Saturday, April 30, 2016

In Which UK Arguments Resonate in U.S.A.

London lorry driver on his phone.
Here are some thoughts inspired by another biker's blog post.

When I was young, riding a bicycle was pretty much a child’s playtime activity.

As I’ve aged, more adults have begun riding. When we moved to Cedar Rapids in 2001, it became practical for me to start commuting by bicycle, although it took a few years before I began to do that more often than I drive.

As more adults begin riding bicycles, and more infrastructure for bicycling has been created in American cities, there has been something of an anti-bike backlash. And sometimes it seems as if there are three competing and battling groups wanting to use street and walkway infrastructure—walkers, bicycle riders and car/truck drivers.

Some car and truck drivers want exclusive use of the street. In Cedar Rapids, in recent years, when streets have been reconstructed, the city has started adding sidewalks to neighborhoods where none existed before, sometimes to the vocal objection of residents who don’t want to shovel snow or who think losing trees is not worth the gained pedestrian safety.

And we sometimes get letters in our local paper that say things like “I’ve never seen a walker on 35th Street, but the city is destroying our neighborhood and making life terrible for us by installing sidewalks.”

Well, I have several reactions. One is to remind everyone that the walkers came first—humans have been bipeds for millions of years—then the bikers, then the cars. Historically, it was a rather poor mid-20th century car-centric idea in the U.S.A. to start designing and installing streets that served only the latest of those three transit modes. City of Cedar Rapids—for what it’s worth, I applaud your efforts to make up for past mistakes by putting in sidewalks.

As a society, we all benefit by promoting walking and biking, for many reasons. For example, far from slowing traffic, most of the time bikers are aiding traffic by reducing the number of cars on the road. And both walkers and bikers are serving their own personal health—the human body is meant to be used, not to be sedentary. Granted, the most direct benefit of that is for the walker or biker, but still, healthier people mean lower healthcare costs for society as a whole. Also bikers and walkers are reducing air pollution for everyone. (Yes, yes, I know, humans do produce carbon emissions, but cars produce not only far more carbon emissions, but a host of other noxious vapors that CR Biker does not).

Granted, the health savings are offset when a car hits a walker or biker. Which gets me to the big gripe some drivers have—infrastructure. It is the tax argument. Don’t car drivers pay taxes and license fees to maintain roads while walkers and bikers are freeloaders?

Well, no. For one thing, general taxes aid infrastructure, too. And CR street projects are partly funded by a sales tax that a biker quaffing a Fat Tire at the Sag Wagon helps to pay. And the tax argument ignores the relative damage and expense of infrastructure on a per-vehicle basis. It’s not totally free to create or maintain bike trails or sidewalks, but the big expense in street maintenance is to fix damage done by two things: weather and heavy vehicles.

Sure, you pay more gas tax to drive your SUV on my street. But I cause the street practically no damage whatsoever by rolling my bicycle across it, and that’s not true of your SUV. (British readers, I have no idea what an SUV would be called in Britain. A half Lorry, half car? Maybe it’s just an SUV.)

Anyway, I worry that the discussion of transportation infrastructure, such as it is, is too often put as interest groups battling with each other. As a bicycle rider, I don’t begrudge car drivers the improved lanes and smoother roads that city street projects result in—even if they sometimes repave the interstate, where my bicycle is not allowed (and no, I don’t think it ought to be allowed there, either).

I was thinking about this when I read the blog post I linked at the start of this post. It was written by a English bike rider complaining about a BBC news report that described HGV drivers and bicycle riders as warring over the streets of London. HGV is a “heavy goods vehicle” by the way—British speak for a big truck, what we would call a semi.

The blogger is a bit frustrated by the lazy portrayal of interest groups battling, rather than a more rational discussion of possible solutions. As he notes, accidents in London may have more to do with a poorly designed transportation system that requires bicycles and HGVs to share space rather than the inevitable misbehavior among bike riders and truck drivers.

Amen, brother, or whatever they would say in London to indicate strong agreement. The same attitudes hold true here. Solutions are found not when drivers and walkers and bikers battle, but when a system is designed that accommodates all three groups.

And my American people—some drivers just think people on foot or bike ought not exist. Some have so ingrained in their minds that the American Way is to drive a car like God intended, that any use of public funds to benefit anything not built in Detroit is a conspiracy.

