike that exists in Hanoi, Vietnam. But also fun, I think.

In Which The Moon Is Not Full, But Close

I did not take this photo, it's an October 2013 full moon image I downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. It was shot and posted by "LordToran."

We’re two days away from the full moon, kiddies, so the ride home tonight was not as light as it could have been, but it was also not very dark.

I had stayed on campus at Mount Mercy University to attend an art reception and then to see the play “Oedipus Tyrannous.” The play began at 7:30 and lasted for two hours, and I left campus around 9:45 p.m.

It was dark, but these days most of my afternoon commutes are in the dark. After all, it’s getting dark around 5 p.m. since the time change. I have lights on my bike, and I know the roads fairly well, so riding in the dark is not a big deal.

And the nearly full moon helps.

Still, biking around 10 p.m. is very different from biking around 5 p.m. The day has closed down, and the back streets I pass through area bit eerie. With the moon shining bright, you almost expect to hear a ghostly howl or see a werewolf padding down a dark alley.

I didn't spot any werewolves. I can pedal pretty fast, but don’t want to test the idea that the bike is either faster than the werewolf, or it’s not.

Tonight, it was just nice to get home. I enjoyed the art interlude, but I am enjoying the home interlude, too.

Monday, November 11, 2013

In Which You Know That I Rode Despite Snow

I think the two lovers outside Basile Hall are just trying to stay warm. Snowy statue around 3 p.m. today at Mount Mercy University campus. Note snow reflected in doors and windows.

Snow fell and the temperature plummeted this afternoon. It was a cloudy, cool fall this morning, and a brisk, white winter this afternoon.

And I rode. In the morning, I had no reason not to. I also knew that, although there was snow in the forecast, it was also scheduled to end my later afternoon, and since I wouldn't be taking off for home until after 7 p.m., I figured that the pavement would be dry by them.
One set of footprints in the snow...not mine. MMU campus, 3 p.m.

I figured correctly. I hadn't factored in the wind chill, however. The ride home was indeed quite cool, but I did have two pairs of socks on, and made it OK.

It’s supposed to be in the teens Tuesday morning. But it’s also supposed to be sunny. Will I ride? What do you think?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In Which I Wonder If I Should See My Helmet

The Invisible Bicycle Helmet | Fredrik Gertten from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

Two Swedish women have invented an “invisible” bike helmet. Actually, it’s quite visible, it’s like a short, thick scarf. When an accident takes place, an airbag head covering pops out.

Is it a good idea? I’m not sure.

For one thing, a traditional helmet should be replaced when it is in an accident, but if it is “deployed” once, it’s not destroyed. The scarf airbag is a one-time use only.

The device also costs $600 and is not yet available in the U.S.

For now, I’ll keep wearing my old helmet. But I can see that the white hoodie balloon does have some advantages. I can only bike in temperatures where a thin hood, which I can wear under my helmet, keeps me warm enough—down to about 20 if it’s windy, down to about zero if the air is still. With the invisible helmet, I could wear a more regular winter hat and potentially overcome any temperature limit. Hooray?

And I would be happy with head protection that does not crush my hair. Not $600 happy, but happy.

My advice for now is to tough it out and wear the mushroom on your head. But keep tinkering and perfecting, Swedish headgear ladies.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

In Which The Duck Park Calls For A Bike Ride

The kind of day it was. Ducks, above, are not at the duck park, but on the stream that feeds into Cedar Lake. A maple, below, is decked out in bright colors at Noelridge Park.

I got the call Friday that my bike was fixed, and went to spring Francis from the shop this morning. I got home, with Francis in the back of a van because I still had not fixed the back tire which was flat. I was saving a few pennies because replacing both sets of derailleur controls, along with brake pads and pedals, was costly enough.

One of my daughters had arrived at my house in the meantime, with her two sons. The older son, a 2-year-old bundle of energy who lately has fallen in love with biking, announced both that he wanted to go to the “duck park” and that he wanted me to take him there on my bike.

Well, the bike was not ready, but he was willing to tag along with me and sit and watch me on the front porch while I swapped out the worn tire and tube. In 15 minutes, Francis was again assembled, and my grandson was ready for his duck park ride.

