Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The thermometer says "It's cold"!

Some of you may be saying "Thank you Captain Obvious!" Well, I know you know it's cold out, but I think some people out there who are in their vehicles don't appreciate how cold it really is. Then again, some drivers might say it's me who doesn't appreciate how really cold it is. After all it's me who's out there riding his bike amid traffic who's not expecting bicycles, while the water in the drainage outlets is frozen and the bank sign temperature is in the teens.

You may be inclined to ask,"Midwest Bicycle Commuter Dude, what will you do if you crash on the ice and you're all by yourself?"  A valid question I suppose. I leave relatively early for school, but not so early that no one is already out and about and beginning their own commutes to work. Presuming I'm conscious and able, I'll probably try to signal someone's aid using either my front or rear flasher. Or worst case scenario, I'll try to get attention with my reflective vest.

The place where I'll be most vulnerable, as far as lying undiscovered for any length of time goes, is on the length of rail trail I use. Not many people are out using the rail trail this time of year, at that time of the morning. It's also the part of my commute likely to remain uncleared of snow and ice. If it is too "hairy" for me, I plan to commute using the main arterial roads which will have been cleared.

I stand a better chance of being protected in a bicycle spill in cold weather, because I'm wearing so much more clothing. The layers which are covering every possible inch of my body except my face will help to protect me. Of course, I will be wearing my helmet.

I'm not naive enough to claim all this clothing will protect me from anything happening. A person can still break a bone through layers of clothing, or sustain a concussion even though they wear a helmet. Icy, and snowy road conditions are much different than cold conditions. Obviously when road conditions are bad, vehicles can't handle as predictably or as well as in ideal conditions. That's bad news for a cyclist.

As far as the cold weather goes, I wear lots of clothes to keep warm. I only have a fifteen minute commute, so it's not that long of a time to spend in cold weather. The exertion of pedaling warms me quickly during my commute.

It takes some planning to commute during the winter months. Invariably, I'm hot and uncomfortable during those first few minutes when I arrive at school or back home from my clothing and body temperature increase during pedaling. Then, I must spend a few moments folding some of my articles of clothing and storing them in my backpack for the day, or night.

These are some things to think about. Really, once it's below freezing, there's not a lot of difference in the feel of temperature. It's all cold. It's not impossible.

Keep on commuting by bike!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter, so far, has been a little rough on my bicycle commute. To date, I've broken my rear flashing LED light and my bicycle lock. The former had come loose on a couple of occasions and fell in the road, which forced me to execute a safe U-turn, locate the component (pretty easy) and two AAA batteries (not as easy) before traffic overran them. On both occasions, the rear facing light cover, which contains the LED bulbs, the batteries, and the inner switch, was jarred loose by my bike passing over particularly big seams in concrete pavement at a fairly fast clip, and skidded across the alongside the road. Fortunately, I heard something amiss each time and took the red flag as something I should investigate. On one of these occasions a battery had been ran over and I had to force the flattened battery into its slot. It worked. But, then later on I could not access the flashing function with the switch; it only operated on solid light setting until the next morning when it appeared to be fully operational again. Then, not long after, I couldn't get it to work at all.

I broke my bike lock at the school's bike rack Monday morning, or Tuesday. The bank sign read 17 degrees Fahrenheit when I passed it at 7:00. I guess the lock was frozen and I was having trouble separating the locking mechanism to where I could open it, stretch the coiled cable, and feed it through my frame and the rack. I double checked I had the combination correct and gave the lock a swat on the metal bike rack. That swat was enough to shear off the male end of the combination lock. The rest of the week I've been bringing my bicycle inside the buildings I'm visiting. At school I'm not worried about it being genuinely stolen, but rather I'm concerned a student will decide it would funny to hide it from me. I'm a busy guy and I can't fool around with that prospect.

I nabbed the identical rear flashing light from off the bicycle trailer, since it's not being used much to tote around our boys in this cold weather (I'm all for it, but I think my wife would not like it, and maybe not the kids) in order to continue on commuting in the dark mornings and evenings.

Both of these were Bell products purchased at Wal-Mart. I believe they're each a couple years old and have survived at least one other winter. I don't remember exactly what I paid for them. I think maybe $10. for the lock and $15. for the flashing light. I suppose they lasted about as long as I expected them to, and as long as I should expect them to last for the price.

If money were no issue, I'd choose to outfit my commuter with a dynamo front hub and front and back lighting system. I'm not sure what kind of lock I'd choose. Part of why I ride this old, "vintage" three speed is because everyone looks at it and thinks "dork!" and functions partly as a theft deterrent. The only people who'd steal it would be people who are sick of walking, or want to cause mischief. It's not one for re-selling to get some money.

Anyway, it's cold and getting colder and my students are getting a good look at a bike as a tool, rather than a bike as a toy. They're asking questions and I think that's good. They're making judgemental comments, and, I guess, I'm a good sport.

Keep on commuting by bike!


Friday, December 3, 2010

We can only march to the beat of our own drum if we listen for it

Well, I'm back. It's been a number of days since I've updated this blog. I'll blame it upon the Thanksgiving break and its interruption to our schedule. I pray all of you out there enjoyed a safe and pleasant Thanksgiving and spent it with those whom you love.

I'm concerned about the image of cycling in the United States. This concern is prompted by a movie I recently watched. In The 40 Year Old Virgin,

the protagonist,  for whom the title is derived, is ridiculed by his co-workers for riding his bike. If the protagonist wishes to forever altar his status as a virgin, i.e. engage in sexual intercourse, his friends inform him, he must do a few things differently; like improve his wardrobe, eliminate his chest hair, and stop riding his bike. He defends his choice by pointing out that lots of people ride their bikes. His detractors respond sarcastically with, "Yeah, when they're six!"

The point we as viewers are to infer, and the awkward protagonist infers, is that cycling, riding a bike, is a recreational activity and a mode of transportation reserved for children. If you wish to be "cool" and enter into adulthood, you must abandon the childish affinity for bikes and get a vehicle.

I wonder how many "popular" viewers who identify more with the protagonists' "hip" co-workers, than with the individualized protagonist, are reinforced in their view of the bicycle as a toy. In this film, Hollywood celebrates conformity; not only in the aspect of cycling. However, since this is The Midwest Bicycle Commuter, I'm focusing on this issue alone.

I thought the movie was pretty entertaining. I get their humor. And, as with all comedians and works of comedy, eventually they will choose something dear to you as a target, and your feelings will get hurt. Well, I'm a big boy (physiologically), and I can take it (sob). However, I'd like for cycling to enjoy a better reputation than that. I would like for the perception of cycling to change in the public's eye.

It's probably easier and popular to engage in promiscuous sex, than to remain a virgin. It's probably easier and popular to simply buy a car and drive it where you need to go. It's an act of will power and individualism to stay true to yourself and continue on collecting childhood toys, just because you want to. It's an act of will power and individualism to choose to ride your bike to work, and to places you need to go.

