Tuesday, December 27, 2016

In Which A Nice Ride Is Not As Planned

Here was the plan: For Christmas, my wife gave me, among other things, a set of new, bright bike lights. Argent, my road bike, is already fairly well lit, but I wanted better lights, especially a bright headlight, for Clarence, my commuting road bike.

So, Audrey kindly bought them for me.

In another piece of news that seems random but, in fact, is related: She is teaching a class in January that travels to England. “Healthcare in the UK” includes stops in Canterbury, where there is a university that has a coop deal with Mount Mercy, and a short stay in London.

For the trip, we purchased a new point-and-shoot digital camera. We figured she could use her phone for photos, but it’s nicer, sometimes, to have a camera—and that way she won’t have to fuss with charging her phone in England. They have different electricity there.

Anyway, so, although I lamented the lame state of winter biking in my most recent post, in fact this is a fairly dry, warm week. While I have to do prep work for my January class, my plan is also to get some biking done this week, too, since the weather seems cooperative.

And the plan for today was that I would install my new lights and take the “London camera” for a test drive. As it turned out, no, and no.

I didn’t get up super early this morning—I awoke after 7—and by the time I had a leisurely cup of coffee, it was after 8 when Audrey and I left to do our morning exercises at the gym. It was well after 9 when we started to return home, and we had to shower, dress and prep the house for some out-of-town visitors who were coming for lunch.

After a very pleasant lunch, we went to a couple of furniture stores—a storage bench we had used in our front entryway is now in a new three-season room we have added to the house, and we wanted a new bench for the entry.

We found one we liked at Tuesday Morning, but it wasn’t morning by the time we got home. It was after 3 p.m.

I opened the new light set and read the instructions, one of which was “fully charge before first use.” So I plugged the headlight, which is a rechargeable USB unit, in.

I also unpacked the new camera. Its battery wasn’t dead, but wasn’t all that lively, either. So I plugged it in.

And by then it was 4 p.m. on Dec. 27—an hour or so until dark.

So I gave up on plan A. Plan B was simply to take a bike ride. Given the time of day, I decided a trail ride was more prudent then a road ride, and I also wanted a fairly short route so I would be home before full dark.

So I headed south on the sidewalk by C Avenue, pausing at the C Avenue bridge to photograph a trio of deer who were traveling east along Dry Creek. They kindly stopped and posed for me.

Deer trio peeks at me as I photograph them from C Avenue bridge.
After that, I headed east down Lindale Trail to Boyson Trail, turned south, then turned onto the Krumbholtz Trail. I took it to the end and rode on city streets back to Hanna Park and then to the Boyson Trail.

I had been concerned that the trail, mostly a limestone route, would be mushy due to wet weather, but the winter ground is still pretty dry, apparently. It’s also pretty frozen, and there were many icy patches where I had to ride slowly and carefully. I was glad of my choice to bring Clarence rather than Argent—the trail was definitely not road bike ready.

Trail near Frisbee golf course. There were even icier patches, too, although overall the trail was fairly clear.
Unlike a winter ride several years ago on the same trails, I had no spills. I was on Francis then, and that heavier bike had a higher center of gravity. The lightness of Clarence and its lower build may have helped today, but I think there was also more ice when I went on the former ride. Anyway, today I was passed once by another biker who wished me a Merry Christmas, and saw several walkers—some just walking, some escorting dogs on their constitutionals.

Despite the ice, it was a nice, pretty winter ride. As you can see, Indian Creek, which I crossed several times on the route, was looking quite fetching in the early evening fading light.

View of creek and woods from bridge on Krumbholtz Trail.

Indian Creek near Menard's end of trail.

View of Indian Creek from bridge on Boyson Trail not far south of Hanna Park.
Plan A? When I got home after about an hour’s ride, both the new camera and the bike light were fully charged. We’ll see what tomorrow brings!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

In Which Winter Break Has A Biking Day

C Avenue. Rode sidewalk north to 74th Street. It was cleared most of the way, but at one small section I walked the bike.

Snow and ice—there has been a lot of it this winter already. Luckily, last week there were a few sunny days in a row, and by Thursday it seemed possible to take a bike ride.

I chose Clarence for the wider tyres, plus I planned to take my grandson on a short ride first. He was OK with the idea, but glad to be home. After that, around 3 or so, I took off solo.

Cedar River Trail, above, is pretty well cleared. At Cedar Lake, note how sun in clouds has "echo," sun dogs that you get sometimes in winter. Tiny partial rainbows from ice in the air. I associate those with really, really cold days--but this day it was around 30 or so. Not all that cold for winter. Maybe much colder up where the clouds are.

It was cool, but gloves and a jacket were OK, with no long johns required. I rode the Cedar River Trail down to Cedar Lake, enjoyed the geese crowding a small patch of open water, and returned home as light was failing.

I guess that counts as two rides, one short, one longer—so two rides in the past week.