Well, these days Detroit isn’t building that many of our cars anyway. And our car-central culture is slowly evolving and needs to change. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, welcome to the 21st century. Please don’t take your frustration out on a biker.

Last, on a totally unrelated note: Geese! See photo below I shot Friday. Watch out on the local bike trail. Goslings are fun to see, but mama and papa goose will be nervous and aggressive at this time of year!

Baby geese and mom or dad Friday near Cedar Lake. I'm on the street on the east side rather than the west side trail. No doubt hindering som poor car driver.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In Which Kids Say the Darndest Things

Monday--bike back in Warde Hall rack after busy biking weekend. The rack was put on the pickup trailer for the trip to the trail Saturday.

I don’t recall what Mark Mettler, president of the Mount Mercy Bike Club, said. But I recall the answer by Lloyd Mackayi, vice president.

“Every time you speak, Mark, I’m mentally face palming.”

What is it like to drive a van full of excited MMU students on a 150-minute journey to a bike trail?

Well, they didn’t seem to need any midday boosts—the energy level, joking and noise were all pretty high.

It seemed right. We were on our way at midday April 23 to the High Trestle Trail, a trail I’ve ridden before, but which was new to MMU bikers.

And the trip was awesome. MMU groundskeeper Brady Klein kindly volunteered to drive a pickup truck with as many MMU bikes pulled on a trailer as we needed. Phillip Platz, multimedia guru in the MMU PR office, was along for the trip.
Three of my photos. My son Ben, in yellow Team Joe shirt, joined our MMU group for this ride. We are on the observation deck near the start of the bridge.

Lloyd Mackayi, Bike Club VP and its best photographer.

Walking on bridge as night falls and lights come on.

The weather was perfect—a bit breezy, but warm and mostly sunny. As we neared Woodward, the western end of the trail, we crossed the Des Moines River on the Highway 210 bridge, and there, just a few hundred yards to the south, was a nice view way up there of the bridge we would soon cross on bicycles.

Along the way, we found a fun small-town ice cream shop, played in a city park, ate at a trailside bar-restaurant and timed our ride so we could indeed see the lights.

It was the highlight of a weekend that seemed to be devoted to MMU biking. There was a 15-mile ride on Friday just because it was Friday, the 30-mile journey on the High Trestle Trail Saturday and the first MMU Bike Club safety rodeo at Arthur Elementary School on Sunday.

Mark watches two Northtowne Cycling employees do a bike safety check.

Well, what a weekend it was! CR Biker is tired, but happy. The first remote ride was a rousing success, and I hope students will want more in the future.

Last, but not least, the Saturday trail ride was a first—all MMU students on the ride wore helmets. I like that trend, too.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

In Which I Cry “Dead Bike Walking”

Francis at sunset near the end of the final walk home.
Well, not really. Francis wasn’t ever really alive, and I wore that bike out through heavy use, I didn’t execute it.

But today, I took Francis for probably the bike’s final journey. I went to Northtowne, my neighborhood bike shop, for two reasons: 1) To picked up a mountain bike wheel that the shop replaced a spoke on; and 2) To pick up Francis.

I took Francis into the shop Saturday, and Monday they gave me two estimates for fixing my old bike—one in the mid-200s, the other more than $100 over that.

The wife put her foot down, saying something like “you’re not putting that much money into an old, broken down bike.” And I think she was being the voice of reason—even if I told them to repair Francis, I would have ended up with a ridable old bike with many new parts on it, but what would break next?

Still, to be honest, if I won the Lotto tomorrow, I’d take that bike right back to the shop and say “fix it.” It’s the bike that is best for commuting in town. It’s the bike with the tot seat for taking young grandkids on rides. It is the first bike I ever asked my readers to name, and the first bike I ever rode RAGBRAI on.

Sept. 28, 2010--first published photo of Francis.
 I was assuming I owned Francis for about four years, but I checked my old blog posts and discovered how much more quickly time flies these days. I started writing CR Biker in April 2010—and announced on Sept. 28, 2010, my purchase of a new bicycle, which would be named Francis later.

Well, winning the Lotto is pretty unlikely. And with the mountain bike wheel back, one of my projects will be to reassemble The Beast. And I’ll take a look at TB and see if I can fit the toddler seat on it—I do hope so.

Granted, I had planned to get The Beast going again anyway even if the cost of fixing Francis was more modest—I think of The Beast as my “winter beater” bike, or the bike I’m willing to allow to get wet. But, between Argent and The Beast, I suppose I have enough bicycles.