Unfortunately, simple little comedic moments like that one, full of sarcasm, will be the sum total of research and opinion a great number of viewers will conduct upon commuting by bicycle. It's a shame how such a small scene can continue the negative perception bicycles and riders alike suffer. I know it's not reality, it's Hollywood. However, the great masses of sheep who identify themselves with Hollywood, and subscribe to their conformity message, yet bleat about their desire to be an individual, will use this one minor scene to reinforce and  rationalize their decision to marginalize and discount bicycles and bicycle riders.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sometimes it's just about riding

This weekend I participated in a "group ride". It was a first for me, with the exception of completing the cycling portion of a half triathlon two summers ago; which, by the way was the second longest distance I'd pedaled a bike, the longest being the completion of the Prairie Spirit Trail (click on the highlighted words to go to their website)followed by an additional 11 miles on to my parents' house. It was a ride sponsored, organized, and led by members of  Kanbikewalk, which you can access by clicking on these highlighted words:Kanbikewalk. I estimated the turnout to be about 15-18 cyclists, I never did count exactly how many were there, what with me being a "word guy", and more prone to describing the experience through sensory detail, rather than quantifying the experience through data.
"The word guy" at a young age.
We made a nice group, but we didn't show much diversity.  Most were men between the ages of 35 and retirement age, and all "white", that is to say Caucasian, meaning varying degrees of pinkness through tan-ness, depending upon how much sunlight and wind 
each of us is exposed to regularly. Luckily, one pleasant female cyclist rode with us who spoke with a genuine Indian accent, and no I don't mean Lakota, or Iroquois, but Hindi, and her healthy, vibrant complexion was darker than most and was not caused by exposure to the elements.
November granted us a nice Saturday morning to ride. The temps climbed from the mid forties to the high of fifty seven. I liked the cool temps, it allowed me to wear several layers and peel one or two of them off  when needed. As I feared, I was the best dressed cyclist at this event. I decided beforehand I was there to represent the commuter aspect of cycling, rather than the recreational aspect. With this in mind I opted to wear pretty well what constitute my normal work clothes for teaching English to high school students: button up collared shirt, belt with buckle, pants (I wore denim jeans, though for four of five school days I wear khaki pants), brown leather casual shoes, and a faux tweed sport jacket, or suit jacket, whichever you prefer. Let me just say that the other cyclist looked better, because though I wore "dress" clothes, they are threadbare and nearly worn out and would not pass for "dress clothes" much of anywhere except a school full of high school students where half of them wear pajamas to school

 and the other half wear wife-beaters. 
Nonetheless, due to my clothes and my three speed bike, I was right where I always try to position myself: at the center of attention! Several of them let me know I should participate in their annual "tweed ride". Sounds cool to me. Here's a video of what a tweed ride might look like; some elements of it anyway.

The purpose of the ride was to show off a portion of some of the nice bike/ped trails the city of Olathe, Kansas has to offer. They were nice, curvy, blacktopped things which meandered along Indian Creek and through suburban America. The highlight of the trip was the "multi modal transportation interchange". To put it simply, this was a busy intersection of interstate highway, busy city street, and busy county road. What KanBikeWalk did was push for access for all forms of transportation (pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles) at this busy intersection (I noticed they didn't include horseback). It worked very well, and is a model for how all cyclists would like to see it done as far as bike lanes are concerned.
The nicest design feature was how the bike lane was between the vehicle right hand turn lane and the left hand vehicle lane so vehicles who intended to turn right were already on the cyclist's right and the danger of a vehicular cut off was greatly reduced.

I was in no hurry on the ride. The first half, roughly, was on the "meandering trail" I mentioned already. I suppose people are creatures of habit, and it didn't take long for all of us to bunch up and form a big clot of cyclists on the path. This kind of riding requires the cyclist to pay more attention to the cyclist directly in front of him in order to judge if he/she is slowing; the purpose being to avoid a rear end collision. I didn't see the point of driving 40 miles to go on a bike ride through a beautiful cross section of America on a gorgeous day just to watch the rear end of the cyclist in front of me. So, I hung back several bike lengths, just as I do when I drive, only when I drive it's several car lengths.

I noticed a few of the other cyclists just couldn't stand my approach and felt the need or desire to pass me, which was fine by me. Probably their desire to pass and get on up there was because they were riding bikes made for speed and racing, rather than looking around and enjoying the ride. Long story short, I ended up riding at my own pace, which was considerably slower than the others, and hanging back to provide encouragement to the aforementioned lady who needed a little emotional boost.

I stayed quiet during the meeting of KanBikeWalk. I find it's better to stay quiet and look ignorant, rather than talking and proving it to everyone. They were some smart people in there, and I like what they're trying to get going. They're pushing for safe walking and bicycling. That's it! Pedestrians and cyclists simply wish walk or bicycle without being harmed. They're pushing for the end of the vehicle centered transportation system. Yes, vehicles do account for the largest part of transport, but does that mean they are less accountable for their actions? A cyclist or pedestrian walking on or along a roadway and adhering to traffic laws, should not be "taking their lives into their own hands", or doing so "at their own risk", no more than vehicle traffic should feel they are.

I'm not sure what my role in this is, but as the Midwest Bicycle Commuter, traffic laws and traffic planning affects me. I don't want to be harmed commuting by bike only to have the law enforcement officers and the community at large feel that I "had it coming."

This has been a long entry and my mentioning so only makes it longer. Keep on riding your bikes and walking. Keep being a good example. Help people you know ride their bikes and walk places. I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. I'm thankful I live in the United States. I'm thankful for my family.

Keep on commuting by bike.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What I can do

Coming up this Saturday I'll be taking my bike to Overland Park, Kansas to attend the annual KanBikeWalk meeting which you can read about when you click on these words. This will be my first foray into bicycle advocacy.I'm not really sure what to expect, but I hope to be helpful and provide a dedicated commuter's perspective and possibly network with some like minded people.

A pre-meeting 25 mile or so ride will take place to which I'm looking forward to riding in. I have some concerns about being able to keep up with the others, but I have absolutely nothing to base these concerns upon, as I've not met any of these people, nor do I know their riding strength or equipment. The concern stems from my own equipment. I "roll" with a heavy bike to begin with. But I also add on the weight with my rear baskets,
lock and Wee-ride mount, like the one pictured above. I won't have the Wee-ride seat, but will leave the gray cross bar connecting the seat post to head set in place. That's not my bike pictured, but it's a three speed not unlike the one pictured; and that's not my actual basket but it's an image of the exact make and model of the two baskets I have on my bike.

I won't try to compete. I'll pedal a consistent pace that is as comfortable and fast as I wish to go. If this group is like most groups, they'll have members who will choose to ride racing bikes and wear racing clothing. I'll be wearing regular jeans and leather shoes, probably a leather jacket and whatever layers I'll need to wear for mid-November weather. I'm not out for speed, I'm out for the enjoyment of the ride and to look around.

I shouldn't be so judgmental. Maybe I'm not being judgmental and I have nothing for which to apologize. I just want to do this ride on my own terms the way I like to bike. I just don't like the posture and inconvenience of the racing bike when I'm not competing for speed or place. I'll be prepared for any weather and I hope they don't cancel on account of the weather, but on the sight I noticed they would allow for that event.

Speaking of weather, I rode home from school yesterday in cold November rain. I wore my rain suit and as I was leaving another teacher said "You're brave; riding in this (the weather)". I told her just wait to see what she thinks of me in February!

I may have to get a new rear flashing light as the one I have has been jarred loose on two occasions. Both times I was able to safely recover it and the batteries from out of the street before it was ruined by being ran over by a vehicle. Riding my bike at full speed over the transitions in the street were what caused it to come loose. 

I'll give you the post ride run down next week. In the meantime,

keep on commuting by bike!


Friday, November 12, 2010

It's raining, it's pouring . . .

Like the title of this blog entry indicates, it is raining and pouring today. I listened to the rain during the night on our roof and outside as it puddled. I anticipated the ride to school in the rain, but when it came time to leave on the bike, though the road was still wet, it wasn't raining. So, I took off.

I made it to the highway before the rain began to pour down. It started off gradually and I tried to think where I could pull over out of the rain in order to don my rain suit. By the way, that's not a picture of rain I took; and that's not me in the hi-viz rain suit, although I often display a cheesy smile a lot like his. But, what I did was take my 10 year old rain suit of gray, about like the one on the left, and add my own reflective patches to it in hopes it would look professional like the one on the left. Instead, mine just looks ghetto; or white trash.

Anyway, I stopped at an antique mall that had a nice big porch and I pulled on the rain gear as the cars and trucks swished by. I had recently (and it turns out, wisely) switched the gloves I carry in my backpack. I used to carry part cloth, part leather gloves with matching professional clothing in mind. That's what I used to carry, now I've switched to a pair of heavy duty, leather, insulated gloves more like these:

I always get more than a few looks when I enter the school wearing my home made high visibility rain suit, and above that my high visibility work vest:

I also wear a high visibility strap around my ankle on the traffic side of the bike, like this

I was the only person on bicycle this morning, and I predict I'll be the only one on bicycle this afternoon on the way home. I've received many comments from students and adults alike that were meant to be a little bit derisive or sarcastic along the lines of "We saw you this morning, you were hard to miss." I look at these sarcastic comments as evidence of success. That's my goal: to be seen. Not because I'm an attention hog (which I am), but because I want vehicle drivers to see me so they won't hit me with their vehicles!