We didn't really know what the “duck park” was. We assumed it was Noelridge Park, because it has a pond and he has seen ducks there. So off we went, he sitting in front of me in the nice toddler seat I have on my bike. It was cool, but he had mittens, a sweater and a warm jacket on, and I was wearing several layers, so I think we were both OK.

He obviously enjoyed the ride, and chatted with me as we headed over to Noeldridge. When we got there, my wife and daughter and other grandson has just arrived via van. The older grandson who was on my bike informed me that this was not the duck park, but he also didn't seem to mind, and happily played for a while.

The ladies, who had not just ridden a bike to the park, found the breeze a bit too stiff. They suggested that they would like to go shopping. The older grandson faced a decision—go shopping with mom or ride back home with grandpa. Since the ladies were headed to a manly store that hands out free popcorn, shopping won out.

So I was on my own with a little time to kill. Rather than cycle home right away, I decided to head out on the Cedar River Trail. Since I didn't know if road construction in Hiawatha still blocked the trail, I decided to go south. I went as far as Cedar Lake, before deciding that it was time to head home. The shopping trip wouldn't last that long, and I didn't want to lose any play time.

Well, the day was glorious. According to media reports, we've passed the peak of fall colors in our area, but trust me, there are plenty of trees and bushes with bright colors. Today was the perfect day to see them—despite the brisk wind, it was a day bathed in perfect sunshine.

So thank you, grandson, for requesting a bike ride. It turned out to be the perfect day for it. Francis is back, and the new controls and brake pads are officially just fine, thank you. It sounds like tomorrow will be a similar day, so get out your bike and enjoyed a gorgeous fall ride, if you can.

Friday, November 1, 2013

In Which I Ride Twice As Fast Uphill

I parked Jon's bike inside by my office this morning. There was a slight chance of rain this afternoon, and it did sprinkle, so I'm glad I did. The bike ride to work and to home were both dry.
I got a call from the bike shop this afternoon. Francis is fixed, and I’ll pick my bike back up on Saturday.

In the meantime, I rode another bike. There was a chance of light afternoon rain today, but it was dry in the morning, and I wanted to ride. Jon left his bike with us while he is stationed in Paraguay in the Peace Corps, and I think it’s a good idea to ride his bike out about once a month or so. Sitting for two years could hurt it more than using it a bit—and since Francis was in the shop and it was dry this morning, I decided to ride New Blue, Jon’s swanky road bike.

Well, what a cloud of a bike. It felt like lifting a little baby after being around a toddler for a while. Parents will understand what I mean—your firstborn is a little bitty cute thing until your second child is born, and then the older kid is suddenly Godzilla compared to the newbie.

Such is Jon’s bike. It’s the baby, not Godzilla. But it is also one fast baby. I’m not used to it and didn't want to push it—I’m supposed to use it, not break it—so I didn't try to peddle very fast. But it’s a fast bike. I noticed heading up the hill to Mount Mercy this morning that I was traveling about 9 mph. On Francis, traveling up the same hill, I pedal about 5 mph.

In the afternoon, I took the slightly longer trial route home, and coasted down a slight incline near Garfield School. I glanced down at the speedometer on Jon’s bike and realized I was cruising at about 24 mph.

Occasionally, only rarely, I hit 20 mph on my commute on Francis. No way would I go well over 20 without peddling and without realizing it. (On a long country downhill during RAGBRAI, I often travel much faster on Francis, but that's a different kind of biking. I shudder to think how fast Jon's bike would have gone on some of those RAGBRAI hills this year.)

Anyway, Jon, your bike, New Blue, was feeling frisky today. Me, I felt a little weird while riding it, like an elephant on a tricycle because I was so hunched over. It’s the way Jon’s bike is built with its swept down, low handlebars. One does not sit upright, but rather leans way forward. And you have to lean even more to brake. Oddly enough, my back, which pains me most days, felt better than usual today. Maybe I need to do more hunched over biking.

