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.