I get quite a few rubber neckers who are amazed someone would ride their bike to begin with, let alone in the rain, and never mind wearing all these reflective clothes.  Here's a picture of some gear I plan to add to my reflective wardrobe for bicycle commuting.
Anyway, I hope it's still raining when I leave the building. I'm looking forward to a rainy ride!
Keep on commuting by bike!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A problem I've encountered

My commuter bike is a lugged steel frame Takara three speed road bike with 27" steel wheels. The problem I've encountered is this: the steel wheels get just a little bit out of true in a place or two on the wheel, as steel wheels are wont to do, and then they make contact with the brake pads; I attempt to alleviate this problem by adjusting the brakes out just a little so they won't make contact with the wheel, but then the stopping power is diminished. If I adjust the brakes in tighter, then the contact with the steel wheels increases.

This would not be too much of a problem if I already possessed the skills necessary to true a steel wheel. It's probably easy. However, I don't already possess those skills. There's few things more irritating to me on a bike ride than riding with the brake, at least partially, applied.

So, my next task as a wannabe self-sufficient bicycle commuter in the midwest is to check out youtube videos to see if I can learn how to true a wheel. I suppose I should research to learn if truing a steel wheel is advised.

I stopped by the local gas station to make use of their air compressor and topped off the front and rear to 75 p.s.i. I run Schwalbe Marathon 27" x 1 1/4" tires. I've been very pleased with them and they have increased my confidence level tremendously. So much so, that I've taken to not carrying the requisite gear for a repair on the road. I researched user reviews on these tires and the majority opinion was they were bombproof. Some people cite their heavier weight as a drawback, and a lower level of handling/performance. However, for my commute I have been pleased and have grown accustomed to the weight and I've also not noticed the handling aspect as a drawback. A dedicated bicycle commuter needs to value reliability over technical edges.

Streets take a toll on bicycle tires and wheels. As a bicycle commuter I'm constantly on the lookout for the smoothest path on the roadways; the smoothest way to transition over large cracks and joints in the road. It also saves your body at least some of the jarring which can also occur from these obstacles.

I'll go on line now and research what I can find out about learning to true my wheels and report back at some point.

Keep on commuting by bike!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A little dab of oil

My bike was starting to squeak a little bit. It seemed to be coming from the axle of the front wheel. I haven't done much in the way of maintenance to the bike since I spent a few days last spring dialing in the three speed hub, so I determined a little bit of oil wouldn't hurt, provided I use it sparingly and in a limited number of locations. I didn't have any special bicycle oil. What I did have was an empty can of household oil, made for sewing machines, hinges, etc. and it had a nice plastic dropper on it for easy application. I also had about three quarts of 20W-50 Castrol motor oil on hand in a five quart container. So, being the problem solver I am, and necessity being the mother of invention, or in this case, refilling, I carefully transferred about an once or two of the motor oil into the empty metal can with the dropper.

Since it was after dark when I decided to do this, I wheeled the bike into my workshop and turned on all the lights so I could see better. Next, I turned the bike upside down and rested it on the ground on its handlebars and the seat. I have to be careful doing this, because the rear taillight on the rear fender stands a good chance of being damaged if I am not careful. This is because I first raise the front wheel like a wheelie, and just keep pulling it on over.

I applied a drop or two of the oil to the front axle, the rear axle, and tried to place a tiny drop on each of the joints of the chain, although the chain looked fairly lubricated. I'm sure it was my imagination, but when I left a few minutes later to attend a meeting in town, it seemed like the bike rolled easier, and the squeaking stopped.

The point of this is that I have every confidence that just about any bit of oil you might happen to have on hand will be fine for lubricating your commuter bike. Don't be afraid to use kitchen oil for that matter, most everyone has a little of that around. Use it sparingly. A drop of oil spreads greatly. You don't want to make a mess of oil on your chain and the moving parts of your bike, because it will attract dust, or your clothes will get in it and get stained.

You don't have to spend excessive money buying "special bicycle oil". Just dip a cotton swab (a q tip) into a small amount of cooking oil: canola, vegetable, olive etc.and rub it on the target area. Use a small kitchen measuring cup to hold a small amount of the oil , like a tablespoon to start.. You'll want that separate container to pour the oil into because the q tip will collect old, nasty goo from off the target area and it will corrupt the good oil when you dip it back into the clean oil. Better to corrupt a tablespoon of oil rather than the entire bottle.

If the q tip doesn't seem effective, I've used a toothpick to dip into the oil, because it will collect just enough on the toothpick to form a drop on the end, then you can place the drop where you wish with some accuracy. If you wish to take a little bit of precaution for overspray, you can use the aerosol cans of cooking oil. To prevent some uncontrolled overspray, rip off some cardboard from a cereal box, a twelve pack pop or beer box, or pizza box; even a paper plate. Hold it on the opposite side of the target area you're spraying to catch the overspray so it won't get on your floor. Again, use this oil sparingly as well.

Kitchen oil is not ideal for lubricating your bike. There are better choices. But, if you're a die hard bicycle commuter, you must acknowledge you, to some degree, value practicality. When you need to lubricate your chain and you don't have any oil designed for the purpose, or you don't want to get any for some reason, and you have some kitchen oil on hand; use the kitchen oil.

Kitchen oil won't work well to lubricate a badly rusted chain. To treat a badly rusted chain, lubricate it with WD-40 or an equivalent. An equivalent to WD-40 would be any spray (aerosol) oil identifying itself as "penetrating". Any spray oil which says it will free rusty bolts will do. I recommend you apply this product liberally to the badly rusted chain taking precautions to catch drips and overspray. After applying the oil generously, use a rag to wipe off excess oil in an attempt to reduce the mess of oil attracting dirt and dust. Ride the bike a day or two for ten miles or so. Then, sparingly apply the other lubricating oil. The penetrating oil will free up the chain and defeat the rust when combined with movement. The lubricating oil will help protect and lubricate the chain.

Because ideally you want to have your chain well lubricated, it runs the potential of leaving oily marks upon your pants or leg, or whatever else with which it comes into contact. That's why it's important for the bicycle commuter to ride a bike with a practical chain guard. The chain guard serves two purposes: it protects the clothes; and it protects the chain. If you're a dedicated bicycle commuter, weather conditions will seldom dissuade you. Protect the chain from moisture and grime and it will extend its life, and will increase your pleasure and performance on your commute.

Make sure you don't apply any kind of oil to the outer rim or wheel. Doing so runs the risk of the oil coming into contact with the brake pads. Brakes don't function as well when they encounter oil and your ability to stop will be adversely affected. In other words you won't be able to stop in as short of a distance. It will take a greater distance for you to come to a stop.

Good luck. Send me a comment if I can answer any questions for you.

Keep on commuting by bike!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The new "i generation"

As you may or may not have learned, I am a high school English teacher in a small, mostly rural town in northeast Kansas. Perhaps you may not realize, but this is not a place where adults ride bicycles. At least it's not common. If an adult rides a bike, it must be for recreation, not as a viable transportation source.My students, as you might imagine, have inherited their parents' attitudes about the bicycle: it's for kids; it's a toy; don't ride a bike when you can drive; driving is a rite of passage into adulthood; only liberal kooks ride bikes.

Well, generally that is the attitude I encounter. I'm somewhat of a novelty. However, the students gradually are becoming at least curious about how much I ride and why. It could be that my example may possibly lead some of them to begin questioning why they're driving: because it's easy; because it's the "cool" thing to do; because a vehicle is an extension of my personality; because I want to fit in; because I don't know any other viable mode of transport.

If the students are slowly, grudgingly, mockingly beginning to ask questions, it could be that in the years to come students here in Kansas might finally catch on to the benefits of cycling. After all, Kansas is ideal for cycling.