There was only one bad incident while using Jon's bike today. In the morning, I was running with lights, but somehow, I managed to smack my hand into the headlight as I was biking on Eastern near the end of my commute, and the whole front light was snapped off the bike and clattered to the street—just as a car was passing by. Well, I must have been biking under my lucky Hungarian star (I would say luck of the Irish, but given their history I think that’s a ridiculous thing to say). The light clattered to the zone between the wheels of the auto, and the car passed over it without a hit. I was able to retrieve the headlight and put it back on, with no discernible damage done. Whew.

I took it a bit easy (if one can go 25 mph and call it easy). I was attentive to the street. The ride on New Blue is much rougher than Francis—Francis actually has front shock absorbers, and a springier seat. Plus, it’s the difference between 85 psi in the tires and 105. I didn't want to hit any bumps, both to preserve my butt, but also to ensure that the narrow road tires wouldn't get caught or damaged.

Somehow, it felt like a bit of magic that the whole bike didn't just disintegrate under my weight. But the ride was also a lot of fun. Like riding on a cloud.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

In Which I Feel Sorry But Then Recall Europe

Scary looking video from storm, one lucky Dutch biker.

It’s been a lousy biking week, blog pals. On Sunday night, on the way home from playing with the MMU Bell Choir as part of the celebration of Mass, my back tire blew.

That was my bad, as I knew the tire was getting thin and needed replacing. But the front derailleur control also cracked, so I could not shift in front. My brake shoes are also shot.

So, I took Francis in to Northtowne Fitness for repairs. Because the bike needs new pedals too, as well as two new derailleur controls, it will be a pricey fix.

And so I have been driving this week. Horrors.

Then again, we’ve had some rainy days, so I really have only missed two days of biking, at most.

And we need the rain. Also, I can’t feel too bad when Europe has been battered by much worse, deadly weather. My wife has spoken with my daughter in England, by the way, and since the weather was not raised as a topic, we’re assuming all is well, although I wonder if my son-in-law had to resort to a bus commute.

Anyway, check out the video in this New York Times story. Among other things, bike traffic was interrupted in The Netherlands.

Well, I hope Francis is back in shape soon. And I hope the weather in Europe is back to normal and those Dutch are back to biking, too.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

In Which A Rodent Runs Amok

Frosty MMU campus Oct. 25. Lots of trees. And squirrels are mammals who are active all winter too. As I'm taking this frosty photo, one could be nibbling on my bicycle ...

Chilling news form Sioux City, blog friends, chilling news indeed.

It seems that squirrels have joined the ranks of the anti-biking crowd. See this story from the Sioux City Journal, which I saw because RAGBRAI posted it on Facebook. (How is that for social media sounding the alarm?)

Photo from Iowa Lakes Community College via Journal.
I’m lucky nothing like this has happened to Francis. At Mount Mercy University and elsewhere, I always lock my bike up—not in the serious, everything snapped down way one would have to in a major urban area—someone could make off with my front basket or my front wheel sometimes, for instance—but nobody would be able to hop on Francis and pedal away. I've always figured the greatest risk to Francis comes from errant bipeds who long ago gave up the tree climbing way of life. Little did I suspect that demons still lurk in the leaves.

I've done nothing to protect my bike from squirrels. In my experience as a gardener, there is almost nothing a human can do short of actual weaponry that would discourage a squirrel. I guess if one started to lunch on Francis, I would just park my bike inside. There used to be an art professor at MMU, Bob Naujoks, who routinely wheeled his bike onto the elevator in Warde Hall and parked it by his 4th floor office. I do sometimes lock Francis to a small wooden table right outside my first floor office door, whenever it’s likely that the bike would otherwise get rained on or snowed on, so there is what I hope would be a squirrel-safe haven should the need ever arise. Then again, squirrels chew through wood. If they became determined, the inside of a building may not be 100 percent secure.


Let’s hope the need never arises, even though squirrels at MMU are known to be a bit aggressive and a bit too “friendly.” That’s probably a tree rodent condition on virtually every North American college campus—too much human-produced spare food and too many young, friendly humans. I just never suspected bikes would fit into the “spare food” category.

