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.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

In Which White is the New Black

The new basket on the bike Wednesday morning.
Francis is due for some maintenance. I have not had him tuned since RAGBRAI, and the derailleurs are getting slightly vague—in granny gear, they often have an unpleasant “chunk” as the chain does not perfectly align with gear. The brake shoes are probably also shot. The tread is totally worn off the rear tire, too.

But one thing Francis doesn’t need is a new basket, because I installed that already and rode to work with it on for the first time Wednesday.

The old basket was never tight enough, and thus rested against the front of the frame of the bike, sometimes making steering a bit iffy, and slowly eating away at the structural integrity of the basket itself as it seesawed back and forth. This week, the main supports of the basket finally snapped.

So Tuesday night, the wife and I headed out basket shopping. We were hoping the bike shop was still open, but no dice, so we headed out to Wal-Mart.

Where I bought the sweet white number you see. I at first didn’t want it—it looks to be of the same style as the black one it replaced—but if you will note, this one not only hangs on the handlebars, it also has a “third” leg that rests against the bike. This, I hope, will keep the white basket from sagging into the frame and being torn slowly apart.

We shall see.

Shifting the lights over took much longer than the basket install. But it was done in an hour or so, and so my black bike now comes with a white basket. Does that make it, on average, a grey bike? Maybe when I take Francis in, which will be soon, I will have to ask.
Another view of the new basket. The light underneath is attached with wire. I'm fancy, that way.