With the technological innovations coming at us all in ever increasing frequency, and with the emerging green culture, it is one of the best times to cycle. So much immediate information is available at our fingertips, the cyclist rarely need feel out of pocket the way they may have felt in years past. The palm size communications systems available out there, which also make calls b.t.w., allow a cyclist to take the world with him or her when they cycle.

The i-generation gives to culture, and to the environment, and to family. The i-generation also takes care of themselves. Remember, there is no "I" in team; but, there is in bike!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

At long last

Yes, you can all breathe easier now knowing I'm not injured or incapacitated and unable to maintain this blog. I'm back behind the (figuratively speaking) helm of the keyboard ready to freely provide help to all those who suffer from insomnia by expounding over my own experience commuting by bicycle approximately five days a week, about 6 miles round trip and a total of around 20- 30 minutes daily.

I didn't realize it was nearly 10 days since I'd last updated the blog. I have a cause to celebrate, because I noticed I had my first comment left by someone I can only hope actually read one of the entries. My first comment, and presumably the first real, somewhat verifiable evidence that someone read it. It was the entry where I complained and whined about the rear flashing light being loose on the seat post and my bungee cord being used to hold it in place and how I forgot to reattach the bungee cord and it became tangled in my spokes causing a mess yada, yada, yada. The comment was apparently left by someone who identifies themselves as being from the UK and mentioned they didn't think flashing rear lights were legal in the UK; or maybe it was flashing front lights that weren't legal in the UK. I can't remember, but I thank you Dave from casino.ladbrokes.com for being the official first visitor to what I foresee will be the premier powerhouse and authority on bicycle commuting in small towns in the mid-western United States.

Now, on to my recent riding: I had a pretty good weekend of riding with less than perfect weather. Saturday my wife informed me I needed to take our two sons out of the house for a while as she needed a break from us. I was told this Friday night and I immediately began forming a bicycle adventure for the three of us.

When transporting the boys (1 and 3 year olds) I use a Wee-Ride in the front for the youngest, and a Burley two seat trailer for the oldest boy, and for both boys together during some legs of journeys.

We loaded up on food for the day. I'm a big fan of taking along some home made biscuits which have had a generous dollop of real butter applied between the top and bottom half while they're still hot from the oven.String cheese is another good treat great for days out on the bike. A canteen of water and a squirt type water bottle which fits in a bottle cage goes along too. Cookies for three; granola bars for three; an apple; and a hunk of french bread and a half dozen slices of hard salami completed the kit.

I also decided it would be prudent to take along a 10' X 10' tarp and a couple lengths of rope; my rain gear; jackets for the three of us; an 8' X 10' blanket;  a spare diaper and a few wipes for the little one not yet potty trained; my wallet with my debit card; and the cellphone. The cover for the trailer stays in the trailer all the time, so I don't consider it to be something I packed along. I took the tarp and rope, because they are just so light to carry and don't take up much room at all and you just never know when an improvised shelter may be needed. Fortunately, we didn't need shelter, but we used the tarp to lay on the ground below the blanket to keep moisture off us.

So, with the three of us on the bicycle, and the trailer, and the Wee-Ride components, and the metal wire baskets; and the rear rack, and all the stuff we packed along with us; we made quite a sight and was quite a weighty expedition for us as well. I knew the approach for the day would be slow and steady, because it just so happened the wind was quite boisterous that day and was blowing directly against us for about half of the journey. Luckily it was the first half and we had it to look forward to help push us home.

It had rained some during the night before and to be honest it looked like it could rain at just about any time that day. The sun never did come out that much because of the blustery fast moving, low-lying clouds being pushed up from the south. It never rained, but the wind did not let up.

I wore regular denim pants, a long sleeve button up collared shirt, lace up loafers, my reflective band on my left ankle, and my reflective work vest for visibility. Of course I wore my sun glasses and helmet. I consider those nearly essential equipment for almost any bike outing. Glasses of some kind come highly recommended in my experience.

I pedaled for about an hour or more into the wind going south out of town. Then changed direction and pedaled due east toward the rural municipal airport where we stopped for close to two hours of play and rest and picnic. From there roughly another hour of pedaling eight or nine miles to a small town where again we took nearly two hours to play in the city park and rest. We then left for home going at an angle north and west along a rail trail back to Ottawa, Kansas. It was 10 or more miles and we stopped once and walked for a good half hour because the boys were getting weary of the ride and needed to burn some energy.

All in all it was close to 32 miles of pedaling all of us. I felt great and it was a lovely experience.I'm not a speed king, I'm the determined turtle. I don't have a cycle computer, I use google maps to tell me distances.

I hope you find this interesting or informative, or entertaining. I'm pressed for time to end this so end it I must.

p.s. I took the boys to church on the bike Sunday morning too.

Keep on commuting by bike!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I hate it when that happens!

I'll try to get to the point this time without rambling on and on and only mentioning that which pertains to the title at the very end, and instead try to let you know how the title relates right off.

What I hate is when I have loosened one end of the bungee cord I keep on my bike and then I forget to reattach it and I mount up and begin riding away and the cord's hooked end becomes entangled in the spokes. It becomes wrapped around the rear axle and is difficult to extricate. Plus it generally close to ruins the bungee cord and deforms the shape of the hook. I don't know what effect it has upon the spokes it encounters. So far, none of them has broken, but I can't imagine it would be doing them any good.

I am in the habit of keeping a bungee cord on my bike at just about all times, because I never know when I'm going to need one. I like to keep the opposing ends hooked to the opposite sides of the rear rack. To keep it taut, I feed it around the seat post, the handlebar side of the seat post.Not only do I keep it there, at the ready, so that I might use it for securing anything which is in need of securing, but I also have come to depend upon it for keeping my rear flashing light in place.

My rear flashing red light is a Bell product from my LBS (Local Bike Shop- around here our LBS is Wal-Mart). It's an LED light and I'm pretty well pleased with it with one exception. It's designed to clamp around the seat post. This has proven problematic for a couple reasons: for one, it is partially hidden from view being mounted below the saddle; secondly, anytime I have something I need to transport which requires I use the top of the rear rack means it blocks the view of the light completely. My rear rack came with a place to mount a light to it which would place it on the rearmost portion of the rack. I think this would be an ideal location to place it, but I will have to devise some way of mounting it. The light I have does not "jive" with the mounting system in place on the rack.

Another thing I've come to dislike about the light is the clamp. It's made for a seat post which is bigger in diameter than my own seat post, so I must make use of the rubber spacers they've provided. To further complicate matters, the spacers aren't sufficient enough to clamp the light tightly and I had to improvise with my own spacers as well. As you might predict, the spacers eventually wiggled loose and the light is free to spin freely. That's the reason I have the bungee cord going around the seat post, to help hold the light I have still.

That's my blog entry for the day: don't forget to reattach the bungee cord on your bike, and get a good rear flashing light and attach it to the rear rack.

Keep on commuting by bike.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Loose screw

The temperature was just above 40 degrees Fahrenheit this morning when I passed the bank sign just after seven o'clock. It's dark out at this time, this time of year. I've begun taking a slightly different route to school just this week due to a new bike lane installed last week.

Previously, I'd pedal one block over to the slight downhill grade into town on the four lane highway where traffic speed is reduced from 40 to 30 to the left turn only lane at the traffic lighted intersection. It's an uninterrupted downhill grade to the lights, a distance of maybe a quarter mile on smooth four lane concrete Kansas D.O.T. maintained highway. It's quick and convenient.

This week I've altered my path. Now, I go straight, down a similar grade on the street adjacent to my house. It's a similar distance, but it's city maintained streets. This means dips for drainage; potholes where the blacktop has been broken away and the old brick below it is exposed; two stop signs (I take an Idaho stop approach to these stop signs, which means I treat the stop sign as a yield sign, slowing with caution, then, if clear continuing on without stopping). Also, there is a slight uphill grade to climb to reach the stop sign where my left turn is. This is where the bicycle lane begins, after the completion of the left turn, once I am on the former state highway. From this point I am going downhill again and building speed until it flattens out a block or so from the same lighted intersection I used to encounter when I took the other route.