Be warned, tree rats. I would not be friendly at all if I found you gnawing through a tire. I would shriek and holler like a girl (a very deep-voiced, loud girl), and maybe even swing my briefcase at you.

I carry lots of stuff in my briefcase, including bike tools, a spare inner tube, a flashlight, lots of heavy paper files … it’s not a trivial weapon. Then again, an arboreal beast that chews through rubber would probably just think it’s not a trivial snack, either.

Another MMU frost photo from Oct. 25. Here, tree rats, it's crunchy, it's cool, it's more nutritious than rubber, chew on this.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

In Which Those Crazy Danes Save Money By Biking

I read an article today on the Huffington Post site that listed Denmark as the world’s “happiest” country. It’s based on a study by some Canadian economists, so you know it’s true.

The reasons include:
  • Denmark is full of Danes. Extrapolating a little from the article, they seem to care about each other, help each other and be nice to each other. The zombie apocalypse won’t start in Copenhagen.
  • Danes are liberals. OK, the article doesn’t say that either, but it does note that in Denmark, maternity leave is 52 weeks, national health services are considered a civil right and gender equity is ingrained in the culture. That sure doesn’t sound like Ted Cruz’s brand of politics. Take that, TEA Party. You make America sad.
  • Last, and certainly not least (and, surely, not a surprise considering where you found this well-reasoned and thoughtful essay), what makes Danes happy is: Bicycles!
City bicycles in Copenhagen. Yes, I want happy face spoke covers now for Francis, too. Those are pretty scary. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, by Ehedaya.

In Copenhagen, fully half the trips its citizens take anywhere are on two wheels. Besides making Danes happier and healthier, the article has this startling note: The fact that Danes bike so much saves, the article says, the Danish government a whole pile of krone. The article quotes its University of British Columbia economics study source:

“Researchers found that for every kilometer traveled by bike instead of by car, taxpayers saved 7.8 cents (DKK 0.45) in avoided air pollution, accidents, congestion, noise and wear and tear on infrastructure. Cyclists in Copenhagen cover an estimated 1.2 million kilometers each day –- saving the city a little over $34 million each year.”

In the good old US of A, one “controversy” about biking is the occasional snide comment one reads or hears about how car drivers pay taxes for those roads, while those in the biker community are mooching or cheating by riding bikes. I’ve always felt that argument was bogus, partly because a bike is so light compared to a car that the bike does no discernible damage to a paved road at all, and partly because it ignores all kinds of social good that biking promotes.

And there you have it in dollars, cents and krone. The economists who penned those words weren’t even concerned with biking per se—they were studying six measures of happiness in societies—so the line about saving money by biking isn’t from some fringe, pro-biking group.

So those are the facts, car drivers. You shouldn’t wag your finger at me as you drive by. Hold out some cash.

You should tip me. (Pay me money, I mean, don’t invert my position). I’m saving you, as a taxpayer, some real money.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In Which Snow Falls On The Chilly Streets of CR

Francis in the pile of ash leaves behind Warde Hall on Monday morning. On Tuesday, I parked in side so my bike would not rust. And yes, despite the snow, I rode on Tuesday.

It was cool Monday, and leaves are piling up as it feels like the frosty part of fall is upon us. I was impressed by the pile of ash leaves by the bike rack near Warde Hall, so I took a picture of Francis parked there Monday morning.

Tuesday was different. Snow!

Rain and snow were headed our way, according to the weather person on TV, but the snow had just started spitting from the sky as I headed out the door. I fully intended to drive this morning, but when I went out the door, the snow was so light and the temperature so not that low—no danger of ice on the road—that I couldn’t put the pedal to the metal. Instead I put the foot to the pedal and pedaled off on Francis.

I’m not sure it was a wise choice. The morning ride was damp and brisk. Still, my wife bought me new gloves, and they needed to be used, so they were.

When I got to campus, I parked inside so that Francis didn’t have to rust in the snow. I was impressed, by the way, by the loud rustling sound wet snowflakes make when they hit trees still bearing most of their leaves. By the time I left work to head home, the streets were still a bit damp, but nothing was falling from the sky.