One man probably is rich if he owns two bikes that he can ride.

But, sigh. So long Francis. I thought of climbing aboard for a symbolic one-block ride on the way home, but I noticed the bike shop had taken apart the back brake to look at it, and I couldn’t get it back together. And it was only after I arrived home that I recalled another complication—the bike mechanic had also let the air out of the back tyre during the initial repair inspection.

So the last journey was doing what I never do with a bicycle outside of mechanical issues—it was a walk.

And it was sunset as I neared home, so I figured, what the heck. I snapped one last picture of Francis fading into memory.

A few sky views. Blairs Ferry Friday morning, above. Below, looking west into setting sun on a damp Thursday ride home. Bottom, Friday afternoon sky as I get ready to leave MMU. It looked like it could storm, but didn't. I was actually lucky riding this week.

Aside from being bummed that my 6-year-old bike is kaput, this has actually been an interesting, and decent, biking week. It’s rained several times, but always timed so that I could use my road bike. I’m not wild about having to carry all my supplies in a back pack (oh Francis, I do miss your sexy back rack and bags), but I do enjoy the speed of the road bike.

Next week? Maybe, with any luck, I’ll have The Beast assembled. Rides won’t be that fast, but I probably won’t even notice any minor bumps or rocks or chasms in the road with those big mountain tyres. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 18, 2016

In Which We Await Bad News With Pleasant Rides

Late Sunday afternoon--my road bike Argent at turnaround point, a bit over 3 miles north of Hiawatha. Whatever that first parking lot you come to north of town is.

It was warm in Iowa this weekend. I didn’t have a lot of time, so Sunday was just a quick 16-mile ride before supper.

Saturday, I rode to a nearby park, about 4 miles away, with a daughter and granddaughter. Before that, in the morning, I encountered a snake on the Lindale Trail and took it’s picture.

Rode my bike to the gym Saturday morning, encountered this snake on Lindale Trail and shot images with my cell phone. After a short photo session, the snake on the trail moved back into the grass.

All weekend rides were on Argent. Francis went to the shop—brakes were stiff and the back wheel wobbled following Friday’s bike club ride. Sadly, the initial estimate at the bike shop indicates the cots to repair Frances—including a new chain, back wheel, brake pads and tune up—may exceed the purchase price of such a bike.

It’s possible this might be curtains for Francis. It’s frustrating, a little, that a 5-year-old bike with a perfectly good frame would be so costly to fix, but I await a more detailed estimate Monday.

The back wheel of the Beast will likely be fixed for around $25. I may soon enter a phase where only the old mountain bike and the new road bike are available to me, because it doesn’t make much sense, if I can make two bikes ride-able, to spring for a third.

Of course, perhaps I’m wrong and the estimate Monday will be low enough to save Francis. Honestly, I’m not feeling optimistic about that.

Well, at least the quick rides this weekend were very pleasant, in almost early summer-like warmth. I broke out the bike shorts for the first time Sunday, and rode about 3 miles north of Hiawatha on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. All in all, I put about 16 miles on Argent on Sunday alone.

So, if it’s the end of Francis, at least it won’t be the end of CR Biker.

Friday, April 15, 2016

In Which Mother Nature Cooperates

Hawk atop Warde Hall watches MMU bikers.

Before today, events for the MMU Bike Club in April had not gone well. Two Friday bike rides were planned and then cancelled by cool days and brisk winds. A bike safety rodeo, set last weekend, was rescheduled to next weekend due to thunderstorms.

So it was nice today that the club finally could hit the road again in 2016.

As six students trickled in and checked out bikes at Lundy, I photographed a hawk watching the proceedings from a perch atop nearby Warde Hall. A bird pair has a nest on the Warde cupola, and it’s not unusual to see one keeping a hawk’s eye on campus this spring.

MMU Bike Club, first ride of 2016!

We took the obligatory club group shot before heading down city streets to the Cedar River Trail. It was a gorgeous afternoon—warm, but not hot, and although mostly sunny, just enough haze and clouds so that the light was not too bright.

Mark, our fearless leader, announced our destination.

Two views of Bike Club by Cedar Lake during ride into downtown Cedar Rapids.

Sweet dreams are made of these. A ride to the downtown candy shop! My wife was unable to join this first ride, due to off-campus events that ensured she would drive to MMU today—so despite that I had pumped her tires and gotten her bike ready to go, she had to sit this one out. By the tone of the text she sent CR Biker when she learned of our destination, she wished she would have been there.