The new route is not quite as quick, due to all those reasons I mentioned. However, I have begun taking this new route in order to show my appreciation to the city for installing the bicycle lanes. Plus, I figure using the bicycle lanes is slightly safer than riding the other route which has no bicycle lane. I say using the lanes are only slightly safer because whether you are aware or it or not, there are some design flaws involved in bicycle lanes which on occasion make them more unsafe than simply riding in the lane as a vehicle.

The most potentially hazardous design flaw found in the idea behind bicycle lanes, from my perspective, is how the bicycle lane cuts through the path of a right turning vehicle. This is from the perspective of a cyclist who pretty much attempts to operate his bicycle as a vehicle. Since I try to operate as a vehicle, and do things which a vehicle driver would expect out of a vehicle, I abstain from staying completely to the right on a road which provides a right hand only turning lane.  This ordinarily is not too big a deal, because vehicles will sometimes go ahead around me on the left, using a portion of the oncoming traffic lane to pass. This becomes problematic when there is a raised, separated median between opposing traffic lanes. So, imagine it: I am on my bicycle staying generally on the right hand third of the lane, in the right lane of  a four lane, median separated road. The righ hand lane I have been traveling upon has now become marked as a right hand turn only lane. I have no intention of turning right because just beyond the right hand turn in question the bicycle lane begins. I must then signal to vehicles I'm moving into the left lane, stay in the right hand third of the left hand lane while vehicles turning right are passing me on the right hand side, and vehicles behind me are breathing down my neck because they can't pass me on the left because there's a raised concrete median preventing them from doing this.

Luckily, the stretch in question in truth is only a hundred yards or twice that, but it seems like more when I am trying to be a friendly, considerate part of traffic who also expects courtesy and respect in return. Part of showing courtesy and friendliness is recognizing the fact that every vehicle out there can travel faster than me on a bike, and trying to slow them down as little as possible, without placing myself in any  danger.

These are some thoughts about bike lanes and thoughts behind commuting by bicycle. My two sons are right now requiring my assistance so I must stop this entry.

Oh yeah, the reason I titled it loose screw is because I lost one of the screws which holds my chain guard in place. I stopped by the lumber yard and hardware store and replaced it with a longer one which I additionally double nutted and used a lock washer.

Keep on commuting by bicycle!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Are you down with the wetness?

So, this morning, for the first time this school year, I think, I was forced to don my rain suit and ride in the rain on my way to the high school this morning. Thankfully, it wasn't also cold. This is how it went down. I left the house and was about a third of the way when it began to rain. I pulled up under the awning of an abandoned business front on Main st. so I could add the layer of rain suit over my khakis, shirt and suit jacket.

I keep my rain suit in my pack-pack. I keep my back pack in the rear drive side collapsible wire basket attached to my rear rack. I keep the rain out of my back-pack by applying a generous coat of 3m Scotch guard. I applied it three years ago and it seems to remain effective at keeping the contents of the back-pack dry. I carry my rain suit in the back-pack at all times and carry the back-pack with me to school at all times, too.

My rain suit is in pretty sorry condition. It's about ten years old or older, for one thing. It's gray, which is a bad color for bicycle commuters, but when I purchased it, I had no intention or even any thought of using it to commute by bicycle. I've further increased its unappealing appearance by attaching some home made reflective strips to it in some prominent places I thought likely to reflect headlights. The worst aspect of my rain suit is the ripped open crotch. But, if you've been reading this blog, you've already read about it.

Riding my bike in the rain is actually pretty enjoyable. Perhaps it's because I do it so rarely I still find it novelty enough  to like it. I think I like the additional reflected lights on the wet road surface which appeals to me. Also, it may be my imagination but, I think my bike rolls along a little easier when the road is wet. The third reason I think I like it so much is because there are generally no other bike commuters out in the rain, and I like saying yes when students and faculty ask if I rode my bike today in the rain.

I'm thinking of trying to become a follower of some of other bicycle commuter blogs in hopes to network with some other like minded individuals. Lately I've been thinking about career change in order to find one which involves riding bicycles. Perhaps networking with other cyclists may facilitate this a little better.

That last paragraph was off topic from riding in the rain. However, I'll close with this: Riding in the rain is just that. Riding in the rain. It's a matter of being prepared and having the right mind set. It doesn't have to be miserable. That being said, I don't live in a place that's considered "rainy". Get out there and give it a try.

Keep on commuting by bicycle!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Okay, now the gloves are coming . . .on!

I feel it's important to continue writing about the apparel I don for my near daily commute of close to three miles and fifteen minutes each morning and afternoon the days school is in session. The reason I think it's important is because I am attempting to change the perception of commuting by bicycle in my own little corner of the world and in my own little way. I wish to show those around me they can ride their bikes nearly every day of the year; they don't have to spend large amounts of money purchasing the "latest" gear and bikes; and the type of bike best suited for commuting around here.

What does this have to do with apparel I wear to and from my destinations on the bike? Well, it's important for people to see me wearing "regular" clothes. Take that descriptor with a grain of salt because my wardrobe is definitely threadbare and secondhand, thus disqualifying it from being "regular". Well, people may in fact wear secondhand clothing and still be "regular", but my problem is that my clothing is not fashionable. Anyway, what I mean to say is that I simply wear the clothes I'll be teaching in that day, out on the bike for my commute.

Rather than buying and wearing special jackets and pants,and shoes which are advertised as being cycling specific, I choose to wear my slacks and dress shirts, blazers and leather shoes on the bike. Most of the problem, at least here in the mid west, is the dramatic temperature change from morning to afternoon. When I leave in the morning now, I am wearing a white tee shirt;a semi-turtle neck;  a button up long-sleeve dress shirt;  a blazer of one design or another, a pair of black driving gloves; my slacks, shoes, and helmet. It goes without saying I choose to wear a highly reflective work approved vest as the outermost layer on my torso. This morning I added an additional article of clothing: a black synthetic "scarf" or muffler. It's one of the most versatile things to wear I can find. I love it for preventing the wind from going down the back of my neck. It also seems to act as a heat stopper and allows my body to heat to remain near my chest without escaping up out of the neck of my shirt.

This morning when I left I felt the cold, and by the time I arrived at school I was nearly hot. That's one of the tricks of commuting by bike. It's difficult to be prepared for nearly every weather situation, but there are a few situations I want to always cover. First, the rain. I always carry an old two piece rain suit in my backpack folded as compactly as I can manage. It's old and believe it or not,the crotch is all ripped out. It's totally the wrong color for commuting by bike: gray! But, luckily I've taken the time to attach quite a few reflective adhesive trailer stickers to it. By stickers I mean the adhesive white and red rectangle ones used to attach to trailers and the rear of work trucks and gates and the like, not the ones depicting our favorite cartoon personalities such as Scooby-Doo.

I like the many layers approach to dressing for the cold. That's because I can always remove articles as the need arises and I have adequate temporary storage for transporting them when not in use. Layering clothing seems to make the body breathe a little easier and reduce the overheating effect.

That's about it. Each day more or less determines how I'll dress. In the upcoming weeks I'll add a windbreaker type article which I'll wear to keep the cold wind and air from freezing my arms and chest. After that has exhausted its usefulness in the cold, I'll begin topping off all this with a zippered leather jacket. The difference is dramatic!

One thing I would like to add to my list of accouterments is a balaclava. My ears do tend to get cold and ache in the truly cold weather. But, I don't like to wear caps and such under my helmet.

Just don't despair. All the stuff I wear and use is not cycling specific gear and has been purchased or given to me from a variety of sources. I definitely don't wear spandex. I utilize platform pedals with no clips. That's because they allow me to wear whatever shoes or boots I wish to wear, rather than using clip-less pedals and the accompanying shoes, which means I'd be forced to carry extra shoes for teaching, or keep a pair in the desk or somewhere else in my room. Instead I keep a boot brush in my desk to maintain the leather if it needs it.