It rained today, Christmas, and I don’t know if it will freeze overnight. It will be a few days at least before I can venture forth on a bicycle again.

Geese on Cedar Lake. The one nearest seemed like a guard or scout--kept his eyes on me and approached to check me out. No goose attacks, thankfully.

Friday, December 16, 2016

In Which Bicycles Appear In Music

No biking this week, it's official. It is Friday, and it's snowing in Iowa again.

So, instead, another bicycle music video. The song is not about bicycles, but I think it's kind of catchy and the video features bicycle riding ....

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

In Which Big Clompy Boots Won’t Save Biking

Photo from a cold day last week, Friday, I think. These boots are made for biking, and that's just what they'll do--but last week, not this week.

So far, this week of December is a complete biking bust. Arctic air has arrived in Iowa, with subzero lows expected.

That’s a level of cold that’s iffy for me as a biker, but not beyond question. If the wind forecast is calm enough, I might bundle up and hit the road at a few degrees below zero (and European friends, we are talking Fahrenheit, not Centigrade. Zero Centigrade is almost sweatshirt weather). After all, I have the winter biker’s secret weapon: Big, clompy winter boots.

Thursday of last week, arriving home as afternoon fades early to night. We are in the dark weeks of winter in Iowa. Me on C Avenue bridge--I don't look it, but I'm fairly warm in a air temperature of about 10 degrees (not wimpy Centigrade degrees either.)  
I wore them last week while biking, which was also a cold week, although not quite this cold. We had a bit of snow the weekend before last, but after streets were plowed Sunday and sunshine ruled Monday. By Tuesday I was able to ride to work wearing my big, clompy boots.

Winter riding requires long, insulated underwear, multiple socks and shirts, a headband under a hood under my helmet and warm mittens. A coat, and often, a scarf, are also part of the kit. The clompy boots, made for stomping around in the snow, feel very awkward to wear while riding a bicycle—but they have the huge advantage of being insulated, which is important for winter rides.

So, for most of last week, including Saturday morning when I had a Santa gig on campus, I rode. The return ride home on Saturday was with snow falling, but luckily it was early in the storm and the pavement was not yet slick.

Not sure of date of photo--very early in December before first snow. Early morning light a biker sees at MMU.

Lindale Trail, again, before the first snow. Stark beauty of bare trees in brown time of year.

Winter sunrise after first snow at C Avenue pond. This has to be Tuesday or so of last week--later in the week, the pond had frozen over.

Last week--ice forming on Dry Creek.
But this week, although there has been some sun, the air is so cold that the quiet streets of Cedar Rapids, never well plowed (or plowed at all) are a slick mess. It’s not the cold that usually keeps me from riding in winter—it’s the slick. I need a few warm, sunny days to clear the pavement off those unplowed side streets.

It does not look like I will get them before the semester ends. Oh well. Here’ hoping that future snows will be followed by enough sun to melt or sublimate the icy stuff on the quiet streets. I’m itching to ride again, even in my big winter boots.

Photo from Monday of this week--air temperature in upper teens Fahrenheit. Note edge of snow--even weak winter sun will melt snow on pavement, if the pavement is mostly clear. That's why is such a problem that side streets don't get scraped--even if not all of the snow were plowed off, a partly plowed street will become clear even in sub freezing temperatures, but even half an inch of snow won't melt. Blow--lawn at MMU, where no snow melted this week.

Friday, December 2, 2016

In Which We Hear Seven Hard-Earned Lessons

The bike helmet Dr. Bryan Cross was wearing when he had his accident. Glad it was his helmet that got cracked and not his head!

Call them the seven tips to stay healthy, or how to avoid the seven deadly sins of bicycle riding.

Last year, Dr. Bryan Cross was on a bike ride in the countryside north of Cedar Rapids. He was with a group of experienced and speedy bikers—his average speed on the return loop of a 60-mile ride was over 20 mph. And he was getting a bit tired and inattentive, putting his head down and not watching the road ahead.

Then, while on a fast stretch where his speed was about 30, he hit the crack. The front wheel started to wobble, and he lost control.

Bam. Road rash. A ripped off finger nail. A broken collar bone.

And, luckily for the assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Mercy University, a broken helmet, too. It was lucky, because, as he said when showing the two pieces of his ruined headgear: “The EMTs told me that if I hadn’t been wearing the helmet, this would have been my skull.”

Cross shows helmet.
Cross spoke at a bike safety seminar this afternoon at Mount Mercy University. The event was sponsored by the MMU Bike Club, of which I am the faculty advisor. The seminar was well attended, with maybe around 20 people, mostly students, in a conference room at the Sisters of Mercy University Center.

As Cross spoke, his arm was in a sling—not as a prop, but because he has suffered a more recent bike accident—a less serious one, but a crash that nonetheless caused a broken arm.