Tomorrow's forecast includes possible rain or snow in the afternoon. Will I ride? Well, heck, I was crazy enough to ride today …

Thursday, October 17, 2013

In Which Asphalt Appears on Lindale Trail

West end of Lindale Trail this cool, grey morning. Now it's paved.

Well, Cedar Rapids upped the ante.

Last week, I noticed that the Lindale Trail was closed, but I had no idea why. We’re on fall break right now at MMU, and on Tuesday on the way home, I thought it looked like the west end of the trail was paved.

Pretty red maple leaves along Boyson Trail. It was rather quiet this cool morning.

No, couldn’t be. But this morning, after my workout at the gym, I decided to take a brief ride on the Lindale and Boyson trails, and, surprise, surprise, Cedar Rapids has spread some asphalt on its part of the Lindale Trail. The Cedar Rapids end was newer, and thus mushier, than the Marion end, so it’s good to see this part paved. The other piece that would be nicest to pave would be the hillside in Marion, where rains often cause ruts in the trail.

Francis on the Lindale Trail. I've stopped to snap some leaf (and bike) photos.

But, anyway, a few hundred yards of asphalt have appeared on this trail. Eventually, this will be that start of a trail route all the way to MMU, when the connecting trail between Marion and Cedar Rapids gets put in.

Bright sumac beside the Lindale Trail in Marion. This is what I shot before taking the bike picture.

That will be nice. The fall rides this week have been a bit cool, and on Wednesday, surprisingly wet. I was hoping to get some longer rides in on fall break, but between grading, and planting (a large order of fall bulbs arrived just after break started), that looks like it won’t happen. But that’s OK—there have been some rides, cool fall rides—and I don’t mind cool rides at all.

A bunch of signs as I head west towards the busy Lindale street on the Lindale trail.

Especially with a new touch of paving.

Not mystery where Cedar Rapids begins when you're headed west.

Friday, October 11, 2013

In Which I Fret About Shortcuts

Walking stick suns itself on MMU sidewalk Thursday afternoon. I ride down this sidewalk every morning, but luckily guys like this don't sun themselves early in the morning.

What kind of biking week was it?

In a word: Glorious. Cool, dry nights were followed by warm, dry afternoons. The sun shone all week long. Some mornings I needed a sweater, but not on the sunny rides home. I also had several dark rides home—and, yes, then sweaters were needed. In October, even early October, the night cool creeps in quickly.

I had two rides with my biking buddy Amelia. And I also went to work with lights on most mornings, but the sunrises were pretty.

I was also shown a shortcut by another bike commuter.

I cross Collins Road by exiting Rockwell-Collins parking lots onto F Avenue. I don’t have much choice, really, because there aren't many ways to get south of Collins.

At the end of F. Just to the left of those red signs in the background, there is a trail I can use to cut off three blocks or so from my route.
On Wednesday morning, another gray-haired gentleman was waiting on a bike at the Collins Road light. We chatted briefly, and as we headed down F, he noted before we got to 42nd Street that there was a shortcut through the neighborhood.

So, I followed him. When we got to the end of F, it turns out there is a dirt path that leads south, rather than having to cut east two blocks and come back a block.

I used the route again Friday morning, but a little dog was barking at me the whole time. I felt a bit uncomfortable using the shortcut with the barking dog right there. No, he wasn't big or fierce enough that the dog itself bothered me—it was that I was sort of sneaking through a grass alley. I wasn't in anybody’s yard, but still—I’m sure having that yippy dog yapping at 7:30 a.m. wasn't exactly fun for the neighbors, either.

So I fret a little about this new route. I’m sure I won’t be able to use it ever in the dark—it’s strictly a daylight option. It does save me about three blocks of travel, but I take the extra 3 minutes from now on if I’m headed in early.

Don’t want to bother the neighbors. Still, I’m glad I’ve been shown that shortcut.

Even more, I’m glad it was the kind of week when riding was at its prime.
Oct. 9 at noon, MMU had a health-promotion walk. I participated, got one of the shirts, and wore it that night on my bike ride home. It was just that kind of week.