You don't have to wear cycling specific clothes in order to commute by bike.You just need to realize what you need and determine if you have it, and then use it. Part of the reason we commute by bike is save a little bit of money. I figured I saved roughly $3 per day I ride my bike. If we go to school 180 days, that's a savings of $540. That's money I'm spending in other places. That's not the only reason I commute by bike, of course. The main reason is I just like it so much. For those who remain uninitiated, it's difficult to understand. Some folks may decide to try it and become discouraged and give up. Try not to. You can do it. I'm no expert and I'm not anything special. I'm just a guy with a goal.

Keep on commuting by bike!

of Lately, the temps have been quite cool in the morning, and dark.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The danger is real

Hey. I don't mean to be a Debby Downer, or since I'm a male I guess that would make me David Downer, but I was reminded last night that we as bicycle commuters usually only get one vehicle/bicycle collision in our lives. Don't worry. I think it's obvious I wasn't in a vehicle/bicycle collision. My wife, however, was worried sick I was.

Yesterday afternoon I attended a fund raising kickoff event for the volunteer organization in which I participate. With the decreasing length of daylight growing these days, combined with the nature of humans to talk at length about virtually anything, well past the scheduled close, it's no surprise the kickoff event lasted well past sundown. I faced the prospect of commuting home, across town, in the dark. 

This was nothing I was worried about. I had several things increasing my visibility and my chances of avoiding a collision: a highly reflective vest; a highly reflective bracelet worn on my left ankle; a red flashing led in the rear; a white flashing led in the front; white reflectors in each wheel's spokes; and front white reflector, and rear red reflector, plus pedal reflectors.

I made it home safely, without incident. My wife didn't anticipate the extended length of the meeting. From the kitchen window where we do dishes in the sink and from where last night she bathed our oldest son, she can see a view of the state highway a block away which is the last segment of road I use before turning off of it, onto our own street.

Apparently about the time my wife was expecting me, and in the general vicinity of the highway I use there must have been a vehicle/vehicle collision. Emergency services were present on location including firetrucks and ambulances, and police cars. She could see a bevy of flashing emergency lights and hear the blaring sirens of the different vehicles from her vantage point as she completed our oldest son's bath.

She became worried I had been hit by a vehicle. Much like a person can scare themselves into hearing people walking in the woods once they get spooked a little, my wife became convinced I had been hit by a car. Her relief gushed out of her when I went past the window and she saw me come through the door.

This event made me think about my decision to commute by bicycle. I don't think I fully appreciated how my decision affects all of us, not just me. I don't think I fully appreciated how I am literally taking my life in my own hands when I ride. I need to take this seriously. I need to decide if taking this section of road is the best choice. I could go back to taking a different path, a safer, slower path. I know I have a right to take which path I choose. I now need to decide if it's exercising my rights that is most important or making sure I arrive safely.

It's food for thought. Be careful out there. A driver with good intentions can still make a mistake and wind up killing a person on a bike. The vehicle won't know the difference.

Keep on commuting by bicycle!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cooler weather

Cooler weather is slowly creeping in upon us here in the midwest. Though the leaves on the trees have not begun to turn their glorious oranges, reds, and yellows, the temperature has been hovering right around 60 degrees just before seven a.m. This week we acknowledged the fall equinox and a harvest moon. Lastly, when I leave in the morning for school, it is still gray and much darker than when I began leaving for school near the beginning of the semester.
Due to these changes I've begun wearing my reflective vest and reflective ankle bracelet. I also turn on my flashing rear red light and flashing front white light.
This makes for some pretty pleasant riding. I am usually prepared to receive a "hard time" from my students and faculty based upon my appearance when I arrive at school. But, I justify my ridiculous outfit by reminding them, and myself, that I'm trying to stay alive by being seen; I'm not trying to be fashionable. I've long ago surrendered some of my pride when I made the decision to ride my bike as much as possible.
I hope you decide to make being seen and safe the "cool" thing to do. I've been taught by my dad to know who you are and know you're cool no matter what others think. Part of being cool is not caring about others' opinions. I keep this in mind and practice it. Sometimes I'll admit it's difficult. But, I remind myself I'm setting a good example for my students; I'm being a role model. You should do the same.
Keep on commuting by bike.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I can hardly believe it's been eight full days since I last updated this blog! Shame on me. Don't worry, I've still been commuting by bicycle to my job teaching English. I have to tell you about my experience on the way home Monday:
I was pedaling along on that particular stretch of road which I spent tediously describing in my last entry. I was nearing my turn about a half block away. I kept a steady watch on traffic approaching from the rear in my mirror and every vehicle, which weren't all that many, signaled and moved to the left lane well in advance, or stayed in the left lane if they were previously in it. This was a sign of courteous drivers. I took it as courtesy. One such vehicle was like the others: in the left lane with no erratic movement or things to cause me concern. In fact I was leveling off my pedaling in anticipation of this vehicle passing by so that I could then move to the left lane myself for my own left hand turn off that road. That's why I thought it odd the vehicle was going so slowly. I had expected to it to pass by much quicker, similar to almost every other vehicle.
Instead, the vehicle slowed beside me to roughly match my speed. When I looked to the side to see what was the deal, the driver, a scruffy, skinny white guy with glasses and a white tee shirt, was leaning over to speak to me from the lowered passenger side window. His words were muffled from the passing wind and he didn't really yell, but I caught the drift: "You need to get that f***ing bike off the road, they belong on the f**** sidewalk."
Then, as quickly as he had slowed to deliver the message he accelerated away from me. He was the last vehicle I needed to pass to free up both lanes to make my left hand turn. It had all happened so quickly I didn't think to respond in any way. I didn't even look to get his tag number.
I don't know what to think of this incident. In a way it frightened me. I don't know why. I guess I've never liked confrontation. Further, I'm not sure what I would have told him. I don't think he would have been persuaded by my argument that it's state law for bicycles to be treated as vehicles; that we have the same rights to the roadways as a vehicle does. I'm not much for yelling either, not since high school, and I think it would have been much like yelling at a high school age person.
Then, yesterday morning right around seven o'clock I was approached by another motorist. This time it occurred in our downtown, on a four lane again where I was in the right lane, in a twenty mile an hour zone, with very little traffic. Again, the motorist tried to speak with me while we were parallel and moving! this time it was an old female. She wanted to know if I knew there was a bike path the next block over running parallel to the roadway we were on. I said I did and she waved and went on.
I don't know if this was supposed to be antagonistic, but after the other incident I described, I was slightly on edge. She could have been genuinely concerned for my safety and thought that perhaps I didn't know of this safer route to take. Perhaps it was a veiled suggestion that I should not be on the streets at all if there is a bike path made available. The interaction was ambiguous, I'm not sure of her motives for telling me this. She was probably just being friendly and genuinely was trying to help me out, from her perspective.

It's been quite a while since I was harassed on my bicycle. The last time before these two incidents was at nine o'clock at night when I crossed an intersection and a person from a vehicle yelled out "Fag!" That was back when I had not yet decided I was going to take over a lane in the four lane and I was still traveling on the sidewalk. I crossed on the pedestrian walk literally a couple feet from the front of the vehicle.

I know I'm taking my life in my own hands when I take a lane on the four lane. However, I believe it will be to my benefit because I'll be positioned in such a place that drivers will see me. By that I mean I'll be occupying a place in the lane where drivers will be looking (if they look) for other traffic.

Like almost any other incident where a confrontation occurs, it was frustrating and made me wish for an opportunity to really tell the driver off or "show" him. But, I'm glad that opportunity never arose.

I try to just think of the other person. I can never know what kind of a day he'd been having. He could have just learned some of the worst news of his life; me traveling on the bike might have been just the last thing on a long list of things which irritated him. However, that doesn't excuse his rude, threatening behavior. I did feel threatened, though he never did actually threaten me. I don't want to go around threatening drivers because a vehicle will always win in a bicycle/vehicle collision.

Stay safe out there and remain positive. Don't lower yourself to these peoples' level by responding to them with like violence or threats. Or you can go ahead and follow your heart and really tell them off, flip them off, bash their windows when you reach them at the intersection. You decide.