Anyway, when we got to the shop, two of the six students on the ride decided to wait outside—they didn’t want any candy. The rest of us picked up various treats—even if my sweetie missed the ride, she did at least get some sweets out of the deal.

The ride back made the whole trek just over 7 miles, by my bike computer. It was probably a bit more than that, because the computer bonks out regularly these days and has to be slapped around to wake it up, so it probably missed a few tenths of a mile here and there.

Guaridans of the bikes.

Still, 7 miles on a warm spring day that felt like it was in the 70s—it was a nice first club ride.

And not the only good piece of news today for the bike club. CR Biker and MMU Communication Phil met this morning with our facilities crew at MMU to examine the U’s bikes and look at a trailer and pickup truck. The question was: Would they be able to take all of the bikes on a trip Saturday, April 23, to the High Trestle Trail?

After measuring a bike rack, determining that it indeed would fit on the trailer, and examining the bed of the pickup that would tow the trailer—the answer seemed clear, and good.

Returning to campus, crossing bridge that unites two parts of Cedar Lake.
We seem to be all systems go for the High Trestle Trail!

Central Iowans, friends and relative of CR Biker: The MMU Bike club plans to leave campus about noon next Saturday, arriving at the western end of the trail in Woodward around 3 p.m. If y’all by chance happen to want to ride the trail at the same time, it’s sure a free country!

The idea is to ride east, cross the bridge, and then pause in Madrid or Slater for a later afternoon repast. Again Central Iowans, what in the repast scene would you recommend? I see on the Interwebs that a bar in Madrid added a food wagon last year, but do you know if it’s open for the season yet? Or is there a place in Slater worth aiming for?

What are your suggestions, oh High Trestle Trail users?

Anyway, after the repast, we’ll ride some more, heading either east or west depending on the time. The idea is to spend enough hours on the trail so that the light of day is failing by the time we get back to the bridge—we are hoping to see it lit up in the early evening.

The meeting this morning made it seem like the plan is proceeding nicely. Of course, a major player in the whole thing is Mother Nature, who has a mixed relationship with the MMU BC so far in 2016.

Listen Mama N. We have the trail ride planned April 23, and the bike safety rodeo set the next day, April 24. Please, please, please, a nice weekend?

Sincerely, CR Biker.

Nice one, Mother Nature. CR Biker found, after his bike commute home, that this Rhododendron in front of his house just today started to bloom. May it be a good omen for the MMU Bike Club's upcoming adventures!

Friday, April 8, 2016

In Which We Can Expect Delay

Street sign on F Avenue morning of April 4. By mid-week, workers were indeed constricting the street--only the first major traffic delay in coming weeks, as a bigger event, the closing of C Avenue, looms.

What was biking like in Iowa during the first week of April 2016?

I got sprinkled on at least a couple of times, and decently rained on at least once.

The sun was shining except when it wasn’t, often in the same day. It was windy, cool and partly cloudy today, but got sunny as I approached campus—so sunny I took some gratuitous flower photos before heading in to my office.

Walking professor said it looked like the photographer was at work. Actually, he was shirking work.

“The photographer at work,” quipped an English professor on the way in. Well, no, more like the photographer putting off work as long as possible.

Anyway, I think it has rained almost every day this week, except when it snowed, which was today, but luckily I wasn’t actually biking during the snow.

Snow! Spring in Iowa ....

During the snow, the bike club cancelled this afternoon’s ride. And now the sun is shining. Still, it’s a bit windy and cool, and I’m not sure students who bike would be up for a ride this afternoon.

It’s been a very mixed week. I wrote earlier about my windy Sunday ride—wind has been pretty much a theme this week.

But, although it has rained pretty much every day (except when it snowed at midday Friday), the rains have blown through quickly or been at night.

Two Friday morning Francis shadow photos (above). Below, wicked weekend winds played havoc with the pedestrian crossing light on C Avenue, but the city quickly fixed it once told of the problem.

I managed to bike five of the five days this week—a pretty good average.

The street repair season, however, promises to make biking interesting. F Avenue south of Collins Road is down to one lane as chunks of broken pavement are being removed. And next week, C Avenue, the main north-south route in our area of Cedar Rapids, is to be closed.

Closed! My wife wonders how she will drive to MMU. Council Street is going to be heavily backed up.