More on that later. For now, back to the seven lessons Cross emphasized that he learned from the summer accident, otherwise known as the squashing near Quasqueton:

1) Always wear your helmet when riding a bicycle. As Cross noted, your forward biking momentum can be translated in the blink of an eye into a skull-shattering pavement encounter. He had the same experience I’ve had in a much more minor bike accident—when something goes wrong on a bike, it’s instant. Bam, you’re down and wondering what happened to you—so always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.
2) Keep your eyes on the road. You need to have your head up, your mind in the ride. I am guilty of occasional distracted biking, and it’s not a good habit—but for the most part, I have a biker’s sense, an ability to look both far ahead and nearby. Roads are maintained for cars, and obstacles or flaws that won’t bother a car can flip a bike, so it behooves a bicycle rider to have her or his attention on the road. Cross noted that sometimes he’s been guilty of looking down rather than ahead, and he attributes the accident partly to that.
3) Wear the correct glasses. He has prescription glasses, but was wearing nonprescription sunglasses the day of the accident. I do think sunglasses are needed for biking, but I either wear clip-on’s with my regular glasses, or, despite the incredibly dorky look, nonprescription sunglasses over my prescription glasses. Cross is right. You need your best eyesight for biking.
4) Ride a road slowly before you ride it fast. You need to be familiar with the features of the route. I think that applies to night riding too—ride a route in daylight before you ride it in darkness. It’s true that I still bike in winter when it’s full dark by the time I get off work—but I ride the same streets in sunshine and in darkness, and I would not ride an unfamiliar route in the dark. And I agree, if you feel the need for speed, ride on a route that you already know.
5) Be extra careful when you’re tired. Cross noted his accident was on the return leg of a long ride, and he was a bit spent by that time. Based on my extensive RAGBRAI rides, and training rides for RAGBRAI, I would have to say “amen.” I have not had an accident on RAGBRAI yet (knock on wood) but close calls are more common later in the day. Everyone is not the best biker when they are a tired biker.
6) Don't "buy" an expensive bike you never get to ride. An ambulance ride from Quasqueton to Cedar Rapids costs $1,600. That would pay for both of my bicycles and leave some change left over. Makes me again glad I’ve never ridden the cherry-topped taxi (knocking once more).
7) If you have an accident, have it in Iowa. Iowans want to help. At least eight people stopped in the immediate aftermath of his accident to lend aid, Cross noted. In particular, there was a lady who stopped to pour ice cold water on his road rash. He found out she is a cook at St. Pius X School in Cedar Rapids, and during his presentation showed a slide of him later giving her flowers at the school, which was nice.

Mark Mettler, president of MMU Bike Club, listens to seminar (above). Other students were also attentive (below).

Well, it is quite a list and quite a lesson. But as they say, wait, there is more. Last week, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, Dr. Cross was riding his bike home by way of a new trail in Daniels Park in Cedar Rapids. The trail has just been installed, and the city blocked part of it to put in a pad for a bike rack. But the blocked part of the trail was over a hill. Cross was cycling home at night, topped the hill, and didn’t see the orange fencing until too late. He tried to stop, but skidded into the fence and spilled, breaking an arm.

Which led him to give use some additional, bonus safety ideas.

One is, ride more slowly at night. “It’s better to go slowly and arrive safely,” he said. Another is just keep in mind that road maintenance crews tend to think of cars and their needs, and don’t always anticipate or understand bikers’ needs. A warning sign before the hill, or a “trail closed” note at the entrance would have been helpful.

Well, it was quite a presentation. Thank you, Dr. Bryan, for sharing your pain in the hopes that we other bikers won’t have to feel the pain ourselves.

The presentation Dr. Cross gave was preceded by an interesting presentation by Derek Stepanek, owner of Northtowne Bicycling and Fitness in Cedar Rapids.

Stepanek showed a number of safety products, including bike and helmet lights, but noted the most important safety equipment is the helmet, which he said every rider should have on any bike ride. He noted that many injuries he hears stories of are from bike trial rides—even if you are on a trail where there are no cars, an accident with an object, other biker or pedestrian can happen.

Derek Stepanek, owner of Northtowne Biking and Fitness store in Cedar Rapids, covers the ABCs of a pre-bike ride bicycle safety check.

He also covered the “ABCs” of checking a bike before a ride: the air, brakes and chain. A bike ride is more efficient, and thus more pleasant, with enough air in the tyres, and bike tyres loose air more quickly than car ones do. Brakes are a pretty obvious point—make sure they work. A rider needs to ensure that the chain isn’t “chunking” if using a new bike.

It was an afternoon well spent, a nice culmination of the semester for the bike club. Cross further noted that he is still a biker—he says he can’t let the accidents take away the joy of biking. I admire that spirit.

Arm in a sling from a recent bike accident that caused a broken arm, Dr. Bryan Cross describes an earlier, more serious, bike accident that could have broken his head, but for the helmet he was wearing.