Keep on commuting by bicycle.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

No ride weekend

Unfortunately, I didn't get any riding in this three day Labor Day weekend. However, I don't despair at this, but try to keep in mind it is the Midwest Bicycle Commuter, not the Midwest Bicycle Recreation Rider. I still love to ride just for fun, to see the sights, hear the noises, enjoy the company of family. But, my family and I went camping instead. Which is almost equally pleasant.
The problem is my wife is not nearly as gung-ho about riding the bicycle as I am. She's trying, but has not found the joy in it I have. So, when I ride for recreation, I am usually only with one of my two sons. When she goes, it's easier for all four of us to go. I worry I'll spend all of this nice fall weather worrying over and working on my home projects and miss out on some quality time on the bike with my family.
My commutes in the mornings have been getting darker and darker. I still use my flashing lights in front and back, but it won't be long until I'll need to wear my reflective vest as well. I avoid that until I must, because about one third of my commute is on a bicycle/pedestrian rail trail. I find it unnecessary on this portion of my commute. It's still a good idea to wear it anyway, probably, so oncoming pedestrians and cyclists can more easily see me coming as well.
I've noticed there is one particular section of my commute home which causes me concern. It involves a combination of factors which contribute to my uneasiness. The section of road leads out of town, is a separated four lane road, and increases from a 30 to a 40 mph zone. The road describes a very gradual serpentine path: that is a slight curve left, then a slight curve back right. It is a gradual uphill grade as well. Once the road curves back right again, it has reached the crest of a small incline and a residential neighborhood begins. These houses on the right side of the road tend to block the view of what's ahead on the road.
So, the combination of my slow speed (due to the incline), the increased speed of vehicles, both from the increased speed zone, and because many are leaving town and heading toward the interstate highway and on to Kansas City and they are increasing speed on up to 55 without the observance of the middle 40 mph zone; the limited view the curve of the road produces; all of these have made me feel less confident that I should be staking my claim on the entire right hand lane of the separated four lane road.
Further, it seems like the combination of my speed; the distance from the traffic signal at the intersection where traffic "begins" to the crest of the hill; and lastly the increasing speed of traffic as they leave town all make it difficult and dangerous to switch to the left lane for my left hand turn just past the crest of the hill ( the highway resumes as an un-separated four lane shortly before reaching the top of the hill). It seems like there is always increased traffic right where I need to turn left, even if I pedal alone most of the way up the hill.
I'm sure that was a long and confusing scenario. Sorry about that.
Anyway, so far I've commuted all the days to the high school where I work. I have already begun to pack my insulated leather gloves in anticipation that the weather will turn soon.
You can expect me to begin writing about riding the fifteen minutes in the increasingly colder weather and less and less light.
Be safe out there. If you have any suggestions for me, please leave a comment. So far, no one has become a follower and I can only assume that means no one has even read any of my blogs. But, that's okay. I'm trying it out. Maybe I'll try to make it more appealing and popular in the future.
Keep on commuting by bike!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Missing the rain

This week has had a couple days of rain, but somehow I've avoided being rained upon. Each day it rained, it stopped just long enough for me to make the 15 commute by bike to and from work. I much prefer not to be rained upon, but if it does happen I am prepared with my ugly rain suit I can don. I don't like to wear it if I don't have to. It's gray, for one thing, and that reduces my visibility. In an attempt to increase my visibility when I wear it, I've placed some highly reflective tape at certain strategic places on its exterior. But, it looks like just what it is, a home made reflective tape job. It's probably better than no reflective tape, but my already low style points are lowered significantly more by wearing the rain suit. Also, the rain suit has a big rip in the crotch. I guess it's from flinging my leg over the saddle, or just from the friction of riding while wearing it. It's mostly covered by the rain jacket, but invariably if it rains significantly, the crotch area of the pants I wear below the rain paints acquires a v shaped dark spot from wetness. Plus the rain suit is hot to wear and what usually happens is, it'll begin raining a bit, I'll stop and get out the rain suit, put it on, begin riding again only to have the rain let up for the remainder of the commute. I've used a couple cans of 3M Scotchguard upon the exterior of my backpack to repel rain water. It has worked pretty effectively so far.
I'm excited about this weekend. Tomorrow I'm going to ride my bike (the commuter) to the campground where we'll be camping on Saturday night. It's a little over thirty miles on hilly, blacktop county roads. My wife will be driving herself and our two sons there to meet me. Then, on Sunday, I'll be riding back home. I've been wanting to make this a destination for a ride for quite a while. I'd like to eventually carry with me a small tent and sleeping bag with some overnight food to make it a cycle-camping outing in the style of the late Ken Kifer. BTW, visit Ken Kifer's website for an extremely thorough and therefore valuable resource on cycling in general and cycle camping and touring specifically; and commuting by bike as well. It looks like I'll have ideal weather for it and maybe I'll have something to report on Monday. Everyone enjoy your three day weekend, I hope each of you (who is so far no one) gets a three day weekend.
Keep on commuting by bike!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cool August Mornings

It's that time of year when I leave for school in the morning just before seven o'clock and the temperature is just a little below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature is cool enough to warrant a jacket. Yesterday, I thought I might as well start wearing my gloves too. It's just at that temperature when it's too cool to go without a jacket, but one quickly becomes almost too warm from wearing it on a ride.
Of course after school it's around 95 degrees and there's no way I want to wear a jacket. So, I fold it, sort of, and stuff it into my backpack, which I carry in my right side collapsible metal wire basket. I cram it into the same compartment where I keep my rain gear stored. My gloves are unnecessary after school as well, so they go in there as well.
My students have enjoyed diverting me away from the lesson and plans for the day by asking me about cycling and my experiences, equipment, etc. Of course, I'm all too willing to talk about it.
Last night, I returned to school from 6:30-8:30 for our open house. I met many parents and a few of them were curious about what their children had related to them about my commuting by bicycle. One big dad, looked like he might have worked the parts counter at the local implement dealer, he was genuinely curious about the type of bicycle I used. I was impressed that he knew to suggest "Is it like a commuter?" I probably am being unfair to the poor guy for being impressed. But, for the town I live in, I think it's kind of impressive. His build didn't fit that of a cyclist: big, 250 or more pounds, big gut, goatee, camo cap. But, I'll give him credit, he acted like it was the most natural thing in the world to commute by bike.
Another mom commented that not many people in this area ride their bikes to work. Yes, there are more and more riding for recreation, but very few of us are commuting daily to work by bike.
A student had commented he'd ride his bike if I would fix his tires for him. That reminded me of my experience when I first moved here four years ago and began to try commuting by bike. I purchased new tires and tubes from Wal-Mart (unfortunately, this is our local bicycle shop) and I even installed some of that Slime puncture seal product they sell. I had the most difficult time keeping those tires inflated. I was averaging about two (2) flats a week just riding to and from school; a distance of roughly three miles one way, all of it on paved surface. When I didn't have trouble getting punctures, I had trouble with keeping the tire seated on the rim. The tube had a tendency to push its way out between the rim and tire. I was frustrated with a capital F! This went on for a few weeks. Finally, the cheapskate I am took the plunge and ordered some Schwalbe touring tires off the internet. Problem solved. Since that time two years ago, I've had only one flat tire. I repaired it, and have had no trouble since. Now, if you are one to beleive in jinxes, I can expect to go out to the garage to hop on my bike this morning and find a flat tire waiting for me since I spoke so highly of my good fortune with those tires.
If I could recommend something to anyone out there wanting to know how to get started and keep going commuting by bike, my advice would be this: buy a high quality USED bicycle (because it will be less expensive) and make your investment in your tires (spend the good money for the ones customer reviews label as bomb proof). Virtually eliminating the worry of a flat tire will be a liberating experience. That's one big thing I ride unprepared for, is a flat. I don't carry an air pump with me or a patch kit. I don't even carry an adjustable wrench with me to remove the wheels (yes, my bike is old enough it doesn't have quick release wheels).
Anyway, get out there and make it happen. You and I can be the trendsetters and show people it can be done. Have a great weekend and happy riding.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bicycle Education