Despite the weather, it has been a good week to bicycle. Next week, when the main car commuting route is closed, but my parking-lot biking route will still be open (even if a bit dicey on F Avenue), I’m thinking it will be an even better week to be riding two wheels!

Friday flowers--after a breezy, cold ride, I was still cheered by these chilly spring flowers, Warde Hall daffodils (above) and magnolia (below).

Sunday, April 3, 2016

In Which I Fly 11 Miles to Lafayette

Argent parked late this afternoon in rack at Lafayette.
It was warm today, too nice and warm to not ride a bicycle.

But, I had an otherwise busy day too, doing school work, raking the yard, walking with the wife, daughter and grandson, taking a nap (the Sunday nap is almost as sacred as Sunday church). So it was 5:30 p.m. before I had a break to take on my bike.

I dug Argent out of the garage—a warm spring Sunday calls for the fast bike. I pumped up the tyres and lubed the chain, and then I was off.

I head over to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail and turned north. It was cloudy and windy—and at one point I felt glad I had just lubed my chain, as rain started to sprinkle down. I was facing a partial headwind headed north, but I just kept going. I didn’t really intend to go as far as Lafayette (7 miles north of Hiawatha, 11 miles or so from my house). But I did.

Bench added to Lafayette trail park, in memory of James Lehmkuhl.

And this is partly turning into the sky-biker blog, as the sky was again the star of the show on this ride. The setting sun kept coyly and cutely peeking out between clouds. The wind came and went, but luckily was not a constant problem.

Sky viewed on the way back from Lafayette along the trail. Pretty sunset.

I noticed a nice new bench at Lafayette, which no doubt I will use this summer. Today, I quickly used the outhouse there and then headed back home. At some points on the way back, without the headwind and with a favorable grade, I was flying along at about 20 mph—not all that fast, I know, for a road bike and a good biker, but I’m not a good biker and it was darn fast for me, even on a road bike.

I had just crossed Robins Road on the way south when this blackbird started yelling at me. Take that, blackbird. I have captured your soul. Sadly, the market value of a used blackbird soul isn't all that much. Second sky view from almost the same spot below.

I was using lights on the way back, and the sky got prettier and prettier as the sun set. There were some others, bikers and walkers, out on the trail, but not as many as I expected. Wind, I suppose, kept traffic down, but it was, despite the breeze, a very nice 22-mile ride. I was home by 7:30. That, for me, is flying.

Final sky views as I approach home, riding north on C Avenue. Camera doesn't quite do justice to how pretty the blue, grey, purple and pink clouds were. View above is near Walgreen's. View below is on C Avenue bridge.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

In Which a Change is Made in Biking Wardrobe

First ride in the new jacket--a quick run to HyVee Drug Store.

The Canon jacket, my biking jacket that I have owned for a decade, is no more.

I go the jacket in 2006 when I purchased a new lens at a local camera store. I don’t recall the details, but there was some problem, some misunderstanding over the price. The store was being nice to me, and offered the jacket as a “sorry for the hassle” gift.

I rode a bike now and then 10 years ago, but wasn’t really a regular bicycle commuter. It was a couple of years after I got the jacket that my wife bought Francis for me, and that, plus an invitation from my oldest son to ride RAGBRAI, turned me into CR Biker.

Well, nothing lasts forever. The Canon jacket was convenient—water resistant enough and wind resistant enough to be wearable in many types of weather, and usable, with layers, in the coldest winter days. I liked that it also had a thin hood that fit under a bike helmet.

This March, my wife and I flew to England on a wonderful trip to see our daughter and grandchildren. Since March in England can be cool, I packed the jacket.

Something odd happened on that flight. In the cold of the cargo hold, somewhere over Greenland or the Atlantic Ocean, the zipper on that Canon jacket somehow lost its grip. All during that week walking around Cromer and Norwich and London, in sometimes cold winds and rain, the coat was a problem. Every day, I would try to zip it up, and each day the zipper would fail and the coat would fall open.

We tried soaping the zipper and we tried washing it to see if something that we couldn’t see got stuck in it. But nothing worked. When a zipper fails that’s curtains for the garment.

And I got some beer at the store--a toast to jackets old and new.
Well, so long Canon jacket. We went out today and bought me a new biking jacket—very similar in style, even if it doesn’t bear the name of a camera brand.

It’s black and water resistant and even has a hood, too. CR Biker hopes this new biking jacket lasts 10 years, too.