Yesterday was the first all day class with my students for the 2010-2011 year. I'm teaching all freshman and sophomores this year. Since they were trying to get to know me and I was getting to know them as well, I opened myself up for questions from them. I was pleased when they wanted to know about riding my bike to school, and well, everywhere around town. It gave me the opportunity to encourage them that they too, could do it and save themselves a little bit of money, do something good for their bodies, and have fun and be independent doing it. I modeled my helmet for them, including my rear view mirror. I'm often amazed at how people don't see the value of the rear view mirror when cycling. I guess I didn't either until I obtained one. Now, I don't like to go anywhere on my bike without it. In fact, as a teacher, I've often found myself wishing I could get away with wearing a rear view mirror as I teach class and walk down the hallway.
I didn't go so far as to model my reflective vest and ankle band for them, but I would have had they asked about it. In a typical reaction, a female student was amazed I'd ride for fifteen whole minutes to get to school; around three whole miles!
Most of the students were convinced it wasn't a cool idea, riding a bike that much. Instead, it just reinforced their "herd" mentality of disliking anyone who thinks for themselves and does something which leaves them vulnerable.
I think that was difficult for me to cope with these last three years as I've rode my bike to school more and more, the vulnerability of the cyclist. Not only are we vulnerable to injury from vehicles, but we become vulnerable to people's curiosity. We travel at a slower speed which gives onlookers ample opportunity to stare, look, and point. Inside a vehicle the passengers and driver are protected from the world by steel and glass. It's like they have their own mobile museum partition which travels with them wherever they go. When I'm on the bike I can feel people's stare, I'm going much slower than a vehicle, yet they have the option of slowing to my speed. However, I don't have the option of speeding up to their speed. They can inspect me with ease and comfort and safety behind a pane of glass. Yet, if I wish to escape their glances, there's not a lot of recourse for me to take. I can turn and change my route, which entails lengthening my commute, which I don't desire to do.
Anyway, I shared some of my thoughts and approaches to cycling with my students, because some of them were curious. They were probably not curious about cycling as much as they were curious about this strange guy they would be spending the year with in a teacher-student relationship.
Just like with fashion and nearly all trends and technology, the Midwest will catch on 10 years or so later, maybe even an entire generation later. I feel like I'm starting something in the small Northeast Kansas town where I live, and am serving as an example for the people to see it can be done and that I'm a regular guy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Last Friday, as per my goal, I rode to school. I left while it was still gray out, enough so that I felt the need to use the front and back flashing lights. Lately I've been choosing to ride on the four lane highway which enters into town near our house. Right where I enter the highway, at the intersection I mean, is the reduced speed from 50 to 40, then along the short stretch I'm traveling, the speed reduces down to 30 mph. Luckily, that stretch is not heavily used at that particular hour, and I'm traveling in the opposite direction of the heavy flow of traffic. It gets busy with all of the commuters leaving town to attend work in Kansas City in the morning and then returning home from work in the evening. But, at both times of day when traffic increases due to these commuters, I'm traveling the opposite schedule. I'm going into town in the morning, and traveling as if to leave town in the afternoon.
I feel safer taking the four lane on the bicycle. Number one, because it is four lanes, that means traffic has an entire lane to pass me. I'm able to ride out in the left third of the lane, where I believe drivers will be looking more for other vehicles. And, because vehicle drivers are traveling in the same direction as me, that is West in the morning and East in the afternoon, they are never going to be looking into sunlight when approaching me.I've found taking the main roads, the state maintained roads, to school is much faster on a bicycle, than taking the "side" roads. They are better maintained and I like the lighted intersections for my protection.
On another note, I rode my bike home last Friday amidst some tumultuous cloud action, increasing heavy winds, and much visible lightning. I wore my bright yellow reflective vest and ankle strap, I also used my front and back flashing lights. I was minutes ahead of the rain. I was a little concerned about the lightning, but I saw many, many other people out walking and mowing in it, so for some reason it made me less apprehensive.
Today I'll be riding in a tie, jacket and dress shoes. I will wear pants and a shirt too, don't worry.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The second day shakedown

There is an overused cliche' attributed to the Chinese or Confucius that says the longest journey begins with a single step. As of yesterday, this blog represents my first step toward some unknown destination. The good news is I've taken that step. The bad news is my destination is unclear.
On the previous post, I mentioned full disclosure about being a teacher. The reason I felt I needed to inform readers of my occupation relates to my goal of riding my bicycle to work everyday for the year. When I say that, I feel a little tinge of guilt about it, because realistically I don't commute to the high school all summer, for an entire week in Spring, an entire week in late December/ early January, and about every holiday that honors an important dead person. So, obviously, for me to achieve a goal of riding my bicycle to work everyday for a year is significantly less of an accomplishment than someone who truly works year round.
Nonetheless, I still feel it will be an accomplishment. Allow me to disclose further. Last school year I did manage to ride my bike every school day except for three. These three days were in early January, the first week back to school after our Christmas/ New year's break. Thick ice coated the roads. I could have gone on and rode. I've pedaled on ice before. However, I began to think about my pride and how it may interfere with my ability to make a good decision. Was I being stubborn and taking a risk which could affect my family? Already I take a risk almost daily by taking the bike instead of my pickup truck. Now, let me say cycling is not dangerous, but everytime there's a bike/vehicle collision the bike loses. EVERYTIME! Add to that the increased risk of a fall on the ice, and I opted to drive my pickup those three days until the road crews were able to make the roads navigable for me. I consoled myself by saying I was demonstrating good decision making for my students.
So, technically, even with all the scheduled days on the calendar when school was not in session, I was unable to ride my bike to school everyday for one full year. But, that doesn't take away from the minor hardships I endured getting to and from school all the other days. It still would have been much easier for me to simply drive instead of biking.
I'm almost out of available time to write this morning, but before I go I wish to relate to the readers all my support and encouragement if they are thinking of undertaking a similar endeavor. Ride your bike to work if it makes sense. If you live over five miles from your workplace, it might not be the best idea. However, you likely are made of sterner stuff than I am and can absolutely do it. I gleaned that five mile figure from the many websites I comb through about bicycles and commuting and running errands, so it's not mine. But, it seems like a good rule of thumb. The biggest factors involved in commuting by bicycle year round, for me, were time and weather preparedness.
Tune in tomorrow, or the next day, for the next entry in The Midwest Bicycle Commuter. Hey, I don't get paid for this, and if I want to skip a day I will! Keep those wheels spinning and enjoy another full day of your life. From Kansas, I'm out.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Virgin Voyage

Remember when you got that new bike and you couldn't wait to get it home to take it out and ride it around on a real ride? Not a test ride when you can hardly enjoy it because the whole time you're thinking "can I afford this?" and you're worried about crashing it and being forced to buy it whether you wish to or not? Well, this blog attempt is somewhat akin to that experience. I've already test rode it and purchased it, and now I've got it home and it's on display in my driveway leaned over on its kickstand at just the right angle to make it look aggressive. I've strapped my helmet to my head and I've filled my stomach with raisin bran. I've planned out a favorite route that combines the best compromise of scenery, safety, and speed. Now it's time to take it out for a spin!

Welcome to The Midwest Bicycle Commuter. This is a blog which recounts the experiences of a middle age guy in the midwest who has made a goal to ride his bicycle to work everyday for a year. It won't be too technical, but instead will provide some perspective on commuting by bicycle in the Midwest as well as relaying a smattering of thoughts, experiences, opinions, and philosophy about it and other random topics.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will let you know up front I'm an English teacher at a high school in a small Kansas town below Kansas City and not too far from the Missouri border. I like to get that part about being a teacher out of the way, because usually it will turn off about half the audience right away. There's something about the teaching profession which makes people react with love or hate. Very seldom is there a non-reaction. People seem to either love or hate teachers.
So, this is the first day of the new blog. It's the second day of commuting to the high school for the year. I have about a fifteen minute ride to get there. The temperature is right at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it's overcast. I'll be carrying my backpack in one of my collapsible metal wire baskets. Along with pens, pencils, paper, i.d. emergency cold medicine, toothbrush, etc., I'll be carrying along a ten year old set of rain gear.
My hope is that you may be considering riding your bike to work or to run an errand and are looking for a little support and even littler entertainment from me. My goal is to provide that support and entertainment. It's seven o'clock. I had better get going.